Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Weekends at the Jersey Shore

When I was growing up, our family didn’t have much disposable income. My father was a fourth grade teacher who also worked summer jobs on the side, and my mother left her office job with the State of New Jersey to be a stay-at-home mom of three kids. We never took a family vacation. Never went to Niagara Falls. Never went to Disney. If we traveled at all, it was to the Jersey Shore for day trips to the various Shore points, or to cram into my grandparent’s tiny bungalow in Seaside Park for a long weekend.
But it was glorious.

The memories we made have lasted me a lifetime, and though I’ve traveled far and wide both domestically and internationally since getting married, nothing means more to me than the Jersey Shore. My attachment to its beaches, boardwalks, and atmosphere is indescribable. I guess it’s no surprise that my first book, THE GHOST CHRONICLES, was set at the Angel of the Sea in the historic Shore town of Cape May, which by the way, Oprah featured on her television show as one of the top vacations in the world.

Now, whenever I go back to the Shore with my own family, it’s as joyous as opening presents on Christmas morning. As I zoom down the Parkway from North Jersey, my anticipation builds. By the time we cross the bridge into Seaside, LBI, Wildwood, or Cape May a thrill of excitement and happiness zings through me. The rides, the food, the sounds, even the smells, all bring me back to being that little kid packed into a cramped car again, but on her way to Wonderland.

Does the Jersey Shore have its faults? Of course it does. Sometimes it’s too crowded, sometimes it’s too dirty, sometimes it’s too rowdy. Many of the various shore towns have gone through periods of downturn, and then renewal. But when I came home from Houston after being away for five years and realized the old carousel in Seaside had been replaced with a new one, I shed a few tears. When Hurricane Sandy demolished half of Seaside Boardwalk and shoved the roller coaster in the ocean, I cried. And when a devastating fire took out Seaside’s Funtown Pier, my mother called me and we wept. That’s how many of our fond memories are tied up at the Jersey Shore.
A couple years ago my parents bought a three bedroom condo two blocks from the beach in Wildwood Crest, realizing their lifelong dream of owning 'a little place down the Shore’. So luckily, we have many more fond memories to be made.

Do you have a place you like to travel to that is unique and irreplaceable?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Summer Vacation of Food, Family, and Murder (Brian Katcher)

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So once again, all three of us have summer vacation off, so we took two weeks in July to take the East Coast/Canada by storm. Highlights:



Niagara Falls

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The CN Tower

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Plymouth Rock

Acadia National Park (above)


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Ben & Jerry's Factory (VT)

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PEZ factory, CT

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Hershey, PA

Creepy Places:

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Lovecraft's grave, RI

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Stephen King's House, ME

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Lizzie Borden Murder House, ME

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Centralia, PA (Underground coal seam caught fire in the 1960s and still burns. They had to abandon the town)

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 Calvin Coolidge's Grave, VT

Also: Abandoned Olympic venue in Montreal, maple farm in Vermont, the FDR Presidential Library, the graveyard where they filmed Night of the Living Dead, weather predicting groundhog in PA, and visiting a friend in Toronto.

Now we're working again.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Traveling with Books in Provence--It Was Monumental by Dean Gloster

A few years ago, for our speed limit birthdays (ending in a 5) I went with my best friend from college and our wives on a trip to Provence, France. I took along two books. Those books shaped what I noticed on the trip and what I still remember.

The Provence is a sun-kissed region of the good life in Southeastern France, full of lavender fields, fresh food, and good wine. It runs from the bank of the Rhone River to the border of Italy and from the Mediterranean up through a series of beautiful hilltop towns.

We stayed in one of those towns, spending our days meandering from vista to winery to wonderful  meal on winding narrow roads.

To read in the evenings, I’d brought along Elizabeth Wein’s wonderful Code Name Verity, a YA novel set in wartime France. It’s a story of two young women, best friends, whose plane is shot down during WWII on a secret mission to resupply the French resistance. Pilot Maddie is missing. Her friend Julia—a spy code-named Verity—has been captured by the Germans. Julia's captors give her a few days to write the truth about her background and mission to earn herself a clean death instead of more torture. But Julia is an accomplished liar, playing for an end game of her own. It’s a story of love, friendship, unimaginable courage in the face of unspeakable cruelty, the line between collaboration and resistance, and the truth at the heart of a lie. It became one of my favorites.

I’d also brought Donald and Petie Kladstrup’s Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure, about the French wine industry during Nazi Germany’s WWII occupation of France, also about survival and line between collaboration and resistance.

The two books provided an interesting counterpoint to the sunlight and peace of present-day Provence.

The region is dotted with impressive medieval and Roman ruins, some incredibly well-preserved (with theaters from Roman times still in use for concerts.) But it was the collection of smaller monuments from a more recent invasion and shorter occupation—the period I was reading about—that had a more lasting impact on me.

In each of dozens of small towns in Provence, often in a central square, there is a small monument to French war dead, listing locals’ names and their dates of birth and death. Because I was reading Code Name Verity and Wine and War I paid particular attention to the war dead in the years of WWII, and found the same pattern repeated in hilltop town after town, each with a similar story told in the code of names and numbers.

There would be perhaps five military-aged men, listed with military rank, who died in the initial Battle of France when the German army overran the country in May and June of 1940. Then another military-aged man, also listed with his rank, who died a year or two later, of wounds or otherwise as a prisoner of war.

And then, in 1944, when the Germans were retreating from France, there were listed another half-dozen—from their first names, a mix of boys and girls—their ages clustered from 13 to 18, none of them with military ranks.

Children. Teenagers. Killed by the Nazis--the Wermacht, the SS, or the Gestapo. Kids in the resistance. Or suspected of being in the resistance. Or killed in retaliation for something done by the resistance.

The same pattern was repeated on the monuments in so many of these towns that I thought about the extraordinary power of forgiveness, because seventy years later, it is actually possible for a German to get served a cup of coffee in France.

I was thankful for the books I brought, because they caused me to look closely enough to see a pattern in the markers still there today, of something important before I was born.

Monuments in public spaces all stand for something, including who we choose to glorify, who we choose as our collective heroes, and whose story we decide is worth telling in stone.

France does not have many statues of the German generals who ultimately lost WWII. Instead, France has monuments—oh, so many monuments—to the teenagers those Nazis killed.

I thought about that again this month, when the U.S. President refused to condemn Nazis and their fellow marchers (“many fine people”) and as Charlottesville, Virginia convulsed over the removal of a statute of General Robert E. Lee, a remarkably cruel slave master even for his time, whose army kidnapped free blacks and enslaved them when he invaded Pennsylvania.

If a kidnapper enslaved someone you loved, how would you like that memorialized?

Some argue that statues of confederate generals should be preserved as “history.” Like many others, however, I see those as deliberate monuments to white supremacy and the glorification of evil: Using violence to preserve the ownership by whites of black human beings.

As a society, we decide who to enshrine in public statues and who to hold up to our children as heroes. To learn history—complicated, dangerous, moral—I’m a fan of books, instead.

Which I also find make excellent travel companions.

Dean Gloster is a former stand-up comedian and former law clerk for two U.S. Supreme Court Justices. He lives in Berkeley, California where he writes novels for young adults. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” This is Dean's debut post for YA Outside the Lines.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Travel both real and imaginary (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I’m a big fan of travel through books. Especially to places where I don’t want to suffer the actual discomforts (the cold rainy mountains where mountain gorillas dwell; the slopes of the Himalaya where people have actually died; the claustrophobia of a space capsule; the horrors of battlefields) or places that no longer exist (such as the America that Lewis and Clark saw, with its unspoiled Great Falls, its thousands of bison, its grand flocks of passenger pigeons).

But I’m also a big fan of seeing things for myself. My imagination could never do justice to the wonderland that is Yellowstone National Park; the ruins of Pompeii; deserts full of saguaro; the glow of lava; the silvery green of sagebrush; cathedral light filtered through old-growth forests; the ruins of Pompeii. Before I traveled in person, I did not know the Eiffel Tower was brown (photographs make it look sometimes silver, sometimes black, sometimes golden), nor that chickens roam freely throughout Hawaii, nor what snake tastes like, nor how big the Delicate Arch is, nor how small the Mona Lisa is. I didn’t know the metallic smell of mine tailings in the West, the blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea. I didn’t know that snow and flowers coexist in Northwestern mountains in the summer. I didn’t know how many different kinds of palm trees there are, nor the fragrance of the evergreen forest in Glacier National Park, nor the smoky air and constant helicopter noise of wildfire territory, nor the bomb craters that still exist at the beaches of Normandy.

Sometimes you can only read about it. And sometimes you can see, hear, smell, taste, touch it for yourself.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Wanderlust and Culture Shock (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

I love to travel. And I hate to travel.

I've always had my fair share of wanderlust, but as Jane Austen says, "Ah! There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort."

Preach it, Sister Jane.

I've always had my fair share of culture shock, too. It has affected me everywhere I've ever gone, and at least now I know to be prepared for it—and to prepare my fellow travelers for the fact that I might be the teensiest bit of a grump the first couple of days.

Brazil: (Why all these gunshots? They found how many bodies on the beach last night? There are bugs in the shower! What do you mean I can't flush the toilet paper?!)

West of the Mississippi: (This is truly a different world. Where are all the people? These landforms are too big! Where are all your Targets, Utah? I don't want to know what that smell is, Nebraska, but I have my suspicions. That gas station/convenience store is called Runza, which does not give me great confidence in the quality of their food or their restrooms. Oh, here are all the people—crammed into Colorado.)

Québec: (How dare you be hot in July, Canada! Why is there so much poop on the sidewalks of Montreal? Like, just right in the middle. Seriously, why tho? Is it because you give the side eye to anyone who possesses a plastic bag, and therefore no one has any plastic bags with which to pick up dog poop? I really hope it's dog poop.)

Scotland: (It's 50 degrees—or whatever that is Celcius, and the sun never goes down! Time for winter coats and sunscreen, I guess. I have to rent a shopping cart in the grocery store? Is there a major problem with people stealing shopping carts in Inverness? Why are all the appliances just in random places around the house? This water is so cold except when it's scorching hot! Why is this strange washer-dryer combo thing in the kitchen? On a related note, why are all the appliances made for Hobbits? Yes, I always like to step directly into the street when I exit a shop. Who needs sidewalks?)

I've loved every one of these places, been fortunate enough to spend weeks there, and had a wonderful time in all of them. But the above quotes are all things I have also actually said. It's a flaw in my character that my feathers get ruffled by new things and I require some smoothing down. And generally, after traveling, I need some sleep and some food before I can truly appreciate a new place and its culture. I wish that character flaw weren't there, but it is.

It's not confined to travel, either. My wanderlust and susceptibility to culture shock come up in my everyday life, when I'm lucky enough to have at least the illusion of a choice about where to live.

I never wanted to live in one place my whole life. I've lived in four states so far. The U.S. is a big country, and the regions are very different, so I don't even have to get out my passport in order to experience the delights of culture shock.

New Jersey: (Everybody says, "Come on!" here, to borrow from Alice in Wonderland. It's so fast. Too many cars, too many people, too much busyness. I had to snatch my mom out of the entrance of Wegmans before she got run over by people with their shopping carts. Side note—I will forgive anywhere a whole lot for the sake of Wegmans.)

Illinois: (It's so flat. I finally learned what that smell is—fertilizer. Please people, just say what you mean. If you are mad, say so rather than smiling and keeping the peace and letting things fester until you explode all over the pulled pork and walleye potluck.)

Pennsylvania (where in fairness I have lived for only a month): (I know I said I missed hills, but this might be too many hills. I don't want to ride a roller coaster every day in my minivan. Where are my nice wide flat roads? Why are there so many people here? I know I said Illinois was the middle of nowhere, but what if I liked the middle of nowhere? Ah, things are so close together!)

I even have culture shock now when I go home to South Carolina: (Must all things be monogrammed? Are we all at great risk of having our Thirty-One lunchboxes swiped otherwise? I would believe in both your essential Southernness and your Christianity without it being loudly proclaimed on a t-shirt, but at least now I know the initials and congregational affiliations of all the strangers in line at the grocery store.)—Side Note: Y'all know it's true, but I hope I don't get Thomas Wolfe-d for that. He really couldn't go home again after he wrote You Can't Go Home Again. Or so I have been warned. #mischievousface

I hope you have laughed reading this because I laughed writing it, mostly at myself and the contradictions of my personality. Because I love to travel, and I hate to travel. I love to explore new places, and I hate to explore new places. All of these places have a soft spot forever in my heart, and I will always care about them. And I will always poke fun at them, at least a little bit, because I only tease you if I love you.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Island Adventures -- Jen Doktorski

Traveling transforms us. Whether it’s a cross country road trip or a weekend away, like characters in any good story, we’re different when we return home.

     The summer before my senior year in college, I spent a week on the island of Martinique with two high school friends. I’d just completed a six-month long paid internship and had been saving my money to buy a computer so I could avoid late nights in the computer lab when I returned to school. But for whatever reason (I was young and stupid?) I decided my computer money was better spent on seven nights and eight days at an all-inclusive resort.

     It was my first time being that far away from home on my own so of course I was bound to learn a few things. Things like the closer to the equator you get, the more likely you are to suffer second degree burns on your shoulders. I ended up at the resort’s infirmary on the second day. After that, I learned to wear sunscreen with SPF 1000 and not tropical tanning oil like my friends.

     I also learned, when my friend and I took sailing lessons on our third day on the island, that I could not speak French. Six years of studying the language had taught me nothing. Rien. I’m still not exactly sure why our French speaking instructor gave us our first lesson on the beach before sending us out on the water by ourselves. But I can’t blame him. I was the one who said “Oui” when he asked me if I understood what he was saying. And it didn’t help that is was an exceptionally windy day on the island.

     He waded into the water with us and gave us a push over the waves and we took off at a good clip, out into the Caribbean – too good a clip, it turned out, and too far into the Caribbean. Our instructor, whose name I can’t remember so I’ll call him Oliver, ran nervously up and down the shore waving his arms and yelling, in French, for us to turn our small Sunfish around. When we finally figured out 1. what he was saying and 2. how to maneuver back toward shore, we advanced quickly on the small roped off area where people were learning to windsurf. Well now Oliver was absolutely beside himself, “Oh Mon Dieu!” We crashed through the ropes and headed right toward two terrified windsurfers who were forced to dive off their boards seconds before we crashed into them (the boards not the surfers.) I think at some point we realized we needed to pull up the centerboard before we finally plowed into the beach. Poor Oliver was twitching and sweating. There would be no second lesson.
     Everyone was talking about us at dinner that night. My first brush with infamy.

     Day four on the island proved to be another day of lessons. Water skiing this time. (By now it’s no mystery how 20-year-old me squandered my computer money on a luxury resort.) The potential for disaster loomed as I sat on the edge of the dock and watched as my fellow water skiing neophytes toppled over while attempting to stand on their skis. But something weird happened when I got into the water and grabbed hold of the rope. Maybe it’s the low center of gravity that comes with being height challenged, or maybe it’s because I’d snow skied before, but I got up on my first try! Applause erupted from the dock. Not only did I get up, but I made it all around the cove without falling. I spent the rest of my free time on the island taking water skiing lessons. By day two, the instructor had me jumping the wake of the boat. That’s when things got dicey. I fell. A lot. I was really disappointed when my instructor gave me a hand and pulled me into the boat. “I’m getting beat up out there,” I complained. “I stink at this.”

     That’s when he told me something I’ve never forgotten. He told getting beat up out there was a good thing. “I could pull you in a straight line behind the boat forever, but you wouldn’t be learning anything.”

     There have been many times since then, in writing and in real life, when things get messy, and I feel like I’m outside the wake of the boat getting beat up, when I think about what he said. Worth my hard-earned computer money? Maybe.
The dock where I learned to water ski.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The State of Calm by Christine Gunderson

Over the summer, most of us engage in some form of physical travel. We use cars, planes, trains, or boats to get from where we normally reside to a different place, one that’s warmer, more scenic, more relaxing, or just more interesting because it isn’t home.
Sometimes we use those train tickets and frequent flier miles to make a more metaphysical journey. Let me tell you about my summer trip to The State of Calm.
It started in the spring with the three horseman of every mother’s end of school year scheduling apocalypse: class parties, recitals and spring sports. I staggered through the last week of school gasping for air, clutching my calendar to my heart, vowing that as God is my witness, I’ll never sign up for so many activities again.
My kids felt the same way. We needed a break. So we ditched our schedules and our so-called enrichment activities and jumped on a plane bound for South Dakota to visit family and friends.
Stress rolled off my body the moment we landed. I stood outside the Sioux Falls airport and gazed at the enormous sky above me. My shoulders, which had been hunched up around my ears since May, dropped a few inches. I took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of…the John Morrell Meat Packing Plant.
But even this smell was welcome. The odor of rendered pork told me I wasn’t home anymore and home is where the stress is.
Over the course of the next ten days we did things we never do at home. We didn’t have a schedule. We stopped at every Dairy Queen we came across and ate ice cream, sometimes for dinner. We stayed with my old college roommate for a few days. She and I had the pleasure of watching our children jump on hay bales and run screaming around her farm at twilight, catching fireflies and shooting each other with Nerf guns. At eleven p.m. we finally looked at each other and said, “I guess we should probably tell them it’s bedtime.”
We visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder farm in De Smet, South Dakota. I saw the claim shanty where the Ingalls family lived for an entire winter. It’s about the size of my walk-in closet at home.
I went inside an earthen dug out and saw how Caroline Ingalls turned a hole in the side of a hill into a home for her family. I scrubbed clothing over the rough ridges of a washboard and tried to make them clean, just like a pioneer mom. I realized I should be thankful, every single day, for indoor plumbing and air conditioning and the miracle that is a modern washing machine.
At the end of the day, we stood on the prairie and listened to the wind and the sound of the school bell as it rang over the swaying grasses and into an endless sky. I was deep inside The State of Calm.
In Minnesota, we played baseball in Grandma and Grandpa’s backyard until ten p.m. because in the summer it never seems to get dark that far north. Grandma hit a home run.
We played in the lake. We swam in the pool. We visited the place where I grew up and my kids saw the gravel roads and tiny town I once called home. We ate junk food in our rental car as we drove vast distances between towns. Aberdeen, Ellendale, Valley City, Fargo. Back on the east coast, my husband followed our progress with an app. We were tiny specs on an empty grid.
And then we came home. Now dentist appointments and back to school events threaten to deport me back to the failed state of stress where an evil despot rules with a calendar and an iron bound list of things that must be done. But I‘m not going back there. I’m determined to become a permanent resident in the State of Calm, not just a summer visitor.
Maybe tonight we’ll have ice cream for dinner.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Getting Lost --> Finding Me by Patty Blount

People close to me love to tease me about my sense of direction.

I haven't got one.

At all.

I mean, I still get lost on Long Island and I've lived here since the '80's and -- hello? It's an island!

But the thing is, it's a serious problem for me because it formed a fear of travel in me. I never went anywhere by myself unless I was sure I could find the way home. When I got my driver's license, I remember driving to my grandparents' home in College Point.

This was not a long trip.

College Point is a section of Queens, New York that's located right on the northern tip of the borough. We lived in Flushing -- a section that's literally just south of it. Take a look:

My home was the purple star (bottom right). My grandparents' home was the red star (top left). The route I needed to take -- indeed, the route my parents had been taking since I was BORN (!) is shown in yellow. This is a ride that should have taken 10 or 15 minutes at best, depending on how many traffic lights I hit on Francis Lewis Blvd.

I got my mom's car keys, waved good-bye, and nearly had a heart attack when I found myself on the ramp for the Whitestone Bridge heading to the Bronx. (Shown as Rt 678, above).

Luckily for me, there was one more exit ramp before the bridge. I took it and ended up in Whitestone. Understand that everything in this section of Queens is numbered. And I still couldn't find my way out.

Back in those days, I navigated my way through life based on landmarks. On the corner of 20th Avenue and the Whitestone Expressway (about the center of the map above), there was a small amusement park there when I was a kid. This was swamp land -- like LITERAL swamp. Tall marshy grass, lots of huge puddles that never seemed to fully evaporate. Today, it's shopping centers and office buildings. But Adventure's Inn and right behind it, The Aero Slide -- a huge slide with multiple lanes you slid down on top of a carpet or burlap scrap -- were the landmarks I used to make my right turn. And less than a mile further down, on Linden Place, stood the old Flushing Airport, home of the Skytypers, who now fly out of Republic Airport. After about an hour of driving around Whitestone and hitting one-ways or bridge supports, I FINALLY passed the amusement park and realized where I was, arriving at my grandparents' house in time for dinner.

*sigh* I wish I could tell you my directional sense improved, but sadly -- it did not. I set off for Laguardia once and ended up at JFK -- and was proud that at least I'd found AN airport.

My dismal sense of direction finally improved when I began studying ways to learn north from south that did not depend on numbers. Long Island has no grid system, so figuring out where the sun is was a critical skill. Is it in my eyes? Then I'm probably going west (because in those days, I was certainly not awake in time for an eastern sunrise).

Before I was published, I learned two of my favorite authors, Jeff Somers and Sean Ferrell, would be appearing at a New York City venue. My teenage son had to take me because even though he couldn't yet drive, he had a fully evolved sense of direction and -- wonder of wonders -- knew how to use the subway system. You can read about that escapade here. That trip was so plagued by mishaps, my son and I STILL crack up when we hear the term Oompa-loompa.

When I got my first publishing contract, awesome agent Brooks Sherman (not my agent, mind you) invited me to participate on a YA author panel he was moderating at a New York City theater called The Cell. I forced my entire family to accompany me -- for fear I'd end up in New Jersey. It was a lot of fun for me -- speaking with authors Nova Ren Suma and Dan Krokos. I'm not sure they'd agree because I never did get invited back.

But the day soon came when I HAD to travel by myself. I made myself ill over the thought. (For an idea as to how ill, just play the Pepto-Bismol jingle.) I studied Map Quest print-outs, bought a Garvin GPS system and called venues for directions. I walked all the way to the Javitz Center from Penn Station for Book Expo because I had no idea which train to take. And I managed to find New York's City-As-School High School, where I spoke to a standing-room only crowd about SOME BOYS.

Remembering how badly I'd wanted to say no when I learned I'd have to travel alone tortures me. If I had, I'd have missed out on the most engaged group of students I've ever addressed.

Now I have GPS on my phone. I drove to South Carolina -- alone! -- and lived to tell, though I had nightmares I'd end up starring in a real-life version of My Cousin Vinny. I made it to my publisher's anniversary party on a New York City rooftop venue and even though I cheated and took a taxi, still consider it a victory. I traveled to Milwaukee for the Barbara Vey Weekend by myself, and to Atlanta for the RT Booklovers' Convention by myself.

Now that I'm a lot older and hopefully, wiser, I'm still directionally challenged. (It's become my family's favorite past-time to stop me in the center of some vast space and ask me to find North. It takes me a good 10 minutes to puzzle it out...) But I don't FEAR getting lost to the extent I once did and no longer become ill at the thought of traveling solo. I used to think getting lost was time wasted, time I could never get back. Now I think it's just part of getting where I need to be.

Writing is a lot like that... I used to balk and cry and feel utterly spent when I had to delete sections of a manuscript or backtrack for several chapters to unravel a subplot that fizzled. Now I consider that part of my way-finding process. In school, we learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But in real-life, I've learned that "shortest" doesn't always mean "best." For me, those side trips reveal character -- usually mine :)

Monday, August 21, 2017


This is Winnie:

Actually, her full name was Winnie D. Pooch, and she was my childhood dog (like that name didn’t already totally tip you off).

And she is the reason why we stayed in the nastiest, scariest, weirdest hotels on the planet.

We never boarded her. Not once in 17 years. It honestly never crossed anybody’s mind. She was just always with us. She was in the car when Mom picked me and my brother up from school—or dropped us off in the morning. She went to the grocery store (weather permitting), she went on weekend camping excursions in the RV (which is where she’s standing here), and she was along for the ride on every extended family vacation we ever took. She went to Texas and Fort Gibson, OK and Branson, MO—etc., etc., etc. She was a Maltese, really small (MAYBE 6 lbs at her heaviest), easy to carry, totally innocent looking, and she was allowed into every single museum or shop we ever went to. Every. Single. One. Once, we took her to an outdoor restaurant in Texas. It was hot as hades, and all we wanted was something to drink. At first, waitstaff was going to kick us out (just couldn’t have a dog in a place where food was being served), but after about thirty seconds, we were getting bowls of water all around.

It wasn’t like she was an angel. She was prone to mad barking fits (once, she tried to “kill” a lifesized concrete buffalo on a trip to Oklahoma). She wouldn’t have known “sit” or “stay” or “c’mere” were ever words that applied to her. She sure knew “go,” though. (As in, “Do you want to go?”)


Anyway, when we were on the road (sans-RV), back in the ‘80s, we generally ran into dog trouble when it came to finding hotels. Honestly, part of the reason for that was that my dad would never push it when told “no dogs.” He would never explain she was housebroken or wouldn’t bother anyone (as long as there was no concrete wildlife in the room or walls of mirrors—THAT was a disaster, don’t get me started). He never even offered to pay a pet fee / deposit. If someone told him no, that was that. And we were on to the next place down the road. Which was every bit as likely to say no dogs, too.

Where we wound up? Oh, man. Places where headboards fell off, where no one was allowed to walk barefoot on the carpet, where the cleaning crew once left this note for us taped to the bathroom mirror: “THIS PLACE SUCKS!”

Yes, it did.

But the thing is, I remember every single one of those places. I remember every shady character I met at an ice machine. I remember every long-winded story one decidedly wacky guy told me poolside while Winnie dog paddled (actually, Mom said she was just walking on top of the thick pool sludge). We still joke about that housekeeping note and about being sure, in Wentzville, that the stuff on the rug was actually leftover chalk (from a recently deceased body’s chalk outline).

Maybe you do remember the bumps in the road more than you remember the times of smooth sailing. Well—the bumps and how you dealt with it, or the sheer fact that you all got through it. Maybe we all even get hungry for disruptions and surprises working their way into the everyday humdrum—and that’s part of the reason we go on vacation in the first place.
Maybe, too, that’s why we gravitate toward fiction—maybe that’s also a trip, a vacation from the norm. 

Maybe, in the end, we most like winding up in the places we least expect.