Tips for Writers: What to do When Your Camel Does THIS

Let’s set the scene. I’m on a press trip in Israel, at a Bedouin camp, waiting my turn to ride a camel, when the so-called “ship of the desert” in front of me does THIS.

He kneels unexpectedly, and my friends start to slide off his back. For a second everybody panics (except the Bedouin camel owner, who already got paid for this).

Contrary to what many aspiring writers think, this is typical of the freelance writing life. Yes, sometimes we get to go on fantastic press trips. We get paid–can you believe it?– for seeing another part of the world, meeting new people, and experiencing new things. Hey, we know how lucky we are.

But what others don’t know is how often a camel takes a knee.

One of my big camels–that is, one of my best clients–is about to go down, and that means my income is slipping, just like my buddies on the press trip. I’m going to have to do what I’ve done many times before: I’ve gotta round up some new camels.

New writers don’t always realize that freelancing is as much about marketing as about writing. You constantly have to look for new outlets for your work. Putting all your eggs in one basket, no matter how big, is dangerous if things change. And believe me, they will. Editors leave. Publications fold. Budgets get cut and so do contractors and freelancers.

Right now, I’m searching the horizon for new opportunities. But it’s okay. I’ve had to do this before and I’m sure I’ll have to do it again. I’m not panicking. (Much.)

Whatever you’re doing–writing, parenting, selling shoes or painting houses–don’t despair when your camel goes down. Just look for the next oasis. They’re always out there, and that’s where you’ll find the camels.

 

 

Cruising with the Carnival Horizon

Queen Latifah

Well…okay. I didn’t really sail on the new Carnival Cruise ship, Horizon, so the title of this post isn’t quite right.

But I was invited to its official naming ceremony in New York, which was a blast. At a press conference prior to boarding, we journalists and photographers got to meet the Queen herself, Queen Latifah, who is partnering with Carnival Cruise Lines to support St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

What a worthy cause! The families of children fighting cancer and other childhood diseases never receive a bill from St. Jude’s–not for treatments, housing or food. It’s all provided free to them.

(If you’re moved to donate, click here. St. Jude’s has increased the survival rate among kids with cancer from 20%, when the research hospital was founded, to 80%. Our donations can push that number even higher.)

I’ll post more about the amazing Carnival Horizon naming ceremony soon, and while we stayed in port this time, I’m ready to set sail the next time I board a Carnival cruise ship.

 

Black Petunias: Black Magic For Your Garden

 

I know, I know. This petunia doesn’t look black at all in the photo. But I promise–when you see it in person, it looks like black velvet.

 

You know what they say about a little black dress. Every woman needs one in her closet.  But black flowers in your garden? Aren’t black blooms usually dead blooms?

Well, no. I recently found a basket of gorgeous, near-black petunias at our local Home Depot, and they were so velvety and unusual, I just had to bring them home. But they aren’t completely black. It’s hard to find truly black plants, and many are just very deep, dark shades of purple, purple-red, or blue.

I’m telling you, so when you look at the pictures of my petunias, you won’t wonder what I’m talking about. That’s because my “black” petunias, when photographed in the sunlight, look purple. But when the light is right, they’re dusky and mysterious and beautifully, velvet-black. Each bloom has a pale yellow star in its throat.

I  don’t know the variety name, or I’d share it.  It’s possible that mine are ‘Pinstripe’ petunias; click here to see for yourself.  I don’t think I have ‘Phantom,’ which is sold by other seed sellers and garden centers, because the yellow markings look too wide.  But I bet if you look around, you can find something similar.

If a dip into the world of inky plants makes you yearn for more, check out a book called Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden, by Paul Bonine (Timber Press). The author covers black pansies, lilies, agapanthus, hollyhocks (like the ‘Black Watchman’ heirloom hollyhocks in my gardening book), and more, all of which might persuade you that black is the new green.

I’m not ready to convert my garden, with its springlike palette of pale blues, yellows, pinks, and rose-red, to all-black, but it’s fun to try something really different–and you know how we gardeners are. We always want someone to visit and ask, “Where did you get that?”

Update: Thanks to Gary, at PlantCareToday.com, who wrote to tell me that King George III sent Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph, to explore Argentina. While he was there, he collected samples that were used later to confirm that petunias and tobacco are related. Learn more about petunia care here.

 

Irresistible Shed Makeovers

artist shed, courtesy of Lowe's

Courtesy of Lowe’s

Today I’m sharing a post I wrote for HGTV.com about transforming an ordinary garden shed into –well, whatever you like. Turn it into a she-shed, a yoga studio, a place to paint or just a personal escape. Click here the to explore all the possibilities.

Woolly: A Book Review

Occasionally, publishers send me complimentary copies of books to review, or I’m approved for a title I’ve requested on Netgalley.com, like Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures (Simon and Schuster) I’ve got to admit: I thought this was a novel after I read the first few pages. Author Ben Mezrich is a really engaging storyteller, and this non-fiction book has a Jurassic Park quality that might make you think it’s all made up. But surprisingly, it’s not, and the way Mezrich writes about real-life scientists and their research work makes for a terrific read. Highly recommended, even if you’re not a woolly mammoth fan.

Hydrangeas!

My hydrangeas have really exploded with colorful blooms this year. It’s no thanks to me, really. I suspect the recent rains helped. Take a look!

 

 

 

 

 

The Nebraska Sandhills: Tanking

As a travel writer (I work for the Travel Channel), I get to take some pretty cool trips now and then. Recently I visited the Sandhills of central Nebraska, where we did something you can’t do in most places: we went “tankin'”.  That’s Nebraska-speak for floating down the river in a tank once used to feed and water cattle.  (Yes, it floats just fine!)

 

 

 

This photo is pre-launch. Once we climbed into the tank, we sat on benches inside, and had room for a cooler packed with sandwiches, fruit and cookies. A picnic on the Middle Loup River = unbeatable summer fun.

The water’s not very deep here; maybe 4 feet in spots. It was shallow enough that one of us to get out and give us a shove when we got stuck on a sandbar. The tanks drift with the current, so paddling is optional.

The sun coming through the cottonwood trees on the bank was glorious. If we had had more time, we could’ve pulled our tanks onto the shore and picnicked there. Floating was so peaceful and calming. Nothing but the sounds of songbirds and the gurgle and bubble of the water.

See the sand on the bank? That’s why this region is known as the Sandhills. There’s very little topsoil to support trees, but the sandy hills, which cover about 1/3 of the entire state, are home to mixed prairie grasses.

More to come in part 2!

The Rush of the Mush

I’m a bit late posting pix from my trip to The Resort at Paws Up, in Greenough, Montana. But since it’s May, and it’s supposed to hit 87 degrees today, this is a good time to look at some ice and snow, right?

I was in Montana to write about dog sledding for Roam, the Travel Channel blog. This was my first ride–and I hope it won’t be my last.

Resort at Paws Up

Morning at the Resort at Paws Up. Just another day in a wintery paradise.

 

 

I drove up to find see the dogs had arrived in their own “car.” Yes, those cut-outs are customized for their ears.

 

 

Hannah, my guide, let me peer into her truck to see the dogs’ harnesses and other gear. Dogs peered back at me.

 

Hannah could barely restrain the dogs, once they were hitched to the sled. It’s true–they’re born to run.

 

The dogs stopped to scoop up snow when they were thirsty. In case you’re wondering, bathroom breaks  are taken on the go.

 

At the end of the trail, Hannah and a few pups were happy to pose for pictures. This was a fantastic experience–thank you, Paws Up!

 

 

Dorothy M. Place and The Heart to Kill

I have a guest blog post to share with you today, from author Dorothy M. Place. Her new book, The Heart to Kill, was released late last year. Be sure to read the excerpt at the bottom of this page.

NEW:

As of June 30, 2017, SFA Press is offering a thirty percent discount on the novel, THE HEART TO KILL, by Dorothy M. Place. This story, about a horrible crime and an enduring friendship, was awarded gold by the Literary Titan book reviewers and Sarah, the protagonist, was nominated as one of the five best characters (2016) reviewed by “My Train of Thoughts.” To read about the book, how it came to be written and to take a virtual tour of Eight Mile Junction, the town in which the story takes place, please visit the author’s website, www.dorothymplace.com.

To order the book and obtain the discount, visit  http://www.tamupress.com/product/Heart-to-Kill,8673.aspx and enter the code 3B in the appropriate box.

 

The Heart to Kill, by Dorothy Place

 

“Dorothy M. Place lives and works in Davis, California. Since submitting her first short story in 2008, she has had eleven stories accepted for publication in literary journals; three have been awarded prizes and one, a fellowship. Her debut, literary fiction novel, The Heart to Kill, was published by SFA Press (2016). A collection of fifteen short stories is being prepared for marketing to agents/publishers this spring. Her second novel, The Search for Yetta, is in process.

“The Heart to Kill is a story of a horrible crime, an enduring friendship, and personal illumination. Sarah Wasser, a student at Northwestern University Law School, returns to her apartment one evening to find two telephone messages. The first is that she has not been chosen for a coveted internship for which her father has arranged an interview; the second is that Sarah’s best friend in high school, JoBeth Ruland, has murdered her two children.

“To mislead her father about her failure to obtain the internship, Sarah secures a position on JoBeth’s defense team and, against her father’s wishes, returns to her family home in Eight Mile Junction, South Carolina. She sets out to become a vital member of her friend’s team and regain favor with her father, only to find that she is not well-prepared for working in a community rife with chauvinism, malice, duplicity, and betrayal. Her efforts are met with the benevolent amusement of the senior law partner, the resentment of the expert trial attorney, the rush to judgement by the folks of Eight Mile Junction, and the discovery of the role of several individuals in the degradation of JoBeth. The Hungry Monster Book Reviews awarded The Heart to Kill its gold award (February 2017).

“The story was influenced by Euripides’ play, Medea (a barbarian princess of Colchis), who gave up everything to help Jason, who married her, find the Golden Fleece. When they return to Greece with the prize, Jason leaves Medea for a Grecian princess. In revenge, she murders their two sons and his intended bride. That play, as well as the stories of several women who murdered their children, inspired Sarah’s journey. The book’s title comes directly from Euripides, where he has the Greek chorus ask, ‘How does she have the heart to kill her flesh and blood?’”

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:

“She looked to the sky, searching for the moon. Now a small sliver, it seemed to be hanging precariously from the branch of a nearby tree, like an ornament, belonging more to the tree than the sky. Then, after taking a few steps back, Sarah watched the moon fall off the branch and return to its proper place among the evening stars. Funny thing about perspective, how a small change in one direction can dramatically affect everything else.” – The Heart to Kill, by Dorothy M. Place.

South Dakota’s Buffalo Roundup

baby bison and mother

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

You’d think you’re in a Western movie. Cowboys and cowgirls crack whips in the air, dust swirls, horses whinny–and then you hear it: the thunder of hooves coming out of the Black Hills.

Custer State Park bison roundup

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Put the annual Bison Roundup, held in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, on your bucket list. I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see it while on a press tour. I rode, standing up, with other writers and photographers, in the back of a pick-up truck as we bounced across the grasslands, following the wranglers. (We held onto to safety rails as we hit stumps and prairie dog holes, or there might have been some headlines about trampled journalists.)

South Dakota Bison roundup

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Riding alongside the bison–and these are American bison, although most of us call them buffalo –is a don’t-miss experience. Cowboys and cowgirls have to prove their skills to ride in this yearly event, when 1,300 of these massive animals are pushed into corrals to be counted and vaccinated. First year babies, or calves, are branded.

Bison

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Custer is a 71,000-acre park, but the land can only support a set number of bison, so some are auctioned off. The rest are set free to roam the park again.

Cowboy at bison roundup

The 2017 roundup is scheduled for Sept. 29, and it typically draws a crowd of 20,000 or more. If you go, take a chair or blanket to spread on the ground, so you can watch from the hillside. It’s free and open to the public, but you can buy a pancake breakfast while you wait for the action to start, or hang around afterwards for a bison BBQ lunch, if you’re hungry. Bring your binoculars, video recorder, and camera, because these are memories worth keeping.

bison