In the Dark of the Eclipse

In a couple of weeks, we are having an eclipse. A full, stars come out in the daytime, drama queen of an eclipse, and we’ve been advised to prepare for it the way we’d prepare for a blizzard. Well, in a stock-up on groceries and other necessaries kind of way, not necessarily a haul out the galoshes and space heaters kind of a way.

You see, we’re expecting company.

To the tune of 90,000 outsiders.

Yup. In my little town.

And no, I think it’s fairly safe to say that we do not have 90,000 hotel rooms. I’m not even sure we have 1,000 hotel rooms. It sounds like Woodstock, except nobody’s getting paid for the crops they trample, or the litter they drop. And by the way, shop now, so that when “they” invade, you’ll still be able to eat.

And get your prescriptions.

And by the way… uhm… toilets… toilets… there was discussion of water pressure, and toilets, and traffic.

90,000 people.

I’m envisioning the streets lined with porta-potties, gawking tourists, and tonnes and tonnes of loose garbage. And most of all, I’m envisioning crowds.

Let’s be honest. If I liked crowds, I’d probably live someplace urban. Like, ya know… Times Square on New Years’ or the Tokyo subway. So, I’ll probably have to hole up in my doomsday shelter, and watch the eclipse from my back yard. You know… behind the no-trespassing signs and the electrified fence? And maybe dodging whatever science-world geek celebrities the eclipse drags in. (Rumors vary, of course.)

I’d better wind up with a funnel cake.

Greetings From the Land of the Two-Headed Calf

So, on the way home from Colorado, I wandered into the schlock shop of my youth to see an old friend. (Well, okay… I wanted to check for seams, now that I’m an adult.)

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Two-Headed Calf Under Glass

‘Imagine my shock, when I found him under glass! I remember him standing proud on a ledge overlooking the jackalope skins and cowboy hats. Sorta center-stage schlock. The place has gone all museum-y educational, though, and it looks like a lot of glass has moved in.

According to the card on the glass, this calf was born in Stapleton, Nebraska and lived for about 48 hours.

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Calf from Above

I didn’t see any seams, but, then it’s under glass.

Buffalo Bill Cody is also under glass. I think we can rest assured that he, at least, is a fake.

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Buffalo Bill Cody

The whole place has been remodeled since the last time I was there. It’s much more open than it was–probably to get rid of all the little aisles and cubbyholes that were out of sight of the cash register, back then. Like I said, earlier, it’s more museum-y than it was, or at least, a more legit-museum feel than glorified side-show museum. I mean, look… glass.

There’s a small panorama of the railroad, and a nifty, touchable display of animal skins. There’s nothing here that couldn’t be replaced regularly, and from the looks of them, I suspect they have been.

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Animal Skins

The place is also a lot more politically correct. In case I hadn’t mentioned it, the whole thing is in the shape of a fort, and when I was a kid, the U.S. Soldiers and the Native Americans of Indeterminate Tribal Affiliation were in the middle of a tooth and claw fight outside. Now, the soldiers are peacefully standing guard along the roof line, and… well, it appears they had a few NAOITA’s left over, so they’re inside, now, and posed to look like they’re shopping, and not crawling up walls or Tomahawking anyone.

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The poor thing has been playing the same game of checkers for years. Well, it ain’t the Smithsonian.

It actually just occurred to me that there are no female manikins here, either. They probably got sick of it all and went to a movie or something. I must have missed that day in school.

The Really Long Conference Post

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Random Assortment of Mountains, As Seen From Gas Station on the Way out of Town. Look: It snowed!

So, Pike’s Peak…

Let me be honest. I did not feel good the entire time I was in Colorado Springs. Thin air, altitude, kreb’s cycle… maybe I even caught actual germs… whatever it was, I was at less than my conference-going best.

I spent a couple of hours in classes really more intended for thriller writers, both of which were taught by the really fun–if somewhat morbid–forensic anthropologist and writer, M.R. Rutter. I have no idea what I’m going to do with the information, but since my own anthropology professor was a parasitologist, (think tapeworms and fossilized people poop) I figure the field as a whole owes me a few murders. These were absolutely the highlight of the weekend.

I also took a few craft classes, which–for the most part–seemed to be live recitations of things I (mostly) already knew, but which were said in a much more authoritative voice than the ones in my head.

I think–in general–I would do more of the information-sessions and fewer of the how-to sessions, if I had it to do over again. I’m not saying the craft sessions weren’t good, but in terms of bang for your buck, I think you could get a lot of the information out of books while sitting at home in your pajamas.

I like pajamas.

Well… I like the comfy clothes I sleep in. I may have been eight the last time I owned pajamas.

I am not social when I don’t feel good, and I think my outcome was probably affected by that. I met a few people from Holly’s website, and a few others, and did my best to be social, but… it did not result in stacks of business cards, or even more than a few people I feel like I know better than I did going in. Of course, that also means that no one gets to curse me as the person who gave them bubonic altitude sickness, or remember me as the queen bitch of the universe, either.

So, I met a few agents. Probably more than a few, if you count the ones who don’t represent anything close to what I write. Sat in on a questions and answers session with them (in which most of the attendees had the same deer-in-the-headlights look I did, and the moderator asked most of the questions.) Had lunch at the same table with one. (I may have infected them with bubonic altitude sickness.) I did not throw up on any of them, and in all honesty, I didn’t do anything memorable enough that I believe any of them will have any faint idea who I am in a week or two.

So, success!

There were, of course, pitch sessions (I picked up a non-industry type stalker at pitch-a-palooza once), and pitch appointments, and pitch-themed barf bags in the back of the chairs. So, if that’s your thing, Pike’s Peak would definitely be a good conference for you. It is also–the director notes, loudly–one of the few conferences where the faculty is required to actually eat with the attendees, so there are more casual opportunities to get to talk to them.

We could talk about the food… but the truth is, it wasn’t good. I was expecting more, and about half the time, I might have been better off with a drive-through cheeseburger. By the end of the conference, the lime-vinaigrette that kept appearing, meal after meal was a little tedious. Apparently, about half the conference cost is food, and they need to hit a certain food-sales benchmark to get the hotel space.

No comment, there.

The acoustics in the dining room were not great. Actually, they were can’t hear the person next to you awful. (Plus or minus the fact that my ears were a little clogged, it was still noisy.)

So, the big question would have to be, would I go back?

Yeah. I’d actually like to do this again, sometime when I’m feeling better, and when I have the time and money to do it right. (And preferably when I have someone else I know with me.) I’d like to see some of the upcoming profiling seminars. I also really appreciate the fact that the publishing glitterati are being forced to eat with me. Or… well, whatever the hell sounds diplomatic there.

I’ll point out here that–generally–my vacations do not repeat. I’m not someone who goes to the same place and eats the same food year after year. (Actually, lately… my vacations do not happen. This was the first one in a few years.)

Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference Day One

I’m going to admit I hit drained pretty early yesterday. I don’t know whether it’s the change in the altitude, or my own shift from my regular schedule to… uhm… normal human being hours and then on to mountain time. Or… quite frankly… the fact of being surrounded by people wearing my allergens (perfume, cologne, and—horrors—fabric softeners.) I do much better with those when I’m moving around than when I’m sitting still.

I skipped out on the last session yesterday, and also wound up ditching the costume party. I was down to the last dregs, by then. And not really meeting anybody because I was afraid I’d either throw up on someone or go full-on bitch.

I got out of the crowd, and had a snack out here:

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If you’re noticing the solitude, that’s because it was 43 degrees at the time, and even smokers didn’t want to be out there.

Still, the best I’d felt all day.

The best presentation was the one I almost didn’t go to. Something about freeing your inner extrovert. (I also hit my limit on presentations about building characters). The presenter was David R. Slayton. (The R is important–it’s what gets you the writer on a Google search.) There was a lot of audience participation–of a meet your neighbors variety–and I met my neighbors. Who were a lot of fun. And… most of them are writing sci-fi or fantasy.

Also, for the record… it is snowing here. I woke up to this, this morning.

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That’s the view from my discount-dive motel, not from the Marriot. (Sorry, but I’m getting motel room for basically half the price, and it’s a bargain, if you’re willing to do a little driving.) 7.5 inches predicted for the weekend, and absolutely tragic, if I get snowed in.

I will point out that Colorado Springs combines the worst of the city (tangled, looping freeways) with the worst of the country. Look out! A deer! but it’s a beautiful place, so when I do die my fiery death, at least it’ll be in the shadow of snow-peaked mountains.

For those of you from Holly’s website, the highlight so far has been meeting Carol and Josh Englehaupt and Bill Bush and his daughter (I think she’s still a minor, so no link or name mentions yet. I’ll owe her one.)

I may have been spoiled by ballroom events, but I think it’s safe to say that the food here is… well, edible. The brownies we had for snacks were actually very good. The chicken on my salad? Well, I could have used a sharper knife. My expectations were definitely a little too high. Uhr… a lot too high.

I got a fast-food cheeseburger for dinner. (I’m not sure what the dinner at the conference would have been, but it involved the word “chicken” again…)

A-to-Z Challenge: Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway

Just in case you missed it, I’m headed to the Pike’s Peak Writers’ conference in a little over a week. So, my mind is already out in Colorado, and look at this, I’ve found a railway just for you to look at.

Remember that hiking path that ends in a parking lot out in California? Well, this is the slightly more historically face-palm version, with trains. Pike’s Peak is named after a man called Zebulon Pike (Imagine having to scream “Zebulon” in bed! His poor wife.) Zebulon never made it to the summit, but they named the mountain after him, and at some point, they named this particular railway after the mountain.

Guess where the railway goes?

Yup. Straight to the summit. Six to Eight times a day.

Poor Zebby.

So, on to the details everybody’s been waiting for. The Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway runs 8.9 miles, between Manitou Springs, and the summit of Pike’s Peak. It is a standard gauge railroad with tracks 4 feet 8 and a half inches wide (as the Great Architect of the Universe intended.) (because narrow gauge is creepy.) It is a cog railway, which means that it has a third track with little teeth, to pull the train up steep places (like, say, a mountain.)

The older engines are on display at Manitou Springs and several museums through Colorado, and some of the historic (but still conveniently functional) engines and cars are dragged out and actually used from time to time.

I’d tell you how perfect and beautiful the scenery is, but I already said it was in Colorado.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

A-to-Z Challenge: Kansas City, Missouri

Let’s be honest, I’m on vacation–or at least, a couple days off, and I’m getting lazy. So, let’s stay in Missouri another day, and talk about Kansas City.

Look, I have a picture. One without my thumb in it:

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I climbed up the side of a mountain to get that for you. Well, a very large hill. Okay, well, maybe it was a war monument. There was a lot of up involved.

As you can see, Kansas City is an actual city-type city with buildings which are tall enough to blot out the sun and make everything a little claustrophobic. It is not, however, city-like enough that you have to worry about wandering into a dangerous neighborhood.

(Not that I actually have the sense to worry about wandering into dangerous neighborhoods.)

So, Kansas City… I’m dodging tall buildings and memories of an old flame (who gets a glowing recommendation, btw.)

There’s a jazz museum here, and also a Negro League Baseball museum. Once upon a time, a friend asked me about things to do in KC, and I started with jazz, and worked my way (quite a few “options” down the road) to baseball. So, my list is more or less in exactly the reverse order to hers, and there you have it–the number one thing from each list.

I could see myself living here. I mean, there’s a giant bookshelf downtown (and a library to go with it.) And there are things to do. (Do my thing, first, though. Jenny doesn’t need any encouragement.)

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

A-to-Z Challenge: St. Joseph, Missouri

In another two cups of coffee,  St. Joe will be a beautiful old railroad town. Right now, however, it is a foolhardy city that allows two 5:00s to exist within the same day. I’m recovering from a night in a cheap motel, and the recent loss of my (nearly-finished) draft of my A-to-Z post for the day.

Let’s just say that if WordPress gives you a button that says “Save Draft” you should probably push that button. I’ve gotten spoiled by the automatic saving on the real post-edit page.

I am in a concept McDonalds–the McDonalds of the future, boys and girls… it told me so—using the wifi and drinking a cup of coffee. I had to send my first cup back, because apparently, in the McDonalds of the future, cream clots, and you don’t pay enough attention to fix it before someone’s drinking it. Very seriously, the only things I need out of a restaurant are wifi and coffee.

So, St. Joe… which was one of my most favorite-est places in the world when I was a kid–was where Jesse James lived (there’s a museum.) and where the Pony Express began. (Start of the route, not start of the concept.)(there’s a museum.) It’s also home to the Gloor Psychiatric museum, which highlights historical treatments for psychiatric disorders. (Many of which are now used in S&M clubs around the world.) I’ll point out that even I know Gloor is probably not appropriate for young children.

There actually are a lot of good restaurants. (Not at 5am, though.) For people who want to look for them.

Right now–as an adult who has already seen the place Jesse James was shot, and the Pony Express barns–I’d have to say the highlight of the town is the big, beautiful old buildings. Some really nice architecture.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

Attack of the Mile-High Writers’ Conference

I finally registered for the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference in April. I managed to get time off from work to actually go, and if that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. So, I filled out forms, and pressed send, and now, I’m going.

So, clearly, the first problem is underwear–

No, wait. That’s packing for a dance competition.

Fair enough. I won’t be spending all that much time upside-down at Pikes Peak. This is so complicated!

Aside from figuring out exactly what I’m going to wear, and exactly the right memorable, but non-freakish haircut, I’m working my way through the scenes I need to add to my novel revision. I have a neat, tidy checklist of the things my novel can’t live without. I’m typing in a couple of them, today, and I’m working on more, after I get done with that.

Odds of novel being actually, legitimately ready to go by the end of April?

Probably right around zero.

But I am getting closer. I have… a plan!

Naturally, I’m falling into that phase of revision where I’m sure that my novel sucks, and the best thing I could possibly do for it involves an acetylene torch and some marshmallows. Big marshmallows.

I’m hoping to slip back into the This is the greatest thing the human mind has ever conceived! stage before the conference. We’ll see.

So, my general game plan is to track down a few friends I know will be there, and then figure out the rest of my schedule.

Any other suggestions for me?

 

IWSG: So, Do I Still Fit In?

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The Insecure Writers’ Support Group posts on the first Wednesday of the month. More information and the sign-up can be found here.

The awesome co-hosts for the February 1 posting of the IWSG will be Misha Gericke, LK Hill, Juneta Key, Christy and Joylene Buter!

When I was working on my first novel–the one in my bottom desk drawer–I was working at a bookstore. I was in a writers’ group, and even though my novel wasn’t up everybody’s alley, we all got along. We had fun. It was a community, and I felt like I belonged.

Now, I’m drifting. I’m in a more mundane job, and my real-life creative community? Well, it lacks cohesion. Here and there, I run into people who write. We have a coke, we talk… the structure and routine are missing. And progress? I really don’t know. I guess you can talk about writing whether you’re getting words or not.

I’ve started thinking of going to a writers’ conference. I’m finally at a place where I might be able to afford it, and where it might actually be worth the money. And let’s be honest, the idea of going out and spending a weekend with my own kind doesn’t sound bad, either.

Hello, insecurities!

Absolutely everything, from finishing my revision (I’m not counting it out.) to what I’ll wear, and the general–and terrifying–fact that I won’t know anyone, I’ll get lost on the way to class, and I’ll probably forget my locker combination.

It’s been a long time, and I’m jittery abut the whole thought.

Anybody else in the same boat? When you’ve been away from other creatives for a while, how do you get back in?  Just close your eyes and jump, or wade in carefully? Any tips?

Postcard From The Road

So, here’s a quick picture from the middle of nowhere. This brick mural comes to you from a small airport somewhere in Kansas. And yes, today, I’m actually using one of my own photos.

I suppose I could have asked for details about this airport, but I’m pretty sure nobody was there at the time. It’s a really nice, well-maintained airport. It has a brick mural and an obelisk. But it’s not the busiest place on the face of the earth. If I’d have to guess, I’d say you can land a crop duster here without much planning, but doctors call ahead to be sure somebody turns on the lights, if they’re going to land at night.

No commercial flights, but it is pie-adjacent, if you’re so inclined.