Vampires, Sex, and…Dan Rather?

A visit to NYC is always good for several blog posts, but Julie Farrar of Traveling Through asked me to share my experiences at Book Expo America (BEA), so that seems like the place to start.

My much-beloved editor, Jill Bailin, met me at BEA on its last day, Thursday, June 7. Jill and I met via Elance for The Foreign Language of Friends, and she’s now shepherding me through Blood and Loam, showing great kindness and compassion as I work through this challenging novel. She’s also a BEA veteran, having been a few times before, so she showed me the ropes.

Here’s me with my book at the New Title Showcase at BEA.

BEA, for those not familiar, is a trade show that connects publishers to booksellers. Attendees can hobnob both with emerging and well known authors, and I was just a few feet away from Dan Rather himself as he chatted with those in a long queue to meet him. Dan looks pretty good, even better than on television, I think. Even at my age, I can get a bit starstruck at times.

Before Jill came along I had about an hour to myself, so I explored the electronic publishing booths. I’ve learned a few things from e-publishing The Foreign Language of Friends (which I’ll probably blog about at some point), so I had LOTS of questions for potential future vendors. Of course, I made my way over to the Amazon booth, where they were presenting their Kindle Direct Publishing program. We heard from Diane Darcy, a successful e-book author who has made more than a million bucks in the past few years through the program. Darcy is a prolific writer of romance with “a touch of magic”. Although I don’t see it emphasized on her website, I heard “vampires” when she was introduced. It seems as though the book-buying public still can’t get enough of vampires and zombies. Darcy has slapped up something like 27 books onto Amazon in the past few years. I don’t know how many of them she had already written, but e-publishing seems to work in favor of volume producers. I can’t say I learned anything from the talk, but it’s always inspiring to see an author in person who is doing well.

And, of course, sex sells. If you have any questions, just look at the 50 Shades of Gray trilogy. At one point Jill and I meandered over to a booth with a huge banner of a man and woman in a steamy embrace. The guys working the booth had shaved heads, bulging muscles, and tight t-shirts that said, “Got Sex?” You know, I’m not a prude, but I am…private…about certain things. We chatted politely with the guys in the booth and then slipped away.

Jane Friedman wrote about self-published authors walking up and down the aisles trying to get reviews or other exposure. One guy was handing out bookmarks saying, “I’ve decided that I’m going to change my title. I’d love to hear from you about what you think would be a better one.” I kind of thought that was clever. Besides, I’m sympathetic to authors and know that it’s hard to get heard above the noise.

It’s clear that publishing continues to change, and even BEA doesn’t know exactly what to do with those changes. This year, for the first time, they let readers in, so they’re aware of the need to appeal directly to book buyers who may not go into bookstores anymore. In the meantime, we walked aisle after aisle of beautiful books, many still lovingly crafted. I ran across a gardening book filled with gorgeous, four-color illustrations, and drooled (not on the book, mind you). There will always be a market for vampires and sex, but the good book still exists. The reader still exists. Those who love to hold hardback or paperback books still exist. In this crazy e-book world, a world which I have embraced, a crowd still comes out to celebrate books, and that’s a good thing.

I”m sure I’ll be sharing more about NYC, but for now, I”ll leave you with a few pics:

One of the new World Trade Center buildings. Out of the ashes…

Re-creation of Monet’s Givenchy gardens at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.

Hubby with his daughter, Sarah, while taking an afternoon walk in Central Park.

Up In The Air

The geeky life doesn’t get any better than this. As I write this I am up in the air, en route from Detroit to Newark and the second leg of a family visit. The flight we were supposed to take was overbooked, so we accepted vouchers to take a later flight. Now I’m feeling flush and happy to spend the $4.95 for the on-flight Internet service. This is so cool!

We spent the past several days in Peoria, Illinois, where we had a great visit with my parents. Now we’re headed to New York to visit Henry’s daughter, Sarah. I’ll be delivering Fluffy the Bear — for those of you who’ve been with me for a while, you remember that story. At long last, Fluffy and Sarah are going to be reunited, along with a special surprise that I’ll be revealing to her tomorrow, and I’ll share more on that soon. Best not talk about it here. She might actually read this.

I’ve taken my knitting with me, which came in handy on and between flights. Yes, that knitting. As you may recall, I recently started knitting again after a few decades off. Knitting is relaxing, right?

Um, no, not so much.

My determination, ambition, and enthusiasm are exceeded by just one thing: a meager skill level. It’s been a looonnnggg time, and I’m having a lot of trouble remembering anything beyond knit and purl.

As I learned quickly that I was in over my head (why didn’t I start with something simple, like a scarf? Don’t know. I always overcomplicate my creative life), I bought some knitting books to help me. Stitch ‘n’ Bitch by Debbie Stoller has become my knitting bible, reminding me about things like “yarn over” and “knit two together.” Okay, I tell myself. I can do this.

I have also discovered the genius of YouTube. There’s a video for everything, way beyond all the cute kittens! All I have to do is to go to YouTube and type in the mysterious, esoteric abbreviations that appear on a knitting pattern. PSSO? SSK? SL? They’re all there with little samples to show me what my work should look like, all with soothing female voices providing comfort and reassurance.

Turns out from watching these videos, though, that I learned to make stitches in reverse — probably a left-handed thing — so I still have to adapt some of the instructions a little to accommodate my quirks. Yes, not only did I start out with an overcomplicated project, but I also overcomplicate it with my personal style.

Of course, all the guidance in the world doesn’t help when I don’t read the instructions. Well, I did, repeatedly, but for some reason my eyes managed to miss some essential information, as often happens when I try to follow directions (I generally just wing it, which used to drive my previous husband crazy). Seems kind of strange coming from someone who wrote several procedure manuals on her day job, but that’s how it goes.

In this case, I totally ignored an instruction that required an additional 70 rows or so.

Here’s the thing. The skirt has ruffles. There’s an underskirt that’s supposed to go the whole length of the skirt, and then I pick up purl rows to add the ruffles. It’s really cute! At least it could be, in the hands of someone with a bit more skill.

I had already ripped and re-ripped the bottom ruffle multiple times. I finally understood the pattern, only to realize that I had to take it out all over again to add the missing rows. Does it matter? Yeah, this was one mistake I couldn’t cover up. The area meant to be the bottom skirt ruffle was going to end up, well, more at my bottom. I could get arrested wearing a skirt that short. It’s also rather chilly and windy on the Olympic Peninsula, so a micro mini doesn’t fit the weather pattern. But I am nothing if not persistent — years as a struggling writer have taught me that much.

After working and reworking the skirt, I am finally back on track. All of this doing and re-doing has given me quite an education, and all of a sudden I feel back in a groove again. My fingers have found a rhythm, and my hands their memory.

This is not to say that there aren’t any mistakes left in the skirt. I’m happy to report, though, that none of them will be visible. Just stay the hell away from my waistband. You don’t need to be looking there anyway!

A Whale of a Tale

Our cruise ship for the afternoon. If you were a Gilligan’s Island character, who would you be?

On Saturday we took a three-hour cruise (cue music from “Gilligan’s Island”) to Protection Island, a small island that gained government protection under *gasp* President Reagan. Protection Island gets little rainfall, so it has a desert-y look to it, but birds flock to it. We are not allowed on the island itself, but the boat parked about 200 yards offshore so we could enjoy looking at eagles, brants, and other delightful creatures. Seals lolled around in the sun at one end of the island.

We were having a merry time, meeting other people who were excited about seeing the birds. Hubby and I had our favorite bird book, Birds of the Puget Sound Region, to help us, and we also had a naturalist on board to give us history of the island and its furry inhabitants.

However, as in the rest of life, sometimes detours happen. This detour happened to be of the more pleasant variety. Our captain had learned of an orca sighting, and before we knew it, we left the birds behind and cruised over to find them! There we saw several, males, females, and young, frolicking in the water. Later that day, when we returned home, we actually had a view of some orcas from our window as well! These magnificent creatures never fail to inspire and delight.

Check out those feet!

In our move here, we have had a number of surprises such as these, and we are being kept in a perpetual state of astonishment. When we decided to move here, we saw it was a cute town with a lot going for it, but we had no idea.

Protection Island is a desolate-looking place, but the birds love it!

Of course, all this nature made me think about life in general. Not all surprises work out well. Sometimes we have disappointments. But there is something magical in taking a leap of faith. At the very least, we get to see some pretty birds, and maybe some seals. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get orcas!

Thanks to hubby, by the way, for providing the animal shots shown here today.

Time to get some sun!

Up close and personal.


The main event!

A Wilderness Book for Wild Women

By age 26, Cheryl Strayed had stumbled over and over again. Her mother had died a few years before, suddenly while still young, from cancer. Her abusive father left when she was only six years old. Estranged from her siblings and adrift with sorrow, Strayed had sabotaged her marriage through infidelity and drug use.

On an impulse, she picked up a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and decided to try it. Impulsivity had run her life thus far and hadn’t yielded any positive results; this impulse to attempt a portion of the 2,000+ mile hike could prove fatal.

Though she did some advance preparation, there was no way that this backpacking novice could be ready for such a monumental task — and yet she went anyway.

In Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Strayed describes months of foot-chewing hiking, where she dealt with rain, snow, ice, and heat, often alone with her thoughts. In this remarkable book, beautifully written, she shares the healing she gained on her journey, transforming from a broken young woman to a transformed, empowered one.

Hubby resting on a Colorado hike.

I’ve never backpacked, but I am no slouch as a day hiker. Hubby and I have been known to get up early and hike all day long, especially in Switzerland. While I can’t relate to being alone for months on end, I know how the feet can hurt, especially when the toenails start falling off! I could always sit on a sofa when a needed to, though, with feet propped up so the blisters could heal, so I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to do that day in, day out for months.

Swiss hiking is also known for its excellent facilities. Restaurants pop up in the middle of nowhere so you can fill up on hot apple strudel with vanilla sauce, or, well, grappa if that’s your pleasure. Strayed, on the other hand, cooked while on the trail, eating food she carried with her. On the rare occasions she made it into town, she had to count every penny.

Strayed describes vacillating between pride in each daily accomplishment and a complete and total sense of failure. These can occur on the hiking trail, one after the other, or both at the same time. Again, I only know this from a “day trip” perspective — I understand just enough to be deeply in awe of Strayed’s persistence.

Critics have compared this book, sometimes unfavorably, to Awol on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller. In my view, Awol is a very different book. It is more trail-focused and includes all the interesting people that Miller meets along the way. Strayed’s book is more about her inner journey. The Pacific Crest Trail is less traveled than the Appalachian Trail, and the forced solitude gives Wild a deeply introspective feel as she reflects on her pain, her mistakes, and her grief.

Wild is raw, authentic, and gut-wrenching. I laughed and cried as I read it, sometimes at the same time. I gobbled it up, reading it as quickly as I could, and thinking of it constantly during those times when I had to put it down. The book satisfied me from start to finish, and good thing, too! I had run across a string of boring books lately, and I was due to find a good one.

My idea of lunch on a hike...Swiss rosti, which is like hash browns, with cheese and tomatoes.

While I wouldn’t recommend that anyone new to hiking start with such an extensive journey, I have a real affection for hiking as a way to work out personal challenges and to gain confidence. Out in the fresh air, with one foot in front of the other, one eye on the ground and one eye checking ahead for critters, we find our competence and the best part of ourselves. Strayed learned that lesson…so next time you’re thinking about a self-help book, think about lacing up some hiking boots, grabbing some poles, and heading out on a trail.

Mount Rainier, Washington State