A Field Full of Poppies

Cobblestones are dangerous, dangerous things. Slippery, even for sure-footed people on a bright, sunshine-y day. I get that they’re charming, and I get that they’re historically accurate . . . but they’re a recipe for disaster, especially when it’s pouring down rain and a certain someone (you know, me) is confined to an immobilization boot.

This past weekend, I decided to visit London and Brussels, both full to bursting with cobblestone streets.1 The main reason for the trip was to visit the Tower of London to see the WWI commemorative poppy exhibit. I saw pictures online, of course, but there’s nothing like seeing something in person, you know? A sea of nearly a million red ceramic poppies seeming to flow like blood over the dry moat that surrounds the Tower? Yes, I wanted to see it. And considering the exhibit is being dismantled, beginning November 11, there’s not a ton of time to work it into my schedule.

The plan: a solo trip. Take a red-eye flight to London on a Friday night, arriving around 10am on Saturday morning; take the tube to the Tower of London; spend three-ish hours there to see the exhibit and hang out; take a train to Brussels in the late afternoon; spend the night in Brussels; fly home the next morning. Why add in Brussels to this trip? Because flying out of Heathrow airport would add at least an additional $150 to my trip2; taking the train to Brussels and staying overnight there saved me quite a bit of cash. Plus, hey, I’ve never been to Brussels, so why not?

But back to the cobblestones. As you might have figured out, it rained–hard–all day on Saturday. I arrived in London on schedule and a little bleary-eyed (my selfie at the Tower of London is proof of that), but excited to start moving.

Memory is a funny thing. My husband and I visited London a few weeks after the September 11 attacks. I don’t remember it taking an hour to get to London via the tube, but it must have–we stayed a hotel only a block from the South Ken station. And I wasn’t prepared at all for how packed the Tower of London would be. Back in 2001, hardly anyone was traveling for pleasure. Most people holed up in their homes in case of more terrorist attacks, and so Craig and I had Tower of London almost to ourselves. I remember that, aside from the guards and Tower employees, there might have been five other people on the grounds on the day that we visited. In retrospect, it was an amazing opportunity to see the Tower of London in a way that not many people do–able to wander at our leisure and spend as much time as we wanted with the Crown Jewels or in St John’s Chapel. Without the crowds, it was quiet, almost spooky. It was easy to imagine the ghosts that might inhabit the place. With the crowds, it was less mysterious and more . . . hectic.

I’m making it sound as though I didn’t enjoy my visit to the Tower of London on Saturday, but that’s not true. Perhaps I enjoyed it less, but I was still thrilled to see the poppy exhibit. It surpassed my expectations, and it was very cool–volunteers were placing poppies before the deluge halted their work. The effect of the poppies was nothing short of gorgeous, and I had fun trying to figure out how the Tower and the poppies looked different depending on the vantage point.

Up to that point, my trip was a rehash of things I’d done once before. I’d been to and through Heathrow, and I’d navigated the tube before . . . so taking the Eurostar to Brussels was super exciting. The almost three hour train ride (four if you count the loss of an hour; Brussels is in a different time zone than London) winds its way past dozens of small English towns–Gravesend, Aylesford, Hollingbourne, and Ashford–then zips through the Chunnel (the tunnel that passes beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover) only to shoot out into France (near Calais), meander through several tiny French towns, cross over the border into Belgium not too far from Tournai, and end up in Brussels. Some of the trip was very picturesque (think sheep grazing on green hills), and some places looked sort of industrial. All told, though, it was a relaxing trip, akin to taking a long-ish ride on Amtrak.

Brussels was, you guessed it, full of cobblestones. They also have roundabouts, which my cab driver clearly knew how to navigate while I watched from the backseat, thinking about how I’d never want to drive there. My hotel was right on the Place du Grand Sablon, a small architectural square surrounded by restaurants, chocolatiers, and winding alleys with houses from the 16th to the 19th century. I had a nice view of the Notre Dame du Sablon church and the tops of the antiques market tents from my hotel room window. The city, what little I saw of it, has a very quaint look, sort of like Paris but much smaller and less urban.

Place du Grand Sablon was relatively empty. There were people eating and drinking at various restaurants, but none of them seemed packed, and hardly anyone was walking around on the streets. With the rain and the empty streets and the quiet, it felt very . . . I don’t know how to describe it. Maybe like I was a spy in some 1940s drama, tramping through the rain-soaked streets in the middle of the night to deliver sensitive information to a shadowy contact who would step out from a dark doorway into the dim light. All I needed was a trench coat.

I would have liked to have arrived in Brussels a little earlier, see more of the city, but it wasn’t possible. By 7p, most of the chocolatiers are closed, and the antiques market is over for the day. There was a single chocolate shop open until 8p–Pierre Marcolini. Of course, I totally bunged it up (call it my stupid American moment). I’d forgotten that the UK still uses pound notes, so when I hit the ATM at Heathrow it gave me pounds, not euros. I admit I didn’t look very hard at the bills; I just assumed it was euros. I tried to paying the very patient guy at the counter in Marcolini in pound notes instead of euros…I’m surprised he didn’t roll his eyes at me. By the time I was able to find a bank to get euros, the store was closed, and I was out of luck. Happily, the Wittamer shop opens at 7am. I was able to snag a box of chocolates and a box of macarons to take back on the plane (I’ve been able to sample both at this point; they are amazing. I was also able to grab about half a dozen Neuhaus kirsch-soaked chocolate cherries at a duty-free chocolate shop at the Brussels airport–stellar).

IMG_20141004_141721I also had dinner at a great little place called Lola. I wasn’t super hungry, but I knew if I didn’t eat something I’d be ravenous in the morning; Lola was just perfect. To begin with, not every restaurant would embrace a single person looking for a meal–let’s face it: I’d be taking up space, a whole table. But Lola has a great bar, where you can sit and have dinner. The hostess and the staff were great to me, and the food was fantastic. The mackerel tartare with cauliflower foam was just the right portion, and it was exactly what I needed.

Flying out of Brussels on Sunday morning didn’t go exactly as I’d planned–a mechanical problem with the plane kept us at the gate for two hours longer than scheduled. That’s minor stuff, though. When you’re flying standby, just getting a seat on the plane is a victory! I arrived home around 3p on Sunday.

So yeah, I did a Europe trip in a single weekend. That’s a little over 14 hours on a plane, 4-ish hours on trains and subways, and about 7 hours available to be a tourist. Totally worth it. I’ll definitely do it again . . . only I’d limit myself to a single city in order to maximize the amount of time I have to actually explore a place.

NOTES:

1. Since my husband works for an airline, I–by extension–get to share his fantastic travel benefits: as long as there’s a seat not taken by a paying customer, I can snag it for free or, depending, the cost of airport taxes.*

2. The UK has a departure tax on flights called the Air Passenger Duty (APD). How much you pay depends on what class you fly, as well as the distance from London to the capital city of the country you are flying to. If you’re flying out of Heathrow to the States, you might pay as little as £69 or as much as £276. From what I understand, taxes at Heathrow will increase quite a bit over the next several years, which makes ground transportation to less expensive hubs (outside England and Scotland) way more attractive.*

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Twenty-Four Hours in San Francisco

San Francisco is hell on the calves.

I knew this. Yes, yes, I did. I’ve been to San Francisco maybe half a dozen times over the last 15 years or so, and I’ve had a great time each visit. Great, but tiring–the steep hills all over SF are hard to deal with. That said, now that I have amazing flight benefits through my husband’s job, there was no excuse not to go back . . . especially since my husband’s never been there.

And so I made a plan.

Let us discuss how difficult it is to find a hotel room in the city that didn’t make me want to weep. SF hotel rooms are so expensive! And if a room isn’t mind-blowingly outrageously priced, it’s had reports of bed bugs and/or stabbings. I didn’t want our visit to SF to be quite that interesting. Luckily, I ran across the Monte Cristo Bed and Breakfast, a cute little inn in Lower Pacific Heights that was originally built in 1875 as a bordello. Well-priced and bed bug-free, not to mention that the breakfast and staff were lovely, and the room we stayed in (the Tourist Queen) was great. Craig and I flew in Monday night after work, but the plane was delayed by three hours–we arrived in SF around midnight, and the desk clerk was totally gracious about checking us in so late.

Our flight back home to Philadelphia was booked for 10p on Tuesday, leaving us with all of Tuesday to see the city.1 I admit: I tried to cram too much into a single day. We walked most of the way from Pacific Heights over to Lombard Street to climb the crookedest street (or the tourist version of that, anyway). From there we walked down to the waterfront and over to Pier 39 to see the sea lions.

SF1SF2

And then it was off to the Ferry Building to visit the Cowgirl Creamery and grab a little something to eat before heading to City Lights Books as a starting point to wander through Chinatown. It was at that point Craig completely pooped out. We stopped in a park to sit and veg out for a while, and after we took the Bart train down to the Mission and walked around for a bit, I was done, too!

All that in six or seven hours. And there were still six hours until our flight home. All I wanted to do was nap, which leads me to an idea that someone needs to put into action–clean napping rooms at the airport (like inside the security perimeter) that can be rented by the hour.

It might have been a fast trip, and a tiring one, but I had a lot of fun. There’s something to be said for getting a change of scenery for inspiration. And, of course, being in a place of great literary tradition is fabulous. In addition to the Beat poets and Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, there’s Christopher Moore’s books that are mostly set in SF, as well as Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Little Brother. It’s enough to make me forget my aching calves.

1. Yes, we flew cross country to spend 24 hours in SF. We didn’t have a lot of time..

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The Art of Book Signing

Books signings are always the most fascinating couple of hours of my life.

So last night I was in Bethany Beach, Delaware for an author event at Bethany Beach Books, a great independent book shop just off the beach. It was a Friday night in August with damn near perfect weather–not cold, by any stretch of the imagination, but cool enough for me to wear jeans and a light cardigan. The little downtown area off the boardwalk was packed solid with people, and there was a cover band playing at the end of the block. Friday, for those of you unfamiliar with shore culture, is typically the last day of vacation for most people renting houses; the turnover day is usually Saturday, and so Friday night is sort of a last hurrah, the final hours to enjoy the beach.

I was stationed outside the bookstore, at a table on the sidewalk. Come meet the author, a sign on the table said. And there I was, hoping to have a chance to talk about THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS and make Lela sound as dark and chilling as she is. Of course, it’s hard for me–I’m a default smiler when I’m talking to strangers, so telling people about Lela’s belief system and her break-ins with a giant grin on my face makes the book seems preposterous rather than creepy. It’s something I need to work on.

Despite that, I foisted off a bunch of copies of the novel to unsuspecting readers. Mwahahaha. And I was able to recommend a bunch of other books, too. Not everyone I talk to is a thriller reader, so I like spread the love a bit. Last night I recommended The Bees/Laline Paull, Looking for Alaska/John Green, The Chaos Walking trilogy/Patrick Ness, Packing for Mars/Mary Roach, and The Revolution of Every Day/Cari Luna to those I thought would dig them.

Favorite moments from last night:

  • Meeting two young ladies, one of who had just been to a NASA camp, and talking about NASA, Mars missions, writing, Guy Bluford, and Mary Roach. They were totally of my tribe.
  • Talking to a woman who turned out to be from a town 30 miles away from my hometown, and then five seconds later meeting a woman and her husband from a town 30 miles away from my hometown, but in the opposite direction of the first lady. Small world!
  • Getting a chance to schmooze with other writers. Last night I met the guy who had a signing at the shop the day before me, a writer who is publishing his book through Amazon next year, and an aspiring writer with whom I traded beta reader-finding tips.
  • Chatting up a 90 year old woman and her granddaughter. The woman had so much to say about the space program–she was great!
  • Discussing the snot-sobbing qualities of John Green books with a group of young woman who had just bought The Fault in Our Stars.
  • Talking psychoses with a psychologist who stopped by to ask about Lela’s mental illness.

This is the last book signing I have scheduled for a while, and it was nice to have such a great one. Thanks to the great staff at Bethany Beach Books for hosting me, and thanks to everyone who stopped by to talk!

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I equate travel with reading time. You’re stuck in an airport or an airplane for hours on end, so what else are you going to do? For me, I either knit or read or catch up on Welcome to Night Vale. Sometimes all three. So last Friday I decided to head to Toronto for a day or two to visit one of my critique partners. I’ll tell you how many books I read on Friday, and you can guess how long I spent in airports/on planes, okay?

Here’s what I read:

Let’s just say that I hoped to be on the first flight to Toronto on Friday, and I rolled into Toronto at ten o’clock Friday night . . . in a car. It was a combination of flying stand-by and plane mechanical failures. Yes, it was a long day–but apparently that sometimes what happens when you’re flying non-rev.

Biblio-Mat_WEB2-300x225Captive audience time aside, it was a Saturday with a friend, full of walking long distances on an injured foot/ankle, buying tea and French macarons in Queen West, talking about writing, and eating pretty much every hour or two. I was really excited to visit the Monkey’s Paw so I could see the Biblio-mat, but it was out of order. So I guess that’s a good reason to go back to Toronto eventually. Because I must have a book from the Biblio-mat! The Monkey’s Paw still came through, though–I walked out with a 1950 edition of Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery and a copy of Jean-Jacques Lecercle’s Philosophy Through the Looking Glass.

Two finds that you’ll want to know about if you’re thinking of visiting Toronto:

  1. Bull Dog Coffee. My critique partner and I had breakfast here. My latte and cranberry scone were so good I could have happily sat around there all day. Seriously–one of the best lattes I’ve had anywhere.
  2. Change Lingerie. I visited their Queen West location. I would not have gone in but for the glowing recommendation from my crit partner, and now I’m a big fan. Good quality, good fit, well-priced. Looks like I’ll be ordering my bras from Canada from now on.

I know you’re wondering how the books were, right? Well, keep an eye on This Dark Matter, an online magazine I started with my crit partner. This Dark Matter is all about dark fiction–not just horror or thrillers, but all genres. If there’s a dark core to the novel, we’re covering it. There’s talk about writing and publishing, pop culture, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I’ll be reviewing all the books I read over the weekend at some point. And we’re looking for contributors, so if you have an interest, do let me know.

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I Am Not Embarrassed.

Let us discuss literary fiction and sales. It’s no secret that it’s incredibly difficult to sell a novel that is considered literary fiction, and that sales of literary fiction have been decreasing to the point where writers have been bemoaning the death of that particular category of books for years. Most recently, Will Self, in an article in The Guardian, claimed “serious novels” are dead. And, of course, by serious novel, he means adult literary fiction . . . because only adult literary fiction can be serious, I guess.

Not to be outdone, freelance writer Ruth Graham has decided young adult novels, regardless of genre, are not serious. In fact, adults should be embarrassed to read YA lit because it is written for children.

I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? This is, after all, a book that features a devastatingly handsome teen boy who says things like “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” to his girlfriend, whom he then tenderly deflowers on a European vacation he arranged.

Graham then goes on to say:

But the very ways that YA is pleasurable are at odds with the way that adult fiction is pleasurable. There’s of course no shame in writing about teenagers; think Shakespeare or the Brontë sisters or Megan Abbott. But crucially, YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way. It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults. When chapter after chapter in Eleanor & Park ends with some version of “He’d never get enough of her,” the reader seems to be expected to swoon. But how can a grown-up, even one happy to be reminded of the shivers of first love, not also roll her eyes?

Perhaps it makes me more of a grown up than Graham, but I read her article, rolled my eyes, and said “Oh, brother” numerous times.

Look, I love to read.  And, of course, I’m a writer of fiction. Graham tells us that it’s okay to write about teenagers (as I do), but it’s practically a sin for which she’ll happily judge you to read about teenagers. She seems to think I’m somehow depriving myself by including YA on my reading lists instead of only devouring the serious fiction of adult novels. While Graham is dictating what I should be reading as an adult, she doesn’t specify which genre of adult fiction. Does she consider, let’s say, The Fault in Ours Stars inferior adult reading over The Da Vinci Code? How about the winners of the various badly written erotica contests? I mean, it’s for adults, right? To read that kind of thing must mean we have “graduat[ed] out of the kiddie pool.” Or is she, like Will Self, talking about literary fiction? You know, “serious” literary?

One can picture Graham sitting down to dinner, eating only liver and onions because she deems it a grown up dish, worthy of mature palates, looking down her nose at adults enjoying a pizza because it’s kid food. It’s not serious food. (And no, that doesn’t mean I’m saying literary fiction is the equivalent of liver and onions. I read a lot of literary fiction and love it.) She comes across as so curmudgeonly and judgmental and melodramatic that it’s hard to take her seriously. The attempt to shame adults for reading YA rolls off the screen. Who is she to tell me what I can read as an adult or what is appropriate reading material for anyone?

Whether it’s Ruth Graham or Will Self or anyone else, I’m not interested in taking direction about what to read from anyone. I’d rather have the ability to enjoy a range of literature than set up arbitrary rules for myself that limit my options. I think I might be a little older than Graham, so I’ve got a handle on this “being an adult” thing. I vote. I pay my bills and mortgage. I’ve been married for a lot of years. I even hold down a steady, paying job and pay my taxes and manage not to give in to any juvenile impulses I might have, despite reading quite a bit of YA lit. Well, maybe sometimes. I did, after all, cry while reading The Fault In Our Stars. Mea culpa. I’m clearly unwilling to grow up.

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The #BookCon2014 Wrap-Up

So . . . BookCon. What can I say about my experience at BookCon today? I’ll start with the positive: the We Need Diverse Books panel was really excellent. A few of the organizers talked a bit about how WNDB came to be and why we need diverse books, and writer Ellen Oh made the exciting announcement that there will be an entire book festival for children’s, middle grade, and YA novels that is focused on diversity. It’ll be sometime in 2016 in Washington, DC. That definitely seems like a book festival worth attending!

The panel itself was interesting and touching and funny, and I just really had a great time hearing from a diverse group of writers–Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Lamar Giles (just recently read his novel Fake ID, which is really great), and Mike Jung.

You might remember the brouhaha over BookCon’s total lack of diversity on panels that caused the #weneeddiversebooks hashtag and movement to rise up. I was happy to see the organizers and panel members not shy away from calling out the BookCon organizers. And I was also thrilled to see a standing-room-only crowd for the panel. It was filled with a hugely outwardly diverse crowd (inwardly, it was probably even more diverse than anyone can know) of passionate readers, and it was lovely.

Elsewhere at BookCon, not everything was so wonderful.

I won’t rehash the problematic issue of the BEA Power Reader tickets sold that were randomly converted to BookCon tickets. I will, however, repeat what a BookCon rep told me when I pressed for details about the bait and switch issue of the tickets. Specifically, the rep insisted that BookCon would be just like BEA but without the “business-to-business” booths. It was supposed to be a “greatly expanded” experience. I think it’s an understatement to say that it was not. It was not a greatly expanded experience. In fact, I would venture to say that my experience–outside the diversity panel–was pretty awful and disappointing.

It began when I was herded downstairs in the Javits Center and then outside after receiving my badge and situated in a ridiculous line that snaked around some kind of weird parking lot area. I am grateful that it wasn’t 100 degrees outside like it was last year during BEA. Look, I’m aware that there have always been lines at BEA–you know, excited people who queue up to be the first onto the show floor. Let’s just say the crowd was far bigger. And far different. The vibe was far different. The age group was far, far different. But whatever. I think BookCon was hoping for a different crowd. So mission accomplished, I guess. For me, it was just incredibly irritating.

And then there was my experience on the floor of BookCon. The whole of BookCon was shoved into the tiniest section imaginable. Seriously. Six aisles. Six. Something like ten thousand people. Shoe-horned into six aisles. Picture it. We were crammed in there like sardines. And no one seemed to know where to go or what to do.

And honestly, on the BookCon floor, there wasn’t much going on. There were a few of the larger publishers with booths in the BookCon section, but there were more that weren’t super recognizable, along with several self-published writers. I saw a tweet from someone who suggested the exhibitors in the area looked lost, like they didn’t quite know what they were doing there or how to interact with BookCon ticket holders. Maybe that was true . . . or maybe they were just afraid to do anything that might spark a stampede. Unlike BEA, there was a far greater emphasis on sales, particularly for the self-published writers with booths. I saw very few Advanced Reader Copies anywhere . . . not that I could see much. I was sorted of shuttled like a cow through an abattoir death chute since it was impossible to do anything but let the giant crowd take you. Book discovery has always been a very important part of the BEA and the Power Reader experience, and that is what was missing this year. Last year, I was able to lay hands on a bunch of ARCs from writers I didn’t know, some of which became new favorites. At BookCon, I found one ARC. Maybe there were others I just couldn’t see from my hole in the crowd (ah, short person problems). I really don’t know. It was so crowded and stifling and claustrophobic that I gave up after fifteen or twenty minutes. There was no way to even attempt to enjoy anything, but, like I said, nothing on the BookCon floor looked particularly compelling or exciting. I headed downstairs to hang out in the room in which the #weneeddiversebooks panel was being held.

Before I left the floor, though, I did come face to face with the guarded entrance to BEA. That was nice. Way to make participants feel separate and unequal. Perhaps it’s a little overly melodramatic to say, but I kept thinking of the movie District 9, and we–the BookCon folks–were the aliens confined to squalor.

I bailed on BookCon after the diverse books panel. I know a lot of people had a perfectly nice time, and maybe they were the participants who had never been to BEA and didn’t care about the BookCon floor, who were there only to meet celebrities. I don’t know. It definitely wasn’t my scene, though, and I can’t see myself attend another one as a reader/civilian.

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I Am Guilty: Traveling Alone While Female

o-MEN-WOMEN-TRAVEL-facebookTraveling while female scares people. Particularly the idea of traveling alone while female.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. In another couple of weeks I’m going to have access to quite a bit of free and/or dirt cheap travel due to a family member scoring a gig that allows for unlimited stand-by (you know, non-rev) travel. I’m incredibly excited–it’s a great opportunity to do some research for a few new novels and short stories I’ve got in mind. In some cases, I will travel with my husband. He likes going new places and seeing new things every bit as much as I do. We’ve been to Paris, London, Athens, a bunch of Greek island, and a coastal town in Turkey together. But more often than not, I think, I’ll end up traveling alone because our free time might not coincide. It’s sad because he makes a great travel companion, and I’ll miss having him with me for adventures. That said, I’m perfectly capable and willing to take a plane somewhere and explore alone. I’ve had a few opportunities to do so domestically–New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, etc.

The issue of safety comes up a lot for women. For instance, New Yorker Sarai Sierra being killed in Turkey for thwarting some guy’s advances. But safety for women is a problem no matter where you go. There’s an article on HuffPo today titled, “Walking While Fat and Female,” written by a woman who lives in Seattle who does a lot of walking and faces constant harassment from men. She links it to being overweight and a woman, but the truth is that it wouldn’t matter if she were thin or average or young or old or a million other things (and the author does acknowledge this)–being female means always being vigilant about your safety, about trying not to get raped or harassed or brutalized in some other way:

I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not feeling like I can say anything to the idiots that yell at me. Like I can’t react. And that I can’t even share that this experience happens daily with supposed allies. Not all men shout at me from cars. But the ones that do shout at me are the ones that make it unsafe to walk in my city. And you telling me that not all men do that doesn’t make my walk, or drive, or existence safer. It makes it more challenging to say, “This happened and it was wrong.” It makes it harder to call out this behavior for what it is — misogynistic, sexist, rape culture bullsh*t behavior. I don’t care that not all men are like this. I care that it happens. That it continues to happen. That it’s common. That it’s so common that when I hear a woman start talking about it with other women, those women can point to at least one similar incident that’s happened to them in the past two weeks.

Whether you’re in Istanbul or Seattle, as a woman you’re going to run into the same problems–there’s a huge disconnect for some guys about how women should be treated (the answer: like equals instead of objects). But the question is this: does that make it dangerous to travel alone? Perspective is everything. I grew up in a really small town, and maybe if I’d stayed there the idea of traveling to Barcelona or Bangkok by myself, exploring cities alone, etc might really freak me out. I’ve lived in Philadelphia for a lot of years. Personally, I think Philly is a pretty safe place to live and work, but last year it was ranked as the twelfth most dangerous city in the United States by Business Insider. Like I said, perspective is everything. Maybe I’m not intimidated because living here so long has helped me develop a sense of how to be safe and also how to trust my instincts. And that semester of self-defense some years back didn’t hurt either.

This isn’t to say that my good common sense and my self-defense training are going to miraculously save me in any situation. What it does give me is the confidence not to be scared to travel alone while female. Maybe I need to take extra precautions because sexism and misogyny exist . . . but I most certainly won’t let that stop me or my characters.

So hit me–what should I put on my list of places to see and things to do?

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BookCon Continues to Dazzle (or Not)

Well, the BookCon controversy continues.

Last month, I wrote about the sudden switch from BEA’s Power Reader Day to BookCon (which didn’t pass the smell test for many, many people who had purchased tickets to Power Reader Day). Since that time, the organizers haven’t done themselves any favors. In addition to an awful lot of guest stars who aren’t writers, take a look at the full roster. Notice anything?

Not a person of color amongst them.

astonishedAnd then there’s the Blockbuster Reads: Meet the Kids Authors That Dazzle panel, consisting of Jeff Kinney, James Patterson, Rick Riordan, and Lemony Snicket. Er, white middle-aged dudes, every single one of them. In a genre dominated primarily by women writers, BookCon sort of had to go out of their way to put together a panel that lacking in diversity. But there’s more! When the BookCon organizers got a little too much heat about it, they asked a black woman to moderate the panel, like that was going to somehow mollify everyone.

As BookRiot recently pointed out, readers deserved more than this kind of crap.

Look, I don’t begrudge the writers who are appearing at BookCon their age or whiteness (because, you know, I’m white and I’m 42) or, in some cases, their maleness. Writing is a tough business, and you have to take opportunities to interact with readers wherever you can. But the BookCon organizers should know better. Particularly in the YA community, people are really interested in diversity. Not just diversity of gender and race and ethnicity, but of religion and physicality and everything else you can think of. The world is a huge place, with a huge range of people. The writing community and the people who read that work are just as diverse. We all want to see ourselves reflected in the pages of a book–whether we are white and atheist or brown and bi-sexual or a million other combinations.

At the very least, I’m glad to see people talking about diversity and about BookCon’s (and the publishing industry’s) responsibility to ensuring diversity. That all-white guy male canon in the English Department isn’t going to change itself, you know.

I’m still taking a wait-and-see attitude about BookCon and whether they live up to their own hype (specifically, about offering attendees everything BEA offered but more) . . . but I grow less and less optimistic as the end of May approaches.

nicki

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Spring Has Sprung (and So Has a Sale)

Yesterday was an exciting day! The Rosemont College Book Festival kicked off in the morning, and I was there to sign copies of THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS. We’ve had such a brutal winter in Philadelphia, but yesterday was gorgeous–warm and sunny (until about half an hour before the end of the festival, but that barely counts). It was nice to see some people I know and meet some new folks, sell a couple of books and all that. Mostly, though, it was just nice to sit outside in the sun and get some funky tan lines.

Also yesterday was the start of the big sale on the ebook version of TRAJECTORY. The publisher discounted the novel to 99¢, and it’ll stay that way for a limited time (a week or two). Here’s the big announcement through Bookbub:

bookbub

I had a fun time yesterday watching the sales ranking change from hour to hour. Who, me? A nerd? Never.

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of TRAJECTORY for 99¢, here are those links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

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Out of the Haze, It Oozes

yellowdyeSo there I was this morning, running down the street. My lungs burned. In the distance, a bright yellow fog hung in the air, almost seeming to rise from the macadam. People staggered out of the cloud, coughing and sputtering, skin glowing bright canary.

It sounds like a haz-mat situation, or maybe the beginning of a zombie film. Alas, no. It was the Run or Dye 5K in Philadelphia!

facefullLast year I decided to be a runner. Train for races. Work up to completing a spring triathlon one day when I’m ready. I’m the world’s worst runner. I’m slow. I’m injury-prone. But when you’re writing novels, it helps to have a physical activity to do that makes it possible to get out of your head. So I ran a hand full of 5Ks last year, and this year my husband and I decided to start the season with a fun run–the Run or Dye race.

I’ve long been fascinated by the Indian festival of Holi, and so the Run or Dye festival seemed like a good way to experience it without flying to India (although I’d love to do that one day, too). It’s a huge race. HUGE! The organizers release runners in waves. We were there fairly early, and my wave didn’t start running until thirty minutes after the start. People were still starting the race as we finished and drove off. Crazy!nicole

The race isn’t timed, and no one cares if you walk or run. Lots of little kids. A few people in costumes. Lots of people artfully applying dye powder to themselves before taking selfies in the race start corral. The race wound around Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and around the parking lot, and in addition to the yellow dye gauntlet, there were four or five others, all with different colors being tossed at runners.

And in case you’re wondering, dye gets EVERYWHERE. In your ears, in your mouth, under your clothes, in your sports bra, in your socks! What you can’t see in these photos is that I must have gotten caught in a direct hit of bright orange dye–the entire back of me, including my hair, was a solid wall of orange. Sexy!

In other words, it’s a fun and easy race to start the season, and a good tension breaker.

And now, I write!

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