A Ride Through the Desert

Hello, everyone!  Yes, it’s me again.  I told you I’d be back after my trip to the Southwest, and so here I am.  And let me tell you, it was a whole lot of fun.

Flying has never been my forte – I prefer to be a little bit more in control of my transportation methods, and something about being thirty thousand feet above the surface of the earth has never quite computed with me – but I braved the sunny skies to fly out to Las Vegas on a Friday.

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Bright and early the next morning, I jumped into my rental pick-up truck (yes, really) and headed out into the desert, where it took me just under three hours to cross into Utah and reach Zion National Park.

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The Court of the Patriarchs

It’s really pretty there.  Really, really pretty.

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The Virgin River, which takes on a beautiful jade green tone as it cuts through the valley, has carved down the rocks for millennia, resulting in the quintessential Southwest stratification that we all know and love.  The weather was relatively cool, due to the time of the year and the elevation, which made exploring easy, even for a (very, very, very) novice outdoorsperson like myself.

Unfortunately, I made a bit of a mistake with my directions.  Anyone who knows me at all will be aware that this is not a surprise.  My navigation skills are less than perfect in familiar environments, let alone new ones, and I probably should have figured that I would get lost even in such a well-marked and busy park.

In any case, I ended up leaving the main trail road, which wanders smoothly through the valley and stops at each of the major sites, and found myself going 20 miles an hour up a series of tight hairpin turns on my way to Nowhereville, Utah.

See that road with all the squiggles? That was my road.

See that road with all the squiggles? That was my road.  See the nice, straight, flat one going off to the left? That’s the one I should have been on.

Despite the fact that there was nothing but gorgeous vista after gorgeous vista, I eventually figured out that I was headed the wrong way.  After making it through the 1.1 mile long Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel, built in the 1920s, I decided it was best that I turn around and see if I could spend the afternoon in the rest of the park before continuing on my way to Arizona.

I think it was a good decision.

Beneath the Great White Throne

Beneath the Great White Throne

Another long drive before sunset brought me south and east to Page, Arizona (and yes, I now realize I could have continued on Route 9 to get there, but I would have missed the rest of Zion).

It’s a little town on the shores of Lake Powell that obviously depends highly on tourist dollars, but everyone was friendly and the hotel was perfectly nice.  I spent a cool night sleeping off the travel dust before getting up, with the help of jetlag, a little before dawn.

Why so early?  Well, I had a date with the Colorado River.

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This is Horseshoe Bend, a kink in the same watercourse that runs through the Grand Canyon.  With a wide-angle lens and a precarious spot right on the edge of the cliff, I was in perfect position to catch the morning glow as the sun peeked over the mountains behind me.

It’s an awe-inspiring place to be.  There’s no other way to describe it.  It’s hard to capture just how enormous that rocky outcrop is, but it’s about 1000 feet from the lip of the canyon to the water below.  Truly spectacular.

But I couldn’t stay long, because I had a tour booked for somewhere just as magnificent.  Antelope Canyon.

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This water-carved slot canyon is the most photographed of its kind, and it’s easy to see why.

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Located on Navajo tribal land just outside of Page, the Upper and Lower Canyons were formed mostly by flash flood waters running through the sandstone, carving away wave-like forms of rock which are mostly open to the sky.

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The Upper Canyon site is only accessible with a tour group led by a Navajo tribal member. We piled into the back of a converted pick-up and raced down the floodplain, bumping and jostling and holding onto our tripods for dear life.

I paid a little extra to get on one of the special photography tours.  That meant that our guide was allowed to hold back other groups so we could get clear and empty shot of the formations.  With exposure times of up to 30 seconds, this was really important for getting excellent pictures.

In the summer, the famous light shafts can hit the smooth, sandy floor of the canyon, but the sun doesn’t get that high in the winter or early spring.  It does, however, occasionally slant up against the walls, and we were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of a little ray of sunshine just before we were about to leave.

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The guides quickly cleared the room and started throwing handfuls of fine dust in the air to help illuminate the beam – great for pictures, but not so great for my lungs.

In any case, I was completely enthralled with the experience, and highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area, whether or not you have an interest in photography.  It’s just such a beautiful, peaceful, fascinating place to be for a while, even when surrounded by tourists wielding selfie sticks.

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I would love to go back again, and maybe try getting to the Lower Canyon, too, which is less popular and a little more challenging, but just as interesting.

But that will have to wait for another trip.  Sunday afternoon, I had to rush back to Vegas for my conference on Monday, which meant a five-hour drive from Arizona to Nevada.

I arrived after sunset, tired and a little sore but absurdly happy…just in time to come down with a nasty, wretched cold that has plagued me ever since.  I don’t know what it is about healthcare conferences that always make me so sick, but let me tell you.  It was hard, hard work to power through those three days.

Nonetheless, the conference was a great editorial success, and every member of my team knocked it out of the park.  I couldn’t enjoy Vegas quite as much as I wanted, but it’s still a fun town even if the DayQuil costs twelve bucks a pop.

I may have been lightheaded, sniffling, and sleepwalking my way back to the East Coast, but I made it with little further ado.  I stayed in bed all weekend, and I’m just now starting to feel like my normal self again, but it was worth it for such a great trip.

So that’s what I’ve been up to.  As I get back on my feet and sort through all the work I built up during the show, I’m hoping to get back into my writing rhythm, finish up editing on Dark the Chains of Treason, and maybe even have a publishable book at some point this year.  That would be nice, wouldn’t it?  Stay tuned!

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Dark the Night Descending now available for pre-order

Attention, e-book enthusiasts and Kindle cohabitators!

Dark the Night Descending is now available to pre-order for Kindle!

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For those of you who prefer traditional paperbacks, I’m sorry to say you’ll have to wait a bit longer.  The process of setting up the ordering page through Amazon is kind of complicated, but I’m working on it.  It should only be a few more days before I get through the process, and I’ll be sure to announce it when I do.

The official release date is October 6, 2014, but please do consider ordering an e-book early for just $5.99.  It will give me an important sales ranking boost and it will ensure that you get the e-book as soon as possible.

Stay tuned for some more pre-launch excitement, including a paperback giveaway on Goodreads and a few additional surprises!

ABNA-cadabra!

8174195Sorry this post is a day late, but I spent all of yesterday thinking up puns for my title based on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.  You know why?  Because I just made it into the quarter-finals.  Yay!

As you may know from my last post on the topic, this is my first year entering the contest, and I’m absolutely chuffed to have made it this far.  With my first 5000 words passing the test for a panel of Amazon super-reviewing customers, the full manuscript of Dark the Night Descending now goes to a team of Publishers Weekly reviewers, who will no doubt tear it apart and leave it for dead on the side of the road before picking the best 5 sci-fi/fantasy/horror books out of the 100 still remaining.

And that’s totally okay.  I’m now guaranteed a review from Publishers Weekly, which is a pretty darn good prize, plus I get feedback from real readers on what is, essentially, a very rough draft.  I’m actually more than a little embarrassed about the typos and little mistakes that I wish I’d had time to smooth out, but the submission deadline was what it was.  Oh well.

The next cut isn’t for weeks and weeks, and I will be occupying my time by finishing up the first draft of the second book of the series, and hopefully even starting the conclusion.  I’m having a lot of fun with the story and the characters, and I hope you will, too, whether the book is eventually published by Amazon or by my own methods.  Unless I somehow make it into the semi-finals, I still anticipate a July release for Volume One.

In the meantime, I remain very busy.  I’m writing, editing a side project, doing my actual day job, and next week I get to start a stained glass class that I’m pretty excited about.  I might even take a few moments to step outside in the nice, warm weather…but only if I don’t get some lightning bolt idea for my plot first.

Stay tuned for more developments, and (hopefully) a return to the normal Monday posting schedule!

NaNoWriMo 2013: Veni, Writi, Vici

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Hey, look.  I won.  Hooray!  Just ignore the fact that it says I wrote 4100 words today.  I actually wrote 4000 before the month began and I just kept them in the same document, so they showed up when I validated.  I swear on my honor (and my stats chart) that I completed at least 50,000 of them starting November 1.

The month ended early this year after a pretty smooth ride with a book I think I really like.  I haven’t quite figured out how it ends yet, which could be a bit of a problem, but I do hope to finish it up in the next month or so and maybe possibly if I’m very, very lucky (fingers crossed), publish it sometime in the spring.  That would be cool, right?  Yeah.

Here’s the synopsis for those who might be interested:

Dark the Night Descending

Arran Swinn knows about nightmares. They killed his father. When the sun goes down, the Siheldi come out, and surviving the onslaught of the demons until daybreak can be little more than a gamble without the right protection.  Thanks to a fortuitous gift and a little trickery, Arran can provide that protection these days – for the right fee.

Guiding merchants along the haunted trade routes is easy money, right up until he takes on a passenger who proves to be almost as bad as the Siheldi themselves.  With the daylight fading and the ocean rising, he finds himself saddled with a dangerous cargo, a bargain he can’t keep, and the unwelcome scrutiny of Megrithe, a tenacious inspector intent on seeing him hang for his misdeeds.

Pursued by the sea-dwelling neneckt into a world drowning in its own deceit, Arran much decide just how much he’s willing to sacrifice to the spirits that have had him marked out since the night his life changed forever.

Four Days in Vegas

Hello, everyone!  This post will not be writing-related, because I did absolutely no writing on my vacation last week.  It will have some pretty pictures, though, so you can stick around for that if you like.

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If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know I flew out to Las Vegas last Tuesday for some R&R…and a PCI security conference my dad wanted to attend.  The conference didn’t end up figuring largely in our plans, though.  I’d never been to Vegas before, so there was a lot to see and do, and it was a barrel full of fun.

We stayed at the Luxor, which is the giant pyramid you see on all the post cards.  It’s a great hotel.  They’re all great hotels.  They’re all huge, massive, overkill, full-of-slot-machines-and-alcohol-and-really-rude-tourists hotels.

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But even though the tourists were less than pleasant, every single staff member of every place we went was so friendly and helpful.  Maybe it’s a northeast thing, but I’m just not used to strangers treating other strangers nicely, even if they’re getting paid to provide customer service.  Sure, I’m betting there’s a big bold line in the employee handbook about saying good morning to every guest, but it was still nice to be able to ask someone directions without getting brushed off.

And we needed a lot of directions, because the Strip is huge.

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Every hotel is like a maze designed to funnel you towards the casino, which is understandable, but the vast distances from one end of the place to the other do an equally good job of forcing you to rest in a chair in front of a slot machine.  I may need to sell Oliver to pay back my loan shark.

Speaking of sharks, there were plenty at the aquarium in the Mandalay Bay.  But there was even more beauty to be had once we left city limits.  As much fun as it was to lose twenty bucks in the blink of an eye, my favorite part of the trip was seeing the natural, unspoiled perfection of the desert.

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I’ve traveled pretty extensively along the East Coast, and especially in New England, but the last time I was in the Southwest, I was five years old.  I don’t remember much about the stark, sterile magnificence of the rocks and scrub land, or about how strange it is to drive along a flat road with no trees, no hills, no buildings, and no people within fifty miles.  It was a little creepy, but it was very cool.

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We visited the Valley of Fire and Red Rock State Parks, both of which I would highly recommend if you’re in the area.  We lucked out with perfectly warm weather and oodles of sunshine.  You couldn’t take a bad picture if you tried.

Hoover Dam was pretty impressive, too.

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So were the fountains at the Bellagio.

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But nothing beats the wonder of the natural world in my book.

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Overall, it was a fantastic trip.  Great food, great service, great options for bankruptcy lawyers and credit counseling.  I’d love to go back again and do some more exploring now that I’ve completed all the requisite tourist items, but for now, I have my hands full settling back into work, planning my upcoming NaNoWriMo activities, and enjoying the very different loveliness of a Massachusetts autumn.

P.S.: Today is the last day to enter the Shelf Unbound and Half Price Books competition.  If you’ve been on the fence, now’s the time to make the leap.  Don’t let a great opportunity pass you by!

Half Price Books and Shelf Unbound Indie Book Competition

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Remember back in June, when I made all your bodkins start quivering with the news that Shelf Unbound just opened its 2013 Indie Publishing Contest?  Well, prepare to be re-quivered with a truly exciting update.

Shelf Unbound Magazine has teamed up with Half Price Books to add a brilliant new prize to the contest.  Not only will the winner receive an editorial feature in the December/January 2014 issue of Shelf Unbound, along with $6000 worth of free ad space for a year.  The winning book will also be stocked and promoted in all 115 of Half Price Books’ stores in 16 states!

That’s a heck of a prize for the $30 entry fee.  As self-published authors, it’s often hard to see the path to wide distribution and a dedicated audience, but this is a pretty clear road to awesomeness, if I do say so myself, because…

The Last Death of Tev Chrisini will be joining this year’s winner in all of Half Price Books’ stores! 

That’s right, folks!  I’ve been waiting a few weeks to be able to share the news with you, and it’s been really hard to contain my excitement.  As much as I adore the ebook world, it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to see my work on the shelf in a brick-and-mortar bookshop.  I’m incredibly grateful to the awesome Margaret Brown and the fantastic people at HPB for bringing that dream to life.

Of course, I don’t actually live anywhere near a Half Price Books store, which are mostly located everywhere except the Northeast, so there may be a road trip in my future.  I’ll be sure to let you know when The Last Death hits the shelves so that you can sneak in and take a picture or two on my behalf.

The entry period has been extended until midnight of October 1, 2013, so you’ve still got time to get your books in.  You’ll know if you’re a winner by the first week of November.  I’m really looking forward to seeing this year’s crop of excellent self-published books!  Go!  Enter!  Do it!  Run!

The time has come, the author said…

Hey!  Hey, you!  Yeah, you, sitting at your computer.  Wanna read a book?  Wanna read a book that I’ve promised you for like, a whole year?  Wanna read it now?

Well, you’re in luck, because The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun is now available in paperback and for Kindle!

Ooooh, clicky, clicky!

Ooooh, clicky, clicky!

Yeah!  If you read the free preview over the weekend, you know this is some good stuff.  Politics and war and chaos and magic and sad, beautiful, heart-rending, exciting, bouncing-up-and-down-in-your-chair fantasy goodness.  I still recommend that you read The Last Death of Tev Chrisini first, so you’ll have a better idea of what’s happening, but here’s the good thing: now you can buy them both, read them back-to-back, and get seven hundred years of story in one long, seamless package.

I know it’ll probably take a while for most of you to get through the book, but I’ll start my begging early: please, please, please leave me a review when you’ve finished.  It’s really the most helpful thing you can do for an author, and I will love you forever and ever if you do.

But before we get there, you must buy and read!  And share!  And tell your friends!  I’m really very proud of the way this novel has turned out, and I sincerely hope that you enjoy the ride.