Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sisters in Crime September Sinc-Up

So I am a terrible multi-tasker when it comes to writing. I'm a slow writer, usually, and I also have a sort of obsessive focus on what I'm working on that makes it hard for me to switch gears and work on other things. That most certainly includes blog posts. It especially includes blog posts when I'm not traveling. Traveling for me is all about taking in the environment around me and reporting back what I find. It's about the only time that I'm able to blog somewhat prolifically.

Luckily for the theme of this blog, I'm going to China in a couple of weeks and should have fresh findings to report. I'm on a mission to sample as many different Chinese craft beers as I can. Wish me luck.

Right now I'm doing line edits on the book I just turned in, the third Ellie McEnroe novel, set in China. It was a hard book to write, but working on the edits is kind of fun, because I can actually appreciate more how the whole thing fits together, and how it works with the other two books in the series. As writers, we spend a lot of time thinking of things like this, but speaking for myself, it's always kind of a nice surprise when it actually works. Like, "Wow, I was more clever than I thought, there. Who knew? Actually, who did that?"

Apparently, me.

At the same time, I'm working on the first draft of a different book, the sequel to my second novel GETAWAY, set in the U.S. (a first for me). It's a very different book, with a very different voice and main character. So far it's been fun to write. Why the first draft of this book should be fun to write when the original was…well, let's just say a challenging experience, and for that matter, why Ellie #3 was a tough one when the Ellie book right before it was pretty much a lark, if I understood all that, I could probably write one of those "How To Unlock Your Creative Potential And Write Seriously Amazing Prize-winning, Best-selling Opuses (Opii?) That Will Be Read Centuries From Now" kind of writer's self-help books.

But I don't. So I keep chipping away at this first draft while spending far too much time staring at a sentence in the completed book and wondering how I can rearrange it to avoid repeating a word in the adjacent paragraph.

Also, I am developing the book I want to write after I finish line edits on Ellie #3 and the first draft of the Getaway sequel (which I'm right now calling "Go-Between"). This sort of germinal phase is pretty fun. It's basically is about collecting research and ideas without having to commit too much to anything.  I'm thinking about issues, about themes, thinking about characters, building their personalities and backstories, and also, about where I'm setting all this. I find that as a writer, I'm very much inspired and influenced by setting. It gives me that concrete grounding that helps me create the book in my head. I have to be able to see it to bring it to life.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I got tagged by Barbara Fister to participate in a Sisters in Crime blog challenge for the month of September. And both Barbara and Sisters in Crime are awesome.

I'm only dealing with one tiny bit of the blog challenge in this post (there's a lot of latitude), the part about my writing process (#4), and I think I kind of cheated on that one, to be honest. Here's the entire challenge:

Sisters in Crime has a blog challenge for the month of September. The idea is to respond to any (or all) of the following questions in a blog post:
  • 1. Which authors have inspired you?
  • 2. Which male authors write great women characters? Which female authors write great male characters?
  • 3. If someone said “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?
  • 4. What’s the best part of the writing process for you? What’s the most challenging?
  • 5. Do you listen to music while writing? What’s on your playlist?
  • 6. What books are on your nightstand right now?
  • 7. If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?
 So let me answer a couple of the other questions here.

3. Mutter darkly, walk away and search for the nearest bar

4. See above.

5. No, unless there are other distractions that I need to block. I used to play in a band, and I get too involved in music to focus well on writing when it's on. If I do play music, no words in English as a general rule.

6. ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE, by Randy Susan Meyers

7. See #3 above.
(Actually, to any new writers out there, if there are questions you have or advice you need, please let me know. Happy to help if I can)

Now comes the part where I'm supposed to tag another writer (or passionate reader, or book person). Rather than do that, I'm going to ask my cohort at Murder is Everywhere if any of them would like to respond.

You know what to do, Murderous Ones….

Lisa…every other Wednesday….

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

la Rentrèe

It's la rentrèe in France. Summer has ended, les vacances, a memory and time for  back to school and back to work. Bakeries are back on regular opening hours.
Parents line up at the stationary stores to purchase school supplies.
 In offices those waiting emails get answered and projects resumed after a three month hiatus. The rule of thumb is that if your proposal or project isn't done and dusted by the end of May - forget about it until September.

There's a great energy you can notice in the air - people are tanned, refreshed and have so much to talk about ie their vacances over the water cooler and in the cafes. Already plans get in the works for upcoming school holidays - where will we take the children in October for the next holiday chunk? Whose family will we spend the winter holidays with? Everything is forward progression. New art exhibits, photography and fashion shows.
Les Chèvres, the goats on my friend's farm, will almost enjoy a new sport for la rentrèe.
The Alpaca's looked on and took no part.
We introduced the trampoline to the goats. Curious they edged further.
Marshall, sniffed and mounted the trampoline.
Cappuchino, brown and white, almost joined Marshall.
Diva joined.
But none of them got the hang of jumping on the trampoline.
Bentley, also curious, came by to check it out.
In the end they enjoyed eating the rose bushes and hay in the field.
Here's the giant artichoke - some of you may remember from near Monterey at Left Coast Crime.
At the last bit of summer at the coast.
Cara - Tuesday - who loved AnnaMaria's safari pics!!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Kenya 2014: The Day of a Lifetime

Early morning selfie, happy me!

They awoke me at 5:30 with a tray of hot coffee and a few cookies.  By 6:30, we were off in the Land Rover, four guests trying not to hope too hard that we would see one of the most spectacular visions of the African wilderness (or anywhere else on the planet): Some of the 1.5 million animals of the yearly Great Migration crossing the river.  My South African travel agent warned me that it was very difficult to be there at just the right time.  If I wanted it too much, I would very likely be disappointed.  I had worked hard to ameliorate my hope over the months while I was anticipating the trip.

My drive-mates and Timothy our guide/ranger all hoped too much too.

Soon after setting out, we saw a nursing baby elephant.  A few giraffe.  Wonderful things to see.  Things that always have and always will delight me.

Then Tim got a call on the radio: the animals were amassing across the river.

Suddenly were hurtling over rough roads.  Hanging on for dear life.  Heather in the seat behind me mumbled, “This is the most stressful ride of my life.”  I silently repeated my mantra, “Don’t get us there too late.  Don’t get us there too late.”

The dash through the wilderness took half an hour.

We pulled up to the edge of the steep bank, and this is what happened next:

Adding this incase the movie does not upload properly.

And when the crossing stopped, here is how Heather looked:

And here is how I looked:

A champagne lunch was called for!!

Soul-satisfied Annamaria - Monday

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Travelling Light

By the time my next blog comes around in two weeks, I’ll be in the Eastern Mediterranean, crewing aboard a yacht belonging to some friends.

No, not this kind of yacht ...

Not a holiday by any means, though, because I have some ideas bubbling away for which sailing the waters of the Ionian will be very useful research. Plus, my role is foredeck gorilla. I will be hauling on things and jumping over the side to swim mooring lines ashore rather than lounging elegantly on deck in a designer bikini. (Erm, OK maybe not. After all, this is me we’re talking about)

Yeah, I know – it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.

... this kind of yacht. In fact, this very yacht.
Much nicer.

So, with the trip less than a couple of weeks away my mind starts to turn vaguely towards packing. Only vaguely at this stage, because there seems to be a hell of a lot that needs doing before I can even begin to think about actually putting stuff in a bag.

The only carrier flying the route and schedule I need was Ryanair, and I’ve spent several weeks, off and on, wrestling with their website in order to book my flights. Each time, their system rejected payment and – surprise, surprise – the next time I tried it the prices had gone up. In the end, I had to bite the bullet and get the damn thing booked. Funny how it would let me leave the country with no problems, but didn’t want to get me home again. I wonder if this is a hint …?

 (For anyone who's never heard of the brilliantly talented Fascinating Aida, you need to watch their wonderful 'Cheap Flights'. I wonder why they sing this with Irish accents ...?)

I haven’t flown with Ryanair before but I’m hoping they have followed Southwest’s example of Cheap and Cheerful with the emphasis on Cheerful. I’ll let you know when/if I get back.

But, as I said, I’ve been starting to think generally about what I need to take with me, and how much space and weight that’s going to take up. Luggage allowances are down to about the eight-kilo mark – that’s just less than eighteen pounds including the weight of the bag.

I learned to travel very light fairly early in my career. When I was still working as a photographer and lugging film cameras all over the place, I had so many photographic bags that I ended up with hardly any allowance left for clothing.

Fortunately, I’ve always tended to buy clothes with the following questions in mind:

How easily does it wash?
How quickly will it dry if washed out and left overnight?
Does it look half-reasonable without needing to be ironed?

Because the Greek Islands have a very sunny image, you might be forgiven for packing a few lightweight T-shirts and a couple of pairs of shorts, but the evenings can get pretty chilly, so that means a fleece as well. Good because they are very warm without weighing much, but they can take up a lot of space in a small carry-on bag. My solution is to wear as much as possible on the plane and hope they don’t start weighing the passengers before boarding, or introduce a new rule that you’re only allowed two layers. And I remember the days when I could fly the Atlantic with two bags weighing seventy pounds each …

I get around the ‘no liquids’ rule by taking an empty bottle and then refilling it once I’m airside of Security.

These days I tend to take a stock of books on my smartphone rather than real paperbacks, although I’m likely to need a notebook more than reading material and for that nothing beats paper and pen.

I would usually take my own insect repellent, but with the restricted bottle size I may have to decant my usual concoction into old 35mm plastic film pots – that’s how I carry shampoo and conditioner.

Bearing in mind that it’s going to be hot, a pack of baby wipes which I can put in the fridge is always great. Lovely to be able to cool your face that way. Works well over here in a hot summer, too.

I take a couple of clothes pegs so I can wash stuff and not have it disappear over the side in a breeze. (Very useful for holding closed hotel curtains that don’t quite overlap in the middle, too.)
Clothes pegs

As this is a yachting trip I’m taking a pair of sacrificial gardening gloves – the ones with the stretchy cotton backs and rubber-coated palms. They’re great for grabbing hold of silted-up anchor chain and laying it neatly into the chain locker.

And just in case the worst should happen, I take a roll of Micropore surgical tape, which I can cut into DIY Steri-Strips to close a wound that really ought to be stitched. Can’t you tell I used to live a long way from the nearest hospital Emergency unit?

Off the top of my head, that’s all I can think of at the moment, apart from the obvious like clothes! So, folks, any travel tips you’d like to share? What do you never travel without?

This week’s Word of the Week is lethologica, meaning being unable to recall the precise word for something. And if you become obsessed with trying to recall it, this may lead to loganamnosis, which when you do finally remember it can become onomatomania, where you repeatedly use the word or where it intrudes into your consciousness, like getting a song stuck on constant replay inside your head. I’m sure there’s a word for that, but for the life of me I can’t think of it …

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Greece Has A History of Prophecy.

Temple of Apollo at Delphi

I planned on writing about current times on Mykonos, predicting what might happen if certain things don’t, but decided to defer in consideration of the inauguration this evening of Konstantinos Koukas as the island’s new mayor. After all, it’s only fair to give him a week to whip things into shape. (I’m sure he’s laughing because he has a sense of humor—and will need one for his job.)  Na zesete.

Then I thought to go for humor, something to have you laughing your britches into teabags.  But my son surprised me with the news that his very first published magazine piece appeared Thursday on the front page of Men’s Health—titled “I Was a Weekend Carny.”  Believe me, it’s brilliant and funny.  Just like his father...okay, you’ve just seen about as much comedy as you’re going to get from this Siger today. 

So, out of ideas I turned to the gods for guidance. And they answered: “Go West, young man.”  I assumed of course they were talking to me, for to mega-thousand year old gods I’m just that. :) Then came the reason for all their flattery. They were talking about Delphi.  They wanted me to write about Delphi.

Well, it just so happens I’ll be heading up there (again) as part of my research on my new book for 2015 titled “Deli in Delphi: Hold the pickle.”  Don’t worry, Everett, I’m only foolin’ about the title.

So here’s a bit about Delphi, celebrated as the center of the earth by the ancient world.

It’s approximately one hundred-fifteen miles and a two plus hour drive northwest of the center of Athens.  There are different ways to go, a southern trip across the top of the Peloponnese, and the northern route I plan on taking that has me heading out of Athens on National Highway E75/A1.

Stay on the highway for fifty miles, and you’ll skirt Athens’ affluent northern suburbs and pass though what I recall as wide-open spaces, mountain passages, and a lot of farmland.  Get off at the exit for Thiva (Thebes to some of you) and head south for four miles before turning west on Route 3. Now you’re into the start of the final fifty-five or so miles to Delphi. 

Halfway there connect onto Route 48 at Livadia, a rural farming region’s capital city.  Skiers passing through on their way back and forth to Arachova––Greece’s equivalent of Aspen—rave about Livadia’s souvlaki and grilled meats.


Stop and try some, but don’t overdo it or the gods will be displeased.  Why, you ask?

Because “Nothing in Excess” and two other sage expressions––“Know thyself” and “Make a pledge and mischief is nigh”––are carved upon Delphi’s most celebrated site: The Temple of Apollo, dedicated to its patron God of Light, son of Zeus and Leto, and twin brother to Artemis; and home to the Delphic Oracle and its prophetic visions.

Frankly, I doubt from what I know of the gods’ carryings on, that Apollo or any of his crew had much to do with those carvings.

Ancient Delphi is quite a place. (You reach the archaeological World Heritage Site before the small town of modern Delphi.)  No matter how I might try, there’s no way I could do justice here to the history or continuing spiritual influence of that truly nonpareil place.  Stand along the Sacred Way on the southwest slope of Mount Parnassus, look out upon the Pleistos River Valley, and see for yourself what I’m saying.  Or check it out on Google Earth…only kidding, only kidding.

Delphi’s origins date back to neolithic times.  Though the Oracle held importance in pre-classical Greece—certainly as the nearby Gulf of Corinth grew in commercial importance—it was in Classical Greece after rededication of the Temple to Apollo in the 4th Century BCE that the Oracle attained true prominence in the Greek world and beyond. 

The Plan

A Christian King stamping out pagan practices destroyed the Temple and silenced the Oracle in 390 AD.

Apollo slays Python

Many myths surround Apollo and Delphi, but they all flow from the same premise: Ancient Delphi represented the navel of the mother of earth personified in the god Gaia, and Apollo slew Python, the son of Gaia while he stood guard over his mother’s navel. 

A version I’m particularly fond of has Apollo killing Python for trying to rape Apollo’s mother while he and his sister lay in their mother’s womb.  I like that one because it’s sort of a local boy makes good doing the right thing type of story…what with Apollo and and sister Artemis being born on Delos a mile away from where I’m typing this.

Priestess Pythia Prophecizing

But no matter what the version, at this point in the myth, slain Python ends up in a fissure and vapors released from his decomposing body find their way up into the sanctuary of Apollo to intoxicate the priestess (Pythia) attending the oracle, thereby allowing Apollo to convey his prophesies through her.   

I think I’ll stop now.  After all, Nothing in excess.