Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Discovery Channel

For our last post of Travel Month, I thought I'd honor the thrill of discovery. For me, that's what travel is all about. Ever since I learned to read, I've loved stories of explorers discovering places long hidden from the world. My parents had a collection of National Geographic magazines dating back to the nineteen-teens, and I loved the pictures of long-lost ruins hidden in South American jungles and ancient tombs buried in the Egyptian sand.

When I visit an archeological site, I always try to imagine what it was like to actually discover it--to be the first to see the outlines of a Mayan temple in a vine-shrouded pile of rubble, or to enter a buried tomb untouched for centuries. In fact, if I could choose to be present at one historical moment, it would be Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb. Imagine working your way through the passageway and breaking the seals on the door to see, by wavering candlelight, a treasure trove that was hidden for over 3,000 years. I love Carter's own account:
"At first I could see nothing...but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold...When Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, 'Yes, wonderful things.'"

My other favorite tale of discovery is the story of Hiram Bingham, the Yale-educated historian who brought the ruins of Machu Picchu to the attention of the world. I first "discovered" these incredible Incan ruins in the pages of National Geographic when I was about ten years old. Last year, I was lucky enough to make my own trip of discovery to Peru.

We were celebrating a landmark birthday for Scrape. (Just which birthday will go unrecorded, per his request.) He decided he wanted to spend his day at Machu Picchu - which just happened to be the one place in the world I most wanted to see. Coincidence? I don't think so.

We flew to Lima, and from there hopped a plane to Cusco, a Peruvian city perched at 11,000 feet. The flight was amazing; snow-capped Andean peaks poked through the cloud cover outside our window. Landing in Cuzco is an adventure in itself. The plane does a long, banked turn around a moutain before easing down onto the runway.

After a night in Cuzco, we explored the town. As a gawking gringo, I obviously had a target etched on my forehead, and the local children knew a sucker when they saw on. Running up to me, they shoved a puppy into my arms and gathered around to pose for a picture. Naturally, I showered them with coins, which won me a charming, chattering entourage for a good part of the afternoon.

The next day, we took the train up to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to the ruins. From there, we rode a bus up the precarious mountain road to Machu Picchu. If mountain roads scare you, this one will probably kill you. It's absurdly narrow, and the rear end of the bus hangs off in midair while the driver negotiates each of the many switchbacks.

We finally reached the gate, paid our fee, and stepped through an archway to see the ruins spread before us. Millions of tourists had seen the place over the years since its discovery, and dozens were exploring the ruins as we entered, but I still felt a little of the magic Carter expressed when he first laid eyes on King Tut's "wonderful things."
Later in the day, two Andean condors appeared as we stood atop one of the ruins. They soared and spun below us, putting on an air show that had to be God's birthday present for my fighter pilot companion.

That was the trip of a lifetime. I doubt we'll ever top it--but I'm always willing to try. Egypt, anyone?

If you could choose to be present at any historic moment of discovery, which one would you choose? Which explorer would you like to accompany on his (or her) adventures?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How Much Reading Material Should One Take On a Trip?

by Deb Werksman

Since this month's theme is travel, and since I travel a lot, I thought I'd share my process for choosing which reading material to take with me. It's really not as easy a formula as that for shoes (one pair for every day of the trip plus one extra--my motto is "there's always room for one more chair at the table and one more pair of shoes in the suitcase").

Business trips are a great opportunity to catch up on my reading, and unexpected delays have to be planned for. There are 4 pools from which I take my reading materials:
*manuscripts I'm editing: these are organized in my office according to the date they're due to the copyeditor, with lead time factored in for editorial notes and prepping. Any time I'll be away more than one night, I always travel with a minimum of 2 manuscripts to edit.

This is because: a) I might get only partially into the manuscript and require a revision before I can go further
b) I might get delayed in O'Hare airport for 24 hours or more
Since I edit manuscripts on hard copy, I shed pages as I go, thereby lightening my luggage! BTW, this is why I need the author's name and phone number in a header or footer on every page. Many of my authors will attest that they've gotten phone calls from me at odd hours and from very odd locations (if you're one of my authors and you haven't yet, don't worry--someday you will!)

*submissions on my Kindle: very handy, as I can pack more on here than is possible to read in one human lifetime, BUT, can't use during takeoff and landing, or in the bathtub.

*submissions in hard copy: mostly mass market paperbacks, which are small and compact, and I always have at least one of these with me

*OTHER books I'm dying to read: may be hard copy, or may be on my Kindle:

I only get to turn to this group if: a) something untoward has happened and I desperately need a break
b) I have read EVERYTHING I'm supposed to read and am ahead on my deadlines
c) I'm too sick to get out of bed
d) I can't face another day without reading this particular book
e) some other justification

As always, I'm looking for single title romance in all subgenres, with:
  • a heroine the reader can relate to
  • a hero she can fall in love with
  • a world gets created
  • a hook I can sell with in 2-3 sentences
  • author has a career arc
Now it's your turn! How many books do you take on a trip?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Top 10 Things About Returning Home

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

Our month of posts about travel is almost over and we've certainly been to an exciting array of interesting places. However, having returned just a few days ago from my latest cruise adventure, I can strongly identify with Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz.

There really is NO PLACE LIKE HOME!

As much as I love to travel (and you all know I love it A LOT), I'm usually home sick after a couple of weeks and ready to hop on the nearest plane, train, automobile, or available transport device and head back to my humble abode.

So with a nod to David Letterman's Late Show, here then are my Top Ten Things About Returning Home:

  1. I miss my dogs! Sometimes I take them along, but usually I can't, and I always worry about them when they aren't with me. Plus, it doesn't matter if I've been gone five minutes or five weeks, they are always thrilled to see me when I walk in the door.
  2. I like sleeping in my own bed. For over twenty years, my mattress of choice has been extra firm. I seldom, if ever, encounter a mattress as firm as mine when I travel. Nope, not even in the fanciest hotels (which I don't stay in very often) and definitely not on cruise ships, nor the many B&Bs we've stayed in over the years. Coming home to my extra firm mattress is like nirvana!
  3. I miss talking to my friends and family. No, it is not always gossip... but sometimes I admit it is. Often, like onboard a cruise ship that is out to sea, I don't have access to a phone or a computer (and do NOT get me started on cell phones and lack of reception). I really miss getting that daily blab session with my closest friends and family.
  4. I like going through my accumulated mail. I know this is a weird trait of mine, but ever since I was a child, I've always loved getting mail. Yes, even bills! Okay, maybe not some of that junk addressed to occupant or Mr. Loucinda Jr. (I'm not joking! I get stuff with the weirdest variations of my name.) But I have a good time looking at catalogs, advertisements, and especially any cards and letters. Coming home to that big, unopened heap is almost as good as Christmas.
  5. I get twitchy if I go too long without my online fix (see my above comment about gossip). No, I have not yet perfected my travel-with-the-laptop technique. And sometimes I'm just too busy, or there isn't any conveniently available online access. Besides, strange computers do not have all my favorite sites bookmarked for easy reading.
  6. I miss certain TV programs. Admittedly, I don't watch all that much TV, but there are a couple of shows that I do watch, and I really HATE missing new episodes. Of course, with the shortened seasons and the frequent repeats, I can usually catch up pretty fast. I know, I know, I'm a Luddite. I don't own a Tivo. And again, I admit this too is more than a little weird, but I miss seeing my local news (must be that gossipy element again).
  7. Speaking of weird... I do NOT like other people doing my laundry, especially my unmentionables. Ironing and pressing is an entirely different story, but when it comes to the washing and drying, I'd rather do it myself. And what is it with dirty clothes taking up twice as much space in the luggage as clean clothes? I dunno why or how, but they always do!
  8. I miss my writing routine. Yes, I can write when I travel, but not as effectively nor as productively as I do at home in my personal writing space with my research materials close at hand, and my dogs checking up on me (see #1). I am very much a creature of habit, and I write at the same time and place everyday. When I'm not there, I feel out of kilter, and find if much more difficult to get into my 'writing groove.'
  9. I never relax as completely when I travel as I do when I'm at home. This goes back to the creature-of-habit feature in #8, but when I am in a hotel or a cruiseship cabin, I do NOT sit around in my ratty old bathrobe with my hair uncombed. I've admitted it here before, but when I'm home, I am NOT a morning person. Most days, I don't pull myself together before noon. It is NOT a pretty sight, but I know that nobody (except my dogs, who honestly don't care) will see me. When I travel, I'm usually forced to get my act together earlier than noon, and when I am relaxing in my room, I am not taking the chance of being seen in my 'at home' state.
  10. Once I get home, I can begin planning my next travel adventure!
All right, now that I've confessed, it's your turn! What do you like about being at home that can't be satisfied when you travel?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

All Aboard!!

by Amanda Forester

Grab your knapsack; it’s time to ride the rails! There is something nostalgically romantic about boarding a train and experiencing that rush of excitement as it lurches from the station and chugs down the tracks (ok they don’t exactly chug any more, but you get my drift). I have been fortunate to be able to take several long train trips. Of course, those who read my previous blog will know this is due more to my deep and abiding fear of planes than to an innate love of train travel, but in taking train trips I have found many things I enjoy.

The one thing I realized as I started to travel by ground is just how BIG the country is. When you get on a plane and disembark at your destination several hours later you miss the true feeling of how big this place is (though I grant you an aerial view can be illuminating). There is also something very grounding (forgive the pun) to experiencing travel from a slower perspective. It forces me to acknowledge the spaces between civilization, not just the towns and cities themselves. In my hectic life, I often forget there is a whole word of nature out there. Traveling by train I am forced to bear witness to the vastness of this country and the many places that are still ruled by the native flora and fauna, not by humans.

In my train travels I’ve been exposed to scenery I never would have purposely sought. For example, I took the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Albuquerque to Los Angeles and crossed the desert plains. I’m a coastal gal so I’ve never had much interest in seeing the desert, but carving through orange rock canyons and watching the sun set red across the desert sand was breathtaking. Yet my favorite trip has been the Amtrak Coast Starlight, which travels from Seattle to Los Angeles. The scenery on this route is stunning, from the pacific ocean up into the mountains, and back down to the California coast. It is definitely worth the trip. The Coast Starlight also has an additional parlor car which has domed observation windows on the upper story, and downstairs it even has a movie theater! In the afternoons they have wine and cheese tasting. Think of it as a land cruise!

Traveling by train also forces me to slow down and rest. There is nothing I have to do, nothing I really can do on a train, so it is an opportunity for me to take a break from my schedule and revitalize my spirit. When I was going to graduate school in California, I used to look forward to my train trips back home to Washington because it was often the only time I had to simply relax. I could read a book, or knit, or do cross-stitch, or I could just look out the window, as my son is doing in this picture, and watch the beautiful scenery go by.

Yes, last year I took my kids on their first overnight train trip. Amtrak has a family bedroom (book early) that has two adult bunks and two smaller child-size bunks. It’s not a large room by any stretch, but my kids thought sleeping on the train was a huge adventure! In my younger years I saved money and went coach, but now I pay extra for a compartment (worth every penny if you’ve ever had to sleep in coach!). In order to maintain harmony for my younger travelers I was sure to bring activities for them and there is a plug in the room for the DVD player! We had a fun time and I hope to share with them the love of train travel. This summer we are planning more train trips – look out Chicago - here we come!

Have you had experiences riding the rails? If you could go anywhere by train, where would it be?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dream a Little Dream

We are closing out our month long discussion of traveling and that is rather sad. I have SO enjoyed hearing of the wonderful places both domestic and foreign that the CasaBabes have visited over the years. I have, I confess, been a wee bit jealous upon occasion as I have only ventured outside of US borders twice in my lifetime, and that was only to Mexico! Fun, believe me, and somewhat exotic, but give me Greece any day! Or even Brazil, right Cheryl? LOL!

Cheryl’s tongue-in-cheek blog 2 days ago (scroll down) had us virtually traveling to some stunningly gorgeous locales without concern for packing the sunscreen or appropriate clothing. I mean, I have traveled through parts of the American West, heck I live in the American West, and my Native American experiences have never been THAT good!

So, super stud hunk muffins aside, if I could go anywhere with money not an object – we are still in dreaming mode apparently – Where would I go?

1. England. “Naturally,” you say in a sarcastic tone, yeah I hear ya. Well, the truth is that looonnnggg before I became obsessed with Jane Austen I was a major Arthurian geek. I would LOVE to see the places Jane lived and tour the locations used in the movie, no doubt. But the draw to see Tintagel or any of the plains that might have been Camlann is intense. And don’t even get me started on Stonehenge, Hadrian’s Wall, or Scotland. Thus I would need at least a month!

2. New Zealand. OK, to be very honest until some 9 years ago all I knew of NZ was that it sat somewhere close to OZ! Then a tiny flick called The Fellowship of the Ring was released and the Tolkien/Middle Earth geek inside of me (a larger presence than the Arthurian geek) craved walking in the paths forged by Hobbits, Elves, and Peter Jackson. I would happily brave the fires of Mt. Doom, uh, I mean Mt. Ruapehu, if necessary payment to seeing the rest.

3. Cruise the Mediterranean. This just sort of encompasses it all, right? No point in deciding whether to see Greece or Italy or Spain, by golly, just combine the culinary and oceanic delights of cruising with a leisurely survey of each country!
4. The historic east coast of the US. I really don’t care to see New York, although I would toss in a Broadway play just for kicks, but the desire to enmesh myself into American history has burned in my bosom all of my life. Boston to Philadelphia and then down into the South, I want to cover Colonial to Civil War. Not asking for much, am I?

So I figure that would take me a good year or so. Not a problem because in this fantasy I have unlimited cash and time! Now tell me where you would go if you could choose the world.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Such a travel-novice

By Lydia Dare (the Tammy half)

Travel is a very new thing for me. I never did it, aside from short trips to the beach with the husband and kids, or a day trip to the zoo or some other family-centered activity. My first actual plane ride was three years ago, when I went to the national convention for the Romance Writers of America in San Francisco. Before that, I’d never even considered flying. Much less traveling long distances. Yet, there I was, on a plane from NC to CA. All by my lonesome, too.

Now, I’m hooked. Since then, there have been quite a few trips. I’ve flown to Boston. The moment I stepped off the plane, everyone looked at me like they needed a dictionary to understand a southern drawl. But that was all right. I persevered. And had a great time traipsing around Salem, doing witchy research for the series with a good friend. I also went by train to Washington DC, for last year’s RWA conference. Now, that is the way to travel. Lots of room to stretch out your legs. You can get up and walk around. The bathrooms are big enough that you can turn in a circle without brushing anything really disgusting. (Word to the wise -- don’t wear long skirts!)

I was not fond of the subway, not in the least. Probably because I got slammed between the doors before it took off. Don’t know what in the world possessed me and made me think the doors would spring open if I stuck my body in there. (You did catch the travel-novice part, right?) They didn’t. They just squeezed. Tightly. Through that whole week, I flinched every time an elevator door started to shut. It was traumatic, to say the least.

Yet, my love for travel was born, and I can’t wait to try out more locations, meet more people, and see more fun and exciting places. I’m still learning travel etiquette, like how much to tip a cab driver and a bell hop. Those things are new to me, too. But, I’m a quick study.

I’m already planning the trips for this year. There’s Romantic Times in April, which I hear is great fun. And then RWA again in Nashville in July. Both of them require a flight, which is not so bad. I’ve gotten quite fond of one particular airline, because you have a good chance of sitting by yourself if you’re on it. I won’t mention names, but I do like to avoid rubbing elbows with strangers if I can help it, so this airline fits me.

And Lydia Dare will be even more places (there are two of us, after all) like the Spring Fling in Chicago. That one won’t be me; it’ll be Jodie.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m really glad my writing got me to step out of my comfort zone and take that first trip to RWA in San Francisco. Because it opened up a whole new world to me. It’s bigger and it’s busier. Who knows? I might even take the husband and kids some time. :-)

Have you stepped outside your box, be it traveling or anything else, and found that something really isn’t as scary as it once may have seemed?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Decisions, decisions, decisions. . . .

Since I've already written one blog on travel this month, I'd like to take this opportunity to explore a few places I have never been, but would very much like to visit. But the question is, where should I start? If I had only one choice of destinations, where would it be?

What about Brazil? Trust me, if this is how they grow them there, I need to park my butt on the beach at Rio de Janeiro and soak up the sun and the scenery.

Next, I'd like to visit Israel, for reasons which I believe are obvious even to the casual observer.

Can't forget Greece. You know, the place where they have all those Greek gods and exotic statues?

While I'm at it, I guess I might as well go to Italy, too. . . .
Okay, so Leo is an American of Italian descent, but you still get the idea.

And I must back to Brazil to see Klaus.

And mustn't miss a tour of the Scandinavian countries.

Or a trip through the American West for a Native American experience.

And back to Brazil to see Rafael.

I think I'm seeing a pattern here. The decision has been made.

Look out, Brazil! Here I come!

Now, where the devil is my passport. . . . .

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day Tripping...

By Robin Kaye

Being a writer is hard for me because I find myself housebound, more often than not. I can’t wait to go out, explore the world, and fill my creative well. I love to travel to foreign lands, soak up different cultures, and take in the architecture, art, music, and most especially, the food. However, exploring with a family of five is a little cost prohibitive.

Since my children have definitely inherited my travel gene, my husband and I have taken to doing low-cost day trips. We pack a lunch and sometimes a dinner too, throw a game in the back of the Sequoia, grab the kids, and head out on adventures.

When we lived in Boise, Idaho, it was as simple as packing a picnic basket and hiking just outside of town to find evidence of the nearby Oregon Trail, taking a tour of the haunted Old Idaho Penitentiary, or driving to the nearby ghost town of Silver City to pretend we were miners. We always kept a few mining pans in the car, so if we caught valley fever, or needed to escape the summer heat, we’d drive to the mountains and spend the day at the river’s edge, hunting for the elusive hot springs and nuggets of gold. We were good at finding hot springs, gold, not so much. But hey, we always had fun.

Living in the Washington D.C. area is the perfect place for taking day trips. We’ve explored Colonial Williamsburg, and Washington’s Birthplace. We’ve visited Monticello and Mount Vernon several times. My kids have turned into little—or not so little, anymore—historians. We love to go to Gettysburg, Valley Forge, and Antietam.

We’ve gone to Philadelphia and walked the cobblestone streets of our founding fathers. We visit Longwood Gardens once every few months, and we’ve been known to run down to DC at a moment’s notice to go to the Smithsonian.

Sometimes we pack up art supplies and hit the National Art Museum for an hour of sketching one of the many masterpieces. Part of the fun is requiring everyone to sketch—no matter that we have absolutely no artistic aptitude when it comes to drawing, with the exception of my youngest and my husband.

We’ll go from there to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage for the free show they have every night at 6:00. They have a schedule on line, but we’re not much in the way of planning so most times, we just show up and see what’s playing. We’ve never been disappointed. The last time we went, we saw an amazing steal drum band, and the time before that, a performance of Cyrano de Bergerac. My children were spellbound and have been repeatedly since they were three, five, and seven. Now at twelve, fourteen and sixteen, that hasn’t changed.

A couple of weekends ago, my husband took the girls and their best friends to the National Building Museum.

It was the one day of the year you can make your own rubber-band powered airplanes and fly them in the three story Great Hall. There were contests for the highest flier, the longest flight, etc. Unfortunately, for my youngest’s best friend, there was no contest for best water landing. He flew his plane out of bounds and into the fountain. After their avionic adventures, my brave husband took them to the Air & Space Museum, and then to the History Museum. Of course, when they arrived back home, I found out that the highlight for our own little Sully Sullenberger was riding the metro. Well, you can’t win them all.

Where do you go to feed your spirit, fill your creative well, or just escape? Where are your favorite places to go when you want to travel to far off lands but have to stick closer to home?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Travel if you're a chicken

All month we've been talking about traveling and how it enriches us as writers. Well...I'm not afraid of much, but I do have a fear of flying. So how do I get to all these hot spots I've written about?

Hypnosis. Yup. That's my secret.

Several years ago I took classes to be a hypnotherapist and was certified in hypnotherapy with extra certifications in smoking cessation, weight loss, and metaphysical applications (past life regressions, etc.)

It wasn't until learning more about how hypnosis works that I realized I could hypnotise myself. In fact, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Ever driven way past your exit on the highway? You were hypnotised. Why didn't you crash? Hypnosis isn't sleep. You're awake but your subconscious takes over for a little while. You didn't have a hypnotherapist in the car with you, did you? Probably not...

So here's what you do if you need a little help getting on the plane or taking off or landing. Before you go on your trip, find a relaxing spot where you can practice this. If you want, play some soft music in the background. Preferably something soothing and repetative without words. You're going to need to concentrate on your own words. New Agey music is good. If you like drums, how about some Native American drumming? Nature sounds? Even white noise is fine.

Be sure nothing interrupts your concentration. Wait until the kids and pets are out of the house. Tell your significant other not to interrupt you for 20 minutes.

Now, get comfortable. Take several deep breaths. All the way in and all the way out.
Then breathe normally, but slowly, as you would if you were sleeping. If you do fall asleep during this process, it's okay. Your subconscious will take over.

Think of some comforting words you can repeat to yourself. Affirmations are perfect. they're worded in the positive and that's what you want--a comforting, positive thought. Something like, "I release all my fears and embrace my stregnth and security." For lots more, Google "Positive affirmations."

Okay, now you have your music, your comfortable position and your words. The only other thing you need is your special place. Do you have a favorite vacation spot? A place outside where you like to sit and take in the view? A favorite hiking trail perhaps? Picture yourself in a special place in as acute detail as you can. See the dew on the leaves. Feel the sun warming the top of your head and your shoulders. Are you barefoot in your special place or wearing sneakers? Feel the sand under your feet or the pine needles cushioning your footsteps. Smell the air around you. Are you enjoying the sea air or the forest?

Okay...Now you're comfortable and in your special place with all your senses as if you're really there. Take those three deep cleansing breaths and tell yourself, "Relax, relax, relax..." Let your body go limp as you count down from 10 to 1, silently. As soon as you feel very relaxed and are enjoying being in your special place, say your positive affirmation over and over in your mind. Repeat this for as long as you feel good doing so. If something intereferes with your relaxed state, it's better to come out of hypnosis (gently) and deal with it. You can resume hypnosis later. Simply repeat what you did before. As you do this more and more, it'll take less time to relax and feel even more wonderful when you come out of it.

When you're ready to come back to reality (yes, you must at some point) silently count back up from 1 to 10 and let your eyes drift open. Notice how much clearer you feel. You'll probably even notice your vision is better and colors are brighter. In only a few minutes, you had the benefit of a long nap without the hours involved.

So how does this translate to travel? You might have noticed, there's nothing involved in doing this except your mind and a place to sit. When you get on the plane, simply get comfortable in your seat, close your eyes, and go to your special place. Take your deep breaths (you can be a bit more subtle in public) and let yourself relax completely. Count down to your most relaxed state and repeat your mantra or affirmation. I keep it up until the plane is safely in the air. Then I can count myself back up, let my eyes drift open and enjoy the view. The same goes for landing.

If at any point turbulence becomes a problem, I go back to my special place and relax again. The turbulence will pass. On my way to India there was turbulence much of the way. I went into self-hynpsos several times and I was fine. I'm not even afraid to make the 18 hour trip again sometime.

I hope you find that as helpful as I have.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Visiting the Last Frontier

In February of 2001, friend and author Shawna Delacorte and I attended the Left Coast Crime Conference held in Anchorage Alaska.

It was the absolute best time of my life.

Not only did I have the chance to hang out with some awesome mystery writers – which we always did when we attended this conference – but I got to do things there that I hadn’t done before.

My introduction to Alaska was arriving at midnight and the city looked like a fairyland with houses decorated with twinkle lights. It might have been closer to Valentine’s Day than Christmas, but you’d never know it.

Good friend and fellow author, Shawna Delacorte and I were there to network, sign our books and I even got to do a ‘a talk with’ section. Along with incredible workshops and roaming the city, we participated in some fun activities.

The FBI held a get together at their building. We got to talk to the SWAT officers there, play in their Hogan’s Alley, tour the building – I saw a huge polar bear pelt on the conference room wall – and see items they’d confiscated over the years. I also had a great time talking serial killers with one of the agents. And my introduction to reindeer sausage. I’m sorry, I ate Vixen, Comet, and Dasher.

We also were part of a group that got to go dog sledding. Talk about fun for someone who’s a total dog lover! We visited the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which showed various tribal cabins and you were able to tour each one. And we took a three-hour cruise out of Seward in a small covered boat on a day that had ice rain along with visiting the aquarium in the town. Yes, Shawna and I did sing the Gilligan’s Island theme before boarding the boat! Going outside the cabin to take pictures was cold cold cold! Only one I missed was a Bald Eagle perched on a railing when we returned to port. We even ventured out into the Bering Straits a bit and saw a newborn Orca.

We saw a moose outside the hotel, walked what they call the snow shuffle down to the Snow Sculpture Contest, and visited the carnival and fur auction that went on for Fur Rondy.

It was new to us to go outside in the morning and find it still dark. Days were still short then. And having to watch our steps on the snowy and sometimes icy sidewalks.

I spent the week with hat hair, living in jeans, heavy sweaters, a borrowed down coat, and hiking boots. I met great people, had experiences I only could have dreamed of, and I’d happily do it again.
The state and friendly people allowed my imagination to wander and even nine years later, it’s still going strong.

You never know when it will show up in a book!


Sunday, March 21, 2010

France and Romance and Me

by Libby Malin

Many moons ago--well, really, about one--I wrote a post about Bal'mer (that's Baltimore, Maryland), my hometown, and how I often set stories there.

There's one other spot that ends up skittering through my tales from time to time -- France. The heroine in my very first humorous women's fiction, Loves Me, Loves Me Not, took off for France at the end of the book, fleeing some weighty problems. Once there, she had to decide on a dime whether or not to return early to take a chance on love.

In Fire Me, the protagonist doesn't go to France, but she does daydream about speaking in French. Whenever she's stressed, she hears herself prattling like a character in a French movie, her passionate problems rendered dispassionate at the flick of a "mais oui, Mademoiselle." One of the lines she thinks to herself in this episode is "Je vais cherchez du bon vin a la cave" (or something like it).

That's a line from my high school French class. Whooee-- we must have spent a month trying to get that line right. My school was using a sound-only approach to teaching beginning French, the underlying principle being that you should learn a foreign language the way you learn your native one -- by hearing it and repeating it first, writing it later. Our class followed the story of the Thibaux family, and one day Monsieur Thibaux decided to "go look for some good wine in the cellar."

(As an aside, that program had its assets and liabilities. I learned to speak French, but I had to unlearn all the weird spellings I came up with as I wrote things down using the one language I did know how to write - English.)

France plays a part in a novel I'm working on right now, too, with the main characters spending the bulk of the story there.

I'm not sure why France attracted me so much when I was younger. Maybe it's because my maternal grandfather's family were of French ancestry? I loved the language, and later, when I went to a music conservatory, I fell in love with French art songs.

So it's no surprise that I landed there one summer, attending Les Ecoles D'Art Americaines de Fontainebleau. The school itself was located in a magnificent palace, with studios overlooking gorgeous gardens. That was a magical summer, at a time when the school was still run by the great Nadia Boulanger, who had taught or coached well-known classical artists from around the world. With friends I made at the school, I traveled by train to Paris, attended a ballet performance at the Paris Opera, visited the Louvre (the Mona Lisa is small!), ate in cafes and practiced the language I'd learned from the happy Thibaux family.

I didn't do too poorly on the language front. Stopped by some tourists asking for directions in Fontainebleau one afternoon, I babbled valiantly, quickly able to understand what the tourists were saying in French . . . . until we discovered we all spoke English. They were tourists, all right, but from across the Channel.

My time in France was so wonderful that I dreamed of returning to study for a year. I saved my money and made plans with some fellow Fontainebleau alums to go back. Go back I did one fall -- but, like the heroine in my first women's fiction novel, something had happened between making the plans to travel and the actual travel. I'd fallen in love. Once in France, I had a new dream -- to be with the fellow I left behind. I cut short my visit and scampered home.

And yeah, I married the guy, never regretting for an instant that I replaced the dream of France with the dreamboat who is my husband.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

CasaBabes' Recipes for Romantic Nights!

Time to have a howling good party!!! So pass out the word--it's the big day!
We've been running around the world participating in Barbara Vey's 3rd Anniversary Publishers Weekly's Birthday Bash, and today is the romance blow out!

And we're contributing recipes for those special dates, but also Sourcebooks is contributing books as gifts! Thanks so much to everyone for helping to put this together. It did have pictures of our giveaway books, but, the post wouldn't save! So it's time to party!

Mary Margret Daughtridge--Sealed with a Ring
Linda Wisdom--Hex in High Heels
Judi Fennell--Catch of a Lifetime
Cheryl Brooks—Fugitive
Sharon Lathan--Mr & Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy
Joanne Kennedy --Cowboy Trouble
Amanda Forester--The Highlander's Sword
Ashlyn Chase
-- An ARC of Strange Neighbors
Shana Galen--An ARC of The Making of a Duchess
Robin Kaye--Breakfast in Bed
Marie Force--Love at First Flight
Terry Spear--Legend of the White Wolf
Kathryne Kennedy--MY UNFAIR LADY

Roast Beef Hash for Wolfish Appetites

** By Terry Spear

Slaving away over a hot stove is not what wolfish kinds of characters have time for. Romps in the woods, moonlit swims, and other more, hmm, intimate excursions are more important. So having roast beef one night (as in To Tempt the Wolf) and then fixing leftovers the next day in the form of Roast Beef Hash, can be the perfect easy way to get off the hook, but create an appealing new dish.

Leftover Roast (I've used beef brisket also, to give the hash a more smoky flavor, and corned beef also for another spicy alternative)

2 Medium Onions
3 Medium Potatoes, Peeled

1 Tsp Garlic Salt, or ¼ Clove of Garlic
1/8 Tsp Black Pepper

Cooking Oil to coat bottom of Frying Pan (Olive Oil can be substituted for Vegetable Oil for a different flavor)


1) Dice potatoes and onions into bite size chunks. Combine all ingredients, except for meat, and cook on low until potatoes and onions are tender.

2) Cut up roast into bite size chunks and add to mix to warm, not overcook. My dad used to make it by throwing the meat in with the potatoes and onions in the beginning and by the time everything was cooked, the meat would be crispy critters. :)

Great way to serve leftovers without tasting like tired old leftovers and easy enough for anyone with Wolfish appetites to make! Serves 2-3.

Mr. Darcy's Favorite Desserts
** By Sharon Lathan

It is a well known fact that Mr. Darcy has a weakness for lemon flavored desserts. Pemberley's cook, Mrs. Langton, is well aware of this, providing her Master with delicious lemon confections on a regular basis. Here are two of his favorite desserts, the recipes acquired from Mrs. Hugo Partridge's 1790 cookbook and in her original words. *Mrs. Partridge's manuscript of traditional English cuisine can be read here:

Lemon Cheese--
Take a pint of thick cream, a quarter of a pound of double refined sugar pounded very fine, the juice of two lemons & the rind of two grated, mix them well together & whisk them with a whisk until it is very thick, then put it into a lawn sieve (A very fine sieve, made of lawn, a kind of fine linen) just large enough to hold it. Let it stand 24 hours, turn it out, & garnish it as you please.

Lemon Pudding--
Take the rinds of two large lemons, boil them into two or three waters until the bitterness be out; Beat it fine in a mortar with 3/4 of a pound of blanch'd almonds, 3/4 of a pound of loaf sugar beaten, 3 or 4 spoonfuls of orange flower water, the yolks of ten eggs, 3/4 of a pound of clarify'd butter; mix all these well together and put puff paste (pastry) round your dish.

Basic Baltimore Crab Soup
**By Marie Force
A Baltimore prosecutor set to begin the murder trial of his career and a hair stylist with a dysfunctional family met in the airport on their way to visit their significant others in Florida. After they each endure a disastrous weekend, they meet up again on the flight home, striking up an unlikely friendship that leads to love.
Easy to make and a Baltimore institution

Ingredients and directions:

To 1 gallon of very hot water add:
1 lb. stew beef, diced and browned with fat

4 beef bouillon cubes
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp. seafood seasoning
3 slices bacon, halved
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large can tomato paste
Cook 1 hour over med-high heat in an uncovered pot. After 1 hour add:
2 packages frozen mixed vegetables
3 large potatoes, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 small cabbage, shredded
1/4 cup barley

Cook for 1 hour over medium heat. After 1 hour add:
1 lb backfin or regular crabmeat
1 1b claw crabmeat

Heat through.

Courtesy The Crab Cookbook by Whitey Schmidt.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

**By Linda Wisdom

Chocolate is a food staple in our house and why the witches are chocoholics and even Fluff and Puff get into the act at times. These cookies are so addictive and popular with friends. Enjoy!
Filling –
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Cookie -- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine, softened
8-oz. pkg cream cheese, softened
reserve 2 oz. for frosting
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
Frosting –
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa
1-2 tbsp milk
reserved 2 oz. cream cheese
Combine peanut butter and powdered sugar, blend until smooth. Chill while mixing cookie dough. Cream brown sugar, sugar, margarine and 6 oz cream cheese until light and fluffy. Blend in egg and vanilla. Blend flour, cocoa and baking powder into creamed mixture. Shape dough into 1 inch balls, place 2 in. apart on cookie sheets. With thumb, make imprint in center of each cookie. Fill with 1 tsp filling. Bring dough around filling to completely cover. Bake at 350 for 9-12 minutes. Cool.
Mix frosting ingredients together and spread over cooled cookie.

Cheryl's Orange Banana Bread
**by Cheryl Brooks
This bread is not only good, it's orgasmic--like a Zetithian!
3 very ripe bananas
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 cups flour
the grated zest (about 1 Tbsp) and juice of one large orange

2 eggs
1/3 cup shortening

Cream the shortening together with the eggs, bananas, and sugar. Add the orange juice and zest and then beat in remaining ingredients. Bake in a large (9 X 5) greased loaf pan at 350 degrees for about one hour and enjoy!


Key West Penne

** By Judi Fennell

In honor of Ginger La Fleur’s unending quest for lunch, I decided to post this recipe. Ginger, a flamingo, isn’t all that thrilled with the slim pickins she gets for her meals, thanks to Human fishing practices, so she’s continually trying to bribe or blackmail Angel, the heroine who’s a mermaid, to give her prawns and scallops from Logan’s (the hero’s) refrigerator. She eventually gets her way, but she’s got plenty to say in the interim.
I’m guessing if Ginger had her druthers, she’d substitute prawns for the shrimp in this recipe, but I didn’t when I made it. I did substitute light cream for heavy cream which is probably a sacrilege, but I do it with my alfredo sauce all the time, and that tastes just fine. So did this.
It’s not my own recipe, but I was looking for something light and easy, and with the Florida name, well, that pretty much sealed the deal since my February release, Catch of a Lifetime, is set in Florida. Enjoy! And I hope you enjoy “taking the plunge” into my Mer series!

1 (16 ounce) package penne pasta
1 pound shrimp
1 pound scallops
1 (12 ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and patted dry
1 (8 ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and patted dry
1 pint heavy cream (*I used light and it was fine)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.
Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Combine shrimp, scallops, artichokes and sun dried tomatoes, then cook until shrimp turn pink. Reduce heat, and stir in cream and parmesan. Toss with cooked pasta, and sprinkle olives on top.
Gluten-free Macaroons (to cure* what ails you)
** by Mary Margret Daughtridge

*A friend told me that macaroons were a folk remedy for some kind of digestive distress. The Archway brand was specified. I was intrigued. However, when I read the package ingredients I saw Archway macaroons contained cornstarch, a no-no for me. The other ingredients were egg white, sugar, vanilla, salt, so I decided to try to replicate the macaroons without the cornstarch.

My cookies turned out much lighter and airier than most store-bought macaroons –a fascinating combination of melt-in-your-mouth, lightly crispy outside, and lightly chewy on the inside.
I don’t know if these macaroons are as therapeutic as Archway’s, but they are delicious and—taken with coffee and the company of a good friend—will almost certainly make you feel better.

Yield: about 30
Preparation time: 10 minutes plus baking time
Preheat oven to 300
Grease cookie sheet.
Whites of 2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
½ (or more) teaspoon vanilla
dash salt
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
¾ to 1 cup dried shredded coconut
Beat whites at low speed until foamy. Increase speed and add sugar a little at a time until stiff peaks form.
Add vanilla and salt. Beat in vanilla and salt just until incorporated. (5 seconds)
Sprinkle tapioca flour over meringue; sprinkle the coconut. Using a spatula, fold dry ingredients into the meringue.
Drop by teaspoons 2 inches apart onto well–greased cookie sheet.
Bake 25-30 minutes until crispy outside and lightly browned.
Remove to wire rack and allow to cool.
Store in airtight container at room temperature.
Delicious still warm from the oven, but just as good cool, and they keep well for 4 days.

Chocolate Fondue
**Robin Kaye

I always have a lot of food in my books and I receive a lot of requests for the recipes. Here's one of my favorites - the Chocolate Fondue that Rich and Becca enjoyed in Breakfast in Bed. If you've read the book, you know it's good for more than just dipping strawberries...

¾ cup heavy whipping cream (reserve a ¼ cup in case fondue needs to be thinned or cooled for other uses) *grin*
4 bittersweet chocolate bars chopped (3 ½ oz. each)
2 Tablespoons Frangelico or Amaretto (optional)
Food for dipping such as strawberries, pretzels, marshmallows, biscotti, orange slices etc. (use your imagination.)
Heat cream in microwave being careful not to scald, add chocolate and let sit in hot cream for a few minutes to soften, then whisk together. Stir in liqueur and transfer to a fondue pot or set the mixing bowl on a rack over a small, lit candle. Dip fruit and other edibles and feed each other. Then, if you wish, cool the remaining chocolate fondue off with heavy cream, one tablespoon at a time, until it’s cool enough to dip your fingers (or other body parts) in.

Ella’s Venison Meatloaf
**by Joanne Kennedy

In Wyoming, hunting and fishing are a way of life, and native game is a home-cooked specialty in many households. Luke’s mother makes the best venison meatloaf in Lackaduck – when she doesn’t get the cooking mixed up with the laundry.

Rather than offer Ella’s jockey shorts recipe, I thought I’d post her venison meatloaf. The trick with wild game is to keep the very lean (and healthy!) meat from drying out. This recipe does the trick and tastes great!

Ella’s Venison Meatloaf
1T olive oil
2 T chopped onion
1 t minced garlic
16 Saltine crackers, crumbled
2 eggs
1 t brown mustard
1T chopped parsley
1 t dried thyme
Dash cinnamon
Dash paprika
5 T ketchup
2 T brown sugar
1 ½ lbs ground venison
½ lb ground pork

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil.

Beat eggs; add onion mixture, mustard, parsley, thyme, cinnamon, paprika, ketchup and brown sugar.
Stir finely crumbled saltines into mixture; add ground venison and pork. Mix well and form into loaf shape in 9x13 pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until meat thermometer inserted in center reads 160 degrees.


Medieval(ish) Wassail
**Amanda Forester

Authentic medieval wassail I found challenging to prepare and so alcoholic it was hard to swallow. They sure could drink in those medieval times! This is a modified version with a cider base instead of sherry or ale. With winter here to stay, I hope this drink will keep you warm!

2 liters apple cider
1 orange, cut into thick slices
1 lemon, cut into thick slices
4 cinnamon sticks
½ t nutmeg
6 allspice berries
8 whole cloves
3 cups sherry
Brandy (from a splash to a glug depending on taste)

Stick the whole cloves into the peel of the orange slices. Pour cider into large pot, and add orange slices, lemon slices, and spices. Bring to boil then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Add sherry and/or brandy to taste. Strain out spices and fruit. Serve warm.


Merry's Famous Lasagna
**By Ashlyn Chase

With Jason Falco playing the field, as well as professional baseball, a genuine home cooked meal was a rare treat.

How did Merry Mackenzie know Lasagna was his very favorite dish of all time? When the sexy nurse cooked for him on their first date, the thought of giving up restaurants and one night stands sounded pretty good to the star pitcher.

Lasagna noodles
1 1/2 Jars of sauce spiced up with extra oregano and garlic
Ricotta cheese
Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese

Cook the noodles. Cut them in half.
Instead of layering, place a dob of all ingredients at one end of the noodle and roll it up. Place in baking pan that's been greased with olive oil.
Repeat until the pan is full. Spread the rest of the sauce over all the rolled noodles, top with Parmesan cheese and bake at 350 for about an hour.

Hannah Glasse's Art of Cookery:
**By Kathryne Kennedy

My upcoming release, THE FIRE LORD'S LOVER, is a Georgian (eighteenth century) fantasy romance filled with the pageantry of the era in a magical new England. You may have to add a dash of fairy dust to the salad to enjoy the complete flavor.

Green Salad
serves 4 to 6
1 small head lettuce, washed & cut up
1 cup watercress leaves
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
20 mint leaves
1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
In a salad bowl, mix the dressing ingredients well. Add the greens and toss to coat with the dressing.

**Shana Galen

I'm including a recipe for Tex-Mex Corn Chowder. It's comfort food, and Sarah in THE MAKING OF A DUCHESS (June 2010) can certainly use comfort after she's forced to give up her position as a governess to act as an aristocrat in order to spy on a French duke. Enjoy!

Tex-Mex Corn Chowder (2-4 servings)
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5-10 minutes
1 can whole-kernel corn, drained
1 can cream-style sweet corn
1 can diced tomatoes with garlic and onion
1 can black beans or red kidney beans--rinsed and drained
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup water
shredded cheddar cheese
cilantro (optional)
Combine corn, undrained cream-style corn, undrained tomatoes, beans, broth, and water in medium sauce pan.
Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer covered for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle each serving with shredded cheddar cheese. Garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired.

Blueberry Break
**by Lydia Dale

Much like the Westfield brothers, blueberries are ruled by the pull of the moon. In Tall, Dark and Wolfish, Elspeth, a witch by her very nature, takes advantage of the healing properties of blueberries when she uses them in an attempt to restore Benjamin Westfield to his former wolfish self.
Here’s our version of something she might have used!
Blueberry Break
¾ cup of sugar
1 egg
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp of baking powder
¼ tsp of salt
½ cup of milk
2 cups of fresh blueberries
¼ cup of butter, softened
2/3 cup of sugar
½ cup of all purpose flower
½ tsp of cinnamon
1/3 cup of cold butter
In a small bowl, cream the butter and the sugar together with a mixer. Beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add it in small increments to the mixing bowl with the butter, sugar and egg, alternating it with the milk until both are well incorporated. Fold in the blueberries. Pour into a 9 X 9 baking dish.
For the topping, combine the sugar, cinnamon and flour in a bowl. Cut the cold butter in slowly with the edge of a fork or cutting tool until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over blueberry mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Goes great with coffee, tea and, yes, even ice cream.

Hope you try some of these mouth-watering recipes, and good luck on winning our books! Just comment on Barbara Vey's blog for the books. Ours for the recipes! And thanks so much for joining us!