Tired of sleeping on the ground, eh?

After many decades of tent camping, we just made the plunge and bought a little popup camper trailer. When we tell our friends (not the ones we usually tent camp with — all the other friends), the first comment we hear is always, “So, you got tired of sleeping on the ground.”

Aliner Alabama Hills 2016Nope. That’s not it. We enjoy sleeping in a tent. We’ve found comfortable sleeping pads and have bags that keep us cozy. We often sleep better in a tent than at home. That’s probably because we’ve been active all day hiking or climbing before we end the day by crawling into the tent, but still.

It’s the other stuff. We just enjoyed a trip that included a week at Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, California. You know — the place where so many Westerns were filmed. When we returned to camp (and our little Aliner camper), it was either quite windy or, if calm, the mosquitoes were attacking.

Our friends were either bundled up in long sleeves and hoods, trying to fend off the bugs in the heat, or bundled up, trying to find a way to keep their camp stoves burning while they tried to cook.

Charlie & I were snug in our camper, screened windows open, cooking and dining in comfort.

Bad weather moved into the area. We shifted north a bit and parked in Bishop, where it rained off and on for about 18 hours. No worries about folding up and transporting a soggy tent or trying to dry out our gear.

Will we still tent camp at times? Sure. Are we thrilled at the luxury of a hard-shell shelter from the elements to camp in. You’d better believe it!

I saw it on the Web, so it must be True

GWIt happens on Facebook nearly every day. Someone posts a meme (like the one above) implying that they are quoting a well-known person about some topic relevant to today’s issues. The Pope says we don’t have to believe in God (no, he didn’t say that). Or people share a fake news story and we see it so often that some people start believing it’s true. Sorry, folks, but the world’s first successful head transplant did not take place.

Some websites intermix real news with the fake stuff. It’s all about gaining web traffic, often through “click bait” — getting readers on social media sites to click on a link to their site. Then there are the Facebook posts asking you to type a word in the comments (“Amen” or “jump”) to see something amazing. Of course, nothing amazing happens when you comment, but a post with lots of comments or “Likes” results in Facebook’s algorithms boosting the number of times people will see other posts from that same page. More visibility translates to more visits to their site, which can translate to higher ad income for them. And if that site happens to have some bad code running on it, and your security software doesn’t catch it, you may start seeing ads for them everywhere you browse or perhaps you’ll end up with a software virus on your computer or device. Oops.

Here’s another little trick to grab as much information about you as possible. You know all those little “quizzes” that show up as posts or ads on websites? “How many of these Beatles songs can you identify?” “What movie star are you most like?” Pay close attention if you’re asked to give permission to a app to use your information before you take the quiz. Do you really want to share all your photos, list of friends, posts, and personal information with some unknown person or organization? Not good.

I love the ability to look up almost anything on the internet, but it comes at a price. For every carefully-researched web page with an answer to your question, there are probably a hundred that “answer” it with an agenda in mind. It’s so easy to make up a quote and create a graphic for people who might like that quote to share, never checking if the meme might be fake. It’s almost as easy to write a fake “news” article about anything.

Reader, beware.

P.S. Here are a couple of good sites to use to check out questionable things you read online:

http://www.snopes.com/
http://www.factcheck.org/

A Few Good Books

We read a lot. The hours many people spend watching television in the evenings we spend reading. Even when we’re out climbing, hiking, and camping, after dinner you’ll often find us in our tent (or soon, our little popup camper!) reading until we get too sleepy.

I thought I’d pass along a few of the titles we’ve especially enjoyed recently along with my comments. I figure you can read the blurb for each one by checking out the books on Amazon, so I won’t repeat them here.

North of Here

North of Here by Laurel Saville
I loved the way the stories of the primary characters were woven and the rich, clear language of Saville’s writing. A theme seemed to be that wealth can make people shallow or weak, but also that you can’t judge people by their appearance or occupation.

I enjoyed the unexpected deviations from predictable story lines and thought the characters were very well drawn.

 

 

 

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child  by Eowyn Ivey

A unique “fairy tale” combined with a very realistic setting within the harsh environment of an Alaskan winter. I loved the writing style and the mixture of realism and fantasy.

 

 

 

 
 
 

Three Things I Did When My Father Died

Quirky, poignant, and delightful. I enjoyed the character thinking of himself as a series of people: Daniel 3, a youth, Daniel 4, the snide young man who tried to kill himself, and finally Daniel 5, the narrator. Excellent.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

That’s it for today. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. Let me know in the comments what you thought of them and if you’d like to see more of these mini-reviews in the future.

 

It’s been a good week for reviews

smileI’ve been smiling more than usual this week. One of the challenges of getting a book to be noticed among the millions that are published is to get reviews — preferably good ones, but even a “meh” review can add to the credibility of the comments posted on a site like Amazon.

One valuable asset for a book is a detailed review by an independent source such as a book blogger. Because book reviewers are often flooded with requests for reviews, simply getting one of them to select my title is a biggie. Yes, there are sites where I could pay someone to review my book — but I’m looking for genuine feedback, not a paid endorsement, so I skip over those. These unpaid reviews are like gold — or like lead if the reviewer doesn’t like what they read. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.

This week, two separate reviewers posted their takes on two of my novels, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

The Daughters’ Baggage — reviewed on OnlineBookClub.org — awarded 4 out of 4 stars:
“It is put together beautifully and very well written and enthralling. The book moves at a steady pace that is neither too fast nor too slow. The poignant descriptions of relationship and bonding in the book moved me to tears. This book is a wonderful read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys fiction and is interested in issues of social justice in modern American society and the impact of trauma for individuals and families!”  <read the complete review>

Memories & Secrets — reviewed on Flurries Unlimited (formerly Flurries of Books) — awarded 5 out of 5 stars:
“…well-written, engaging and hard to put down. The drama is palpable and the emotion visceral …Memories and Secrets is a strong novel about loss, remorse and love. It shows a magical journey of discovery taken by two women long-separated by distance, time, secrets and a fifty year age gap. It is well worth reading.” <read the complete review>

Thank you, reviewers, for taking the time to read and comment on my most recent novels. I’m on cloud nine!

 

Celebrating a new book

giveawayTo celebrate the release of The Daughters’ Baggage, we’re giving away an autographed copy of the novel AND a very cool and functional duffle bag (baggage — get it?). Here’s how to earn entries to the random drawing starting 2/27/16:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

But wait — there’s more! We’ve also reduced the price on ALL FIVE of Diane’s novels for Kindle to just 99¢ (actually, FACES is free!) starting Saturday, February 27 through March 4, 2016.

Holy reading frenzy, Batman! That means you can buy ALL FIVE books for a grand total of only $3.96.

Here’s a quick link to all the Winger books for Kindle. Remember, these prices are for a limited time only.

5 novels

Remnants of a Dream

I awoke this morning with much of this short, short story running through my head, remnants of a dream.  ~ Diane Winger

 

I open my eyes and stare at the closet door, disoriented for a moment, still shaking off the vague remnants of a dream already faded from memory. Blinking a few times, our bedroom seems to reconstruct before my eyes, everything finally snapping into place just as it should be.
What time is it? I roll over and frown at the clock display. 8:16. I never sleep this late. Why didn’t Byron wake me?

The house is utterly silent. “Honey?” I call, but there’s not a whisper of a response.

I move through my normal morning routine without thought. Now showered and dressed, I’m sipping hot coffee from a nearly-full pot left in the coffee maker and gazing out the back window, watching for birds to come to the feeders. I assume they must have visited earlier this morning, at an hour when I usually watch them flitting from one to the other, pecking at the seeds and arguing about their preference for millet versus sunflower seeds. There are no birds feeding at this hour.
Searching for a note from Byron, I find nothing. How unlike him. When I peer into the garage to see if his car is still here, my confusion increases. Both bays are empty.

Frowning, I search my memory for some explanation. I can’t recall any plans to take one of the cars in for an oil change or to rotate the tires. Besides, who would have driven the second car? I look out the living room window to see if a friend’s vehicle might be parked out front, but that’s not the answer.

I’ll just call him. But now I realize my purse isn’t where I always set it and another search of the house doesn’t yield my own phone.

I must be losing it. What am I forgetting? Okay, take it a step at a time. What did I do yesterday? When’s the last time I remember having my purse and phone?

Yesterday was Saturday. We went grocery shopping early in the morning because Byron had an 8:15 tee time. I drove across town to meet my sister and we enjoyed our walk along the river and lunch at our usual café. I’m sure I had my phone then, because I remember getting a text from Byron asking if I wanted to have dinner with the Nathrops on Thursday.

For the life of me, I can’t remember any specifics about my purse nor my phone once I drove home again. How many dozens of times have Linda and I enjoyed our little Saturday get-together? If there was nothing memorable about the drive home, why would I remember any particular details?
I shrug. My purse is probably in my car, so once Byron returns, all these mysteries will be solved. Meanwhile, it’s a beautiful, sunny morning and I don’t have any plans, so why not enjoy it? After jotting a note to Byron, I step outside and savor the smells of freshly-mowed lawns and fragrant flowers before setting off along the sidewalk toward a nearby bike path.

I can’t believe nobody else is out here on such a gorgeous day. What a treat to have the path to myself. All I hear is the crackle of the fine gravel with each of my footsteps. I stop and hold my breath a moment, listening. A gentle breeze ruffles the leaves of the cottonwood beside me, but other than that, there is total silence.

No traffic noise, no birds tweeting, no dogs barking. Nothing.

Thinking back, I try to remember seeing any cars in motion during my short jaunt to this path. I can’t remember seeing any, but again, who pays attention to such things unless something unusual happens?

“Life is but a dream. Row, row, row your boat…” The song fills my mind, multiple imaginary singers performing it in a round with the dream stanza always stronger than the other voices. That’s it. I dreamt that I awakened this morning, but this is still a dream. Soon I’ll wake up for real and have a good laugh with my husband when I describe all this to him.

She’ll never wake up.

I don’t actually hear someone state those words. I’m simply aware of them, as if they were part of my own, inner voice. For a moment, I consider arguing with myself. Not out loud, of course – inside my head as a private dialog. Instead, I nod in understanding.

She wouldn’t want to live like this. We talked about this many times.

The bike path has disappeared, as have the trees that grew beside it. I look upward, but the sky isn’t blue and there are no fluffy clouds floating above. This doesn’t disturb me.

For the first time since I thought I woke up in my own bed this morning, I hear an actual voice – a whisper. “Goodbye, sweetheart. I love you.”

I nod again and send Byron an answer to float in his mind. “I love you, too. Thank you. You’re making the right decision.”

The memories, if you can call them that, rush into my awareness. An oncoming truck swerving across the yellow line. My foot pressing the brake to the floor, my hands turning the wheel hard. The thunderous boom, a flash of white as my body slams forward. A few moments of fear evaporated away. No pain.

I’m ready. Turn it off.

 

I won’t grow up!

Peter Pan

When I was a kid, there were several TV broadcasts of Peter Pan that I watched with great enthusiasm. After doing a little research on Wikipedia, I figure I saw the production when I was 8, 11, and 14 years old. I found the show delightful at 8 and 11, but when I watched it again at 14, I was devastated with the realization that I was growing up and would never be a child again. Remember Peter Pan refusing to grow up and how Wendy understood she was at the cusp of becoming too mature to believe in Neverland and Tinker Bell? I was hit with the realization that I would soon have responsibilities and adult-sized problems. I was sure there would be a longer and longer list of things I should no longer do, because they were too childish. After all, those were the messages I heard from my parents, teachers, and other adults.

How often have you heard a sentence beginning with “you’re too old to…”? Or uttered the words yourself, in the form of “I’m too old to…”?

Well, I say STOP IT! Stop it right now!

I just turned 64 (“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”) and Charlie is 78. Old fogies, right? Yes, but we ignore those numbers when it comes to deciding if we’re able to take on some activity. We both still rock climb, cross-country ski, hike, backpack. Charlie’s a fanatic about ice climbing. I took up kayaking this past summer. At a convention I attended for a service organization I belong to, I was thrilled to go try out the water slides at the hotel we were staying in. I think one other adult gave it a go. When I go into a McDonalds with a play area, it’s all I can do to keep myself from kicking off my shoes and crawling around in the brightly-colored tubes. I’m almost short enough to get away with it, too.

I was almost 40 when I started rock climbing, over 60 when I wrote my first novel. My body has gotten older, and there are things I can’t physically do any more, but I know that because I tried, not because I looked at the calendar and decided the number of years since my birth meant I shouldn’t do them. Remember that age is just a number. Don’t let that number define who you are and what you can do.

As Peter would say,

“If growing up means
It would be
beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up.
Not me!”

How about you? What do you do to defy the number on the calendar? I’d love to hear from you…comment below.

Write about what you know?

Cover Concept The Daughters' Baggage

Cover concept and possible title

When I sat down to write my first novel, Faces, I kept a tight grip on the advice to “write about what you know.” The main character was a software developer, enjoyed rock climbing, lived in Denver, and had acquired prosopagnosia (face blindness that begins following some sort of brain injury). I am a retired software developer, enjoy rock climbing, grew up in Denver, and have developmental prosopagnosia (face blindness that I may have had since birth). Gee — what a stretch. The rest of the story was fictional, however.

I’ve just completed the first draft of a new novel, tentatively titled The Daughters’ Baggage. The primary character is a black, teenage girl living in California with her mother, struggling to pull themselves out of poverty in the years following the death of her father. Another important character is a young Afghan refugee who has come to the U.S. without legal documentation.

I’m a 60-something, white woman who has never experienced poverty, and has never been to a war-torn country. Is it okay for me to write about these characters I don’t really know? Can I possibly empathize with them, having had a limited number of black friends over the years and no direct exposure to refugees from central Asia?

I like to believe that writing about people with different backgrounds and experiences than my own isn’t against any “rules” on being an author. Men write about female characters and vice versa, middle-aged authors write about teenagers, bankers write about detectives, and nobody finds that to be strange. I hope that my exposure to other points of view through conversations, presentations, and my reading, along with my desire to imagine lives different from my own, have allowed me to present fictional characters and situations that are true to real life.

Soon, I hope to have a draft of the book ready for Beta readers — people who read an early version and provide feedback on the story, plot, pacing, characters, and any other reactions they have to the book. I’m especially interested in finding readers who have more of a personal connection to some of the background or experiences of my characters. Reading books and articles has been helpful to me — conversations with people can be even more powerful.

Would you like to be a Beta reader? Not only would I love to hear from persons of color and people with personal knowledge of life in Afghanistan, I’d like to get feedback from anyone who enjoys reading fiction with strong female characters and contemporary settings. Leave a comment below or email me if you are interested. The likely time period for reading will be January 2016.

 

 

Thanksgiving Outdoors

While we’re bombarded with ads and online messages to see how much we can spend and how quickly we can spend it on Black Friday, Charlie & I fall b20151106 Grand Mesaack on our own tradition of planning to stay as far from a shopping mall or even an online sale as possible. Depending on weather conditions, we may go cross-country skiing or take a hike or strap on our snowshoes and explore a trail.

We applaud companies like REI which is urging people to #OptOutside this holiday weekend. Not only are they not forcing employees to work on Thursday and Friday instead of being able to celebrate this wonderful holiday with family and friends, they are also turning their back on what has become an obsessive dedication to equating “the holidays” with spending money. They will be closed on Black Friday, and are urging people to get outside rather than roam around a shopping mall, to enjoy nature rather than vegetate in front of the big screen TV.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. In my family, we have a tradition of going around the table, saying what we are most thankful for. Guess what. Stuff we own never makes the list. Relationships, health, satisfaction with the work we do (paid or volunteer), living in a beautiful area — these are the things we’re most thankful for.

Being outside, surrounded by nature, is an ideal way to calm the mind and to become more fully aware of the wonders that surround us. Feeling thankful for my life and all the people in it comes more easily when I stop in the woods and take in the beauty surrounding me.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope you’ll take time to #OptOutdoors this weekend — and whenever you get the chance.

Us vs. Them

us-vs-themSometimes I fantasize about eliminating the words “us” and “them” from every language on Earth, and what it would mean for bringing about peace and understanding. I know. We’d immediately invent new words to differentiate between “our” tribe and those other, lesser people. Based on evidence of language throughout history and cultures for describing the group of people we consider that we belong with vs. the derogatory names for people we exclude from our group, this whole categorizing thing seems to be part of inate human behavior.

We separate people into groups by gender, skin color, religious beliefs (or the absence thereof), age, sexual orientation (or the absence thereof), country, occupation, financial status, ancestry, primary language, political bent, and opinions. You can probably think of a dozen more. Some frown at new phrases which are “politically correct” — others are appalled at the lack of empathy the critics of PC are expressing. Us vs. Them.

I’m puzzling over a concern about some characters in a novel I’m in the process of writing. They are a mother and daughter, and they’re black. I’m white. As if either of those labels really means anything at all. Race is a political and social concept, not a scientific one. It has about as much scientific legitimacy as phrenology (determining a person’s personality traits by measuring areas of their skull) or reading the entrails of a dead chicken. Still, the concept is so much a part of our culture, and has influenced so much of our history and present attitudes that it is a social aspect that can’t be ignored.

I’m wondering if it is presumptuous or racist or inappropriate for me to have a black woman as my protagonist. On the other hand, I can’t imagine someone being offended by a female author writing about a male character, or a middle-aged author focusing on an older protagonist, or a straight author featuring a gay person — as long as the depiction feels genuine. I mean, if a character is written badly, it doesn’t matter how closely that fictional person matches the “us” characteristics of the author. Bad writing is bad writing.

The thing is, I’ve become very fond of this mother and daughter and learn more about them (in my imagination) every day as I fine-tune scenes. Could I re-write them as white instead? Maybe, but they’d no longer be the same people. Why? Scroll up a few paragraphs and read my comments on the political and social aspects of this strange idea we call “race.”

Even while I wrote this and tried to avoid “us” and “them,” I used those words as well as their relatives, “we” and “they.” My fantasy to change the world through language is a pipe dream. But that doesn’t mean I can’t keep trying to include more people in “my” tribe.