Saturday, July 31, 2010

Train makes Tracks

All right, so I've been a little fascinated by trains lately. (Have you ever noticed how many movies feature trains? A lot!)

And though we've all heard the stories about how the immigrants laid the train tracks from east to west and ultimately helped make America great, take a look at how train tracks can be laid today--the train can lay its own track! Five fascinating minutes.


Friday, July 30, 2010

The Necessary Room

Today I'm sending you on a tour of some of the world's most unusual bathrooms. You can check them out here (and be sure to click through the ads so you don't get bogged down).

The photo is of an outhouse at the Aiken-Rhett house in Charleston--and once I stepped inside, I was amazed at how roomy and pleasant it was. Trust me, I've been in outhouses that weren't (but not recently!).

What's the most memorable bathroom you've ever been in? For me, I think I'd have to say the "squat pots" I saw in Asia about thirty years ago . . . they're like little bassinets fixed into the floor tile, and the bathroom stalls are in rooms that are unisex--in other words, a man may be in the stall next to you while you're, um, using the little "squat pot." I had to admire the strength and flexibility of the people who used those things regularly.

The hotel where I am in Co Springs has one unique luxury--heated toilet seats! :-) That's something I've never seen before . . .


Thursday, July 29, 2010

If you can type, you can make a movie.

My hubby is away at camp this week, so when a friend told me about this movie making site, I thought I'd try it out with a camp promo. This is VERY rough, but it's easy and fun to work with. Need a little movie for your site? Here's a great place to start. What will they think of next?


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Star Wars Subway

What would you do if you were on the subway and this happened? Looks like fun!

If this is Wednesday, I'm flying out again--EARLY. Am going to Colorado Springs to teach at one of Jerry Jenkins' craftsmen's residencies, so I'll be away from home for the rest of the week. The summer seems to be flying by, probably because I haven't been home for much of it!

Wonder if they have sweet tea in the Springs? That's one thing I've been missing from the Great Ten Day Train Tour . . . :-)


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pet Porcupines?

I have never considered porcupines as potential pets . . . I've seen too many pictures of dogs with quills sticking out all over their faces. But this is a charming video, and shows an entirely different side of the wee beasties . . .



Monday, July 26, 2010

The Dad Life

On this blog, we have celebrated the Wrinkle Ladies, the Mom Song, and all sorts of female-oriented song celebrations. Well, it's time to give equal time to the men.

So set aside your mom jeans, your grandma taxis, and your soccer mom minivan and let's celebrate "The Dad Life." :-) I love it!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day TEN of the Great Ten Day Train Trip--Home!

Photos: The interior of the lovely Tampa train station, our train pulling away, and the exterior of our train station.

Ginger and I woke up this morning in Jacksonville, went to the station, and realized that for the FIRST time, someone was getting serious about checking IDs and boarding the train in an orderly fashion. Truly, until that point, train boarding and de-training was a truly relaxed affair. But today they checked IDs and even assigned seats. Ginger and I were told the train was so full we wouldn't be able to sit together, but as we boarded, we found a seat with a large stain (and I'd swear it was a pee stain. All I could think about was Poppy on Seinfeld.)

Anyway--the conductor magically whisked the stained seat cushion away and replaced it, so Ginger and I were at least able to sit together on the last leg of our journey. Once we had moved past the drowsy stage (I think sleeping on a train is VERY easy to do--something about the sound and rhythm), we went to the breakfast car to eat French toast. We sat with a lovely woman and her granddaughter, who were getting off in Orlando and then going on a cruise (I suspect they were going to do Disney World first). We shared train stories and laughed--the lady said she hadn't been on a train in thirty years, and at that time they had special "lounge cars" which held the bathrooms and "lounges" for the ladies. Wish I'd seen one of those!

After breakfast, Ginger and I settled back into our seats and I thought about all the things I'd brought with me and hadn't used--I brought a video camera and never used it. I brought my Kindle and never opened it. I brought books to read and never cracked them--though I did read Nancy Rue's wonderful manuscript. :-) I brought a keyboard in case I wanted to do some serious writing--never even took it out of my bag.

But I did use my iPad a LOT--checked email on it, used the map feature to figure out where we were going and how to get there, used "Trip Advisor" to figure out what to see and "Yelp" to figure out where to eat. The iPad was wonderful to have handy, and the only drawback was that I didn't always have a wi-fi signal. When I didn't have a signal, I played a few games of Crush the Castle and Solitaire. :-)

After we went through Kissimmee (That's Ki-SIM-me, not Kiss-a-me), we realized that we were going to roll right past Ginger's house--she's not on the tracks, but she had completely forgotten that her town has an Amtrak depot! So she had to go all the way to Tampa with me, and be picked up there.

And we rolled into Tampa's historic train depot right on time. I gave the hubby a big hug, hugged Ginger goodbye, and we drove home. I've been unpacking ever since, and tomorrow--I diet.

Monday, I write. :-)


P.S. The hubby didn't read the blog entries, so I think I may have to sit him down and make him watch all 414 photos in a slideshow. That'd be fitting, don't you think?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day NINE of the Great Ten-Day Train Trip

Photos: a mannequin in the old jail, one of the loveliest streets in America, Magnolia Avenue, the must-visit Lu Li's Cupcakes, a key lime cupcake (yum!), Florida kitsch--gator heads, the ubiquitous trolley cars.

Whew! The journey is drawing to a close, and it's been fun. But today was a long day again!

We got up early this morning and were in a taxi by six a.m. We boarded the train as the sun was coming up, and pulled into Jacksonville around nine-thirty. But we had an adventure on the train--after getting to our reserved coach seats, we decided that if we were ever going to eat in a dining car, we might as well get up and do it. So we walked forward on the train, passed through a cafe car, and found the dining car. We had to wait a few minutes, then we were seated at a table with a young man we didn't know. He turned out to be a stand-up comedian from Pittsburgh, and he was on his way to a show in Daytona Beach. He told us his name, but unfortunately, it flew straight threw my head.

We found out, however, that he'd been on the train for about 24 hours and he had a sleeper car, which he promised to show us (for research purposes, of course.) So when we were done with our breakfast, we followed him forward past the "roomettes" and to the sleeper cars. They're interesting--each with their own bathroom that IS a shower, so it's possible to sit on the toilet, brush your teeth, and take a shower, all at the same time.

Shortly after our grand tour, we arrived in Jacksonville and went to our hotel. After putting our suitcases in the room, we hired a car to drive to St. Augustine (not cheap, but probably less expensive than renting a car for the day).

In St. Augustine, we bought tickets for a trolley and saw all the sights--in the blistering heat. We saw typical Florida kitsch such as gator heads and refrigerator magnets, we toured the nation's oldest house, and walked through the old jail. We saw the beautiful Cathedral of St. Augustine, and walked through the distinctive stores in the St. George area. Flagler College was stunning, and the story of Henry Flagler and the Gilded Age was interesting.

Tomorrow morning, we board the train early again and ride for several hours until we're HOME! It's been a lot of fun, the trip has given me what I need to know for the WIP, and I've enjoyed getting to know my cousin better. :-) All in all, a fun adventure!

Thanks for coming along for the ride!


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day Eight of the Great Ten-Day Train Trip

Photos: Gabriel, Lucas, Michael; Kim and me; Jerica (her sister was camera shy); Pam and me--all at Starbucks!

(p.s. If it looks like I have "hat head," I do. Bought a hat big enough to be an umbrella to keep the sun at bay.)

Big sigh. :-) Today was our day off. Even on a vacation, sometimes you need to take a breath and breathe.

Ginger and I slept until we woke up, a luxury if there ever was one. I was up by eight, so I went down to eat a light breakfast and to do laundry. (I had plenty of clothes, but I wasn't wild about the idea of hauling a suitcase full of sweaty duds.) Once I got downstairs, though, I realized that I had forgotten 1) my room key, which I needed to get INTO the hotel laundry room and 2) my wallet. So I had to go back upstairs and disturb Ginger to get my wallet, then I went back downstairs only to realize that my wallet had no quarters in it.

So I went to the front desk, but they had no quarters, either. But a man standing behind me assured me that he had just dumped several quarters into his wife's purse, and she was outside in the car, waiting on him.

So I went outside and knocked on the window of a car belonging to a woman I didn't know from Adam. After looking startled, she rolled down the window to hear me say, "This may sound strange, but you have quarters in your purse and your husband said you'd give them to me." I held out a dollar, two dimes, and a nickel, and smiled, trying to look sane and sensible.

The poor woman looked flustered, but she dug out her purse and found the quarters at the bottom. By that time the husband came running out, and soon I was on my way to the laundry room. :-)

After laundry time, Ginger and I went next door for lunch, then we walked to a small mall that had some fantastic stores in it, and the stores were having fantastic sales. I found a silk shirt for $6.88. Really!

Then, feeling inspired by last night's cooking class, we walked across the street and visited a kitchen store. We didn't buy anything, but we left with the vague idea that soon we might actually cook something.

And then we walked to our Starbucks stop. Almost immediately, we were greeted by Pam and her husband, Kevin, and her darling daughters, Jerica and Callie. I had met Pam at a writers' conference in Tuscaloosa, so it was fun to renew that acquaintance. A few minutes later, Kim walked in, accompanied by her husband, Michael, and her boys, Gabriel and Lucas. What fun to meet all of them and talk to their children! Two boys, two girls, and all were adorable. Kim's family lives just over the border in South Carolina, and Pam's family was on vacation in Savannah.

So tonight we're going to hang out and pack for another leg of our train trip. Tomorrow morning we leave early again and take the train to St. Augustine. If you can believe it, I'm a Florida native and I have NEVER been to that city--which is one of the oldest in North America. So that will be fun.

Until then!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day Seven of the Great Ten Day Train Trip

Photos: The strawberry shortcake, the filet, the first course at our cooking class, Chef Joe Randall at work, me standing under a mister because of the heat, mounted police near a park, Chef Joe Randall at our cooking class.

Oh, my. I am so stuffed as I write this . . . because tonight Ginger and I went to cooking school.

But let me back up. We got up this morning at the unearthly hour of 3:30 a.m. and caught a train at five. The train left Charleston and we sort of dozed until Savannah (I have a vague memory of someone tossing me a pillow, collecting it again, and me realizing that THIS train had an honest-to-goodness dining car--which we were too sleepy to notice). Upon hitting Savannah, we met cab driver Angela, who took us to our hotel.

Of course the hotel wasn't ready to check us in at seven a.m., so we stashed our luggage, ate breakfast, and tried to plan our day. Using, we saw that Chef Joe Randall's cooking school was one of the top activities in Savannah, so we called and made a reservation for that night.

And then we took a cab downtown. The day was warm already, so Ginger and I decided to buy a ticket for one of those trolleys you can hop on and off as you please. We saw most of the city by trolley, and after one exit at the River Walk, we were so hot (heat index 105 degrees) that I bought yet another hat and we stopped for lunch. After lunch, we got back on the trolley and got off at Something-Sorrell House--a house that has been featured on HGTV's "If These Walls Could Talk" and Ghost Hunters.

We didn't see any ghosts, but we did walk through this amazing house and saw where it had been used, abused, and how it's being restored by the current owner. Fascinating! And apparently the mistress of the house threw herself off a second story balcony when she caught her husband with one of the slave women, and later the slave woman "hung herself" . . . when there were no furnishings for her to step on and off. Hmmm. Anyway, the house was fascinating all by itself, and Savannah is laden with history.

I had to be impressed with how Oglethorpe, the founder of Savannah and the state of Georgia, laid out the city plan--filled with 24 lovely "squares," or parks, of which 22 still exist today. And Oglethorpe was a godly man--he did not allow slavery or strong drink, in fact, and only after he went back to England did those two things become legal in the colony.

Ginger and I finally made it back to our hotel, where we tried to freshen up a bit and head out to cooking school under Chef Joe Randall. Fortunately, we didn't actually have to cook--Chef Joe did all the cooking, and we watched and ate. And ate. And ate. And I think I may have to fast for about a week. We had duck, and steak soup, and filet mignon that melted in our mouths, and sauces, and mashed potatoes, and strawberry shortcake made completely from scratch. You can check him out at I had fun snapping pictures until my batteries died. :-( But at least I got some pictures of the food!

So though we didn't make it to Miz Wilkes or Paula Deen's, we made it to Chef Joe's, and I simply don't have room for another bite. :-) And, after a day like this, I am more than ready to call it a day. See you tomorrow!


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day Six of the Great Ten Day Train Trip: Charleston

Photos: me and Debbie Hopkins at Starbucks, one of the carriage rides, two ladies in makeshift rain gear, a hidden garden gate, a haint blue porch ceiling, and one of the outhouses at the wealthy Aiken House.

Charleston, South Carolina--what a city. Brimming with history, color, and people! Ginger and I took a cab downtown and arrived in the morning. Fortunately, we had both been to Charleston before and we had taken one of the ubiquitous buggy rides, so we pretty much knew the area and the history. We had never, however, been to the Aiken-Rhett House, a house that stands in the downtown area and is managed by a historical Charleston society. The house is unique because it was built in the early 19th century and was only updated once--around 1858. So the wallpapers and most of the light fixtures are original. The house has been preserved, not restored, and it is fascinating--especially the slave quarters and stables in the back of the house. It is perfectly easy to understand where and how the slaves lived by studying the house. There are even two rather elegant privies (outhouses) at the back of the property--amazing. The home is loaded with history and is definitely worth a visit.

After we left the house, we walked down to the downtown commercial area. Our walk took us through shady, tree-lined residential streets, and I was tickled to see homes with haint blue porch ceilings all over the place. One house was even being built in the typical Charleston style, and the painters were painting the ceiling haint blue. I snapped some photos because I thought you'd like to see them.

While we were downtown, the skies opened up and it began to rain. I snapped some pictures of these ladies who did what all Southerners do--we make do. :-)

When the rain relented, Ginger and I began our walk toward a place where we'd be more likely to pick up a taxi. While we stood on a street corner, a car came by and turned--and splashed us from head to toe. I promise, it was just like a scene in a movie, but the water was HOT. Not nearly as refreshing as it should have been.

Covered in dirty water and wet again, we caught a cab and went to North Charleston for our Starbucks stop. On the way, we talked to our garrulous cab driver. The conversation was pleasant and trivial until he happened to mention that he'd been over to Israel and seen the body of Jesus in a machine. Excuse me? Well, you know I couldn't let that one go by. Later I realized that he may have been confused about the shroud of Turin, but I said, "No, the body of Jesus is alive and well in heaven, so there's no way it's in a machine." He then assured me that he believed all religions had a bit of truth, and I said yes, but ONE religion, or one God, had all truth, because a supreme, holy, righteous God must be all truth. And if one God is truth, then the one who opposes him is a liar . . .

Anyway, I assured him that I wasn't interested in debating him or trying to convert him--because the Bible says that all who come to God must be drawn by the Spirit first. So when we left and he said that he wished the ride could have been longer, I said that I would be praying for him to find the Truth.

At our Starbucks stop, we were soon joined by Debbie Hopkins, one of the original Dazers (a member of the Heavenly Daze yahoo group, if you've never heard the term.) Debbie had been with us on last January's Heavenly Daze cruise, so we had a great time catching up. She's such a dear.

When we finished our visit, Debbie dropped me and Ginger at an outlet mall (funny how we seem to be shopping our way down the eastern seaboard), where we ate dinner and then came back to pack.

We have to catch the train tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM (yes, you read that right), so we're turning in early tonight and trying to pack ahead of time. We'll be in Savannah a little after six, so we'll have nearly two days to explore that lovely Southern city. If you're in the area, we'd love to see you at our Starbucks stop on Thursday.

Have a great day tomorrow! And stay out of the heat! (The heat index here was 105 degrees!)


Monday, July 19, 2010

Day Five of the Great Ten-Day Train Trip

Photos: the train. The Cafe Car. The Williamsburg Depot.

Today was one LONG day on the train. Ginger and I caught the train at Williamsburg (which has a darling depot, BTW--it reminds me of Disney World) and arrived in Richmond about ninety minutes later. There we had to get off our train and get on one going south. We got on the second train at about noon, and arrived in North Charleston just after seven p.m.

It was a nice ride, and it rained, so if we had to have rain on this trip, it was nice to have it on a day when we were train-bound. Our train, unfortunately, didn't have a dining car but a "cafe car," which sells cellophane-wrapped food that's warmed in a microwave as you order it. I had a veggie burger for lunch and a hot dog for dinner--not exactly fine dining, but it works. :-)

And all around me, I watched and listened to my fellow passengers . . . lots of fodder for the BIP (book in progress). I also lost my ticket! Actually, the conductor took our tickets before we even boarded the train, so I didn't think I needed to hang onto the "stub." But hours later, when a new conductor came down the aisle wanting to see our tickets, I had nothing to show him except a copy of my reservation. He scolded me lightly--with a smile--but what could either of us do? I didn't have my ticket, and he couldn't throw me off the train. But--I learned my lesson. Hang onto your stub. :-)

On the train, I read Nancy Rue's latest manuscript, THE RELUCTANT PROPHET. It's a great story--all about Harleys and Harlots--(I'm saying that tongue in cheek), but I was crying at the end, and it's a little embarrassing to be crying on a train. Truly, a wonderful book that you simply have to read when it comes out.

Anyway, I digress. We didn't get to our hotel until after seven, so we ordered a pizza and settled in for the night. Tomorrow we have a Starbucks stop in North Charleston, and we hope to get downtown to check out some of the historical sites tomorrow.

So--we're still doing well and having fun! We'll check in again tomorrow!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day Four--I think--of the Great Ten Day Train Trip

Photos: Ginger looking at a candy necklace, goodies at THE PEANUT SHOP (click if you want to drool over the details), restored colonial homes, chocolate covered Twinkies, me 'n Anita at Starbucks. ;-)

Dateline: Williamsburg, VA

Ginger and I slept in a bit this morning, then we headed out to the Prime Outlet Mall here in Williamsburg. We picked a good time, because all the July clearance sales are in full swing. After that, we headed out for our Starbucks, where Anita Smith joined us! Anita is from Lynchburg and was with her family, who had just pulled into Williamsburg for a family vacation. I signed some books for her and took a picture. Best of all, we have mutual friends in Lynchburg, so I was able to send my greetings back with her. :-)

After our Starbucks stop, Ginger and I headed back to Colonial Williamsburg, and this time I had my camera in tow. Oh my goodness. I had been advised to stop into THE PEANUT SHOP, where they not only have free samples, they offer about every kind of nut confection you can imagine. Ever had chocolate covered sunflower seeds? They're amazing!

After that wonderful shop, we visited the Wythe Candy shop, where they had chocolate covered TWINKIES and Ginger discovered those candy necklaces we used to eat and wear as kids. They had an amazing selection of fudge and old-fashioned candies from yesteryear.

We walked the mile through colonial Williamsburg, then walked back, sweltering in the heat. To end our day, we caught the trolley to the stop just about a mile short of our hotel, then covered the last distance. Whew! We're hot and tired, but eager to move onto the next stop on our grand vacation. Before I close my eyes tonight, I have to jot down a few notes so my story characters will have some things to do when they stop in Williamsburg.

THANK YOU, ANITA, for taking the time to stop and visit with us. We were so pleased to share a few minutes with you!

We will spend almost all day on the train tomorrow (heading to Charleston), so I'll try to take some train pictures, for those of you who haven't been inaugurated. :-) Until then . . . be well!


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day Three of the Great Ten Day Train Trip

Photos: exterior quote on Union Station (click a couple of times to enlarge and read it!), interior of the shopping level at the train station, and exterior shot of the station.

Today was our first actual day on a train--and it was the first time either Ginger or I had actually traveled on a train.

Things we learned:
1. You don't have to arrive at the train station as early as you have to arrive at an airport. Our train left at 7:30; we got to the airport right after six. And we sat. And sat. And sat. :-) And this after we had gotten up at 5 a.m.

Nothing happened--absolutely nothing--until about 7:15. Then suddenly the gate opened, we dragged our luggage through it (no checked baggage on this train trip--and that was interesting!), and we climbed aboard the train. (I had to take my two suitcases plus carry ons down an escalator. When my heavy bags tilted on the escalator, they nearly pushed me down the stairs!)
2. When getting aboard or de-training (yes, they really call it that), you'd better be quick. They don't dilly dally at the station.
3. Food in the cafe car is definitely of the cellophane-wrapped variety. On one of our later trains, we will have a "dining car." Can't wait to see what that's like!

We walked past a couple of cars, a "cafe car", and boarded a passenger coach. The inside of a train looks pretty much like the inside of a nice tour bus, and, like the bus, there are no seat belts. (I kept thinking that I had to put one on.)

After the train pulled out, the conductor came down the aisle and asked to see our tickets. He punched them with a hole punch, thanked us, barely glanced at our ID, and we were off.

The train proceeded to stop at other stops--Alexandria, Ashland, Richmond, and other places, and I loved the little town of Ashland. I'd never heard of it, but it was picture-postcared pretty.
Just before noon, we pulled into Williamsburg, where we lugged all our suitcases off the train and hailed a taxi--a nice Greek man who used to be a jockey, has formerly owned a Greek restaurant, and who now drives a taxi a few months a year. He's lived in Williamsburg for about 20 years, and described the city as "beautiful, no crime, nice people." :-)

Our room wasn't ready when we checked into the hotel, so I didn't have my camera with me as we started exploring. So I don't have pictures of Williamsburg today, but will post some tomorrow.

LOL--the TV is on, and since beginning this train adventure, I've begun to notice how many movies involve trains of some sort. Ha!

One thing I did notice--traveling by train is definitely different. Instead of billboards and the things you see by traveling by car, you see lovely sites that are definitely off the beaten path--forest that looks primeval, lots of farmer's back porches, lots of fields, "natural" gardens in bloom around ponds and lakes. In one manicured field I saw a tall pyramid made of stones piled atop one another--sitting out in the middle of nowhere, without explanation. Definitely odd, and interesting.

And Williamsburg IS lovely--crape myrtles in bloom all over the place, and all those lovely colonial buildings.

And so I'll leave you with a few more pictures of Washington, D.C. And I'll report back tomorrow!


Friday, July 16, 2010

Day Two of the Great Ten Day Train Trip

Photos: The Jefferson Memorial, Grand Union Station, The Canadian Embassy

Wow. It is HOT here in DC.

Okay, the big news--DC experienced an EARTHQUAKE at 5 a.m. this morning. Unfortunately, we slept through it. I would like to experience an earthquake--a wee one--to add it to my repertoire of life experiences, but apparently we missed out.

We got up and went out early, and quickly decided that the best way to see a city is from the top of a double decker bus. So we bought tickets, and were delighted to learn that you can hop off and on these buses at your will. So we drove and rode and hopped and took tons of photos of granite buildings. We ate lunch at Grand Union Station, where we'll catch the train tomorrow morning. It's an amazing place, and absolutely beautiful.

By mid-morning, we were feeling like baked potatoes. I'm even a little sunburned on my cheeks and knees, even though I slathered on the sunblock and bought a hat. :-)

While we were at our Starbucks stop, one of the bar masters walked through the shop saying, "Angela Hunt?" When I spoke up, he said that someone had called and told him to give me a gift card. Turns out that Helena, one of my dear Canadian friends, was thinking of us, and we'll be enjoying lattes and cold drinks through her generosity for the rest of our trip. Thank you, Helena! :-)

So . . . in her honor, and in honor of all of my Canadian friends, I have included a photo of the lovely (and huge!) Canadian embassy. :-)

Tomorrow: our first train ride to Williamsburg! I'll write more tomorrow!


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day One of the Great Ten Day Train Trip

Photo: that's the spy museum behind me. Below: Chinatown.

We did it. Ginger and I met in Tampa, and we flew to D.C. Arrived at about 2 p.m. and we finally arrived at our hotel about three.

Murphy's Law promptly asserted itself. I had booked our hotel room with award points, and even though I had a reservation, a confirmation, and had already paid with my points, I was told that we couldn't check in unless I had an award certificate.

Well . . . I didn't have one. I've never had to have one before . . .

Fortunately, the nice young man at the desk let me go into the business center next door, where we downloaded and printed out a copy of the reservation. We were good to go.

We took off to explore the city, and quickly found that we were on the edge of Chinatown. And then we discovered the SPY MUSEUM. Oh! I hope we'll have time to visit that tomorrow, but we also want to see the Holocaust Museum. We might not be able to get into that, though, because I hear it's very busy in the summertime and requires a pass . . . and we don't have one.

And then we'll be at Starbucks from 3 to 4 p.m., just in case anyone wants to drop by and say hello. It's the Starbucks at 800 7th Street NW in Washington, D.C. We'd love to see you!

It's hot here--so hot that this Floridian is struggling to cope. But lots of air conditioned stopping places, thank heaven.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

All aboard! (Almost!)

I've been spinning my wheels long enough. Tomorrow--Thursday--my cousin Ginger and I are taking a jet to Washington D.C., then preparing to board a train for the Great Ten-Day Southern Train Tour.

Today I have to pack, finish some edits, make some lists, and get my hair done (hubby says I look like Cruella de Ville.) And clean the house.

I had HOPED to have a nearly complete rough draft by this point, but a funny thing happened . . . I realized I didn't know what to write about. I had ideas, but they weren't really coming together, so in the last week I've spent some time getting to know my story characters. I found it was simply a matter of asking the right questions, and now they're talking. A lot.

But I'm trying something new with this book (always!), and I want the "train novel" to be a suite--in other words, three complete stories that do NOT overlap, but abut each other. And all of the protagonists happen to be on the same train.

Naturally, this leaves me with three little plot skeletons and the conundrum of how to end them--simultaneously? One at a time? End one in another character's point of view? Hmmm.

But I'll figure all that out later. For now I'm off to enjoy the sights, my cousin's company, and the train. I'll be hauling all sorts of gadgets to record the event, and I hope to be blogging, so stay tuned.

Oh--I just learned that THE FINE ART OF INSINCERITY (formerly known as "The Grandma Gene") is now available for preorder on How's that for preplanning? The book won't be released until May of next year, but you can order it now. :-) I will share the cover design as soon as it's finalized.

So . . . off to make a list of things to pack. And for those of you who are meeting us at a Starbucks stop, we can't wait to see you!

Until then,


Photo: meet my cousin, Ginger, who'll be traveling with me, and her grand-dog. :-)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Selective Attention Test

Ha! My friend Deb Raney brought this selective attention test to my, um, attention. Click the play button to see how well you can focus.

How did you do?


Monday, July 12, 2010

The Great Southern Train Tour

A repeat announcement that I'll soon be boarding the train and may be coming your way! If you can join us at a Starbucks, we'd love to see you1

I have decided to set my next novel on a train (I'm always up for an adventure). And because I have never traveled on a train, my cousin and I are leaving in mid-July for a ten-day train trip through the south, hitting all the major Southern seacoast cities: D.C., Williamsburg, Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville. I'll be doing research, having fun, and taking loads of pictures.

But while I was thinking about the trip, I thought it might be nice to meet some folks along the way. But because I want to keep our schedule fairly free--because you never know what might come up--I didn't want to do anything too complicated.

So my pal Nancy suggested Starbucks--every city seems to have one. So I'm going to pop into several Starbucks, and if you live nearby, I'd love for you to drop by so I can say hello, maybe sign your books if you want, and snap a picture.

So here's the schedule--and I hope you can make it!

Starbucks Stops

D.C. Area, July 16th 3-4 p.m.

Starbucks at

800 7th Street NW, suite 305

Washington, DC

202 289-1576

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cowboy for a Rainy Afternoon

Stephen Bly is one of my favorite people--he's a preacher, a mayor, a novelist, and a justice of the peace . . . all in one little town. He and his wife, Janet, are good friends of mine, and I'm tickled to tell you about Steve's latest book: Cowboy for a Rainy Afternoon.

A 10-year-old boy with red straw cowboy hat, cap gun, and silver-painted wooden bullets. Six story-telling, cribbage playing old cowboys. A ’49 Plymouth with open trunk. A damsel in distress. All the fixings for a summer’s day adventure at the Matador Hotel in 1954 Albuquerque.

Maybe you weren’t born 100 years too late!

Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon is a twist on the traditional Western story.

In 1954, six men who spent their youth as cowboys in the Southwest, now gather at the Matador Hotel lobby in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, for weekly games of cribbage. One rainy afternoon, one of the men brings his grandson. They’re delighted with this captive audience. They all play cribbage and the men tell stories of their exploits in the old days. The eldest was born during the Civil War. All of them cowboyed from the late 1880s until the 1940s. They tell first-hand stories of what the West was truly like.

Many years later, the boy looks back and remembers the day he heard of a way of life and western tradition that’s quickly becoming extinct. He also recalls the lessons he learned and the excitement of a drama that unfolded before them that provoked the cowboys’ last stand.

This reminiscent account of real cowboy lives resonates like Andy Adams’ book, The Log of a Cowboy, written in the early 1900s.

Author’s suggestion: this book is best read aloud, as though around a campfire, by someone who gets the hang of the rhythm of the language.


Miscellany Quotes from Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon:

The Matador Hotel died on July 5th, 1965, but they didn’t bother burying it until last fall.

New Mexico heat blanketed Albuquerque that July like too many covers in a stuffy cabin. . .the kind of day that you sweat from the inside out and feel sticky dirt in places that you don’t ponder much except in the shower.

Cribbage and cowboys . . . I figured I fit right in.

The early May rain came down hard, the kind of cloudburst when the drops slap your face and you take it personal.

There’s a quiet buzz from antique ceiling fans, like six thousand crickets, all out of tune. You don’t even notice, until there’s silence.

Folks today think that 1954 existed in some other galaxy, on some other planet. Maybe they’re right. It’s hard to believe that world and this one are made of the same stuff.

“If you feel prodded, Shorty, it’s the shovel of the Lord. He’s diggin’ you up and intends on restorin’ you.”

“I have always been a fan of Louis L’Amour but I must say your book is as good if not better than anything of his. I shall remain a fan of Stephen Bly.” -- Jimmy Dickens, Grand Ole Opry

“Bly offers a kinder, gentler Western that should appeal to fans of Louis L’Amour.” – Library Journal

And now, a few questions for Steve:

Q. What is meant by the term “cowboy philosopher.” What is it about the “cowboy life” that lends itself to philosophizing and a closer walk with God?

A cowboy’s friendships were shaped by tough work and tragedy, companionship and daily battle with weather and critters. Only the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific would equal the old West in producing men of courage and character. This stark reality on the land, with lots of nights around a campfire and under the heavens, goaded them to storytelling, philosophizing, and wondering about God.

“Little Brother, a man don’t jump into the stream until he sees which way the water’s flowin’,” says a character in my newest release, Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon (June 1st, hardback). It’s told from a 10-year-old boy’s point-of-view, but years later as an adult. He learns many life lessons one summer’s day in a lobby at the Matador Hotel in Albuquerque. He gets a graduate degree in cowboy philosophy.

Q. Why did you pick Albuquerque, New Mexico for your setting in this newest novel?

Because I’ve been there many times to vacation or do research. I enjoy this state very much. The only other place I’ve been that possesses such wonderful layers of culture stacked one upon another is Rome. The old cowboys at the Matador Hotel in Albuquerque share one layer of New Mexico’s history, a fairly modern era.

Every chapter I wrote in Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon made me miss New Mexico. The state motto is “land of enchantment.” But it’s more than a Chamber of Commerce slogan that tugs me. It’s an intriguing state to explore. This state’s ripe for numerous stories.

Q. How did you get the idea for Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon?

This novel is not based on my life, per se. However, what makes it personal, like a memoir: as a 10-year-old boy in 1954, I spent many afternoons playing cribbage with my grandpa, just like Little Brother in the novel. And I also heard many accounts about the “old days.” Many images from those times together in the 1950s embedded in my mind. I finally wrote about it.

Q. What was one of your challenges in writing Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon?

A rather technical one…Albuquerque is tough to spell right every time. In fact, it ranks #4 in the most misspelled list on none other than The other contenders are Cincinnati, Tucson and Pittsburgh. I finally started to get it right on the second draft by remembering an old song: A-L-B-U-Q-U-E-R-Q-U-E (Lyrics by Herb Hendler, Music by Ralph Flanagan ©1951). This made it easy enough for even a cowboy to spell.

Gotta go, gotta go back to New Mexico, where my true love waits for me. Gotta get on the tracks cause I'm on my way back To A-L-B-U-Q-U-E-R-Q-U-E.

The tune, of course, is integral to teaching the spelling. I can’t help you there, even if we met in person. But my musical wife could hum it just fine.

However, I did discover that there are definite advantages to setting a story mainly indoors, as most of this book is. It’s easier to research. Take New Mexico, for instance. . .as soon as I move my characters out into the woods, I’ve got to decide which tree they’ll hunker next to. Hey, it’s not easy to pick the right tree. Picking the right weed can be tougher. So, I stayed most the time inside the Matador Hotel. Except when all the main characters hop into that ’49 Plymouth with the open trunk.

Q. What other kind of genre would you be interested in writing besides westerns?

My wife and I have enjoyed writing together what she calls ‘cozy mysteries’. We did The Hidden West Series (contemporary) and The Carson City Chronicles Series (historical) and so much enjoyed the research on location and process. I’d be delighted to do more these with her.

Q. What’s next for you?

I’ve got a contract for a historical romance western, set on a train from Omaha to Sacramento, with the working title Throw Away Heart. In addition, I’m thinking through a mystery story set in the early 1900s on the Oregon coast on a golf course, starring Stuart Brannon, one of my early cowboy protagonists, as an old man. He’s invited to a golf tourney by friends and feels very awkward on the links, but finds plenty of adventures anyway. As ardent fans of my books know, Stewart Brannon makes some sort of cameo appearance or mention in every Stephen Bly novel, whether historical or contemporary.


Stephen Bly has published 103 books of historical and contemporary fiction (37 classic westerns) and Christian life and family nonfiction for adults, teens, and kids (9-14 yrs.). Eighteen books were co-authored with wife, Janet. Four of his novels were finalists for the Christy Award. His historical western, The Long Trail Home, won a Christy. The Blys have 3 married sons and 3 grandchildren and live in north-central Idaho at 4,000 ft. elev. on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.

Learn more about the Blys at their website or “On A Western Trail” blog or follow then on twitter or friend them on Facebook (Stephen Bly or Janet Chester Bly).

Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon (hardback, Center Point) is available by order through your local bookstore (Ingram Distributors) or online or . You may also check it out at your local library.



Personal Note to you bloggers:

If you’re ever doing a blog focus on writing or different genres. . .I’ve got blog-sized articles on several topics, such as, “How I Got Into Westerns,” “Western Lilt: Dialogue & The Western Novel,” “The Novel As Memoir,” “Do They Sweat In Duke City?/Fiction As Research,” and one on “Why We Need Side-Kicks.”

Oh, and just for fun. . .how about “When Ben-Hur Met Billy The Kid.”