Away and Back Again

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I recently returned from a long weekend holiday in London, England. I took daily notes in a travelogue, of sorts, just because I wanted to keep the memories of the little things I experienced, and writing them down always helps. Some folks wanted to see my handwritten notes, though they are mostly illegible. Still, I’ll share a few highlights. (Typed translations included to read my scrawl):

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Our first chuckle came at Immigration, when the officer asked what we are going to do while here in the UK. I said, “Pubs and walking,” and he replied, “I like the sound of the first one! The second one, not so much.”

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Did the walk past Buckingham Palace and Westminster (where we got lost), on our way to Cask. There, I had a tall, refreshing Rothaus Wheat and a burger that REALLY hit the spot.

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Coffee and tea at Kaffeine, along with some egg-and-salmon croissants that were quite tasty. From there, we planned a long-ish day of walking, up to the “Spaced” house in Islington. Walked through Kentish Town – which had some very trippy graffiti – and Camden, and found the old house in question, where husband got some pictures. We took a walk up to Hampstead Heath, as well, just because it was so close. Gorgeous windy day for the walking dogs!

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“Pissing rain” for part of the afternoon, but we got a reprieve with some very tasty – if pricey – sushi at Murakami. The soft-shelled crab was so good, we had to order 2! It was a bit too much to get dessert there, so we picked up some macarons and a parfait – and a few more beers to try – from Whole Foods, and went back to the hotel for an early night. A good thing, since we were both very tired and ended up sleeping for about 9 hours! Walking so many miles every day will do that, though.

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Walked by 10 Downing Street, but Larry was “napping.” We did see the Horse Guard’s Parade, or at least part of it.

Meeting Beth and Vanessa today. Very excited! I hope I don’t end up being a stereotype [sic] American and making an ass of myself.

Turned out, I didn’t have to worry! We had a very nice time chatting, drinking, and eating at Lowlander Cafe, a Belgian bar in Covent Garden. After, we had tea at Pret a Manger – which I’m still not certain how to pronounce – before we parted ways. I may need to go out to Kent next time, though.

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We travelled out to Brighton, on the coast. It’s very much a seaside town; parts of it reminded me of Harbram. We stopped for a pint at another chain-type pub, and after that took the bus out to The Seven Sisters cliffs. The train to Brighton was about an hour plus, and the bus ride just about an hour, as well, so it was mid-afternoon before we got to walk around the cliffs area. It was gorgeous, though, with sheep and cows and a real English countryside feel.

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I loved the vibe walking through the park. The parks were my favorite part of this trip, as they usually are for my vacations. Saw lots of birds and dogs, and it just felt so peaceful and welcoming.

Imperial was very much like home. The students and faculty walking around, doing university business, really made me feel like I belonged there. The bustle of Piccadilly was exciting, but the atmosphere around Imperial was much more my speed. I’m glad I got the chance to walk around the campus by myself before we left. I would definitely go back there and through Hyde Park, next time we’re in London.

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Hoping for a smooth plane ride home to Philadelphia. Meanwhile, story ideas are coursing through my head for the flight….❤ [which you can read below, if you’re interested]


I appreciate how lucky I am to be able to travel and have experiences away from home. My family, friends, and colleagues all helped me prepare for, cope with, and enjoy this vacation, in a way I couldn’t have done were I alone. Even though I was supposed to be alone for a portion of this holiday, and I was looking forward to that me-time, I am glad that I got to experience it together with my husband, as it became something of a second honeymoon, for us. Adventures that take us to new places – and new places within ourselves – are exciting when we’re on our own…but they can also be so much more fulfilling when we have someone to share them with.

The crunch-time of vacation merrymaking didn’t allow for as much writing as I might have gotten were I by myself, but I did manage to finish the story linked to below on the plane ride home. It has nothing to do with vacationing, but I don’t know the next chance I’ll get to indulge myself in writing younger Rob, Paige, and Daniel.

“Just a Man”
[~6800 words / 26 pages DS; PDF opens in a new window]

Have you enjoyed any adventures, recently? What do you like best about vacations? What are your favorite (in)activities while on holiday? Do you keep a travelogue while you’re on the move?

I Really Did Love My Father

…but, for some reason, many of my characters have difficult relationships with their own fathers. It’s the reverse of the Disney Princess situation, where it’s the mothers who are missing (seriously: many Disney Princesses just seem to not have had mothers at all!). In the majority of my stories, main characters challenge their fathers, are estranged from their fathers, their fathers are dead, or some semblance of all three. I honestly don’t know where this particular character detail comes from, since I had a pretty good relationship with my own father, and I honestly did love him. I think the admission of that love is what I’ve enjoyed exploring through these stories of children challenging and reconciling with the patriarchs of their families. Or, maybe it has something to do with the idea of The Patriarch being emotionally removed from his children, so he doesn’t show a lot of love to them. Whatever the reason, the fathers of my characters tend to get the short end of the stick. That must be the reason why, when my characters grow up and have children of their own, they are so determined to be openly loving men to their kids.

Chie, from 1 More Chance!, which I wrote between 2009-2011, rebelled against her father in her choice of boyfriend, but that was a tame conflict compared to the stark animosity Amber showed to her father in Fearless, whose first draft I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2011. Daniel’s conflict with his father, written over the last few weeks and linked to below, is somewhere in the middle between those two perspectives…and, I have to admit, related to some of my own feelings about my dad, which I haven’t examined too closely since he died in 2014.

“Butterfly”
[~13K words / 51 pages Calibri DS- PDF opens in a new window]

This story also plays with time in a way I haven’t attempted before, but I’d recently read a novel that jumped back and forth in time in a similar fashion, to share story details between scenes that I found interesting. I don’t know if I was completely successful – I wondered if I should have done more jumping, just to break things up – but I always enjoy writing these characters, and the opportunity felt right.

Two of the guest characters in this story are returns for me, while another is based on a university colleague, and another is an homage to a writer friend’s adventuring archaeologist. I really enjoyed bringing back my own characters into this fold, and I do hope my friends don’t take offense to me envisioning them and their creations in a way that fit into my story. But, that’s the beauty of relationships, right? You never know where they’re going to take you.

On thinking more about it, the challenge of writing this story that I really enjoyed wasn’t so much the technical aspect of skipping around in time or between worlds of my making, but the Daniel character’s uniqueness in this situation, in that he is both a child and a parent, struggling to find the balance between both aspects of himself.

How do your personal relationships with family or friends affect your characters and their stories? Do you ever find yourself writing a little bit about yourself in your stories? From a technical perspective, what are your thoughts on time-jumps in storytelling? I’m happy to hear your answers to any of these questions! (And, if you’re hearty enough to actually read the story, I’m interested to hear your thoughts about that, too!)

I’m sorry (but not really)

Writing this post has made me feel like a bad writer-friend, even though there should be no reason for it to do so. Everyone’s opinion is their own, and part of what makes living in a so-called first-world country so great is that I’m allowed to have that opinion: no one is forcing an agenda or way of thinking upon me. Yet, when it comes to books, I feel ashamed to admit: I prefer paperbacks. I like hardcovers, too, though more for uniformity if it’s part of a series, or a version of the book that I really want to keep in good condition. E-books, though? I just can’t do it.

Part of my trouble with e-books is that, whenever I sit down in front of my computer, laptop, or tablet, I don’t want to read a book. If I’m in front of any kind of input-enabled device, I feel I should be writing. I’ve got enough stories I need to be working on, after all. Reading for pleasure is a hobby of relaxation and subconscious learning, for me. I like to curl up on the sofa with a blanket around me and a cup of hot drink steaming between the open pages of a book as my eyes and brain travel down the paragraphs, soaking up the story. I don’t get the same comfy, relaxed feeling reading from a screen that I do from a collection of bonded pages in my hands. Plus, a computer offers too many distractions, mostly in the form of the Internet. Yes, I know I can turn that part off, but it’s so ingrained in me to be online if I have the option to be online, and, pretty soon, I’m more involved with the technology of my reading device than I am in the book itself.

A friend swears by her Kindle. She is a quick, avid reader, and she enjoys being able to take a dozen books on a trip to the beach with her, all in a device less than the weight of a standard paperback. That is admittedly impressive. And, there is a lot to be said for the saving of paper by not printing a book.

Printing, for those of you who don’t realize it, is expensive by its very consumable nature. When I printed From Hell (A Love Story), each copy cost about $14 to make, full-color cover, 300-some-odd pages, the whole nine yards of processing and publishing. On the other hand, making the e-pub version – using Scrivener – took just a few keystrokes, some online storage space (which I already had), and the time it took to upload. In no uncertain terms: way less than $14. So, I can understand how e-publishing appeals from a business perspective, as well.

Many of my author friends (the real ones, with real books, of whom I do not consider myself a part, let’s be perfectly clear) have produced e-books or e-pub versions of their books. And, I buy them. Because these are my friends, and I want to support them. But, I have to be completely, brutally honest: it takes me at least a dozen times longer to read an e-book than it does a paperback. Some e-books, I haven’t even gotten to. They’ve been sitting in my queue for months, and I feel horrible about it. But when I open them up, and the words appear on the screen, I just. Can’t. Do it. I can’t bring myself to read a book on a screen, no matter how glowy the Kobo, how booky the Nook, or how fiery the Kindle.

I’m not sorry to you, Amazon, because you already get enough of my money. But I’m sorry to my writer friends. I’m sorry to the e-pub-embracing generation of writers and readers out there. And, I’m sorry, trees. But I love my paperbacks, so I’m not really that sorry.

Well, maybe for the trees.

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Me and some of my favorite books
Photo by Celeste Giuliano, http://celestegiuliano.com/

What are your feelings about e-books? Do you have a preference for hard copies or e-pubs? Do you think I’m a bad person?

“The Best Simplicity” [Another “Finding Mister Wright” short]

A reblog of 2015’s Valentine’s Day post, including a romance short featuring Messrs. Wright and McAllister, of my “Finding Mister Wright” universe. All of my stories are about love in one form or another, even the one I’m currently mired in editing, about the five space adventurers running toward a fate of mutual danger.

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I’m currently finishing up my 2014 NaNoWriMo story, but, yesterday, I got a flash idea for a short Valentine’s Day free-write. As most of my free-writes tend to be, this one takes place in my “Finding Mister Wright” universe, with its familiar cast of characters. Like “Tuxedos and Sugar Plum Fairies” and “Namesake,” this short story takes a step back from the cast’s present day. Unlike any of the previous FMW pieces, though, this one looks at life from Daniel’s perspective.

I’ve written for Daniel in his other incarnations before, but I’ve never written specifically for him, here, in this body, personality, and time. I don’t know if it was entirely successful a departure from the other characters in the FMW universe, but his conflict was certainly interesting to examine. Also, I had way too much fun writing this story.

“The Best Simplicity”
(~3000 words, 12 pages; PDF opens in…

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Writing, Responsibility, and the Conundrum of Characters with Guns

Since the first flash of a projectile from a barrel around 1000 CE, the gun has had a rich and varied history across most all avenues of life: social, economical, political, and creative. It also has the power to divide people and opinions like no other tool before or since. Let’s be clear: a gun is a tool. It is specifically designed to make easier the task of killing, of human or other animal. Now, one can certainly use a gun to accomplish goals besides killing – say, destruction of a barn wall, for those not well-versed in the skill of shooting a target – but their primary function is to kill, with more power, speed, and accuracy than any other weapon (assuming said gun is in the hands of an expert).

Politics aside, I have always found guns fascinating, especially their varied designs, and how beautiful they can be. Take a look at the craftsmanship in the Colt below:

Colt Autentica

I didn’t grow up around guns, but I had my share of toys for games of ranchers and rustlers with the boys next door, and I talked about them a lot with my father, who’d been an Army sergeant in Vietnam and who’d had an intense respect for firearms and war weaponry in general throughout history. He’d impressed upon me at a young age that guns are dangerous, doubly so if they’re not handled with respect. As I got older, we delved into the specifics of them: “I would much rather you know how to properly use a gun and never have to,” he’d say to me time and again, “than find yourself in a situation where you had to use one but didn’t know how.” He never squelched my interest in them, but he always made sure I understood the inherent danger in them, and the enormous responsibility a person has whenever they pick one up.

I’d written stories with characters who’d used guns since I was a kid: Han Solo’s DL-44 heavy blaster pistol, the Enterprise crew’s type 2 phasers, my D&D-inspired thief’s flintlock pistol. In those early forays, guns were simply weapons of convenience that often made a cool noise or shot a bright laser beam, and I didn’t think much about their impact (pun not intended). It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I wrote the gunsmith in From Hell (A Love Story), that I really thought about what I was saying about guns through my stories when my characters squeezed a trigger. There’s a semi-pivotal moment in the story where this gunsmith and the main character argue about throwing blind cover fire into a crowd of civilians. The gunsmith’s argument is that they’re surrounded by people, while the main character points out, “Yeah, and at least one of them is shooting at us.” The ramifications of their choices follow them through the rest of the book, but it was important to me that both of them realize: odds are good that when you pull out your gun, people will die.

Because I’d grown up being taught to respect – not fear – guns, I wanted that respect to come through in this story. Even in the books and stories I was reading to get a feel for a dirtier galaxy based on the Old West, the characters treated their guns like the closest partners they’d ever have, which was probably pretty close to the case in those wilder frontier times.

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Stories are not soapboxes, though, and it can be difficult for a writer to separate their personal views from those presented within their prose. Firefights offer great opportunity for excitement, high action, and conflict. But a quick-trigger topic like gun use (ha ha) requires at least some responsibility on the writer’s part. Like any weapon, they’re dangerous, and our stories would lose a measure of realism without addressing just how dangerous they can be. We can do this through the actions, reactions, thoughts, and dialogue of our characters, as well as offering realistic depictions of what happens when those characters use their firearms without awareness, caution, or respect.

Have you ever written a gunslinger? What do you think about guns – or any weapons – in stories? While realism is important, how much do you think a story requires to be seen as effective in its telling?