Q&A and Giveaway: The Tourist Trail by John Yunker

Ashland Creek Press has a giveaway for my dear readers after the Q&A with John Yunker. I hope that you’ll give him a warm welcome and check out his new environmental thriller, The Tourist Trail.

About the Book:

The Tourist Trail is a literary thriller about endangered species in the world’s most remote areas, and those who put their lives on the line to protect them.

Biologist Angela Haynes is accustomed to dark, lonely nights as one of the few humans at a penguin research station in Patagonia.

She has grown used to the cries of penguins before dawn, to meager supplies and housing, to spending most of her days in one of the most remote regions on earth. What she isn’t used to is strange men washing ashore, which happens one day on her watch.

The man won’t tell her his name or where he came from, but Angela, who has a soft spot for strays, tends to him, if for no other reason than to protect her birds and her work. When she later learns why he goes by an alias, why he is a refugee from the law, and why he is a man without a port, she begins to fall in love—and embarks on a journey that takes her deep into Antarctic waters, and even deeper into the emotional territory she thought she’d left behind.

Against the backdrop of the Southern Ocean, The Tourist Trail weaves together the stories of Angela as well as FBI agent Robert Porter, dispatched on a mission that unearths a past he would rather keep buried; and Ethan Downes, a computer tech whose love for a passionate animal rights activist draws him into a dangerous mission.

Please welcome, John Yunker:

The Tourist Trail was released by Ashland Creek Press in 2010. What has and has not changed in the past eight years in terms of animal protection in the regions you write about?

Sadly, not very much has changed. Japan still hunts whales, as does Iceland. Fortunately, the Sea Shepherd Society, the inspiration for the Cetacean Defense Alliance (CDA) organization in the book, continues to fight back. As for the penguins, Argentina has made some efforts to protect them at sea, but their numbers continue to decline. The fishing industry continues to extract entirely too much from the oceans, including penguins that are caught up in nets and on longlines.

You’ll be going to Argentina with Adventures by the Book in October to take readers to visit the Magellanic penguin colony that inspired the novel. What are you looking forward to sharing with readers on this journey?

I’m most looking forward to the sounds the penguins make. They (and a few other penguin species) are often referred to as “jackass” penguins for the noises they emit. And it can be quite a chorus during breeding season. Seeing them in their element — standing in or alongside windswept, dirt burros — is an experience that will stick with you. It certainly has with me.

You write in many genres — fiction, nonfiction, plays — and yet your works usually focus on animals. Why are you drawn toward animal themes?

Humans have used animals for thousands of years — for food, labor, entertainment. It’s time the animals got much-deserved break. Much of what I write centers around the conflicted and slowly evolving relationships between humans and animals, and I’d clearly like to see that relationship continue to evolve, and rapidly. I’d like to see animals, and not just the animals we keep in our homes, treated with empathy. They’ve earned it.

The Tourist Trail is set in some of the most remote places on earth — Antarctica, Arctic Norway, the Patagonia region of Argentina. For readers who love the animals and their human heroes in your novel, what can they do from where they live to help animals and the planet?

First, stop eating seafood. The only way to put an end to fishing is to put an end to demand. It’s simple, really. And, honestly, seafood is no good for anyone. The oceans are polluted, fishing practices are dangerous, and you can’t even be confident that the seafood you purchase, no matter what the label says, is sustainable. Due to 90 percent of the oceans having already been depleted, here is no such thing as sustainable seafood. Second, try to give up eating meat. I know it’s not easy for many people — I certainly never imagined I would one day give it up. But once
you do, it’s really not a big deal, and it does so much good for the planet and for the animals. There are plenty of health benefits for doing so as well.

The sequel to The Tourist Trail, WHERE OCEANS HIDE THEIR DEAD, comes out in February. What can readers expect from this new novel?

This book picks up where The Tourist Trail leaves off, with Robert in Namibia searching for Noa. But there are new characters as well, and a story that will transport readers from Africa to Iowa to New Zealand to Australia. It is a darker novel than the first, but more ambitious, and I
hope readers will enjoy the journey.

Thank you, John.

Please enter below for 1 print copy of The Tourist Trail. U.S. addresses only. Deadline for comments is Oct. 1, 2018, at 11:59 PM EST.

Earth Joy Writing: Creating Harmony Through Journaling and Nature by Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D.

Source: Ashland Creek Press
Paperback, 169 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Earth Joy Writing: Creating Harmony Through Journaling and Nature by Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D., is more than a book about creative writing.  It is a book that will help readers become more creative writers and thinkers through the connections they develop or re-establish between themselves, their family, and nature.  With the right conditions and frame of mind, creativity can grow from not only our own experiences, current interactions with nature, but also through reflection and looking at the unknown.  Steele breaks down the book into the different seasons — Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall — and each section also has a monthly breakdown with writing exercises, reflections, and connecting with nature and emotions.

Readers will want to get a journal that they can use when reading this book, and they’ll want to do as Steele suggests and begin in the season and month that they are currently in, rather than start at the beginning of the book.  The book is laid out in a way that allows readers to tap into their current environment and season when writing or thinking creatively — generating a dialogue between themselves, nature, and potential readers of their own.  Beyond writing exercises and questions that readers can answer to start creating their own poems and stories, Steele also includes activities and experiences that will help frame the situation for those trying to be more creative.  For instance, she advises that readers take a trip to an art museum or look through an art book — not on the Internet — and journal about what piece of art strikes their fancy and encourages them to take the time to explore why.

Earth Joy Writing: Creating Harmony Through Journaling and Nature by Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D., is a unique book about inspiring writers to think more creatively and to draw on nature to tap into their own creativity.  The book is about becoming more observant, less stressed, and more focused on connecting with nature, our natural selves, and those around us.  In this hyper-connected, Internet world, many of us find that we have over-scheduled our lives, and this book will help us slow down.  This is a book that will remain with those “prime” writing books in my workspace — one I’ll be using in the future.

About the Author:

Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D., is the author of twelve books and audio programs on the themes of creativity, healing, and our connection to the natural world. She works as a writing coach with clients internationally.  Check out her website and the Earth Joy Writing website.  (Photo credit: Susanne Kappler)



Mailbox Monday #322

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Making Your Mind Up by Jill Mansell, my Christmas present has finally arrived!

Lottie Carlyle isn’t looking for love when she meets her new boss, Tyler Klein. Living in a beautiful cottage with her two kids in a idyllic village in the heart of the Cotswolds, she’s happy enough with her lot. Tyler’s perfect for Lottie and she quickly falls for him, but her children do not approve.

2.  Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, my second Christmas present has finally arrived!

Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV—everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

3.  Earth Joy Writing by Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D. from Ashland Creek Press for review.

Earth Joy Writing is a writer’s guide to reconnecting to the earth. In chapters divided by seasons and months of the year, this book will guide you through reflections, exercises, meditations, and journaling prompts—all designed to help you connect more deeply with yourself, others, and your natural surroundings.

Weaving together poetry, stories, and cultural wisdom, Earth Joy Writing invites us to consider our connection to the earth and offers hands-on exercises that will help us meaningfully reconnect with our creative selves and with the planet we all share.

“Earth Joy Writing is about finding joy when we align our creative practices with natural principles. It is about living in harmony with our deepest selves and the natural world. It is about committing to a mindfully creative life in collaboration with nature and, in the process, healing both ourselves and the earth.” — Cassie Premo Steele

4. The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell my final Christmas gift.

Sophie Wells is a successful photographer with a focus on putting the past firmly behind her. When Josh Strachan returns to the seaside town of Cornwall from the States to run his family’s hotel, he can’t understand why the fun, sexy girl has zero interest in letting him-or any man for that matter-into her life. He also can’t understand how he’s been duped into employing Sophie’s impulsive friend Tula, whose crush on him is decidedly unrequited. Both girls remain mum about the reasons behind Sophie’s indifference to love. But that doesn’t mean Josh is going to quit trying…

5.  River House by Sally Keith from Milkweed Editions.

These are poems of absence. Written in the wake of the loss of her mother, River House follows Sally Keith as she makes her way through the depths of grief, navigating a world newly transfigured. Incorporating her travels abroad, her experience studying the neutral mask technique developed by Jacques Lecoq, and her return to the river house she and her mother often visited, the poet assembles a guide to survival in the face of seemingly insurmountable pain. Even in the dark, Keith finds the ways we can be “filled with this unexpected feeling of living.”

What did you receive?

The Last Mile by Blair Richmond

Source: Ashland Creek Press
Paperback, 244 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Last Mile by Blair Richmond is the third book in the Lithia trilogy — see my reviews of Out of Breath and The Ghost Runner and be aware that this review could contain spoilers for the previous two books — that combines environmentalism and supernatural elements.  Kat’s world has been upended once again, but she now is more determined than ever to get her life back on track, even if that means revisiting some previous relationships and exploring some untapped feelings.  If there’s one drawback, there is a little too much back story included here and some of it is repeated later in the short novel.  But other than that, Kat has come into her own and gained the strength that she needs to fight Lithia’s demons and ensure that the town has a future.

“He shakes his head.  ‘You know, it was strange back then.  I had moments when I looked up at these trees, these monuments to time, and I felt so guilty.  So cruel.  I knew even then that what I was doing was wrong.  The trees couldn’t fight back.  They were just standing there, like they had for centuries, living their lives, not bothering a soul, cleaning our air, giving nests to birds, making the world a better place just by being alive.  And then we arrived with out axes and saws and train cars, and we left behind miles and miles of stumps.”  (page 43)

Richmond has created a lasting environmental and supernatural hybrid that opens readers eyes to the wonders of nature and the ease with which we can live symbiotically with it, rather than cut it down in the name of progress.  Alex, the vegan vampire, is still at Kat’s side in friendship, though he wants more, but she’s made her choice and she’s moving forward as best she can as the death and destruction of Victor continues to hover in the shadows.  She’s a 20 year old young woman with great responsibility to the land she inherited and to the town where she’s found herself more at home than ever before, but she’s also aware that a delicate balance must be kept between panic and protection.

The marathon race into the Lithia Mountains, Cloudline, is approaching, and despite the anxiety she has regarding Victor’s intentions, Kat continues to train and strategize.  The Last Mile by Blair Richmond is about the push runners must consciously decide to take to make it to the finish line no matter the cost to them physically and emotionally.  Kat faces this last mile as a runner, on her own, and while she perseveres, she’s aware that her finish line may not only save Lithia, but also those she loves.

About the Author:

Blair Richmond is the pen name of a writer from the Pacific Northwest. Out of Breath and The Ghost Runner are books one and two of the Lithia Trilogy. Visit Blair’s blog for the latest on The Lithia Trilogy.

Other Reviews:

Happy Earth Day!

Today is a communal celebration of the Earth and the environment, and I know we’ve been celebrating poetry all month long here, but I couldn’t let today pass without calling attention to the Earth and the environment.  I hope everyone will take the time today to head outside, garden, pick up some trash, reassess their consumption and recycling habits, and look into ways to reduce their energy use.

We’ll be taking a look at a few poems that celebrate nature and the Earth, plus there’s some great information about an Ashland Creek Press giveaway.

Earth Day by Janet Yolen

I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
Each blade of grass,
Each honey tree,
Each bit of mud,
And stick and stone
Is blood and muscle,
Skin and bone.

 And just as I
Need every bit
Of me to make
My body fit,
So Earth needs
Grass and stone and tree
And things that grow here

That’s why we
Celebrate this day.
That’s why across
The world we say:
As long as life,
As dear, as free,
I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
Daffodils by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
From Emily Dickinson

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.
Healing by Scott Edward Anderson

"Healing, not saving." ~ Gary Snyder

"Healing, not saving," for healing
indicates corrective, reclaiming

restoring the earth to its bounty,
to right placement and meaning--

Forward thinking, making things new
or better or, at least, bringing back

from the edge. The way
bulbs are nestled in earth,

starting to heal again--
the way a wound heals.

Keep warm. Sun following
rain; rain following drought.

Perhaps we have come far enough
along in this world to start

healing, protecting from harm,
from our disjunctive lives.

The way the skin repairs with a scab,
injury mediated by mindfulness.

The bark of the "tree of blood"
heals wounds we cannot see.

Deliver us from the time of trial
and save us from ourselves.

Finally, I wanted to call attention to a great giveaway over at Ashland Creek Press, an independent publisher that not only prints books sustainably but also chooses works that reflect nature in some way.  I’ve enjoyed several of their books, including Lithia’s eco-vamp series by Blair Richmond. I also enjoyed The Names of Things, which recently was named as a finalist for the 2013 Chautauqua Prize, and a recent short story collection, Survival Skills.

For Earth Day, Ashland Creek Press is offering an eco-sampler and book giveaway.

Simply email Ashland Creek Press at editors [at] ashlandcreekpress [dot] com, on or before April 22, using the subject line EARTH DAY, and you’ll receive a copy of our Eco-Fiction Sampler, which features excerpts of six works of environmental fiction.

You’ll also be entered to win a copy of one of these six eco-fiction titles — we’re giving away one environmentally friendly e-book and one paperback (printed on paper from Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified sourcing), so please mention your preference in your email.

When you enter the giveaway, you’ll be added to our mailing list, from which you can unsubscribe at any time (and your info will never be shared).

For more about Ashland Creek Press, click here. For more about our environmental literature, click here.

Happy Earth Day!

Do not miss out on this giveaway for some eco-fiction and do not miss out on the opportunity to spend time in nature and with your community making the Earth a better, healthier place to live.

Click the image below to check out today’s National Poetry Month tour stop!

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan is stunning, absorbing the reader into the lives of her characters — animal and human — and forcing them to contemplate wider questions of what it means to love, change, and grow.  The collection melds nature and human nature flawlessly as Ryan explores the parallels between the natural world and the human world.  For an example of this, please check out my short story spotlight of the story “Greyhound.”

There are moments when characters connect with animals in ways that are astonishing, like a goose that follows a human who never feeds it in “Migration,” and the love between a woman and an an octopus in “A Sea Change.”  But each of these stories is more than a moment in time, and in some cases, they examine a lifetime in just a dozen or so pages.  Ryan has a gift for creating characters and relationships that are realistic, without leaving the reader wondering what’s next by the end of the story.  Encapsulating the right moments and memories, she demonstrates her short story creating skills in a way that ensures readers remember her characters vividly.

“She had read that many Canada geese were no longer bothering to migrate, particularly those in populated areas.  The margins between people and wildlife were beginning to blur, and there was something unnerving about the intersection:  pigeons living on dropped French fries; raptors nesting on sooty skyscrapers; geese, sated and lazy staggering through city parks.  How many generations would pass before their wings grew stunted and useless?  Fly, she thought, staring at the flock.  Fly before it’s too late.”  (page 69 ARC)

There are so many well written and emotional stories in this collection, and it’s clear that Ryan is a observer of not only nature and how it operates, but also how humans have shown similar attributes and skills.  But these characters are more than just studies in how they interact and resemble other animals in the wild, they live and breath the calm experiences of the world around them, sometimes without even realizing its influence.  There are subtle messages about slowing down, enjoying the moment and loved ones while they are here, but there are also calls to action.  Act on that love or that need for change, do more than just survive, which is interesting given that one of the stories is called “Survival Skills.”

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan, which will be published in April 2013 by Ashland Creek Press on paper from Sustainable Forestry Initiative Certified sources, is a highly enjoyable collection that will get readers thinking about their own lives, the nature around them, and even their own pets, but most of all, readers will be entranced by these stories.

***If you haven’t read novels or short stories from Ashland Creek Press, you are missing out on some really great finds.  Might I suggest you start with Ryan’s collection?***

About the Author:

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California.  A horticultural enthusiast and chef of many years, Jean’s writing has always been her favorite pursuit. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades, The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Blue Lake Review, Damselfly, and Earthspeak. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister.  Visit her Website.

This is my 17th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Short Story Friday: Greyhound by Jean Ryan

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan is a slim volume, but each of the stories packs a visual and analytical punch as she draws parallels between what it means to be human and the behaviors found in nature.  While I’m still absorbing these stories at a slow pace, I wanted to share a bit about the short story, “Greyhound.”

The narrator seeks out a gift to cheer up her significant other, and finds herself at a greyhound rescue.  These dogs are retired from dog racing after just a few years and mostly due to injury, but Clara’s Gift is special because she chose to stop running at a young age.  While she is like the other greyhounds, shying away from human touch and affection at first, there is a certain intelligence in her eyes.  She meets her new owner, Holly, and the home they will all share, but coaxing does not win the dog over. Ryan paints a cohesive picture of this new family and its tentative steps around one another, but she also draws parallels between Holly and the dog — both wounded and unsure — and how they need to be approached to come out of their shells.

“…she rarely imparts information about herself; most of what I know about her I’ve had to piece together.  If she has fallen short of her goals, if she yearns for something more than me and this house we’re constantly mending, she doesn’t burden me with it.”  (page 10)

Wounded animals generally have a couple of base reactions — lash out or retreat — and in the case of “Greyhound,” retreating seems to be the best option.  While the narrator enjoys fixing things, like the house, there are some things that cannot be fixed, but must heal on their own.  The experience with the new dog teaches her to back away, to patiently wait on the sidelines, something that she’s clearly not accustomed to doing.  Even her role as a homeopathic seller imparts to the reader her desire to fix things, to offer comfort to others, and to provide aid where needed, even if it isn’t.

Ryan’s subtle style builds with each page of this story, and her links between nature and humanity become stronger with each connection.  “Greyhound” is just one powerful story, and I look forward to finishing this collection.

What are your thoughts on short stories?  Do you find them as powerful as novels?

About the Author:

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California.  A horticultural enthusiast and chef of many years, Jean’s writing has always been her favorite pursuit. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades, The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Blue Lake Review, Damselfly, and Earthspeak. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister.  Visit her Website.

Mailbox Monday #209

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Lori’s Reading Corner.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I receive:

1.  Survival Skills by Jean Ryan, which I received for review from the author.

The characters who inhabit Jean Ryan’s graceful, imaginative collection of stories are survivors of accidents and acts of nature, of injuries both physical and emotional. Ryan writes of beauty and aging, of love won and lost—with characters enveloped in the mysteries of the natural world and the animal kingdom.

In “Greyhound,” a woman brings home a rescued dog for her troubled partner in hopes that they might heal one another—while the dog in “What Gretel Knows” is the keeper of her owner’s deepest secrets. In “Migration,” a recently divorced woman retreats to a lakefront cabin where she is befriended by a mysterious Canada goose just as autumn begins to turn to winter. As a tornado ravages three towns in “The Spider in the Sink,” a storm chaser’s wife spares the life of a spider as she anxiously waits for her husband to return. And in “A Sea Change,” a relationship falls victim to a woman’s obsession with the world below the waves.

What did you receive?

The Ghost Runner by Blair Richmond

The Ghost Runner by Blair Richmond (book 2 in the Lithia Series, published by small publisher Ashland Creek Press) finds Katherine Healy unable to outrun her past and her father.  Ghosts begin appearing in her life, just as she has settled into her new home in Lithia, a home her family abandoned long ago for Houston.  Roman, an immortal carnivore, has been cast aside in favor of Alex, an immortal vegan and environmentalist, by Kat, but even her perfect relationship is showing signs of cracking under the new pressures Kat faces.

In the wooded town, most of the residents are happy knowing everyone in town and supporting causes that keep the forests protected, but developers are still in the shadows waiting to swoop in and change their way of life.  While Kat is hung up on two men, she’s also trying to get her life back to normal, enrolling in college again (at least part time) and holding down her job at the sports show store in town.  After running for her life in the last book, Richmond has Kat tackling more mundane obstacles, like keeping good grades and juggling her responsibilities at the store and school.

“I don’t care that it’s 8:15 on a Monday morning and that most of the other fifteen students are straining to keep their eyes open.  I don’t care that the room is as drab as a prison, with cinderblock walls painted an uninspiring off-white.”  (page 20)

“A ghost runner is someone who is always right behind you, pushing you, always about to pass you.  Or so you think.  Sometimes there is no runner.  Sometimes it’s just a ghost of a runner, the idea of a runner right behind you, that keeps you at your pace.”  (page 68)

The return of Kat’s father throws a monkey wrench into the situation, stirring up trouble not only between her and Alex, but also throughout the town.  Richmond maintains her engaging sparse prose and her first person narration to capture her reader’s attention and engendering a connection between Kat and the reader.  Kat is a 20-year-old woman who is finding that being a grown up is a bit more responsibility than she expected, even if she has been on her own for more than a year working to make ends meet and outrun her past.  What’s nice about the second book is that the theme of running is continued, but not in a cliched way — it is part of Kat, it is who she is, how she clears her head, how she thinks.

The Ghost Runner by Blair Richmond is a solid second book in a trilogy.  The novelist mixes environmental concerns with themes of finding your ground amidst a turbulent sea and the ghosts of the past.  It’s about dealing with your responsibilities as a part of nature and as a part of a wider society, and more than that it’s about changing your own actions and behaviors to make the changes in the wider society and world you seek.

About the Author:

Blair Richmond is the pen name of a writer from the Pacific Northwest. Out of Breath and The Ghost Runner are books one and two of the Lithia Trilogy. Visit Blair’s blog for the latest on The Lithia Trilogy.

Also Reviewed:

Out of Breath

Everyday Writing by Midge Raymond

Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life by Midge Raymond is a slim volume with purpose — to get those writers back to the words on the page.  Raymond is a busy woman, like most writers, and she holds a full-time job in addition to writing.  Her advice is on point and should be taken to heart — by me especially.  The book is broken down into two main sections — tips on how to become a writer and stay in that mode and a series of writing prompts broken down my expected writing duration.

I’ve got a semi-unconventional review today.  This book offers me more motivation than ever.  With the toddler running around and the full-time job, plus the additional stress I’ve been under lately, I need a good kick in the butt to get me back to writing.

What I loved about Raymond’s book was her no-nonsense advice and her anecdotes about her own struggles with writing.  She even shares some of the best moments she’s experienced when she was procrastinating.  One major point that book bloggers already know, especially in this time of Twitter and other social media, that we need to disconnect from the Internet.  My book is overflowing with post-it tabs, but here are a couple of my favorite passages:

“Being an Everyday Writer is not about putting daily words on a page but about seeing the world as a writer and recognizing the myriad ways in which your everyday life informs your work.  And this, in turn, will put words on the page.”  (page 2)

“Writing exercises can help our writing in ways we don’t know until we do them.  They can, for instance, allow our minds to retreat from the puzzle of a current project and wander a bit, perhaps leading us back to the puzzle from a different angle and getting us closer to a solution.”  (page 6)

Some of her practical advice includes creating a schedule that works for you with your work and childcare schedule and that it doesn’t have to be every day.  Additionally, you have to remain open to revising the schedule and making sure that others in your life take your writing time as seriously as you do.  Writers also need to set bigger goals and break that down into more manageable goals, and these goals should be reassessed at least quarterly to determine how much progress has been made.  Another cool tool in the book is Raymond’s checklist for those writers who think they’ve finished a piece to make sure they’ve covered all the bases, including whether every scene is necessary and whether the point of view is consistent.

Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life by Midge Raymond is a slim book, just what writers need — practical advice, but not lengthy practical advice that causes them to procrastinate about their projects.  Raymond’s writing style as engaging as her advice, and the writing prompts can be used for any project.  What she offers most is the ability for writers to be flexible and not beat themselves up about it so long as they are meeting their own goals.

About the Author:

Midge Raymond’s short-story collection, Forgetting English, received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and many other publications. Her work has received several Pushcart Prize nominations and received an Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship.

Midge taught communication writing at Boston University for six years, and she has taught creative writing at Boston’s Grub Street Writers and Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. While living in Southern California, she held writing workshops and seminars at San Diego Writers, Ink, where she also served as vice president of the board of directors.

Midge lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is co-founder of the boutique publisher Ashland Creek Press.

The Names of Things by John Colman Wood

The Names of Things by John Colman Wood is the journey of an anthropologist through the grieving processes he documented among the Northeast African Dasse nomadic camps following the passing of his wife sometime later.  Beautifully written in alternating time frames from the anthropologist’s past field work that helped him create two books on the nomadic lives of these people and their grieving rituals and the present when he returns to the African Chalbi Desert to cope with his wife’s passing.  Wood also includes excerpts on the tribe’s grieving rituals throughout the book, which help to anchor the story in Africa, and help the reader learn how the tribe has named the unnameable — a task the anthropologist must learn.

The prose of this novel is hypnotic and carries the reader into the desert with these people as the anthropologist gains their favor and begins to feel at one with the community.  Wood not only raises questions of an academic nature about the role of an anthropologist, but also whether his presence has polluted the natural dynamic of the community by introducing foreign ideas and culture into their community.  But the presence of the anthropologist among this community also raises questions of how well he can integrate into the community and understand their rituals, feelings, and perspectives, especially since he always remains mostly an outsider to their customs and their grief.

In many ways, the protagonist observes and hangs on the outside not only of the lives of the African tribe, but also of his own life.  His artist wife, who accompanies him to the desert, is left to her own devices as he gallivants through the desert with the tribe and conducts his research.  While she paints and sketches and carves out a routine for herself in which she sits with the sick in the city hospital and does menial tasks, her husband is not with her and he seems to not even think of her much until he returns to her side.  What’s even more curious about these characters is that they seem well paired in that they both need to be alone to complete their work, though their philosophies about the privacy of notes/sketches are very different.

“What I think is interesting, she went on, is that for the list to be interesting you have to bring something else to it.  You have to want what’s on it, and that isn’t a matter of accuracy.  It’s not about the place but about you.”  (page 221-2)

John Colman Wood knows the best way to write about the research anthropologists conduct, while at the same time maintaining the reader’s engagement in the story of his protagonist and his wife.  Even though the research separates them, and the anthropologist seems indifferent to his wife’s suffering, it is clear that he understands her artistic nature and her need to be alone to observe.  However, these characters (who do remain nameless throughout the book) are separate but together on their journeys of observation, with only one of them truly connecting with something outside themselves.  Although The Names of Things is about how to define and deal with the grief that inevitably comes when we love, belong, and need one another, it also is about how we interact with those around us and how much a part of the community we become or not.  A well-written and paced debut novel that will surprise readers with its journey into the customs that bind us together and how they are shaped by the people that create them.

About the Author (Photo credit: Carol Young Wood):

John Colman Wood teaches at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His field research with Gabra nomads of northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia has been funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. His fiction has appeared in Anthropology and Humanism, and he has twice won the Ethnographic Fiction Prize of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.

This is my 67th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

Out of Breath by Blair Richmond

Out of Breath by Blair Richmond is a young adult novel that will have readers quickly turning the pages to find out what secrets Kat Jones is hiding and why the town of Lithia where she ends up seems so ethereal and mysterious.  Kat arrives in Lithia, where she was born, after running from something that happened in Texas, and everyone in the town is incredibly friendly and welcoming.

Richmond’s sparse narration, plus the focus on running races, ramps up the suspense as Kat’s secretive nature enables her to blend in and adopt a new life.  However, this new life quickly becomes more than she can handle, enticing her to strap on her running shoes and get out of town fast.  She’s a young woman who’s budding college life is cut short, and she turns to the only activity — running — that gives her solace to escape.  A vegan in a town of tree huggers and other like-minded nature and running enthusiasts, Kat is at home and relatively at peace.  However, the rivalry between Roman and Alex and their secrets threaten to disturb the tenuous life she’s starting to build.

“Since I was eight years old I’ve been a runner.  Not a jogger.  A runner.  I was always the fastest girl I knew, and, during junior high, was faster than any boy I knew.  I ran cross-country in high school and I won state during my junior year.  A scholarship to a major college seemed all but inevitable until my dad backed the car up over my left foot the summer before my senior year.  It’s funny how quickly dreams can be crushed.  Just as easily as my left foot.”  (page 3)

Like many other young adult novels on the market, Out of Breath has a touch of the paranormal — vampires and ghosts — but there is an unexpected twist here.  Vampires are actually dangerous, and certain vampires have quirky eating habits.  The ghosts play more of a role in the latter pages, and likely even more of a role in the other two planned books for the trilogy.  Yes, this is the first in a series — a series that focuses on nature, saving the environment, and vegan/vegetarianism.  Although the vegan/environmental angle can be heavy handed at times when Roman and Kat converse, it serves a purpose for the plot and can be overlooked by readers that may feel as though Kat is preaching to them.

Out of Breath by Blair Richmond is an eerie novel that takes a look at the consequences of our actions and how we cannot right the wrongs of the past, but only  strive to change our futures.  Readers will enjoy the mix of paranormal, young adult coming of age story, romance, and suspense mixed with a theme of environmental conservation and appreciation.  Even better is that unlike other trilogies, Richmond’s novel does not leave the reader with a major cliffhanger, but provides a modicum of resolution and leaves the reader with a stronger version of Kat.  An intriguing mix of themes and characters that creates a mystical world in the forest anchored in the reality of today’s environmental concerns.

About the Author:

Blair Richmond is the pen name of a writer living in the Northwest, where OUT OF BREATH is set. She is currently working on THE GHOST RUNNER, the second book in the trilogy featuring Kat and the mysterious town of Lithia.

Ashland Creek Press is hosting a Halloween virtual book launch party with an author Q&A, book giveaways, and more.  Mark your calendars


This is my 60th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.