Becoming Bold

Earning my pilot’s license was the boldest thing I have done since kissing Steve Gadow in seventh grade. Kissing Steve put me in the majority of girls in seventh grade, but earning my pilot’s license put me in a minority. An underwhelming six percent of the pilot’s licenses are held by women.

Why do so few women fly?

I’ll tell you.

The first reason that some women don’t fly is because of how they are introduced to aviation. When my husband earned his license he took me up for a ride. Being a guy, he thought like a guy and believed in his heart that demonstrating a simulated engine failure and recovery would instill confidence in his plane-handling abilities. Being a woman, I thought it was a ride in Hell’s theme park. I’ve met a dozen other women who were similarly introduced to aviation and most stayed away afterward.

It took months for me to get near another small airplane. Hubby intended to buy a plane and so eventually, I’d be a passenger again. I vowed not to be a helpless one ever again. I hired an instructor to teach me how to radio for help and land the plane. Dear Instructor Don Kohler walked me through radio work, reading the instruments for heading and altitude, and landings. Lots of landings. He demystified the panel of blinking instruments, knobs, and do-dads. His patience gradually built up my confidence and knowledge.

photo of Don Kohler

I confided in Don that aviation seemed an all-male club, so he introduced me to the legendary Betty Skelton, an aerobatic pilot whose Pitts Special airplane rests in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space collection. Back when women were expected to become teachers, wives, nurses, or secretaries, and mothers, Betty became an aerobatic pilot. Elegant, stylish, and bold, Betty’s passion for flying inspired me. Her plane’s N-number tells how she felt about aerobatic flying–22EZ. I decided to obtain my pilot’s license.

I told Hubby my intention. Well, I hadn’t seen him that excited—with his clothes on, anyway—in years. Who would’ve thought 110 low lead fuel would be an aphrodisiac?

Resources

A second large obstacle for women who want to learn to fly is resources. Flying is expensive and it costs time. Women tend to carry the heavier loads of parenting in terms of time. So to take lessons, certain factors had to converge in perfect synchronicity: the availability of the rental plane, good weather, my daughter’s presence at school, and the availability of the instructor.

After six months, I passed the written and practical examinations. Later, after being stranded in Claxton, Georgia due to cloud cover, I trained for and earned my instrument rating. Free to punch through clouds, I embraced flying. Now Handsome tends to work the fact that I’m a pilot into conversations. It always gets a double-take response and raised eyebrows. Never mind that I bore him a daughter and worked at a bank to support us through his grad school years. He brags that I’m a pilot? Men. Go figure.

We enjoy life at 8,000 feet. We’ve flown from central Florida as far south as the Cayman Islands; as far east as Crooked Island in the Bahamas; as far west as Las Cruces, New Mexico; and as far north as Mackinac Island, Michigan. We’ve flown to see the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. We’ve visited Big Bend National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns because we could fly to them. We fly up to North Carolina to enjoy cool summertime weather and brilliant autumn foliage. We take turns to prevent a wrestling match for the left seat, which is where the pilot-in-command sits.

Fear

The largest obstacle for women in aviation to overcome is fear.

I have lost friends in airplane accidents. When traveling at 175 knots, 8,000 above the ground and things go wrong, fear can destroy judgment. Firefighters, police, Special Forces soldiers, and fighter pilots all say that the single greatest way to overcome fear and panic is through training, practice, and knowledge, because when an emergency happens—and it will—people revert to their training. Training is what enables us to shove emotion into the backseat.

I’ve experienced a few attention-grabbing events. Don taught me simple aerobatics: loops, rolls, and spins. In a spin you have to do the exact opposite of what instinct dictates to safely recover from the spin. It takes many practices to overcome the urge to follow instinct. Near Muskegon, Michigan the hydraulic line to the gear motor broke, so I hand-cranked the gear down and we landed safely for repairs. I’ve had a cylinder fail, and software go haywire, and watched a gyro tumble, but through it all, training trumped emotion. What began as boldness—to learn this new skill set and become licensed—has grown into steady confidence.

Being bold enough to learn to fly has been deeply rewarding. In 2004, I flew to Marathon in the Florida Keys to resupply friends who had lost power and food after a hurricane. In 2005, I brought my pastor to Pascagoula, Mississippi, so he could inspect the relief efforts of a smaller church post-Katrina to determine whether or not our larger church should send funds. Though I looked out of place among the military pilots and the jet pilots ferrying in FEMA representatives and supplies, I felt at home.

Flying has enhanced my marriage, not just because we can travel farther by taking turns at the controls, but because we are doing something we both enjoy. The world of aviation is still male-dominated, but I have to say everyone has treated me very well.

Being bold has paid off handsomely for me personally and professionally. We have a choice. We can live boldly or look back and wish we had.

—–

This article previously appeared in Skirt! Magazine, their BOLD issue, August 2016.

Harvest Time in the City of New Orleans

For five years I watched for a certain homeless man like others anticipate the first robin in springtime. He came out with the perennials in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana. A frail, aging black man, dressed in thrown-away clothes, he stood for hours on the lawn of the public library on the corner of Tulane and Loyola Avenues. Neither soaking rain nor scorching sunshine moved him indoors. He endured like a displaced scarecrow.

Having grown up in Wisconsin, where the homeless sometimes freeze to death, I wasn’t accustomed to seeing guys like him or pretending I didn’t. For the most part he was deliberately ignored and he ignored in return. Could he see more than shadows and motion through the white film of cataracts? Even other ‘street people’ avoided him, sleeping instead in the remote seats of the air-conditioned library during the day while this scarecrow stood outside on the lawn.

His five-foot frame stooped as his overcoat flapped against his orange and green plaid shirt and brown pants. The crotch of his pants sagged halfway down his thighs, pants unsupported by his rope belt or his shrunken frame. Stick-like shins stuck out beneath the tattered ends of his pants then disappeared into large, unbuckled, black rubber boots. His wrists extended into knobby, gnarled fingers, the kind that grew from years of painful arthritis or repeated injury. Thick, yellow nails and hard, dry calluses covered his stubby fingers.

Like a scarecrow overseeing crops, this shrunken form drove birds, squirrels and other timid souls away. He had somehow defied the efforts of weather and the natural process of decay that recycles things. Three wild patches of yellow whiskers sprouted from the furrows on his face. It was a sign that something grew from the living humus. The horrific smelling rot of his body and clothes refuted the life still clinging to him. It drove people upwind off the sidewalk into traffic.

What kind of tragedy or mental illness drove him to become so detached from life? I didn’t understand. As an officer at the largest bank in the state, I aspired to absolute yuppie hood. I had the status job with the window office and overpriced, covered parking. In my late twenties, a college graduate, I was making enough money writing user manuals and designing training aids to convince myself I couldn’t afford to pursue my real goals in life. I couldn’t afford to write a novel, to risk failure. I had plenty of time.

The Scarecrow, as I came to think of him, communicated through simple gestures – an open hand, a shrug, a nod. He was harmless, small, old and pathetic, which made it easy for me to approach him from upwind. By giving him an apple a day on my way to work in the Big Easy, I thought we both benefited. He gained a little food and I felt noble for doing a good deed that could not be repaid. Ignoring him would have eaten away at my conscience.

One day during the second spring he didn’t bob his head in response to receiving the apple. Of course, it was a small thing, a tiny change in a familiar routine, but it got my attention. For the first time, I spoke to him.

“Do you like apples?”

He nodded then bared his naked gums.

Chagrined, I said, “What do you do with the apples?”

His pants had crusty, stiff folds that scraped together like sandpaper as he shuffled along on the grass. By the time we reached the Times-Picayune States-Item vending box there was a scruffy-looking man standing by it. Scruffy and I looked at each other suspiciously, while Scarecrow placed the apple on the box.

Scruffy suddenly smiled and held out his hand to me. “You the apple lady.”

I presumed it was a question. “Yes.” We shook hands.

“Why you been giving him apples?”

“I like apples.” At that moment I envied all tunneling animals. No such escape for me.

Scruffy laughed and handed grapes to Scarecrow. For the next three years he got bananas, oranges and grapes from me. I enjoyed our daily ritual. It gave me purpose and a feeling of being needed. The giant corporation I worked for proclaimed it needed its people even after profits fell below projections and they handed out pink slips at Thanksgiving. My colleagues called the layoffs ‘getting the bird’ because the pink slips came with the customary coupon for a Thanksgiving turkey. Did I really belong in a place where managers called their people resources?

In mid-May of my fifth spring of feeding this nameless, toothless soul, he disappeared. I asked at the library. They didn’t know. I called a friend who worked a few blocks away as an intern at Charity Hospital, also known as the Big Free. After Kay complained that someone had stolen her wallet while she was sleeping in the doctor’s lounge, I asked about Scarecrow.

“You’ll have to be more specific,” she said, “Short, old, black and unkempt sounds like half the crowd here.”

“I don’t know his name. He probably weighs ninety pounds and has no teeth. He has cataracts. Wears huge black rubber boots.”

“Oh, that’s Stinky. I haven’t seen him lately, but I’ll check on it and get back to you. Why do you want to know about him?”

“I haven’t seen him lately. I just wondered.”

“Tell me you don’t give those guys money.”

“I don’t give those guys money.”

“Good. Let me remind you that some of them are reality challenged and addicted.” A high-pitched tone sounded in the background. “Blast, the ER’s tugging my leash again. Gotta go.”

I went back to my office where two MBA interns, wearing identical Brooks Brothers suits, introduced themselves. They had been sent as test dummies to take the computer-based training lesson for the new system scheduled to go on-line in a month. The fruits of years of labor would soon be harvested. These men were representative of the typical loan officers at our bank, only twenty pounds lighter. They couldn’t type and they feared computers. Like the upcoming software system, these guys were models of impersonal efficiency. At the rate they poked their keyboards their thirty-minute lessons took an hour. I was tempted to reveal that the secretaries we used to test the lessons earned higher scores in half the time, but the male ego is such a fragile thing. I bit my lip.

That night at 6:00 p.m. the phone rang in my office. Managers often called after hours to identify the ‘dedicated’ employees, so I played along delivering the full official telephone greeting according to company policy.

After a long pause, Kay said, “I was waiting for the beep to leave a message. I thought bankers had better hours.”

“Sure we do, Kay. Just like all doctors have time to golf.”

“Well, I found the chart on Stinky. He’s a fifty-year-old John Doe. He died two days ago. No friends or family. So he went unclaimed.”

Unclaimed meant his body could go to one of the medical schools in town for cadaver lab, dissection by the numbers. I didn’t ask.

“Thanks for checking.” Fifty?

On the way to the parking lot I passed his spot on the lawn and saw crows gathered there. The man disappeared like plants after a harvest. I cried all the way home. There I began my writing career in earnest–with a letter of resignation.

Scarecrow had died years before he was buried. Just as he was waiting to die, I was waiting to live. Bribed by luxury, I had given up living and hadn’t realized it. Scarecrow showed me the high cost of postponing goals and dreams. This was real life in the grownup world. No guarantees for a second chance. No do-overs.

In his last years, he hadn’t voted or paid taxes. Gallup hadn’t polled him. Census takers hadn’t counted him. Presidents and fashions had changed without him. Out of work, out of hope, out of time, he had waited through his season with outstretched hands and quietly disappeared.

He taught me that the safety net from failure is not money. It’s faith.

__________

This essay first appeared in Tampa Bay Sounding is a publication within the high IQ organization Mensa. For a while I had a column in it. This essay was also featured on the website WritersCollege.com as an example of the essay format. I changed the name of a friend in this true first-person story so she wouldn’t face the wrath of the hospital administration for discussing a patient. This is a true story from a time when I lived in New Orleans.

Who Are the Loopers?

Kimberly Russo is the Director of America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Association.

Meet Kim Russo. She’s the Director of America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGCLA). I called her out of the blue over two years ago to ask questions about the AGCLA, or Loopers. The questions could not be answered by browsing their website. I needed to know more about the spirit, the camaraderie, and the collective nature of the Loopers. I knew one couple. Were they the norm? Who are these people who live on boats?

You see, I hit a snag in the plot of my third novel.

Research

As a plotter, I had planned out certain events in the story to happen a certain way. Inspired by movies like The Guardian (2006) and Finest Hours (2016), I wanted to feature the Coast Guard in my book. In my mind, the nearest Coast Guard station in the story was supposed to be involved in the search for a kidnap victim. I had planned for them to gear up, arm themselves, and launch a search mission.

Then I visited the actual station mentioned in the story.

It was an Auxiliary Coast Guard station manned by retirees who taught boating safety classes and did boat inspections. They weren’t allowed to carry weapons.

Egad. I needed boaters willing to risk their own safety to help FBI agents find someone being held hostage on a boat in the 10,000 Islands of South Florida.

On 9/11, an untold number of men and women launched boats toward Manhattan to rescue strangers. This unplanned flotilla sprang up because boaters saw a need and were willing to risk themselves to save others. A poignant video tells about this. “Boatlift, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience” is narrated by Tom Hanks.

I needed to know the group character of the Loopers. As the Director of a huge boating group, Kim would know the character of her group. She told me about their website and newsletter and the Great Loop Radio Podcasts. She told me about Harbor Hosts and the kinds of activities that happen when Loopers find one another in the same harbor. The Loopers can track one another through their own mobile app “America’s Great Loop Cruisers.”

Looper Image

The popular image of people who live on houseboats comes from TV shows like “Miami Vice,” and movies like African Queen. In books, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series features a womanizing private investigator who lives on a houseboat. Other Florida authors have written crime stories set on boats, such as Carl Hiaasen’s Skin Tight and James W. Hall’s Off the Chart. Charles Martin’s 2013 novel, Unwritten, features a loner who lives on a houseboat. In all these stories, houseboat dwellers come off as loners, con men, pirates, outcasts, and people who live on the fringes of society.

Kim said, “The typical Looper is nothing like the impression you might get of those who choose to live aboard a boat from movies, TV, or a lot of novels. AGLCA members tend to be very social and lifelong friendships often form among them because they all share a common interest…The Great Loop. And because cruising the Loop is seasonal (you want to be on the Great Lakes in the summer when it’s warm and Florida in the winter when the northern part of the route is frozen), there are several boats cruising in the same direction at roughly the same pace, so you tend to run into the same people repeatedly, making it even more likely that you socialize with others along the way.”

I asked about the demographics of the AGCLA membership.

Kim said, “My guess would be that 90% or more of the boats out there cruising the Loop are retired couples. But we are seeing more and more Loopers who don’t fit that ‘typical’ demographic. Over the past few years we’ve had about ten different families cruising the Loop, and technology is making it easier for folks to do the Loop while still working. It’s also become more common for people to single-hand all or parts of the Loop if they don’t have a friend or family member willing to serve as their crew for all 6,000 miles of the route.”

Do they come from military or civilian backgrounds?

Kim said, “I would say that we have a higher percentage of military members than other groups our size. We also seem to have a higher percentage of people from technical occupations, like pilots and engineers. However, we have school teachers, nurses, firefighters, politicians, yoga instructors, you name it. The Loop has been called ‘the great equalizer’ because once you’re out there cruising, it doesn’t matter what you did before, how old you are, or how big your boat is. Everyone has the same challenges and triumphs.”

I met Kim Russo in Stuart Florida.

I sent Kim an eBook version of West of Famous for her opinion. She read it and I got to catch up with her in Stuart, Florida on March 5th when she was on her way to Trawler Fest. I asked what she thought of how the Looper community was depicted in the book.

Kim said, “I would say that the Loopers depicted in West of Famous were very true-to-life. Besides being friendly, most Loopers are super helpful and are generally willing to assist others they meet along the way. It’s a pretty close-knit community so they look out for each other and lend a helping hand whenever they can.”

Paul and Caryn Frink earn their Loopers gold burgeePaul and Caryn Frink hosted me during my research. They earned their gold burgee after finishing their first loop in 2018. Kim will get to meet them at the The AGCLA Spring Rendezvous in Norfolk Virginia from May 5 to 9.

“I have not met Paul and Caryn Frink,” Kim said, “but I’m really excited because they volunteered to speak at our upcoming Spring Rendezvous, so they’ll be sharing their knowledge of the inland rivers with our attendees. They’re covering the details of the route from Chicago to the Tennessee River, including things to see, places to go, hazards to navigation, and more.”

Looper Rendezvous

“We have two Rendezvous each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. Each are about four days long and include two seminar tracks: the route sessions (like the one Paul & Karen are presenting) and a Looping 101 track that covers topics like weather, marine electronics, handling emergencies aboard and provisioning. In the afternoons, the action moves out to the docks where there are typically 50 to 60 Loopers boats tied up. Many of the owners will allow other attendees to board their boats, which gives those so are still planning for the Great Loop some wonderful ideas on the type of boat they might like to purchase, and to ask questions of the owners. It’s also a very social time with many enjoying ‘docktails’ as they tour the boats in the marina. Meals are also included, so the event offers a lot of time to socialize as well as a large amount of educational content.

Kim said more about the Looper community.

“They are honestly the most kind and fun group I’ve people I’ve ever had the privilege to spend time with,” Kim said. “I find them to be a ‘self-selecting group of really nice people.’ I say that, because the Great Loop is not for everyone. Someone who is very high-strung or ‘type A’ may not enjoy it as much as those who are laid-back and easy going. It doesn’t take long on a boat to realize that mother nature will determine when you travel and when you don’t, and you have no control over mechanical issues that might arise, for example. So those who are intent on keeping a schedule or maintaining control of every aspect of their life may quickly weed themselves out. So overall, the AGLCA community is group of really fun-loving people who are out there enjoying the adventure of a lifetime!”

Seeker

If you go, look for SEEKER, a lovely Nordic Tug, docked at the Waterside Marina. She’s the boat in West of Famous and her owners are Paul and Caryn Frink.

Florida Writers Association Conference 2018

This was my first Florida Writers Association Conference as faculty. They put me to work. I led workshops on Crafting Memorable Dialogue for the adult attendees and then for the youth attendees.

Florida writers conference

The Florida Youth Writers conference ran concurrently with the adult workshops.

Oh, and FWA President Alison Nissen also interviewed me for a podcast. Yep, I was busy. The conference had 600 people.

The powers that be also assigned me to serve on a panel discussion titled “Bring it on Home to Me–Nailing the Ending.” Going into the conference I considered the free room and tuition as the biggest perks. Then I learned the identities of the other authors on the panel. Excuse the fan squeal.

THE PANELFlorida writers conference panel

Author Samuel Staley

Sam Staley, our moderator, is an award-winning author of a dozen books and hundreds of articles. At the conference, he also taught workshops on “Show Don’t Tell: Learning to Love and Trust Your Readers” and “Deepening Story and Character with Foreign Language.” Sam kept the panel talking with a series of questions. He also kept order when multiple questions rolled in from the writers in the audience.

Florida Writers conference faculty

Author Linda Fairstein

Linda Fairstein is the 2018 National Guest of Honor. She won the Nero Wolfe Award for Excellence in Crime Writing in 2008, and in 2010 received the Silver Bullet Award of the International Thriller Writers. Her 20th book in the Alexandra Cooper series comes out in 2019. Published in crime fiction and true crime, she writes with knowledge and authority. She served in the office of the New York County District Attorney, where she was chief of the country’s pioneering Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit for twenty-six years. In that position, she supervised the investigation and trial of cases involving sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and homicides arising out of those crimes. Producer Dick Wolf based the long-running TV show Law & Order: SVU on her unit and the character of ADA Alex Cabot.

She also taught a workshop titled “Turning Your Professional Experience into Fiction.” In addition to her crime writing, she launched a children’s series called the Devlin Quick Mysteries.

Florida Writers conference faculty

Author John Capouya

John Capouya was the non-fiction author on the panel. He teaches journalism and nonfiction narrative at The University of Tampa, including their Creative Writing MFA program. Previously, he was an editor at Newsweek and SmartMoney magazines, New York Newsday, and the New York Times. His book Gorgeous George is in film development. His third book, Florida Soul – From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band, came out in 2017. The day after our panel, he taught an insightful workshop called “The End.” He presented eight ending techniques and how to close the circle of meaning in a story.

Florida Writers Assn conf faculty

Author John Wilkerson

John Wilkerson authors science fiction thrillers with a side order of campiness. At the conference, he taught a workshop titled “Emotional Mechanics of a Fight Scene.” Having thirty plus years of martial arts training pretty much makes him an expert on this topic. He also served as a moderator on the panel discussion of “Who’s Laughing Now? Being Funny is Serious Business.”

Our panel discussion on endings got spirited. The attendees asked questions that sparked polite debate on what makes an ending satisfying. We discussed genre considerations for endings. Romance demands HEA or Happily-ever-after. American readers prefer justice to prevail in crime novels. Literary stories can go either way. We discussed endings of books that disappointed us as readers.

I remember reading Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. In the original story, mermaids turned into sea foam when they died. One mermaid wanted a soul so she wouldn’t turn into sea foam. This little mermaid earned a soul by saving the life of a human. Then she died. Her soul went to heaven. Her death WAS the happy ending. Well, then Disney came along and changed the story and the ending to fit a romance. Oh, well.

One gentleman asked if the bleak ending of his coming-of-age book about a young man’s search for his father would work. The panel agreed that the ending, even a tragic one, works when it suits the trajectory of the story.

THE AWARDS BANQUET

The awards banquet ran Saturday night. The dessert and the genie in a bottle theme made the event even more festive. The gentleman who asked about a sad ending was Gary Robert Pinnell. He collected 3rd place award for his unpublished historical fiction “A Most Invisible Boy.”

So there. Even the judges agreed.

Florida Writers Association awards banquetI also taught a workshop on writing for magazines and paid blogs. The magazine writing workshop was at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. Surprisingly, it was packed. Working at a writer’s conference has been thrilling and exhausting. I’m off on vacation in the Smokey Mountains with Handsome. And a few great books.

Bouchercon 2018 from a First-timer

Long before I wrote my first story I was a reader. My favorite genres are suspense, thrillers, and mysteries. So imagine my joy at attending Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida this month. Bouchercon is the World Mystery Convention, the premier annual event for readers, authors, and all lovers of crime fiction. As a local, I volunteered to stuff books into book bags for attendees ahead of the conference. The organizers were expecting 1500, so it was a long day.

Bouchercon book bags pile

After we filled all the carts, we stacked the book bags on the floor.

Bouchercon book bags in carts

Bouchercon book bagsAmong the volunteers were fans and authors. We were giddy with the selection of FREE BOOKS. Among the volunteers was Author J.D. Allen. Her latest book 19 Souls was among the giveaways we were adding to bags. I remember the beautiful cover.

Bouchercon

19 Souls by J.D. Allen

After the 1500 bags were stuffed, super fan, Judy Bobalik invited all the volunteers to the upstairs bar for drinks. I had long drive home on I-4, so I had a soda. My hands were so sore from stuffing bags I drove home and stuck my hands in ice water.

Bouchercon at the Vinoy Renaissance ResortThe next day, Wednesday, September 5, I drove back to the Vinoy Renaissance Resort with my friend Author Donna Kelly. We checked in to the resort and then we picked up our registration packets and goodie bags (free books!). Going over the schedule, we found even more book giveaways at author signings. At registration, Donna and I met another first-time Bouchercon author named Frank Zafiro. A retired detective, he writes the River City Series, the Stefan Kopriva novels, and more.

We wandered around the resort to find the ballrooms where panel discussions would be held. We encountered gators.

Bouchercon gators

Bouchercon lineup

Donna in the author’s lineup.

And Donna stood in an author lineup. Donna wanted books signed by Lee Child and Michael Connelly. I said I’d be hunting down Diana Capri, Sara Paretsky, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Laura Lippman.

Bouchercon authors

Hank Phillippi Ryan autographed a book for me!

Bouchercon

Donna Kelly meets Lee Child.

Bouchercon

Michael Connelly signs a book or two for Donna.

Bouchercon

Sara Paretsky, founder of Sisters in Crime, signed a book for me!

Laura Lippman taught a workshop at Eckerd College years ago that taught me significant lessons in story craft. I was long overdue in thanking her.

Bouchercon

Laura Lippman autographed a book for me.

I ran into Kerry Lonsdale, whom I’d met at a Women’s Fiction Writers Conference in Albuquerque, NM.

Bouchercon

Author Kerry Lonsdale put a selfie of us on her blog a few years ago, so…

The authors and fans blended into a giant excited crowd. When asked if we were authors or fans, we’d answer, “Yes.” How can you be a writer without being an avid reader? The 4-day event featured panel discussions on various topics, book signings, lunches, award banquets, and of course, what is known as barcon–gatherings in the bar until the staff scoots us out. The main bar at the Vinoy is in the main lobby. There people clustered on sofas and ottomans and balanced drinks on tiny tables while debating crime stories and favorite authors. Donna and I, as new members of Sisters in Crime, met other members at their breakfast gathering.

Bouchercon meeting room

Bouchercon

Authors Christine King and Diane Capri shared writing stories.

I enjoyed chatting with Diana Capri and Christine King about boating, adventures, and writing. Diane juggles a number of series, one of which ties in with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Diana served on a panel discussion titled “Familiar but New–Writing Established Characters.” Christine and Diane are also members of Sisters in Crime. They welcomed me as a new member.

Ah, fun. The 2019 Bouchercon will be in Dallas. I hope I can go. Back to work.

Ireland: Shannon Cruise, Dublin Walkabout, and Farewell Dinner

On the last day of our Best of Ireland Trafalgar Tour, Handsome and I packed dirty laundry in our suitcases. We also packed up mementos. With thirty euros left to spend, we boarded the bus for the day’s travel. Our guide, Ann, and our faithful driver, Pat, herded us into our assigned seats. We headed off toward Shannon, which in Gaelic is Sionainn.

By our eighth day together, our tour group has swapped names and stories. Two couples celebrated anniversaries. Bel had a birthday. Many in our group are retired. Handsome has told them how much he wishes he was retired. A few have asked him medical questions. Some have learned that I’m an author and asked for business cards.

Gar and Ruth will spend more time in Ireland thanks to a conference. They are paleobotanists and university professors.

Professors of paleobotany were on the tour.

Nancy and Earl shared our amusement and confusion over how to operate the showers and the lights in the rooms. In some of the hotels, the lights will not go on unless the room key is inserted into a slot on the wall. As for the shower controls, well, one of the hotels offered instructions.

Tub and shower instructions.

Ann taught us the meaning of craic as an acronym.

  • C = coel (music)
  • R = rince (dance)
  • A = amhran (song)
  • I = is (and)
  • C = comhra (conversation)

We have done our best. Because of the spotty WiFi, people pulled their faces from devices and socialized. It was lovely and refreshing.

On the Shannon River Cruise, I learned that Richard from Texas was adopted. Thanks to using one of the popular DNA test kits, like Ancestry and Me, he discovered half-siblings he didn’t know existed. Adopted young, he has been on a journey to reconnect with lost family. He approached me to chat because he wanted to discuss how to write his story to share with his family. So, during my recess from writing, I am again reminded that stories are everywhere. Next month, I resume writing. These few weeks off have energized me.

Shannon River Cruise.

Our driver, Pat, delivered our luggage to the hotel every day while we visited castles and villages.

Our guide, Ann, said that 1% of all road taxes goes for artwork, such as sculptures on the roadways. We saw a bronze elk, orange triangular sails, multi-colored silhouettes of horses and cows and lamb and deer, and a metal Chieftan on horseback. The Chieftan reminded me of a character from an HBO series called The Game of Thrones. The sculpture reminded me of The Night King. Oh, and when we passed the Aryn Islands, I thought Ann was calling them the Iron Islands. The map corrected me.

When the bus dropped us off for time in Dublin, Handsome and I marched straight to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. The line was about sixty deep, but we were inside in fifteen minutes. Cameras, flash or no flash, are not permitted in the room where the Book of Kells lies open beneath the protective glass. The vibrant golds, greens, blues, and reds are astounding. Preserved so long, this precious manuscript deserves preservation. Scripture comes alive through the illustrations and artistic calligraphy.

An illustration from the Book of Kells, courtesy of Trinity College.

Above the viewing room is the Latin library collection. Someone mentioned that the room was used in a Star Wars film. Display cases in the middle of the chamber show different types of damage to books with examples: humidity, rodents, vandalism, accident, and fire.

Trinity College in Dublin.

Trinity College.

The Trinity College library where the Book of Kells is housed.

Trinity College Library. These volumes are in Latin.

Trinity College.

The farewell dinner gave us time to reflect on the tour and trade photos. I taught one lady how to use iPhone’s airdrop feature. Those who got to know Heather, traveling solo from South Africa, urged her to move out of South Africa because of the increasing violence against whites. White farmers are being driven off their property; their families were beaten and killed. She said she is seriously considering moving to England. I pray she does.

Best of Ireland tour group.

The tour group was made up of Americans, Australians, a South African, and Canadians. It was a joy to explore Ireland with them.

Recommended reading on Ireland:

  • Trinity by Leon Uris
  • Seek the Fair Land by Walter Macken
  • Light a Penny Candle by Maev Binchy
  • The Big Wind by Cecil Woodham
  • and the poetry of W.B. Yeats.

May your neighbors respect you, trouble neglect you, the angels protect you, and heaven accept you.