Footloose

Jessie: In New Hampshire where the rain is pelting down.

above-1839587_1920Are you an enthusiastic traveler? Or do you prefer to stay closer to home where things are familiar? Did you feel one way about travel in the past and now are of a different mind?

Until a few years ago I was not a cheerful tourist. I dreaded the flights, the packing and the feeling of never quite knowing where I was or how things were done in an unfamiliar locale. But I married a man who gives absolutely no thought to throwing a few things in a bag at midnight to be on a long haul flight to Asia the next morning. I truly wanted to be a breezy jetsetter like he is, but the fact was, I was not.

Eventually, I sat myself down for a chat about it and asked whatever bits of one’s brain send out the sorts of worried signals mine always broadcast about travel, what was the real problem. It turned out it was one of longstanding.

My family moved several times when I was a child and as I was an extremely shy kid I absolutely loathed the upheavals. New friends, new environments, new school cultures. The goodbyes. Wondering if you will ever make it back. All of it left me in knots. Travel, on a subconcious level at least, felt the same. Even the packing and lugging things about.

As soon as I uncovered the reason I was so worried every time the opportunity to buzz off across the globe came up I was able to chat with myself about all the ways travel was not the same as moving house. I convinced myself with ease that a passport, a credit card and an age of majority make all the difference.

So, this weekend I am flying off to Scotland to visit one of my children. We have a place to stay for five nights but the rest of the trip is up in the air. The only two things I know for sure are that I fly back out of London and that I am really looking forward to going.

Readers, do you love to travel? Where is your favorite place to go? If not, why not?

Wicked Wednesday-Getting the Most Out of a Conference

Jessie: In New Hampshire where the birds are singing up a storm

Some of the highlights for the Wickeds each year are the conferences we all attend.WickedsBanquet We’ve mentioned some of our favorites here on the blog like Crime Bake and Malice Domestic with a great deal of affection. But even the best conferences are most enjoyable if you employ some conference-going skills. Today I’d love to hear about your tips and strategies for getting the most out of the conferences you attend!

After a fun banquet and a long day Barb goes to bed.

Barb Goffman-on-a-stick knows when to take a break.

Edith: One strategy is to give yourself permission to skip a session or two. When I get maxed out on crowds and delightful panelists, I let myself head to my bed for twenty-minutes of quiet. Maybe I’ll check email, maybe just close my eyes. Either way, being out of the busyness is very restorative. Another thing I like to do at sessions is to sit by people I don’t know. I greet whomever I land next to, ask if they are a reader or a writer, and get to know them a little. Sure, I hand over a bookmark and maybe make a new fan, but it’s also fun to branch out and meet new friends.pashmina

Jessie: Take a wrap or shawl in your bag. The temperature from session to session or room to room fluctuates wildly and it is no fun to have all of your attention focused on keeping your teeth from chattering.

Sherry: If you can afford to stay at the conference hotel. I think just as much happens in the unscheduled hours of a conference as they do during the scheduled events. Smile and talk to lots of people — that’s why you are there right?

Edith and "big dog" Sue Grafton - who was happy to post for a picture!

Edith and “big dog” Sue Grafton – who was happy to post for a picture!

Barb: I usually find it hard to talk to strangers, but the beauty of a conference like Malice or Crime Bake is, you already know you have something in common and a ready topic–crime fiction! Always introduce yourself, especially at meals and to seatmates at sessions. It’s easier than you think. Even the “big dogs” are accessible at these types of events. Tell someone how much their books have meant to you. I guarantee, they’ll enjoy hearing it.

IMG_2566Liz: Agree with all of these and would say definitely mingle! Take advantage of cocktail hours and times when people are gathering in a common space and go meet some new friends. The social/networking aspect is just as important as learning from the sessions.

JulieJulie: Such great tips from my friends. I agree with them all, and will add a couple of more. First, provisions. I have a conference bag that I bring. I include a couple of copies of my book, bookmarks, business cards, Tums, cold medicine, ibuprofen, mints, and tissues. I bring a water bottle with me. I find out where the closest Starbucks is. Second, smile. Always smile.

Readers, do you attend conferences in your own areas of interest? Do you have a favorite tip to share?

The Detective’s Daughter – Sentimental Journey

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Kim in Baltimore counting down the days to Malice Domestic.

“The thing I miss most are the fog horns,” Aunt Betty would tell me each time she spoke of growing up in San Francisco. As a small child, I was so caught up in her stories that I could see each hill, hear the clang of the streetcar and taste the crust of the sourdough bread. Aunt Betty had been a young girl when her family sailed through the Panama Canal on their way to live in the Philippines. Before the start of World War II, her father was sent to the Presidio in San Francisco. Of all the places they lived over the years, it was here that her heart held as home.image
Aunt Betty and Dad were first cousins though they were as close as siblings. Their mothers were sisters and both Auntie and Dad had lost their fathers when they were young. When Dad was eighteen months old my grandmother, who had been recently widowed, took him on a train across the country to be with her sister. The story of my grandmother, grieving and traveling alone with her baby, revealed a vulnerable side she didn’t often acknowledge. I was fascinated by Nana’s story and hoped to one day recreate her journey and travel to San Francisco to see the city she and Aunt Betty loved.
It wasn’t until a year after my dad died that Aunt Betty and I were able to take a train trip to California. My husband and children shared one compartment and Auntie and I shared another. We spent hours talking about her life over cups of coffee in the dining car.image
The train arrived hours later than scheduled and afterwards we had a thirty minute bus ride from Oakland into San Francisco. It was after midnight by the time we were brought to the apartments I had rented. We immediately went to bed.The next morning, with the sun shining, I stepped out into the courtyard feeling much like the women who rent the villa in Enchanted April. Everywhere I looked was beautiful and exactly as Auntie had described.
My mom had flown out to meet us and was sharing a place with Aunt Betty across the courtyard from us. Each morning we would stroll up Chestnut Street, passing Auntie’s old apartment building, to get our morning coffee at The Squat and Gobble. We spent some time visiting attractions such as the Coit Tower and Alcatraz, but mostly we stayed in Cows Hollow retracing the steps of Auntie’s youth. On Easter Sunday we went to mass at St. Vincente de Paul, the church Aunt Betty had received her sacraments. After mass imageAuntie cornered the priest to tell him how much the church had changed since 1940, yet told me how everything looked the same as she had left it.
At night, before I went to sleep, I would listen for the fog horns and smile knowing that Auntie would be listening as well. In a blink of an eye two weeks passed and we were boarding another train to make our way home. There wasn’t one conversation I had with Aunt Betty over the next few years that didn’t include reminiscing about our trip. Some days she would call me and say, “Hon, you ready? Let’s go to our city and never come back.”
It’s been three years since she’s left this world and now I am the keeper of her stories that became our stories. Before I close my eyes at night, I remember the sound of the fog horn and know that is what I most long to hear again.

Have you ever heard a story that has inspired you to take a trip?

Essentials

Jessie: Truly enjoying the second day of school!

In  few weeks time my husband and I will be heading to China for a vacation. He’s been practicing away on Rosetta Stone Mandarin and racking up inspiring documentaries on our Netflix queue.

I’ve been thinking about what to pack.Whenever we travel I feel compelled to take as little as possible. I don’t like feeling weighed down by extras. My height makes overhead compartments a trial even with the lightest of carryon cases. So I’ve been looking at my wardrobe and some online suggestions and am aiming at fitting everything I actually need into a single carryon bag. Experts say it can easily be done with proper planning.

Which brings me to writing. Crafting a novel is a lot like going on a journey to a new and unfamiliar place. It is tempting to overpack with too much description, too many navel-gazing moments by the protagonist. Do you need to give the main character an umbrella just because it’s raining? Do you need a mustache on that villain?  Does light need to glint off every surface? How much is too much and how much is just right?

When you are working with a traditional publisher you sign a contract for a book that has an expected range for the word count. It works a lot like a weight limit on suitcases. Just like the traveler who keeps pulling things back out of the bag every time the luggage scale reads over 50 pounds, writers trim words and look for verbs that work hardest. We crunch and roll and squeeze as much into the space as possible hoping our readers will enjoy their journey with us.

Writers, do you treat your work like a carryon bag? Readers, do you have any packing tips for me?

Running Away From Home

Jessie:

by the seaside in Maine

In my last post I mentioned deadlines and desperation. Today, I’m thinking about running away from it all. suitcaseI find myself sneaking peeks at online travel sites and the deals they are running. I toy with the idea of taking the train from Boston to Pittsburg. I mull over the possibility of visiting Iceland or Newfoundland or even Maryland. But before long I come to my senses and remember my obligations. I content myself with armchair traveling, which in my case means reading books set in far-flung locales and eating foods from around the world.

This past week has been a cultural whirlwind. Here is my itinerary:

Dublin- via Faithful Place by Tana French

Sweden- via Masterpiece Theater’s version of Henning Mankell’s Wallander 

France- via The Maine Crepe Factory, the Lemon and Sugar Crepe is delightfulImage 1

Malaysia and India – via a tofu and noodle dish and tandoori chicken shared by a friend over the weekend

Pittsburg- via Our Lady of Immaculate Deception by Nancy Martin

Quebec- via the delights of poutine purchased at a take out food stand

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Where would you recommend visiting?