Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Demonator Strikes Back

Did I do it, you ask? Did I ride the sled of death? I wish I had. The Demonator was in rare form on Monday. Kids went sledding down with glee, running into flagpoles, sidewalks, up driveways, you name it. I was dying for my turn, but that old sled had its own plan. The second to last run, I was waiting at the bottom of the hill to watch for cars and make sure no child got a concussion when the sled reached the bottom and they had to stop.

My daughter was in the front, her friend on the back. They were aiming for the driveway at the bottom of the hill, but veered off at the last minute, going right for the metal rain drain set in the curb. It's the number one most dangerous thing to hit. So I quickly put myself in between them and the drain and then sent up a frantic plea to the gods of snow that they'd slow down. The runners on that sled looked, well, kinda sharp.

No dice. The entire street and hill were one solid block of ice. The Deomonator kept coming. My kids know about the drain. The know not to hit it, and they went into evasive maneuvers. They threw down boots and gloved hands, trying to slow up. When that didn't work, they screamed their lungs out.

It was all up to me. I steeled myself for the inevitable impact. Then at the last minute, got one of those "I'm-going-to-die-under-these-runners" brainstorms and grabbed the cord on the front of the sled as they whizzed by. I pulled. Miraculously, it worked. They slowed down, turning sideways, and only grazed the drain. The Demonator was not pleased. It exacted its revenge swiftly and without mercy.. It pulled me down in one fell swoop.

Ice is hard.

I landed on my backside, and honestly, I think I broke my arse. Okay, I know that's not entirely possible. Still, I have got the single most unpleasant pain pulsing on the right side back there. And I've got a mega goose egg there too. I notice it each time I sit down on anything or roll over in bed.

It was the end of my sledding. I hobbled up the hill, very aware that I am not 9 years old anymore. Still, it was one heck of a day. I'd do it all over again, just get in a ride myself. And I will. After I heal. Winter has only just begun.

Of course, all that fun had to end sometime. Today, school was back on. Our driveway, however, is still an ice skating rink of death. My carpool friend almost slid into a tree when she came to pick up the kids this morning. Not good. I need carpool. So I spent the last hour being very adult and chipping off the driveway. I realize few will marvel at what I did, so I'm posting a picture here. Keep in mind, it doesn't look like much, but that is all ice, about an inch or two thick. Didn't I make nice clean tracks for the car's tires, not to mention footpaths for the kids. And got in some early morning aerobic exercise. What a deal.

If only I could regain control of the fine motor skills in my fingers.....

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Demonator Returns

It happens about twice a year. And when it does, Katie bar the door. SNOW. Just watch how loudly you utter that devilish word here in Oklahoma. I've heard many a Sooner decry it as a four letter word. Okay, it does have four letters, but you get the point.

I don't share the agony many down here experience when it snows. I chalk it up to the fact that grew up in Indiana. Snow country. As kids, my brother and I lived for that glistening white magic. We were the meanest sledders in our whole backyard (not to mention Suicide Hill where we sledded with all the other crazy people when it snowed really hard). However, I did grow so daring one winter - we'd had a lot of snow - the regular sledding down the backyard hill got kind of boring. I decided to experiment. I think I was one of the first snowboarders. Mind you, it wasn't anything fancy. I just tried standing up on my sled and using the pull rope attached to the front for balance.

I flew down that hill. Screeching. Cheering my own ingenuity. I was on top of the world. Until I barreled into the bush at the bottom of the hill.

Yeah, I hadn't seen that one coming. I even slit open my forehead.

I was ten and my fury knew no boundaries. I swore to cut down the bush that night. But my mom made me come in for dinner instead.

As the days passed, though, the scar across my forehead became a badge of honor. I was the kid who'd sledded standing up...and lived to tell about it.

So you can imagine my chagrin when it began to look more and more like we wouldn't have any snow before Christmas this year. We've had a very dry winter so far. And then, last night, that blessed cold front came down from the north. We didn't quite get snow. It was 75 when the cold front pushed through, after all. But we did get ice. Enough to cancel schools.

But more importantly, enough for the Demonator.

I wish I'd come up with the name. I'm a writer after all. But I give full credit to my firstborn daughter and her best friend from across the street. They nicknamed our red Radio Flyer metal runner sled the Demonator two winters ago when, according to them, all on its own, it took them sailing down the hill out in front of our house, down the long street, and right up the driveway of the house at the bottom of the hill straight into the garden. Both girls were thrown clear of the sled when it crashed intothe brick walkway around the garden. No one was hurt. More, scared out of their snowsuits. So of course the incident immediately became legend.

The story gets better each year (I've heard it told that sparks were flying off the back of the sled when it hopped the curb and flew over the drive and into the garden). The sled, for its part, plays along. It it unpredictable, like a bucking bronco. Kids get thrown every year. Which means the line to ride it gets longer. And what started as a nickname is now a permanent title of honor and fear.

Which makes me more curious each year. I haven't tried the Demonator out alone. I've always been forced to take a kid along. But when I got up and saw the ice this morning, I wondered, how bad could it be? I mean, what would it be like to stand up on that puppy and sail down a hill? The kids are watching a movie and drinking hot chocolate after all...

Oh, Demonator.....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Tree Chaos

I promised a story on Wednesday about Christmas trees. Here it is in all it's dysfunctionality and puzzlement. Reader beware. It's really is the Chevy Chase, Christmas Vacation, craziness in your tree kind of story.

It all has to do with perception of course. Perception of straightness. I wasn't infected with this until I met my husband's family. They're German. Live in Germany, cleanliness is next to godliness, compulsive-obssessive things must be exactly correct, German. And I mean that in a nice way. I just didn't really understand it until my first Christmas with the family.

That very first Christmas I spent with them, I had just moved to Germany and begun a Master's program at the University in Kiel. I was homesick and far away from home, almost at the north pole, I was so far north.

My then boyfriend - now husband - asked me to come home with him to meet his family for that quiet, gentle, highly functional event - a holiday. And not just any holiday. The mother of all holidays - Christmas. I was foolishly in love and said "yes" right away. This was a sign of commitment, right?

There were many many many embarrassing moments that trip, mostly on my part, with my lack of understanding of nuance in the German language, a very small apartment, and cultural craziness.

But the highlight of the whole weekend was when my husband and his mother put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, as is traditional in Germany. His father didn't help. This is important. I didn't either. We each had our reasons. His I've never figured out. Mine, well, it had to do with safety. They put real candles on trees over there. And light them. I was already way out of my league. What if I put a candle on wrong and when it was lit, it burned down the whole apartment. I didn't think that would be good for "deepening" the relationship. So I watched.

No words were necessary for the subtle family dynamic that ensued after the tree was up. My husband and his mother put it up. They carefully decorated it. They put on the glass ornaments, the silver icicles, the candles, the tree skirt, and then stood back to admire their handiwork. I have to admit, it looked good.

Then my soon to be father-in-law walked in. Grimaced and said, "Es ist total schief." Which means, "It's totally crooked." And then walked out.

I was puzzled. Didn't he want to fix it?

Ah, not exactly.

My husband and his mother walked in, looked at the tree, cocked their heads left, then right, then left again. "Do you see it?" my mother-in-law asked. My husband shook his head.

Still, they pushed the tree in one direction. (It had looked straight to me before, and it still looked straight now. So maybe I wasn't the right one to ask. They didn't, by the way. This was a "family" thing.)

Twenty minutes later, my father-in-law walked in, took one look at the tree and said in a more exasperated voice, "It's totally crooked!"

I still didn't see it, but my husband and his mother came back in, tried to straighten out whatever "schiefness" there was to the tree, and then left again.

I was absolutely sure they'd gotten it right.

Not so.

This ritual went on the rest of the day, all the way up to church and after and into the next day. I'm not sure the tree ever got straight enough for my father-in-law. And he didn't ever try and fix it.

I don't pretend to understand what happened exactly. I've never seen this ritual in any other German household, but who knows. I chalked it up to family dynamics. However, it's begun to invade our house now, in a new way. Our trees are always crooked. So crooked that one fell down last year, spilling that delicious tree water all over the floor and breaking a few ornaments.

So....maybe it's good to be obssessive about straight trees, but we can't seem to master it. I spent five hours "watching" our nine foot tree on Tuesday because it had begun to lean all on its own. Don't ask me why. My husband came home, puzzled. How had that happened? To avoid last year's disaster we made it lean toward the front windows. This way, if it falls, it'll hit the window. Okay, there's the chance the window might break, but if it doesn't we've save the ornaments. Pretty smart, right?

Just don't tell my father-in-law.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shout Out to Readers

I was all set to blog this morning about another 5 hour "tree watch" I sweated through yesterday. Don't worry, for those who love the occasional whacked out Christmas tree story, it's coming. But today, it's a shout out to readers.

I didn't know I was going to write this blog until I opened my email this morning. There was a letter waiting for me from a father who had bought my new middle grade novel for his son. He said: "I am writing to let you know my son has not put 'Dragon Wishes' down since we purchased it. He is fascinated with the characters and the story. I have not seen him this excited about a book that was not 'Star Wars'. "

For all readers out there who ever wondered whether authors read your letters and whether those letters make a difference, as an author, I can say without a moment's hesitation, they do! And how they do!

This letter put the sun in an entirely stressful day today. I'm in edits on the last 30 pages of my young adult novel, so tired, I feel like I really am in labor and delivery all over again. And then I got this letter. The best part of the whole thing is that a child is reading my work, and is inspired by it. I mean, comparing it to Star Wars? Is there any greater honor? Just between you and me, I used to lay awake at night trying to move rocks with my mind. I used to put one in my bed next to my hand. Sometimes I'd lift it up, sort of to give it a head start with the whole levitating thing. I never did move that rock - other than with my hand - but I lost a lot of sleep trying. That's the effect that Star Wars had on me.

And now my writing might actually be having this effect on a reader? I can hardly believe it.

So thanks, Dad, for letting me know. Thanks to every reader who's ever sent me a picture, letter, email, the works, especially kids. I hang up pictures in my office. They inspire me. I read all of the letters, and some, I keep in a special file. They are amazing. I can't say it often enough.

Here's one of my favorites, copied verbatim from the No. 2 pencil handwritten letter I received:

Dear Mriss Nyikos "I'm really happy you were here. I liked the books Squirt the Squid, Shelby the lemoin shark and Dizzy. Squirt is very cute and funny. Shelby is.....well, I forgot, but dizzy is a heck of a story. I think the book Dizzy is the beast. Im working on a book about Salmon. I hope you come back soon. Your friend Tommy P.S. Lemon sharks kill us in freenzezs

Thanks kids. Thanks parents. Thanks readers! I appreciate your words. Here's a heartfelt shout out to you!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Winging It

I'm getting old. I didn't believe it - or I was in a great denial place - until Friday, when fashion reruns finally caught up with me.

Truth be told, I supposed, I've been building to this for eight months. It all started when I went to another salon for a day of beauty and came out with what was supposed to be a very chic cut. It had a lot of layers, and I have long hair. So, the first six weeks were okay. Then it was time to go in again. I went back to my regular stylist.

Like a good customer, I readily admitted my digression, hoping he'd forgive me. It had been a full day of beauty. They were supposed to cut my hair, I tried to explain. He examined the results rather critically, finally holding up a hunk of my hair - which is really long - in the back. My stomach turned. It was only a few inches long. "What did she do here?" he asked.

I think she was trying to be nice and take off some of the weight of my thick hair. That's the generous answer.

Still, I felt like the kid who'd cut her hair with her school scissors. And, like that kid, I've waited since March for my hair to grow. I'm kinda attached to my long hair, and my hairdresser knows this. He waited until the guilty clump of hair had grown out long enough to ask the dreaded question: "Should we clean up all of these layers?"

This meant taking off about three inches of my hair. I gulped and then agreed. I'd been cursing that same hunk of hair for more than seven months now. I felt like I'd paid my penance for straying from my hairdresser.

Jim did a great job with my hair. He cleaned it up beautifully. He offered to style it a little differently for me, my hair being so much shorter now. I gleefully agreed. I love it when someone plays with my hair, and this particular "do" meant hairspray, a curling iron, and lots of turning and finessing. Usually, he does my hair with a blow dryer and a brush. It's that straight. Getting the curl to stay in takes, well, a really long time.

When all was said and done, he turned me around, and....there they were. Gentle, far more modern, but nevertheless there: wings.

I gulped, but I have to admit, I kind of like them. They are so much better than the ones I had in high school. Did anybody else have these? Just remembering the amount of hairspray it took to keep them flying off at the edges makes me giggle and cringe at the same time.

So, now I'm wing girl again, able to leap tall buildings with a single flap of her hair. And just between you and me, I don't think they look so terrible, which makes me wonder if I'll be repeating the "blonde" (read orange) hair dying phase I went through my senior year. My hair may be about to become far more interesting than its been in years. But if I start sporting a striped pair of pants and a thigh length bulky sweater - a look that never really worked for me - it'll be time for a fashion intervention. Until then, I'm flapping off to try a few other fashion adventures.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Turkey Trauma

What do you do with all that leftover turkey?

This question has plagued me since I was a kid and we ate turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, turkey stuffing, and turkey turkey turkey until I really started to look at my back to see if I was sprouting wings (or worse, a bright red waddle).

Now, years later, as the turkey preparer, I have sympathy for my mom. There's a ton of leftover turkey and only so much to do with it - or feed to the dog.

In the hopes of creating yet a new, but classic, way of dealing with the leftover turkey trauma at our house, I busted out the soup pot. This was after we'd had leftover turkey au naturale, turkey sandwiches, and the threat of turkey meatballs. This was stifled by a staunch turkey rebellion on the part of my entire family.

So, soup pot it was. Time to hide the dreaded ingredient, turkey. Here's what I came up with in my experiments with the bubbling cauldron - turkey soup. So it wasn't a reinvention of cooking per se, but it didn't turn out all that badly. I used 8 cups of water, 4 boullion cubes, leftover celery, carrots, onion AND parsely (so this is really a 2 for 1 - how to use up those leftover veggies as well), 12 oz. wide egg noodles, tons of turkey cut up into cubes, and three mined garlic cloves. First, I boiled the water and the boullion cubes, then added the noodles. While that was coooking, I sauteed the veggies together in a separate pot with the garlic. Once everything was good and bubbling, I dumped it all together - adding the turkey surreptitiously when no one was looking - and let simmer for an hour, with a little salt and pepper to taste.

My kids were skeptical. They'd had turkey for a week straight by this point, but turkey soup garnered the coveted "Best Food Ever" kid rating. There were happy kids everywhere, and one happy mom, who, with a guilty sigh, packed the leftovers in their lunch for school the next day.

That did it for us and leftovers, but if you've still got some, The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook has got a fantastic list of what to do with them. Really delicious things there. Give it a look.

Dragon Wishes news: I was interviewed by Tasha S for my newest middle grade novel, Dragon Wishes. Please take a look. It turned out really well, which means I didn't embarrass myself...I don't think.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

SCBWI Policy Change

I got a puzzling email the other day from the regional representative of the SCBWI. The SCBWI is the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It's an international organization that basically supports children's writers and illustrators, offering workshops, national and regional conferences, and, at the local level, a group of authors who can lean on one another for all sorts of things, like critiques to a sympathetic ear when the writing world gets tough.

So it really suprised me to read the following policy change: "No books should be a part of our website or sold at our conferences if they are self-published, subsidy published, or published by print on demand internet companies."

Um, what?

I kinda thought we were there to support each other, not pass judgment. Doesn't enough of that go on through the market.

I thought long and hard about whether to post on this, but since it's begun to gnaw at my brain while I'm out running - usual brainstorming time for me - I'm posting. I keep coming back to a phrase used by the U.S. Supreme Court when they review a law that looks like it's on a collision course with itself: slippery slope.

Here are the reasons this looks like a slippery slope to me:

First, HarperCollins - a big publishing house - just created a new imprint that is POD and lower royalties in exchange for higher author profit sharing. What do we do about those authors? Or smaller publishing houses that adopt similar measures to survive the economic downturn we now find ourselves in?

Second, we're in an economic downturn, and this policy seems like it's going to be hard on a lot of small businesses. But small businesses are the backbone of the American entrepreneurial spirit. And after watching my dad work with them as a CPA for over thirty years, and run his own small business, I get the impression they struggle enough as it is. They don't need me making it any harder.

Third, books face an uphill battle these days against all other forms of entertainment. It seems like they could use all the support they can get, regardless of how they come into being. The market will undoubtedly decide if they are worth the paper they're printed on, regardless of who printed them.

Finally, and most worrisome to me, there is a long list of authors who have gone on to greatness - or who are great - who have self-published: Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), and far more recently, Steven King and Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon. They probably don't care whether an independent group decides to snub them or not, but does that mean that the SCBWI has effectively determined that it cannot talk about certain Mark Twain books anymore? Or the first printing of Eragon?

All of these points make me feel really uncomfortable about this SCBWI policy change. As a member, as a writer, I feel like I need to say something. I don't want to snub any other writer or their work. Each writer's journey is different. I don't know enough to tell them how that journey should look, or what's best for them.

What I know is this. I write. I cheer for other writers. I cheer for books. I don't care how they're printed. As for their quality, I put my faith in the market. Readers are a pretty savvy lot.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Haere ra

Monday morning’s steady rain perfectly reflected my somber mood. I didn’t want to go home. Not by a long stretch. I’d just found a whole new world, and already, I was going to have to say good-bye.

But I still had a trip through Nelson left, I reminded myself. Ulla had very generously agreed to accompany me on what can be described as a frenetic shopping spree. I still had presents to buy for all of my family and friends back home. And a million postcards to write. If I couldn’t bring New Zealand itself back, I would bring a few mementos.

We started in the center of Nelson at the giftshop across from the Information Center. My shopping almost immediately became less about finding some thing, and more about trying to limit how many somethings I'd found. There were tikis, paua shells, paua shell earrings and Christmas ornaments, wool products, socks, hats, shirts, just so much!

I haphazardly made a quick list in my head of friends and family. It’s going to be a very Kiwi Christmas this year! And then I began hunting and gathering. We had (for women, yes, this is a must!) to visit three more giftshops – with a short break at the Swedish bakery for sustenance to carry me through – before finishing up the shopping. It will be very…woolly in my house this December, but I think my family will like that.

Pleased with my shopping exploits, I was more or less ready to begin to take my good-byes when Oliver told me there was one last place we had to visit: Page and Blackmore Booksellers. My eyebrows shot up in amazement. New Zealand had one more surprise left up its sleeve.

A year ago when I’d begun my research for information on French Pass and Pelorus Jack - themes of my present young adult novel - I’d come across Oliver’s book about Arthur Elsmlie, who’d settled French Pass, in the New Zealand national library's online catalogue. A few hours of research proved that the title was, very unfortunately, impossible to get in the U.S. So, like a good researcher, I began scouring New Zealand stores online. Page and Blackmore, in Nelson, had the title. What’s more, the owner knew the author, Oliver Sutherland.

The path I’d been on for a year came full circle that morning when I walked into the store and met Peter Rigg. Peter had been the one who'd generously agreed to ask Oliver if I might contact him all those months ago. Peter had started my historical, then virtual, and ultimately, very real trip to New Zealand. And now, here I was shaking Peter’s hand. He acted as if it had been nothing, an every day event. For my novel - and for me - it has been everything but. It has taken me halfway around the globe to a whole new land, new culture, and most importantly, new friends. Here's a shout out to you, Peter. Thanks!

My head still reeling from this last great surprise, we turned and headed home for lunch, and then from there, to the airport. It had been a week of wonders in New Zealand. I’d experienced a lifetime of experiences in so little time, and now, now it was time to get back to my story, back to my characters, back to the world I’d created around this impressive stretch of New Zealand land and history, and weave in the details and delights I’d experienced.

So I wasn’t really saying goodbye to New Zealand that Monday afternoon when I boarded my plane in Nelson to make the long journey back to this side of the globe. As I sit here and write now, I know that it will be many months before I ever do that - actually, maybe never.

For now, my characters are knocking at the door of my mind, eager to get out into the New Zealand that I've seen and experienced. My mind is racing with ways to improve my story, nuances to add, flavors and textures that have come to life in full color since I've been there. But most of all, most of all my heart is buried deep in the rich folds and breathtaking peaks of the New Zealand I've come to know. I've had that rare experience we all happen upon now and again along this path we call life - I've been awed.

Haere ra, New Zealand. Until we meet again!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Penultimate Day 7

After the stellar, cake-stealing, can’t-get-better-than-this Saturday I had, I couldn’t believe that Sunday would still hold surprises in store for me. But this was New Zealand. I should have known surprises waited around every corner. Pleasant surprises.

Sunday was my last day in French Pass, and I was more than melancholic. I’d come to love this rugged section of the southern island, its steep “hills”, teeming waters, bright bush, and gentle pace. I didn’t want to leave.

There was one glorious surprise left for me – the lighthouse. The French Pass lighthouse has had a long and colorful history. Today, it is a national landmark which isn’t privately owned, but lived in. I met the present occupants - Grace and Lawrence - at the French Pass Road book launch on Wednesday in Okiwi Bay. They are none other than Americans who’d moved to the Pass three years before via Australia. Stories abound in New Zealand. Everyone’s got one, even the people restoring the lighthouse.

Grace very, well, graciously offered to give me a tour, and let me down to the lighthouse. It’s off limits to the general public today thanks to the incredibly steep 101 stairs leading down the “hill” that the lighthouse sits snuggled against. Fortunately, I had the French Pass “connections”.

Oliver, Ulla and I took off after breakfast for the lighthouse. Grace had just made pancakes and their light aroma hung in the cool air around the house. It had gotten pretty run down during the prolonged tenure of the last actual lighthouse keeper, but Grace and Lawrence had begun the long and delicate process of stripping the building, restoring the foundation and breathing new life into the historic one-storey structure. It’s now painted light blue and white and reminded more than anything of a neat fisherman’s house somewhere in Scandinavia. Gorgeous and warm with broad windows looking out over the extreme drop off just in front of the house and across to the green bush of D’Urville Island. After a tour of the house, Grace unlocked the gate to the stairs and Oliver, Ulla and I began the steep descent.

There is no better view of the Pass. The lighthouse and the lighthouse beacon sit directly on the edge and in the middle of French Pass. The waters sweep by the white lighthouse, the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean raging against each other in an ageless nautical tug-of-war. But the waters were so calm when we got there. There was no foam or roar. For days now when I'd gone running in the morning, I'd heard the roar of the French Pass from the road hundreds of feet above it. Today it was so seemingly calm. How bad could it really be? I wondered, and was tempted to dip a foot into the eddying currents and find out how fast they really are.

Until a boat approached, and I watched how the current swept it through as if it were no bigger than a toy, listing to one side in its strong pull.

There was, of course, adventure – and lunch – waiting for us in the rocky coast surrounding the small lighthouse. Next thing I knew, Oliver was pulling up the famed green-lipped mussels I’d tried not four days ago in Havelock. He’d found lunch.

Only in New Zealand.

Honestly, how could I actually want to leave this place?

But the mussels - now safely secured in a makeshift bag that Oliver had created from his shirt - were far too tempting to leave hang about all day waiting for me. So, we took a few pictures. I breathed in as much of the Pass as I could, trying to register its might and prowess with all of my senses before beginning the steep ascent back to the white and blue home a hundred feet directly overhead.

While lunch was far from a somber affair, my heart was heavy. These generous people - Bill, Ngawai, Oliver and Ulla - had become like family to me, and I really didn’t want to leave. Yet research called. I had one last stop on this trip, Nelson.

Oliver and Ulla live in Nelson, which couldn’t have been more perfect. Nelson was the big sheep and wool market for French Pass farmers during the 1800s. I had to see it. It actually plays a role in my novel.

I wasn’t disappointed. Nelson has one of the few naturally occurring harbors. A boulder bank cuts off a long stretch of the coast from the Tasman Sea, creating a safe haven for ships. It was a cloudy day when we visited, but I got a few goods pictures, trying to imagine what it was like for cutters that traveled from French Pass loaded down with bulky wools bales or livestock to sell them at market. How that all must have looked.

Dinner was another fantastic meal of fresh fish, fresh bread and all things delicious. I curled up into bed - the rain now finally unleashing its wetness upon the low lying "hills" around Nelson - knowing I only had one day left in New Zealand. What would it hold in store?

In other incredible news, my book was reviewed by author/reviewer, Brianna Grant. What an amazing review. I am so honored, and thrilled that the story left such a positive impression on her: "Nyikos has a powerful gift for storytelling that comes to life in Dragon Wishes. She magically weaves together two stories to create one unified reading experience: the present-time story of a girl and her little sister coming to terms with their parents' tragic death, and an ancient story handed down through the generations about a girl who calls on the power of dragons to save her village. The transition between the two stories is seamless." To read the full review, click here

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 6

I had had five stellar days, one after the next, since Qantas flight 26 had touched down in Auckland on Monday. But Saturday took the whole cake…and by whole, I mean icing, filling, plate and fork.

Saturday, Oliver, Ulla, Bill and Ngawai took me out for a day of hapuka fishing and scallop trawling. And while I was thrilled at the prospect of catching another amazingly delicious dinner, it was more where we were going that had my heart pounding in my ears.

The Chetwode Islands.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Pelorus Jack, both legend and historical fact tell that Jack lived in a cave located just off the Chetwode Islands. It was also there that the dolphin picked up steamers coming from Wellington in the East leading them across the bright blue bay up to French Pass and vice versa for ships coming through the Pass from Nelson, headed toward Wellington.

So what did that mean for this particular fishing trip??

No other than that we were tracing the path Pelorus Jack had followed for twenty years!

My imagination got the better of me as we neared the Chetwodes, and I began – against all rationale and adult I-know-better-than-this perspective – to keep a steady watch for Pelorus Jack. According to Maori legend, Jack was no regular dolphin. He is a taniwha, a god of the sea. Although he had left the area in 1912, legend has it that he will return when he is needed. I can’t say I needed him that day, but boy did I want to see him.

I was going to have to wait, however. We were going hapuka fishing. Hapuka are grouper. I didn’t know my grouper from my flounder before I’d gotten on board that day, but I dutifully dropped my line. And dropped it. And dropped it…

And dropped it.

There were huge weights on the line and hooks the size of my fists. I was having a hard time telling if something was biting on my hook – which felt like it was about a thousand feet below the boat – or if it was just the water pulling across the weight.

Ulla – born in Sweden and an expert fisherwoman – had no troubles. She hooked a hapuka within minutes.

Now the problem with hooking a hapuka isn’t losing it from the hook – that can happen – or having a barricuda come along and nibble on your catch until you get it up to the boat – that can happen too. Those are child’s play in comparison to the BIG problem – hauling the line back in.

Remember, it had dropped to what felt somewhere close to the other side of the world – think, Cincinnati – and Ulla had to haul it up. I slowly began reeling mine line in so that I could get a better glimpse of the fish she was pulling up. Honestly, I have no idea how she managed to pull hers up. Mine had nothing on it and by the time I’d gotten the end of the line back to the surface of the ocean, empty hooks and weight in tow. My arms, however, felt as though I’d hauled up a boulder the size of the ship itself.

Ulla had all of that to pull up, plus a mighty fish who was fighting the line. It had pointy fins, a huge mouth, and was at least three feet long (Note: There are no pictures for obvious reasons – they endanger the obligatory and wild exaggeration that goes along with fish tale telling).

By the time she got her mighty fish on board, we had to change positions. The current kept pulling us away from the secret fishing hole we were hovering over. With all of my intense watching as Bill positioned us back over the mysterious hole some million feet below us in the dark depths of the Pacific, I seriously doubt I could have ever found it, even with a compass and a GPS. Bill, however, was a pro. He’d check the coast, the depth finder, the position of the islands, gun the engines little, pull us around, cut her, and then we’d all quickly drop lines. And it worked. Ulla and Oliver both hooked a hapuka. I hooked a ginormous blue cod and a red and white striped fish that would have proudly been a “keeper” back in any lake I’d fished in Michigan. Here, it became bait.

I am a Texan by birth, and Texans swear everything is bigger in that glorious state, but, in all honesty, they haven’t been to New Zealand. In New Zealand, it’s not just the “hills” or the green – anything green and growing – it’s everything teeming below the surface of the water as well. Even the bait.

And the hunger. I’d dropped my line maybe half a dozen times, maybe, but I was already starving. Fortunately, my hosts took pity on me and stopped for lunch.

What did we have?

The leg of lamb I’d managed to prepare the night before – without burning or drying it out to tinder shavings – while Bill and Ngawai had gone to town to pick up a few north island rams that had come in. Maybe it was my enormous appetite, but that mutton was the most delicious meal I’d ever had. So was the wine.

After this culinary delight, it was back to business – scallop trawling. As we picked up speed and made our way to the scallop grounds, I began to search the waters for Jack, but he was an elusive dolphin that day.

And I had work to do. Bill and Oliver were in charge of the cage and the trawling, but Ulla, Ngawai and I were the scallop inspectors. As soon as the catch was dumped onto
the deck of the boat, we went through the scallops, carefully measuring them, throwing back the tiny ones and keeping the honkers whose shells had grown to the specified length. New Zealanders are amazing conservationists. Not only do they have but they also follow follow fishing rules to the letter, carefully measuring fish, scallops, mussels, you name it, to preserve their oceans, as well as their land life.

The day was almost over and we were getting ready to head back. There was a tugging at my heart. I hadn’t seen Jack. I mean, okay, maybe I’d expected too much, a sea god rising up from the depths to come and greet me an American city-slicker.

It was just when my faith was beginning to falter that Jack took pity on me, in his own way. The most amazing pod of dolphins burst out of the ocean just behind us. They were likely hectors dolphins with black, grey and white markings on their bodies. And while it wasn’t King Jack – as he was nicknamed in the late 19th century – it was definitely a full team of dignitaries. They soared upwards and out, turning flips, plunging for fish we’d likely scared up with our trawling, racing under the boat and up to the bow, and sending me back to age seven. I screeched with delight racing around the ship with my camera, trying to capture them on film. While I did get a few jumps, they pale in comparison to the electrifying feel of the air, the spray of the water, and the pounding of my heart that accompanied each one. They stayed with us for at least five minutes, racing and soaring inches from the boat. My heart was overfilling to bursting with excitement at it all.

The fresh fish dinner that followed, the last castings of the lines a few more times, and the warm journey back to Anaru farm listening to New Zealand election results – they’d had their elections that very day – were amazing, but the dolphins…the dolphins had been mystical. They’d frolicked, played, and mesmerized me with their grace and beauty just like Pelorus Jack had done more than a century before. My story, I knew with absolute certainty, would be all the richer because of them. I had tasted the glorious thrill of what had pulled people from all over the world to this lonely stretch of water over one hundred years ago to watch with eager anticipation for Jack. Seeing dolphins play in the wild and follow me with their own curiosity is an experience I won’t ever forget.

As we lugged our heavy arms, heavy legs, and even heavier catch from the boat to the house that night, I sighed as I stared up a sky awash with luminous stars.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” I said out loud.

Four other heads nodded. They knew. They'd known it for a long time. It was I who'd finally understood. This was the real New Zealand - raw, pure, and unbelievably incredible.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 5

Friday started out breezy and cool, but burning expectation cut through the chill like butter.

We were going mustering! Never been? Neither had I. I’d barely ever seen a sheep, other than at a petting zoo, let alone herded one from one enclosure to another. But this was a week of firsts, so why not add mustering to the bill?

Bill, Ngawai, and Bill’s brother, John, have been mustering sheep and running Anaru farm for over forty years. I can only imagine their chagrin when their cousin Oliver told them that the American author wanted to muster sheep, even shear them if she could. They never let on, but I imagined them grinning behind closed doors at my eagerness to do both. Still, they took me along.

Anaru farm sheep live on acre upon acre of rolling hills. Actually, if you look at them, I swear they look more like mountains. In fact, where I come from – the sprawling Midwest – we’d definitely categorize them as mountains. I really think calling them hills was an early marketing scheme to get doubtful English country folk to come over and work the New Zealand land. These were no hills.

But then, the sheep didn’t mind. And neither did the dogs.

Kiwis began breeding their own sheepherding dogs at the turn of the last century. Today, you’ll see little else than huntaways and herders on the sheep farms there. These dogs are a mix of Irish Setter, English Hound, Old English Sheepdog and Labrador. Their looks vary from dog to dog. Some look like border collies, and others, like labs, or simply kinda Heinz 57-ish.

No matter how they look, they are indispensable on the steep “hills” of a New Zealand sheep station. I figured that out after I hiked up and down the first one following Bill in search of lost – or unwilling – sheep. His dogs, Judy and Jill, were much faster at taking the hills, finding the sheep, rounding them up, and basically, sparing Bill’s knees…and mine. What’s more, the dogs were more than eager to do their part.

Tongues a lolling, they flew down ravines, up steep inclines, and through native brush after obstinate sheep. I huffed along behind.

Everything was going fine, until the mini-revolt. Three “grand dames” wanted nothing to do with mustering. They stared sheepishly at Judy, while the dog barked and barked. I could only imagine what she was saying, what I’d be saying if it were me: “Get a move on you, bloody sheep!”

Their reply: The silent treatment.

Judy got even louder. I began to worry. I’ve watched this tactic tried a time or two when a language barrier proved steeper than a New Zealand hill. So far, I’d never seen it work.

But Judy wouldn’t give up. She got louder. She nipped at them, pranced on her front paws, and yelped at them until, to my amazement, the sheep, practically sighing, finally turned and ambled off after the rest of the mob. It was then that I knew, I was just along for the ride. Judy and Jill were the real heroes. I couldn’t even get a sheep to look at me, although I did, at one point, take on the job of standing at the side of a hill to keep the sheep from going back over. They looked at me dubiously, as if they could see I knew nothing about herding sheep. Then Judy save me. She bounded up the hill, barking at the sheep, as if teaching them their manners around na├»ve American authors. The sheep shrugged and then sauntered off in the direction I was supposed to be sending them in.

At the same time, Bill was working on the sheep (and I was huffing along behind), Ngawai and her dog rounded up some of the cattle in the same paddock. The cows had calves that were supposed to follow their mothers into the new paddock. I got to watch after Oliver picked me up in the jeep. I’d like to think that he did in to show me what was going on and not because I’d proved incredibly useless at mustering sheep.

At least I had company. Two young calves barely inches from the gate from one paddock to the next just weren’t quite the sharpest horns in the lot. Their mothers staring them down from the center of the gate itself – even lowing at them to hurry along – these two “blokes” batter-rammed the fence, trying again and again and again to push it down and escape to the new paddock, rather than just amble around the open gatedoor to Mummy.

The doting mothers finally went back through the gate to get their confused young.

But instead of following Mama back through the fence, the boys ran off, and the mothers after them. I began to wonder if I should get out of the car to help. But the dogs came flying up the hill, barking at the calves.

The mothers hightailed it through the gate. And the boys?
You guessed it – batter-rammed the fence just inches from the gate…again.

It was a long day of lesson learning for them and for me. They finally made it through the gate, and I finally learned that if you want to muster sheep, you better have a fine New Zealand herding dog.

Even if I wasn’t a natural pro, I had the time of my life just trying. It was a sight to hike the ravines, snake along tinkling creeks, push through thickets of ferns, and then, to see the huge mobs of sheep coalesce together from left, right and middle. In a wave of creamy white they flowed through the gate and into the next enclosure.

It was a sight I’ll not soon forget – the taste of fresh wind, the burn in my calves, and the Spring sun on my face. That was mustering New Zealand style.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 4

It was as if the gods of fate were smiling on me my whole trip to New Zealand, and on Wednesday, they really outdid themselves (or so I thought. I hadn’t gotten to Saturday yet and what a day that was!)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and provide some background to why Wednesday was such a stellar day.

French Pass was, until 1956, completely cut off from the rest of New Zealand as far as roads go. Quite simply, there were none. The only way to or from the Pass and Admiralty Bay was by ship. Then, in 1956, the Transportation Dept began the French Pass Road. And 51 years later, on November 5, 2008, the debut book about the road was released.

And guess who was there????

What are the chances?

The book was launched in a little town, Okiwi Bay, that is near French Pass. Oliver, Ulla, Bill and Ngawai took me there the next morning. The author was unable to attend, but it wasn't such a huge loss because the people who put the work into the road did. And did they have stories to tell! One man got up and told a short tale about a guy working on the road. It had to bull-dozed through the bush, then leveled, and finally, graveled. The guy accidentally cut his finger one day. He looked down at the dangling tip of his finger and said, “That will just get in the way.” And then chopped it off!!

The room roared with laughter. They said the story completely fit the man in question.

I could only shake my head in awe and the knowledge that I’d never have the nerve to do that, no matter how annoying the cut might have been. I’m such a city slicker, I realized.

After the speeches and the stories, second tea was served. I thought Tolkien was only joking about second tea in the Lord of the Rings with the hobbits. But there is such a thing! And what a delight that is. Meat pies, pastries, cookies, finger sandwiches, tea – of course – and coffee. After my second meat pie, which, by the way, was entirely scrumptious, I was really beginning to wonder about that whole “calories don’t count” in New Zealand thing. But then I shook my head, dismissing the worry, and reached for a pastry instead. It was in the name of research after all.

It would have been a red letter day right there, but Oliver and Ulla had way more in store for me. We were going through the Pass.

THE Pass.

I could hardly believe it. After all of the shipwrecks in the Pass that I’d read about, I have to admit, I was a wee bit nervous. But this was why I was here. I had to go through the Pass. How could I send my character through it, if I wasn’t even willing to try it out.

We drove back to Bill & Ngawai’s, changed, grabbed some lunch, and then headed out to the beach. We reached the launch vie rubber boat, and I managed not to fall into the Pacific Ocean, which is saying something. I think I’m a bit of a klutz on ships.

The trip to the Pass took maybe ten minutes. Today was an easy day. The water wasn’t roaring.

“It’s not the foam you have to worry about,” Ulla told me as Oliver guided the boat into the narrow Pass between the lighthouse and a beacon attached to a bit of reef in the middle of the strait of water. “It’s those.”

She was pointing at really calm sections of water that looked flat – no waves, no foam, no anything.

“Why?” I asked.

“That’s where whirlpools occur."

My somtach dropped. "Whirlpools."

"Oh, yes," Ulla assured me. "Whirlpools. They spin the boat around. It can be very dangerous.”

Oh boy.

I was really really really glad Oliver was so familiar with the Pass. Needless to say, we swerved left and right around some of the bigger placid bits of water, and within seconds emerged on the other side.

“Have you ever fished for blue cod?” Oliver asked. He’d stopped the boat over something called Jacob’s Hole, which turned out to be a super deep hole in the ocean floor where blue cod liked to live.

“What are they?” I asked.

He only smiled and handed me a fishing pole with the biggest hook I’d ever seen on it. Granted, as a kid, my parents took me and my brother fishing on a small lake in Michigan called Christie Lake, so I wasn’t a novice. But I’d never used a hook that big for anything other than – oh, I don’t know – building a house or something.

But I wasn’t about to admit it. So, dutifully, I took my pole. Oliver showed me how to let out the line. There is no casting. And then how to wait for the fish to bite. He generously baited the mega hook for me too.

And so we began.

I nervously let my line out, waiting until it touched bottom, then set the line and waited, hoping I’d at least catch something and not look like the city kid I am.

Apparently, I’m not as bad as all that. Within ten minutes I’d hooked two blue cod. You’re only allowed to catch three. Of course, that third one was actually the very last fish we hooked about an hour later, but still. I think I won a little respect from my New Zealand guides ☺

Fishing finished, we visited the shores of D’Urville Island, which is a bird preserve, ran the Pass a few times, and then headed home, where I ate the best blue cod I’ve ever eaten. I think catching it sort of helped, but even if I hadn't, it really was out of this world delicious.

It couldn’t get any better than this, I thought as I enjoyed the spoils of my hard work that day.

Then again...I hadn’t mustered sheep yet. Not to worry. Bill and Oliver were already planning my sheep mustering initiation for the very enxt day. How would this city slicker do? Tune in on Friday!

In other news...Cynthia Leitich Smith featured me on her cynsations blog about most important lessons in writing that I've learned so far. If you get a chance, please stop by and check it out! Click here

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 3

I wanted to post this earlier, but have been away in California to speak at the CLA convention, and just got back last night. So, here it is, Day 3 of my adventures in New Zealand:

Wednesday was the day. THE DAY. The big kahuna. The one I’d been waiting for almost a year. This was the day I would go to French Pass and finally see where my character, George Grey, and the real Pelorus Jack, lived.
For once, I had no trouble getting out of bed.
And I was on time for the ferry.
It was a red letter day already.
The Interislander ferry travels between Wellington, on the North Island, to Picton, on the south. It was a gorgeous trip. The ride takes about three hours, during which, the boat plows along the shores of both islands. Once it hits the south coast, the scenery is even more astounding that on the north island. The south island is far less populated, and there is more New Zealand au naturale – lush with towering mountains, opal blue sounds, and cozy mussel farms tucked into between the towering hills and narrow bays.
I took pictures and pictures, which is saying something for me. I’m horrible at picture-taking, but this was the most amazing landscape I’ve ever seen. Hills – which in any other country would definitely merit the title, mountain – covered with native bush – ferns, palms, white pines, and a lot of other trees I don’t know. Sheep farms dotted with so many fluffy white bundles of wool, from a distance, they look like rocks. Mussel farms dotting the deep blue and opal green waters and air so crisp and clean, it was nothing short of breathtaking.

Nervously, I debarked from the ferry in Picton. It was here that I was to meet my New Zealand guru and virtual guide from the last year of my life, Oliver Sutherland, and his wife, Ulla.
In retrospect, why I was nervous, I don’t know. Oliver and Ulla treated me like another of their children. I was instantly family, and at the same time, got nothing short of the red carpet treatment. Like I said a few days ago, Kiwis are nice to the factor of ten. What’s more, it’s twenty-four carat genuine. I was in more than good hands.
We started our journey to French with a side stop in Havelock, the green-lipped mussel capitol of the world. Where, of course, we had green-lipped mussels. I’ll never look at a mussel the same way again. I love seafood. LOVE IT. And these mussels were just out of the bay and into the boiling water fresh. Top that off with a little New Zealand white wine, and I could have stayed right there and eaten my way through the rest of the week.

But French Pass called.
So we hopped back in the car and made our way out to the remote and rugged Pass between D’Urville Island and the northern tip of the southern island.
It was a fantastic drive through dense bush on a partially paved, partially graveled road that hadn’t been built until 1956. Until then, the only way from French Pass to anywhere in New Zealand was by boat, or a narrow track that led through the dense bush.
We passed through tiny bays, inlet waterways, towering views, and palm upong fern upon white pine native bush. I was captivated.
But as amazing as it was, it paled in comparison to the moment we came crested the rugged hills/mountains and came upon the marker for Anaru Farm, French Pass. This was where I’d set my story. This was where everything had happened in my mind. This was it.
I held my breath as we came round the last bend in the road…And then there it was, French Pass. The narrow strait of water spread out before me like a page in my book opening up and revealing itself in colors and textures I could never have imagined – blue, rushing waters, white capped waves, brown coral reefs sticking up between the bubbling foam, and the roar of two oceans locked in battle over the Pass. I…WAS…HERE.
I was really here!

It was a short minute’s drive from the Pass to Elmslie Bay, where I stayed. The bay is home to the Anaru station house where Bill and Ngawai Webber live. Every bit as friendly and genuine and wonderful and Oliver and Ulla, Bill and Ngawai immediately welcomed me like long lost American cousin.
We lost little time settling in and setting to making dinner. And drinking wine. It the day wasn’t amazing enough, it also happened to be election day in the U.S., and I was eager to follow the results. New Zealand had numerous correspondents stateside, so I got to watch all candidates’ speeches, and, even better, my hosts were as eager to hear them and follow the results as I was.
It was an amazing day.
When I settled into bed that night, actually where I’d imagined my character to be for so many months, I realized, being here myself, was even better. I could hadly wait for the next day to start.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 2

My second day in New Zealand began with breakfast at the Tinakori Lodge where I was staying. The Tinakori is a B&B run by Neville and Linda. Really great place and really really nice people. I have to say, I didn't meet one un-nice person while in New Zealand. They are like Americans in the area of niceness, but with a factor of, say, ten. While at breakfast, a cozy affair, I met a couple of Holland that had just toured the South Island and two American women from California who had just toured the North Island. Each set was headed in the opposite direction and had some really great stories to share about what they had seen. I was told, since I was heading South the next day, not to miss the small town of Havelock, mussel capitol of the world. If I wasn't excited enough already about embarking on the South Island, that really whet my appetite. I love mussels.

Breakfast was over way too soon, and I made my way back to the Turnbull Library. I had one day to collect the rest of the information that I needed. First, I hit the newspaper microfiche and met an incredibly nice librarian named Mary who helped me search for quotations from Mark Twain during his visit to New Zealand in 1895. She was so helpful she actually called a woman who used to work at the Turnbull, Tania Atkinson, and who had written a picture book that deals with that time, Pelorus Jack: The Story of New Zealand's Famous Dolphin. She also, although in no way connected with the Turnbull anymore, was more than willing to help.

After swimming in microfiche for so long, my eyes were beginning to swim, I headed up to the stacks to read more accounts of pioneering days in New Zealand. The present day generation has done an incredible job of documenting and preserving the struggles and triumphs of their great grandparents. I learned and found more than I had hoped for.

From there, it was to the reading room, where I was greeted on a first name basis. It was getting to the point that I think every librarian in the Turnbull had either helped, been called to help me, or was soon to help me. And they were all really amazingly nice and helpful. If you're looking for a country to research, do New Zealand, if for no other reason than that their librarians are incredibly helpful!

At 5:00, though, the library closed, and when I got back to my room, my luggage had arrived!! New clothes. I cannot tell you how happy I was. I immediately changed into my running clothes to take on the botanical gardens. This was complete efficiency/tourism in action. Seeing the sights while exercising.

Now, what I didn't know before I got to Wellington is that it is one of the windiest cities on the planet. Sorry Chicago, but they've really got you beat. And on this particular day, a real gale was blowing. But, in the name of research and seeing the sights, I took off anyway. The Botanical Gardens were so very worth it. They are some of the most amazing sights in Wellington. Just gorgeous, even with gale force winds. Just a heads up, though, they are either all uphill or downhill. Wellington is very very hilly. Now, I'll get back to that word later, but it is a bit of an understatement. In the U.S., New Zealand hills would be referred to as mountains. So, here's a great thing they came up with, a cable car to the top. I, of course, huffed it for my heart, but the cable car is definitely a more relaxed way to make it up. Then you can stroll down at your leisure, without the huffing and puffing.

My run complete, I had a quick change and then it was off to dinner at a couple's house I'd never met. When I say New Zealanders are friendly, really, it's no understatement. For about a year previous to my trip, a retired entymologist turned historian, Oliver Sutherland, had been helping me collect information on the French Pass, where my story takes place, and his family, which has farmed the Pass for over 150 years. It turns out, Oliver and Ulla's son, Bjorn, lives in Wellington. Mind you, I'd never talked to Bjorn until Tuesday, but he and his dad had graciously and kindly already arranged for me to have dinner at Bjorn and his wife, Jackie's, house. Complete strangers cooked an extravagant dinner for me - beef stew, kumara, mashed potatoes, bread, veggies, and then these to-die-for chocolate brownie/something even chocolatier in them dessert. Ohmigod, it was so good. And we talked and drank wine into the wee hours of the morn. That's how friendly Kiwis are!

That night, as I curled up in my warm blankets with the winds howling and beating against the Tinakori Lodge, I was pretty certain that no matter how many calories slid down to Antartica, a few had definitely found a spot on me. I'd had two helpings of everything. But then, it was all in the name of research, right? One must suffer for her work.

I was tired that night, but almost too wound up to sleep. Tomorrow, I would be on my way to the South Island and French Pass, a place I wrote, dreamt and studied about for a year, but never seen. I could hardly wait. Tomorrow was the big day!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 1

I haven't blogged for a good week, and although I feel like I should be visiting a virtual confession to save my cyberspace soul from getting lost in the folds on a nanochip somewhere, I have a really good excuse.

I've been in New Zealand, mate.

It's half a globe away. On the other side of the world. Way way down under, which means, really far away from my blog.

That's not to say that they don't have internet in New Zealand. Far from it. I could check my email just about anywhere. The only thing was, I, um...well, I didn't. Can you blame me? I was in New Zealand!

Now that I'm back - sigh - and chained once again to the writing desk to work all I've learned and experienced into my present work in progress, I promise to blog daily about the trip and share some of the wonder I experienced (and avoid that mountain of revisions looming over me for as long as possible).

My adventure began when Air New Zealand landed in Wellington, after a bazillion hours of flying. My luggage, much as it wanted to accompany me straight to Wellington, decided to make a detour and go to Australia for a short stint. It didn't tell me this, so I was on my own with nothing but the clothes on my back (and that handy credit card) for two days before my luggage caught up with me, looking distinctively Aussie, I have to say.

While waiting for it, I spent my first day in the stacks at the Alexander Turnbull National Library, picking up loads of really amazing information for my book, Pelorus Jack, a YA set in 19th century New Zealand and based around the true story of a dolphin that was given the same name.

That afternoon, when I could read no more, I met up with Kiwi children's author, Maureen Crisp - visit her blog at - and her beautiful two-year-old daughter for a bit of tea and scones. Not ordinary scones, mind you, with clotted cream. No sir. Huge cheesey ones, and oooooh!, so tasty. Plus, I've been told that since I was down under, calories don't count. It's got something to do with gravity and the tilt of the earth - very scientific and all that - but basically, if I've understood correctly, calories just slide straight down to Antartica, rather than getting stuck in New Zealand. So, I had two scones, to be on the safe side. I didn't want to starve to death with no calories.

Maureen and I spent a good couple of hours comparing notes on being a children's author in New Zealand vs. U.S. Much too soon, our visit was over. Maureen had kids soon coming home from school, and I had the Te Papa that I wanted to see. That's the New Zealand National Museum. It sits directly on the harbor in Wellington. Amazing. The sand man caught up with me halfway through the exhibits, but I battled him off with a humongous piece of chocolate cake. I didn't even want to think how many calories were in that thing, even if I was in New Zealand, but this was art, no....research I had to do. So I forced myself to eat every delicious morsel.

I finished off the day with a stroll back to my hotel, past parliament that is called the beehive, and really looks like, well, a beehive. But don't believe me. Take a look.

Still sans luggage, I had a quick shower before cozying up under my thick blankets for a read and a very long sleep. Day 2 of my trip was to hold more adventure than even I could imagine.

Stay tuned!

In other news, Dragon Wishes officially launched on Tuesday of last week. Yes, my baby greeted the world on election day. Despite many last minute calls to both campaigns, I could convince neither candidate of the electoral power that my book would carry for them should they just hold it up once briefly during their campaigning that day. I tried :-) I'm being interviewed all this week on 2k8's blog. Please stop by and learn all about the making of Dragon Wishes:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I've Been Munched

Actually, it's Dragon Wishes that was munched. It was The Book Muncher! It was my first online review for my debut middle grade novel, and I'm so happy to see that it's such a positive one. So if you get a minute, pop by and read what The Book Muncher has to say about Dragon Wishes on her blog

In other's only five days until I leave on a research trip for my present work in progress, Pelorus Jack. Where am I going? All the way to New Zealand. I've never been that far west before. I've always gone east towards Europe. I am so thrilled to be going to New Zealand. I've read and studied it so much for this story that although this is official business, traveling to areas I write about is really more of a perk than a professional duty.

I'll blog while away if at all possible, but may be tied up mustering sheep, going fishing in the Pacific Ocean and riding the French Pass. Take a look at those rugged waters! The grandmother of the family I am staying with actually swam the pass back in the early 1900s, and lived to talk about it. Mark Twain went there in 1895 just to see the dolphin I'm writing about now, Pelorus Jack. I 'm so thrilled to be following in both their footsteps. (Not the swimming the Pass part. I'm going to try and avoid that if at all possible!) But I do plan on taking in as much scenery as possible. I can't believe I'm actually really going.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Expect the Unexpected

Just when I thought the doldrums of revisions and heavy edits were about to pull me down forever into the nebulous, swirling morasse of writer-tude, I had two of the most unexpected and thrilling surprises this weekend.

It all began with a voicemail. (Note the hook of a beginning and immediate pull of this tale)

A girlfriend of mine with whom I roomed together in grad school and who now lives on the East Coast and I haven't seen for more than half an hour in the last eight years called to tell me her company was sending her to Tulsa - honestly, what are the chances? - on business. Even better, I happen to live in a suburb of Tulsa.

I picked her up from the airport last night at 10 p.m. and then we spent most of the night chatting. It was so much fun. I'd post pictures, but we looked like zombies this morning. The older you get, the worse those late nights are on appearances. Ugh. So, I'm posting a picture of what I fell like on the inside, but that the bags under my eyes and wan color of my skin may actually be kinda masking.

Now, if that wasn't thrill enough, my husband agreed to go clothes shopping for our daughters with me. For anyone whose husband has a phobia about malls, this is really close to miraculous. Not only did he agree, he suggested we go shopping for them. He said, brace yourselves, he thought they needed clothes. I checked to make sure I wasn't stuck in edits and had revised my husband into saying that.

No, he'd said it. He'd suggested. And he was ready to go shopping. The surreal events didn't end there. He helped find - dare I say it - clothes on sale. The man willingly and of his own accord went through entire racks of mark downs all by himself.

I am...sniff loved.

So there's my weekend in review. Monumental. It's all gravy from here.