Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Our Big, Fat Cross-Country Driving Adventure

Well, it's almost here. If the movers get the van loaded in time, we hope to take off on our big, fat cross-country driving adventure from Minneapolis to Carmel on Friday afternoon. I'm excited, but nervous. I've never been a fan of long road trips, and this one is loooong. More than two thousand miles, according to Google maps. Thirty-one hours on the road. I've never done anything like this. The weather forecast looks good, so I'm hoping for an adventure, not an ordeal. OG drove across the American West several times with his parents as a child, but I've never driven farther than Denver, and that was decades ago. 

Because we're both planners by nature, we spent quite a bit of time considering the details of the trip. Initially, OG had planned to make the drive in four days. That idea faded fast as soon as we figured out how many hours we'd have to spend in the car each day. Even taking turns, we're way too old to drive ten or twelve hours at a stretch. OG is usually trashed after seven or eight. Throw in the fact that neither of us sleeps well in motels, and a four-day trip was out of the question. Five days will allow us several days of only five or six hours on the road. With luck, we should be able to handle that.

If we're able to get away Friday afternoon, we hope to spend the first night in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I've never been to South Dakota, but I'm not expecting much in the way of scenery that first day. The second day is another story. Saturday, we plan to drive to Rapid City. Since I've never seen the Badlands, the Black Hills, or Mount Rushmore, I'm stoked. It's the only part of the trip I'm actually looking forward to. Sunday is Easter, so I'm not sure what will be open, but I hope we can see Mount Rushmore before we head southwest through the mountains to Laramie, Wyoming. Monday, we'll drive to Salt Lake City. Tuesday, on to Reno. Then Wednesday, home to Carmel.

I'm dreading spending that much time sitting in a car, but perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised. I know lots of people take trips like this for fun. I've flown over the western half of the country many times, but I've never seen it from the ground. I'm expecting vast, empty expanses. That's certainly what it looks like from the air. I hope to find a stark beauty in the landscape instead of endless miles of boredom. Soon, I'll find out.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has made this trip, or even part of it. What was it like? What did you enjoy? Are there any places you would recommend we stop?

If I can, I'll report in from the road. Otherwise, expect a full accounting once we've arrived and settled in. Wish us luck!

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Day Outside Time

Today was a day outside time, truly perfect. The kind of day that renews your faith in everything.

First, I was able to go back to sleep after the beep, beep, beep of the garbage trucks backing up at 6:00 a.m. I've managed to fall asleep immediately and sleep 6-7 hours each night for the past week. That, in and of itself, is a miracle.

The day dawned with streaky low clouds blanketing the sky, heralding a blustery, overcast spring day, but by the time I finished on the treadmill, every cloud had vanished. The air was cool, the sun's rays warm. Perfection.

I drove five miles out into Carmel Valley to take some things to the new house, and it got even better. I stood on the deck with my face turned to the sun like a morning glory, absorbing the view of the mountains, and listened. It's so quiet in the valley that every individual sound has its own distinct presence. Today, I heard the very distant hum of some type of machine. It could have been a leaf blower or a chain saw; it was so far away I couldn't tell. The sound was just enough to remind me I wasn't the only human on earth. Otherwise, the silence was only broken by an occasional bird call and the crow of the rooster who lives somewhere in the distance down the valley.

When I left the house, I couldn't bear to go anywhere inside, so I drove to the garden center at the bottom of our hill. It will be months before I can begin planting my garden at the new house, but I was looking for inspiration. I found it. Everything I've dreamed of planting--roses, rosemary,   more types of lavender than I've ever seen, sages, orange and lemon trees, ceonothus; even the exotic kangaroo paws and bottlebrush from Australia. I was in heaven.

When I got home, I ate lunch on the patio, sunning myself like a lizard. It was wonderful, although we're going to have to get a patio umbrella or I'm going to have to start wearing a hat. Even with sunglasses, it's so bright I can barely see. Also, coming from Minnesota, I'm just not used to being able to be out in the sun this much. I have to start considering my skin.

After lunch, I drove into the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, parked at the end of Scenic Avenue, and walked the length of the beach and back. A brisk off-shore breeze chilled my cheeks, and the wide, white beach and rolling breakers were postcard-perfect. On top of that, I had the place nearly to myself.

When I got home, I still didn't want to stay inside, so I walked up to my favorite independent coffee shop. They make a mocha chai latte so good that my daughter dreams of it back in Chicago. Chai in hand, I stopped at the chocolatier next door and bought the ultimate indulgence--a box of tiny truffles, all for me. I hope I have the willpower to make them last through next week.

On my way back, I passed a big orange car carrier delivering someone's new red Ferrari--a sobering reminder of the price of paradise. Many of the people who live here are indeed very wealthy. But as I continued on to our modest condo complex, largely inhabited by retirees and regular working people, I realized money isn't the essence of Carmel. It isn't about Ferraris and mansions. It's about the breathtaking beauty of the natural surroundings. It simply feeds the soul.

Today reminded me why this is my inevitable place.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Designing Book Covers for a Series - My Second Portfolio Project

I've now completed all three covers for my friend, Jannine Gallant's, independently published novella series, Secrets of Ravenswood. The second book in the series, She'll Never Rest, is scheduled to come out the first of April, so I thought I'd give you a sneak peak and talk about some of the things I learned working on this, my second, book cover design.

Here's the cover for She'll Never Rest. 

For comparison, here's the cover for We'll Never Tell, the first book in the series.

Because this series is set in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we knew we wanted a forest background for each cover. However, She'll Never Rest also features an old graveyard, takes place around Halloween, and has a ghost-story twist, so we were able to incorporate that into the background. The cover also features a couple in approximately the same proportion as the first and uses the same font and color scheme for the text. 

That part should have been the easiest but actually turned out to be quite tricky. Because I've been bouncing between houses in California and Minnesota for the past three months, I did the covers on two separate computers. Those of you who have used Photoshop will understand that means I saved the images with the layers in two separate places with no access to each other. That made matching the fonts and colors much more difficult than it should have been.

Lesson #1: If you're working on a series, WRITE ALL THE SPECIFICATIONS DOWN.

I also had trouble with the first couple we chose because I failed to consider every aspect of the image.

Lesson #2: Many model shots are artistically cut off at the top or sides. This looks great but does not allow the cover artist enough freedom to place the image where it needs to go. If the models' heads or arms are cut off, those sides need to go up against an edge, and that does not always work, especially in a series where continuity is key. WHEN USING IMAGES WITH PEOPLE, CHOOSE COMPLETE BODY SHOTS WHENEVER POSSIBLE. This allows the cover designer to crop them appropriately.

Fortunately, I also learned some new techniques, like how to draw on the image in color and  use the blur function. Both came in very handy when touching up the edges of the model's hair. Hair is notoriously difficult to select, cut, and paste onto another image.

In another month or so, I'll share the cover for the final book in the series, He'll Never Know, and you can take a look at all three together. Working on these covers has been a great experience, and Jannine has been a fantastic first client!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Power of Being Alone

When was the last time you were alone, really alone, when your days were completely yours to fill? If you're like most of us, you probably can't remember.

I'm in Carmel and on my own for nearly two weeks for the first time in thirty years. I came out to take care of as many details as possible in advance of our move while OG stays in Minnesota to finish up a few projects and supervise the estate sale ladies who are charged with selling everything we're not bringing with us. I'll fly back just in time for the packing and loading before we set out on our big cross country drive.

Being alone is strange, but wonderful in its own way. Yesterday, I took care of a little business--sorted the accumulated mail, made some calls, arranged to meet the landscapers. But I also watched the sunrise gild the mountains while I ate breakfast. No newspaper, no computer, no TV. Just me and the black cows on the hillside across the river. When I came upstairs to my office, I watched the hills on the north side of the valley come to life as the sun streaked across them. I could never do that any place else.

I also worked in my little garden at our condo and have the aches and pains today to prove it. The first major weeding session of the season always reminds me how little time I normally spend on my hands and knees grubbing in the dirt. But it was glorious. This close to the sea the air is soft in a way you just don't find deep in the Midwest. Around the patio, my lavender and brilliant yellow daisies are in full bloom, and in the tiny front gated garden, I have soft pink camellias and hellebores and a couple of bright red primroses. Since we'll be living here for a few months while the new house is being remodeled, I plan to make the most of it and go to the garden center this afternoon to buy more flowers. 

Last night I started reading Natalie Goldberg's masterpiece, Writing Down the Bones, for the first time, and a remarkable sense of peace enveloped me. I could feel my breathing  slow and my muscles relax. I've slept seven hours for two nights in a row. I know I'll feel lonely and miss OG well before my time alone here is done, but I need this time--probably more than I ever imagined--to take a break from the whirlwind that has been my life for the past few months. I need to slow down, an almost impossible task for me. I'm determined to make the most of these days so I can tackle the challenges ahead with a refreshed body and mind. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Week of "Lasts"

Our time in Minnesota is winding down. We've reached the point where many things we do are for the last time, and I have mixed feelings. Last Saturday I had my hair done for the last time by my stylist of 16+ years. Nolan is an absolute dear and knows how to get my hair the perfect color every time. If you've ever had a bad color job, you can appreciate the value of his talent. The right hair color is truly priceless. Over the years, he has also listened to the ups and downs of my life and was one of the first people to read my first book when it came out. (His comment was that my hero was "extremely patient".) I'll miss Nolan, but our time together was limited. He's well into his seventies and finally admitted he's considering retirement. I'll never understand how anyone can do a job requiring you to be on your feet several hours a day for fifty years, but he has always been cheerful and uncomplaining. As a parting gift, he wrote down the formula for my haircolor and gave me earnest instructions to give my new stylist in California. 

It's funny how men are different. OG has been going to the same barber for more than 20 years and hasn't even mentioned our move. He says he'll tell Steve on his next (and last) visit, two days before we leave. OG jokingly claims he doesn't want to give the barber and excuse to give him a bad haircut, but I know it will be hard for him to say goodbye.

Barring any emergencies, we've also seen our beloved dentist for the last time. Dr. Branham is one of the sweetest men I know. He taught our needle-phobic daughter not to fear going to the dentist. He's gentle, highly skilled, and never tries to talk his patients into unnecessary procedures regardless of their profit to him. He's also a passionate collector of vinyl records. OG had a sizeable collection that he decided not to move, so Dr. Branham came over and took all six boxes. We know they're going to a good home.

Saturday was my last meeting with my RWA chapter, Midwest Fiction Writers. I'm continuing as a long-distance member, but I don't know when I'll see any of these remarkable women again--perhaps at a future National convention. For many years we've grown as writers together, cheering each other's successes and commiserating with each setback. I'll miss them, but thanks to modern technology, we're never farther than a click apart.

That really only leaves the office. I sold my car today to a former co-worker, a nice young man who is looking forward to enjoying the bells and whistles of my 10-year-old, shockingly low mileage Infiniti. It was the first time I've seen anyone from work since I left more than two months ago. I wondered how it would feel, and it was fine--no twinges of discomfort at all. I'm meeting three friends from the office for lunch today, and I'm really looking forward to it. I take that as a sign of how much I've healed.

It's time to go. I'm ready.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Value of Lists

In the last week my life has become all about lists. 

If you've been following this blog, you know OG and I are moving to Carmel, California soon. To our immense surprise, our Minnesota house sold before officially going on the market, but the closing date of April 15th seemed doable. I thought we'd given ourselves enough time to manage all the details until the ladies who will be running our estate/moving sale told me they need two weeks to set up, price, and advertise. Then they need another week to hold the sale and clean up before the new owners take possession. Somehow, I'd completely failed to consider all that. Now we have to be out of the house and on our way by the end of March.


Our first task was to contact the movers. Next, we stormed through the house separating everything we plan to take from everything going in the sale. That required a daunting number of decisions in a very short time, but we got it done. In order to help segregate the items, we also packed numerous cartons of books and miscellaneous items, leaving the breakables for the packers.

Whew! Now I can take a breath and move on to my list-making. I used the checklist provided by the moving company as a basis for my "to-do in Minnesota" list, and I've started checking things off. In the next few days, I also have to put together a "to-do in California" list. Since our moving time frame has been shortened so drastically, I'll be going out to Carmel alone for a couple of weeks to get things ready while OG stays in Minnesota managing things on this end. One of my tasks is to meet with the contractor who will be handling our massive remodeling project on the new house, so that will require an additional list. I'll then fly home just in time to supervise the packing and the loading of the truck before we set off on a five-day driving adventure across the American West. (More on that to follow.)

I make lists because I have to, and it's not simply a function of advancing age. Lists have always comforted me. As a writer I may spend my time wrapped up in words, but I'm largely a visual creature. I like/need to see jobs spelled out, and I take satisfaction from every item I'm able to cross off a list. Hopefully, with the help of my lists, we'll arrive safely at our destination with everything we intended to bring, including our sanity, intact.

What about you? Do you try to juggle everything in your brain, or are you a list-maker, too?