So, this is August

Honestly, I’m surprised to note it’s only the nineteenth of August. As fast as my summer has disappeared, I expected it to be later. They say time flies when you’re having fun, and that’s certainly true. It also slips by unnoticed when you’re busy. What about when both coincide, when you’re working hard and enjoying it? It’s no wonder I seem to have lost two and a half months.

What have I been up to? Well, I’m so glad you asked.

Got Wood? This was by the fireplace in our room. (Click to enlarge)
Got Wood? This was by the fireplace in our room.

At the beginning of the summer my husband and I visited a couples resort. He won a two night stay there in a raffle. The previous sentence is a disclaimer, because he and I are not really couples resort people. We…laughed at the pool. C’mon, it was heart-shaped, and not recessed into the Lido Deck of the Love Boat. The hot tub in our room was heart-shaped, too. We laughed when he switched on the lights and pink spots highlighted the bright, crimson colour of the tub. The bed was round and had its own light show—a scatter of star lights across the black tile ceiling. The black tile ceiling struck me as kinky.

The resort just kinda blew my mind. I honestly didn’t know couples went away to places like this, en masse. No kidding, there were hundreds of rooms here and the place was hopping. AND EVERYONE HELD HANDS. Creepy. In fact, it was so weird that we felt like we were visiting a cult, and by the end of our two days, we felt compelled to hold hands. We did not dare go anywhere alone, because that seemed to be against expectations—which were probably being fulfilled in some of the champagne glass hot tubs in the super premium rooms. Oh, yeah, we stayed THERE. But not in the room with the champagne glass. Those aren’t for the certificate winners, those are for folks who don’t mind pressing their bare arse against thick Perspex, in full view of the front door of their suite.

Mmhmm.

To be fair, we did actually have a good time. Between snickers and giggles, we made use of all the facilities, including my favourite new pastime: shuffleboard. I like it because I’m good at it. I beat Husband twice. The food was pretty good, too, and our stay included a ticket to see comedians and SNL alumni Rob Schneider and Jon Lovitz. Schneider had me in stitches, wiping tears from my cheeks.

Upon my return from the Crazy Cult of Coupledoom, I learned that Carina Press not only liked the manuscript my writing partner, Jenn, and I had submitted, but that they wanted to sign the entire five-book series. Publish it. There’s little news better than: I’m getting published! All right, I know getting married (and coerced into spending weekends at couples resorts) and having kids are pretty big deals. But:

I’M GETTING PUBLISHED!

Again.

Regular visitors to my blog will know I already have a book out there. It’s a science fiction romance novella called Less Than Perfect. Click through to read all about it. This new deal is for a five book science fiction romance series co-authored by my best bud, Jenn Burke, and I. The first book is tentatively entitled Chaos Station and is tentatively scheduled for release in March 2015. Carina Press is a digital first imprint of Harlequin Enterprises. What this means is that we have the backing of an experienced company and the attention of a specialized team. Needless to say, Jenn and I are both wildly excited to be working with Carina and cannot wait for the world to meet our “boys”. Watch this pace for updates.

Jenn and I make use of the Instacam at the Harlequin party.
Jenn and I make use of the Instacam at the Harlequin party.

Much as I’d like to talk about the book deal (like, forever), I have more summer to cover. Oh, yeah, this is going to be a long one. With the ink drying on our deal sheet with Carina, Jenn and I flew down to San Antonio, Texas, to attend the 2014 Romance Writers of America conference. I’ve attended a fair number of conferences and conventions, but never as a professional. Okay, actually, I did attend a series of luncheons that were somehow related to me being a director of my father’s company, waaaay back before the turn of the century, but I mostly went for the food. This time I went to network and boy, did I work it. I met so many authors, but the surprising thing was, being there as an author meant that these women were just as delighted to meet me, even if they’d never heard of my li’l old novella. They were excited to meet a new author, a fellow writer and someone who not only read, but wrote romance. And it wasn’t weird, not like the Cult of Coupledoom weird. These women were so genuinely enthusiastic about their careers and so willing to help their fellows succeed. I willingly drank the Kool-Aid.

I met a lot of authors I admire and idolize at RWA. I tried not to gush all over them, but it’s hard not to enthuse about books and characters that you adore, and I’m sure authors are delighted to know people enjoy their books. Right? Robyn Carr was lovely. I told her which book in the Thunder Point series I had enjoyed the most and she mentioned another I’d probably like because of the similarities of character, who happened to be one of her favourites. Can’t get a better recommendation than that! I danced near Nora Roberts at the Harlequin party—an amazing event that I felt so privileged to attend—and sought out Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Claudia Welch and Linda Francis Lee after attending their seminars to tell them how helpful they had been. I also have autographed copies of their books. In fact, I came home with thirty-five pounds of books. Had to buy an extra bag. I also attended a Carina Press breakfast, where I had a chance to chat to Jeffe Kennedy and the Entangled meet-up where I stood amazed as Robin Covington talked and talked and talked to me and Jenn about her writing process, as if we understood. Which we did—do?—of course, but, who knew all these bestselling authors would have time to talk to little old me? I met a ton of other authors, and also the Editorial Directors of both Entangled Publishing and Carina Press. One of the best aspects of all this meeting and greeting was putting names to faces.

More on the Harlequin party here, on Jenn’s blog.

I still haven’t cracked open my notebook from all the workshops I attended at RWA. I plan to do that this week. I took a lot of notes with two particular manuscripts in mind. I’m eager to get to work on both projects—just as soon as I finish drafting book three of the Chaos Series with Jenn. (Book three!)

I'm the one in the middle!
I’m the one in the middle!

A week after my return from Texas, I tested for and received my brown belt in Kiryoku System of Self Defense. This was a great milestone for me, representing five years of work.

I was on the road again, this time to Mississippi to meet family. Instead of a week on the beach, this year, our family decided to road-trip it. We had a great time. Over the course of three days, we followed the trail of the Civil War from Gettysburg, through Harrisonburg to the Tannehill Ironworks and on to Vicksburg. We detoured through the war of 1812 in New Orleans, at the Chalmette Plantation (Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815) and ended up at the World of Coke a Cola in Atlanta, where one can follow the history of the war between Coke and Pepsi—and taste sixty flavours of carbonated beverage from around the world.

Yes, I giggled. Then I took a picture.
Yes, I giggled. Then I took a picture.

Our trip had two highlights. Actually, it had many more than that. As a family of three, we’re very close-knit and we really enjoyed our ten days of close proximity, which is a wonder, it really is. Tempers only started to fray toward the end, and even then, we had a common goal: home. First highlight was our visit with family in Mississippi. I covered that in a blog post a couple of weeks ago. The second highlight was our first visit to New Orleans. I’ve seen it in the movies, I’ve read about it in books, now I’ve finally visited and it lives up to the hype. The French Quarter looks exactly as it should; the food is amazing—I think we all gained ten pounds in two days—and there is always music playing. And it’s HOT. Next time we visit, we’re not going in August. The air was like soup. Hot soup. We toured some historical sites, but mostly we shopped. We pawed through a lot of local arts and crafts, bought a couple of trinkets and then dropped two hundred dollars on voodoo dolls. Yep.

So, that’s my summer. Between the traveling and the writing, I haven’t had time for much else. Ironically, I always read less in the summer, as I’m usually outside taking advantage of the sunshine. This summer has marked the first serious lag in my blogging, however, which I’m going to chalk up to being overwhelmed with writing commitments. Jenn and I have three more manuscripts due, with actual deadlines, and then five to edit before publication, and that’s just for our co-written series. She also has a book due out later this year with Entangled’s Covet line, and I have two contemporary romance manuscripts to edit.

If you made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading and I hope you had a fabulous summer, too! Pictures below are from my travels.

Lunch at Plateau in the French Quarter.
Lunch at Plateau in the French Quarter.
St. Louis Cathedral, French Quarter, New Orleans.
St. Louis Cathedral, French Quarter, New Orleans.
Read the sign. :)
Read the sign. 🙂
60 Flavours of Coke. Photo is blurry due to the caffeine rush. ;)
60 Flavours of Coke. Photo is blurry due to the caffeine rush. 😉

You Don’t Choose Your Family

I have just spent two days in Mississippi with relative strangers. It was a little bit weird…and more than a little bit wonderful. The food—oh, my goodness, the food. Southern favourites served with instructions to wash up and stow our hats. The manners—every single person capable of speech respecting their elders, even in the midst of disrespecting them. The stories—which included more than one tale of a good whooping. That last sounds better in the Mississippi accent, which brings me to the accents. Any more than two days of exposure and I think I’d slip into one. It’s beguiling, just like the heat and hospitality.

So who were these strangers? My husband’s family, or, to be more precise, the family of his birth mother.

Forty-seven years ago, he was adopted by a wonderful woman who raised him right. I have the utmost respect for his adoptive mother, even when we’re regarding one another from behind drawn lines. Yes, she’s a typical mother-in-law in that she believes only she knows her baby and only she knows what’s best for him. Before this ramble digresses into a rant regarding a woman I do actually love, let me move on! About two and a half years ago, my husband embarked on a search for his birth mother. He’d made a fitful attempt some years ago and abandoned it soon after. This time, he struck gold on the first try. It helped that his birth mother had submitted a request about sixteen years before that allowed an almost instant connection to happen.

An exchange of letters followed, then a phone call and a visit. Turned out his grandmother was having her ninetieth birthday that summer, so Husband flew to Mississippi to join the celebration. He came back with a certain glow. I don’t know his exact mind on the matter—he can be a man of few words until after a few drinks, and by then neither of us want to talk about important things, there’s mischief and mayhem to be had, or naps. But I can imagine a mixture of trepidation and excitement and a question of loyalty. He loves his adoptive mother, but must have been curious about his birth mother. I’m glad his first meeting with the family of his birth mother turned out to be such a happy occasion. Stories with happy endings are the best kind, after all.

Facebook “friending” ensued and all of a sudden I had friends I didn’t know. Family I didn’t know. Until that point, I hadn’t really considered how my husband finding his birth family would affect me and my daughter. She was excited, of course. I was a little more restrained in my reaction, which is weird for me as I am generally quite social and love to meet new people. I also adore my own large family and miss having the chance to visit them often as they are all in Australia. I suppose it was the idea of change, of redrawing some sort of invisible boundary I had set. Or maybe I’m just getting cantankerous in my old age. Either way, I fell into the bosom of this new family, willing or not.

And then I met them.

We drove for three days (coincidentally following some sort of Civil War trail from Pennsylvania to Mississippi, which I’m sure my husband meticulously planned). I was equal parts excited to see Mississippi as I was to meet his “new” family. After meeting them, the wonder of a new state faded into the background.

It’s hard to describe how it feels to be hugged seven times in the space of a minute by people you don’t know. To have their arms pull you in, tight, to have them exclaim how thrilled they are to finally meet you. Then they heard my accent and they were thrilled all over again. Never mind that I could listen to them talk for hours and hours. We quickly formed a mutual accent admiration society. And then we got to know one another and… you know what? After about an hour, they felt like family.

Obviously, they made a space for us. You do that when meeting people. You make a space for them, one appropriately shaped to the role you expect (or hope) they will play in your life. Then you invite them in to that space and all the little adjustments begin. You start with the childhood stories because everyone has a few to share and everyone can bond over being chased by a mother wielding a wooden spoon. You talk about your travels, where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. You carefully introduce uncertain subjects (like your insane love of disaster movies) and light up like a Christmas tree when you discover a reciprocal fondness. The conversation deepens and digresses and before you know it, it’s time for lunch.

Before this visit, I liked southern food. I’d never had home-cooked southern food, though. Cornbread fresh from the oven, the rounded bottom edge crisped from a well-seasoned skillet. Black-eyed peas jumbled in with onions, okra and chunks of ham. The ham. Oh, my God, the ham. Peach crisp. Cream cheese soup. Yes, it sounds like it will kill you and it probably would if you had it every day. But, wow, it’s good. And cheesy. Puddings and cakes and more corn bread. Chicken and dumplings.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, family.

The first day we caravanned to Vicksburg and did the typical family outing thing: we dragged the kids around the military park while the menfolk read every plaque and the womenfolk gossiped. The second day we just flopped about on the lawn playing games, in between “air-conditioning breaks” because, Lord, it is hot and humid down here. There was no need to go anywhere and the conversation only flagged when we all took time to breathe. Then it was time for dinner.

(drool break)

After two days, I felt more relaxed than I had in months and I almost regretted the fact we planned to leave today. I say “almost” as we’re heading to New Orleans and that’s another first and I can’t wait. Because…food. And New Orleans. But, we’ll be back. We promised Husband’s great-grandmother we would be back and that’s not an oath to be taken lightly. Aside from that, though, I want to go back. I’d forgotten how easy it was to talk to people that you don’t have to pretend to like, or that you can just be yourself around, even if they don’t know who you are. I miss them already and I look forward to maintaining closer contact with this crowd of relative strangers who welcomed me into their home.  Who are no longer strangers at all.

We’ll probably rethink the whole Mississippi in August thing next time, though.

Viva Las Vegas

My recent trip to Las Vegas left me with the urge to play Fallout: New Vegas, again, and about one hundred and fifty somewhat crappy photos taken with my mobile phone. I’m going to share some of the photos with you. Not because I wish you harm, but because I think some of them are less crappy than others and because they capture the aspects of Las Vegas that I really like.

When I tell people I got married in Vegas, they naturally assume I was pregnant and/or drunk. I made the decision with a sound mind and flat belly. Reasonably flat. Moving to the States carried a ten pound penalty that took me about ten years to shift. As weddings go, mine was very normal (except for the skinny dipping, but that could almost be normal). No Elvis impersonators, cheesy chapel of love, rented bouquet or rude honk from the car behind us in the drive-thru. No sparkly suits or vast quantities of flammable hair gel. No uninvited guests playing ‘Objection!’ right before the credits rolled.

The chapel we chose has since been bulldozed to make way for a beach club, but that’s Vegas. Some marriages do last longer than the memories. 🙂

Why did we choose to get married there? My husband is from Vegas. No, he’s not a compulsive gambler. Not compulsive, anyway. His mother is not a showgirl. And that’s kind of the point of this ramble. Vegas isn’t all it seems. It can be all about The Strip. The gambling, free drinks, sticky carpet and perks of losing all your money to a mobster with shiny teeth. If you want it to be. But the valley of Las Vegas has so much more to offer than empty pockets and a hangover. Step outside the glow of the pretty lights and you’ll see one of the most unique deserts in the world: The Mojave.

One of the highlights, for me, of any visit to Las Vegas is a day spent at Red Rock Canyon. Valley of Fire is equally stunning. Both are carefully curated preservation areas and the attached visitors’ centers hold a wealth of information. Before I start to sound like a travel brochure, I’ll get to the happy snaps.

Red Rock
Red Rock, Calico Hills. Red Rock Canyon State Park

The colour of the rocks at both Red Rock and Valley of Fire inspire a lot of happy snapping. (Ignore the washed out foreground. Just remember all these pictures were taken with a mobile phone. Don’t look at me like that!) This particular rock stands twice the height of my husband. For reference, he’s 6’3″.

Calico Hills
Calico Hills

I’ve climbed these hills a few times, now. The shape of the boulders and the challenge of the nooks and crannies inspire amateur rock-climbing and spelunking. There were some professionals there. We tackled the rocks with a lot less gear. We might have pretended we were playing Assassin’s Creed as we shimmied up between two almost vertical rock faces and squeezed through chimneys. My daughter all but ruined a pair of jeans. But we had a lot of fun!

Gaps
Gaps in the rocks, Calico Hills.

The day before, we visited another of my favourite places: Hoover Dam. Built in the early 1930s, it’s considered one of the seven wonders of the industrial world. There are many reasons why it qualifies; the amount of concrete poured, the thickness of the dam, the height, the audacity of the project, the fact it was completed in just five years. Five years. I think what astounds me is not only that the dam has paid for itself–it carries no construction debt–it continues to run at no cost to the tax payer, year after year. They don’t even siphon off any of the electricity they produce to run the lights inside. They have separate turbines for their own power. The place is nearly 100 years old and a model of efficiency rarely seen in the modern world. That, alone, makes it a wonder.

Dam
Hoover Dam.

We rolled a coin down the side. We lost sight of it somewhere at the bottom there. Actually, I lost sight of it about a second after my husband released it. Leaning over the side of the dam made me feel really, really sick. Naturally, my family teased me about the queasy feeling in my stomach for the next half hour. Then we went to look at a big, deep hole in the ground. Yeah, this didn’t make me feel any better.

Dam4
Spillway. Hoover Dam.

This is one of the spillways that carry excess water away from the dam. The gates to the spillway were open when we visited and probably have been for years. The lake is that low. The last time they were actually used as a relief valve was in 1983. Water thundered through this tunnel for over 60 days. Need some perspective on the width of the tunnel? Two semi-trailers could drive through side by side.

Lake Mead. Nevada.
Lake Mead. Nevada.

The white line on the rock shows the high water mark (1983). The dirt in the foreground is the bottom of the lake right in front of the spillway. It’s easy to see why the gates are left open. Water isn’t going to be covering that ground any time soon.

Here’s a view of that tunnel from inside the dam:

Dam3
Tunnel. Hoover Dam.

A picture of the turbines:

Turbines inside Hoover Dam.

This picture is a little shaky. Low light and a mobile phone camera. Despite the number of turbines–all of which were running during our visit–it was really quiet in there. Maybe less so down on the floor, but up on gallery, the sound was something like a hum.

Dam5
Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.

The Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is another engineering marvel. I don’t have any facts to share on this one, I was too busy clinging to the edge, trying not to think about how far from the ground I was. Even looking at this picture turns my stomach.

I have a lot more photos–another hundred and thirty? I’m not going to inflict them all on you today. Fair warning: I am putting together another little travelogue so I can show some more of them off. Until then, thanks for stopping by. I hope I’ve inspired you to visit some of the places outside the city of Las Vegas.