I’m getting ready for another journey. Pre-pandemic I traveled a lot, and this year I’ve come close to ramping back up to my old ways. This weekend I’m off to Germany for a week. This will be my third trip to Europe this year and my fifth time out of the country, both of which are personal records. I also did several long road trips this year and one journey by plane from California to Virginia and back.
Because I do travel a lot, I’ve developed some habits that make me feel comfortable and, I think, serve me well. Here are some:
On long air journeys, I bring a king sized Snickers. That way, if it’s late when I arrive and I haven’t had dinner, I don’t yet have to worry about finding my way around, making sure I have the local currency, etc. The candy will be substantial enough to tide me over until morning. For some reason, Snickers serves this role better than other candies.
I pack light. Sometimes. If I’m going to be dragging myself around on buses and/or trains, which is often the case in Europe, I don’t want the hassle of a lot of luggage. During my two previous European trips this year, I took only a backpack and a carryon sized suitcase, which was fine for 2 weeks. I did sink laundry along the way. It’s a little harder when the weather is cold, as it will be in Germany next week. And if I’m going by car, I tend to overpack because why not?
I always bring extra reading material. My Kindle of course, but also a paperback or two. Just in case! I also pack several pairs of cheap reading glasses: one for my purse, one to use in my hotel room, and one extra.
I bring a print copy of addresses (of hotels, etc), my travel itinerary, and other things I need to know. Also just in case.
I arrive super early at airports. I kind of have a thing about this. But I’d rather get there early and relax (I like to write in airports!) than stress, especially since I’m 100 miles from all of mine, and traffic can be iffy.
If I have time, I spring for a paid tour with a local guide. Preferably a walking tour. I learn so much, and the sights become so much more meaningful. And I love getting to know the locals. I’ve met such lovely people!
If I’m traveling somewhere English isn’t the first language, I try to learn at least a couple of polite words, like hello and thank you. People seem to appreciate the effort even if that’s all I can manage.
Good walking shoes. Also Band-Aids and Glide in case blisters happen anyway.
I try to take time to sit in a local cafe and just people-watch.
I try to eat the local delicacies (although I don’t eat mammals, so sometimes this is a little tricky). I also visit local grocery stores if I can, because it’s really fun!
I always back up my computer before I go. A couple of years ago, my laptop bricked mid-road trip, while I was in Nebraska. But I didn’t panic because I knew everything was backed up. I made do with my phone for the remainder of the trip and bought a new laptop as soon as I got home. I was able to upload everything from the old one really easily.
I really love roadside attractions and quirky little museums–and I’m fascinated by the people who run them. This was one of the inspirations for my new novel, The Taste of Desert Green, in which one character owns a dinosaur/outer space themed museum in the middle of the Mojave. Sadly, Wally Harlow’s Fossil Galaxy exists only in my imagination. But here are some real places I’ve visited and enjoyed!
Here we are, well into August, and my fall semester begins in 10 days. Sigh.
It’s been quite a summer. I went to Europe twice: to Paris and Florence with my husband and then, a few weeks later, to Zagreb, Lisbon, and Porto with my older daughter. Went to BayCon. Also spent a week on the Olympic Peninsula and a several days at Big Bear Lake. Had a very mild case of Covid. Helped my older kid move 100 miles north to her own place; she’ll be working on an MA in Economics. Took my younger kid to the airport to fly north for her second year of college. Spent hours and hours and hours doing day job department chair stuff. Taught a summer class.
I managed to get some writerly things done as well. The Taste of Desert Green, a fairly angsty contemporary set in the Mojave Desert, releases August 23. Farkas, a sort of retelling of Stoker’s Dracula (set in 1950s LA), just finished final edits and will release in October. There are plans in the works for an audio version as well, with one of our favorite narrators! A holiday novella tentatively titled Ash and Clay is currently in edits. And I’m working on the 10th Bureau book. Meanwhile, Joel Leslie is working on the narration of the third Bureau anthology (which includes Caroled and Camouflaged).
So a good summer, an extremely busy summer… and it’s nearly over.
In the last four months of the year, I’ll be looking at more travel adventures and, I hope, a lot more writing!
I have a confession to make: I haven’t done any writing for over a month.
That’s actually a bit of an exaggeration. I have written things, and I’ve also edited things. But in May I got about two-thirds through a holiday story before life stalled me, and I haven’t revisited it yet.
I also haven’t written any novels this year (I wrote four last year!), although I have written a couple of novellas and a short.
I have reasons for this. The day job has been especially demanding. There’s lots of other stuff going on in my life. I’m very close to being an empty-nester, so I’ve been trying to spend extra time with my kids. I’ve been traveling again too–I was in Europe for two weeks in May and am currently in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest; in July I have trips planned to the San Francisco Bay Area, Europe again, and the Sierras.
So, yeah. Reasons. But I still feel guilty. I’ve stranded a human and a fairy mid-story, I have a 10th Bureau book eager to be written, and I have an entire herd of plot bunnies pounding on my door.
Anyway, the words are waiting for me, and I’ll return to them soon. In the meantime, I have a nice long novel due out in August, The Taste of Desert Green.
My husband and I just got back from two wonderful weeks in Europe. I had a day job conference in Paris, so we spent a week there, and then we took the train to Florence. If you want to see a lot of photos, check out my Instagram posts.
A really weird thing happened in Paris. I woke up at 3:00 one morning with a tragic gothic ballad almost complete in my head. I’ve never written a ballad before, and poetry has never been my thing. I went back to sleep. But later that morning, as I sat in my conference trying desperately to grasp some of the French, the ballad was still there. So I wrote it down. My editor has it now, and if she thinks it’s not awful I’ll share it.
Now, the creative process is always mysterious. I fully understand why the ancient Greeks believed in muses, because often ideas just seem to appear from nowhere. So we can speculate about the source of my ballad. But here’s something interesting: I was staying in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a very literary neighborhood. Sartre and de Beauvoir hung out in the cafes, as did Hemingway, Richard Wright, and Camus. Oscar Wilde died in that neighborhood, about two blocks from where I was sleeping.
There’s the view from my tiny hotel room, where there was a big window.
If you care to believe in such things, maybe the spirit of one of the neighborhood writers visited with my muse as I slept. Knowing her, she’d be delighted at the opportunity. And maybe, just maybe, the spirit and the muse cooked up a spooky little ballad to amuse me in the morning.
I’ve been in a very grouchy mood this past week, mostly due to the day job. That’s been making it hard to work on my WIP, which is a light and fluffy holiday tale. I’m just not in the right mindset for light and fluffy–I want darkness and despair (with a happy ending, probably).
I don’t know to what extent this is true for other writers, but for me, the overall tone or mood of a story is as important as the characters and plot. In my head, I don’t just hear and see what’s going on–I feel it. My best writing happens when I become full immersed in the story’s world, so that I’m sort of a ghost experiencing events along with the characters and recording those events as they occur.
I find some moods especially easy to immerse myself in, such as mid-century West Coast noir (as you may have noticed from the Bureau series). Sometimes moods are influenced by my location. I’m likely to write a different kind of story while sitting on a balcony in a cruise ship, for example, than I would while sitting in a coffeeshop in the Loop in Chicago. Weather also plays a part–it can be a struggle to write a Christmas story when it’s the middle of summer and 110F outside. And of course the things happening elsewhere in my life can bleed over into the tone of the story. Like now, when my day job is frustrating me.
I don’t mind writing dark stories when I’m in a dark mood. In fact, I think it’s a little therapeutic in that it helps me express those feelings in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone (except my poor fictional characters). I often like reading darker stories for the same reason. And hey, if we can pull off an HEA or at least an HFN after the gloom and doom, even better.
But for now I need to finish the light and fluffy. We’re talking fairies, magical coffee houses, and holiday cheer. I’ll get there. Sigh. Maybe more caffeine will help?
After allowing my yarn stash to sit dormant (and mocking me) for a decade or so, I’ve finally returned to it. I made a scarf/shawl thing that I really like. And last week I finally finished the Century Afghan!
The real name of this pattern is Lizard Ridge. But I knitted those many squares over a decade ago and picked them up again recently. It took another zillion years to join them and then knit on the million miles of I-cord edging. So I think of it as the Century Afghan. I blocked it yesterday and thanks to warmish, windy weather it’s almost completely dry this morning. I love the way it looks and I am so happy to have finally completed it!
I decided on socks for my next project. I have a lot of sock yarn. Unfortunately, the particular skein of yarn I choose was done up poorly by the original dyer and spent the last decade tangling itself into oblivion. Despite help from a swift and my patient husband, it was a knotted disaster that took hours to deal with. Niki helped too, toward the end.
As you can imagine, she was extremely helpful. But we finally have the yarn wound into submission, and today I can cast on the socks.
You know how sometimes very small things can be supremely satisfying?
I just drove my younger kid back to her college in Portland. It’s the same college I attended, a very, very long time ago. I haven’t lived in Portland since I graduated, but my family is up that way so I do visit. But here’s the satisfying thing–I remembered exactly which lanes I needed to be in for the somewhat convoluted route between the college and my parents’ house. I felt very competent.
Here’s another satisfying thing. I always feel slightly cheated when I see those signs on the highway warning of wildlife, but then don’t see the actual wildlife. Today, though, there was an elk sign–and a mile or two later, there was a herd of elk. Exactly where they were supposed to be! Clever animals.
And then I got to my hotel (the drive is 700 miles, so a bit much for one person in one day) and I was hungry. I had a Grubhub gift certificate. I was in the mood for something different from what I usually eat. And lo and behold–empanadas! And with tip and fees, my order came in almost exactly at the gift certificate amount.
Of course, major things satisfy too. Like the release of a new book. Potential Energy is available in a couple of days–April 5–and I’m ridiculously excited about it.
Yeah, I know. I just got back from a trip. But I do love to go places, and if the world keeps on turning properly, I’ll be going lots of places in the next 7 months. Oregon. Paris. Florence. Washington state. Canada? Lisbon. Zagreb? San Francisco. Virginia.
In the Time Before, this wasn’t an unusual number of trips for me. In 2019, for example, I had an overnight trip at least once a month. Not only does travel inspire a lot of my writing, but it’s important for my emotional health. It refreshes me and gives me new perspectives.
Now, of course, everything is weird. Not only has the pandemic messed everything up, but there’s so much political and economic instability. Planning travel feels uncertain and actually doing it feels risky. I also have some guilt feelings about enjoying gallivanting around while so many people are suffering.
I guess the best I can do is try to make positive contributions to the world, do a lot of Plan B and Plan C and Plan D preparation in case things fall through or disaster strikes, and cross my fingers. And when things work out well and I do get to go somewhere, I can enjoy and appreciate every damn minute.