My friend Julie the Nomad agreed to touch down long enough to spend three weeks house-and-dog-sitting for her family friends while they're traveling, and she invited me to visit her at the Magic Lake House for a few days for our own exclusive little writing retreat.
You may ask: what made a lake house into a Magic Lake House? The main requirement was for me and Julie to decide that it was, because both of us had hit snags in our writing and really needed some magic. But there were other components too: remoteness, quiet, and beautiful surroundings.
and a koi pond.
Julie had already set up her writing station, which I call Still Life with Paint Cans, in the kitchen
and she graciously ceded the master bedroom to me for two nights and moved herself into the guest room downstairs. And the Magical thing about the master bedroom was the attached sitting room.
That's where I wrote, and this was my view from the window as I wrote:
And every bit of it was Magic. We both wrote steadily. I solved a major problem with my book that had been frustrating me for weeks. And Julie and I talked about our books and our writing ambitions and a whole lot of other subjects too, and we cooked and swam and petted the dogs, but mostly we wrote and we helped each other write.
And I took a lot of pictures because even though I'll probably never visit this MLH again, I'm going to carry this visit with me in my mind and heart for a very long time.
I signed up for author Stephanie Faris's blog tour to help promote the two first books in her new middle-grade Piper Morgan series, both of which were just released from Simon & Schuster a couple of weeks ago.
Aren't those great cover illustrations? Piper looks like she's ready to charge (or get pushed!) right off the page! What middle-grader would be able to resist buying the book to find out why Piper is riding an elephant or (evidently) running an office? I'll give you a hint, since you're probably not a middle-schooler so this can't count as a spoiler: Piper and her mom make up a two-member family. They move around a lot, and Piper's mom keeps getting interesting new jobs in each new place. But although Piper has to deal with the same difficulties all kids do when their families relocate often, she also gets a lot of opportunities to get in on the action in each new setting.
I e-met Stephanie when we both participated in the Blogging From A to Z blog tour over the last few Aprils. This is Stephanie:
And here's her bio:
Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing. Stephanie is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 DAYS OF NO GOSSIP and 25 ROSES. When she isn't crafting fiction, she writes for a variety of nonfiction online websites. She lives in Nashville with her husband.
And here is my interview with her!
1. Hi Stephanie! So, in real life you write
articles about information technology, and in unreal life you write
middle-grade fiction.Is that how you
manage your left brain/right brain split?
Good question! Maybe so. I do feel that the
variety keeps things interesting. If I was just doing one or the other all day,
every day, I don’t think I’d appreciate my “fun writing” as much. (Fun writing
is the fiction stuff, in case you’re wondering!)
2. Piper Morgan is a little girl whose mom
sounds like a free spirit, flitting from place to place and having adventures
everywhere she goes.I read on your blog
one recent Mother’s Day that your own beloved mom sounded a lot like Piper’s.How much of the Piper series is a love
letter to your mom, and how much of it is something else entirely?
I think being raised by a single mom
definitely gave me a background to pull from as I wrote Piper’s story. We
didn’t move around as much, but we did move a couple of times when I was younger.
It was interesting that no matter where we lived, my mom made it “home.” I’ve
realized, as I’ve gotten further into writing this, that this is really what
the series is about. Piper is always longing for a place she can call home, but
over time, she’ll come to realize that “home” has little to do with where a
3. Which comes first for you in writing a
story: characters or plot?Can you give
a thumbnail sketch of your typical book-inventing process (if you have one)? Ditto for your typical writing day (if you
I’m one of those “pantsers” you hear about,
who flies by the seat of my pants when I’m writing. I wish I could be more of
an outliner. However, once you’re published, your agent needs a partial to
pitch your book to your editor. So I’ve developed a habit of writing three
chapters, then writing the synopsis. That synopsis can then serve as an outline
if they buy my book and I get to write the rest of it.
I wish I said I had a daily routine. I
usually have every intention of writing 1,000 words or so in the morning, but I
end up responding to emails and doing blog sorts of things until around
lunchtime, when I go to the gym. When I get back, I realize I’m behind on my
word count for the day and I write my butt off until bedtime! I always have
writing assignments, and I try to do three to four a day, which means writing
around 2,000 words a day, not including my book writing.
4.Piper starts out with a bang by joining the circus!Any hints about future exciting situations in
which she might find herself?
She gets to work in the circus and a
principal’s office in these first two books. In the third book, coming out in
November, she works with puppies at a rescue shelter. The one that’s scheduled
for next spring is set in a pool and spa shop and includes a TV commercial
shoot. We’re still working on ideas for book number five, but I’m thinking it
will be event-planner themed.
* * * *
If you'd like to find out more about Stephanie and her Piper Morgan series (and why wouldn't you?), you can check out any of the following links:
Here's a heads-up: on August 9th - in two days, to be exact - middle-grade author Stephanie Faris (via Simon and Schuster/Aladdin) is going to be releasing the first two books of her Piper Morgan series, PIPER MORGAN JOINS THE CIRCUS and PIPER MORGAN IN CHARGE. Piper is eight years old, she and her mom do a lot of relocating, and according to the description on Stephanie's website, the series "follows the sassy Piper Morgan and the messes she makes as she tries to help her mom with a series of new jobs." And from what I can tell, it looks like Mom isn't the only one getting new jobs in different places - Piper seems to always find a way to get in on the action.
Stephanie is a creative and fun blogger who, despite sticking to a three-times-a-week schedule, somehow always manages to find something interesting to talk about in her posts, so I'm sure Piper and her adventures will be anything but boring. Please make sure to check out the "sassy" Piper Morgan (if you order from Stephanie's website, you can even get an autographed copy!) , and please stop back here on August 22nd, when I'll be posting my interview with the author!
When starting to plan our summer vacation this year, my husband and I agreed that our actual destination was less important to us than that it be close to Washington, D.C. My son and his girlfriend live there and although we knew they wouldn't be able to join us for a whole week, we hoped at least they'd be able to come for part of it. My husband went to grad school in Virginia many moons ago and remembered that there was a big manmade lake called Lake Anna in the middle of the state, so that's where we began our VRBO search for a dog-friendly house to rent.
Some of the Lake Anna house listings casually mentioned that there was a "cold" side of the lake and a "warm" side, but we didn't give this much thought. We found and rented a house for the last week in July, paid up, and that was pretty much that.
When we arrived, the friendly owner showed us around the property, including his little boat dock and the canoe stored in his shed which we were free to use. That evening, my husband and I took the short walk down the road to what was advertised as a "sandy beach." What we hadn't been told was that the beach was so miniaturized that perhaps five people could have shared it comfortably. Overcrowding didn't seem to be a problem, however. There was no one on the sand, or, as far as the eye could see, anywhere in the lake, even though the air temperature was in the mid-90s. Boats, yes; swimmers, no. I waded into the murky water up to my ankles and found that it was approximately the same temperature as the air. Ah - we must be on the "warm" side! So much for the prospect of refreshing swims!
We took day trips over the next few days. Charlottesville on Monday (about 97 degrees out), Richmond on Tuesday (roughly the same), and an extremely boring afternoon in Fredericksburg on Wednesday (a balmy 95) as we prepared to meet my son's 7 p.m. train. Really no attempts to use the lake at any point during those days.
I don't remember at what point I was in the house, idly leafing through local brochures, when I finally learned the delightful reason why the lake had a cold side and a warm side. BECAUSE THERE IS A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT ON LAKE ANNA, THAT'S WHY!!! The cold water is pulled up to cool the centrifuges, and the hot water is discharged right back into the lake! And we didn't even have to visit the friendly nearby Nuclear Information Center to find that out! Welcome to Vacationland!!
It wasn't until we got home that I googled Lake Anna and learned that, in fact, the lake only existsbecause of the power plant. That's the purpose for which it was built - providing water to cool things off. But once it was built, vacation communities sprang up everywhere along the lakeshore. We saw one development in the process of being built that advertised lakefront homes "starting in the low 500 thousands." This was in rural Virginia, mind you, where I would have to assume that similarly-sized non-lakefront homes probably cost less than half of that.
So here is my question. Yes, we were idiots for not learning more about Lake Anna before we went there, but it was only for a week. Who in their right mind chooses to buy a vacation home on a lake whose water is circulated through a nuclear power facility??? Are these people so confident that there could never ever be, say, a highly toxic - okay, deadly - leak into the water?
Had we done our homework before we left and learned the history of Lake Anna, I can assure you this would have been our reaction:
As opposed to: "Hey, we love it here! Beautiful scenery, and the power plant adds that little frisson of excitement so necessary to our adventuresome spirits! Let's plunk down our life savings and build our dream house right in this very spot!"
Oh well. To each his own, I suppose. I will say that we had a pleasant land-based vacation week, and we came back rested, healthy and happy. In fact, you might even say that we're... glowing.
Julie is not a chemically altered mouse or person. (And if you're too young to get the FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON reference, I have no use for you.) Julie is my crazy nomad writing friend, and this week she gave me an awesome idea for raising the stakes in the book I've been working on, and I'll be trying to implement said idea this coming week while I'm away on vacation (in Virginia, because God knows it isn't going to be hot enough here in New Jersey!). So this post is a big fat THANK YOU to Julie, whom I love and slightly fear and follow vicariously as she hopscotches her way around the planet.
Yes, I know that the real dog days arrive in August, but last weekend my husband and I had our own. We went - with our dogs - to a B & B in Vermont. And by the way, here's a link - my guest post from May on my friend Guilie Castillo's wonderful blog, which I don't think I ever remembered to re-post on my own blog - to explain why we once again have two dogs after our irreplaceable Murphy died in February.
The B & B was The PawHouse Inn in West Rutland, and its hook is that it caters to "dogs and their owners." To be honest, I'm not recommending the place. Neither the bed nor the breakfast was anything to write home about. But the dogs liked taking a road trip
and the inn did have a big fenced-in area for them to play
and they got to go offsite to the Vermont Country Store
and share the humans' bed, which they don't get to do at home.
So, all in all, despite the rainy weather, it was a nice little getaway.