Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tickets to Paradise!


Last year I signed up for a vacation service that isn't really much of a service. It gets a list of companies that are promoting timeshares and provide free lodging for people who then have to endure a sales pitch, and promises you that you can choose where and when you'd like to be pitched to, while only having to pay sales tax for your hotel stay.

Okay, that kinda works. Sign me up.

My first stop was Atlantic Beach, NC, at a time when I felt I'd really need a vacation. Got that right. I was chewing on my desk (not really a desk; just a folding table I've been stuck at for over 15 years now), having gone through considerable heck this month getting out a book earlier than I'd planned.

So without making any kind of to-do or to-take lists (!!! I always do lists!), I took off early on a Friday. Thought I'd avoided the huge thunderstorms that were rolling through the state, but it began to rain again as I got into the car, and I drove INTO the front as it progressed to the coast.

Downpour! Lighting! Bumper-to-bumper traffic! Well, actually the traffic was doing very nicely in keeping safe distances. Luckily, I kept an even greater distance, because at one point the truck in front of me threw its brakes, and when I hit the brakes… Nothing happened—for about a quarter-second that seemed like a year. Then "SSSSSHHHHH" (no squeal), and the brakes began to grab. Just in time. Whew!

But the conditions continued. I was giving a quick glance at a highway marker (somewhere 70 split off from 40. I'd already been fooled by signs that didn't bother to mention they meant 70 BUSINESS, so I was really peering, if doing so quickly) when all of a sudden this WHITE MASS starts bouncing toward me. What the—? Couldn't swerve because there was traffic. Then the mass developed wings. Oh, just a huge wad of paper. I plowed into it, relieved.

WHUMP!!!!! There was something solid inside that paper. The right front of the car lurched into the air and back down, but seemed okay. Behind me, a highway truck swerved onto the side of the road, so I suspect they picked up the debris. I stopped soon after and checked the car. No damage. (Actually, there's a tiny dent in the hood), but the alignment and such seem A-OK. Whew.

So I'm driving. And driving. And finally the rain lets up for the most part. After quite a few miles, there's finally a marker post that shows that I'm on highway 40.

But I'm supposed to be on 40/70. Damn! Lost 70 somewhere! Later, lots of people told me that yes, 70 does separate from 40 fairly anonymously, though going the opposite direction on 70, the merge onto 40 is very well marked. Luckily for me, the Mapquest directions I'd printed out showed an alternate route, 40 to hwy 24. That way was just a bit longer, but apparently it was what the universe had decided for me. I found my correct exit, where a rest stop also lay. Inside I double-checked directions with the manager of the place. He told me to go down two more exits if I wanted to avoid some towns and business routes. So I did, and I could tell it was faster.


BUT I finally got to Atlantic Beach, yay! Checked into the timeshare office, where I got initial papers and they peered at my ID and such. Got to the hotel.

It was the Holiday Inn Doubletree, the only high-rise hotel in Atlantic Beach. "Every room an ocean view!" That's easy when you're on a razor-thin island that has Atlantic on one side and Intracoastal Waterway on the other, if you count the IW as ocean. From my room (as most, I suppose) I could see both.

According to the Festiva timeshare folks, it had once been the Sheraton, but Hurricane Irene (Aug. 2011) had hit it hard, completely flooding the first story. The Sheraton had done a slip-shod repair job, lied to their insurers about how much money they'd spent, and then been caught. They'd had to declare bankruptcy on the hotel, and the Hilton had scooped it up for $1.3 million, a steal. Now the Hilton is still repairing/upgrading the place.

I flashed my "Hiltons Honors" card (it's free, people. You should get one. I have ALL the hotel free cards, and thus get all the perks) and they switched me to the Honors floor. I asked one of the hotel workers just what made the Honors floor so special, and, after pondering the question, she said, "Well, the rooms have the special clocks." She pointed at the clock she happened to be repairing for me, the one that didn't tell the correct time, but had an iPod port, which clocks on other floors did not. "And in the future the rooms will have more things that the other rooms won't."

Great. I had a clock. Oh well, it was a gorgeous room, and there were safety handholds out the wazoo in the bathroom, as well as a shower wand. The room temperature controls didn't work that well (I just can't figure how to work these things in ALL the hotels in which I've stayed, and I've had hotel workers explain them to me. And then wonder why they couldn't get them to work either.), and you could tell where some of the things like door knobs had been in the old design that were different from the new, because no one had repaired the walls. There were mammoth lines of caulk throughout the bathroom, like things had been too-hastily installed and they didn't want any leaks. I angled the TV so it faced the lounge chair, and the TV shut off. The guy had to come up to duct tape the connections because they were so loose. Then he fixed the curtains, which closed only within 6" of each other, so you gave the neighbors a good view. I might think I was the first resident of this particular room, but the ottoman had a huge stain on it.

Still, the room was really nice. Comfy bed. Wish it had had a blanket instead of one of those too-heavy duvets all the hotels use these days. You either freeze or sweat to death. (Which is why being able to control the room temp would be nice.)

We were right on the beach, or about two or three stories above it (and yet that first floor could still be flooded, yeek) and though the main restaurant had no Yelp raves, the hotel's beach cafe was top-rated. And closed. As were many of the places in Atlantic Beach; tourist season begins in mid-March.

The beach at Ft. Macon. Can you guess what other picture on this blog is from there?

So the first night I drove to the causeway to the Channel Marker Restaurant and had a dee-licious meal!!! It cost a bit more than what I'd hoped to spend, but sometimes you just have to splurge, right? The next day after the timeshare talk I went to El's, an old-timey drive-in that's top-rated and legendary for its shrimp burgers. I had one, and decided they could up the quality 100% if they toasted the bun. They should also hand-cut their onions for the onion rings, which tasted like they'd been made in a factory. That night I dined at the also legendary Sanitary Restaurant and Fish Market, whose Yelp reviews did not look promising, but EVERYONE said I had to eat there. It's just something one does when one is in Atlantic Beach.

I don't know why. Perhaps they wanted me to indulge in poor service. I mean, really poor service. I had to borrow cocktail sauce from the next table, told my waitress (when she finally decided to show) that I needed some of my own. She said she'd be right back with it, and that was the last I saw of her until she came with the check. I asked her about dessert, and she told me I could get it myself on my way out.

People around me were asked if they wanted lemon in their tea. Not me. People around me got drink refills when they'd finished what they'd been given. They were told what the specials were. They were told what was available for dessert. Not me. I guess my waitress, the one the people around me DIDN'T have, didn't think all that was needed.

And the food was not good. I've had worse, but not at "must try" restaurants.



Wish I'd noticed that high-rated Shelfari was across the street from the Doubletree. Diners were raving as they came out (but that was my final night at AB, after I'd already eaten). I did manage to luck onto Flipperz at Emerald Isle, a little hole in the wall with terrific food and friendly waitresses.

For touristy stuff, I narrowed the possibles—and there are a LOT of touristy spots within an hour of Atlantic Beach!—down to Ft. Macon (thought that was in Georgia!) and the NC Aquarium. Neither takes too long but gives you some great stuff to look and marvel at. I worry that the animals at the Aquarium didn't have large enough habitats, though. Poor things. Kids at both attractions were having swell times. Ft. Macon had a decidedly different kind of beach than did the Hilton, plus there were all kinds of "no swimming" signs there. Families strolled the beach while they waited for something to snag on their fishing lines.

PS: I LOVE my new Olympus camera! It's got a 24X wide zoom on it that can have you looking right into a seagull's eye at the distance of a mile. Cool.

Okay, so I'll get to the timeshare deal. They said it would last 120 minutes. I clocked the entire thing at just a hair under 3 hours, much better than the 5-hour ordeal I'd had in DC in 2013. (That came with a violent case of flu and corporate lies as well.)

You spend 20 minutes chatting with a salesperson so they get to know you and what key words you respond like a dog to. Then they pass you along to a fast-talking, utterly charming woman who's been an owner of a timeshare since Day 1. She gives an overview of the system: a network of resorts you can choose from, and that when you buy in, you buy X number of points per year. Each resort, each week or partial week of the year, number of bedrooms, etc., costs a different number of points. You can go out of network and stay at slightly related resorts for massive savings, or choose other more distant relations for merely considerable savings. Lucky for me, I've been price shopping on a number of dream vacations, and saw that the prices were indeed extremely reasonable. Except an Egyptian tour. But the one they were showing lasted longer than the ones I'd been looking at, and included a bunch of stuff like camel rides, sailing on the Nile, personalized this and specialized that, that I hadn't been checking for.

Peppertree is a gated community. They like their security.
Then I hopped into a van and they took me down the street to Peppertree Resort, which is their place in Atlantic Beach. It sprawled enough that I had noticed it on the way to my hotel, and thought that was where the rich folk went when they came to party in AB.

I was shown a 2-bedroom sample unit. WOW. Sumptuously furnished, it came with kitchenette, 2 bathrooms (the master bath had whirlpool tub), sleeper sofa in the living room, laundry closet, balcony overlooking the ocean. (The unit was in the building by far closest to the sea, I'd noticed.) The resort had 2 outdoor pools, 1 indoor pool, 1 jacuzzi, tennis courts, basketball courts, a very large covered area with picnic tables and grills, and a private beach. (Most beaches in AB are NOT public ones!) They will soon have a fleet of golf carts to ferry people about the resort. Every Monday morning the resort has a meeting to tell residents about the many activities that will be going on that week. Personnel are available to fix one up with other residents of a similar recreational bent, or to be your friendly opponent in a game of tennis. And of course, one can choose from spending an entire week, a weekend, or mid-weeks at the resort.

I was told that Hurricane Irene had hardly left a mark on the resort, but that annual maintenance fees (I knew about them beforehand; they're the real expense) were where repairs like that came from.

Back to the office, and a little film showed me Paradise Island's resort (definitely on my bucket list!), and all the fabulous things one could do there, things I've always dreamed of. A modest cruise tour of the Greek isles was one of the few overseas things that were in network. Guess where I've always wanted to go?

Then they started shooting me figures. Good golly, I could probably afford that. After a while they showed me a level a little less than their premium one. Looked good, but I couldn't really do ALL that vacationing until I retired. Then they brought out their bottommost level.

It was the right amount of vacation time. (And if it's not, I can borrow points from the end of my contract, 40 years into the future. This means that 40 years from now, I won't be able to take vacation, but I don't think that'll be the problem. Though paying the maintenance fees might. Still, I have plans for a movie deal to finance that.) It was definitely the right price, less than a very nice used car (I'd been window-shopping the week before, as I'll have to get a new car next year).

And I signed. Yes, they charge 16.9% (or higher), but I knew I could get refinanced. (Actually, it took a bit of work on my way home to find a bank where I could do that, and wound up getting a credit card that has 0% for 15 months, which should be enough time to pay it off with a little shuffling of funds. Not like my credit union, which wanted to freeze both my savings accounts—which MUST be kept liquid, especially this year!—until the loan was paid off.) So. Affordable. Not too much vacation; not too little. And those Trafalgar tours I've been eying are on a significant discount when purchased through Festiva. After that I can go with Festiva's tours and resorts. (And oh wait, I haven't used up my vacations with the original company I talked about in Paragraph #1. I have three years to go through those.)

Now that the cats are gone I'm in Travel Mode!!! When I can no longer travel, I'll go back to being That Crazy Cat Lady and find someone to buy my program, or maybe leave it in my will to some unsuspecting relative who'll then have to pay those annual maintenance fees. (Hi, Jen and Chelsea! Hi, Danny!)

So. Who wants to come with me to Paradise Island? Or maybe Universal Studios Florida? London? Paris? Cairo? The Greek Isles? You do? Let's talk.

(And if you want to try out Festiva, contact me. If I can refer you, I get $$. You can refer someone else and get your own money reward later.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

So you want to write a book!

I bet you're thinking you should write a book. You've had one in your head for years, right? All it takes is for you to write it down. In these days of self-publishing (or indie publishing) and with a computer in front of you, books are a snap!

Okay, write the book. I'll wait. (taps foot)

Yeah, it's kind of hard. I started writing a book because I had this Cool Idea and I'd never seen any book like it on the stands. Heck, I was inventing an entirely new genre!

Well, there were about two other books a bit like it back then, and since then there've been a few more, but over-similarity was hardly a problem. In those days if you were in a niche-y genre, publishers didn't buy your stuff. How would they market it to their audience? Nowadays we have indie publishing where more and more, niches are the rule! Yeah!

I'd read copiously throughout my life, and knew I could write better than most of the stuff out there. Well maybe, but that's not saying much. Remember Sturgeon's Law. I got to the end of my first book, said, "Ohmigawd, it's a romance!" I mean, I didn't even read romance books.  Romance books were icky, right? Bodice-rippers. But I knew some people who were in this organization called Romance Writers of America, so I tried it out and eventually joined. (And discovered that romance books can be FABULOUS!)

Good move. RWA has THE best writing workshops around! You don't even have to be a romance writer to benefit from them. The members are very open to mentoring and advice-giving and just plain getting your back. I learned that I really didn't know how to write, but over the years and through many, many workshops, I have learned the craft. I'm still learning. Everyone is.

So I wrote a book. You've done that too by now, right? I mean, I waited. And you're going to skip trying to get through to a publisher, big name or small. You've read all about this new self-publishing indie stuff; that's for you! Just send it off to CreateSpace or Smashwords and go, right?

Well…

You can do that. That's certainly what I did. Now in 2013-2014, I'm redoing everything I have out there. The market is glutted with amateurs. Some of them you can even tell by their book descriptions: misspellings, bad grammar, inability to get to the point… (Thank heavens for "Look Inside," which will also quickly show the quality of the writing.) The Big Thing these days is to get your book published with professional quality.

That means you send your book through professional editors, professional cover designers, professional formatters, etc. It doesn't mean you can't do some of the work yourself. I'm a graphic designer, so I design my own covers. I just hire professional illustrators to do the pictures for them. (If your genre isn't as way-out as mine, there are lots of stock photography places catering to the romance novel market. My Burgundy and Lies has one of those photos on its cover, and it's about to get another one added, maybe two.)

Shuffling your .doc file off to Smashwords to become an ebook only costs a couple bucks, if that much. (It's been a long time since I last did that.) Creating a professional book package will take a bit more.

There's editing. The costs for this run the gamut, but I think the median figure runs about $400-$600 for a book. (Most places figure it at such-and-such fraction of a cent per word.) What kind of editing do you need? Every level is available, from helping you concoct your basic book to line editing to a kind of super-critique.

Have you used some song lyrics, like I have? You'll have to make sure you get permi$$ion to use those lyrics. Most people say that anything over two lines needs permission, but some people have been taken to court for less.

If you're like me, you want to have Complete Control. (rubs hands: BWAH-HA-HA!) That means purchasing ISBNs, which is that long number in books that allows distributors to find your title in various catalogs and sell it. Amazon has its own kind of ISBN (of course) called an ASIN, but that's free. At least it is at the present. Some services give you free ISBNs if you publish through them and some charge a nominal fee, but this means that you won't be listed as the publisher. That may be fine for you. It's just us grabby folks who want The Supreme Power who need to buy ISBNs.

It's just a number; how much can it cost? You go through Bowker.com to get ISBNs. One costs $125. Ten cost $250. One hundred cost $575. When I was redoing Touch of Danger last month I thought, "I have seven books coming out in the next year. I'll buy ten ISBNs." WRONG!!!!

Each version of your book needs a different ISBN. That means print version, but it also means each type of coding for your ebooks gets a unique ISBN. (Some people say one ISBN for print and one for digital, but this is incorrect.) I issued one apiece for ePub, pdf, and mobi versions. So that meant that one book used up four ISBNs, and I may need more in the future for other digital versions. If I make an audiobook (I'm thinking of this for Applesauce and Moonbeams), that will need its own ISBN as well.

How about that cover? Getting a stock photo from a company that will give you permission to use it on your ebook and print version will cost, oh, $30 or so. YMMV widely. If you use illustrations, like I have, you'll pay the artist's going rate. I know people who use uncopyrighted photos (meaning really old stuff) and Photoshop them a bit. Others take their own pictures.

Note: The photographer and/or illustrator retain copyright on that visual. You need to make sure you have permission to use it on your cover, in advertising, etc. Get this in writing. Credit the person inside your book.

You'll need a designer to make that photo into a nice-looking cover. Too many indie covers out there are instantly recognizable as coming from amateurs. Make sure your covers are classy. Make sure that even if a site portrays them at tee-tiny thumbnail size (look at iBooks and see how small those are) that they still catch your eye. Go to Top 100 book lists and check out the cover competition in your genre. If you're going into print, you'll need a back cover and spine. CreateSpace offers rather generic cover-making capabilities, or they let you upload your own. They'll furnish you a correctly-sized template.

How much do designers cost? No idea. I design my own.

Now you'll need to format your book. Smashwords has their own program that will mash up your doc or pdf (It's been a long time, folks; I forget) and you'll hope everything turns out okay. Most of it will. But I can pick up ebooks generated from the Big Five NYC publishers and spot where formatting has seriously screwed up. (I usually notice such coming from Avon. What's up with that, Avon?) If you go through Amazon reviews you'll occasionally find a bunch that say, "Couldn't read because of bad formatting." You don't want your book to get one of these.

I'm paying about $100 for three format versions of each book. That's mobi (Kindle), ePub (trying to be the industry standard), and doc formatted to Smashwords' very specific requirements. I can take that doc, take out the one line that says it's for Smashwords, and run it through various sites who use their own conversions. I can "save as" in Word to create a pdf version. I can also use this form on CreateSpace's template as the basis to produce the print version of the book.

One note: For ebooks, keep all the usual "front matter:" acknowledgments, copyright, review blurbs, etc., in the BACK of the book. When potential readers use the "look inside" features, you don't want them wading through all that to get to what they want to see. In the print version, of course, the front matter goes in the front.

(Another note: Although Amazon automatically makes their keen "look inside" feature for ebooks coming in through KDP, you'll have to go through an only slightly painful manual formatting process to get the same for your print version, even if you submit your book through Amazon's Createspace.)

Then with everything done professionally, you submit your book to wherever. CreateSpace does print books and is an arm of Amazon. You may want to submit your book elsewhere for print as well to get better service on some sites. Smashwords does every e-version known to mankind, PLUS gives you the ability to make $-off or free coupon codes for when you hold contests, etc. Amazon will troll the Internet to see if you've priced it lower on other sites than they have, so the ability to make one-time-use (not noted in your retail advertising) coupons comes in VERY handy.

How far do you want your book distributed? You'll pay about $35 more dollars for wide e-distribution.

Kindle and Nook get submitted to separately, of course. You get better service that way. Not sure about other services, but if they offer it, take them up on it. (If you know they're a legit business.)

I'm trying out Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select, which is different from plain vanilla KDP), which makes you be exclusive to them for 90 days with your digital books (not your print), but offer various marketing perks including a bit of publicity that they don't really tell you about when it happens. If you want even more, you go join Amazon Marketing Club for (I think) about $100/year. Again, there are a few perks, a few engines you can utilize there that you can't anywhere else. Since I'm releasing so many books this year, I figured it would be worth the membership fee. It looks like a good deal for a beginner. Maybe.

What to price your book? You'll have to figure this out. Most people go by Amazon's (all hail!) royalty structure and price from $2.99 to 4.99 for optimal results. Higher prices usually won't garner higher author profits because ratios are figured differently, but there are exceptions. Free books and 99¢ books are now being seen by buyers as signs of amateurishness (though this is not always true). People will gobble up free and cheap books but never read them, much less review them. You want (1) reviews and (2) word of mouth to sell your book.

For print books, your service will have a comparison chart somewhere along the line that shows how much profit you'll make at different price points. If you're distributing overseas, you'll have to hike up your prices to make even a few cents on each book. Amazon uses a 99¢ price structure—and compares the prices you have on your book, making sure Amazon's version is priced equally if not cheaper—so make sure your price is $X.99. The funny thing with print is that your price as an author is a LOT cheaper than retail, so it's often a good choice to buy a box of your own books for taking to signings, conventions, etc., that you can sell at a lower price than retail and still take a nice profit.

Yikes, I almost forgot copyright. Sure, as soon as you finish your novel you can add a line: "copyright [year] [your name]" to the manuscript. (And yes, use "copyright" spelled out on your ebook at the least, because the coding software doesn't like the © symbol. You don't want to make that software angry.) It will be officially copyrighted. But not Officially-Officially copyrighted. If you ever had to go to court to try to prove that you really and truly own the original copyright to this piece, you're lightyears better off if you have an Official-Official copyright, something you applied for from the US Copyright Office and received.

For some reason if you apply online for a copyright it only costs $35, but if you fill out actual paper forms and send them into Washington, you'll get charged $65. Ouch! So do it electronically, then buy two copies of your work from CreateSpace to send to the Library of Congress's copyright office, and in a month or so you'll find your official-type certificate or whatever (I don't know; I'm still waiting for my first to arrive) sitting in your mailbox. Don't lose it. Add to your list of expenses about $10 for your books, plus shipping them to you and then shipping them (book rate!) to DC. Get one of those proof of receipt things from the PO.  And if you've had to hire an illustrator or designer for your cover, your contract may stipulate that they get a copy or two as well. Buy a box full of books and save on shipping. You can sell the extras at book signings. You HAVE kept out two for your personal permanent professional archive, haven't you?

Ca-ching.

One of the things AMC has is a way to search for possible Amazon reviewers. (Though I have yet to find someone who writes me back after I query them with an offer of review.) It's always best to get as many reviews as you can, no matter how they rank you. Now, you should also find sites who will promote you if you have a few days when your book is offered for free. (KDP Select gives you 5 free days that you can schedule.) (If you've submitted separately to, say, iBooks and take down the price of your book there for a day or two, Amazon will find out after a short delay [always best to warn them in writing of what you're going to do], take the price of your book there down as well, and then take their time about raising your price back to normal once the iBooks price has returned to normal.) About a quarter of these sites will only advertise your book if you have X amount of reviews and a 4-star or better rating. Other sites won't handle you if there's even the first curse word in your book, much less (bleah) kissing. Do your homework. And yes, some of these free-book advertising pages want you to pay to be mentioned.

Explanation: the reason you want to give your book away is because you want a wide audience to review that book, or tell their friends about it (on a day when your book is NO LONGER free).

There are lots of advertising opportunities out there. The trick of getting sales is to have people know your book is there to be read, for them to read it, and for them to TELL THEIR FRIENDS to read it as well. Advertising usually costs $$, if not $$$$.

Since I'm getting out so many books this year, I think it will be worth my time to investigate publicity agencies… NEXT year. We'll see. I hear bad and good about these, but I do have my eye on this one...

There's another trick to getting sales on your book. That's to write another. And another after that. I've read that for series writers, the magic number is three volumes of that series, and sales will begin to pick up. I've read lots of authors who say they don't do any publicity so as to save their energy for writing, writing, writing.

Me, I'm hoping for sales to pick up in the second half of this year. Be looking for new versions of my backlist to appear, as well as new books that have been waiting for quite some time for me to finish.

So you want to write a book. This is all there is to it: WRITE THE BOOK. That means from page one to the end. No, you can't quit after chapter 3. Make sure it hangs together well and is entertaining. Get it edited. Get a nice cover for it. Get it formatted. Get it out there, and then get it reviewed.

Simple, really.

Oh, one of the things AMC does is furnish cute little widgets. Unfortunately the coding for this blog won't allow me to put it in the margin, so I'll put it here instead. So cute! (No, I don't know why it includes the book score thingie.) Buy my book, please.





Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Apples in Spaaaace!


The Romance Troupe



If you're reading this, you're likely here for the "Home for the Holidays Blog Hop." Click on the button above to visit the Romance Troupe website and see what the other stops for more recipes and book buzz are along the way.

WHAT, THERE ARE PRIZES, TOO?


Leave a comment with your email address on it to be entered into the Romance Troupe GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY!!!  First prize is $450+ (it depends on how many authors we wind up with) on an Amazon gift card or with Paypal cash. Wow! Second prize is 1 ebook from EACH participating author.

When you leave your email address, be sure to leave a space before and after the "@" or say "at" instead, so the spambots can't find you.

If you've never been here before, welcome! Herein follows one tasty recipe, a bit about a book connected (ever so slightly) to said recipe, and then there's an extra CONTEST FROM ME as well. Win! Win! Win!

German Apple Pancake

The recipe says this can serve as many as 6, but don't count on it. It's too yummy.

Pancake:
3 large eggs (I use the liquid kind, which would be 3/4 c.)
3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. white flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbs. butter (unsalted preferred)

Filling:
1 lb. tart, fresh apples (Pippin are great, the recipe says, not knowing my book. I use Granny Smiths.)
1/4 c. melted butter
1/4 c. sugar
powdered cinnamon and nutmeg

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Beat together the eggs, milk, flour and salt until very smooth. In a heavy 12-inch skillet, melt about 1 1/2 Tbs. butter. As soon as it is quite hot, pour in the batter and put the skillet in the oven. (I use a round cake pan for this, but maybe they want the pan being already very hot by the time the batter hits it, to speed things along. I've never had a problem.)

After 15 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 10 minutes. The pancake should be light brown and crisp. Keep an eye on it.

During the first 10 or 15 mintues of baking, the pancake may puff up in large bubbles. If it does, pierce it thoroughly with a fork or skewer.

While the pancake is baking, prepare the apple filling. Peel and thinly slice a pound of apples. Sauté them lightly in 1/4 c. butter and add 1/4 c. sugar. Season to taste with cinnamon and nutmeg. The apples should be just tender, not too soft. About 8 to 10 minutes of cooking over a medium flame should be plenty. (The filling can be prepared ahead and reheated just before serving.)

When the pancake is ready, slide it onto an oval platter (or even a circular one, sheesh), pour the apple filling over one side, and fold the other side over. Serve at once, slicing pieces off crosswise.

This isn't just for breakfast. I think I got it from The Vegetarian Epicure, but don't make me swear to that. Keep reading to the bottom for another chance to WIN A FREE BOOK!





I had to learn a bit about apples—or more correctly, apple dishes—when I wrote Applesauce and Moonbeams. This is a humorous soft sci fi novel mostly based on the moon, where one family in particular owns dozens of large apple orchards. That's right, apples on the moon. Well, I think it could work!

I researched craters that were of a likely size that could be covered with domes and pressurized to make good, industrial-sized orchards. You see, this is one of the first crops grown on the moon, with the first seeds planted during early colonization days—at least in my future history. To get foods in from Earth requires expensive transport, so anything actually grown on the moon would become a staple.

Thus when people in the book were eating, I had to give them some likely apple dishes to dine upon. They couldn't eat the same thing all the time either, so that list had to be a fairly lengthy one. There's apples, applesauce, apple fritters, apple muffins, apple this and apple that. Luckily, this wasn't a cookbook so I didn't have to figure out more than a dozen or so.

And how about drinking? Apple juice, sure, but people like the harder stuff as well. I gave 'em hard cider... and mead. "Mead's not apple," you tell me, but mead is honey, and those apple trees aren't going to produce apples unless our starring family also raises bees.

Being apples, I had to throw in some Garden of Eden references as well, even though there are no serpents on the moon. (Unless you count Aunt Evie. Or Our Villain.) (And I won't mention how Our Hero's last name is a play on "Lucifer.") (Whoops, mentioned it.)

It's the breakfast
of the astronauts!
Applesauce's heroine's family were originally the Tangs. When they discovered they couldn't market their apple juice under the family name for some obscure legal reason, they became the Applegates instead. Our Heroine is Pippin, and her cat (featured on the cover) is the multi-faceted Jonathan. Both names are types of apples.

book cover for Applesauce and MoonbeamsPippin doesn't like the family business very much, but she's next in line to take it over. Instead, she's an artist—a very avant garde one who doesn't do anything in the traditional manner. Unfortunately for her, innovation is not welcomed by her society. Neither is her inability to maintain a proper look like the Fashion Police prescribe, or her growing tendency to get into trouble. She has only six weeks left to prove herself as an artist before her dragon of a great-aunt (see Evie, above) will force her into the company vice-presidency.

But now Jonathan the Cat is acting odd. In fact, Jonathan's begun to use her paints to spell out messages...

I hope you try (and like!) the book. You can go on Smashwords and get a really long free sample, unlike the short one at Amazon. Here's the main page on my website that points the way to different places and formats (it's in print as well) you can buy.

FREE eBOOK GIVEAWAY!!!

This is MY contest, separate from that of the Romance Troupe. Leave at least a name and your email address under the comments section to get email updates from me (I'll only do this once in a blue moon, so as not to annoy you), and be put in a drawing to get a free ebook! You'll be able to choose from any ebook of mine, even the newly-revised TOUCH OF DANGER, which isn't out quite yet, but will be released as soon as that famous-artist cover illustration is finished. OR if you don't want to post your email address here, you can go to my website, click on the "contact" link, and leave your name AND EMAIL ADDRESS there where things are so private Yahoo insists on putting it in my spam folder. I'll keep checking there, though. (Doing it that way won't enter you in the Romance Troupe's contest, though.) Heck, let's make it TWO WINNERS for this, okay? Final day to enter will be, ah, November 30.

Remember, leave a comment and email address here to enter both contests. Good luck!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Wonder Rules


Things a WW Movie Should and Should Not Include 

1. The basic concept of Wonder Woman: A woman. Not a caped man with boobs.

2. The actress who plays her should be chosen because she can ACT. There are lots of pretty actresses who can act, but not all pretty actresses can. Wondie doesn’t have to be the most beautiful woman out there. It would be so nice if she didn’t look like a cut-out Hollywood lead actress type. Male actors are allowed different looks; why not female?

3. She has abilities beyond those of normal humans, which have come about through Amazon Training, which she continually practices. Amazon Training is only partly about the physical. She has to train her mental and spiritual self as well. She has a few magical tricks here and there, a few industrial ones as well, but Amazon Training got her where she is. This way her powers remain within a woman’s control. (And marketing WW can expand to include all kinds of athletic goods.)

4. (What, you want the gods to give her instant powers, too? The gods gave a statue life. Isn’t that enough of a miracle?)

5. She EMPOWERS in a positive manner. This is her basic theme. She protects, yes, but she also helps people stand up for themselves. She aids the disenfranchised: women, children, LGBTs, persecuted/exploited minorities, the 47%, etc. Wonder Woman is not only a feminist, but also a humanist. She is not grim; she is delighted to see humanity advancing in so many wonderful ways, though it’s true enough, it’s still taking a lot of steps backward. She makes friends easily because she tends to think the best of people.


6. Therefore, a movie should not be about huge, faceless battles or quien es mas macho, but about PEOPLE. About characters and human situations. Instead of shiny explosions and non-stop action sequences whose only purpose is to shock ‘n awe, Wondie’s movie should reach into the very hearts and souls of her viewers and shake them awake, give their emotions a roller coaster ride before they emerge triumphant along with Wondie. Maybe they’re even enriched by the experience, maybe enlightened as to the human condition. You can still have awesome action sequences, but they should have layers of emotional depth to them.

7. Unlike the current run of her book and all too many runs before that, Wonder Woman should not find her legitimacy through the definitions given her by men. She is herself. Her culture is that of women. It is through that femaleness that she defines herself and makes her way through the male-centric world. She glorifies being female, and thus because of that, being human.

8. WW should have a solid reason for being in the world, and not just because she followed the first man she ever saw back into it because she fell in love. She should have a mission which logically follows her basis of helping the world in these very troubled times. It’s an emergency situation, this world we live in. She is going to help us.

9. Which doesn’t mean that Wonder Woman cannot love. She shouldn’t be shackled to one man, though, to keep her in her “proper” woman’s place. Not until she’s had the chance to experiment, try a whole bunch of different types, and make a reasoned choice. Which may turn out to be wrong for her, so she tries again. Romance does not take up the entirety of her story line.

10. The Amazons are a perfect society. Per the Perez (and WMM and others’) origin, they never rejected men, but were faced with building their culture without them through NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN. They have ancient roots, but have not stagnated. They have futuristic technology in many areas. They have a little magic as well. Their peaceful philosophy ("Gaea's Way") has made their culture healthy, constantly growing, and happy. As such, our exposure to the Amazons should be kept at minimal levels (like Earth was in the original run of Star Trek so Kirk could make his own hard decisions), because when characters are introduced within a dramatic structure, they must have that dramatic structure applied to them, which so often in the past (poor Hippolyta!) has meant that many Amazons have been made evil or mentally ill or stupid or just people you wouldn’t like to be around. Amazons are the rock beneath Diana’s feet, the solid basis for her life, mind, and purpose. Diana is the embodiment of Amazon-ness, but she is young; she is still learning it and growing into it. While empowering others, she is still learning to empower herself.

11. Diana worships Greek gods. Gods are not merely immortal capes. Gods are gods. They are personifications of nature and/or the human condition. As such, gods (or at least the Greek gods) can possess humans to deliver messages, or appear as humans (or animals, or showers of gold, etc.) to do same. Wonder Woman does not talk directly to gods as gods. The idea! She can see her gods at work in the world: Artemis as the moon, Apollo as the sun, Zeus’s thunder in a storm, Hestia’s blessings on a happy home, Hera’s increasing (positive) strength as women recognize their own power, etc. Diana could very well converse with such minor mythological creatures as nymphs, satyrs, and even a witchly sorceress like Medea. Herakles is still human enough to converse with.

12. Wonder Woman is not Superman. She can’t juggle planets on her pinky, or knock a skyscraper out of her way. She is mid-level, and can be injured from her efforts. She is not an instant-healer, though I’d suspect (and we’ve seen on occasion) that she has advanced Amazonian healing methods at her disposal. (But the Purple Ray is a cheating deus ex machina, and should be forgotten.) Battling is hard, tiring work for her. Unlike Supes, WW trains. All the time. She has learned SKILLS. (For some reason I often picture Diana close-fighting in Jackie Chan-style, utilizing whatever objects are close to her in entertaining, innovative ways.) WW’s mission is not to defend against attack so much as it is to prevent that attack from ever happening in the first place. Her first approach is reason, compromise and empathy. She will strive to help her would-be opponent reach a level where they can meet with like minds and find a win-win compromise. Her final approach is violence. She can also use violence when the attack comes on suddenly and there is no time for reasoning.

13. Wonder Woman is not Batman. She doesn’t just run around sorta fast and maybe jump a bit off hidden mini-trampolines to get things done. She has astonishing physical prowess, beyond what we’d think humans are capable of, but not remotely at Kryptonian levels. She also has thought out her personal philosophy so she knows just what lines she will cross and which she will not. Her mission is to help people, which means she also follows up because in her world, violence has serious consequences. Her goal is not to keep the threat at bay, but rather allow a wonderful future for people to enjoy in peace. If every other option is gone and the danger is imminent, she will kill, but the act will haunt her afterward.

14. Wonder Woman uses gadgets famous with the audience. The magic lasso, which makes people tell the truth. (Love the way it sounded in the recent TV pilot.) The Invisible Jet, which allows the non-Kryptonian quick transportation. WW may or may not fly. If she flies, it shouldn’t be super-fast because again, she is not Kryptonian. She may use Hermes’ winged sandals; she may not. She may levitate; she may glide on air currents using levitation. Quite often and unexpectedly I find people giving me the Amazon Salute, so this should be included. As should be the Spin, immortalized in the Lynda Carter series and gleefully copied by both kids and adults. Personally, I don’t believe in Diana Prince other than as a rarely-used deep-cover disguise for Wondie, but she can Spin into different costume variants as well (and increase the available action figure line).


15. There should be no man vs woman conflict. Feminism is not anti-male. All men are not evil; all women are not good.

16. Wonder Woman has ancient roots, but is very au courant as she leads us toward a bright future. Yes, she should battle Nazis on occasion since they symbolize the opposite of what she does, but there are modern Nazis in the world. Many. Most don’t recognize themselves as Nazis (or similar philosophies), but some do. Wonder Woman does not have to be a creature of the past, forever stuck in WWII. She is the present. She is our future.

17. Wonder Woman can (and has!) operate/d in just about every genre known with panache, unlike the vast majority of her cohorts. Somewhere in a movie series (yeah yeah, we haven’t seen the first movie yet), we should see variations pop up.

18. Wonder Woman operates on a global level. Not just in the good ol’ USofA, or in Western countries. To her, humanity is one big family she is a contributing member of.

And there I’ve gone and ended this on a preposition. What are your absolutes for a Wondie movie?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Leaf Peeping in New England (part 2)


(Part one is here)

View from the Long Trail House room balcony, Stratton Mt., VT

We pulled into Stratton Mountain’s lodge at dusk. Dusk came early, an hour earlier than it does back home. But the lodge was fabulous. I had a suite with a fireplace!!!, and a balcony overlooking, well, a small lodge pond with fountains. Each floor had a free laundry (yay!) (Hope the guy who left the sopping-wet black long johns in the dryer didn’t mind me taking them out so I could put my stuff in. They’d been in process when I arrived. Two hours later, he still hadn’t retrieved them.), and the cable was MUCH more extensive than any other hotel’s.

A lodge village was adjacent. Almost all the stores had construction people in them. The stores themselves had been stripped bare, or had various bits of lumber in them. They were being prepped from scratch for the ski season ahead. About three blocks in was a restaurant that was open. I wasn’t that hungry, and ordered a salad with an appetizer-sized quesadilla. Godzilla could have filled up on it. (And been quite happy, since it was deeelicious!) I ate half, got the rest put in a doggy bag (the suite had a fridge and microwave), and decided on a wee bit of hot chocolate for dessert. It arrived: a King Kong-sized parfait glass, half-filled with hot chocolate and half-filled with whipped cream. Out of politeness and because it was just a drink and not, you know, a real dessert, I consumed the whole thing. (It made up for the restaurant not being able to produce decent iced tea. Once again, a Yankee iced tea tasted like it had been brewed with a hefty helpin' of old coffee grounds.)

The next morning I watched The Patty Duke Show and Mr. Ed as I ate my quesadilla’s remains. Checked email from my cover artist to discover she didn’t remember that I’d made a special webpage with all her instructions, so I had to try to track that down on my iPad through accessing my office email archives so as to email her the url again while I made my way outside to be 15 minutes early for the bus.

Whoops. I was only 30 SECONDS before the “butt in the seat” time, but I did manage to make it. AND send the url.

Mt. Washington. You can see the train track that goes straight up its face, like an exclamation point. Note also the uber-ritzy resort. No, we did not stay there.
Today’s travel brought us to some quick stops here and there with nice views. We drove past Mt. Washington, Vermont’s highest mountain (or did we do that the day before?), and then through New Hampshire. The proliferation of maples and other colorful trees mix more evenly with spruces and pines in NH. The landscape was ever so slightly not as impressive, foliage-wise, although the mountains were fabulous because that’s what mountains are. I love mountains, as long as I don’t have to drive in ‘em.

View from patio at the Red Jacket Resort at North Conway, NH. The room door leading outside to this tiny patio had a small sign that said: "Door locks automatically. Please take your key with you." Yes, I'm sure people just waking up and taking their coffee outside to enjoy the morning, while dressed in little or nothing, would take note of that sign.
I must have mixed up the order of previous sites because we still saw a lot today, but at dusk (so early!) we arrived in North Conway at our hotel. It was so-so. The tour provided dinner for us because (I think) the town didn’t have that much going for it food-wise, or other restaurants weren't easily accessible for us bus-tour types. Dinner was nothing to write home about. And the next morning I didn’t get a wake-up call.

Wake-up calls are IMPORTANT, especially when the tour is timed so precisely. Every night I’d program a wake-up call through the phone, set the radio alarm, and set my iPad (which I’d practiced with several days before departing, to see when the alarm would go off and when it wouldn’t. The iPad has to actually be on to sound the alarm, so I recharged every night and left the iPad on while doing so.) Anyway, the radio often wouldn’t work because the stations turned out not to be 24-hour stations, and morning would arrive with only a slight hissing sound. One hotel’s phone programming didn’t work, so I had to call the front desk and have them set it up. One hotel’s phone programmed, but never called me. This happened again at this hotel, and I stopped at the front desk on the way out to inform them of this mechanical failure.

They told me that since we were on the tour and phone calls weren’t included in the price (we’d been told at the beginning of the tour that if we made any calls or incurred any other extra charges, to be sure to pay before we left), they TURNED OFF our alarm programming along with outgoing calls. Uh, isn’t that something they might warn us about beforehand?

So we toured Maine that day. All through Vermont, NH and Maine we kept passing lots of pretty lakes. We went past Maine’s largest one (according to our tour director, though the map seems to show a larger one to the south), Sebago Lake, just before we came into Portland. There we stopped at the harbor for lunch and shopping, and the director gave us TMI about how he was attracted to a girl who worked at the local bakery. This meant that many of the group took off at a dead run to tell the girl and embarrass both. Why do people do this?

Lunch was delicious, but when I ordered the iced tea (yes, we’re going into this again) I told them how much I distrusted Yankee tea. They assured me theirs was great. It was not. I took a sip and told them I didn’t like it. They took the glass away. When I got the bill, they’d charged me about $3 for the tea. The bill had to go through the manager to get the tea taken off. Other than that, lunch was tasty.

I got a cute little magnet for the fridge that shows a panicking lobster in a pot. Got another tee shirt. I always tried to get a magnet and at least one tee from each state, and each morning as I struggled to close my luggage I wondered why I had to do that. I dunno. Our director had told us about a kitchen shop he loved, and because we had a little time, I wandered in. And wandered out with kitchen implements. Yes, on vacation I bought kitchen implements. One was a scraper I’d been looking for and one was one of those push-pull measuring deals Alton Brown uses. I hadn’t been able to find either in stores back home.

Is this not the world's cutest lighthouse?
Then it was time to cruise! It was a surprise thrown in because the weather was nice. We saw a bunch of lighthouses around Portland, and rode some fun wakes like a roller coaster. We could actually see the very tip of Vermont’s Mt. Washington from the harbor. I must have taken a zillion pictures, and just as we got to the prettiest lighthouse ever built, my camera battery gave out. Yes, already. It must have been old.

Thank heaven I hadn’t been able to find said battery when I was doing preliminary packing for the trip, for I’d gone out and bought another. Then I found the battery. That meant I had two backups for the trip. I’d made sure the final backup was in my purse instead of my luggage, so I was able to pop it into the camera and get those lighthouse pics! Manoman, are they going to make great paintings!

Getting back on land, we all headed toward the nearest bathrooms. This was a one-seater, and the line began to stretch around the restaurant that housed it. Our Fearless Leader was distraught that we needed bathrooms. Really, Brandon? What, do you wear astronaut diapers? He had the bus take us back to the visitor center, which had a few more toilets available, and this time (unlike when we’d first arrived in town), the cruise ship hadn’t just arrived with a load of liquid-filled passengers.

From Portland we traveled a bit south to Kennebunkport. Now, Kennebunkport is one of the nicest-looking towns you’ll ever see, but it’s spoiled by having Bush vibes. The Bushes have grabbed the best real estate in town, and that day all flags were flying there, meaning George H. was in residence. Yes, they fly flags, just like Windsor Palace does when the queen is there.

I think we missed the Changing of the Ex-Presidential Guards.
The bus dumped us downtown for shopping, strolling and fudge-buying. I got lost about three times, but downtown’s pretty small and if you walk far enough, you can figure out where you are. We had more than enough time, and I said what the heck, and decided to check out the many art galleries.

Wow, wow, wow! They had fabulous artists on display! Here was Ken Muenzenmayer. “Hey, I took a class with him,” I told the owner, who was actually impressed. Other artists who stood out to me enough that I wrote down their names to research were: Li Wang, Ellen Pelletier, Dan Michael, Charles Movalli and his wife, Dale Ratcliff. (I hope those links work for a long while. If not, Google a bit and you'll find some paintings by them.) I’d KILL to take a class from the last two. Their work takes your breath away. The owner of the Landmark Gallery told me that Movalli had once told him in a class, “Once it looks like a kitten, you don’t have to add whiskers to it.” He said the guy paints with large brushes and it seems haphazard until suddenly everything comes together. Wow.

We got into our hotel and prepared for a lobster dinner that was included in the tour. I’ve had bits and pieces of lobster in various stuffings and chowders through the years, but I’ve never had lobster-lobster. Yes, I’d once stood for forty minutes next to the tank at a Red Lobster (I had ordered food for a party, and RL had lost my order; so professional), and decided I’d never order lobster because these guys looked like they had personalities. But I ordered lobster this night.

Still less messy and 'roid rage-y than what I witnessed that night!
It SHOCKED me the way people laid into their lobsters! First of all, the things were about five hundred degrees. I kept burning my hands on mine. The woman across from me gave a Xena yell and attacked hers with sheer Hulk fury, spittle flying out of her mouth. It was scary. And the lobster wasn’t really anything special. I could have gotten the same texture from shrimp, the flavor was nonexistent, and I SWEAR to you, I got distinct, “They murdered me. I was scared. Now I’m sad,” vibes from poor Mr. Lobster.

Never again. I promise the lobster world, I’ll never have a whole lobster. I apologize.

Man, one of these days I’ll go vegetarian.

View from the Nonantum Resort, Kennebunkport. Just around the bend and beyond that thin stretch of land, is the Atlantic.
Anyway, we went back to our rooms afterward. Since I was traveling alone, I sometimes got tiny rooms stuck in odd places in hotels. This was the case here, but this tiny room had a skylight, a marvelous view of the harbor, and a little woodstove-type fireplace. Darling!

I couldn’t get the phone alarm to program, so I did it through the desk. I couldn’t get the room temperature to moderate. I couldn’t get the wifi to work. “Sometimes you have to step outside in the hallway to get it,” the desk told me. The guy came up and showed me how the thermostat I was trying to program was the one for the stove and not for the real room heating/AC. He pointed me down the hall to a PC where I could print out my boarding pass.

I wasn’t wearing my shoes, but I padded down the carpeted hallway. The PC froze on the middle page of the boarding pass process. I sat there muttering low-level curses when a man from South Africa? (he had a very odd British accent) came up, assured me that PCs and Macs were pretty much the same thing and to stop being a baby and move over, he’d do it for me. (Okay, he didn't quite phrase it that way, but the meaning was sorta there in a superiority kind of way.) And the PC froze on the middle page of the boarding pass process. Ha!

So I went back to my room in defeat. My room key wouldn’t work. The front desk was actually about a half-block away, and I was in my sock feet. For some ungodly reason I’d actually overheard and REMEMBERED two of my fellow passengers talking about their room number. I knocked on their door and got them to call the desk.

Got new keys. Got the heat/AC working. The wifi fizzled after two minutes. Decided to hit the sack.

More Kennebunkport. (I took this pic because I needed a full horse to finish a Montreal picture with a carrage in it.)
Breakfast the final day. I decided to ask a large table with four people seated if they minded me sitting there, and they assured me it would be fine, and pointed me at one of the three empty seats where I would be welcome. When I returned from the buffet they informed me I could NOT sit there, as they had seated some (absent) friends in my place. Nice of them to tell the new guys that I was sitting there already. (I'd arranged the setting to show I'd be sitting there, just in case.) I took the remaining empty chair. ANYWAY, when everyone had all their food, the others announced grace, a guy said it, and the woman across from me opened ONE eye to stare at me throughout the prayer. Like I was making a fuss, sitting there quietly as I was. Maybe she was waiting for me to burst into hell-flame. Sheesh.

I was seated next to a man. When coffee was served, his wife to his other side put sugar in his cup for him, then sugar in her own, cream for him, then cream for herself, and then reached over to stir his coffee for him, then stirred her own. She was done up like a Stepford, and he looked like he'd had a moderately busy day on the farm, all grizzled and rumpled. Later I asked around, and people told me about the "religious" group. Then I recalled an earlier day of the tour, saying something about the possibility of going to a psychic we'd seen along the way, and some woman getting all hissy. She was one of the group. Sheesh again.

But all in all, the other passengers were fine. I learned not to talk politics. The ones who (loudly) voiced an opinion—which happened rarely—had poorly-defined issues with Obama. We had one very short lady who seemed like Betty Boop’s crazy cousin. She talked in a loud baby voice (how she loved the attention!), and everyone knew she would buy anything pink, especially purses and travel bags. (And fudge.) I think she bought three travel bags during the trip. She was funny in a crazy cousin way. Good in small doses, but maybe not for eight days.

The crowd ran to middle age and older. They came from all over the US, except for New England, and one couple had flown in from Australia. One of the women often required a wheelchair. (Every place we went could accommodate the handicapped.) I wondered how her husband, who could make two—well, one and a half—of me, could handle things. He often toted her wheelchair when it wasn't being used, plus lugged their other stuff, and often did this on steps and steep surfaces. (The wheelchair was stowed under the bus when not in use. Also stowed under the buses was Evil Tour Director's bike, which he used in his off-hours. He rode almost all the way around Martha's Vineyard when his group was shopping.)

Brandon alternated who got to leave the bus first: drivers' side, door side, or starting from the back. I noticed that many people waited until the seat before them had completely emptied out before they got up, retrieved what stuff they wanted from the bins overhead, and eased out into the aisle. I'm afraid that by the end of the trip, I had trained myself to pop up out of my seat as soon as the people in front were starting to get out, so I'd be ready as soon as they'd finally managed to toddle down the aisle. Unfortunately, this means that I am now one of those people who emerge as soon as the "you may get up now" message comes through on the airplane. I grab for my stuff in the bin and stand in the aisle between the chair arms so people in my row can also get up and start arranging things. Efficiency, people. Efficiency!

I was traveling alone because I’m basically a hermit, but there was supposed to have been another single traveler on the trip. She was to have come with two other ladies, who told me over breakfast one day that she was a parole officer, and that the previous week one of her parolees (what do you call them?) had sicced his three dogs on her and they had bitten her. She would be fine, but at that point they weren’t sure if she’d have to start rabies shots or not. If she did, the shots would have to be administered on a strict schedule that she couldn’t meet if she went on tour. Hope they threw the guy in jail for a long, long time! Hope she’s really okay.

Being a single rider meant I had two seats to spread out in. I soon made a nest with my junk. There were a few empty rows in the back, and sometimes others would go back there to take a nap or stretch their legs. We were discouraged from using the bus bathroom for anything other than an emergency. On the final day, due to seat rotation (every day we moved 3 seats clockwise, so no one could stake a claim on the good seats) I was sitting near the back, and the ladies across from me had to use the john. They reported that there were signs in it that told men not to stand, and that there was also a sign that had a big “#2” on it, with a line crossed through it, like going number two was prohibited.

Astronaut diapers, I tell you.

Boston is just a short ride from Kennebunkport. We arrived there about 10 AM so people could catch their flights that had been ordered to be noon or later. Mine was at 5:30. Many others had such late flights. Some of us got dropped off back at the Hilton, where I sat next to the two oldest ladies from the group (it was the final trip for one of them, whose husband was having bad health problems. She was in her mid-eighties.), and we had lunch at the hotel restaurant. The iced tea was still rotten.

Bidding them adieu, I walked to the airport instead of taking the shuttle (exercise!). It took over an hour to get through security. They stopped me. “That’s an iPad in there,” I said helpfully as the guard got on latex gloves to search my carry-on. She pulled out an unopened bottle of sunscreen. Oops. I thought I had that in my other luggage. She GLARED at me and didn’t say a word as she dropped it into the trash.

Read for a couple hours, got an awful lemonade from Wendy’s, found a Cheers shotglass for Francine (at work)’s collection and what the heck, got one for me as well, and got in the plane. As the doors closed, someone screamed in the back. “My baby!” Something something else. All of a sudden a hysterical woman was running to the front. “Let me off! Let me off!” She had a companion who was trying to calm her. They huddled with the attendants, let off a few more shrieks, and finally the door opened. It took the attendants three trips to make sure their carry-ons were gathered, and then we had to wait for people to go through the cargo hold to get their luggage. “Family emergency” was all we were told.

Top to bottom, left to right: Vermont (maple leaf), poor little Maine lobster, Plymouth pilgrims, Norman Rockwell's very funny self-portrait cover, Martha's Vineyard, The Spouter Tavern (that's a whale there) from Mystic Seaport, and a disappointingly blah Boston magnet that I got before I determined that I was going to start collecting INTERESTING magnets, dammit!
Then home again, home again. It cost a hair under $100 to park my car at the airport. I took 433 photos. I bought, I think, eight tee shirts and seven refrigerator magnets. One big slice of fudge. Two kitchen implements. I had a bagful of hotel shampoos and conditioners. I also brought home an extra eight pounds that stuck around for almost a week before they disappeared one night, just like that. I was glad I’d taken an extra vacation day for recovery.

Bus tours are very economical ways to vacation. For 8 days I paid about $1800, if you include the final tip to Brandon and Keith (which our booklet suggested), and don’t include meals, souvenirs, or flight. All our breakfasts were included, as well as three dinners. Keith said our final mileage was just a couple miles over 1000.

I like bus tours because they give me a quick, overall view of a region. I get to be able to point at a TV show later and yell, "I've been there!", plus I now know where I want to return to to spend more time. Like after this trip I want to paint some along the Maine or Martha's Vineyards shores, and maybe on the streets of Woodstock, VT.

Caravan furnishes a booklet with all your info, including how much to tip various people and what to bring along with you. (Sunscreen, travel alarm, etc.) Even so, one of the older ladies on the tour hadn't packed a sweater or jacket. We worried about her, but she said she was doing fine.

Brandon gave us lots of info on other vacations. Caravan's #1 tour is Costa Rica, which Brandon says he's been on and wants to get his parents to go as well, because it's fantastic. (Me, I've had several very bad past lives south of the border, and have never been tempted to wander farther south than Florida.) He says that the best time to travel is in mid-season, which allows time for tour workers to figure out what their job is without them being burnt out by it all yet. If you're older, you want to travel in late August or early September to avoid kids. If you're going to Alaska (Caravan doesn't go there, but Brandon did Alaskan tours before he switched to Caravan), you definitely want a land-cruise package. Save the cruise for last so you can relax. Try if at all possible to get multiple days in Denali. Don't go until June. (He showed us pictures of him changing bus tire chains in a snowstorm on May 29.) If you go on the Yellowstone tour, hit in July or August because earlier won't get you as long a whitewater ride because the river they do it on hasn't risen enough yet.

Next year: Trying to decide: Alaskan land/sea excursion ($$$) or Caravan’s “Mt. Rushmore, Grand Tetons & Yellowstone” tour, which would allow me to see an old stomping ground I’ve been wanting to revisit, as well as do some location research for my novels if I tack on a couple extra days before and after. Then again (and this is days later that I write this), I may take the Yellowstone tour with a Casper add-on, and then take a separate Amtrak "Empire Builder" ride, which would hit three cities I want desperately to see. Do you have an opinion? Have you taken any tours you’d like to recommend? Do you want to ride along on my next trip? Maybe we can raise a little heck!