Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Fiction: The Destruction of Ys

Today's review is of a very short story and an outrageous experiment!

Ruth Nestvold is an accomplished storyteller, one who mixes historical fiction with fantasy and/or science fiction as easily as she translates her work from English to German.

"The Destruction of Ys" retells how an ancient city ceased to exist in 11 short pages as part of a "Jack Daniels" challenge from Joe Konrath.

I offer no spoilers here: We see familiar conflicts between daughter and father, between female authority vs. male, sensuality vs. spirituality, and old goddesses vs. new gods.

The opening sentence compellingly sets the scene in sheer Arabian nights beauty:  "Once there was, and once there was not, in a place I can take you where I have never been, a beautiful princess by the name of Dahut."

Although the cover is enticingly designed, a model for e-books, for me, the story was far too short, the conflict resolved too quickly. Princess Dahut's character reveals much complexity, as does the world she inhabits on her own terms and is worthy of a longer tale.

But the concept of a short, short used as a marketing tool is brand new.

Readers benefit from a short, short by sampling a writer's style. Readers can sign up on the writer's mailing list, learn about the writer's background, and jump to other books written by the writer. They may even actually purchase additional books. Oh, lucky writer!

For writers, a short, short puts some hefty marketing tools out there -- especially useful if the writer has more than one book readily available.

Why do I call such a short, short outrageous? Because the concept seems to have been born over a quart of Jack Daniels, with a writer using this format (and a pen name) to spin out titles like "Seventeen Ways to Persuade A Woman to Date You." At 99c per, perhaps writers can look to the short, short to generate income or to broaden our platforms.

Konrath says to lighten up. We writers don't have to be sooo serious all the time. Just at the last gasp of summer, in response to a guest post by Tim Myers that begins by talking about the pen names he has used, Konrath hosted the "Jack Daniels Franchise and the 8-hour E-book Challenge," which opens this concept to all writers.

Ruth Nestvold's "The Destruction of Ys" will appeal to readers of her genre who love that heady mix of well-written historical fiction and fantasy.

Konrath's contest has ended, and I didn't enter -- but the idea of introducing my historical fiction books being e-pubbed later this fall with a short, short is percolating. Thank you, Ruth, and thank you, Joe.

So, what's your reaction when you buy and read a short, short for Kindle or Nook?

Read a little more:
Ruth Nesvold's blog is here and see her publications on Amazon.
The Destruction of Ys is currently free on Amazon, through September 1.
Joe Konrath's Challenge to write an e-book and publish it within 8 hours is here.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

It's Not Always About World Peace

I discovered Rick Hanson through reading another blog on A Round of Words in 80 Days.

"Just One Thing," this blogger wrote, is all that Rick asks us to think about. Since my life and my writing life seemed pretty frenetic at the time (and still is), I signed up for the newsletter.

His first newsletter arrived August 8, and I haven't been able to read any others yet.


Rick identifies four levels of peace which we can appreciate.

Peace of ease - that moment when you look out the window, you step back from the current crisis, or you've just finished a task, and you know everything's OK.

Peace of tranquility - a deeper kind of peace, feeling at one with mind and body, perhaps just when you wake up or when you are out walking. No sense of frenzy, rushing, hurry, but simply being here, being in the now or as Rick Hanson says, "deep quiet in mind and body"

Peace of awareness - Here is why I like to read K. M. Huber's blog, for I get a sense of 'peace of awareness' from her writing. No matter what else is going on, there's an essential part of yourself that's a little separate, that observes, that's disconnected and that continues. Now, to me, this sounds a little schizophrenic, but somehow K.M. Huber (and Rick Hanson) write about this meditative state as a way of disconnecting from "becoming" and "doing" to simply "being."

Is this level of awareness a paradox? For when we do meditate, we are at peace with ourselves, at one with who and what we are, setting aside the everyday rattle of constant thought to breathe and simply be aware. And in the same moment, we breathe, we can be distracted. We balance action (becoming) with reflection (being).  Even our breathing through meditation is both becoming and being.

Peace of what's unchanging -  What are those constants that surround us that remain the same, no matter what? Rick Hanson says, "While waves come and go, the ocean is always ocean." For some, spirituality means this kind of deep connectedness. For me, I accept that each moment simply changes. My life will end. But the sun rises in the east every day. For now, I embrace this gift of life. Underneath the daily frisson of change, I rely on the constant of the love that surrounds me from husband, family, and friends; my commitment to writing, my appreciation of each day.

Water Lily, Nymphaea Pamela,
Edinburgh Botannical Garden (Camp 2009)
I wanted to respond to Rick's article to explore, perhaps, how these four concepts of peace might relate to a writer's life.

For Rick Hanson is not writing about world peace, or peace through action. He has focused the concept of peace down to inner peace, that sense of tranquility that makes us calm, perhaps happier, perhaps more accepting of who and what we are.

While writing can be a form of meditation on many levels, I come away from writing this post with a sense of peace and renewed commitment. Just one thing. Cherish each day!

In what ways do you cherish your own sense of peace?

Read a little more:
Rick Hanson: Just One Thing: What's Your Sense of Peace?
K. M. Huber's Blog -- this week: The Mirror That Is All of Us
A Round of Words in 80 Days

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Fiction: Death Pans Out

Ashna Graves with Death Pans Out (2007), has written a murder mystery with unconventional twists. The story, set in dry and rocky eastern Oregon, opens with Neva returning to an abandoned mine to heal from cancer. But strange noises at night and her own journalistic curiosity have her asking questions from a bevy of quirky, three-dimensional characters who are not all friendly. Someone knows something about Neva's uncle's disappearance. and Neva is determined to find out.

Perhaps Ashna Graves, a former journalist herself, wrote this story because she is in love with the high desert country of eastern Oregon. Her lyrical descriptions reflect sheer appreciation for nature in its unspoiled state. One example of her clear and evocative style: "Frogs began a slow chorus around the edge of the glossy, opaque ater. A noisy clattering on the slope to the east of the pond turned out to be five elk, the first she had seen on Billie Creek."

But at its heart, Death Pans Out is about the struggle for survival on one's own terms, whether as an irascible retiree who seeks artifacts, a former beauty queen who runs a cattle ranch, or Neva herself, pushed to vacate her uncle's cabin because she came to this narrow river valley not to mine, which the small community would understand, but to heal.

Ashna Graves confesses that this story is based partly on 'real life' and that "the power and beauty of the land healed me after a long illness." The reader also learns, along with Neva, about the issues between environmentalists and miners and ranchers, and the hard scrabble reality that informs the history and values of people who live in a small Western town.

A long-time resident of Oregon, I tracked this book down at our local library because I knew Ashna Graves as columnist Wendy Madar for the Corvallis Gazette-Times. She is an excellent storyteller. I was pulled right into Death Pans Out by her ability to draw original, yet believable characters, place them in unsettling circumstances, and twist the plot tighter and tighter to a surprising yet entirely satisfying conclusion.

Perhaps this story was intended for female readers as it focuses on Neva's coming to terms with her own cancer and her uncle's death. Neva's physical strength, her integrity, her commitments to others, and simply, her courage is tested again and again.

But I believe this rich story has a wider appeal, as it rings true to a region and a time when miners and folks living in small towns knew each other well and depended on each other for more than an occasional 'howdy.'

Ranking: 'Must Read' with 5 out of 5 stars.

Visit Ashna Graves/Wendy Madar website here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Fiction: Letters from Skye

This story unfolds as if the book were a suitcase of treasured letters.

Letters from Skye is organized around the letters of two women, mother and daughter -- and those they love. Elspeth, a poet, isolated on the Island of Skye, and perhaps not in love with her husband, begins to exchange letters with an American fan during World War I. As we read these letters from this time, we also are introduced to a mystery as the book shifts to letters written by Elspeth's daughter, Margaret, in Edinburgh during World War II, for Elspeth has disappeared.

The story is compelling, for these letters reveal the passion and uncertainty we rarely show outsiders.

The plot twists are delicious. Just when I think I've figured out what will inevitably happen next, the story turns, the characters behave unexpectedly (and are able to explain their actions later), and the question of how we honor commitments to those we love is answered. 

I was entranced by these characters, Elspeth and her Davey, and by how skillfully Jessica Brockmole creates the mood and settings of these two times, from the very rural and isolated Island of Skye, to Edinburgh and London.

When I spent two months in Scotland, doing research for Standing Stones, there wasn't enough time to visit Skye. Instead, I now remember the people and places of the Orkneys, Inverness, and Edinburgh, one of the key settings of Letters from Skye

Definitely a memorable read. 4.5 stars.

Read more about Jessica Brockmole here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Poet's Necessary

Necessary, a noun, meaning something indispensible. 

One pair of watchful eyes, trained to observe
One half sense of history
One half sense of nature
A love of words unmeasured
One full willingness to say what only the heart knows
Sprinkling of humor, especially at self
Dash of bitters and commitment

Mix all at odd moments.

Let rest.


Read aloud and revise again.

Tuck away in a journal or
serve with joy to all those who love poetry.
Repeat as you are moved to write.
Feeds a multitude.

River Ness near Inverness, Scotland (Camp 2009)
Morgan Dragonwillow's recent post, Recipe for a Poet, made me wonder what my own recipe would be. And what would your recipe include?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Friday Fiction: When Pigs Fly . . .

Summer time. Some years all those fantasies come true. Endless blue skies. Beach blanket with book.

Not this year.

But I did find a fine summer read: When Pigs Fly by Bob Sanchez.

Imagine John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces goes to the Southwest.

An amazing mix of ribald, raucous and raunchy characters -- including a javelina and one bad guy nicknamed Diet Cola -- pursue the American dream, while our hero, retired police officer Mack Durgin, complete with dotty and doting parents, tries to honor the ashes of a dear friend.

Mack's quest truly begins at The Snake in the Grass, a cheap bar, where Mack confronts his melancholy over his wife's death by drinking himself to oblivion and awakening with a missing wallet, a hammering headache, and a memory of a woman with unbelievable breasts.

If the plot were only funny and fantastical, that would be enough. But Sanchez, with his vivid description, brings an astonishing diverse cast of characters to life, each character endearing in his or her very unique way. It's also clear that Sanchez loves the desert. His skill in crafting description leads to sheer reading pleasure. One example as two shady types case a small bungalow: "Its gray shingles were all curled up and covered with pine needles, and its gray cupboard siding looked like somebody hit it with a hammer in eleventy-two places."

When Pigs Fly
available at Amazon
No plot spoilers here. Sanchez gives us a story that entertains as we follow the whimsical adventures of characters who seemingly have nothing in common. As his engaging crew of characters gather at the overlook to the Grand Canyon after a cross-country romp, Sanchez redefines a comic misadventure with sympathy and authentic caring for the dreams we share about love, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

When Pigs Fly.   Perfect for the beach.

Star rating:  4.5 out of 5.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Writing with one hand behind my back . . .

Two strategies to share today for those (like me) with not enough time and not enough stamina to keep that writing project moving ahead:

Kim Switzer's journal cover
for her work in progress
1. Writer's Journal. I've often kept a travel journal for drawing and notes when we're on the road and access to a computer is difficult. But my attempts to start a journal to support a writing project have been less successful. Along comes Kim Switzer this morning with a lovely blog post (with pictures) on keeping a journal for your novel -- complete with character.

2. Formula writing. I no long want to look down on writing by using a formula. I just want to get some words on the page every day. So this morning's read comes from Facebook and a link to
Cynnara Tregarth's blog. She talks about the messy process of writing scenes out of which I mined this:

Book à Chapters. 
Chapters à Scenes. 
Scenes à Micro-scene.

Something happens in the micro-scene (cause), that leads to a series of effects (reactions) -- the character feels something, has a reflexive reaction, a rational action, and then speech.

Thanks to several others on ROW80 (A round of words in 80 days -- "the writing challenge that knows you have a life!"), I feel encouraged to write (even with very limited time and energy), that is to write at least 5 sentences every day and/or for 15 minutes, whichever comes first.

For the last several days, I've been able to write 350 words a day.

That's real progress. 

What do you do when you want to write but the words don't easily fall onto that paper?