Wednesday, November 16, 2022

NaNoWriMo: Flash Research

NaNoWriMo is going more slowly than I had hoped, but it's going. I've decided that writing an historical novel for my NaNo project was a mistake. Details keep cropping up that I feel an urgent need to doublecheck or learn on the fly before I can continue writing with confidence.

I'm calling it 'flash research.' Where I research "in a flash," not "how to flash." Bad joke. Whatever.

I love learning things, so research is a risky business during NaNo month. One thing leads to another, and suddenly an hour of writing time is gone.

So what sorts of things are distracting me from writing? 

Today, I looked up the deathstalker. What is this thing with a kick-ass name? Be prepared to shudder in terror when you behold it.

Deathstalker Scorpion, image by מינוזיג

Let's retrofit some stuff I looked up during earlier NaNo research pitstops:

1870s fashion, not because I needed to, but because I wanted to gawk at loveliness
Mahalabiya, or milk pudding

The range and habits of the Egyptian cobra

Where shall the story take me next? If a djinn would come along and grant me a wish, I'd want the story to take me back to Egypt, in a literal sense. I'd go back in a heartbeat. I expect my love of the place and my fascination with its people and its history come across in the story, perhaps too strongly. Can't be helped, and I'm not sorry. :D

Thursday, November 3, 2022

#NaNoWriMo Shell Shock

So yesterday, Day 2, of my unofficial NaNoWriMo participation, my brain went into full revolt, cannons booming, bombs falling, satellites shooting lasers, the Death Star revving up on the horizon, and sent my words into full retreat. The result was a pathetic 163 words and a cussing fit.

On Day 1 I was so excited and knocked out 1214 words of my goal of 20k. After that, I'm pretty sure my brain got to looking at the structure of the schedule I had handed it and decided to give me the finger. Now words are quivering in the darkest corner of the void stunned by shell shock.

Takes me a bit to adjust to any sort of change, and I assume this is no different. Hoping my brain gets over itself and we can make some headway. Before it's too late to catch up.

It's not like you've never written on a tight schedule, Brain! Stop acting like a melon loaded with dynamite and do what I know you can do!

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

First Time #NaNoWriMo Participant

In an unofficial capacity, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time ever. I'm hoping the collective goal of 50k in one month will light a fire and provide excuses to focus and say no to distractions -- so that I can make major headway on my WIP.

I've crossed the halfway mark on Blackbird (no longer the title, but for consistency's sake), so I'm looking at the finish line at last. Problem is, it's taken me two years to reach this halfway point. The last half MUST NOT take another two. It's time to kick things into high gear. Now of all times. During the holiday season, which is the WORST time for me to write. Always has been. But if I can tell family, "Sorry, there's a writing competition going," maybe I'll get this thing done by spring.

I haven't joined the official NaNo site/forum. I'll be doing all my updates on LegendFire. And here. I hope.

Ugh. And by rambling on my blog, I'm proving my dread to begin. Stop procrastinating! Get writing!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Egypt, Special Moments

 As if the cruise up the Nile wasn't special enough, there are a few highlights that stand out. I even captured a few of them on camera.

After returning to the Medea with feet throbbing from a hectic morning of sightseeing, how refreshing it was to get showered and head up to the sundeck where Ahmed or Islam were tending bar.
The pina coladas featured fresh coconut. When I wasn't interested in a cocktail, coffee was always on tap. For the first time I tried Turkish coffee, fragrant with cardamom. I loved it so much that the first thing I did upon returning home was order me a Turkish coffee set. I still can't get the foam just right.

This is Islam. Amazing how the waitstaff responded when guests treated them as people rather than "servants" whom they seemed to prefer to be invisible. The best time on board the boat was interacting with these guys, getting to know them a bit, even allowing them to drag me out on the dance floor (I don't dance, so it was a huge deal, but how do you tell these guys no?). Treat these guys well, and they return the favor by surprising you with coffee before you think to ask for it. And Islam here was so excited to show me his hometown, Ar-Aman, as we sailed past.

Downtime was enhanced by our cabin's huge sliding windows. Once the afternoon shade hit our side of the boat, we escaped the Egyptian sun and enjoyed the cool breeze on our tired swollen feet. How often I had to remind myself that landscape drifting slowly past was, in fact, real. That we were actually lounging on the Nile itself.

At Rameses' temple at Abu Simbel, I dared approach the pharaoh so we could compare feet. His will be around a lot longer than mine, but I advised him to get a pedi.

photo by Cobren Brown

It was hard to leave. 

Not just the boat, but the group of people we traveled with. One dear lady, who quickly became the heart of the group, was returning to Egypt after 40 years. She eagerly shared her rich memories and closed a few doors that missed opportunities had left gaping. She had been through much during her long life, and I urged her to write her story. I hope she does. In return, she practically adopted my husband as her son, and took this beautiful picture of us on our last evening on the Medea.

Would I return to Egypt? In a heartbeat. If the world doesn't mess things up, maybe I'll get the opportunity. Until then, I shall revisit it in my memories.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Floating the Nile

Everything is research. But what better research than to actually visit the location where your story takes place? Every mile we sailed up the Nile, every minaret, every jewel of rural life, every interaction with the wait staff and passengers, every time we ducked through thick crowds of vendors, provided more research than seeing all the ruins Egypt has to offer.

Here are a few of those jewels that I could never glean from books. And do please excuse the quality of the photos. Some were shot from a moving bus.

Typical farm and canal. The unfinished pillars atop the roof are supports for housing for the next generation.

The modern and the timeless continually crashing into each other.

A market in Cairo, just for selling birds. Parakeets, cockatoos, you name it, they got it.

Friday prayer spilling out onto the sidewalk, Luxor. If I could play the call to prayer, I would. It is haunting and powerful.

Transporting fodder or cane across the Nile.

Spice Vendor at Philae, featuring some of my fellow passengers.

Ash-brewed coffee at a Nubian village. The coffee was brewed with ginger root and other spices for ... ahem ... virility.

Courtyard at a Nubian house, featuring a sand floor and reed thatch. Domed ceilings regulate temperatures to keep the interior cool. I want a house like this.

Lush farmland stretching to the desert. West bank, Luxor/Thebes. The ruin at the edge of the green is the Ramesseum, which features largely in my story.

Sunset, Luxor, from the sundeck of the Medea. At times there are in fact gorgeous sunsets featuring molten clouds. These clouds happened to herald a storm that struck Aswan a couple of days after we left. The resulting flood caused scorpions to flee the ground and invade peoples' homes and businesses. 500 people ended up in the hospital.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Egypt Trip is Go!

 All summer, I fought the urge to blog about a hope and a dream I had in the planning, terrified that if I made the plan public, it would fall through, like so many others have. Call me superstitious. So I wrote nothing about it.

That is no longer necessary.

The hope and the dream became reality. On October 31 (yep, Halloween), my husband and I flew to Egypt for a two week tour and cruise up the Nile. We flew home on November 13 (yep, the thirteenth). If I was really that superstitious, I wouldn't have laughed about those dates.

So now I get to post highlights of the trip.

Though this photo was taken in 2021, it could've happened 100 yrs ago.

The traffic and pollution in Cairo were a shock.

The original color on the columns of Karnak struck me breathless.

Seeing Luxor Temple after dark is the way to go. Cool and beautiful.

Typical street market, this one in Luxor.

Selfie from the sundeck of our cruise boat, MS Medea. El-Qurn, the pyramidal mountain beneath which you'll find the Valley of the Kings, is over my left shoulder.

To Be Continued...

Monday, August 9, 2021

REVIEW: The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry



When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won't find the killer. After all, the year before her father's body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.

So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can't just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.

~ Amazon


Witches are real, as Lauren soon learns. And so are curses. Little does she know that her favorite tree is called the Ghost Tree for good reason.

Up front: the first half of the novel is a delectable horror story; the second half is YA paranormal mystery/thriller.


The Ghost Tree starts out chilling, disturbing, nauseating. It ends as a captivating, dark adventure. The novel is a fast read. That’s saying something. I’m a slow reader. I can dwell inside a novel for a month or two before I manage to finish it. This book took me about a week and a half. Speed readers could have it read in a day or two. This is because it’s an easy book, neither deep nor complicated. 

Fast pacing and clear, to-the-point writing keep you rolling along. As does the story itself. The story grabs hold and doesn’t let go. That sounds trite, but it’s true. In fact, I began to feel rather addicted. Though I had lots of responsibilities to see to, I kept sneaking into my cushy reading chair to devour another chapter or two. 

I loved our main character from the beginning. Lauren is adorable. Not in a “cute adorable” way, but in the “I adore you because I have so been there” way. Her innocence, awkwardness, and strength pulled at my heartstrings, and suddenly I remembered what it was like to be 14, which earned her my enduring pity.

The relationship interactions between Lauren and her mother, Lauren and her best friend, Lauren and Jake were one of the triumphs of the novel. Henry hit the teenage struggle right on the dot.


As much as I enjoyed the novel, there were several things that drove me nuts.

To-the-point writing. Wait, how is this a pro and a con, and why would to-the-point writing be a con anyway? This boils down to personal taste, but it affected me so hugely that I can’t not mention it. The narration was written in such a to-the-point way that it lacked poetry, artistry, complexity. Not once did I run across a line that caused me to stop dead in my tracks and gasp in glorious ecstasy, which is one of the reasons I read in the first place. Gorgeous word-craft, no matter the genre.

For all that, the writing voice seemed extremely appropriate for the main character (a 14-year-old girl) and readers of the same age. Except for the level of gore in the early chapters and once near the end, and the amount of promiscuous sexual activity by a 15-yr-old (none of which is shown or discussed in any level of detail), I would easily chalk this novel up as a YA.

I kept running across one of my pet peeves as well: felt/feel/feeling. When a writer studies writing, one of the tips we encounter is, “Don’t tell the reader how a character feels. Show them.” The word “feel” is used so often throughout the book that the word began to flash like neon. I started circling each use of the word. There are a couple sections where every other sentence has the word “feel” in it. See where I’m going with this?

could be wrong, but I would say that this novel was written extremely quickly and handed over to an editor who knew the author’s work would sell because of past success.

Nor did the twist work for me. Almost as soon as “He” is mentioned, I figured out who “He” was. “He” is clearly our perpetrator. So obvious was the answer to this mystery that I began to wonder if Henry meant it to be a mystery at all. When “His” identity is revealed during the endgame, it wasn’t a twist in the slightest. Was this intentional? *shrug* I can’t say.

Lastly, I can’t say I was satisfied with the resolution either. I expected the last few pages to deal with the fallout of this tragic curse, [spoiler] for the town to outwardly, loudly mourn the deaths of their daughters and hell to rain down on a few heads. But the only result we see is the delusion lifting and being replaced by a kind of brain-fog or shock. All in all, I’d say the ending was rushed, the consequences whitewashed in order to bring the novel to a sudden conclusion.


Timely themes top the list. Among them: racism, police brutality, difficult teenage relationships. Henry handles these topics in a sensitive, believable manner. Their place in the story will resonate with contemporary readers.


I haven’t read a great deal of horror, but the horror novels I have read usually leaving me feeling dissatisfied. I am waiting for that horror novel that has me scared and/or disturbed from cover to cover.

The Exorcist has been the only one, to date, that has managed to accomplish this and provide glowing satisfaction by the time I read the last page. Granted, that’s a big shadow to follow. Is it fair to hold that classic up as the standard? Why not.

That said, I have invested in another of Henry’s novels. I shall embark upon Alice soon. I have been hoping and waiting for just such a take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Crossing fingers it’s everything I’ve hope it is.

In the meantime, I give The Ghost Tree 3 out of 5 magic wands:

Find The Ghost Tree at your local library or these retailers: