Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rolling through the Heartland

When this post goes live in the early hours of Saturday morning, I'll be rolling through the desert in either Utah or Nevada on my way to San Francisco for the Romance Writers of America National Conference. I'm not a flyer, so I like to travel by Amtrak. I get to kick back, do some work, watch the scenery go by, and dream up stories about the places and people outside the train's windows. Because while the middle of the nation may be "fly-over" country, the train takes me through the areas filled with Harlequin American readers and the settings for many wonderful small-town stories. Places like Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.

There's nothing quite like writing a story set in Colorado while sitting on a train winding along the Colorado River in the rugged western part of the state. Or watching the sun come up over the desert, a landscape so very different from where I live in the South, and brainstorming ideas for a story set there. What characters would live there? Why? What would their romantic conflict be?

I've done the same thing on car trips. How many of you have gone on vacation and come back with at least one story idea?

It's interesting to think about creating a story in a setting that perhaps doesn't get as much exposure as, say, Texas. :) I mean, I'm sure there are wonderful hero types in Nebraska. Maybe he runs a wagon train for tourists who want to experience life along the Oregon Trail. Or what about a firefighter in Iowa? He not only fights fires, but he has to rescue people caught in blizzards. Imagine if you were the heroine caught in that blizzard and hunky rescue guy showed up to dig you out of the snow. Oh yeah, the ideas are popping. I have a feeling I'll be jotting down snippets in my notebook as my train rolls across the Great Plains, the Front Range, the Rockies, the desert Southwest, and the Sierra Nevada.

So, readers, tell me about some places you'd like to see stories set that you haven't seen. And writers, what story ideas have you had that were generated by trips not taken for that purpose?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Forever Blowing Bubbles

Blowing bubbles is one of those timeless things. Kids loved it when I was a kid, kids love it today—and apparently lots of grownups love it, too.

There are no longer any young children at my house, but every summer I still buy several colorful plastic bottles of bubble solution—the kind that come with the little plastic wands inside—and set them around outside on patio tables.

I always smile when bubbles float past the kitchen window and the only person lounging in the backyard is my husband. Guests will often take a minute or two to blow some bubbles, which usually prompts someone to say, “Hey, remember when we were kids and we used to...?”

When I bought this year’s supply of bubble solution, the store was also selling a device called a Bubblator. It promised to make lots of big bubbles, but it required some assembly and some batteries. The Bubblator didn’t seem as active as the old dip-and-blow method, so I put it back on the rack and came home with the usual bottles and wands instead.

But as I sat down to write this blog, curiosity got the better of me. I did a Google search for “bubblator” and discovered what I’m missing.

I might just go back to the store and buy a Bubblator after all, because we all know bubbles aren’t just for kids, right?

Until next time,
The Writer Side of Life

ETA: Ellen posted a comment about homemade bubble solutions. Neither of us could remember all of the ingredients, but this link tells all! If you try any of these recipes, we'd love to hear about them!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I probably blogged about this sometime before but for those who don't know, my daughter and I recently went on a cruise to Alaska. We had a wonderful time (oh, my gosh, who couldn't?) and saw things you can only imagine (and we ate A LOT of food, too).

One of the highlights for me was bingo - just kidding, I didn't win a thing. Actually, if I were pressed to say, the two coolest things were the glacier we visited and the canoe ride and rain forest hike we took on Prince Rupert Island.

Because of too much ice, our ship was diverted from the original glacier we were scheduled to visit. What at first seemed like a disappoint-ment turned into a history making day. Our captain obtained permission to take us to another glacier, one reserved for cruise ships one-tenth our size. He handled our giant ship like it was a VW Bug and got us to within 600 feet of the glacier, the closest a cruise ship our size has ever been. Yes, I took a million pictures.

Prince Rupert was absolutely the greenest and vastest place I have ever seen - remember, I live in the Phoenix area and am a desert rat. About 18 of us boarded a canoe and paddled across the bay to an isolated arm of the island. Besides the amazing lushness of the forest, the wildlife was incredible. I saw (and took a million pictures of) about a dozen eagles, most immature with brown heads but a few "bald". Our Native American guides caught fresh Dungeness crab right off the shore and boiled it for our lunch. I also learned how to survive in the Prince Rupert rain forest by eating local plants, should I ever be lost there (grin).

Here's on picture of my daughter and I getting off the ship at Juno. She's the young, very pretty girl if you couldn't tell. If anyone is going to be at the RWA National convention next week, stop to chat if you want to hear more about our incredible trip.

Warmest wishes,

Cathy McDavid

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Waiting and Waiting

On Friday night, my son returned home from Europe. This two week trip was the culmination of eleven months of anxious preparation. We signed him up last August, and ever since, we’ve been paying for the trip and counting down days. Oh, he was so excited when he left. I was excited for him - and I couldn’t wait to get emails from him along the way, sharing all kinds of stories about his trip.

That didn’t happen.

See, we thought there were going to be all kinds of Internet cafes everywhere he went. If there were, he didn’t find them.(or didn't look very hard!) No, for two weeks, all we got were two texts from friends’ phones and one short paragraph from Austria.

One was a request for more money.

So, I worried. I wondered what he was doing. I missed him. And then well, I started getting irritated. I mean, honestly, couldn’t he have tried just a little bit harder to contact us?

All those grumpy feelings gave way to sympathy last Friday night. He had the worst flight schedule. He flew from Prague to Frankfort to Washington, DC to Chicago to Cincinnati, arriving bright and shiny at midnight. (yawn!) Even that crazy schedule didn’t go as planned.

But we did get a phone call out of it.

He called at 4:30 am from Frankfort. “There’s a bomb scare, so they closed the terminal,” said in only the way a 17 year old can alternately ask for sympathy and inform us to not make a fuss. After that phone call, we started hearing from him a lot. He got out of Germany. Almost didn’t make it through customs in Washington. Oh…his plane was delayed in Chicago. Actually, it was really delayed.

Actually it was two hours late.

So, that’s how I ended up being at the Cincinnati airport at two in the morning last Friday night-er Saturday morning. Finally, at 2:15 a crowd of kids came out of the terminal-each looking more exhausted than the next. There, in the middle, was my son. Six inches taller than me. Looking tired but happy. "Hi Dad," he said, but I got the first hug.

I reached up, kissed his cheek, hugged him tight, and finally breathed a big sigh of relief.

My prodigal son had come back home.
st, and ever since, we've been paying for the trip and preparing. Oh, he was so excited when he left. I was excited for him-and I coldn't wait to get emails from him along the way, sharing all kinds of stories about his trip.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I'm buying stock in Raid

People often ask me where I get my ideas. I guess I'm the type of person that drama seems to find. Wednesday I left for Commerce, Texas. I flew into Dallas and first I visited with a former student who is doing an internship with American Airlines. I got an insider tour of the pilot and flight attendant training areas, including getting to step inside a flight simulator and see the pool where attendants learn water evacuations. I was thrilled. All this stuff is great background and may be useful in a book someday.

From there I took Chris and his boss to lunch, and then Chris drove me to Commerce, where things went downhill. The Association for Texas Photography Instructors (ATPI) has been using the University Inn successfully for lodging for years, but since last summer the place has undergone a few changes, and not necessarily for the better. New management took over approximately two weeks ago and they have quite a few challenges. The mattresses outside and the trash by the dumpsters should have been a clue that something was amiss. But no, we conference attendees naively believed it would be fine like in previous years. I even reassured Chris, who left shaking his head.

Chris had it right. I wasn’t the only room where the beds were made (but with unclean sheets), the showers came with used soap and shampoos (although new stuff was on the counters) and the roaches came out at night (or in the case of one ATPI attendee, out of her folded towels the next morning). One instructor had a single room, but he didn’t sleep alone as two roaches woke him up when they crawled on his arm to check him out. Even though I’d gotten a new room and new pillows after complaining about the state of my room (and the roach on my door frame), I didn’t sleep well as I had the light on all night.

Needless to say over ten of us checked out the next day, but not without the manager first refusing to refund our unused stay (we were supposed to be there for three nights) until the ATPI director stepped in. The conference itself is held on the Texas A & M Commerce campus and they were wonderful hosts. As for the conference content and instructors, I have never attended a conference where I learned so much and had such a great time doing so. I highly recommend this conference, which will probably be moving hotels next year.

The Holiday Inn itself was nirvana compared to the other hotel; my room spacious and wonderful. The experience became the subject of my convergence journalism project and I even made a video about how great the place was. I remained paranoid, though, and never did unpack my suitcase. I kept it zipped unless I needed something. That was probably a good thing, since Saturday morning, one of those large tree roaches decided to visit and began crawling on the wall opposite my bed. Figuring my room fee covered bug disposal, I called the front desk. Housekeeping came and I’ve never seen anyone pounce so fast--those critters can really move but she was quicker. However, the irony rankled. Could it not have picked someone else’s room, especially after I’d made such a great video on how this hotel was bug free? I guess I wasn’t quite a liar, since in my video I’d stated that at the Holiday Inn at least the bugs die. Of course, housekeeping had to help. I'm sure she thought me quite the sissy, but I hate bug guts and had enough of them Wednesday.

Over breakfast, the Texans began educating me on the different types of roaches (and which ones are good and bad) and stressed you can’t ever totally get rid of them. While I love all these people dearly, I was never quite so happy to see Missouri and my own bed. I’m still quite creeped out, and planning on packing Raid for next Friday night’s hotel stay in Kirksville when I go pick up my daughter. I got the idea from one of the conference attendees who bought a can of Raid at Walmart and sprayed the perimeter of the room and around her entire bed. After a night from hell in the first hotel, she wasn’t taking chances.

So how does this relate to writing? After hearing bug stories since Wednesday (and everyone had them in abundance to share), I’m thinking that a hot sexy exterminator would make an excellent hero. I mean, the Orkin man of the TV commercials doesn’t quite do it for me, but I could give this guy six-pack abs and have him save the day (or maybe the heroine’s century-old house). I’m not sure. I can see the other hotel from hell factoring in somehow as well. While I never quite thought bugs would be characters in a book, after this past week, I’m starting to visualize the possibilities. Maybe that would help exorcise the twitches I’m still having. Or at least justify the paranoia.