Thursday, June 29, 2023

I'm Reading: Murder & Mayhem

Seems I'm reading several things at once, because, I mean, who's suffering from overstimulation these days? Anyway...

Reading # 1:

I feel scarred. Scarred, not scared. I just finished reading the short story "Shards" by Ian Rogers, which is included in Ellen Datlow's anthology Best Horror of the Year, Volume 14. I haven't been too impressed with Volume 14's offerings (I liked Volume 13 better), even though I've passed the 50% mark of the ebook. And then today I reached "Shards." Holy shit. I'm sick and disturbed and deliciously satisfied by it. 

I'd even argue that it's one of the best horror stories I've read to date. Even the ending did not disappoint, which I can rarely say about stories in this genre. "Shards" passed all my pet-peeve checks with flying colors.

The quick and easy summary: Five fast friends vacation in a remote cabin (classic) and discover a gramophone in the basement, then all hell breaks loose. 

Sounds simple, maybe even cliched, but it blew my socks off. And I'm still reeling with a queasy feeling in my gut and a creeped-out swooping sensation in my brain.

Reading #2:

Cain's Jawbone
. Ever heard of it?

My nephew ran across it recently and bought me a copy (sweetest guy ever). I had heard the title in some remote past, but had no idea what it was nor what I was getting myself into. The 100-page "novel" is actually a whodunit puzzle: "the world's most fiendishly difficult literary puzzle," says the book's tagline. Since its publication in 1934, only 3 people have been able to solve it.

The first problem is that the mystery was published out of order. Literally like the author Torquemada had tossed all 100 of his neatly typed pages in the air a few times then gathered them up at random and handed them into the publisher as-is. The margins of the pages have that little "scissors" symbol inviting the reader to cut out all the pages and arrange them in the proper order -- if they can.

The second problem is that the different characters all tell their part in first person, so you're not sure whose point of view you're reading until you read enough to start putting clues together.

The third problem is that the characters are hardly ever named. You run across first names, nicknames, occasionally a whole name (used a single time), or career references ("the minerologist" for example), and it's up to the reader to figure out who is who -- and to separate the actual characters from random names tossed in to confuse things.

All that in addition to having to solve who killed whom.

At first, I thought it sacrilege to cut out a book's pages, but now, having acquainted myself with the puzzle on a first read-through, I'm eager to dig out my scissors and get chopping. Though, even if I figure out the pages' proper order, I doubt I'd be able to wade through all the obscure 1930s references, red herrings, and vague naming scheme to solve the murders.

I may spend the rest of my life puzzling it out…

Thanks, beloved nephew.

Monday, June 19, 2023

June Reflection

June has been a crazy-busy month with several fun things worth remembering.

* To kick off, my niece and I embarked on a LOTR marathon. She had never seen the movies before, so it was a highlight of my life to get to be the first to watch them with her (she's not the apple of my eye or anything). By the time the day arrived, I had a spread of delectable foods that any Hobbit would drool over. It's a long journey to Mordor and back, after all, and we definitely did not starve.

* FINALLY, I got to take my camper (affectionately called Little Blue) to an actual camper spot and spend the weekend in it in nature. Bought the adorable R-pod 180 last August and every attempt so far had fallen through. At last! And did we get put through the hoops. My poor husband had to back the thing into THE WORST spot ever: a steep incline with several curves in it and washed-out drop-offs on both sides. WTH. Despite his anxiety about it, he rocked it. Then we learned that the water spigot was 85 feet away (WTH), and we had 25 feet of hose. So as soon as we get parked, we had to drive 20 mins into the nearest Walmart for gobs more hose. The next morning, a storm blew in with winds that, thankfully, had decreased from 65 mph to 45, and Little Blue did great.

The glorious things: taking my second home with me like a crab wearing a shell, wearing a bathing suit in the rain, a pair of Canada geese with four goslings, nosy crows, the sound of waves at night, fishing with my nephews and catching a 20 pound catfish (WTH). 

Still to come! 

* My 23rd wedding anniversary on the 24th, for which my husband and I are driving to Colorado to attend the Pike's Peak Hill Climb. We've never attended this race, and to claim a good space to watch, we have to be climbing up that mountain at 2:30 IN THE MORNING! This ought to be a crazy adventure.

* I ought to finish the first draft of my historical WIP--which will earn me a bottle of champagne. It's a bloody mess, and I can't wait to dive into edits.

Pics from the camping trip:

This pic doesn't even capture the horrendousness of the drive hubby had to back down.

Gorgeous sunset view from our camping spot.

The storm's gust front pushing in at 6:30 am.


Thursday, June 15, 2023

Review: Remarkable Creatures


Fossils are a huge attraction for me, so Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures was a given for me to read. I even photographed the book with an ammonite impression my friend and I discovered in Colorado, and a conglomerate of crinoids I found on a lakeside. 

I was so excited to read about these two historical women, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, who pioneered the science and discovery of fossils. The novel did not disappoint. It's a quiet story without the huge dramatic dramas we expect from fiction. The tension is mostly internal as these two women take up scientific pursuits in the early 1800s when science was exclusively male. Both spinsters, they also struggle internally with feelings of self-value and significance and must unearth their own inner strength.

The historical aspect is so convincing that I forget I'm not stepping into this time as my current reality. Chevalier is clearly at home with the historical genre b/c the narrative feels so authentic and natural without being heavy-handed with factoids and explanations of antiquated practices in an attempt to make it feel authentic while achieving the opposite. I have a lot to learn from this author.

What's tragic to me is that, except for the few people in the field and certainly the people of Lyme Regis where Philpot and Anning lived, the huge contribution these two women made in the development of paleontology is still largely unsung. Their names were successfully buried from most of us by the male-ruled scientific community. This novel manages to bring them out of the shadows and display for the world the beauty and the legacy these women left behind. 

For that alone, Remarkable Creatures is worth reading. Then, on top of that, we get the gorgeous prose and wise insights we love in well-told fiction. So it's a double win.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Bedlam & Baths

Ah, the neverending adventure of the historical writer. I dived down the rabbit hole recently during my research, and a dark one it was too. Mental illness is a theme that features strongly in my current WIP, and it's fair to say that treatment for mental illness for much of human history has been horrifying. Because my WIP takes place in the 1870s, I had to dive into the practices of the day.

There's a reason why "Bedlam" has become a universal term in the English language. Chains, starvation, and squalor are just the highlights. In the current draft I'm slogging through, one of my characters experiences the "water cure." Maybe it's just me and my aversion to water (yeah, sure), but how such a practice was supposed to "shake lunatics out of their insanity" is beyond me.

A sketch of Bethlehem Royal Hospital, or Bedlam

On a lighter note, a contest at LegendFire got me writing a bit of flash fiction, and a major plot point brought those little wooden nesting dolls to mind. The perfect metaphor! But what the heck are those things called? "Russian nesting dolls" is okay, but I wanted the actual name. Turns out they're Matryoshka. I love feel smarter than I was yesterday.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Mucha Carah

I'm having a helluva lot of fun with MidJourney these days, despite all the grumblings against it. It's just too much fun to see my written words bloom into images, to see my characters and settings interpreted in dozens of different ways. 

This is MJ's take on Carah, the heroine of books 3, 4, and 5 of the Falcons Saga -- if artists Alphonse Mucha and Julie Bell collaborated. The first was done with MJ's version 4, the last two are version 5. Of course, v4 can't get the hands right. I've had very little success with birds' wings either. Hands and wings, as common as they must be in source imagery, are a mystery to this ai. I do find it interesting, however, that despite my prompt not once including the word "book," the ai insisted that a sorceress would be holding a book. Every single image, except the last one, featured a book.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Summit In Sight

Image from Unsplash

So I haven't detailed much progress on Blackbird in a long time, mainly because writing this draft has felt like climbing an interminable mountain. Is it ever going to end???

Even my husband and my mother, who are my biggest supporters, have been asking, "Are you ever going to finish it?" To which I invariably give them a look that is the non-finger version of flipping them the bird. If I were a snarkier sort, I might invite them to kindly sit in my chair for a few days and finish the damn thing themselves. But I'm not. So I wrote on.

On a good day, I don't really love writing a rough draft. And as far as Blackbird goes, the writing has been slow and difficult. Probably because the historical genre is so new to me and demands a certain level of accuracy and knowledge that can't be invented as with fantasy. It has been ... uncomfortable ... like squeezing into a spandex suit.

And my greatest fear for this story is that it will bulge in all the wrong places.

BUT! After slogging on step by step, scene by scene, the end of the climb is within sight. I hope to conclude Draft 1 by the end of June. Then I can begin the part of the process that excites me. Cutting the fat, bulging up the scrawny bits, and otherwise administering the necessary plastic surgery that turns this ugly child into a supermodel.

Well, I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Is the Nile REALLY 1000 Miles Long?

 I have no idea. But Amelia Edwards claimed it was nearly that in her travelogue A Thousand Miles Up the Nile. Published in the 1870s, this firsthand account of traveling the Nile by dahabiyah tops the list of irreplaceable research material that I'm devouring while writing my historical novel. 

I finally thought to add it to my Goodreads bookshelf. The review I posted there is as follows: 

A Thousand Miles Up the NileA Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Along with Lady Duff-Gordon's published letters, A Thousand Miles Up the Nile has my go-to source for setting details (and shocking imperialist attitudes) when researching for my historical novel, which takes place two years before this book was published. My copy is dogeared, marked up, highlighted, and tagged with stickies. And when I traveled the Nile myself in 2021, Edwards' descriptions kept whirling through my head: in the rural parts of Egypt, much remains the same, and it was a trip back in time. To see the same things she described in the 1870s was breathtaking. I can't imagine what I would have done without this priceless firsthand account.

Even if I hadn't needed the book for research, Edwards' prose is magnetic, her insights both timeless and marked by her era, a fascinating read.

View all my reviews