Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #4-6 review

First: A contest!

Etsy's "Good Mommy Ltd" has kindly donated a Wonder Woman decal set, suitable for your kitchen mixer. It's made for white mixers and has a metallic =w= with blue stars. This contest will run THROUGH July 4th. Just comment on this blog or on my Facebook page or Pro page to be entered to win! If you can't wait, just go to Good Mommy's site and order your own now! (They're available for different colors of mixers.) Put some WONDER into your cuisine!

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #4-6 (print #2)
Nov. 2014; cover by Gene Ha
“Brace Yourself” Writer: Jason Bischoff, artist: David Williams, Editor: Kristy Quinn

What a delightful difference from last issue this is! Captivating stories, lovely art, and a truly WONDERful atmosphere for both stories. Ahh. I Am Pleased.

That’s not to say my hackles didn’t rise because neither of these stories fit “my” version of WW, but I will graciously allow others to have their own. You're welcome.

We begin with an origin-ish story, in which Diana is already a young girl. Her mother, Hippolyta (blonde!), escorts her “cheeky lamb” to a mysterious chamber. There Diana learns the history of the Amazons—but even I stumbled at one sentence that made things unclear. Also, it paints all men as being bad, and says the Amazons have been in exile all these years and prevented from doing anything positive.

I prefer the mission to guard Doom’s Doorway. But…

A statue of Athena comes alive, and the goddess herself not only meets but teaches Diana. (How cool! It reminded me of WW (1st series) #147, in which Donna Troy received her official Amazon Test from Athena! That's one of my favorite Wonder stories!) Here and now, though, Diana makes a vow and pledges herself to hope, truth, peace, and justice. In return, Athena molds a silver bracelet around Diana’s right wrist.

But all the other Amazons have two bracelets. Hippolyta explains that the second must be earned in combat, and the only combat that will satisfy a princess’ requirements is a victory over her mother the queen.

From that day forth young Diana lays "crafty" traps and plans to best her mother, but she is always defeated. Diana grows to be the best of the Amazons, and one day appears with a red-headed (blond?) man bound by a lasso, a man who is no threat to the Amazons and someone who needs to be returned home.

The queen declares a contest to determine an emissary to the outside world who will accomplish this task and more. She commands that her daughter may not enter. But she recognizes her “warrior” (gosh, I wish the mythos wouldn't use that word) daughter as she defeats all others. (Unfortunately we get yet another fighting-only version of the Contest, which is something I do not believe in.) As a final challenger, the Queen names herself, and unmasks her daughter.

The battle is fierce. With great pride, the queen finally yields to the greater contestant, and her bracelet clones itself to become Diana’s left bracelet. The story ends with Hippolyta blessing Diana as she departs (in a boat, for those of us who take note of such minutiae):

“Go, if you must. Discover new worlds and dangers that will refuse you reprieve. But no matter how far you run, or what evils befall you—I am with you. I love you, daughter. My Diana. Weapon. Worry. Wonder.”

Ahh. Lovely! Lovely! This is a fabulous fairy tale to inspire children anew. Gorgeous art. Fabulous words.

“Taketh Away”
Writer: Ivan Cohen, Artist: Marcus To

For this story, Diana is an ambassador and is visiting Washington, where imho she should be located. The beginning of this story shows us why: the Wonder Woman mythos is a GREAT place from which to make pithy comments about the US government and politics/culture in general. But no, this story is from the Rucka era, so Diana’s home is NYC.

Circe has turned a number of Congresspeople into pigs. After Diana saves the day, the Speaker of the House calls Diana a “radical pagan with a Maxist agenda.” (Yes! This is the kind of thing that shows up in that novel that I’ll get published if DC will EVER make a deal with Kindle Worlds.)

Diana recounts this to a TV news show interviewer (the show is called Let's Be Frank, so perhaps his name is Frank? I don't see it noted, though the guy is a major player in the story), who is polite until he tries to goad her into confessing that she’s here to force her religious beliefs on people. “Do you deny that the gods literally made you who you are? Turning you from a clay statue into a super-powered spokesmodel?”

Stand back, Di— Let me hit him! "Spokesmodel." Rrr!

Diana argues, “I want people to pay attention to my WORDS, not my RELIGION.” At this point the interviewer becomes all sweetness and even asks her out afterward, which she declines. She can see that he is angry at this.

At the embassy, which is unstaffed for some convenient reason, Diana muses that “I just told the world my gods don’t NEED their worship.” Well actually, that’s not what she said at all. But let’s just pretend that for some reason she did, because the story relies on that.

What happens if the gods were watching?

Next morning, Diana flies across town concerning a report of a gunman at a hospital. Her head begins to buzz, making it difficult to concentrate. She’s arrived at the wrong location, but corrects herself and consults with a policewoman.

“Tell your snipers to stand down and pull the rest of your men back,” Diana tells her. “My negotiations often involve RICOCHETS.” Oh yeah!

Diana confronts the gunman and he fires. She pulls a Bullets & Bracelets on him… but one bullet gets through. It hits her shoulder. The gunman begins to ridicule her for having an inflated rep, and that she can’t be as good as Super-MAN or Bat-MAN, “because THEY have something you don’t! You know what that is?”

“Is it a code against KILLING?” Diana asks him just before she tosses him out into the street hard enough to divest him of his armored vest. The cops collect his sorry butt.

Luckily for Diana, her wound closes (why? how? She was a fast-healer back then, but that fast?) before she reaches the embassy. (And what happened to the bullet inside the wound?) (Shut up!) She wants to use the portal there to go home for counsel, but encounters “drakons,” or snake-like dragons. “Why did it have to be drakons?” Ha ha, I've seen Raiders too!

Ordinarily, such would be a hard battle for her, but now she has to give it her all. She finally makes her way across the chamber to the magic portal, only to have the portal implode on her, eliminating the drakons in the process. When she recovers, she looks into a mirror to discover that her “beauty of Aphrodite,” which she refers to “the most superficial of my gifts,” has left her, and she is ordinary-looking. Horreurs!

The next day Diana tries to clean up the mess, but doesn’t have the strength. “The Olympian abilities that were my birthright are truly gone.” She goes out into the city, unrecognized, to consider her options. “Even without my powers, I am an AMAZON. And Amazons do not ask for help… we GIVE it.” So when she hears a cry for help, she reacts.

Cheetah is in the zoo, killing animals and eating them. (A misplaced sound effect makes it seem like the dead animal is purring.) Cheetah implies that Diana’s gods have betrayed her. Their fight is one-sided, as Diana feels like she’s “moving through molasses.” Her lasso can’t contain Cheetah, and the villain tosses Diana into an aviary. Dazed, Diana lies with birds all around her before Cheetah rushes in.

Diana runs to open the door to a snow leopard’s cage. The rather human-looking beast attacks Cheetah, and that is that. (My logic circuits kick on again. Cheetah is not just a were-cheetah; she has suped-up powers. That's why she's suitable to be a Wonder villain. Couldn't she have kicked the larger beast's butt?) (Shut up!)

After all has been cleaned up, Diana returns to Washington (? might be NYC) and the Let’s Be Frank studio, where Frank awaits. She asks him if he still finds her attractive. He replies, “Not in the slightest, but I can work past it. And we’ve got the studio to ourselves, so we can keep the cameras rolling… if that’s what you’re into.”

Diana drinks from the goblet he hands her (why?), then hears Greek-accented (why “accented?”) voices call her foul names. They tell her that they’re taking away her life force and returning her to clay. She freezes into a crouch.

Frank asks if “it” is done, and from the seats, Dr. Psycho replies that it is. Wonder Woman might stay immobile for centuries, thinking she’s a statue.

Psycho plots Frank’s upcoming college tour with “so many NUBILE young fans,” and Frank says, “Please… I have a wife… a daughter…” Apparently Frank has, at some point, thought to be Psycho’s partner, but now he is his plaything. Psycho has manipulated Diana’s confidence, as well as the gunman and Cheetah.

When Psycho goes to Diana to gloat more, Diana grabs his wrist. Next time we see him, Psycho’s in restraints and splints as well as a neck brace (eat dirt, Psycho!), being hauled away by paramedics.

Diana excuses Frank by saying he was as much a victim as she. Well… okay, if you say so. At any rate, he's learned his lesson, which is the result she's always after. Y'see, Psycho forgot that Diana can talk with animals like birds. She had already been suspicious. “If [Diana's gods] wanted to punish me, they wouldn’t do it by a thousand cuts… they’d just cut off my HEAD.”

She concludes with, “It’s not my belief in THEM that’s important. It’s my belief in ME.”

Okay, good story! Sure, this is the “got her powers on a silver platter; didn’t have to work for ‘em” Wonder Woman whom I think took the wrong road, but if we put ourselves in her continuity, this plays very well. Plus it has that “confidence” thing at the end, always a plus. I don’t even mind— much— the use of that— gahh!— stupid “talking with animals” crap, or the bit about how WW can only be important if she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. Aren’t we beyond that now?

I thought Psycho could have looked a lot more, you know, psycho, but all the art here was handsome, the action clearly delineated. There were a lot of solid dialogue lines and situations.

Just a satisfying issue all around. Yeah!

So what did you think about this issue?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Sensational Review! Issue #1

First: A contest!

Etsy's "Good Mommy Ltd" has kindly donated a Wonder Woman decal set, suitable for your kitchen mixer. It's made for white mixers and has a metallic =w= with blue stars. This contest will run THROUGH July 4th. Just comment on this blog or on my Facebook page or Pro page to be entered to win! If you can't wait, go to Good Mommy's site and order your own now. (They're available for different colors of mixers.) Put some WONDER into your cuisine!

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #1-3 (print #1) (yes, let's get confused)
Oct. 2014; cover by Ethan van Sciver
“Gothamazon” Writer: Gail Simone, artist: Ethan van Sciver, Editor: Kristy Quinn

I have mixed feelings about this issue(s), even if it was published as something to go up against the supposed “Wonder Woman” of the nu52.

I award it a zillion points for that alone.

The title was designed to be “continuity-free.” Reading it, it seems to be aimed at a very young audience, though it’s rated T for Teen and Two-Face gets slice-n-diced on-panel. It was created to be digital first (for the most part), and appeared in my Comixology file in half-page format. Lord knows what the published version looked like, because I didn’t get that. The issue isn’t even dated, other than by year.

“Gothamazon” is one of those stories that show us how like/unlike Wonder Woman is to Batman. We got a story arc like this in WW 2nd series #164-167, “Gods of Gotham,” in which WW’s and Bats’ casts were lined up and compared to each other. “See? Wonder Woman is JUST like Batman!” (No, she ISN’T!) (Though that story was miles better than this one, I hate to say.) Then there was Paul Kupperberg’s kiddie book, Dr. Psycho’s Circus of Crime, which I’ll admit isn’t a Batman comparison, but does hold the unspeakable crime of having Dr. Psycho disguised as a clown—who looks just like Joker. Really, Paul? Wondie’s villains can’t stand on their own?

And here we have this. The villains of Gotham (some of them seemingly straight out of the TV show, to judge from their dialogue) have worked together to kill all the Bat family. We see the huge explosion; we know this story is out of continuity. They’re DEAD, Jim. At this point Oracle (yay! She’s back!), who wasn’t caught in the explosion, considers her choices for keeping Gotham in order and she chooses WW. “This is war,” she knows.

We see panels of the chaos erupting in Gotham. One of them shows two Zatannas as villains carrying bazookas. What’s that about? HellifIknow. But Joker leads the main villain group, who work together very well for some unexplained (because comics) reason.

Superwo… I mean, Wonder Woman walks through a flaming inferno, unscathed, to impress the bad guys with her machismo. She uses Wonderangs, a “W” version of the Batarang. (Oracle had told her to use “Gotham solutions.” Why?) (Diana’s thoughts reveal that “[Amazons] INVENTED ‘Gotham solutions.’”)

Diana is unimpressed with Gotham’s situation but easily falls for Two-Face’s obvious treachery. The invulnerable heroine is not harmed by Mr. Freeze’s weaponry but uses Bullets & Bracelets to stave off some of his blasts.

Though she was unimpressed, we discover that Diana’s brought an Amazon army to Gotham. The Penguin blows up… something, turning the scene into a rescue mission as civilians seem to need rescuing. Perhaps it was an apartment building of some kind. Diana says, “No. Not even ARES would—“

We’re talking Ares, god of war, here, right? The guy who stands behind genocides. But this is something he wouldn’t do. Did I miss something?

Diana muses, “It took them five minutes to learn my weakness.” What, that she rescues victims? Don’t all superheroes do that? She muses about the Greatness of Batman, that he doesn’t turn dark like his nemeses.

Speaking of which, Diana thinks, "Oh, Bruce. But you do have the most EXCELLENT nemeses." From which I assume we are supposed to surmise that Diana doesn't. I beg to differ.

Oracle Bat-splains to WW that in order to win, she must think like Batman. Really? Wonder Woman hasn’t established her own prowess enough? Catwoman and Harley Quinn overhear the radio message (how?), and I wonder why Catwoman hadn’t been taken out with the Batses. Diana finds their trademark witty repartee to be baiting, but instead enlists them to her side, to which they quickly come. She calls them “girl-children.” ?? Aren’t girls children already?

And why does she need their help if she has an entire Amazon army? Right, she’s forgotten the army. The army has forgotten the army. It only appears for three panels and then...?

Ironically, Diana’s thoughts turn dark. Perhaps this effect is caused by her costume going through variations from panel to panel. That would do it for me.

Diana enjoys misleading fantasies in which she utterly destroys her enemies. One of the situations show her taking her sword to slice Two-Face vertically and bloodlessly. (Speaking of that sword, it suddenly appears from nowhere for a few panels ranging from Diana’s imagination to reality, only to disappear for the rest of the story. We also don’t see the Wonderangs after that one sequence.) Then she says, “No. I will remain Diana.” Yeah, Di. Why would such even enter your mind, if it’s not the way you’d think?

She now goes after the villains, quickly (! It takes her two panels to accomplish what Batman has been working 75 years to accomplish!) dispatching them and wrapping them in her lasso. It reveals the hidden fears of the villains. Oracle later reports that “some of the villains she touched went to rehab, and a couple even went straight entirely.”

Later we see that somehow Batman has not only survived his apparent death, but is back on the job. From afar, we learn he approves of WW. “A little.” Golly.

It’s a heavy-handed, jerky and rushed-seeming storyline with pretentious everything, not one of Simone’s finer hours or even mediocre ones. Van Sciver’s artwork held some really nice panels, some really so-so ones, and in places the action wasn’t clear as to what was going on. (I blame this more on the script, though.) Don’t know why he chose to have the costume morph all the time.

What was the purpose of this story? How was it suppposed to showcase Diana in this, the first issue of her new title? It kept invoking Batman instead, and Diana’s character/abilities (and costume) seemed to change from page to page.

“Defender of Truth”
Writer: Amanda Deibert, Artist: Cat Staggs

This is a very simple WW vs Circe (ack! Undefined magick! Alert! Alert! I hate undefined magicks) story, set in Washington. The costume used is a baggy version of the ElectraWoman/nuDC version, though who knows which WW this is inside the thing. Diana is able to flex and throw off silver streamers that seem to be some kind of (binding?) spell.

There’s nothing new here except the artwork. I feel for the artist. She’s trying to be very avant-garde, but a lot comes off as awkward, blobby and even amateurish. It's not consistent in style. Gold star for experimentation, because she was obviously trying hard. Not so much for the actual execution.

To make things worse, we get an epilogue that clumsily informs us that it’s all right for boys to like Wonder Woman. Golly!

Points awarded for Wondie not wearing makeup.

In keeping with the nu52, WW’s presence all through this book is only valuable if males approve. Even Oracle is presented as a tool of Batman and not as Oracle herself. She lives to serve him.

I think a solid edit of all the material could have improved things muchly, especially if the editor had encouraged Deibert to try something original in her story. If this is indeed aimed at young kids, well, most don’t like being talked down to. Check back to the Silver Age, where readers could enjoy simple but interesting stories across DC’s line and in which people were very rarely hacked up on-panel.

A disappointing beginning, but we'll get a very nice issue next time!

So, what did you think about this issue?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gatlinburg, TN

First: This is the last week to enter the SFRStation April contest! Details at the bottom.

Time for the first big vacation of the year! I wanted to check in to see how my mom is doing in the nursing home, and as long as I was there on the western side of Tennessee, visit with my sister and her family.

Mom, awake.

She's lost weight. She's chipper when she's awake, easy to chat with and still joking. But she sleeps almost all the time and it's difficult for her to get warm. The first day, we visited her and she said hello but wanted to sleep. We came back that afternoon, but she was REALLY asleep and we didn't want to wake her.

As it happened, there was a talk with the staff scheduled, and I attended. (Sometimes I get in on these via conference call; sometimes I miss them.) Mom's doc doesn't like to over-medicate; he doesn't want his patients in a daze, but we asked if the staff could convince him to up Mom's meds a tad more because she often reports pain.

I went in the next day and talked for an hour with Mom. My sister was shocked that we had that lengthy a conversation.

Before I left, Mom had me hold hands with her. We NEVER hold hands. Never. I got the impression that she thought this was the last time she'd see me. I sort of had the same impression. But being someone who believes in the data we have about consciousness surviving death quite nicely, I'm not worried about her, per se. I just don't want her in pain in the time she has left. Glad she has such a great staff looking over her, and glad that my sister et al visit her so often.

Brighter things: I visited with my sister and her family. Met the New Dog, Oscar. Discussed the problems they're having selling their house. It's not a great-looking house (it's definitely a fixer-upper and reminds me of their very first rental house back in Fayette-Nam), and apparently it's in a lousy neighborhood on the wrong side of town. Sis said that ten years ago they could have sold it for $95K. Then the Arsenal closed, everyone in town either moved away or are now out of work, and they have lowered the asking price to  $68K. A couple came by with their mother, and Mother disapproved of both the pool and the neighborhood, so no deal. bil says that they'll try once more to sell by themselves, and if that falls through he's going to put an addition on, fancy new fencing, etc, etc.

The entire time, my sister's cell kept ringing. Apparently the entire town knew that she had a carload of black market aluminum foil, and were looking to buy some. After making sure I wasn't taking the plane back, Sis gave me a roll. It weighs in at just a hair under 5 lbs. Whoa!

Allie's waiting for someone to throw to home.
Watched my middle grand-niece play a softball game. She's about 8. Everyone in town has those newfangled lawn chairs that roll into tubes, and they all brought them. Allie was catcher that night, and had twenty "coaches" in the stands shouting at her to move up closer, cover home plate, don't hit the batter with the ball, etc. She survived the experience and even triumphed; her team won!

There was one TINY girl on the team, looked to be about 30 pounds and could very well have been an elvish changeling, as her legs and arms were the size of thick toothpicks. Every time she got to bat, she'd take a powerful stance, feet apart, knees bent, leaning into the pitch, bat high in the air. She'd snarl and growl at the pitcher. Then WHAMMO! she hit the ball with good force. I want a piece of the action on the pro career of that kid!

Maddeningly, my camera decided it didn't want to focus about halfway through, so all these great action shots turned into blurs. I tried everything I could think of to get the focus to work (including turning the camera off and on, hitting "reset," etc.), but nothing. Luckily, the next time I used it it was functioning normally.

Sis and bil were supposed to come with me to visit Gatlinburg, so I took the final afternoon and stayed in my hotel room to get some things done, take a nap, etc. I figured we had another 2-3 days of gabbing to do. Then late in the day my sister told me that she'd decided they weren't going. She'd rather take the grandkids, whom she only sees once or twice every day, to a fun museum about an hour away.

Oh well.

So I took off to Gatlinburg and thank goodness had packed some Pepto. Thought I'd never get out of that one rest stop that thankfully (!!!!) appeared out of nowhere. It had a plaque that said that Al Gore, SENIOR was responsible for the US highway system, not Eisenhower. Gore was the senator who introduced the bill; Eisenhower signed it into law. Oh, the things one learns!

Tennessee is COVERED with churches. I think NC is pretty bad, but TN has it licked. In my sister's town, there were three churches to a block. Out in the country someone will have a huge cross (or three) standing every here and there. Many rest stops had religious literature next to the tourist flyers. When I got to Gatlinburg I discovered there was even an all-church network on the cable system.

My g-nieces had been singing a song (on their way home from a church dinner for kiddies) about the Ten Commandments. They got to "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife," and I commented, "or husband," and the older niece (11) said, "Yeah, I thought about that, too." Hooray! But otherwise I kept my mouth shut about women being property and other Biblical stuff around them. At one point, no kids in the car, I happened to mention the fascinating book on Jesus I was reading. I mean, I had just started to mention it, halfway through the first sentence. Then bil raises his fist in the air (he's driving) and begins to shout about how the Bible is all there is and he's tired of people who question a word of it and etc. Yeek! I thought he was smarter than that. Guess his Bible is too weak to stand up to anyone actually sitting down to think about what it says.

So I turned right at exit 407 and drove through Dolly Parton country: Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and then Gatlinburg. It was a Saturday evening (darn Mapquest, that said that the 10-hour trip was only 6 hours!) and traffic was bumper-to-bumper.

Picture Orlando/Kissimmee and Times Square rolled into one flashing neon tourist trap. Then add a mountain of country cheesiness on top. That's this area. I passed a Mt. Rushmore that was composed of Elvis, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Charlie Chaplin. I passed the Titanic. I passed the Hatfield & McCoys dinner show.

Finally got to Gatlinburg, still bumper to bumper. The street lights all had big numbers next to them instead of street names. Huh? Turned out that tourist maps use the numbers as reference. "Go to light 1 and turn left, then right at light 2A."

I had a letter about where to report. FINALLY (thanks, cute Hilton guy) found the right address. THEN I had to search to find the lobby (a block away from the "lobby" sign) and I reported in. The hotel was right downtown and didn't look like a resort to me, but it was next to a picturesque stream. The lady at the desk couldn't find my name in the system. I showed her the letter.

"I don't know why they always send these people here," she complained, and then told me the right place was the other side of town. These guys were a "sister resort" to the one I was scheduled for. After two more stops asking for directions, I finally found the correct road. There was a gaudy water park to my right, and the road continued to my left, so I took the left. And went up, up, up the mountain. My rental car almost conked out. It certainly gave three large hiccups. It was all regular housing as far as I could see, so I turned around, trying not to fall off the side of the mountain to do so, and went back down.

This time I turned toward the waterpark. There was a large building next to it, so I pulled into it and parked. Ah ha! The resort. A "Welcome Center."

No one there.

Oh, there were a few lights and I could hear people stomping about upstairs. I called the number on my letter and was assured that I was at the right place, and people were waiting at the desk for me. Finally we figured out that the Welcome Center was not the lobby. It was a block over.

Whew. Checked in.
This is the welcome/we will have your souls and your wallet center. The entire place is pretty much unlit at night. The actual lobby is behind and up the hill from here, invisible from this angle. There is no signage, other than the resort sign that sits there in the lower center of this picture (unlit at night). The waterpark is to the right, and the street leading up to it is done in Christmas-style (with animals) light arches, which drown out any other lights in the neighborhood. High on the top of the hill there are the "penthouses," 5-story building$$$. There'll be an infinity pool up there soon. Shuttles run through the resort, but not past the cabin I was in, which was high up on the right, because the resort didn't want the shuttle to have to back up, and the road was very narrow up there. (Non-existent by the time it got to about six cabins down from me. Still, two nice drivers took me to the end of the road at times when they didn't have any other riders.)

This was one of those time-share deals where you get a fabulous price for three days somewhere nice, but have to sit through a long "buy from us" spiel. My spiel wasn't until Monday, so I explored Gatlinburg.

They have a trolley system. (Slickest seats in the US! Every time we hit a bump or turned a corner, people sliiiiid across their seats.) Luckily, the resort was on their route, as the Gat. Welcome Center was just across the highway for them to stop at as well. All trolleys end at the Ripley's Aquarium, which is a very nice one, and has one of those tunnels you go through so you can look up and see shark bellies above as they swim past.

I wish aquariums didn't cram so very many fish into such tiny tanks. I always feel sorry for them.

Outside, the Pigeon Forge river, or maybe it was just a large creek leading into the river (which goes into the French Broad, btw) rushes through town, sparkling as it hits rocks in the stream bed. Very picturesque. You can take a ski lift up the mountain or do as I did and use the aerial tram. I figured (judging from tourist brochures) that Ober Gatlinburg, the big tourist place up the mountain, had a nice restaurant to have lunch at.

Wrong. Nice service, nice tea, crappy food. And it began to sprinkle so that was my excuse for not going on the "choose your own speed" faux-bobsled ride they had up there. I got some nice pics of the valley where you could see bands of sunlight and of rain. Then I went back down the mountain, bought some nice rocks to add to my crystal cabinet, got some free buns from Texas Roadhouse (I'll have to eat there when/if I return to thank them) because Gatlinburg doesn't seem to have any bakeries and the grocery stores all seem to be far away from downtown. I had leftover salad waiting at my room, and I just wanted some buns to go with it.

The next day was Monday, so I went to the sales pitch. Really, they have a nice resort and it's going to grow about 4x as large, with lots of pools and such. The waterpark is free to owners, and though it isn't gigantic, it does have enough size to amuse one for a day or so, plus it had morning aqua-robics. There was a nice fitness center (empty), a spa that even I kind of drooled over, and the model rooms were gorgeous, unlike the rather run-down studio I'd been put in.

Like most of these things, they had a network of resorts you could trade off with, but unlike the plan I'm currently on, these guys not only seemed to know what they were doing, but they would furnish you with complete how-to explanations once you bought in.

The Honduran saleswoman utilized the entire gamut of hard-sales that I've come to know so well. The first price she gave me was $58K, for a 3-bedroom plan available, I think, twice a year? Maybe once, but you could split the bedrooms up to use as many as you needed, so that could be 1 bedroom six times a year. She brought in her supervisor, who showed me more modest plans. Finally she came down to $8K for a studio (meh) and a very interesting share program.

Like I said, it sounded better than the plan I'm on now. People sell their plans all the time, right? I could sell mine. I told them that in two years, after I get all the work done on my house, I'd be interested in buying in. Otherwise: no. Sorry. The supervisor took off for some reason, and I was left with the original saleswoman.

She leaned closer to me and accused me of lying to her. What? Again, she said I'd lied. Then I laid into her, told her in no vague terms what I thought of her tactics and her accusations. She was SHOCKED at my response, though I don't know why. She left to find someone to check me out of the sales pitch (so I'd receive credit for my stay; otherwise I'd have to pay full price for the weekend), and a guy came by.

I told him about the accusations. He left for a moment, came back, and gave me a packet of some perk to make up for it. I haven't looked at it yet, but it's a good perk. Then he offered me a 2-year freeze on the final price I'd been given. To go with the deposit for that, he offered me a perk package to use in the meantime.

It was a REALLY good perk package.

"Sold," I said, and I have a 2-year freeze on the price I was offered, with vacations to be used in the meantime. There's a cruise offer in there that I'll go to Alaska with. I can sell my Festiva membership in that time. Idiot Festiva people. These Westgate people are MUCH bigger than Festiva, AND they seem to be on the ball.

So I hope to be taking great vacations in the coming years!

I had enough time left in the day to get a late lunch and do a picturesque drive just outside of town. Luckily, I confirmed the directions to the road at the tourist info desk in town, and the lady told me it was closed until the next week.

The next day I asked at the resort info desk about this "backdoor" route to Asheville I'd heard about. They confirmed what Mapquest had said, and we traced the route on the cute little cartoon tourist map that all tourist towns seem to have these days. These maps are ridiculously out of scale, so the tiny little bump of a connector road from one point to I-40, was actually 20 miles. (Thanks, Subway person out in the middle of nowhere, who assured me that I was on the correct road!) But still I think I saved a few miles.

In all, Gatlinburg is about 6 hours from my house. I will likely visit again… not to see the touristy stuff, but to take my plein air kit and do some drawing of the bouncy mountain streams, fabulous forests, and magnificent mountains of the area.

Friday's the last day for the big contest! SFR Station is offering three prizes: Grand Prize: $75 gift card (your choice of iBooks, Nook, Kindle, or All Romance) PLUS 16 ebooks. 2nd prize: $25 gift card and 12 ebooks! 3rd prize: $25 and 8 ebooks! Let's see… Oh, the Internet and all the codes… Here's where you enter: a Rafflecopter giveaway They say you only have to enter on one blog to be entered in the big contest.

Did I say "all"? Lots of people are giving little April Fools excerpts. You can sample from a wide variety, and I think this will give you a listing of links for everyone: 

If that didn't work, try going here instead, a simple little link. THE CONTEST RUNS ALL MONTH, so there's plenty of time to try out everyone's sites.

I'll give away a free ebook of your choice of my titles to TWO lucky people! All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog. If nothing else, tell me how many times I used the word "nice."

--Carol Strick