10 Days on the Road

IMGP6487By S. J. Brown

On the eve of my latest photo trip the living room was filled with duffle bags, camera equipment and anticipation. Jay and I were hoping for sunny skies, warmer weather and co operative critters. Our plan was to take the scenic route to Texas with stops in several states along the way.
Mother Nature decided she didn’t like our planned route and was not very nice to us the first 2 days. There was a major storm heading East across the country while we headed West. When we learned this storm was spewing out tornados Jay and I decided to take a more southern route.

Jay’s job while we are on the road is to drive, spot critters, and watch my back. More than once a critter has approached me from behind while I was photographing. On this trip Jay did an excellent job of protecting me from a bear.

sjbrown1 JAy with BearIn Alabama we discovered that Alabama isn’t very good at posting signs for most of our destinations. Mississippi was a bit better at this and I was able to capture a number of critters during our short stay. Louisiana is where we spent a chunk of time. However we did have to change our plans again. Most of the locations we planned to visit were flooded from that nasty storm. Still I captured over 2 dozen species of birds, mammals and reptiles. The flooding at one refuge worked in my favor. The high waters forced the migrating birds closer to the road and within the view of my lens.

sjbrown 3 Stilt

I was able to photograph more than one alligator on this trip. One was quite intrigued by the camera, while another was more interested in bathing in the sun; a third was a bit camera shy.

sjbrown 5 alligatorWe continued our travels and ventured into Texas, our furthest most west point for this trip. After a few days we proceeded toward home. We had just 2 days to get back to the real world.

These trips are about more than capturing critters on film. They are a chance to escape from everyday responsibilities and rejuvenate. What do you do to escape? Is there something special you do just for you, for an hour or an entire day?

sjbrown 2 EgretAs a wildlife photographer and author I have been traveling extensively throughout the United States for over 15 years. I am always accompanied by my husband and spotter in my pursuit of the next critter encounter.
My work has been published internationally in books, calendars, greeting cards, magazines and newspapers. Sharing my photographs and written words are a way to share my wildlife encounters with others and possibly inspire them to explore their creative side.
My books, Close Ups and Close Encounters, All the birds I see, Clancy’s Cat Nap and two coloring books based on my images are all available through my website http://www.sjbrown.50megs.com.

Planning

IMGP6507By S. J. Brown

Have you ever wondered what goes into a field trip for a wildlife photographer? January is when I plan out large portions of my year. As snow piles up outside Jay and I spread books, maps and the trusted atlas on the dining room table. We have notes from shows we have watched on the public broadcasting station and migration maps as well.

SJBrown1After reviewing all this we pick a direction and plan out one trip at the time. The desired destination dictates if we will be on the road for just a few days or 10. This year’s 10 day trip will have us zig zagging from state to state and spending extra time in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
We budget for things like gas, food and places to stay. While we spend our days in refuges, parks and out of the way places. We need to plan to be in areas that offer food and lodging each night, but still close to the next day’s sunrise destination. I promise Jay one decent meal a day, and a bed to sleep in, anything beyond that is a bonus.

SJBrown2Before we hit the road we stock up on things like film and snacks. All the camera equipment needs to be ready to capture that magic moment when I encounter a critter. Over the years I have accumulated a number of camera bodies and lens’. This year my largest most expensive lens needed to be replaced before we hit the road. The only good thing about this is that it didn’t happen while I was on the road.
We plan out shorter trips as well. Two or three day trips include locations in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. On each of these trips I load the car with two camera bags, a tripod, raincoats, hiking boots, water shoes, and a duffle bag. Jay packs his duffle bag and the cooler. Longer trips require us to find room for additional duffle bags and food. What I may need to grab in a hurry goes in the back seat for easy access.

SJBrown3Over the years we have learned to plan for anything. Weather, traffic accidents, and lack of critters can divert us from our planned route. On a trip to Tennessee we spent very little time in the state. Instead I captured most of my critter images in Kentucky.

SJBrown4While in Main we struck out at our planned destination and traveled another 3 hours north to get shots of a mama moose and her offspring. The rainy conditions in Georgia pushed us to spend an extra day in Florida on another trip.

SJBrown5Wildlife photography is so much more than having a camera and a love of critters. However this is something I am passionate about and I plan to keep doing it for many years to come. Our next trip is just a few weeks away.

Thanks for stopping by, I hope you plan a few adventures of your own.

As a wildlife photographer and author I have been traveling extensively throughout the United States for over 15 years. I am always accompanied by my husband and spotter in my pursuit of the next critter encounter.
My work has been published internationally in books, calendars, greeting cards, magazines and newspapers. Sharing my photographs and written words are a way to share my wildlife encounters with others and possibly inspire them to explore their creative side.
My books, Close Ups and Close Encounters, All the birds I see, Clancys Cat Nap and two coloring books based on my images are all available through my website http://www.sjbrown.50megs.com.


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S J Brown Photo vertical

Six Nights, Six Beds

Earlier this month my husband and I went to WorldCon75. The World Science Fiction convention happens every year, in a different city. This year it was in Helsinki. We’d planned it a year ahead of time because we were super excited to be finally going to Finland. Since my brother-in-law lives in England we decided to stop there first and stay for a few nights. We got married in Woodstock (the real one in England) in 2014 so our plan was to wake up there on our anniversary. When we finished the planning we realized we would be sleeping in six different beds over six nights.

Of course, I had to document them all with pictures! This post will be picture heavy, and mostly of beds.

Night One

Bed for night one!*

Our plane was leaving Friday, August 4th so our last night in our own bed for two weeks was Thursday. Nothing exciting about the night before the trip. We hadn’t even finished packing because we spent the evening visiting with family. Our flight the next day wasn’t leaving until almost 10 PM. Plenty of time to get everything sorted.

This picture is our bed*. It would feel like ages before we slept in it again.

Night Two

Bed for night two.

Due to circumstances, airline points, and lots of saving on our part we flew business class to England. I was excited about many of the perks including the use of the lounge at the airport. But the thing I was looking forward to the most was being able to sleep on the plane in an almost proper bed.

And here we have bed two! Using the controls on the side the seat reclines all the way down and the foot stool at the other end completes the “bed”. It wasn’t the most comfortable but it was better than having to sit up for six hours. Even though I thought I slept, my FitBit did not agree. It did not register sleep at all for me that night.

 

Night Three

Bed for night three.

Saturday morning we arrived at Heathrow relatively on time. My brother-in-law was there to pick us up. Instead of going to his place, we drove 3.5 hours to Bradford to take in a football match with a friend who attended our wedding. My husband’s team is Bradford City and it was their home opener. We got there half an hour late but there had been a delay in the game due to an injury. The seats were high up. It felt like we literally had a bird’s eye view of the football pitch. We won the game!

After the game we headed to our friend’s studio. He’s a musician. The long day was getting longer but there was an end in sight. After a quick tour of the studio we drove to our hotel in Bradford. Here is a picture of bed number three!

 

Night Four

Bed for night four.

Sunday was a whirlwind. We woke up and went to our friends’ place for breakfast. A full English that was delicious (and vegetarian). After we ate, we headed in the general direction of my brother-in-law’s but we stopped in Haworth, at the Oxenhope station so we could take a ride on a steam train. It was a chance to see a few stops, have a drink, see the scenery in a relaxing atmosphere.

On the platform before you leave there are musicians playing. There’s a stationary train car that serves up light meals. There’s a schedule of course and it’s mostly adhered to. The trip to the last stop and back didn’t take us very long. I want to say two hours but I could be remembering wrong. It feels like it was ages ago now.

After the train we hit the road again. Stopped at services to use the facilities but also pick up donuts! Then we continued onto my brother-in-law’s place. And there we had bed four!

Night Five

Bed for night five.

Monday started off as a lazy-ish day. We didn’t get up too early. Had coffee and leftover donuts for breakfast. August 7th was our trip back to the scene of the crime (wedding). Before going there we stopped at a mall to pick up a few things. I went overboard with the purchasing of Wonder Woman merchandise. There was a cute kiosk on the third floor where you could customize bottles of alcohol. We intended to go back there before coming home but didn’t get around to it.

When we were shopped out my brother-in-law left us his keys for the car and took a train home. My husband and I piled into the car and pointed it in the direction of Woodstock. I would not attempt to drive in England. Thankfully my husband is from there, learned how to drive there, so it was second nature for him to whisk us across the countryside.

Woodstock is a beautiful town. Small, with friendly people. Lots of pubs. And a hotel that has been around since the middle ages. That’s where we stayed. It was home base for the wedding and we wanted to wake up there on our anniversary.

This was the third time I’d stayed at the hotel, and the fourth room I’d been in. Here is bed number five!

Night Six

The adventure of getting to bed six is still fresh in my mind. England is famous for having a lot of rain. What they don’t talk about is the pressure that precipitation causes in people with sinus problems. My troubles probably started Monday night but I didn’t notice them. By Tuesday morning after breakfast my sinuses hated me. Due to circumstances I rescheduled our flight from Heathrow to Helsinki to be later in the day August 8th. That gave us time to find something to eat for lunch and hopefully some relief for me.

Bed for night six!

The pharmacy in Woodstock is small. And they actually care about the people they serve so when I was truthful about being on blood pressure medication they wouldn’t sell me sinus medication (it tends to raise the blood pressure). Instead they gave me allergy pills. They didn’t work.

 

It was a long and arduous day/evening. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball on a bed until the pressure and pain went away. We had to trek through the airport and endure a three hour flight.

We finally landed in Helsinki. It was so late, and we were so tired, we didn’t get to appreciate the city at night. The taxi whisked us to our apartment hotel. I am not an apartment kind of person. We live in a house. I’ve always lived in a house. But I fell in love with our apartment. And bed number six!

In the end

After all the different beds we finally had the same bed for a week. It was super comfortable. The apartment made me want to move in for good. Too bad we don’t have the money to move to another continent. Maybe one of these days. We took in some of the sights in Helsinki while also attending WorldCon. The panels were packed and I ended up not being able to attend most of the ones I wanted to hear.

I took way too many pictures to post them here but here are a few from some of our adventures.

Woodstock Town Hall – Where the magic happened three years ago.

 

 

View of London from The Shard.

Have you been on a vacation recently? Where did you go?

Check out my website: http://www.cindycarroll.com
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I have a new story out in an anthology! The Newcomer has twelve science fiction short stories from authors across the globe.
From a young couple struggling to look after their baby to a new captain’s reluctance to take command of her ship, and from a sun-addled stranger’s appearance in town to the emergence of a sentient AI, the twelve tales presented here explore the central theme of an arrival by someone or something new. There’s even an alien puppy.

The stories are:

Tithe by Griffin Carmichael
Exodus by Alec Hutson
First Bonding by Tom Germann
Ice Dreamer by J J Green
The Nanny by Cindy Carroll
Right Hand by Jonathan C Gillespie
What Make is Your Cat? by Richard Crawford
Kaxian Duty by Cherise Kelley
Lessons Learned by J Naomi Ay
The Humra by Laura Greenwood
The Hawk of Destiny’s Fist by James S Aaron
Repulse by Alasdair Shaw

 

*Not really our bed because our room is a mess. This is a photo to represent our bed.

Looking Back at 2016

imgp6488By S. J. Brown

Since 2016 is almost over I thought I would reminisce a bit.  For several years I have been sharing my images on Facebook.   I share a new photo each Sunday so there are many photos that my blogging buddies don’t get to see.  So I thought I would include the 10 most popular photos from 2016 on my last blog of the year.

For many of us 2016 was a roller coaster year, with plenty of ups and downs.  The snow in the beginning of the year came up over 3 feet here.  When I was finally able to get my feet down on solid ground Hubby and I headed out for a few photo trips.

This year I collected nearly 900 books for one of the libraries that flooded in Southern West Virginia. I helped plant over 150 trees and spent time with some gardening friends, when I wasn’t out taking pictures.   I tagged 20 monarch Butterflies and flipped dozens of horseshoe crabs.

My sister and I completed a Memoir and are currently working on books 2 & 3 in the series.  Perhaps years from now we will collaborate on Senior Sisters together.  2016 brought us scorching hot temperatures, new adventures and lots of fond memories.  I photographed Tree Frogs, Bald Eagles, bunny rabbits and baby birds.  I trudged through the snow to capture White Tailed deer, and sunk in the mud to zoom in on Water Fowl.

  I am currently working out the details for a few photo trips in 2017.  I will be heading North for one trip, East for another and South for yet another.  While I work out the details I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. 

I hope 2016 was kind to you.

May 2017 welcome you with open arms and make you smile. 

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CBCover Acover

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Thank you for stopping by. I hope I can count on you to comment and share this blog.

Research? Or sheer indulgence?

ccnancyjardine

This post is by Nancy Jardine.

Tomorrow, I’m embarking on a journey part of which was roughly trod by the Ancient Roman Armies of General Agricola in AD 83/84, and of the Roman Emperor Severus in AD 210, when they came to explore my part of north-east Scotland.

inverurie to kyle of lochalsh

The route shown on the map follows the current rail line from Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland to Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast. I’ll be making a return journey by train from Inverurie all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh—though how far the Ancient Romans marched beyond Inverness is still anyone’s guess.

Archaeologists have confirmed evidence of Ancient Roman Marching Camps at regular intervals from Aberdeen to Inverness. These camps lie roughly along the same route as the railway, some being only a few miles from the rail lines. Between Inverurie and about 16 miles south of Elgin (the angle change on the map above) the camps were large enough to shelter upwards of 20,000 men. After that ‘angle change’ (Camps of Muiryfold and Auchinhove) the Roman camp sizes get smaller, meaning they sheltered fewer and fewer Roman soldiers, as they progressed along the coast of the Moray Firth towards Inverness. Why they got smaller is open to conjecture and I’m having a lot of fun writing my version of the advances of Agricola’s forces in Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series of historical adventures.

CFS wordsCurrent archaeological digs are underway to find out if there’s any evidence of further Roman Camps beyond Inverness and I’m very keen to hear the updates of these because it might be important when I eventually get around to writing Book 5!

 

 

I’ve driven the same route to Inverness and beyond many times, since the main trunk road (A 96) also roughly follows the rail lines, but naturally I’ve not been able to appreciate the landscape in the way that I hope to do tomorrow. From the comfort of the train, I’m really looking forward to seeing the terrain in a more detailed way and doing a bit of imagining of what it was like some 2000 years ago – during the eras of my historical novels. Now, you might be asking yourself -Why isn’t she just taking the train to Inverness? Why go all the way to the west coast?

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SRPS Maroon Mark 1 coaches

Tomorrow’s train journey isn’t on just a regular service train. I’ll be journeying in a vintage railway carriage that’s probably almost as old as I am!

In Scotland, like many other countries, we have many heritage societies. One of them is the Scottish Railway Preservation Society. This was formed in 1961 at a time when many rural railway services were being axed by the government and the enthusiasts who formed the society were determined to preserve as much of Scottish railway history as they could. By the mid-1970s, my husband and I were enjoying the society’s special tours all over Scotland, some of which were steam hauled on shorter routes and some by diesel engines for longer treks.

http://www.srps.org.uk/railtours/rt-160710.htm

Tomorrow’s special tour will use a restored diesel engine and the restored carriages will be Maroon Mark 1 stock, which were probably built in the 1950s. The return journey is expected to take approximately 12 hours with a stop at Kyle of Lochalsh of 1 ½ hours. Just enough time to stretch our legs and have a wee wander, though it might include a coffee stop since the inevitable Scottish rain is forecast for the west coast!  I’m looking forward to having an elegant lunch and dinner on the train as we ply forth and back along the spectacular Kyle Line – named as ‘One of the Great Railway Journeys of the World’ passing moorlands, mountains, rivers and lochs.

More about SRPS HERE if you’d like to see some more images.

I’ll also be having a wee read since I’ve just stocked up my kindle with new books. My publisher, Crooked Cat, has a SUMMER SALE going on this weekend (7-10th July) All Crooked Cat ebooks are 99c/99p across the Amazon network  – including my own, so if you fancy reading about the Romans who trod that pathway noted above, you can get my Celtic Fervour Series for less than $3! Or if you’d like to try my stand alone mysteries you can get them for the same price if you’re really quick! Just click the link HERE to reach my amazon page or type in Crooked Cat on Amazon to choose from around 150 multi-genre titles.

all cc books

Have you ever taken a rail journey like the one above – for pleasure and more? 

Whatever your weekend is like- happy reading!

Nancy Jardine also writes time travel historical for Middle Grade so if you know any good readers of approximately 10 years and above they can enjoy an ebook version of The Taexali Game for only $1.99!

The_Taexali_Game_Cover_for_Kindle

Nancy finds all historical eras totally fascinating: research a delightful procrastination! Her week is taken up with grandchild-minding, gardening, reading, writing and blogging. Catching up with historical programmes or TV series and watching the news is a luxury – as are social events with friends and family but she does a creative job to squeeze them in.

http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk   http://nancyjardineauthor.com/   Twitter @nansjar  Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG and http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G (for The Rubidium time Travel Novels.) email: nan_jar@btinternet.com

Amazon Author page for books and to view book trailer videos:   http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere

Most novels are available in print and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes and Noble; NOOK; KOBO; W. H. Smith.com; Waterstones.com; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other ebook stores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A farcical pizza!

ccnancyjardine

This post is by Nancy Jardine.

It could only happen in Rome.

Picture this: I’m sitting on the plane last Wednesday 27th April 2016, during my return flight to Edinburgh after my utterly fantastic 3 day break in Rome, wondering what might be the requirements for doing some travel writing. I’ve never considered this type of writing before since I have to admit it’s not the kind of book or magazine feature I would normally buy.  Nevertheless, a quick Googling has given me this:

Have a clear storyline; Have a goal; Edit your experience to fit your story; Write an irresistible first paragraph; Include dialogue; Show and tell; Aim to entertain, not impress; Use vivid language; Leave signposts; Give yourself time to finish    or…

Clear writing style, without affectation; Strong sense of the writer’s personality; Use of the writer’s personal experiences; Vivid reporting; High literary quality and the accurate use of grammar and syntax; Meaty, practical and accurate information that is useful to the reader; Be Fresh; Be Personal; Be Funny; Be Surprising; Be Balanced; Be a Quoter; Think Like Your Reader; The Big Picture: What is the Main Point You Want to Get Across to Your Reader?

(http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/travel_writing/how_to_write_perfect_travel_article.shtml  & http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/travel_writing/how_to_write_perfect_travel_article.shtml )

All of these are pretty good ideas, but I don’t quite know if that’s the kind of writing that I’m cut out for.

I’m not going to post my whole 1500 word version of my kind of travel writing here – it’s way too long for this blog. However… here’s a little taster to whet your appetite for my farcical pizza article.

DSCN0245
Basilica of St. Peter’s, Rome

Monday 25th April 2016: After a foot-numbing and leg-louping day of traipsing around the seriously gob smacking Vatican Museums collections; a tour of the Basilica of St. Peter; and a visit to the Sistine Chapel (You know that place where the artist Michelangelo literally lay flat on the top of scaffolding, for 4 whole years whilst painting a majestic ceiling N.B. it’s the only room that you aren’t allowed to take personal photographs of) my husband and I decided we deserved a lovely meal to round off the day before limping along to our little hotel, a perfectly appointed place for our short visit.

Raganelli
note the tight parking and small cars that seem typical in Rome

The Raganelli Hotel is on the Via Aurelia, a venerable ancient road which was first constructed about AD 240. Thankfully, the road surface has moved on to a flatter tarmac these days, so the ride on it isn’t too bumpy on what was originally a 15 feet wide road built to have two chariots move past in opposite directions. The cobbled, extremely narrow pedestrian pavements (sidewalks) about 2 and 1/2 feet wide are not exactly comfortable, though, and seem pretty old on the feet to me though they aren’t originals. (BTW- if the tour information says that your hotel along the Via Aurelia is about 3 kilometres from St. Peter’s Square, don’t believe it! A bus ride of 3 long stops and a Metro ride of around 5 stations definitely doesn’t seem to equate to 3 km)

An optimistic lanky waiter, wearing an aging yellow toothed tobacco stained smile, enticed us in to a pizzeria which was conveniently situated right beside the bus stop where we dribbled off the bus about 50 yards from the Raganelli Hotel. (N.B. – In typical Mediterranean style these canny waiters check their watches for the arrival of said bus so that they’re in sentinel post outside and ready for passenger disembarkation.) Professionally ushered into what would normally be the kerbside patio area – except that it was late April, raining, and only around  40 deg F – we were given a free table tucked neatly into a corner of the tightly packed tables layout.

We looked longingly into the main restaurant behind the brick wall but in limited  English (which we were thankful for since we don’t speak Italian) the very agreeable waiter gestured that the whole empty inside room wasn’t available to us. If we hadn’t been so knackered, we might have gone elsewhere but being unfamiliar with our surroundings we couldn’t contemplate another totter along the road to find another eating establishment and the patio heaters were blasting out sufficient warmth around us.

Pizza; the largest size bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water; and a carafe of local red wine was ordered as I surreptitiously removed my shoes. Whilst awaiting our food, I gobbled down about three glasses of water as we ruminated over the mind boggling Vatican treasures we’d just experienced.

DSCN0330
2 with beards but you can see that my OH doesn’t go for the curly looks of Serapis, the Alexandrian god. 

Surprisingly quickly the pizza arrived. We smiled at the excellent service as we rehashed the absolutely breathtaking ceiling paintings in the rooms that we visited before we eventually reached the Sistine chapel (The Vatican Museums have many, many beautiful rooms to sample).  My pizza was delicious – a thin and crispy stonebaked base with a Capricciosa topping. Yum! I knew I was starving but acknowledged it really was a very excellent pizza.

After pouring our wine, the solicitous waiter hovered. Instead of asking if all was well with the meal he gestured that we might have a little move coming.

“A little move?” asked my husband somewhat hesitantly.

“We move your table. Through door.”

You can imagine there was one of those still moments of utter dread. It was raining outside. The waiter was pointing to the exit door of what would be the lower semi-glazed patio protection in summer time since the upper part was plastic windows beneath the retractable waterproof roof awning.

What on earth could we have done to offend that deserved being put outside?

Well… My travel tale of ‘The Farcial Pizza’ continues on my own blog  HERE if you’d like to read about the pantomime (and some complicated travel implications )that followed!

Or if your time is tight, then maybe you could add some tips on how to do travel writing…or tell me what you think the pantomime was that happened next? (wink, wink)

It’s also timely to note that I’m late with this blog post since it’s now May the 1st which is the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane, a feature included in Book 1 of my Celtic Fervour Series. My characters are northern Celtic Britons, not Celtic Gauls, but I just have to include one of the highlights of my Rome trip which was photographing the famous statue named ‘The Dying Gaul’. (I’ve got a fine time ahead of me since I have more than 600 photos to process! 😉 )

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The Dying Gaul
Nancy Jardine writes:

CFS End Sept 2015Historical Romantic Adventures

#1 The Beltane Choice

#2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn

#3 After Whorl: donning Double cloaks

3 mysteriesContemporary Mysteries

The_Taexali_Game_Cover_for_Kindle

Time Travel Adventure for Teens 

http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk   http://nancyjardineauthor.com/   Twitter @nansjar  Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG and http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G (for The Rubidium time Travel Novels.) email: nan_jar@btinternet.com

Amazon Author page for books and to view book trailer videos:   http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere

Most novels are available in print and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes and Noble; NOOK; KOBO; W. H. Smith.com; Waterstones.com; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other ebook stores.

Buildings That Tell a Story

Sarah M. Chenby Sarah M. Chen

I recently got back from a trip to Boston, one of my favorite cities. The main reason I love this city is that it has so much history. Okay, that’s a lie. I love this city because of the FOOD!

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The best lobster roll from Neptune Oyster in North End

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the history is a close second. I love the beautiful historical old buildings. I love how they’re juxtaposed with modern skyscrapers. It’s a city that merges old with new so seamlessly.

My friend and I visited many historical landmarks and buildings (okay, restaurants). Each one had a fascinating story behind them including the Union Oyster House (the oldest restaurant in America), the original Cheers bar (originally the Bull & Finch), and the Warren Tavern (oldest tavern in Massachusetts).

When we did our walking tour of Harvard, I loved the stories our student guide told, pointing out George Washington’s house and the dorm where Bill Gates lived. One building I loved in particular was the Widener Library or Harvard’s Memorial Library. widener_general_resizedCB

Of course I love any library but what I loved most of all was the story. Harry Elkins Widener graduated from Harvard in 1907. He was a bibliophile and went to England in 1912 to purchase some rare books. Unfortunately, Harry’s journey back to America was aboard the Titanic. He and his books never made it back.

Harry’s mother, Eleanor Widener, donated $3 million to Harvard to build a library to house her son’s book collection. However, the university must adhere to three conditions: First, the outside of the library could not be changed or remodeled in any way. Of course, over the years, the library acquired more and more books resulting in less space. It was essential to make room for these books but how could they without going against Mrs. Widener’s wishes? They tunneled under the ground. The library’s bookshelves extend underneath the ground for 50 miles. 50 miles!

The second condition was that fresh flowers must be placed underneath her son’s portrait in the chapel every day. This is done to this day.

The third condition was that every Harvard graduate must learn to swim. I guess she was worried students would end up drowning like her poor son, Harry. This was done for years until the Disabilities Act went into effect and now it’s optional for students.

For more information on Harry Widener and his tragic voyage, check out this link: http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victim/harry-elkins-widener.html

Los Angeles doesn’t have as many historical beautiful buildings as Boston but we have our share. One that I love is Union Station in downtown L.A. near Olvera Street. For a little history check out this link: https://www.metro.net/about/union-station/history/

It has beautiful marble tiles and arched ceilings. My mom and I used to come here at least once every couple months when I was little. We’d take the train from Orange County to downtown L.A. to go shopping at the garment district. The garment district was a collection of buildings that housed discounted clothing stores. It was a couple blocks long. I loved these trips and not just for the cute clothes but to see Union Station.

More recently, I went to Union Station for a wine festival and was amazed how gorgeous it still looked. It brought me back to those days when I was a little girl, arriving in exciting downtown L.A. with my mom.20160123_185607

After the festival, my friend and I went to dinner on nearby Olvera Street for some amazing Mexican food. When we returned about an hour and a half later, the station was completely emptied out. It was kind of eerie.

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During wine festival
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An hour and a half later…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It inspired me to write this 50-word story which was selected to be published in Blink Ink’s latest issue #23 “Mystery Train.”

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For more info on Blink Ink: http://www.blink-ink.org/

What buildings have inspired you? What’s your favorite “building story”?

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Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. Her crime fiction short stories have been accepted for publication online and in various anthologies, including All Due Respect, Akashic, Plan B, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Betty Fedora, Spelk, and the Sisters in Crime/LA anthology, Ladies Night. Her noir novella, Cleaning Up Finn, is coming out May 2016 with All Due Respect Books. www.sarahmchen.com

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The Joy of Discovery

CindyCarrollEAs an author I love discovering new things about my books as I’m writing them. Though I do plan, with as detailed an outline as my pantser brain can handle, I still uncover things I didn’t know about the story. Part of the fun with being a writer is that joy of discovery. Finding out things you didn’t know, characters revealing parts of themselves that help you and the reader better understand them, plot twists you didn’t see coming but you somehow planted the seeds for. Because I’m solidly in between being a plotter and a pantser I don’t always know every little detail about my characters before I start writing. Maybe if I did the writing would go faster.

How to make a perfect cup of tea.
How to make a perfect cup of tea – in Fergus.

Being so caught up in trying to get the writing done and dealing with a day job I tend to stay in on weekends and week nights except for my writing meetings twice a month. There’s always another chapter that needs to be written, a story that needs to be edited, an idea that needs to be nurtured. Which means I rarely go out except to the grocery store when we’re running so low on food in the house that we’re down to toast for dinner.  There’s also been clouds of other things hanging over the house that made me want to curl up into a fetal position and never go outside again. Lately things are looking more optimistic. I’ve been going out more than twice a month because we added another regular meeting to the writing group. This one is weekly and I don’t attend weekly but it’s another night out at least.

12109127_10153234696767005_234387536377274747_nRecently my husband suggested we go for a drive to a town not too far from us to have lunch. It was a beautiful autumn day so I said yes. Turned out to be a fabulous day. We drove to Fergus, Ontario and had lunch at a tea house there. Something light for the afternoon. We walked around a bit and ventured into some shops. Then on our way home we drove through Elora. I’d heard of these places but never ventured that far away from our city. Elora is gorgeous. With a population hovering around 4,000 it is a small village that is still a little too populated for this girl but it’s not too bad. According to the website, Elora is Ontario’s most beautiful village. Having not been to many other villages in the province I can’t speak to that statement’s veracity. But it is beautiful.

12111977_10153234696692005_3907278759081988861_nWe spent a few hours walking around along the main street. The variety of shops and picturesque scenery made me want to go back again. And not just for a quick visit. I’d like to stay there for a few days. Have a mini vacation with time to explore all of the village, check out the history of the place, go to Elora Gorge, have a meal in one of the restaurants.

When I started writing I began with historical romance. Medievals set in England or Scotland. It’s a time period I love and find fascinating. More recent history, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century doesn’t appeal to me. Too modern for my tastes I guess. But something about Elora and the map of the city plan from 1845 sparked ideas in my head. I think I now know where I want to set a new paranormal series that has been teasing the edges of my brain for the past month. Will readers at large buy books set in a Canadian village? Who knows. I hope so. But I may be writing that series just for me.

Get free reads, new release pricing, members only contests, access to Campus (a behind the scenes website for my Standpoint Trilogy and still under construction) – sign up for my newsletter: http://bitly.com/CPCMailList

Check out my website: http://www.cindycarroll.com
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ReflectionsFinal2A road trip without a plan sounded like a good idea when Lena and her friends hit the road. After hours of driving in the heat in a cramped car they’re all ready for something to eat and a good night’s rest.

Reflections Inn looks perfect for the group of friends. A little run down, it hides a supernatural horror. A curse that replaces people with their repressed alter egos forces the friends to fight for their lives. Duplicates who lack restraint, crave gratification emerge from the mirrors. Too late they realize they didn’t know each other as well as they thought.

One by one, Lena’s friends learn the truth about their repressed emotions, their suppressed violent urges.

What doesn’t kill them can only make them stronger.

Buy on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1avH00L
Buy on Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/19Ti2ux
Buy on Kobo: http://bit.ly/13CBz9M
Buy on Amazon Canada: http://amzn.to/15oFc4a

Get Your Motor Runnin’ – It’s Travel and Conference Season!

Parents and GayleThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

As this post goes live, I am traveling. It’s Mother’s Day weekend, and I’m visiting my parents in Montana. If the weather cooperates, I’ll be taking them on a spring-time drive through the heart of central Montana, stopping at sites along the Missouri River, having lunch in a quaint Montana town, and celebrating the special woman who is my mother. I’m looking forward to spending several days with my parents and to reminding my mom how important she is to me. Without her, I may not have become a writer.

As the author of several books, five Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, and numerous magazine and newspaper articles, my writing journey began EONS ago. I grew up an only child in Iowa, living on a small acreage outside of town, with a mother who didn’t drive a car and a father who worked nights at a factory. PICTURE THIS: RECLUSE, NO SOCIAL LIFE. But, we had farm animals, I had pets, I had TV, and I had an active imagination. PICTURE THIS: WRITING BEGINS AT YOUNG AGE. My writing began with crafting scripts for TV shows like “Bonanza” and “Starsky and Hutch.”

Or, if you prefer the Starsky/Hutch theme:

(Never sent a script in until I was about 30 — by then other shows were on, and though I thought I had a great idea to share with producers, the script was mailed back to me.)

Beartooth Mtns. RiverThen, I dabbled in poetry (our little property with nature all around was my inspiration). Then, I moved into short stories. Throughout the course of my writing infancy, with no formal training except junior high and high school English, my mother encouraged me. When I took journalism classes in college and wrote for the school paper as well as for the literary magazine, her smiles and compliments kept me focused and moving forward. After college, I submitted work to local magazines, became the editor of the West Yellowstone News, and continued dabbling in poetry and short stories. Again, Mom’s encouragement was not short in coming, and because of her support, my determination grew to where now, at more than 50 years of age, I am a published author as well as short story and magazine freelancer and newspaper features and column writer. Sharing my appreciation for mom through an in-person visit and going for a special drive and a special lunch is the least I can do for the woman who has been there for me since Day One and encouraged me to pursue the desire of becoming a writer. My mother truly is one of my greatest treasures and best blessings.

rckypark_elkmtnsA few days after I return from that Montana trip, I hit the road with fellow Casperite and Writing Wrangler Neva Bodin; we’re going to the Colorado Christian Writers Conference together. She and I have both attended this conference in years past but it’s been a few years for each of us. I’m looking forward to sharing time and experience with this lovely and talented lady, and I’m also looking forward to all I will learn during conference and then apply those lessons and knowledge to my writing life.

I enjoy traveling. I also enjoy conferences. Alas, the CCWC is likely the only writing conference I’ll attend this year. Wyoming Writers, Inc., has its annual conference in early June, but the non-profit for which I work part-time has a major fundraiser that same weekend, so I’m unable to attend that conference. Another conference I’ve gone to in years past, Get Published! which takes place in Bozeman, Montana, is that very same weekend as well (this is a time I could really benefit from being cloned, in order to take in each event!).

Gayle_Lea_Casey_Leah_booksigningOne learns so much at a writer’s conference: craft, marketing, indie publishing, new avenues and new genres to explore. And, we get to meet great people with whom we share a strong interest: other writers, editors, literary agents, speakers, publicity agents. And we all have something in common: the love of words. That commonality, that link, forges friendships and many of those fellow writers/friends become encouragers. We could very easily be competitors, but I find a majority of writers like to build one another up, and that’s a wonderful blessing!

My travels aren’t done after conference. My husband and I have tickets to see Celtic Woman at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado in mid-June, and I’ll be returning to that venue later in the summer to see Christian performers Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and others, and to also hear inspirational author and speaker Max Lucado. I’ve never been to Red Rocks although I live only five hours away, and this summer I get to go twice! I AM EXCITED to experience both events!

Grizzly_YNPMy husband and I also hope to visit his side of the family in the Carolinas sometime this summer (plans are still being formed), as well as take a trip to one of the most beautiful places in the world: Yellowstone National Park. Although I’ve lived away from that unique environment for nearly 20 years, it has never left me – I love visiting the Yellowstone area and I look forward to experiencing the vastness of the park, the beauty of the meadows, and the magnificence of the mountains again this year.

Then, of course, there are the jaunts to our cabin with weekend stays and weekday dinners. Our mountain hideaway is only 20 minutes from our house, so my husband and I can go at a moment’s notice and relax for several hours (or, in my case, write!) before returning home. In fact, we hope to host a belated birthday gathering for “the man” who turned the big 6-0 in April!

Cabin_Oct2014Travel, conferences, friends, family – I anticipate a great summer is in store, and I welcome it with thanksgiving.

What conferences and/or travel to you anticipate with excitement this summer?

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL YOU MOMS AND

HAPPY WRITING AND CONFERENCING TO MY FELLOW WRITERS!

Gayle_Cabin_Writing_smallerGayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and two dog devotion books: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and nature. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from animals and the outdoors. Visit her website at www.gaylemirwin.com.

SageBigAdventureFront-small   SageLearnsShareFront-small  Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final  Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014   Walking_FrontCover_small

Basking in Beauty: Past, Present and Future

Gayle_CactusForest_nearLakePleasantThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

The past several days I’ve spent in the sunny southwest. The desert is alive with color and since spring was just last week, I found the timing of my visit very appropriate. While in Phoenix, I saw roses and multiple other types of flowers. Traveling to Tucson, cactus flowers, primrose and other colorful vegetation greeted my friend and I as we walked the trails of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. I took endless photos and basked in the beauty that welcomed us.

Cacti Garden_AZ Desert MuseumBeauty was not just in the plant life, but in the animals we saw: captive ones to educate the public about the fauna of the region, and wild ones, like lizards and songbirds, that make the desert their home. I was excited to see otters, herons, and desert bighorn that could not be released in the wild due to injuries but that could still educate people living in and not living in Arizona about their habits and habitats, and I was even more excited to see the wild ones that just “appeared” to reflect their adaptations to the environment. I love seeing and learning about the flora and fauna of a region I visit – there is beauty in nature and in learning about it.

Dougs MustangThere is also beauty in the relationships we share with others. My friends Doug and his family gave me their time, gas, and food as we shared about three days together. We reflected upon the past – the years we’ve known one another, their years of marriage, their kids’ education; upon the present – what we’re all doing now, our concerns and our joys, and the connection we maintain; and about the future – what their kids want to become as adults, my friends’ future vacation and retirement plans, our aging parents and our aging selves. Nature and friendship – two of the most beautiful things we experience in life!

As writers we can create beauty as well. Our characters have relationships with other characters (past, present, future) and sometimes writers weave nature into stories, showcasing the beauty (and sometimes danger) our characters experience. In Sage’s Big Adventure, blind dog Sage becomes lost in the woods (something that actually happened to my real blind dog Sage). The dog’s strong relationship with her people help her return home to them. I’ve seen that and read about that – some pets return home months, even years later, their connection to their humans such a beautiful and strong component to get them home (think of the movie ‘Homeward Bound’ – I cry at the end EVERY time!).

How do you create your characters’ relationships? Do you think about past, present, and future of your characters? Do you bring nature into your stories, and if so, do you showcase beauty or danger, or both?

Gayle_Old Tucson Creek BackdropAs this post goes live, I’ll be returning to Wyoming after four days in Arizona and three days in Las Vegas. In Vegas, I’ll have met up with another long-time friend, a woman who lives in California but who has ties (including the start of our friendship 20 years ago) in Montana; I also planned to have lunch with fellow Writing Wrangler Mike Staton. I’m very excited to see Kari and share my birthday with her with dinner and a show, and to meet and visit with Mike. There’s past, present, and future in these friendships, too – what a beautiful thing!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Blue Heron

Gayle & Mary outsideGayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and two dog devotion books: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including The Dog Did What?, released August 2014. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at www.gaylemirwin.com.

 

SageBigAdventureFront-small   SageLearnsShareFront-small   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014   Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover