Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lena & Gabe's Excellent Adventure (Days 7 & 8)

The last 2 days of our trip:

On Friday morning we woke up to the storm. Gabe and I cuddled up in the tent and had a long snuggle fest. Then we got up and went to the beach. Perdido Key is a very narrow strip of land, so if you stood in the right place, you could see the ocean on both sides. We’d been on the Gulf side up until then, but Gabe decided he wanted to explore the bay side. So we went to that side and walked along the beach. Gabe loved watching the sandpipers skittering along in their weird way, and the pelicans gliding over the water and diving for fish. It was all very nice until we came upon a dead octopus. Gabe thought that was just amazing, and I’d never seen one up close, so we went and looked at it. Then we noticed a big jellyfish in the water…and then we saw dozens more, all along the beach in the water and on the sand. They were humongous! We came across the behemoth one, about twelve inches across, and I had a stick so I opened up the ‘skirt’ and let Gabe see the tentacles. That sort of freaked him out, and he wanted to go back. He had lots of questions about jellyfish the rest of the day.

We swam a few times, jumping in the water for about ten seconds each time, which Gabe loved. Unfortunately, we both got sunburned that day, too. In the afternoon we walked the mile back to the car and went into town to get some hotdogs for our campfire. It was supposed to rain again that night, and it was cloudy off and on all day, but we were hoping for a little bit of time for a fire first. We walked back to the campsite, took a little nap, watched the most amazing sunset I think I’ve ever seen (of course my phone battery had died and I couldn’t take pictures, grrr). Then we dug a pit and tried to light a fire.

Okay, first of all, our wood had gotten wet in the rain the night before. Secondly, our paper had gotten wet TWICE and never fully dried from the rain the first night we camped at the state park. Then it had gotten damp again Thursday night. And if you’ve ever been to the beach, you know that nothing dries there. Nothing. Ever.

So we crumpled up our soggy damp paper and put our damp wood on top and about 5 pieces of kindling we’d found along the beach. I lit the paper about fifty times and every time it only smoldered and went out. I was getting really desperate. I hadn’t carried that huge bag of wood down the beach for nothing. FINALLY a piece of paper caught fire, and I lit about five others with the flame. They burned for about one minute and then went out. I was about to scream in frustration, but I moved some logs around instead, hoping that all the paper hadn’t burned and left us with a bunch of big, damp logs and nothing to start them with. And suddenly, a flame flickered up from the smoldering paper. We frantically fed pieces of cardboard into the flame, and eventually, our fight started up. It looked like the wood was burning really fast, so we started cooking hotdogs immediately. They kept getting charred, but we managed to eat a few. I put the last two pieces of wood on the fire and they lasted…for hours. We didn’t have any marshmallows, so Gabe decided we should roast dried figs on the fire, so we did that a while. Then Gabe looked at me and said, “This is the best night of my whole life.” And it was all worth it.

We threw a couple hotdogs on the fire so Gabe could see them turn black, which he thought was pretty cool. He also enjoyed poking them with his skewer stick, and lighting his skewer on fire and poking it into the sand to watch it extinguish. He sat in my lap and we huddled into the warmth when it got chilly on the beach. The fire lasted a long, long time, and I let Gabe stay up late until all the flames died out. He got to dump a bucket of water on the coals, which he also loved. And fortunately for us, it did not rain at all that night.

On Saturday morning we got up early and watched the most amazing sunrise while we packed up our stuff. I wanted to make it back to Arkansas that day, but it was such a long drive I thought we’d stop in Little Rock. But we left so early that we got back to Little Rock by 6pm, and it was so early that I thought I’d just stick it out. We drove 14 hours…remind me never to do that again. It was awful, and Gabe got bored, and we were both sore from riding so long. We got back late that night, ending our epic road trip. And we both survived.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lena & Gabe's Excellent Adventure (Day 6)

I lacked internet access most of the last few days, so I'll try to catch up real quick.

Day 6 (Thursday), we drove the short distance from Destin to Perdido Key. For once, not an entire day spent driving! It was wonderful. We got to the beach in the early afternoon. The ranger took our money and told us the camping was "primitive."
I said, "Great!"
He looked at me like I was insane, and told me that we'd have to walk a mile down the beach to the camping area.
No problem!
And then he said that before we got to the beach, we'd have to walk half a mile down the road from the parking lot to the walkway to the beach.
Also, no problem.
I asked if we could have a campfire and where we could get some wood. Didn't want to repeat the camping experience from the prior night. The ranger told us to go to the local Winn-Dixie (I didn't even know those really existed anymore) and buy some. So, we drove down and got two bags of wood. Let me just say that 25lbs might not sound like a lot, but it's heavy. Really heavy. Especially when it's encased in tough plastic with a handle made of the same tough plastic that threatens to rip through your skin as you carry it.
We got back to the beach, parked, and began our walk. I began to wish I'd listened when the ranger stressed again that I'd have to walk a mile on a soft sand beach. While carrying two sleeping bags, a gallon of water, a bag of food, and 25 lbs of wood. And Gabe had the tent in his backpack and a bag of paper for the fire. It was a long, long mile.
Finally we saw a sign: CAMPING BEYOND THIS POINT ONLY.
I staggered up to the sign like a dying man in a movie who sees water, dropped my bags, and thought about collapsing on top of them. Instead, I went back to meet Gabe, who had fallen far behind. I carried his bag (so light!) and we looked around the camping area. It was basically a deserted white sand beach with dunes as far as you could see. It felt like we'd been dropped on a deserted island. Once we got our tent set up, we ran down and jumped in the water....for about 15 seconds. It was maybe 59 degrees. Maybe.
Gabe played on the beach while I napped and took pictures of the beautiful area. We watched the sunset (gorgeous), ate some of our food, and went to bed early that night. We did not burn that 25lb bag of wood. We left it beside the tent.
That night, it poured rain. The tent didn't flood too bad, and it was kind of nice and cozy lying there with the rain beating down and the tent threatening to blow away, listening to the waves smash against the shore and hoping it didn't turn into a hurricane.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lena & Gabe's Excellent Adventure (Days 4 & 5)

It's been a busy 2 days and I have tons of stuff to write about! I didn't have internet or phone service most of yesterday or I would have given Day 4 its own post, which it deserves. But it will have to share.

Day 4 (Tuesday) we woke up in Perry, Florida and set out down the coast on Highway 98. We were going to meet up with Ryan that afternoon or evening. We didn't have a lot of distance to cover, so we dawdled through Suwannee Nature Reserve for a few hours, driving around on all the trails and looking at the cool plants. We stopped and looked at a salt marsh, where Gabe was fascinated by mussels growing in the water and the sound of palm leaves in the wind. Other than that, we only saw one young deer, a buck, that got spooked by the car and ran headlong into a fence. It was sort of funny, but awful, too.

We got tired of driving around and went down to Manatee Springs State Park where we planned to camp that night. Ryan said he would drive up when he got off work. My phone didn't get service out there, and the battery died soon after we arrived, so I couldn't contact him. Gabe and I walked on a trail and decided to pick up some dead wood to burn for our campfire. We were almost back to our campsite when a ranger accosted us and said that the state of Florida wouldn't let anyone pick up wood to burn. Huh? It wasn't like we were cutting down trees! Apparently the dead wood is part of the scenery and not supposed to be disturbed. So, he told us to go to the ranger station and buy some wood. We dropped our firewood and went up to the ranger station...which was closed. So, we couldn't have a fire. It wasn't terribly cold, but it was definitely chilly.

We went along the boardwalk and looked at the springs, but of course we did not see any manatees. We did see hundreds of vultures perched on the trees all along the water. We played on a playground for a while and went back to our fire-less campsite. We huddled in the tent for warmth and ate cold dinner by the light of our flashlight. The campsite had a plug, so I charged my phone and managed to get one text through to Ryan asking him to bring wood. Then, we huddled up to wait.

Gabe went to sleep and I napped a while. I got up at 930 and sat on the picnic table and watched the herds of deer wander through the clearings in the camping area, and listened to an owl hooting nearby, and looked at the millions of dazzlingly bright stars. Eventually, I went back to the tent to lie down. Ryan arrived at 11 bearing wood. We lit a fire right away and sat talking for a long time. The wood burned out way too quickly, so Ryan made another run into the next town. We stayed up until 330am talking and reminiscing and catching up on each other's lives.

The next morning (Day 5) we woke early to the sound of rain pelting our tent. It was cozy and warm inside, so I tried to sleep more. But that fantasy was rudely interrupted by rain dripping through the roof onto my face. Water had already pooled in the corners of the tent and wet our sleeping bags, pillow, and blankets. I broke down the tent in the rain, said goodbye to Ryan, and got out of there as fast as I could.
Since it was raining, we didn't have anything to do but drive. So we headed back up the coast. After a while, the rain tapered off and I saw a sign for a lighthouse. I love lighthouses, so we went to check it out. It was in St. Mark's State Park. We hiked along a short trail and looked at the Spanish moss hanging over everything and the marsh grasses. A few ponds had tons of birds, and we stopped and watched them for a while. Gabe was very interested in watching the sandpipers dip their heads underwater to get food, and with a little duck that ran across the water to join the flock.

After St. Mark's, we got back on Highway 98 and continued north. We stopped at Mexico Beach and stretched our legs and Gabe got to play in the soft, white sand. It was really pretty. I picked up shells and took pictures. We drove most of the day, stopping again at the beach in Destin to watch the sun set. It was perfect, but my phone died in the middle of the sunset and I didn't get pictures of the best part! Still, it was beautiful--the green-glass sea, the powdery white sand, the sun sinking into the water. The wind was cold, but it was worth getting chilled to watch the sunset.

We found a hotel that gave us a big double room for the price of a single, and here we are. The next two days will be camping, and rustic camping too. So, probably no blogs for a few days!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review Wednesday: Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson

WintergirlsWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I got this (audio)book from the library, I had no idea what it was about. I thought it was a paranormal book for some reason--the title, or cover pic, or maybe I read part of the description and thought it said something about invisible girls and ghosts. If I'd known what it was about, I don't think I would have read it, so I'm really glad I didn't know, because I would have missed an amazing book.

Of course I figured out about five minutes in that it was actually a book about a girl with an eating disorder. I had a few reservations, but I liked the audio narrator, so I stuck with it. Anderson is an amazing writer. I love her style, her poetic prose, and her unique twists.

As far as accuracy, the book was pretty much spot-on as far as capturing the helpless feeling of it. I can't say I agreed with everything, but for the most part, I found it accurate and moving. When she finds out what happened to her friend, I wanted to barf tears. It was a very, very sad book, so if you don't like sad books or can't put yourself in the shoes of someone with problems you've never experienced, this book probably isn't for you. I don't have a problem with those things, plus I could relate to Lia and her struggles to find peace, so I loved the book.

I also love how Anderson writes books that are not romance novels. She usually has a hopeful ending, but some really dark things happen in her books. I like how she doesn't sugar coat issues. I also loved the character of Eli in this book, although he never felt...real. I kept wondering if Lia imagined him. Something about him seemed too clueless, too weird, too perceptive. But I LOVED what she did with his character at the end--it was exactly right, and I didn't see it coming. I love when authors surprise me, and especially when the surprise makes me say 'Yes! That's exactly what that guy would do!' Too often I find books where it seems the author is self-indulgent and gives characters what they think the character deserves or what readers want to see. I love finding a book where I feel the author did something completely honest with a character.

Overall, this was a wonderful, moving, honest book that I would highly recommend to teenagers.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lena & Gabe's Excellent Adventure (Day 3)

Yesterday entailed a whole lot more driving. But we did stop along the way a lot more. Even just little stops, like to go to Walgreens and get milk, or to get gas, or check my oil. For some reason, my oil-guzzling car didn't seem as thirsty yesterday, and I drove all day without having to add more oil.
In the morning, we got up and had the 'breakfast' provided by our hotel. Then we got on the road. I kept seeing things I wanted to take pictures of, but of course I couldn't while I was driving! It was frustrating to miss all those good sights. Anyway, we stopped at the Florida welcome center when we arrived and took a few pictures and looked at our map. Turns out the Florida panhandle is a lot longer than I thought. Plus, we got on Highway 98 so we could drive along the coast, which was pretty but ended up being really slow because of all the traffic and going through towns every 5 minutes.
At one point, we'd been driving for a few hours without stopping, and Gabe saw the ocean and said, "Can we go there?" So I just pulled over and we walked down to this tiny stretch of beach behind a restaurant. The water was nasty and full of seaweed and floating....stuff...but the sand was clean and white and Gabe loved playing in it. We drove through Ft. Walton and Destin, where we stayed last time. The sand was so white it looked like dunes of snow as we drove past. We stopped and got Gabe some sand toys and a hoodie.
Ryan was going to meet us, but we didn't make it close enough to Sarasota, so he didn't want to drive up. But he told us to stop in Apalachicola, which he said was supposed to be nice. We got there just before sunset. Gabe and I were both tired and grumpy from traveling so much, but we got out and ran down a long wooden dock to see the sunset. The dock extended out into the water, and we met a disabled Vietnam veteran who sits on the dock fishing all day. He talked to us a lot and let Gabe reach in his bait bucket and touch his bait fish. The sunset was beautiful, and we'd stretched our legs, so we went up to a tiny playground and played until it got dark.
Then we set out again. Gabe was hungry for some real food, so we looked for a place to eat. We were driving along this dark empty highway, and even the tiny towns were closed up when we drove through. Then, randomly, we came upon this cantina all lit up in the middle of nowhere. I wasn't sure it was a restaurant, so I checked it out. It wasn't a bar, so we went in and I got a giant fajita thing, and Gabe got a giant cheeseburger and enough fries to feed 8 people...for only $3.75. Then we got fried ice cream and left stuffed.
The highway was almost deserted after dark, winding along the coast and smelling like the ocean. I opened the window and let the cool air in and cranked Fleetwood Mac until Gabe fell asleep. We drove a couple more hours and stopped in Perry around 9. No all-night driving for me. Plus, the driving made me really nervous because every couple miles I'd see a herd of deer on the side of the road. None of them ran, they just looked at the car. They didn't even look nervous. Still, it made me paranoid driving, so I was glad to see a town big enough to have hotels. And here we are.

Today, we're going to find a beach to camp on, and we're going to meet up with Ryan. I'm excited!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Avoiding Cliches: Guest Author Luis Vila

Fighting Fate. Challenging Destiny. Fulfilling the prophecy. The eternal struggle of the cliché.

Before we get started, let’s put all the cards on the table. As writers in this day and age (God bless the Internet), it is quite difficult to come up with a completely original and uninspired idea. No worries my great and good friends. Television and Hollywood are guilty of this too. We’re treated to an annual dose of rehashes and remakes to fill us up well beyond our appetite. Even some of the most original programming you can think of has been “inspired” through other means. For example, the original idea for the Emmy award-winning television series Breaking Bad was “a regular man becomes Scarface”. That is the nature of the beast and it’s sad but true (for you Metallica fans).

As writers, we should not shy away from utilizing borrowed concepts but embrace them. It’s hard enough to avoid being inspired by some great idea. That is, unless you are a complete and utter hermit (in which case that point would be moot because you wouldn’t be reading this anyways). Just ask yourself, why are you here now? Weren’t we all at some point given the great gift of inspiration by somebody else? I know I owe my entire writing career to Stan “The Man” Lee and Hideo Kojima. There style of writing and storytelling abilities spoke to me as a child and continue to do so to this day. I’d be hard pressed to say that they didn’t have any influence in any of my original works. And if that’s a cliché thing to say then hot damn, I’m cliché.

Now let’s get down and dirty. The difference between “inspired” and “cliché” is all in the details. Something we, as writers, have total control over. Let’s say someone wanted to do a story about vampire falling in love. In this market, that might be a little cliché. I haven’t checked but I’m pretty sure the fan-fiction crowd has that particular genre nailed to the wall. Well, let’s take it back a bit. Same story, but this time let’s say that once every generation a woman of the village/town/city is forced to love and marry the vampire unless they wish to incur his wrath. You see? Completely changes the game right before our eyes. It’s not the concept that makes something cliché, it’s the details. Now if were to go back down that same road again and say that the next woman in line to marry the vampire was in love with another person who turned out to be a different type of creature, well, that is treading down some cliché waters.

If there’s anything to take away from this it would be the simple (and borrowed) idea of it’s not what you write, it’s how you write it. Never think that something you’ve come up with won’t be worthy to grace consumer bookshelves because everyone else has done it before. Some of the greatest stories of our time utilized borrowed concepts from classic tales everyone has heard before. You don’t have to kill yourself just to appease your originality crutch. If you take something familiar and make it your own, you will be more respected then those who just shoot for sitting next to the flavor of the month.

In the end, there’s nothing wrong with using something another idea to inspire a whole new one. I know this because I’ve traveled down this canal myself. The original concept for my first novel Agent M: Project Mabus came from a 600 year old prophecy crafted by a very respectable man in his field, Nostradamus. There are hundreds of stories that deal with the end of the world (believe me, I checked), but none of which that traversed the path I followed. And really, that’s all it takes. From one idea to a completely new one. Readers will feel comfortable with something they’ve experienced before and greatly appreciate being taken on an entirely new ride once they’re on board.

Embrace the ideas you’ve come up with and put all your effort into making them the best stories they can be. Put little thought into the claims of “unoriginal” and “boring” concepts. If it’s well written, then they will come.

Now where did I hear that before?
L.M. Vila

Website: http://www.projectmabus.com/

Blog: http://projectmabus.blogspot.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1221153284

Amazon.com Book Link: http://www.amazon.com/Agent-Project-Mabus-ebook/dp/B006PMR8JI/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lena & Gabe's Excellent Adventure (Days 1 & 2)

Okay, so I was going to post every day of our trip, but that probably won't happen since some of the nights we'll be camping. So I'm just going to go with it...and post whenever I have internet access.

Here's the trip so far.
On Saturday, I got a late start. So, I didn't end up packing until about 10am. Oops. It didn't take too long, and since I'm not really stressing about this trip, I just figured if I forgot anything, I'd buy it on the way. We took a long walk/run to get some exercise before starting out. Our goal was to leave at noon, but after the exercise, I decided a shower would be nice. So we set off clean and refreshed at about 1pm.

Jason's folks had agreed to give us a place to crash on Saturday night, so we didn't have to look for a hotel, which was a relief on the first night. We got in a little late, since we left late, right before 8. Jason's mom was super excited to see Gabe and have a kid in the house. He was super hyper and ready to get out of the car. She made him hot cocoa and he had some cookies with it, and proceeded to act like a sugar-hyped monkey for the next hour. He'd had a late nap in the car, but I hadn't gotten much sleep and was exhausted. Patti played with Gabe a little and read him a story, and gossiped with me a while before we went to bed. I let Gabe stay up and watch a bit of a movie on the laptop, but I was so tired I just crashed.

This morning we got up and Patti had made breakfast, so we had orange danish rolls, coffee & juice, bacon & sausage...It was a splendid morning in Shreveport, cold but nice. We walked down to the dock and looked at the lake a bit before heading out. We got a late start again (left at 10 or so) and it took us longer than planned. We drove pretty much all day, and not much happened, which is probably a good thing when you're on a road trip. Gabe stayed up late last night, but still didn't take a nap. Still, he was an excellent traveling companion once I told him whining was not allowed in the car. We only stopped a few times, but he did much better than yesterday, even though the trip was longer. At about 7, I gave up on getting to Florida tonight. We were both tired of being in the car, and I didn't want to stress about how far we drove. We decided at the beginning that we'd just take it as it came, and get as far as we got, and that would be fine. We have vague goals, but nothing set in stone. So, we stopped in Gulfport MS and got a hotel room.

Since we'd been cooped up in the car all day without any exercise, we brought in the Rusted Root CD from the car and had a little dance party in our hotel room. Gabe got to jump on the bed for once, so he was pretty excited and made the most of it. And I won't lie, I might have joined him for a bit.

So that's our trip so far. Nothing too exciting, but it's fun to be on an adventure. Gabe has a little US map to look at in the car so he can follow our progress and track his journey. I'm excited about tomorrow, and looking forward to seeing the ocean again. It's been way too long.

Friday, January 13, 2012

One of my favorite authors talks about getting published

I just wanted to send some attention towards Sara Zarr, an edgy YA writer who published her first novel 5 years ago. I've reviewed a couple of her books here on my blog, so I was excited to hear she's posting 5 blogs about her experience writing Story of a Girl.

Her Blog is here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review Wednesday: The Stand, by Stephen King

The StandThe Stand by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read a lot of Stephen King, and this is one of my favorites. I read it quite a while ago, maybe 2002, around the time of the Antrax scare. So when I read this, it was so scary to me, because I kept thinking how easily it could really happen. That made it much scarier.

Most of King's books have supernatural aspects, but I usually like the ones with few supernatural elements. The more likely the situation could happen, the scarier his books. So I really enjoyed The Stand.

I thought he did an amazing job of creating a post-apocalyptic world. The banding together of the group was gradual, as all King's novels are. He never rushes anything. He takes his sweet time building suspense, which I know bothers some people who are used to the instant gratification of the action-packed fast-paced fantasy novels out today. But I'd trade all of them for The Stand.

This book is chilling in it's possibility. The different groups all seem equally possible despite their differences. When you're reading, you have no doubt that those groups would band together if something like this ever happened. There are good people, bad people, and people who will follow along with whichever group finds them. I loved the characters, even the gross ones (and it's Stephen King, so there are some horrifying and disgusting characters and actions).

Without summarizing or giving too much away, this book is amazing, and it's one of King's best. A classic that should and probably will be read for a long, long time.

Recommended to anyone who likes well-developed books of chilling possibility.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year, New Book!

Hey guys,
As a lot of you already know, I just released my second novel. YAY! The Vigilantes came out on Kindle, Nook, and at the Smashwords store last week. It should be out in paperback later this week. I'm so excited about it and happy to share my journey with all of you. To learn more about The Vigilantes look for it on amazon.com, smashwords.com, or barnesandnoble.com. Or find it on Goodreads. If you haven't read the first book in the series, The Superiors you can read find it on the righthand side of my blog and also find out all about it by clicking any of the links in my blog tour.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review Wednesday: Smack, by Melvin Burgess

SmackSmack by Melvin Burgess

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like many of my 5-star books, I've resisted reviewing this one because there is no way to do it justice in a few sentences.

This is one of the most intense books I've ever read. I could not stop reading even when it got so intense I got the shakes reading about the kids' journey into heroin addiction. Like Burgess's other books, it drew me in, grabbed on with talons and claws, and would not let go. I think I stayed up all night finishing this one. The first half was engaging, but the second half was...indescribable. I literally could not put it down if I tried. I had to keep reading, even as it got more and more horrifying. Burgess knows how to draw the reader in and keep you there until the climactic scene, which is so intense and awful you will at least want to cry. This book is like...well, like being addicted. You can't stop even when you want to, even when you wonder if it's actually doing some psychological damage.

I read this a few years ago, but to this day the scene where the girl shoots up between her breasts while nursing her baby is probably the most horrifying thing I've ever read. I loved this book, but I'm not going to say it's for everyone, because it is VERY graphic in terms of scenes of drug consumption. But, powerful and worth reading if you can handle it.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

Okay, I'm not really big on New Year's Resolutions. One, because I usually forget what I resolved a month into the new year, and two, because I usually don't follow through (obviously!)
But, I thought it might be a good year to make a few resolutions. I'll try to be realistic.
So, here's my resolutions:
1. Go to at least 3 other states. I have a road trip planned, but you never know. Last year I only managed to cross the border once...and only about 3 miles over the bridge! Must do better next year.
2. Query all agents on my list for one book. I almost made it through the list with my last project. This time I'm sticking with it. Really. I swear.
3. Run at least twice a week. That one shouldn't be too hard. At least until summer.
4. Blog at least twice a week. That one is much harder!
5. Live. Write. Repeat.