International Women’s Day and Nellie Bly

A publicity photograph taken by the New York World newspaper to promote Bly’s around-the-world voyage; by Historical and Public Figures Collection – New York Public Library Archives,, Public Domain,

My laptop has been fixed (problem with the charging port) and I though I’d post what I’d planned for last week, in celebration of the many great women throughout history – and in this case, a writer.

In the late 1800s, at a time when the majority of women had few options other than marriage while they were still young enough to be considered ‘marketable’, a gal named Nellie Bly made a name for herself as an intrepid journalist.

Along the way she not only arranged to have herself committed to an insane asylum for ten days to expose the appalling way that the poor patients were treated, but travelled by herself around the world in 72 days – not by the comforts of airplane, but by boat, horse, burro, rickshaw and an assortment of other methods few of us today will ever combine into a single journey.

(Just fyi, I myself have been on all of the above, but on very separate occasions. The burro is a long story.)

Elizabeth Cochran was born in 1864 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She studied to become a teacher, but had to drop out because of her family’s financial difficulties. She and her mother ran a boarding house together, until at the age of 18 she wrote a fiery anonymous rebuttal to a newspaper article she saw in the Pittsburgh Dispatch, wherein the writer asserted that women were only good for domestic duties and that working women were ‘monstrosities’. It’s sadly ironic that more than 150 years later the same opinion still exists in parts of the world.

The Dispatch’s publisher was impressed by what Elizabeth had written, and hired her to write for the paper.  The tradition of the time was to write under a pen name, and she chose ‘Nellie Bly’, after a character in a popular 1850 song by Stephen Foster. She went on to make history under that name.

As a reporter for the Dispatch, Bly earned $5/week. She worked on exposing the poor treatment of women in society, and even posed as a sweatshop worker at one point. The factory owners began to complain about her articles, and the paper reassigned her to the ‘women’s pages’. But Nellie was determined “to do something no girl has done before”.

She went to Mexico to as a foreign correspondent, reporting on the lives of the people there, but once again her pioneering work brought her trouble. After protesting the imprisonment of a local journalist for criticizing the Mexican government, the Mexican authorities threatened her with arrest. She fled the country and published a book called Six Months in Mexico.

In 1887, looking for meatier assignments, she relocated to New York City and began working for the New York World.

One of her earliest assignments was to write an article about the experiences that inmates endured at an infamous mental institution on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island) in New York. Bly pretended to be a mental patient in order to be committed to the facility. In the 10 days she stayed there, she discovered the horrors of the treatment of patients who, just by not fitting the accepted mold, were conveniently relegated to the asylum.

Blackwell’s was overcrowded, and so understaffed that there were only 16 doctors to see to over 1,600 patients. The doctors and other staff had little training and even less compassion, brutally taking their own character flaws out on their patients – ‘treatments’ that included forcing them to sit shivering in ice baths, or immobile for hours on a bench. Their food and living conditions were appalling, and any complaints were met with beatings and sexual abuse.

Asylums in general at the time were treated like entertainment venues, where the curious could go to observe the ‘mad’. Even worse, a lot of the inmates weren’t insane at all, just poor people with no family to turn to, or immigrants who couldn’t speak English. They suffered intense trauma from the ghastly things they went through at the hands of the staff.

Bly’s exposé became a sensation and had speedy results. Within a month, a grand-jury panel visited the asylum to investigate, and even though the hospital had been tipped off in advance and cleaned things up, the jury sided with Nellie and implemented important changes. Some of those changes included improvements to the assessment system so that people who didn’t have mental illness were no longer committed, the hiring of translators for different languages, and more funding for proper staffing.

In 1888 the newspaper gave Nellie the green light to attempt to recreate the scenario in Jules Verne’s famous novel, Around the World in 80 Days. She turned her experiences into another book, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days (1890).

Chapter One, titled “A Proposal to Girdle the Earth”, described how the idea for her adventure was generated:

WHAT gave me the idea?

It is sometimes difficult to tell exactly what gives birth to an idea. Ideas are the chief stock in trade of newspaper writers and generally they are the scarcest stock in market, but they do come occasionally,

This idea came to me one Sunday. I had spent a greater part of the day and half the night vainly trying to fasten on some idea for a newspaper article. It was my custom to think up ideas on Sunday and lay them before my editor for his approval or disapproval on Monday. But ideas did not come that day and three o’clock in the morning found me weary and with an aching head tossing about in my bed. At last tired and provoked at my slowness in finding a subject, something for the week’s work, I thought fretfully:

“I wish I was at the other end of the earth!”

“And why not?” the thought came: “I need a vacation; why not take a trip around the world?”

It is easy to see how one thought followed another. The idea of a trip around the world pleased me and I added: “If I could do it as quickly as Phileas Fogg did, I should go.”

On November 14, 1889, she boarded the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line, and began a 40,070 kilometer journey that took her through England, France, Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka), Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.

To sustain interest in the story, the paper organized a “Nellie Bly Guessing Match”, inviting readers to estimate Bly’s arrival time to the second. The Grand Prize was a trip to Europe with spending money.

If you have the time to read her resulting book, you’ll discover that Bly, although courageous enough for the undertaking, was as nervous as any other human in her shoes.

But when the whistle blew and they were on the pier, and I was on the Augusta Victoria, which was slowly but surely moving away from all I knew, taking me to strange lands and strange people, I felt lost. My head felt dizzy and my heart felt as if it would burst. Only seventy-five days! Yes, but it seemed an age and the world lost its roundness and seemed a long distance with no end, and–well, I never turn back.

Nellie also had a wry and deprecating sense of humour, especially when describing some of her preparations for the journey. Her recountings provide a fascinating insight into travel in the Victorian era.

One never knows the capacity of an ordinary hand-satchel until dire necessity compels the exercise of all one’s ingenuity to reduce every thing to the smallest possible compass. In mine I was able to pack two traveling caps, three veils, a pair of slippers, a complete outfit of toilet articles, ink-stand, pens, pencils, and copy-paper, pins, needles and thread, a dressing gown, a tennis blazer, a small flask and a drinking cup, several complete changes of underwear, a liberal supply of handkerchiefs and fresh ruchings and most bulky and uncompromising of all, a jar of cold cream to keep my face from chapping in the varied climates I should encounter…That jar of cold cream was the bane of my existence. It seemed to take up more room than everything else in the bag and was always getting into just the place that would keep me from closing the satchel.

Her description of intense sea-sickness on her first boat ride is delightful, and one many of us can empathize with:

I felt cold, I felt warm; I felt that I should not get hungry if I did not see food for seven days; in fact, I had a great, longing desire not to see it, nor to smell it, nor to eat of it, until I could reach land or a better understanding with myself.

Fish was served, and Captain Albers was in the midst of a good story when I felt I had more than I could endure.

“Excuse me,” I whispered faintly, and then rushed, madly, blindly out.

…After some fresh air she returned to the dining table twice, but eventually gave up and crashed in bed for the night, where:

I had a dim recollection afterwards of waking up enough to drink some tea, but beyond this and the remembrance of some dreadful dreams, I knew nothing until I heard an honest, jolly voice at the door calling to me.

Opening my eyes I found the stewardess and a lady passenger in my cabin and saw the Captain standing at the door.

“We were afraid that you were dead,” the Captain said when he saw that I was awake.

While some of her writing may not thoroughly conform to our modern ideas of political correctness, bear in mind that she was writing under the attitudes at the time, and she was pretty open-minded on the whole.

Bly completed her journey with days to spare, and even met Verne and his wife in France along the way. After the publicity of her trip around the world, she quit reporting and took a lucrative job writing serial novels for the weekly New York Family Story Paper. She wrote eleven of them, which were thought lost until 2021.

In 1893, though still writing novels, she returned to reporting for the World, and two years later married millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman, who was 73 years old. With her husband’s failing health, she left journalism and took over as head of his company, Iron Clad Manufacturing, which made steel containers such as milk cans and boilers. She wasn’t a great businesswoman, and the company unfortunately went bankrupt, but Bly was also an inventor and received a patent for an improved milk can as well as a stacking garbage can.

Returning to her first, and best, career – reporting – she covered the Woman Suffrage Procession of 1913 for the New York Evening Journal. When World War I began, she was the first woman and one of the first foreigners to visit the war zone between Serbia and Austria, writing stories on Europe’s Eastern Front. She was arrested at one point when she was mistaken for a British spy.

In 1922, after a life that would be considered remarkable even by today’s standards, Nellie Bly died of pneumonia at St. Mark’s Hospital, New York City, aged 57. She was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City.

But although she isn’t mentioned as much in the media today, her exploits have left a lasting legacy. A board game, Round the World with Nellie Bly, was created in 1890.

Round the World with Nellie Bly game board; by Unknown author –, Public Domain,

A fire boat named Nellie Bly operated in Toronto in the early 1900s, and the Pennsylvania Railroad ran an express train named the Nellie Bly between New York and Atlantic City until 1961.

Bly became the subject of several plays, films and television shows, as well as a number of novels. In 1998, she was inducted into the U.S. National Women’s Hall of Fame, and in 2002 she was one of four journalists honoured with a U.S. postage stamp regarding “Women in Journalism”. The New York Press Club confers an annual Nellie Bly Cub Reporter journalism award. Just last year arachnologists even named a species of tarantula from Ecuador Pamphobeteus nellieblyae in her honour.

Her book Around the World in 72 Days is featured on Goodreads, and you can read a free version in the digital library of the University of Pennsylvania.

Screenshot of the book posting on Goodreads

As a journalist and writer ahead of her time, and an amazing adventurer, Nellie Bly continues to be an inspiration to all writers, travellers and people who passionately support human rights.

Longing for longer days and slower paths

A walking path along the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

“There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right temp. Even a bicycle goes too fast.” – Paul Scott Mowrer

Life moves quickly. Before we know it, the week has flown by, then the weekend, then several weeks, then months. All the inventions of cars and airplanes did is move us faster from one location to the next.

The first time my hubby and I flew from one side of the world to the other, it was a strange experience in some ways, finding ourselves 8,000 miles from home in a matter of hours. It was convenient, but back in the Golden Age of Travel one would have felt, after taking a train, then a ship, then perhaps a local steamer or another train, that one had really voyaged.

I love a good road trip, which is a way to explore the landscape between here and there rather than just hurrying across it 35,000 feet in the air. But even better, if you have the time and health, is to walk it. Or at least some of it. The way to get to really know a place is to wander it on foot.

Hiking through the New Mexican desert to see the ruins of Chaco Culture – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

When hubby and I joined a tour group to Egypt many years ago, we spent the first couple of days in Cairo riding around on a tour bus from place to place. Of course we got off the bus and explored famous sites, but we still felt like we were inside a fish bowl. It wasn’t until the third day, when we had leisure time, that we got the chance to walk the streets of the city, to dodge the crazy traffic, smell the aromas from the cafes and mingle with the people who lived there. Our feet may have been very dusty at the end of the day, from the ever-present sand blowing in from the surrounding desert, but we’d seen more of the real, modern Cairo to help us put all the spectacular ancient monuments into context.

We had a similar experience in Tahiti many years later. Our beach resort outside of the airport town of Fa’a was beautiful, and our overwater bungalow fantastic, but some of our favourite memories were leaving the resort to walk down the hill and over to the local mall to buy wine and pastries for our room. Cars and buses rolling past, families in their homes, a vendor on the side of the road burning the leftover husks of coconuts he was selling, people at the mall buying shoes and Halloween decorations (surprisingly, Halloween is really big there) – these were all aspects of Tahitian life we’d never have known if we’d stayed on the resort grounds.

And that’s the point of walking, whether it’s around a city like London, England, and having lunch in a pub or finding an umbrella shop or a good bookstore, or walking through a botanical garden to experience the scents and colours of the flora, or going on a long hike: you see life much more intimately. You see details that become engraved in your memory because they’re so wonderful and unexpected. You can’t really know a place unless you see it up close and personal.

In the midst of our Canadian winter, when it’s difficult to stay out long because the cold begins to seep through your clothes and turn your nose into an icicle, I’m dreaming of the warmth returning in just a few weeks, and being able to let my feet take me on adventures again. I want to see the early crocus and daffodils poking out of the ground at our local botanical garden. I want to hear birds chirping again, feel mild breezes ruffle my hair. I want to be out in the world again, not just sheltering inside as blizzards blow and ice coats everything.

photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

In England, wise people have been working on a network of walking routes around the entire country to connect every village, town and city. It’s called the Slow Ways initiative, and I think it’s brilliant.

Screenshot of the website

If you’ve never had a chance to explore the British countryside, I recommend you do it as soon as possible. It looks like the pictures you’ve seen, seriously, with winding lanes and sheep and hedgerows and fields of heather. My hubby and I have been to England many times, and the most country walking we’ve done was while we stayed at two farmhouse B&Bs in Yorkshire, when for a short while we got to pretend we lived in such a bucolic landscape. I hope one day we can return and do more extensive walking.

After a good walk, seeing animals scampering through the woods, crab apples ripening on trees, burbling water mysteriously appearing and disappearing, when the fresh air has blown all the cobwebs out of your head, you’ve earned a cup of hot tea and a hearty meal, and maybe even a brownie or a piece of pie for dessert. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

Segments of a felled tree in a mid-Ontario forest have become habitats of their own – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

Hubby and I did a half-day hike on a sunny afternoon in the Hooker Valley in New Zealand. We saw rare birds, all kinds of spring flowers, silver-grey streams tinted by mountain minerals. We crossed suspension bridges and even witnessed two small avalanches on Aoraki, the peak that Edmund Hillary practiced on before he made his historic ascent of Mount Everest. When we returned to the National Park Visitor Centre, we had tea and burgers in the Old Mountaineers’ Café, looking out onto the mountains amid a plethora of vintage gear and the spirits of the intrepid climbers who braved the mountains over the decades.  

Glorious scenery in the Hooker Valley, New Zealand – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

If you’re looking for a walking holiday, you can read much more about it in the BBC article The plan to connect every British town, and on the Slow Ways website.

For inspiration about exploring more of the world on foot, check out the BBC’s travel site called Slowcomotion.

Screenshot of the website

Garden paths, hiking paths, small roads and longer ones – they all take us to new places, or new views and impressions of places we’ve been before. Slow down and enjoy the journeys.

A pod of hippos cools off in the Mara River in Kenya during a safari hike – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

A great book leads to a great movie and then an amazing travel experience

“Sometimes we gazed through a succession of arches, its course very like the aisles of a Gothic cathedral. The great artistic sculptors and builders of the Middle Ages might have here completed their studies with advantage.” Chapter 16, A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne


I was introduced to Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre through the awesome movie made in 1959. My dad and I would watch it every time it aired, on Sunday afternoons; it was one of our favourite things to do together. As I later found out, the movie retains the overall premise from the book, but otherwise differed substantially to make it such an exciting visual adventure. According to Wikipedia, the script-writer, Walter Reisch, said that “The master’s work, though a beautiful basic idea, went in a thousand directions and never achieved a real constructive “roundness”.” 1

Reisch changed the professor who instigates the journey to Scottish, and his nephew, who accompanied him on the great adventure, to one of his enthusiastic geology students. The professor was still crusty, and played with panache by James Mason, while the student was played by a young and handsome Pat Boone who got to lose his shirt for female viewers, and the beautiful Arlene Dahl was added for a love interest deep in the bowels of the earth. The script was delightful, the actors wonderful and the special effects superb, and Hollywood produced a movie that can be watched time and time again.

One day I’d love to go to Iceland, to visit the volcano mentioned in the book and movie: Snæfellsjökull. It’s a real place, and though I have no plans to get inside it, I’d love to see it in person. None of the movie was filmed in that country, and Verne himself never actually went there to gather background material for his novel, but the landscape is such a vivid part of the viewing and reading experience.

Some of the underground scenes were filmed in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, in a massive cave called the Big Room, and my hubby and I made a point of going there on our recent vacation. We’ve been to other cave systems, including Mammoth Caves in Kentucky and Luray Caverns in Virginia, so I wasn’t sure how impressed we’d be with Carlsbad, but given how much I love the movie, it was a must-see.

The park lies about twenty minutes away from the small city of Carlsbad, out in the Chihuahuan desert, which of course looks nothing like Iceland, but it’s what’s inside the mountain that you drive to the top of that matters (although the desert is full of things to see as well).

The caverns have been forming for about 250 million years, from an area that was once part of an inland sea. As a result, the limestone of the area was full of carbon-based fossils, which transformed into a really unique interior as tectonic movement shoved the former reef over 4,000 feet into the air.

Visitor Centre at Carlsbad Caverns NP

To visit the Big Room, which is one of the most accessible parts of the Caverns, you take an elevator down 750 feet from the Visitor Centre at the top deep into the mountain. (Hopefully you’re not claustrophobic.)

Disembarking at the bottom into a spacious underground room, follow the sign to the self-guided tour. The trail, though very walkable, is 2km long (1.25 miles); if you can’t manage the entire thing, there’s a shortcut.

Let me say that the Big Room is one of the most spectacular things my hubby and I have ever seen, and through 24 different countries, that’s saying a lot. Mother Nature always wins, and Carlsbad is no exception. The handful of photos below give you only a sense of how magnificent Carlsbad is; you really have to experience it yourself. They’re all taken without a flash, showing the drama of the shapes that have formed over millions of years, and are continuing to transform.

The caverns are pockmarked with all kinds of strange holes and indentations. This one reminded me of a skull face, and you can see the ‘popcorn’ formations that are found in many parts of the caves
The walking path is edged with handrails, and is textured to prevent slipping on the damp surface. It’s surreal as it winds through the caves.
This is the Lions Tail formation, as the popcorn clusters on the ends of the stalactites resemble the fluffy-ended tails of the big cats

The Big Room is so massive that it’s impossible to take a photo of the entire thing – about 4,000 feet long, or 11 football fields. It’s the largest single cave in the U.S. by volume, rising up to over 200 feet high. I couldn’t find information about where exactly the filming took place, but it was a brilliant choice!

I took this photo looking back across the Big Room from the far end. If you look closely, you can see the handrails of the walking path as it meanders through. This huge space is only a small part of the entire room.
A stalactite (growing down from the ceiling) and a stalagmite (‘growing’ upward from drips from the ceiling above) eventually meet in the Big Room

Great art, in whatever form, inspires people to explore further, and we’re so lucky to live in a world that provides the opportunities. For more information about Carlsbad, visit the NPS website.

All photos were taken by me. They’re posted at lower resolution than the originals, and may not be used without my permission. E. Jurus


On hiatus this week

Hi everyone. I’m taking a break this week, as I had to have some minor surgery yesterday and am recovering. In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure or possible inspiration, the photo above is one that I took at the Bottomless Lakes in New Mexico recently. See you next week.

All photo rights are reserved by me.

A Taste of Culture

Best Sopa Azteca ever at the Antigua Cocina Mexicana restaurant in Roswell, New Mexico

Eating good food is, for me, one of the joys in life. I especially love to explore the cuisine of the different places my hubby and I travel to. We’ve doing this for many years, and it’s really come in handy since I started writing novels.

I can provide ambience just by describing what a character is eating, or being served. My parents, and my in-laws, were all European, and put out very representative meals, for example – very different than what we’ve eaten at our Italian best friends’ place, or Middle Eastern households we’ve been to. Since I love to cook myself, I’ve learned a lot about a variety of cuisines and can write about them with a fair amount of confidence.

In October hubby and I spent a couple of weeks in New Mexico. As it happens, we love southwestern food, and we made the most of it. Chilies, both red and green, are ubiquitous, of course. The state has turned their take on a classic cheeseburger – a good quality beef burger topped with chopped roasted green chilies and melted white cheese – into an official culinary experience. The New Mexico tourism website provides a map of selected restaurants on the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, but most of the places we went to made their own version. Below, you’ll see a photo of the GCC slider stack that I tried out at the Shark Reef Café in the ABQ Bio Park in Albuquerque; it was superb.

Chilies are native to Central and South America, although they’ve now spread around the world as many countries cultivate their own varieties.

Apparently wild peppers grow upright, to attract birds that will spread their seeds out the other end, but through the process of domestication the peppers droop downward. Chilies all start out green, but can be allowed to ripen until they turn red.

A high-res photo of this image, and other selected images from the trip, can be purchased in various formats through my photography site on Fine Art America.

At the annual Santa Fe Harvest Festival, we learned that green chilies are hotter, but they don’t keep as well. For preservation purposes, the chilies are allowed to fully ripen, and then are picked and knotted by their stems into long bundles called ristras. The ristras are hung outdoors to dry out, and can then be used bit by bit throughout the winter until the new batches grow.

If used fresh, the chilies could be roasted in beehive-shaped adobe ovens. The ones shown in the photo here are what would have been used by early settlers in New Mexico, but these ovens are still really popular today; many people build them in their back yards. On the afternoon of the festival, two of the docents were baking fresh bread and rolls, for which they heat the ovens to 700 degrees F inside. The pans are set on the brick bottom and the opening is sealed shut with a wooden door soaked in water, with water-soaked rags around the edges to complete the seal.

Samples were given out for free, and my hubby and I spent a most enjoyable hour or so waiting for the hot rolls to come out and chatting with another couple from the northern part of the state around Taos. Every sample was delicious, especially the rolls studded with dried fruit.

After that, we sat down to rest and bought the last two homemade tamales being sold by another docent sitting across from us out of an insulated bag on a little walker-style cart. Tamales are basically a savory stuffing wrapped in a masa (corn) dough and steamed inside husks of banana or corn leaves. They made steam come out of our ears, I think. I asked the vendor what was in the filling and she listed only two ingredients: pork and chilies. Wahoo!

But there’s more to the experience than just consuming the food. Entire cultures are build around the sharing of food, whether it’s years of tradition in a family home, or the communal wait for fresh buns at a festival, sharing a little bit of your life on a sunny afternoon with people you may never see again. It might even be the conversation you strike up when you’ve sat on a bench next to two women eating tamales that they bought from a couple of bright-eyed women across from you, and you decide to take a chance on a pair of foil-wrapped bundles that emerge from an insulated bag on a little cart.

The kind-hearted vendor even gave us a courtesy bottle of water to wash our impromptu lunch down with. Between that and the sweet rolls, we had a complete, and completely unexpected, meal.

As travellers, hubby and I live for these unplanned experiences – they’re often the best memories. As a writer and photographer, I pay attention and take lots of photos so that I can recapture the details long after we’ve gotten home, either as a piece of artwork, for a meal for friends/family, or as a sample of authentic culture in my novels. The different styles of food and food production might even make their way into a tale on a different planet – maybe it’s a less-developed civilization that still cooks in earthen ovens, or grows unusual plants on its farms.

Whichever the case, you can’t beat an authentic actual experience to understand what a different culture is really like, from the myriad varieties of potatoes (over 700) that are served with every meal in Peru to the cups of tea made famous in English novels of all genres to the little chilies that have caught on so much that they even get hung up as decorations.  For all travellers and aspiring novelists, our world is a rich source of cultural inspiration — don’t forget to make time to stop and smell the ristras.

All photos were taken by me, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus

Book 3 is under way

Two years ago I began my tentative adventure in fulfilling a long-held dream: to write a novel. I’ve always loved reading — taught myself to read when I was four — and began writing stories somewhere around the age of eight or nine. Many years later, I’m getting the first book of my trilogy ready for publication, editing the second book for my beta readers, and have put ‘pen to paper’ for Book 3. It’s a little startling to realize how far my adventure has taken me already, and a little weird to think about typing The End to the entire saga in a few months

How does one get to this point? In my case (because all writers are different and I can’t speak for everyone):

  • By having a story to tell, that must pour out until it’s finished.
  • By getting that first rough, crazy draft done.
  • By having beta readers who’ve loved your work and keep pressing for the next installment.

There’s still plenty of work to do. The front cover art for Book 1 is set, having been vetted by the members of the small-business group I belong to; I’ve been working on the blurb for the back cover, and need to get some publishing details finalized (e.g. the ISBN number). I’ve had several requests to include maps of the small town where much of the action in the novels takes place as well as the private college where my protagonist works; I’m researching software to help me create versions that are more polished than the sketches I produced in PowerPoint. And finally, as a self-published author, all the advance promo rests in my lap, but I’m looking forward to working on it and posting the first pieces here on this site!

The entire process repeats for Book 2 — feedback from beta readers, a couple more edits to bring the novel to its best state. The cover art will be a variation on the version chosen for Book 1, so that won’t be too difficult, and I’ll build on the promo that’s already been put out there since Book 1. Hopefully I’ll already have a solid fan base.

Book 3 will undergo the same transformation, from rough draft to final product. And then what? Two years ago, when I wrote the first words of Book 1 (whose title has evolved constantly until a few months ago), I wasn’t even sure I could produce an entire novel, or that anyone would like it. There was no thought of what I’d do once I finished the entire trilogy.

I assume all successful writers (as in, have finished and published a book) go through this, the ‘what’s next?’ state of mind. I’ve given it some thought, and for some reason have decided to write a horror novel — even though I’m not a huge reader of the genre. Having watched stylish horror movies and turned off a few gore-fests, I do know what I like and don’t like, and the idea of penning my own chiller feels like a thrilling challenge to take on. Can I scare the pants off my readers in a way that burrows into your minds for a long time afterward? We’ll find out 🙂 It will be set in the same ‘world’ as my Chaos Roads trilogy, but with a different protagonist who brings her own peculiar baggage to the story; still fleshing out the details and how her journey will play out.

For now, however, I’ll keep you posted on Book 1, Through the Monster-glass, as it heads toward the day when it becomes available to the public on Amazon Kindle! Check back for many more details in the next few weeks; the cover art will be coming soon.

Book 2 is finished!

Entrance to the Currents sound-and-light show, Niagara Parks Power Station. Photo by E. Jurus

I typed “The End” after fifty-five chapters and about 192,000 words of the second book in my ‘Chaos Roads’ trilogy. The future is clouded for my heroine and all the people in her life, like the fog screen at the Niagara Parks Power Station in Niagara Falls, Ontario, that precedes their Currents sound-and-light show (which my hubby and I enjoyed a few days ago).

What a journey this second novel has been! The protagonist barely survived the events of the first book, and has to deal with the profound changes in her life as a result, heading towards an inevitable transformation she’s not sure she wants.

The first completed draft is four chapters longer than Book 1, which surprised me, but the story must be told in the way that it wants to unfold. I don’t have complete control over it — let’s just say that it developed a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming. That’s a large part of the fun of writing for me, that I get to look forward to the adventure as much as my readers do.

All thoroughly backed up onto an external drive, Book 2 will now rest easy for a few weeks, simmering like a stew, while I complete the final edit of Book 1 and get it ready for publication. The official title will be “Through the Monster-glass”; I’ll post a preview and other information as I get it finalized.

I belong to an business-women’s entrepreneurial group, and at this month’s meeting we were all asked to share what we love the most about our chosen vocation. My answer was both easy and complex:

  • I love the process of writing, of capturing a scene in words that will make it come alive for my readers
  • I love the surprises along the way, as I’ve already mentioned
  • I love making my brain work: doing the plotting, the research, the wordsmithing
  • The sense of accomplishment is profound, to do something you’ve dreamt your whole life of doing. Even if it doesn’t sell (but of course I hope it does, and my beta readers all loved it), I’ve still achieved something remarkable.
  • I love that my journey is inspiring others to follow their dream

It took a great leap of faith on my part to embark on this journey. Throughout high school I received great marks on my creative writing, but there’s still a huge divide between those short stories and putting an entire book together. I wanted to write something that would live on in my readers’ imaginations long after they finish the final chapters, and I had no idea if I could actually do that.

You start off with the rudiments of an idea, and maybe the main plot points, but there’s still an awful lot that has to come out of your head after that. My genre, fantasy/sci-fi, typically runs between 100,000 to 150,000 words, maybe longer, which is frighteningly intimidating. My second blog post on this site, “Do you have a book inside you?“, shares more details of how I got started. Finishing the first book a year ago at the end of July was one of the shining milestones of my life.

Book 2 has highs, lows, profound questions, and lots of action. The third book will challenge my heroine in ways she never expected, answer many questions and open up many more. I hope it will be a thrilling, satisfying wrap-up of the amazing journey she’s been on — but that’s to be determined when I start writing it during the 2022 session of National Novel Writing Month this November. I look forward to taking all the notes on my very-detailed, multi-page spreadsheet and transforming them into the final part of the story, and I know I’ll be sad when I type the third and final “The End” next summer.

In the meantime, there’s the final, extra-scrutinizing edit of Book 1 to finish, then formatting it for publishing, working out a cover design, uploading it to Kindle, and holding the Launch Party (all details to follow on this site, and the Facebook page I’ll be creating). Lots to do, and a busy few months ahead.

You can find me on the NaNoWriMo site as AdvGal. If you sign up for the event, look me up — I’d be delighted to keep in touch and provide encouragement!

Celebrating National Book Lovers Day

Bookstacks at the Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland

North of New York City, along the edge of the Hudson River, there is a small estate lying between the railroad tracks of Metro North and the broad expanse of the river.

Chapter One, Ghostlight, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

One October, I made a pilgrimage, with hubby as chauffeur and adventure partner, to the Hudson River Valley in New York State, just on the strength of one New Age/Occult book that I’d read. It was the book that made me fall in love with the genre of urban fantasy, because it told the kind of story I’ve always hoped could be true: that our world holds more in it than our humdrum everyday lives.

The author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, led a very controversial life, but she was a damn fine storyteller. I loved her style – very readable but incredibly evocative, even poetic in spots. The story in Ghostlight is fascinating, but what hooked me even more was the setting, which was so well-portrayed that it was almost a character in itself.

So that year, my hubby and I decided to do a road trip, and I suggested the Hudson River Valley. You might be more familiar with this part of New York State as the eerie locale for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Its author, Washington Irving, built his own house there in the town of Sunnyside. He was basically a superstar in the region, and to this day you can see his influence all over the valley.

One of the many things named in honour of the Hudson River Valley’s favourite celebrity

Irving found great inspiration in the mysterious atmosphere of the Catskill Mountains, and when autumn rolls around the entire area takes inspiration from his stories to create one of the best places to go for Halloween-themed travel.

Farm markets abound in the Hudson River Valley
Bumper sticker spotted at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, town of Sleepy Hollow, New York State

Great books live on in our psyche long after we’ve finished reading them, and this week’s blog is a celebration of National Book Lovers Day, celebrated in both Canada and the U.S. It’s not an official holiday, just an acknowledgement of all the enrichment books have brought to countless lives ever since they were first created.

Storytelling became an art long before the written word, through the generations of cultures who passed along knowledge, both practical and spiritual, to those who came after them. Even early rock art told stories.

Tribal rock art, Botswana, Africa

Stories began to be inscribed on stone and clay tablets. And not just stories – records of things, from inventories of goods to spells and curses (as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead) to lists of kings and other important historical facts.

Stories were created to explain how the world works. Cultures like the ancient Egyptians and Celts and Greeks had elaborate tales about the supernatural forces they believed were the cause of things that went wrong.

As science was developed, books were written about discoveries. But others were written just to entertain – to thrill, to haunt, to tell tales of love and romance and chivalry.

My parents loved to read to me, and I developed a love of books from all those wonderful imaginary journeys. I fell in love with the stories of HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe at an early age, and when I was fourteen, an ex-boyfriend introduced me to The Lord of the Rings, which I read non-stop during my Christmas holiday break. Oh how I wanted to visit Middle Earth, to see dragons and elves and magical silver. (When we travelled to New Zealand a few years ago, one of the great highlights was a visit to the Hobbiton movie set, including mugs of hobbit ale at the Green Dragon Inn.)

The gate to Bilbo & Frodo Baggins’ house, Hobbiton

That’s the power of books, that they can make a place or a story come so alive for us that we don’t want to leave.

I still love to hold a good book in my hands, curled up with a cup of tea, but I’m also quite happy to download ebooks to my laptop when I can’t get them in our local bookstore. My hubby and I have lately been downloading the Nero Wolfe mystery/crime series of novels by author Rex Stout. These novels capture the atmosphere of the 1950s, from gumshoes to slinky dames, through the eyes of quirky genius Nero Wolfe, who rarely leaves his brownstone in New York City, solving crimes with his remarkable brain while his assistant, debonair and smart-mouthed Archie Goodwin, does all the legwork and his chef Fritz cooks remarkable gourmet meals. We’ve read most of them before, but are now revisiting an old friend and adding the substantial canon (40+ books) to our collection, all compactly stored on our laptops.

Writers also learn to become better by reading great books, and it doesn’t have to be a ‘classic’. Not everyone’s into the works of Tolstoy, or even J.R.R. Tolkien. Whatever genre you like to read, enjoy the experience, escape with it, learn from it, let it fire your imagination.

In future posts, I may start doing book reviews, and I’m also thinking about creating a book club for budding writers, to discuss books we like (or hate), what we loved (or didn’t) between their pages. We’d ready any genre, because I think a good writer can learn something from all of them, and because a diversity of writers would make a great book club. If you’re a new writer and would be interested in joining such a club, let me know!

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” JK Rowling

More writer info – children’s books, reality TV show

The start of the storybook trail on Foley Mountain, Ontario — in 2020 it featured The Gruffalo

This week’s post features two pieces of news I wanted to share with you.

  1. The Reedsy site has posted a comprehensive guide to publishing children’s books. This genre has never been in my wheelhouse, but if you have a wonderful concept for such a book you’ll want to check out all the information in the article, How to Publish a Children’s Book: A Guide for First-Time Authors. In a great illustration of synchronicity, or amazing coincidence (plotting note for you), the article begins by referencing Julia Donaldson, the author of the book featured in the photo for this post, which I took two years ago while on a pandemic vacation within the bounds of my own province.
  2. If you have a book idea inside you and would love the challenge of writing it in front of a huge television audience, this challenge might be for you! A new reality TV show specifically for writers is being put together; it’s called America’s Next Great Author, and the producers are taking casting calls right now. The show has several producers, including The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, who run an annual Pitchapalooza for writers who’ve created a book through National Novel Writing Month. Though not for the faint-hearted (like all reality shows), this could be right up your alley: tryouts in several U.S. cities where you’ll get one minute to pitch your book idea to a publishing panel; then “Six charismatic finalists from vastly different places and backgrounds enter the Writer’s Retreat together for a month of live-wire challenges and spectacular storytelling.” The finalists will have to begin their book ‘from scratch’ and complete it in 30 days. Whether you want to submit your name for the casting calls, or just follow information on the show as it develops, this is where you’ll find out more 🙂 Good luck!

Digging up background/favourite resources 

So you have a great idea for a novel. You’ve figured out your basic plot points to get you from the Inciting Incident to the climax. How do you fill in the rest, or figure out how to resolve a sticky situation, or make sure you’re getting the details of something right?

Background research may be your saviour.

This type of research is critical for thrillers, mystery novels and speculative fiction, but even if you’re writing one of the fantasy genres, information from various historic and cultural sources can give your writing a richness and authenticity it wouldn’t otherwise have.

I’ve gotten some of my best ideas from my research – if I need to set a scene and want it to feel right, if I’m stumped on how to move forward in a scene or chapter, if I just need to figure out whether one of my ideas would actually be feasible. Although my genre is urban fantasy mixed with science fiction, a lot of my scenes need to be grounded in reality; from there I can freely extrapolate with whatever my imagination comes up with, knowing that I started from a solid base.

Resources are practically limitless, but today I’d like to share one of my personal favourites: the JSTOR Daily newsletter. JSTOR is “a digital library of academic journals, books, and other material”, which sounds pretty dry, but their newsletter brings all kinds of fascinating cultural tidbits to my mailbox every week.

One of this week’s articles is a terrific example: a snapshot of the pearl industry, from all the way back to 5,000 BC, to later enslaved pearl divers, to the invention of cultured pearls and their adoption as a symbol of white privilege, to powerful modern women who are defying and changing that stereotype.

While the article, Pearl Jam, doesn’t include every historical detail, it provides a springboard for taking the idea of a commodity that’s been precious for millennia and fleshing it out into a concept you could use to make your novel so much more interesting.

Take, for example, the tradition of handing down a set of pearls from generation to generation as mentioned in the article. It used to be a thing in the latter part of the 20th century. My mother had a pearl necklace, as well as a mother-of-pearl necklace and earring set, which of course came to me in due time. Neither was my style of jewellery, although I’ve kept them in memory of her. I fell in love with the look of black pearls after watching the movie The Phantom (you’ll have to watch it yourself to see what I mean 😊), and my adorable hubby with fantastic taste gave me a beautiful black pearl pendant one Christmas, followed by matching earrings the next year. Although they’re not the least bit ostentatious, whenever I wear them, someone notices. Such is the power of something with a mystique behind it.

Consider the idea of a commodity that’s so revered that it’s passed on through generations, whether in the same family, or in a guild, or a sect, between women/men/non-gender/intelligent animals…the possibilities are vast. Think of the long history of such a commodity – how has it been acquired, stolen, smuggled, faked, written into wills, hidden in crypts, protected by secret societies, lost to the ages, and on and on and on.

A few tips when doing research:

  • Organize and store it in such a way that you can find it when you need to refer to it
  • I like to highlight the parts that stood out to me the most, even if I’m not sure how I might use them at the moment. When I return to the document, I can scan through easily
  • Research can be like a treasure hunt – don’t get so caught up in it that you neglect your writing. However, when you’re stuck for ideas or just need a break, good research isn’t a waste of time
  • Include images when you come across them; they often contain a lot of relevant detail that you can use to your advantage
  • Either bookmark your source, or include how to find it again in your stored document (the URL, etc.) – you may want to refer to it more than once for additional details once you start fleshing out your idea
  • Follow your gut. There may be other links in your original source that can lead to more good ideas – or not. That’s the nature of research. Not all of it may prove directly useful, but it may help you to eliminate other possibilities, or to narrow your search to one particular facet.

Above all, have fun, both in the research and in adapting it for use in your novel.

There are many ways to find and do research. If you’re interested in JSTOR Daily, the link to the featured article in this blog post also contains a spot to sign up for the newsletter, and if you have a personal favourite among your resources, I’d love to hear about it!