Monday, March 31, 2014

Washington, D.C. Day One

During our sojourn in Washington, D.C., we were actually bunking down in a hotel in Virginia just a short drive from a Metro station with very inexpensive all-day parking. Happily, the Metro rail system was built by the same people as the BART in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I was able to figure it out pretty quickly. I also decided that the Metro has an advantage over BART in its seats. BART has cloth seats that are badly (and grossly) stained, sometimes to the point that one feels dirty sitting on them. There is also a distinct BART smell. Metro has none of that. The seats are vinyl and can easily be wiped clean with a damp rag and some disinfectant. I noticed no particular odor.

On our first morning in D.C., my boyfriend Greg and I made our way to the International Spy Museum. We received half off admission because they were running a special for people with Smart Cards, which we had just purchased in order to use the Metro. It was the last day of the offer. Score! The Spy Museum turned out to be quite interesting! I will never again put anything past any world government ever. Or writers, for that matter! I had no idea Daniel Defoe, most known for his novel Robinson Crusoe, was a spy. Apparently "author" was (is?) an often used disguise. 

The museum starts you off in a room full of plaques with personas and you are asked to pick one. It will be your disguise as you tour the museum. You may also ignore this part if you don't feel like participating. There is a terminal at the beginning after they release you and another at the end that rates how well you remembered your persona. The one at the start immediately gets super crowded, and we didn't feel like waiting, so we skipped it. 

Some highlights of the museum include, but are not limited to: an umbrella that shoots undetectable poisoned darts, numerous cigarette cameras, a cigarette gun (single shot), a heating duct you can crawl through, and many personal spy accounts. While we were there, there was also a special exhibit on James Bond villains that was more entertaining than I'd anticipated! You can play "Who said it? James Bond Villain or Real Life Villain?" Some of the real life quotes are chilling. We also learned that some James Bond tech didn't exist before being featured in the films. In at least one instance, a CIA agent saw a James Bond film, said "I want that" and someone made it happen. (Nerds.)

After we failed at being spies, we headed over to Union Station for a conveyor belt sushi lunch. The station was under construction, but still a grand and bustling place. 

Next up was the Thomas Jefferson Building, aka the Library of Congress Main Building, aka Heaven Brought to Earth. (Well, I think of it that way, anyway.) Seriously, it is the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on. I took many, many pictures. When we revisited later that night on our ghost tour, we learned that the building is supposedly haunted by a former librarian. After the library has closed for the night, guards have reported hearing pages rustle as if someone were flipping through them, and lights will turn on by themselves. I tried to get into the reading room while I was there, but a pass to do research is required. Visitors are only allowed onto an enclosed balcony. SIGH. At least I got to see that much. 

I ended up spending all of my cash at the library gift shop, purchasing my first nerdy book shirt of the trip, a gray V-neck T with an old cover of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, a magnet of the Jefferson Building for my fridge, and a few post cards. 

We spent a couple hours at the National Museum of Natural History, then, as I mentioned above, we finished the night with a haunted Capitol Hill ghost tour. Greg and I both agreed the tour seemed quite brief and not as full of stories as others we've been on, but we did visit a lot of places, and a couple people on the tour with us captured orbs with their digital cameras, which has never happened before.

Stay tuned for more adventures in D.C. and Massachusetts!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dia Dhaoibh (Greetings)

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Also occasionally known as Irish Awareness Day. Do you know where in the U.S. is most known for its Irishness? That'd be Boston, where I'll be headed next week! Though I've never had any particular interest in the city of Boston, I am very excited for my visit.

Not far outside of Boston is located Concord, home base of one of my longstanding personal heroes, Henry David Thoreau, transcendentalist extraordinaire (among many other things). Some call him an anarchist; I call him a genius. Ralph Waldo Emerson, his friend and fellow writer, lecturer, and transcendentalist leader, is, of course, another famous Concord resident. I am absolutely determined to follow the Thoreau self-guided walking tour and visit the homes of both writers. (Though I think Emerson's house is closed for the season, so I'll only be able to look from the outside.) 

Nearer to Boston is Cambridge, another writing mecca. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and more all called Cambridge home. I vaguely recall studying Longfellow in school, and I've read some of the others, but these gentlemen are most freshly known to me via the terribly interesting mystery novel The Dante Club. (If you like historical thrillers, this is a must-read.) 

Moving further to the east, we arrive in Salem. Not the home of the famous witch trials, as it happens, though this is where one finds the Witch Museum, which I am totally visiting. If you are looking for the actual location of the infamous trials, try Danvers, once known as Salem Village. The real location of the Gallows Hill is up for debate.

Also located in Salem is the house that was the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. I am absolutely visiting that, as well. Many of my friends had to read Hawthorne's other, possibly more famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, in high school. I did not. I am currently listening to the audiobook in my car, however, and I am actually enjoying it! I don't know that I would have liked it nearly so much as a teenager. Also, I am reading (physically) The House of the Seven Gables, which is also enjoyable, though very different from The Scarlet Letter. It's very easy to keep the two stories distinct in my head. I've often heard of Hawthorne spoken of disparagingly, but I assure you, he is very a capable writer! All young American writers would do well to acquaint themselves with him.

(I was hoping to also read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott as I plan to pay a visit to her old home, the Orchard House in Concord, as well, but I am not sure I will get to it in time. I saw the film that was made in, I think, the 1990s, though I don't remember it well.)

In addition to being crazily filled with literary history, Massachusetts happens to also be where my Coburn ancestors first set foot on American soil way back in 1635. Edward Colbourne was the first settler insane enough to settle north of the Merrimack River. All others had been killed by the local tribes, many mid-crossing. He and his descendants went on to found the town of Dracut. I hope to pass through Dracut on the drive home as it is located in the far north of the state, thus a little too far out of the way from Concord, Cambridge, and Salem. 

So this is my proposed Pilgrimage. I will visit the homes and final resting places of these Great Authors of the Past. (Unfortunately, the graves of my ancestors were lost long ago to history.) Perhaps I will leave some offerings and ask for their blessings. As I said in the beginning: I am very excited. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Gothic Romance

One of the most classic of gothic romances is Wuthering Heights, which I listened to on audiobook earlier this winter (and did not particularly enjoy, though I am glad I did finish it). Another timeless classic? Dark Shadows, the late 1960s ABC television drama. I used to watch Dark Shadows when the SciFi Channel ran two episodes from 11am to 12pm every weekday. Before that, I suppose, was the 1990s miniseries revival that I watched with my mother and brother, and much later the film with Johnny Depp, which I enjoyed, but don't feel the need to ever watch again. 

Over the past couple of years, I've been rewatching the original Dark Shadows series first through internet downloads, then from DVDs I found at the Ann Arbor District Library. (They also have the old comics, which I started to read.) The earliest episodes when the main conflict was between Burke Devlin and Roger Collins was pretty boring, but I stuck with it. There were a few ghost encounters to keep me interested, and soon enough, along came Laura Collins and the mystery of the phoenix. I thought this was a very interesting storyline and not at all a horror story trope as I knew would later be trundled out (vampires, werewolves, etc).

Then there was Barnabas. A vampire. A classic vampire, yet also unique. He had a soul, so to speak, and sometimes he even had a conscience. He was sympathetic. Women who were teenagers while the show was on the air assure me that everyone was in love with Barnabas Collins. In his first incarnation, before you see him as human in his own time, I didn't see the appeal. He is somewhat insane when he first shows up, though his adjustment to modern life is rather remarkable considering he was locked in a coffin for over 150 years. Still, Barnabas is a gothic hero shrouded in melancholy and romance.

Watching Dark Shadows has me wanting to work on fiction novels again. Or perhaps some novellas. I do have a one gothic novella written and in need up revision. I actually finished it in 2006 and have touched it little since then. I also started a sequel that has been sorely neglected. And another idea has been rummaging around in my head. But is there a market for gothic romances anymore? I know there is, it's just a matter of finding it, getting noticed, and getting published. I was thinking I might try to self-publish some of these stories. But as I said, they need revision, and in some cases finishing. 

In the meantime, there are hundreds of episodes to keep me inspired. I only hope I can start feeling better soon and bolster my energy. I think Spring will aid my mood. The dry cold has been really killing me. I feel like a dried out husk. Of course, the bleakness of winter often makes for a terrifically melancholic backdrop, but for stories, not for me!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Writing Professionally

Several years ago, I wrote 7 semi-professional blog posts (more like articles, really) for the Codebelay Blog. I didn't continue with Codebelay (largely because it is fairly tech-centric and I am not at all), but I was inspired to start my own not nearly as professional blogs a couple of years later when I moved back to Michigan. (Check out my very first blog post about baking cookies while snowed in.)

Since then, apart from some odd little freelance review work, I have mostly been writing short stories and submitting them to magazines and anthologies, getting some accepted and others rejected, while also updating this blog and Adventures in Food and Word. I also work on novels on and off, both revising and new writing, I am just trying to build a name for myself and show that I am constantly working on writing by leaving a trail of story publications behind me. (And who could forget that year I wrote a haiku a day?)

Most recently, I have taken on the job of writing for the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal. It has been tremendous fun! For one thing, I am writing, and writing is the most awesome thing in the world (for me). I am also writing for a purpose other than my own sanity/amusement. I went to the Songbird Cafe today to meet up with some other ladies and pose for some photos for the upcoming issue. It was so much fun! (And I snapped a few pics of my own to share because the cafe is so cool.)

One of the women I met is a hooper and makes hula hoops. I have been wanting to get into hooping for at least a year now, so we talked about hoops and I eagerly told her I'd email her about getting one made. She also does fire dancing and circus performance, bot of which Greg and I are big fans of and sometimes go to shows. I wonder if we've seen her perform. It seems entirely possible. 

Talking with the editor of the Journal, I learned that they have more story ideas for me, which is great news! I am beyond excited to be working for the Journal. We had already discussed making this column I've been working on a regular one. More assignments would be a challenge, but in a good way. I am looking forward to it. And I promise I'll try really hard not to slack off on my blogs again. 

I keep giving more thought to pursuing an MFA in creative writing, too. I'm not thrilled about the monetary expense, though, and I was never sure where to obtain letters of recommendation since it has been nearly ten years since I got my BA. With this writing gig, though, I could ask one of the editors of the Journal to write a letter for me. I thought I might take a writing workshop at one of the local community colleges, too, and I am sure I would be able to get another letter from the teacher of that course. I hope I don't need more than two! Graduate school would have to be a rather distant goal, and the more time passes, the less I think I need the degree. I just really like writing! (And learning.)