The Long Trail by Penny Hayes



I decided I wasn’t quite ready to leave the world of Leadville, Colorado, so when I looked up Iron Ties by Ann Parker and saw that the ebook price was only $2.51 I bought it and started reading. Reading this one closely mirrored my experience of the first. I found that the story itself wasn’t what most interested me. Parker is competent at crafting a mystery, but not necessarily one that truly grabs me. (A personal taste thing.)

What she is excellent at is creating believable characters and evoking a distinct sense of place and time. And it’s that latter that keeps me absorbed in the books.

Parker also did a great job of incorporating the aftermath of the Civil War in this one. It’s far enough in the country’s past now that it’s easy to forget that the end of the war left raw, gaping wounds in the people who lived through it, on both sides. I’m not a Civil War buff, but I did find that aspect quite interesting, primarily because it’s rarely discussed.

Again Inez was an intriguing protagonist. She’s often self-righteous, which then comes across as hypocrisy given her occupation and extra-curricular activities. She’s complex, not always likable, but interesting to read about.

After I finished that one I was ready to leave Parker’s Leadville, but not necessarily the Old West. Bella Books was having a sale on select books, and one of them was the ebook edition for an old favorite of mine, The Long Trail by Penny Hayes. So I bought a copy for my Kindle and read it.

The Long Trail was originally published in 1986 and was one of the early volumes in my very small, but growing, lesbian library. It’s a story of two women in a tiny town in Texas, not long after the Civil War, who are incredibly unlikely to become friends, but do anyway. Not yet realizing they’d been falling in love, they decide to leave their town and make their way back East. Which makes this sort of a reverse of the usual story, in which the intrepid characters head out on a long trail west.

Because the book has a special place in my heart, I tend to overlook the book’s flaws. If I were reading it now for the first time I probably wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did when I first discovered it. But even with the flaws, the characters are well-drawn and their story is touching and adventurous.



A year ago several of Lawrence Block’s old pulp novels written under the pen name Jill Emerson went on sale for 99 cents each. I bought six of them at the time, and just now finished reading Thirty, which is the third of them I’ve read. (The other two were Threesome, which was excellent, and Enough of Sorrow, which I didn’t think was very good.)

Thirty is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s written in diary format, and is the story of a twenty-nine-year-old housewife who abruptly leaves her husband, moves to Greenwich Village, and embarks on a series of sexcapades.

The writing was very good, with several insightful observations about people and life. But Jan, the woman writing the diary, isn’t that sympathetic. Not that I think she’s intended to be, the purpose for this type of novel was mostly to titillate, and possibly shock, readers.

A nitpicky thing that bugged the heck out of me was Jan using the slang term “balling” to refer to sex. Block has used that in the other books also, and it’s obviously his phrasing sneaking into the narration, rather than a reflection of the character’s speech. It’s a male term, rarely used by women, and even back then I don’t think many men used it either. So it undercuts the female voice of the narration, especially when it’s not just a slang quirk of one character, but used by several different women.

One section was troubling and distasteful, because Jan comes under sway of a predatory, manipulative man, who is also involved with a young girl. The girl is only fifteen in the novel, but he first seduced her when she was twelve. Worse, Jan is also involved with her.

The book is dark, with Jan frequently feeling depressed and suicidal. And it has no ending to speak of, in which the reader can feel some sense of resolution. Instead it just stops on a somber note. Still, I don’t feel like I wasted my time reading it, at least partly because I love reading books written in the time period of the 50s and 60s. (This one was originally published in 1970.)






I finished Dark Dreamer by Jennifer Fulton (only $4.99) yesterday. I had read one novel by Fulton a few years ago, and while the setting was very memorable, the rest of the book was merely okay in my opinion. So I was a bit skeptical about this one, but a lesbian ghost story was too much for me to pass up. I ended up being pleasantly surprised.

The setting, an old haunted house on an island in Maine, was perfect. The characters were interesting, the romance mostly believable, and the plot is intricate with a lot of different things going on. Near the end I thought Fulton got a bit heavy handed bringing in the topic of the Patriot Act. It ended up making me angry because I think the loss of our Constitutional rights is criminal, so it detracted from the novel. But that can be overlooked for what was otherwise a good read.

The ghost aspects aren’t scary, but there are plenty of suspenseful moments.

Then next I read Hidden by Kelley Armstrong. (I got it for only $2.99, it’s $5.99 right now.) It’s a long novella/short novel in Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, with Elena the werewolf as the main character. She, her husband, and young twin children are on a Christmas vacation getaway, but things don’t go according to plan and they end up having to investigate a couple mutt werewolves in the area.

Hidden is pretty much flawless, and is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. The characters are all unique, including the four-year-old twins, the plot is engaging, there are heartwarming moments, and there is plenty of humor and sexiness to keep almost any reader satisfied. Highly recommended.



I read “Home” by Stacia Kane, a short story in her Downside Ghosts series, featuring Chess Putnam and Terrible. This was an unusual offering compared to the novels. It’s not particularly gloomy. More of a Sturm und Drang type story, with an uplifting ending. As much as I love the dark grittiness of Kane’s dystopian urban fantasy series, “Home” was a really nice change of pace, allowing us to see that not everything is hopeless. Those always on the lookout for fiction with positive portrayals of polyamory will be especially interested.



What with working on a project, prepping for NaNo, and other things, I’ve not been reading nearly as much. I just finished Silver Lies by Ann Parker, which took me over a week to read. I bought it on sale for 99 cents in January, but when looking it up for this post I see that it’s being offered free for the Kindle right now.

It took me a while to get into this one, which is a mystery set in a silver mining boom town in Colorado in 1879. I adored the setting, and the main character (Inez) was intriguing, but the story itself didn’t grab me right away. The bustling mining town is what kept me reading initially, and it ended up being quite a satisfactory book. Inez is a fascinating character, but not always easy to like. At times she seems much too judgmental and hypocritical, considering her past. She is a saloon owner, but often acts as if she’s above that. This isn’t a knock against the book by any means, it was done that way intentionally.

For anyone who likes mysteries, and enjoys books set in, not exactly the Wild West, but the still not very tame West, give it a go. What do you have to lose when it’s free? (If you don’t own a Kindle, you can get one of the free apps to read it on your other device or computer.)

In the fall of 2010 I was getting ready to do my second NaNoWriMo. I had jumped into my first one in 2009 five days late, with only vague ideas about what I’d be writing, and pretty much no clue what I was doing.

So when I got an email about a workshop being given specifically for NaNo 2010, I signed up. It was called Speed Drafting, and was taught by Renda Dodge, one of the Seattle NaNo Municipal liaisons. The workshop was free, but for $10 you could buy a workbook to go with it.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my 2010 NaNo was my most successful, both in terms of word count at the end of the month, and in terms of going on to actually finish the novel once November was over. I learned a lot at the workshop, and then taking time to fill out the workbook in the days following helped me really get a handle on the story I wanted to write.

The workbooks that Renda created were what I’d call teaching workbooks. They weren’t just worksheets to fill out, they contained a lot of information about hooks, plot types, types of endings, and so on. Last year Renda published a book called, The Indie Writer’s Workshop, which covers a lot more material than just what was presented in the workshop I took. I haven’t seen the book, but I’d imagine it’s helpful to beginning writers.

This year I decided I wanted to create my own workbook to help me get focused on plotting my novel. I’ve been thinking that might help me be more successful again. I used Renda’s workbook as a starting point, adapting some her questions to my workbook. I rearranged some things to be more linear to fit how my brain works, and I also added a lot of my own material. It’s a bare bones workbook, with nothing in the way of teaching materials.

The main idea is that the workbook helps you brainstorm ideas for your characters and plot, so you have something to work from to write your novel. If you’re not a big planner, I think the brainstorming can still help, in that you get a bunch of ideas in your head about the story you want to tell. And if you are an outliner, you can use the worksheets to help you create the outline. (Which is what I intend to do.)

As I was working on it, I thought others might find it useful, so some of it is designed with that in mind. Originally I was going to host it on Google Docs so anyone could go and download it, but when I went to sign up I wasn’t happy with some things in the TOS.

So instead I’ll just offer that anyone who would like a copy can email me using the contact form (tab at the top of this page), and I’ll email it to you. (For privacy, feel free to use a fake name and a throwaway email address*.) You can request either Word .doc format or .rtf format. It’s designed to be printed out and written on, it’s not a form you can use on your computer.


* Everyone should have what I call a throwaway email address. Sign up at Gmail, Yahoo, or some other free email site and create an email account that is specifically for using when you don’t want to reveal your real info. That way you can register at various sites around the web without any worries.



As proof that you can find anything on YouTube, here are some videos related to NaNoWriMo for your entertainment and amusement.

The NaNoWriMo Song by ALL CAPS

NaNoWriMo Night, inspired by the Muppets

For Gilbert & Sullivan fans, I Am The Very Model Of A Wrimo Individual


My NaNoWriMo History

In keeping with the NaNo theme, and also in keeping with the idea that procrastinating is almost always more fun than working on a NaNo WIP (work in progress), I’ve created My Personal NaNo History page. There’s a new tab for it at the top.

It’s a place for me to show off my trophies, making use of the bragging rights I’ve won. I also list my NaNos to date, first in brief format, then in quintessential, SeattleRobin long-winded format.

So, yesterday I blathered on a lot in my intro to NaNoWriMo. But while extolling its virtues, I think I overlooked a very basic point. What is the actual purpose of NaNo? After all, people can write any time, they don’t need no stinkin’ contest.

NaNoWriMo is many things to many people. There are as many ways to approach it as there are participants. (That would be about three hundred thousand.) Everyone has their own personal goals, or reasons for participating. But there is one purpose that underlies everything else.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to make you write.

Duh, you say. How obvious can you be? But really think about that.

Many people fantasize about being a writer. But in order to be a writer, even as a hobbyist, you must actually write. Thinking about characters, imaginary worlds, and plot twists is all kinds of fun. (In fact, it’s my favorite part.) But having a creative mind and a vivid imagination does not a writer make.

And if your fantasy about being a writer includes sending your work off to agents, in the hopes of actually getting published, this is even more important to understand. The number of people who are talented enough to get their first ever novel published are few enough to not even be worth discussing. The vast majority of writers do not spring full grown from the head of a Muse.

The typical writer must learn the craft and develop their voice. You cannot do this by reading books or websites about writing, listening to speakers, or fantasizing. Those are all valuable, but what is absolutely critical is to write. You learn to write better by writing. There is no shortcut.

I’ve seen it bandied about that a typical writer must write one million words before they have developed enough skill to write something publishable. Exact numbers can be debated, and they’ll be different for each individual anyway, but the point can’t be ignored. You have to write a lot before you can write something truly worth reading. (Your aunt and best friend don’t count.)

NaNoWriMo makes you write. Especially when you might otherwise not. It gives you the framework within which to write some of those one million practice words.

By my calculations, I still have somewhere in the neighborhood of 712,000 words to go.

And now some links! I spent quite a while wandering around WordPress blogs to see what others are saying about NaNo. I selected a few to link to here.

Deciding if NaNoWriMo is for you.

A humorous pep-talk to get you fired up.

Some general tips helpful to newbies.

Some tips from NaNo veterans.

An easy plotting method if you have no idea how to start.

Are you a planner, a pantser, or a percolator?

A series of posts, starting with idea creation, and moving on to other topics.


p.s. The link to the NaNo site is: http://www.nanowrimo.org


NaNoWriMo 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012


It’s almost that time again! The Office of Letters and Light are gearing up for National Novel Writing Month.

For those unfamiliar with the event, thousands of people from all over the world attempt to write a novel in a month. The goal is to write at least 50K words in the thirty days of November.

At lot of people think about writing, but never get around to actually doing it. Or like me, have dabbled in the past, but never got anywhere. By signing up and committing to do NaNo, it pushes you to finally take that big step and DO IT. Having people from all over the world cheering you on to success is a big help.

The beauty of the thing is that by having a short deadline with a challenging, but doable word count goal, it frees people up from the things that may otherwise hold them back from writing. Constant forward momentum is the key.

The mantra of NaNo is: Don’t edit.

What’s that you say? Don’t edit? No, that can’t be!

YES! Editing is for later. NaNo is for the (very) rough draft. By stuffing your inner editor into a locked trunk and letting the words flow, regardless of how craptastic they may be, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. It doesn’t matter if what you write is complete drivel, you can fix it later.

Some people call NaNo a contest, and it is in a sense. But you are not competing against other people, you’re competing against yourself and the deadline. No one ever sees what you write, unless you personally show it to them. The writing is not judged. The only thing you have to do to win is to write the first 50K words of an original novel before midnight on November 30th.

This will be my fourth NaNo, plus I did the summer Camp NaNo in 2011. I’ve won all three NaNos, I failed at camp. Out of those three wins I’ve only gone on to complete one of the novels after November was over. (NaNo 2010.) I even went on to completing a second draft. But then I stopped there, because I just don’t have the skill necessary to make it into a polished manuscript at this stage.

So what’s the point of even doing it, you ask? The first year I took it up as a personal challenge. I just wanted to see if I could even do it, since the most fiction I’d ever written prior to that was a few pages here and there. The sense of accomplishment I felt when I crossed the 50K mark at the very end of the month was a feeling that is impossible to describe.

And best of all? I can actually say I have written a novel! How many people do you know who can say that? (If you regularly hang with published authors, don’t answer.)

After my first time I was just kinda hooked on participating. It’s exciting, painful, frustrating, and elating. Plus, I got my best friend involved for my second year, so now we participate together and she’s a great writing buddy.

I will likely never be a skilled enough fiction writer to submit my work to a publisher. But I’ve already learned so much about writing it’s incredible. And it makes for a great hobby!

If any of this sounds the least bit intriguing, go to nanowrimo.org, click on Help in the upper right corner, and read the participation information and guidelines. Then sign up!

What have you got to lose? Even if you only write 5K, if that’s more than you’ve ever written before you accomplished something. And you’ll gain an entirely new appreciation for the authors who write the books you love to read, I guarantee it.

For tips on why I think timelines are important in writing novels, see my NaNo post from 2010 here.

Maybe I’ll see you around the NaNo forums. Though, I go incognito there.

The form on my Contact page was not working and I’m unsure for how long, though it’s probably been at least three or four months. I finally had to delete the original page and create a new one in order to get it working again.

If you have attempted to contact me via the form in the last few months and received no reply, please try again now. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Though please be aware, I do not respond to book review requests when the requester has clearly not read through my policies regarding what I will accept for review. Most of the requests I receive fall into this category.

To be a bit snarky about this, if you can’t demonstrate an acceptable level of reading comprehension, it’s highly doubtful you’ve written anything I would want to read. And no, I will never be so excited by your plot summary that I will make an exception. I already have plenty of unread books on my Kindle as it is.

To everyone else, I’m happy to hear from you any time.

Web Wandering

I love teh interwebz. If I’m curious about anything, all I have to do is sit down at my computer and fire up the trusty browser. The world is quite literally at my fingertips.

But I have a little problem. I’m a Wanton Web Wanderer. You see, it’s a rare occasion that I stop once I have my answer. There are all those glorious links to follow! No matter what I’m looking for, the web page I land on almost always has links to other pages. And it’s almost a given that at least one of those links will entice me to click on it*.

I may only follow one link from a page, but from other pages I might end up clicking on five or more. Long ago I got into the habit of always opening a link in a new window (tab now), so that the original page was still displayed and I could easily go back to it and follow other interesting links also.

A bit earlier (okay, three hours ago), I followed a link on the Prop8TrialTracker site to an article concerning Referendum 74 in Washington. After many hops, skips, and jumps around the web, I found myself watching videos about compost toilets on YouTube.

It doesn’t matter what topic I start with. Inevitably I end up learning all sorts of interesting facts about some other topic that is not only completely unrelated to the original topic, it’s frequently a bizarre topic in relation to the first one. I love teh interwebz.

Are you a Web Wanderer too?

* Ads never entice me to click. I learned long ago to just tune them out on the pages I visit and you’d have to pay me good money to click on any of them.

say no to the word pot


When I’m not chatting about books or movies, I am often focusing on serious issues here. So after reading some comments on an article about legalizing pot, I thought it would be fun to discuss something extremely silly.

For those who don’t know, Washington is one of the states that has an initiative on the ballot next month concerning legalizing pot. Not medical marijuana, we already have that. This would make pot a legal, a state-regulated substance like alcohol.

This post is not to argue for or against legalizing pot. It’s about the astonishing silliness of people arguing over what to call it. No matter what your personal opinion on legalization is, I think most of us can agree that people being insulted by use of the word “pot” instead of “cannabis” is ridiculous.

I didn’t even know this was a burning issue until I read the comments on the article here.

Out of several comments covering a range of topics, four people took time out of their busy day to chastise others for using the word pot. According to them, it’s an issue of respect.

Here are a couple of the choice comments:

“dignifying. that’s cannabis. pot is for undignified people that won’t even try to act educated.”

“Just don’t know why anyone would openly display their prejudice,or ignorance.”

I don’t know about you, but last I checked, plants and their byproducts typically don’t have any feelings to get hurt or dignity to protect. Do we really need to be at pains to insure marijuana plants don’t feel disrespected? Are we plant bigots if we use a common epithet, rather than the taxonomically correct appellation?

I was born in the 60s and came of age in the 70s. It’s pot. I guess this guy was talking about me:

“Take the bell bottoms off and let go of your 1975 slang.”

Sure, I’ve called pot by a few other names too, but cannabis has never been one of them. Its common usage in the vernacular is a relatively recent phenomena.

I like to think that I’m a sensitive soul, not wanting to injure others with my word choices. So, what’s next? A campaign for lycopersicum? After all, calling it a tomato is ignorant and disrespectful.

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