A blog for people who don't want to spend all their free time in the real world. After all, we live and work there. Escape the mundane with books, travel, and writing.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nathaniel Danes's Guest Post: Seeds of Imagination

Here's a great guest post from Nathaniel Danes, a fellow writer:

I can't speak for any author other than myself but I find the world ripe with seemingly insignificant scraps of information begging to be nurtured, grown into a story. I look at my ordinary life with the goal of finding hidden adventure.
I'm low vision, functionally blind in most situations. As you can guess, my degrading retinas restrict what I can do in the real world. I love skiing, scuba diving, and a host of other activities I can no longer do, or do how I want to do them. This fighting retreat has been the story of my life since being medically discharge from the Army at the old age of seventeen, following my diagnosis.
Simply put, I can't live the life I want to so my imagination has become my keep. My final impenetrable stronghold, impervious to the ravages of my affliction. I can go anywhere and do anything. It's an escape I utilize regularly.
Maybe it's just me because my mind is so desperate for new material to chew on but I'll grad ahold of a minor piece of information and build an entire universe around it. That's how my latest novel, BattleMaster was born.
Several years ago I saw a short segment on TV about the US Air Force's experiments with craft controlled by a pilot's brainwaves. The pilots were hooked up to simulators but the results were still very interesting. A female subject remarked that initial findings suggested women were better at this method of operation.
The seed had been planted.
That fact whispered in my ear for years and I combined it with others I picked up. Such as, knowledge the female brain is wired to maximize multitasking while males are superior at focusing on a single objective. Both have their advantages and are likely a result of survival demands dating back millennia. Men hunting and providing protection while woman cared for the young and performed any number of important tasks.
Theses two bits of information are what formed the roots of BattleMaster. I asked myself, if women are better at multitasking and the future of warfare is drone based, wouldn't they one day reign supreme on the battlefield? My imagination went from there and the story blossomed until it found its way to the page.
So, pay attention to the world around you. Seeds of imagination are adrift everywhere. 

Nathaniel Danes is a self-diagnosed sci-fi junkie and, according to his wife, has an over active imagination. Mostly blind, he writes to create universes where he has no limitations. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Washington, DC area.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Behave, by Andromeda Romano-Lax

This is a strange book.  In a good way.

The writing is evocative, the setting and time period rich and convincing. The tone and style are nearly perfect for the era and subject matter.

I found it very engaging...even though I usually disconnect somewhat when I don't admire any of the characters. While I sympathized with Rosalie, and found myself wanting to like her, I couldn't quite get over some of what she allowed/condoned. I didn't like John Watson much at all, but he was a undeniably fascinating character. This complexity kept me interested, kept me thinking about it even after I finished.

I do rather wish I had read the author's notes at the back first, because I read the novel assuming that it was based on known facts about Rosalie with details filled in by the author, when it turns out most of Rosalie's story was pure invention. That always confuses my sense of truth and makes me doubt the parts that really were based on fact. However, this is just my own personal problem with historical fiction. Besides, we all know how accurate our “true” histories are.

What follows is not exactly a criticism of the book. It's a criticism of Watson, Rosalie, and all their associates. Okay, here goes: those real-life experiments with infants were unbelievable. Bad enough was the sheer cruelty of it: practically torturing unwilling and defenseless subjects in the quest to permanently leave them negatively conditioned. Um...unethical? 

 But even if you accept that Watson was an unethical man, or a man with twisted Machiavellian ethics, I had a hard time believing his scientific method (or lack thereof). He was supposedly a great scientist, as was Rosalie, but their experiment structure was so flawed that I—not a scientist—saw the giant problems. For example, with the Albert B experiments: One subject? Really? Tests that change more than one variable at a time? And then you modify the experiment midstream to try to get the result you want? So unscientific. And it's sickly irresponsible to base entire child-rearing theories on insanely small sample sizes of relatively short duration that—even if they were more scientific and duplicatable—wouldn't prove as much as you claim they prove. So why did no one really question his methods at the time? 

 I think the novel could have more fully explored these issues, really examining the psychology of seeing what you want to see instead of what really IS, of letting yourself get swept away in bad science for some imagined greater good or because of the authority-in-a-white-coat phenomenon or because you're in love or in lust. And what about dealing with the guilt when you finally understand what you did? All of this is addressed to a degree in the book, some of it quite elegantly, but I would have liked to have seen less of the romance in favor of a deeper treatment of these and other more interesting topics.

It's a compelling book. I would certainly read more by Andromeda Romano-Lax.   

Four Stars

Monday, April 10, 2017

Guest Post: Alaska Cruising Highlights

Check out my guest post on the Page Turner, Vicki Goodwin's site.  It's an article about some of my favorite experiences cruising Alaska.  And it's got pictures.

While you're there, check out some of the Vicki Goodwin's posts about books and authors. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

4 Books Everyone Should Read--Guest Post

Here's a guest post from Cassie, an avid reader:

Whether you’re taking the bus to work or on an amazing trip through the Czech Republic, a good book is the best companion. There’s the classics of course, but if you’re an avid reader you probably have already read through most of them. Or, if not, they’re at least on your to-do list. However, there are plenty of amazing books that might not be considered ‘classics,’ but that will absolutely keep you engaged from beginning to end and may end up being one of your favorites.

If you’re an avid traveler, you might want to consider getting these books in digital format whether as an audiobook or eBook. The best part about doing this is that you can always download these while you’re on-the-go. Just remember to use a virtual private network when using public WiFi so that hackers can’t steal your credit card info.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Set during WWII, this Pulitzer-winning book combines the world of comic books with the horrifying reality of war. It follows Joe Kavalier as he and his cousin Sammy Clay attempt to make a living for themselves creating comics. Chabon expertly weaves together reality and art until it becomes impossible to tell the two apart. Besides this, this book also blends the history and development of comic books, magic, Jewish mysticism and even a little romance.

The Phantom Tollbooth
While technically a middle reader, The Phantom Tollbooth will capture the imagination of adults and children alike. For young Milo, everything seems boring. That is until a tollbooth appears in his room. Curious, he decides to take his toy car and drives through, only to be teleported to exciting new worlds. Thus, Milo’s journey begins. What sets this book apart from other fantasy adventure stories is its focus on wordplay and the transformative power of words. At every turn there’s another surprise waiting around the corner proving that even everyday events can turn into magical occurrences.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Get ready for the wackiest interstellar journey of your life. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is pretty much a spoof of every science fiction novel you’ve ever read complete with a hapless hero, a hyper-dimensional space trace, a depressed robot and aliens who want to destroy the Earth (though it’s not personal). There are countless one-liners you likely see now in pop-culture such as the meaning of life is 42. And let’s not forget the ragtag band of characters and hilarious humor sprinkled throughout the book. This book is part of a five-book series, so if you like this one, there is plenty more adventure out there to enjoy.

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom
Being Prince Charming isn’t all sunshine and roses. In fact, it’s hard and often unappreciated work. The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom offers a fresh take on classic fairy tales by following the nameless princes of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White and Rapunzel. As usual, there’s trouble afoot and it’s up to these princes to save the day from bandits, dragons and witches. It’ll have you in stitches from the humor and excellent banter between all of the characters. If you’re looking for a good way to wind down after a stressful day, this is a great choice.

While these aren’t the most challenging books to read, they’ll still stimulate your imagination and put a smile on your face. Plus, reading is good for your health, no matter the genre.

What books would you recommend? Let us know in the comments below!

About the author: Cassie is a freelance tech writer and reading enthusiast. While she loves the feel of a paperback, she also loves how technology such as eReaders and tablets has made it easier for her to read anywhere.  Check out culturecoverage.com.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska--three years apart

Glaciers are always changing, always moving, even if we can't see it.  I went to Mendenhall Glacier, just outside Juneau, Alaska, in early July 2011.  Here's a picture.  Observe the cool-shaped iceberg floating in the lake.  To get a feel for the scale, look at the person in the foreground.  When we went, the lake was full of ice that had calved off the glacier.

Three years later, in late July 2014:  Same glacier, same lake, almost no icebergs.  Many, many factors are at play here.  I just hope global warming isn't the main one.

To learn more about visiting Mendenhall Glacier and other amazing Alaskan attractions, check out Cruising Alaska on a Budget; A Port and Cruise Guide.  Whether you're thinking about taking a cruise or traveling on your own, you'll find useful travel tips for towns like Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka, and others.

Buy the book now on Amazon.

Sign up my mailing list in the right-hand corner.  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Salmon in Ketchikan, Alaska

Salmon are amazing.  
They are born in fresh water.  They live most of their lives out in the sea.  Then, when their biological clock tells them, they swim upriver, sometimes many miles, to the place where they were born, only to spawn and die.  An amazing circle of life.  

Salmon trying to jump up obstacles in their way home to spawn
Ketchikan, Alaska, late August:

A traffic jam of salmon waiting to make their run up the small but challenging falls on Ketchikan Creek:

To learn more about salmon and where to see them in Alaska, read Cruising Alaska on a Budget  

Use the contact form in the right-hand column for more tips and Alaska news.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Picketpost Mountain, Arizona

A great Arizona hike--Picketpost Mountain, near Superior.

The mountain stands alone, giving great views all around from the top.  It's steep, the trail gaining more than 2100 feet (640 m) in about 2 miles (3.2 km).  It's also a bit of an adventure:  lots of rocks to climb over, lots of loose and slippery dirt, lots of places where you lose the trail and find it again after a little bushwhacking, lots of slightly scary heights.  I LOVE it.

Here's my brother, looking up at our path.  It goes through that gap in the vertical cliffs:

And here's one of those cliffs from halfway up:

My brother, climbing:

Views from the top:

Me at the famous mailbox at the top, where visitors can sign the log and read others' comments:

To get to the trailhead, turn off Highway 60 not far east of Superior, Arizona.  There are brown trail signs on the highway pointing the way.

If you go, go in spring or fall. Absolutely do not try this in 100+ temperatures (38 C+) unless you really know what you're getting into.  Even then, I don't recommend it.  Take plenty of water whenever you go.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Deer Mountain Trail, Ketchikan, Alaska

Deer Mountain Trail is Ketchikan's most easily accessible trail, and it's certainly a beauty. Steep and often very wet, it's a lush and peaceful environment to enjoy some of Alaska's beauty. If you get high enough, it'll also give you great views. I've hiked it twice, and I would hike it again tomorrow if I had the chance.

From my journal after the first hike up Deer Mountain:

From the second lookout, fog rose and fell, obscuring and revealing. I could see nothing but clouds, then islands would appear below me, then disappear again into the fog.”

View from Deer Mountain Trail

View  from same spot less than 1 minute later

Almost better in the rain, so green—shiny green and misty. And the sound of raindrops.”

My second hike up Deer Mountain was even rainier and foggier than the first. Here are a few snippets from my journal that night:

"The trail was wet wet--practically a river running down in. I had my emergency poncho (the heavy-duty one) but I was still immediately soaked from the ankles to knees and elbows to wrists. Then it started wicking up my sleeves and pant legs until I was completely soaked. My 'waterproof' boots stopped shedding water at about 1.5 miles, so my feet were in a swamp. But that made it easier to not care about the puddles and rivers. Adventure!"

I recognized where snow had covered the path last time. It was clear, so I went on, past a foggy pond, more scrub, sloping fields of some giant clover-looking plant, where the trail slanted through it and the land disappeared below and above into soft blankets of fog, as if the trail were an island. And then around one bend, half behind a bush, stood a deer, looking at me. Gorgeous. I spent a long time watching her, trying to photograph her through the mist, stalking her—and then a second deer. They munched on the plants, looked at me with just a touch of wariness, then began munching again. It was past the time when I should have turned back, in order to catch the boat, but I didn't want to leave the deer so quickly, so I watched and lurked and eventually turned—regretfully—back.”

My advice: plan more time than you think you'll need, so you don't have to turn back before you want to. The trailhead is uphill along Ketchikan Lakes Road from the small city park. From the trailhead, it's 2.75-mile (4.4 km) climb to the 3000-foot (914 m) summit, but you don't have to go all the way to experience the greenery, the boardwalks, the views, and even the alpine meadows. You can get a basic map at the visitor center.  

Do you want to know more about Deer Mountain Trail and other great hikes you can take while on an Alaskan cruise?  

Then Cruising Alaska on a Budget is for you.  It includes many free and inexpensive things to do in the ports, including hikes and/or easy walks in all the mainstream cruise destinations.  If you're traveling independently, you'll still find the information useful.  

Buy it now on Amazon.

If you want to know more, sign up my mailing list in the right-hand corner.  

You'll love Alaska.  

Friday, February 10, 2017

Advice from Writers at the Glendale Chocolate Affair

I love the Glendale Chocolate Affair, partly for the chocolate, but mostly for the writing classes (sponsored by area romance writers--see the connection to February and chocolate?)   Every year I'm in the country, I go to some of the classes, and always learn something new or remember something I've forgotten.

This year I collected my favorite tidbit of advice from each class and compiled them at Writer's on the Move, a blog I contribute to about the art and business of writing.

Here's my favorite one:

Don't write linking scenes just to write them. If you do, they'll be boring. Skip all the boring scenes.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

All the Light we Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

This was a beautiful book. Sad, brutal at parts, but beautiful. It puts a very human face on the tragedy of war, and does so in a fresh way.

The writing is at times too descriptive for my personal tastes, a bit too poetic, and I do sometimes wonder if someone who uses the verb “purl” twice within twenty pages is maybe trying a little too hard. However, this is all very subjective, and overall I really liked and admired the writing itself: the velvety language and unusual combinations, the perfect choice of details, the slow builds.

The main characters were well-drawn and I the author made me love them.

The story moved slowly at times, but in that rich, beautiful way that I like.

The plot was engaging, all the separate strands working well together.

I did get temporarily confused sometimes with the time jumping because the author didn't always do enough to orient us at the beginning of each jump, instead just dating the sections and expecting us to remember the dates of the others sections. I never remember dates like that, so I had to flip back and forth a couple of times. Still, a minor issue.

I did wonder about a few small details, like the can of homemade peaches. Wouldn't it be a bottle? A few things about the resistance's communication didn't quite make sense to me either, but that was probably just me. Again, tiny issues in such an good novel.

The ending worked for me, though most if it was pretty sad. Yet amid all the sadness--through the whole book--there was hope and beauty too.

A very, very good book.

4.5 Stars   

Sunday, January 29, 2017

South Mountain Park, Phoenix, Arizona

South Mountain Park, Phoenix, Arizona

After having spent more than two years in Europe, the desert looks so beautiful again to me, especially when I see it through my Czech friends' eyes.  It's especially green here after a lot of rain.  Beautiful, beautiful place.

If you go to South Mountain Park, go in fall, winter, or spring.  Take water.  Enjoy.

Various cactus, South Mountain Park

Hummingbird in Ocotillo
Hedgehog cactus, I believe

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How to Handle Book Bigotry--Guest Post by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

How to Handle Book Bigotry

An excerpt from Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career.

I thought I would share an excerpt from the newest book in my multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books titled How to Get Great Reviews Frugally and Ethically with Melinda’s readers. It was launched in a special BookBaby.com promotion and it is estimated that it was read by at least 20,000 authors, which makes me practically ecstatic that I can help that many in the its first months as an e-book. It is now available as a paperback, too.

I believe—know—that  attitudes toward self- and indie-publishers have become more accepted over the decades. When my first novel was published, any book published by anything other than university presses and New York’s Big Five were derisively called “vanity publishers.” Still, book bigotry or its near cousins hasn’t disappeared entirely.
That sounds discouraging, but it’s a reality. Some—including reviewers—find it convenient to let the name of a press help vet their final choices among hundreds of thousands of books available to them these days. Using the name of a respected press is an easy—though misguided—way to do that.
Brooke Warner, the author of Green Light Your Books and board member of IBPA (Independent Book Publishers of America) says, “I advise authors with [print-on-demand books] never to specify how their books were printed [when they are] talking to book buyers, event hosts, booksellers, conference organizers or librarians . . . .”
Notice that Warner is not suggesting you fib about how the book is published. It seems she is suggesting we just omit that piece of information. But in some cases you can bravely face down book bigotry. That means owning up to however your book is published. My coauthor of the Celebration Series of Chapbooks Magdalena Ball and I list our poetry chapbooks (booklets) in the series as “proudly self-published in the time-honored tradition of poets since before Gutenberg invented the press.”
Honesty is essential. Reviewers and other contacts are not naïve. They know a digitally printed book, micro press, indie publisher or any number of entities now in the publishing business when they see it. But, as writers, we know that words and the way we use them are powerful and we should be willing to use the power to the best of our ability within the boundaries required by ethics.
It is your job—no matter who printed your books—to convince reviewers (and, yes, readers!) that your book is the one they want to spend time with. That your book has value that particular reader or reviewer can use, wants, or desperately needs. We do that:
§  By publishing or having someone else publish a professional, well edited book. Read more on how to do that in my multi award-winning The Frugal Editor and find more books that will help you with the journey in the Index of that book.
§  By building—and continuing to build—a platform that is respected by others in the publishing industry. (Read more on that in The Frugal Book Promoter).
§  By approaching reviewers (and other gatekeepers) with whom you have built a relationship and/or those you have researched so you are confident that they will have an interest in your genre. That requires lots of reading and research so you won’t waste sending a book to someone with no clout or who isn’t actually a reviewer. You’ll want to read How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career to learn more on getting and managing those reviews successfully.

Note: By being familiar with the reviewer or other contact and the media she writes for, you limit the chances your book or the content within will be misused. For more on that see the chapter on “Why Book Reviews Aren’t What You Think They Are” in How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically.
You, the author of your book, are the one who is so passionate about it you will not be daunted by the review-garnering task. Persistence is the key. But here’s The Secret to getting around this to-tell-or-not-to-tell conundrum:
Pretend you are a florist and must put the best blooms in your book bouquet forward. You discard the wilted ones, or at least place them behind the more exquisite blossoms in your inventory.
·         So, you shout it out when it’s your advantage to tell and you do it with pride.
·         When you think your bloom will appear slightly wilted to your contact, you disguise it with the name of a professional publishing company you set up for your own books.
·         And when all else fails, you tactfully omit that information. You won’t fool anyone who finds this information super important, but there is no rule that you must flaunt it, either.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. All her books for writers are multi award winners including both the first and second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor which won awards from USA Book News. Other awards include Readers’ Views Literary Award, the top marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. And now, ta da! The third:  How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Praise for Far-Knowing

“I've read a lot of books this year, and I think my favorite fantasy so far has been 'Far-Knowing' by Melinda Brasher. It's a coming-of-age with two female protags, with a relationship I found quite interesting: simple at first glance, yet very multifaceted.”

-John Blackport

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Rogue and missing apostrophes

Punctuation is more important than some people think.  See my post at Writer's On the Move for the latest installment:  Apostrophes!

And seriously, if you're going to get a tattoo, get someone to proofread it first.  :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Reading Challenge 2016--Mission Accomplished

On Goodreads' 2016 challenge, I set myself to read 30 books.  I read 32.  If you want to check them out, here's the link.

Probably my favorite two books were Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero and The Railway Children by E. Nesbit.  Also very interesting:  Whistling Girls by Barbara Paetznick, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, The Good Soldier Svejk, by Jaroslav Hasek, and To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey.

The Railway Children by E. NesbitBroken Angels by Gemma LivieroWhistling Girls by Barbara PaetznickThe History of Love by Nicole KraussTo The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey