Amtrak Cascades & The Empire Builder

Red road sign: "Warning: vultures may cause damage to vehicles."

This photo has nothing to do with this particular trip — it was taken on New Year’s Day at Lake Monroe, IN — but I couldn’t not share it.

My gift to myself for surviving December and January was to take the Empire Builder back home from Portland.

January was a crazy month: I taught workshops in Michigan and New Jersey. While in Michigan, I was rear-ended at a stop light during a hard snow, and my car had to be towed. (It’s fine now.) Then I flew to Portland to speak at Clicker Expo, a training and behavior conference (and one of my favorite times of year). There my brand-new computer decided to overturn its discouragingly predictable existence by freezing up and dying during my presentation. Twice.

So I was glad I’d planned ahead and booked the Empire Builder home. The Empire Builder is Amtrak’s premier passenger line, a run all the way to Chicago. I had a sleeping compartment, one of the small roomettes. Continue reading

The Proposed USFS Photo Ban?!

Ansel Adams landscapeIt’s about to become enforced policy: it’s illegal to take photos in national parks and on federal lands without a $1500 permit. The fine for taking unauthorized pics will be $1000/photo. Even in the /cough/ Ansel Adams Wilderness area.

USFS says it’s to protect the forests. Sure, our parks have been under a lot of stress — illegal logging, water pollution, drifting air pollution, human-started fires have all taken a high toll. You know what’s not damaging parks? Digital and film recordings. Photography doesn’t ACTUALLY steal the soul, you know. Continue reading

The Amazing Lily Library

I mentioned my visit to the Lilly Library in conjunction with the From Gillette to Brett Sherlock Holmes conference, and how amazing it was. Today I’ll tell you exactly why it was amazing.

First, a bit on the Lilly Library itself. Lilly Pharmaceuticals is of course a household name (you’ve heard of Prozac, right? Or Cialis?), and the Lillys have traditionally been generous. Josiah K. Lilly was a collector of stamps, coins, rare books, and more. In the late 1950s he donated more than 20,000 books and 17,000 manuscripts to the university, which became the foundation for what is now a major rare book and manuscript library.

Inverted Jenny

Inverted Jenny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I took notes because my brain couldn’t retain all the fascinating facts being explained. J.K. Lilly’s stamp collection was so large and so significant, at 77,000 pieces, that since its breaking up and sale, there’s not a major collection in the world which does not contain Lilly stamps. To give you an idea of the caliber of the collection… You’ve probably heard of the Inverted Jenny, the 1918 stamp on which the plane was printed upside down? Only 100 of these erroneous stamps were recovered and they are among the most prized. Mr. Lilly had a corner block of four. Continue reading

Sherlock Holmes: Books, Basil, Benedict

Arthur Conan Doyle Español: Arthur Conan Doyle...

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This weekend I attended a nerdy conference. (What? I like nerdy conferences. I like nerdy stuff. I even like documentaries — the old informative kind, not the useless new History Channel kind.) This was a Sherlock Holmes conference, From Gillette to Brett: Basil, Benedict, and Beyond, focusing specifically on film, television, and radio adaptations of the Holmes canon.

But it wasn’t all just sitting around and listening to lectures, though of course we had those.
Continue reading

Ask the Author and S’Mores

The water was a lot of dead algae and also a thick pancake batter-like sludgy foam. Yech.

The water was a lot of dead algae and also (not pictured) a thick pancake batter-like sludgy foam. Yech.

So, I missed the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold conference last weekend, and I feel pretty bad about that. I’ve been to the Colorado Gold only once, last year, but I really enjoyed the people I met there and the conference sessions themselves.

We should maybe rethink some of our environmental stewardship choices.

Dead fish everywhere. We should maybe rethink some of our environmental stewardship choices.

But I did get to spend a weekend at another (non-writing) event with friends, being eaten by mosquitos beside the highly questionable waters of Maumee Bay and Lake Erie, so that was some consolation. The tap water was officially safe again, but the lake water, not so much. I’ll let you know if the pollution-affected mutant mosquito bites turn out to have imbued me with superpowers. We can always hope. Continue reading

The TASTE of Montgomery County, a tasty fundraiser

Every year the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum hosts this fundraiser designed especially for people who like to eat. Like me. This was only my second year to attend, but wow, I wished I’d brought a couple of extra stomachs.

The TASTE features a lineup of nearly 20 local restaurants and caterers bringing their A-game to the study grounds. For very reasonable prices, you can buy little (and not so little) samples of fabulous foods. And by “reasonable,” I mean nothing costs more than $4, lots of items are $1, and many of those big-ticket items could be meals in themselves, if you didn’t need to save room to sample everything else. Continue reading

A FAE Fried Pork Tenderloin

the sign of the Steer-In restaurant, featuring a horned steer in a convertible

The Steer-In, east Indianapolis

So I didn’t get to have any special-occasion mead or chocolate or anything for the release of Fae two days ago, so when I was invited to lunch yesterday I wanted it to be slightly celebratory. My friend Emi hadn’t had a traditional Hoosier fried pork tenderloin sandwich as mentioned in the story, and Mark and Alena were willing, so we all headed to the Steer-In.

I’d been to the Steer-In only once, but it is of a type quite common in Indiana, and it’s a local classic. It’s often voted to the top of pork tenderloin lists, so it seemed a good choice. And for those who haven’t been to a traditional Indiana drive-in (many of which no longer serve to the car, or never did, but are still known as drive-ins), here’s a typical specimen. Continue reading

The Angels of West Baden

Inside the atrium at the West Baden Springs Hotel.

Inside the atrium at the West Baden Springs Hotel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may not have heard of the West Baden hotel, which is a shame. It was built in the town of West Baden Springs, near the better-known today French Lick, and was a luxury hotel to offer the wealthy leisure and access to the natural phenomena of the area — mineral springs considered medicinal.

Today’s travelogue is a bit different, since while I’ve visited West Baden, this isn’t that trip. It’s just the necessary backdrop. Continue reading

Where Do Plot Ideas Come From?

There’s a joke among fiction writers about people who offer, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a book. You write it and then we’ll split the profits.”

There are a few problems with this, but one of the most obvious is that the idea is the easiest bit. It’s the writing that actually takes time. Ideas are everywhere.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a walk and look for plot ideas. How about last week’s Country Living Fair in Columbus, Ohio? Continue reading