Monthly Archives: July 2012

100 Word Challenge: Fire

Another prompt from Julia! Week 52 of the 100 Word Challenge asks us to write a story containing

…together the flames…

And here’s my version –


“Come on, it’s time for the opening ceremonies!” Settling on the couch, remoting the TV on.

“Where are they? Out in a field someplace?”

“Shush. It’s pretty. Different.” Finger tracing the outline of a mouth. Kisses.

“Listen, something different’s going on.” Glancing at the screen, and then goggling. “What the heck is that?”

“Smokestacks, maybe?” Giggles.

“You shouldn’t” – kiss – “make fun of” – kiss – “the Olympics.”

“Oh, why not?” Snuggling closer.

“Hmm. Good question.”

The ceremonies continue. On the couch, they don’t see a pink-gowned form parachuting. They don’t see the torch enter or the athletes bring together the flames. They have their own fire.

Travel Theme: Mystery flower

This week, I’m jumping in on Ailsa’s Travel Themes (the theme is “flowers” at the moment). While I’m at it, I have a question: does anybody know what kind of flower this is?

I took the picture in June of 2005 at a highway rest stop somewhere in eastern New Mexico, just because it looked so strange. The flower looks like a cluster of fat greenish buds that open up to release incredibly long red stamens – longer than my fingers. Obviously it likes desert,or semi-desert conditions, and it looked like a “volunteer”, or weed, not something intentionally planted.

So – what is it?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Purple

Another color theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge – this time, we’re asked to picture “purple”.

Sometimes, purple is green.

But when would that be?

When it’s a reusable shopping bag. Ba-dum-dum. 😉

Book reviews and Regency mayhem

Annnd – it’s a twofer! Just because I recently finished reading two books involving catching criminals that are more or less based on the Regency Romance.

I enjoyed both of them, mostly, but I think one approach worked a lot better than the other. So let’s see what we can figure out about what works and what doesn’t in telling a story, while we’re at it.

Review: Maggie Without a Clue

A keeper? Fer sure.

Speaking of Regency romances, somebody has to write them. That’s how Maggie Kelly makes her living. She’s a modern girl in modern New York, but her workdays are spent inventing mysteries for Alexandre Blake, Viscount St. Just, and his sidekick Sterling, to solve in London in the days of the Napoleonic Wars. She’s good at creating lifelike characters, so good that St. Just has decided to take charge of his own destiny. Three books ago, he and Sterling poofed into three-dimensional, solid, independent life in Maggie’s living room.

A period of adjustment followed.

By this story, the situation has kind of stabilized. St. Just has recognized that, in this world, he’s not independently wealthy, and he’s correcting that little problem by organizing street theater and starting a modeling career (since, like any good romantic hero, he’s dramatically handsome). Sterling has accepted twenty-first century technology and fads with great enthusiasm. Maggie has gritted her teeth about sharing her small apartment with both of them. Oh, and St. Just (who has accepted the alias of Alex Blake, Maggie’s English cousin) keeps solving crimes, annoying Maggie’s semi-boyfriend police detective Steve Wendell immensely.

Ah, but at least one part of the situation is about to improve! Poor old Mrs. Goldblum, who lives across the hall from Maggie, has offered her apartment to Alex and Sterling, since she has to hurry off and take care of her sick sister. Or is that an improvement? Never mind that Maggie’s friend Bernice has just found her husband – the one she thought drowned almost seven years ago – dead in her bed, and the police consider her the obvious suspect; what about the thugs who keep roughing up Sterling and searching Mrs. Goldblum’s apartment for something or other?

Alex intends to assert his independence from being only what Maggie wrote him to be. Also, he isn’t about to let Bernie get railroaded, and he’s definitely not going to put up with his new home and his old friend being attacked. He is, after all, the hero.

But what will his new independence do to his budding romance with Maggie?

I enjoyed this one. The mystery was pretty well worked out – including unexpected discoveries about Mrs. Goldblum, who isn’t all that poor and helpless. Maggie’s romantic tug of war between Steve and Alex continues; her friends and enemies are a colorful crowd who keep the story moving; Sterling’s and Alex’s adjustment to life in the real world and the current day is well handled.

Review: The Masque of the Black Tulip
by Lauren Willig

A keeper? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

Once upon a time, back around the beginning of the twentieth century, the Scarlet Pimpernel helped to protect England from the French under Napoleon. Turns out he had help; a whole team of helpers with various color-coded code names. Lauren Willig is out to tell us all about their adventures undercover.

But so much for what’s happening around about 1800; what’s happening today? Well, there’s this American graduate student who’s researching the Pimpernel’s assistants, and she’s just found some new information.

But meanwhile, Miles Dorrington is hot on the trail of that notorious French spy, the Black Tulip, while keeping a protective (not romantic! absolutely not!) eye on Lady Henrietta Selwick. After all, he promised Hen’s brother, his best friend, that he’d take care of her, even if it means spending the evening at Almack’s. And at Almack’s, Miles stumbles across suspicious behavior that sends him into the slums of London after – maybe – the Tulip.

Oh, by the way, in our time that graduate student is having an awkward time dealing with Colin Selwick, who controls access to the long-lost correspondence that should clarify what the Pimpernel’s assistants were up to.

Meanwhile, Hen corresponds with her friend Amy in code – for both of them are involved in the Pimpernel’s circle too. She also goes into childish snits that might be appropriate for a sixteen-year-old high school student, but seem odd for a twenty year old brought up in a time when, we’re told, polite, formal behavior was important. And she gets caught – by Miles – hiding behind a bush in Hyde Park to spy on him when he takes the seductive Marquise for a drive.

Eager to find out what happens next? Sorry, time to check up on the modern characters again. They may be dull beyond words, but we can’t expect you to keep reading about all these old-timey folks that you can’t identify with, right? (Turns out that I really, really hate stories that try to split your attention between two completely different casts in two different centuries. Ahem.)

Well, eventually we find out, kind of abruptly, who is and who isn’t a spy. And the obvious couple admits they’re in love, after finding themselves compromised and having to elope, but okay, we’ve spent enough time in each of their heads to know they really want to get married anyhow. Oddly, I actually did enjoy the Regency parts of the book – maybe because they were so over-the-top. I hated being dragged back to the present day for no discernible reason, though. And I don’t know that the Regency story would hold up to re-reading; the characters had a tendency to lurch from situation to situation without much thought about what they were doing.

* * *

So – what works? First off, throwing yourself wholeheartedly into your story without worrying whether or not it’s silly. Both books feature overdone characters and situations; that’s a large part of their charm, and the weakest parts of the Black Tulip seemed to be included to assure us that the Regency story had some evidence to back it up. Second, give some thought to who these characters really are, and make them behave as if they have some idea of who they are, too. And if you can squeeze it in, let their personalities develop a bit without changing into somebody unrecognizable. Okay?

Friday Fictioneers – Repairs

I thought this was an unusually tough Friday Fictioneers prompt, but at last I came up with a story –


“Gimme the wrench.”


“No, the big monkey wrench.” I tightened the wrench and threw my weight against it. Nothing.

“What do we have to lubricate this thing with?”

“I dunno. Is Chapstick any good?”

“If it’s all we have, it better be.”

It wasn’t. I squatted against the fence, snarling to myself.

“You know, I’ve been looking at this thing, and have you tried…”

“I have tried everything. You fix it if you’re so smart.”

“Well, I think it’s threaded backward, maybe.”

I lurched to my feet. Gripped the handle. Turned it the wrong way.

Water gushed out, puddling coldly around my feet.

Day trips – Sculpture Garden

For various reasons, we won’t be taking an official Vacation this year. Instead, we’re going to visit several touristy places that we never go to because, after all, they’re right around here and we can visit them any old time.

Any old time is now.

So last weekend we got on the interstate and drove up a little north of Trenton to take a look at “Grounds for Sculpture“, located on what was once the State Fairground.

It’s the kind of place that puts the “garden” in “sculpture garden”.

You never know what you’ll find next

as you wander around narrow pathways

and climb towers

and walk through the woods. (For those who care: I’m not going to post photos of them, but there are one or two very very nude sculptures in the woods.)

Sometimes the sculptures mingle with the visitors

and sometimes you start to wonder “Is this more art, or just furniture?”

They can be a little frightening

or charming

or strange.

Oh, and there are water lilies and koi and peacocks. (Did you know peacocks roost in trees? I didn’t. Unfortunately, they were so very high up that my camera wasn’t up to taking a good picture; being silhouetted against the sun didn’t help.)

We had a wonderful time, though it’s just as well we didn’t stop at this little cafe. You can’t count on prompt service from the waiter.

100 Word Challenge – On the Border

It’s Week 51 of Julia’s 100 Word Challenge for Grownups. This time our prompt is ….the line was drawn…. There are all sorts of lines; for this story, the question is what makes a line real, and how much keeping it real might cost.

If you’re a young border guard, it might cost more than you have…

On the Border

The line was drawn on maps, but here there’s just sand and scrub and coyotes and jackrabbits, and little trails. Some made by the jackrabbits, who wouldn’t understand a map no matter what you said. Some made by the men called coyotes, who wouldn’t care.

My job’s stopping coyotes from crossing the line on the map. I remember what one of the old-timers said to me. “Sure, there’s rules. In the book. Out there? You’re God out there. You make the rules.” I kept wondering if I ought to be a cruel God or a kind one.

But you know that last coyote? The one with the good gun and good aim? He showed me it don’t matter which I am.

186 Cookbooks: Who can resist?

Seriously, who can resist a title like “Forever Summer”? We may not long for the heat and humidity, but when you’re thinking about food, summer is the magic land of luscious fresh produce, more of it than you can eat, more delicious than you could remember after a whole year of waiting for it to return.

And the recipe I tested is so flexible it’s almost shapeless; it’s almost cheating to try it. I (mostly) followed Nigella Lawson’s basic recipe: marinate chicken in lemon juice, olive oil, onion, and rosemary, and grill it. (I used drumsticks instead of whole chickens, and white onion instead of red; I had white onion.) But Nigella tells us that she also marinates chicken in peppercorns, garlic, and wine vinegar, or replaces the rosemary with tarragon, or uses sambal oelek (chili paste).

I haven’t tried those variations, but this one is great. Of course, chicken, lemon, onion, and olive oil are available year round; but the rosemary was about as fresh as it gets, straight off the little rosemary plant at the corner of my backyard garden. So that’s definitely summery.

And a small confession: this cookbook could be classified as a ringer, if this project is intended to identify cookbooks I’m willing to get rid of. There are a few authors whose recipes match my taste so well that there’s no chance I’ll ever give up one of their books: Julia Child, Rick Bayless, and the wonderful Nigella. On the other hand, it is true that I bought this book a year or two ago and hadn’t gotten around to trying anything from it yet. About time. Yum.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

And here we go again with WordPress’s Weekly Photo Challenge! This time the topic is “Inside”. But what if you find something inside that ought to be outside??

I saw these cows grazing

and chewing their cud

inside the Amsterdam airport terminal several years ago.

Friday Fictioneers: Vintage

It’s Friday Fictioneers time again, and this week Madison Woods wants us to tell a story about grapevines. Inspired by grapevines. Somehow related to vines.


“Well, we’ll have a party,” Grandma said. “Make sure your Brian knows he’s welcome.”

So the family squeezed together under Grandpa’s grape arbor. And Grandma brought out the good wine. Trouble was, that meant Grandma was going to make a speech.

“Tina and Brian.” She beamed. “We wish you a marriage that endures like this wine. But remember, great wines suffer. They survive drought and heat and grow strong. We wish you happiness – but as the years pass only the strong stay happy. We wish…”

Tina stopped listening. None of it had anything to do with her and Brian. They were young and in love and life stretched forward like this summer day in the shade of the big grape leaves. Happy.

* * *

(This story took more cutting than anything I’ve written yet for Friday Fictioneers, and it’s still 122 words long. Of course, that means that I managed to get rid of 170 words, and I wish I could put some of them back. I especially liked the little glimpse of Tina’s Mom and Tina’s Dad’s current girlfriend managing to avoid each other because the family is so enormous…but Mom, Dad, and girlfriend all had to be evicted. Alas.)