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Welcome to the website of Mindy Klasky, USA Today bestselling author of more than two dozen romance and fantasy novels!  Look around, read some blog posts, and click on other pages for information about Mindy and her books. Mindy updates her blog every few days — but she posts much more regularly on Facebook and Twitter. She’d love for you to join in the conversation, so don’t be shy!

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Another RWA Nationals Bites the Dust

I spent the majority of last week at the Romance Writers of America annual meeting, in New York City. When it came time to register for the conference, I almost chose not to go–I don’t have any ongoing traditional contracts right now, and I parted ways with my agent earlier this year, so there weren’t those all-important dinners, lunches, and other meetings to attend. As I dithered about whether or not to attend, the slots filled up at the massive book-signing that launches the convention, so I couldn’t give away my books in the service of literacy charities. Plus, the conference was at the Marriott Marquis, in the middle of Times Square, which is so crowded and loud and crowded and bright and crowded and under construction and crowded and…

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(That’s not my picture of Times Square; it belongs to one of the jillions of tour bus companies that ply their trade in the space. I didn’t stop to take pictures–see above for the the explanation of chaos!)

But one of the workshops I suggested for the conference–The Midlist Guide to Making Six Figures in Indie Publishing–was accepted, so I had a chance to sit on a panel with smart, funny, successful women like Deanna Chase, Angie Fox, Eliza Knight, and Kathryn LeVeque.

And I scheduled meetings with some of my favorite authors, to find out how they’re doing, and to talk about possible joint projects (in some cases) and perspectives on some of my solo projects. And I had a chance to meet my new cover designer in person. And I saw my former Harlequin editor, who is now a freelancer offering her decades of experience to clients. (Hi, Pamela Aares! And Deborah Blake! And Kristan Higgins! And Mary-Theresa Hussey! And Kim Killion!)

And I was able to schedule a meeting with my editor and publicist at Open Road, the publisher who currently has my Glasswrights Series–all in service to an exciting announcement I can share with you in the next month or so.

And one of my Book View Cafe compatriots, Sarah Zettel, was looking for a roommate. Sarah was one of my beta readers for the Diamond Brides Series. She’s a life-long fan of baseball, so she was able to comment on all aspects of the game plus she wasn’t afraid to comment on details in love scenes. I already knew we had a ton in common, and I was looking forward to discussing all sorts of career issues with her.

And so, I arrived in New York City a week ago. I spent Tuesday as a civilian, not a writer. Sarah and I went to see The Weir, at the Irish Repertory Theatre, a play about the power of stories and storytelling and truth and fiction–a perfect launch for the convention.

Conference began on Wednesday, with all those planned encounters I mentioned above. Plus, I ran into friends from all over the country (especially a number of folks in Washington Romance Writers and Maryland Romance Writers, who I just don’t get to see often enough here at home.) I listened to horrific stories of traditional publishing messing up writing careers. And I heard amazing tales of publishers who came through in major, unexpected ways. I developed ideas for new writing projects, both solo work and collaborative efforts. I talked, talked, talked.  And I ate, ate, ate.

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Our group at Isle of Capri restaurant, before the table was filled with amazing pastas, meats, desserts, etc.  (That’s Angelina Lopez, Amy DeLuca, Me, Denny Bryce, Olivia Kalb, and Erika Kelly.)

On my last day in New York, my roommate had an early flight, so she left before my eyes were fully open. After I staggered to wakefulness, I walked up to the Bouchon Bakery, where I indulged in a cheddar bacon scone and a chocolate macaron. (What? You don’t do dessert-for-breakfast?) Then, I returned to the room and finished packing.

My last task was to slip $5 into an envelope left on the desk for that purpose–for tipping the maid who had served us so well each day of our stay. I’d left $5 each morning, and Sandra J had been a fantastic ambassador for the hotel, greeting me cheerfully in the hallway every time I saw her. On this last day, I opened the envelope and found $20–left by my roommate. Neither she nor I had ever discussed the matter, but we both believed in tipping such hard workers who get paid so little. Just another sign that Sarah was the right roommate for me!

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Now, I’m back at home, with dozens of new ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. My career-management to-do list has a number of new entries.

Yes, it takes time and effort and money (so much money!) to travel to RWA Nationals. But this year, it was worth it!

Pardon me, while I get back to work…

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My Not-To-Be-Read List

I have a to-be-read list that stretches on for about a mile.  (And I’m about to add to it, as I’m typing this post from an Amtrak train that is carrying me to Romance Writers of America’s annual meeting, where free books will be in abundance…) Of course, the mere fact that I have a TBR list implies that there are vast hordes of books on my not-to-be-read list. But I don’t think about the majority of those books.

Today, I’m thinking about one book in particular. The book that has received more press than any other single novel this year. The book that blew away previous pre-order records at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The book that sold 1.1 million copies in its first week on the market. The book that has resulted in much controversy, including a state investigation into the welfare of the author.

Of course, I’m talking about Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

To Kill a Mockingbird and I are old friends. I first met Lee’s novel in an odd library edition–an orange, hard-cover binding with a relatively modern image.

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(You’ll have to imagine the orange background; the image gods were fortunate and did not turn up a copy!)

I read the book relatively late, in high school, where I participated on the speech team, specializing in Extemporaneous Prose. My junior year, Mockingbird was the book selected for competition. At each tournament, we competitors would draw a slip of paper that contained a 30-page section of the book. We had 15 minutes to prepare our presentation, then we had five minutes to present an edited dramatic presentation of those 30 pages.

I read Mockingbird dozens of times while preparing for competition, and I drew slips of paper a couple of dozen times during the year. I learned to present Scout’s voice, and Atticus’s, and all the supporting characters. I went to State in competition, where I placed in the top three competitors in my category.

Since high school, I’ve re-read Mockingbird a couple of times. I’m always impressed by the language, by the evocation of a time and a place. I’ve followed the controversies through the years. (Did Truman Capote really write the book? Why is Harper Lee such a recluse? Why hasn’t Harper Lee written anything else?)

And then, as we all know, we learned that Lee did write something else.

Or maybe not. From the reports I’ve read, it seems as if Lee wrote earlier drafts of Mockingbird. She developed her characters and her theme. She created a plot. She revised her work, likely several times. She shifted her story from a “coming home” story to a “growing up” story. Now, that first version–the “coming home” story, Go Set a Watchman–is being marketed as a separate novel.

It’s impossible for any outsider to know the truth behind Mockingbird and Watchman. Lee may know, if she’s still compos mentis. Her attorney, who brought Watchman to light, knows. A handful of other people may know parts of the story.

But I have chosen to accept this version of the narrative: Lee locked away Watchman, never intending it to be published. It was a draft, a version of a story that did not reflect her ultimate vision of her characters, her plot, or her theme. Lee will never profit from the sale of Watchman; she is unable to use the vast sums of money that should be flowing to her from the sale of the book. And I will not participate in the Watchman celebration.

I fully understand that reasonable minds may differ regarding Watchman. I don’t think less of people who choose to buy the work and/or to read it. But I hope that each person who does support Watchman has thought through the implications of their choice and does so knowingly and with consideration before action.

P.S. For what it’s worth, I see the Watchman situation as different from Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth. Ellison was also a great American writer. He also wrote a single book, Invisible Man, that is widely read and generally considered a masterpiece. He also lived a relatively reclusive life, resisting society’s urging to publish more during his lifetime. After his death, he was found to have been working on another novel, which was published posthumously. But unfinished work is different, to me, from finished-and-boxed-under-the-bed work.

 

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Return of the Prodigal Writer

Well, it’s been far too long since I’ve posted here.  (Insert boring explanations, involving writing deadlines, family fun, blah, blah, blah…) But I’m back now–with news that I think you’ll find worthwhile: the fifth book in the Jane Madison Series, Joy of Witchcraft, will be published on August 4, 2015!

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I’m in absolute love with the cover of this book! And I’m sort of a sucker for the story, too :-)  Here’s the back-of-the-book blurb:

Sometimes a thunderstorm is just a thunderstorm. But not this time.

Jane Madison’s school for witches is in session, and the first order of business is an intricate Samhain ritual. Alas, in the midst of a sudden, unseasonable deluge, a classic Greek monster is released into the magic circle.  Jane succeeds in vanquishing the beast, but only with the assistance of her sworn enemy, the Coven Mother of Washington DC.

Crisis averted, Jane would be perfectly happy to plan her wedding to her astral protector, David Montrose. But how can she look at seating charts when she’s under attack by more monsters, the Coven Mother, and the highest law in the witchy land, Hecate’s Court?

All these disasters can’t be coincidence. One of Jane’s students must be a traitor. But will Jane find the turncoat before she loses everything—and everyone—she holds dear?

And, because it’s not enough to see pretty pictures and to read a few short sentences, I’ve posted the entire first chapter on my website!  You can read Chapter 1 here: http://www.mindyklasky.com/index.php/books/fun/jane-madison-series/joy-of-witchcraft/

Joy of Witchcraft will be in stores on August 4, 2015.  You can pre-order an ebook today: Amazon | Apple | Kobo | Smashwords

I very much look forward to hearing what you think about this book!  I’ve had a great time writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

But Joy hasn’t been my only Jane-related project. I have also been preparing the Author’s Preferred Editions of the first three books in the series: Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft, Sorcery and the Single Girl, and Magic and the Modern Girl.  What makes the editions “preferred”? Lots of things, including:

  • Updating of every page, to include contemporary references to real-life places, people, and things.  (No more flip-phones for Jane!)
  • Tweaking of characters to be more true to personalities in the more recent books.  (Neko, in particular, is less stereotypical and more…Neko!)
  • Modifications to make the magic consistent across all books in the series. (The education system for witches, in particular, is more uniform!)
  • Minor grammar and usage modifications.

The Author’s Preferred Editions will be rolling out over the next few weeks. They’ll replace the earlier ebooks published by Res Ipsa Press and Book View Cafe; if your vendor of ebooks allows you to update books already in your collection, then you’ll get the Author’s Preferred Editions for free.  (Alas, the Author’s Preferred Editions cannot automatically update ebooks purchased from Red Dress Ink.)

So. That’s what I’ve been doing. How about you? What’s new in your neck of the woods?

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A Lost Weekend

Wow, is it Monday already?  I feel like I’ve been living in a warped zone of time, where days mistakenly drop away from my calendar, without explanation or warning.

In other words, I’ve had a cold for the past week.

We spent Presidents Day weekend up at Gifford Pinchot State Park in Pennsylvania, huddling inside a modern cabin as the temperatures dipped into the single digits.  (One morning, we woke up to the textbook definition of a “dusting” of snow — about half an inch that covered all the existing snowbanks and ice slicks with a beautiful, pristine layer of white.)  The time was perfect for catching up on reading, and for being disconnected from the online world.  (Although there’s cell phone connectivity, there’s no wifi in the park.)  Alas, it was too cold and too icy to do much hiking, even on the very easy paths.  More time for reading!

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We drove home last Monday, cleverly meeting the park’s required check-out time of 10:00 a.m. and arriving at our house about two hours before a snowstorm.  Those five inches proved enough to shut down the federal government (Mark’s employer) and the local schools (providers of my Tuesday-morning exercise class), so we enjoyed an additional day of vacation.  At home, of course, we also enjoyed the added attention of the local felines, each of whom staked claim to a lap and protected it with great ferocity.

And then began the loss of days.  I came down with a head cold on Monday — nothing serious, but a wonderful excuse for sleeping.  And sleeping.  And sleeping some more.  I got *some* work done (editing two chapters of JOY OF WITCHCRAFT — gotta get ready for that August release!) but mostly I drank Day-Quil and Ny-Quil, and provided a stable bed for the kitties.

Then another weekend happened.  Another weekend with another five inches or so of snow, this time followed by a nice glaze of freezing rain.

I know we’re not getting weather anything like our poor friends in New England.  But the snow and ice we’ve gotten is more than enough to complicate life here — especially when we had massive melt-off yesterday, followed by a precipitous drop in temps today.  The world outside my door is pretty much a skating rink, and it looks like it’ll stay that way for several days.

I hate ice.

I hate slipping on ice.

I live in terror of falling on ice.  (Not so much the fall.  The resulting broken bones, concussions, etc.)

Yuck.

At least I’ve been amusing myself with one thing:  Of the two cats in the house, the greatest challenge (by far) is Poppy.  She is an extremely strong-willed cat, with firm ideas about where she should be when, and what we humans should be doing to serve her.  She makes writing a challenge, because she refuses to settle on a lap (why take a nice, warm, cat-trap-blanket-covered lap, when there’s a keyboard in use so nearby?)

But when we got Poppy from the shelter, about six years ago, we decided that she’d been owned by a family of consumptives.  She *hates* when people cough.  In fact, she’ll leave food, her favorite scratching toy, her warmest lap, even a keyboard-in-use, if someone coughs.  And when one or both of her humans have colds, her sensitivities are heightened.  She’ll take her leave as soon as one of said human takes a deep breath (presumably, preparatory to coughing.)

I’m trying very hard not to use my knowledge for evil.  But if I just happen to take a deep breath and if that just happens to send the cat upstairs to the guest room, where the sun is streaming in the window, and if I just happen to be able to get more work done…

Well, that benefits everyone, right?  I’m not cruel for testing her responsiveness.  Right?  Right?

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Effortless Perfection and the Impostor Syndrome

Over the weekend, I read an article in my college alumni magazine about campus efforts to battle “effortless perfection.”  For those unfamiliar with this relatively new buzzword, “effortless perfection” is the impression that someone is handling a challenge perfectly, without any visible effort.  It’s the old ‘don’t let them see you sweat’ work ethic, where people (often women, often minorities, often people who are supposed to be grateful for the status they’ve achieved) are encouraged to hide all of the frustration, fear, and hard work that lead to stellar accomplishments. The article discussed numerous campus initiatives to debunk the myth of effortless perfection, including the creation of safe discussion groups where students could admit how hard they find the balance of their academic and social lives to be.

While I’d never heard of effortless perfection, I’ve spent decades getting to know its sibling, “impostor syndrome.”  With impostor syndrome, people who have achieved greatness fear the day when they’ll be unmasked as impostors.  Lawyers, for example, dread being revealed as people who do not automatically know the answer when a client presents a problem.

Every female lawyer I ever worked with admitted to suffering from impostor syndrome, back when I was practicing law.  (To be fair, there were some women — mostly successful senior partners — with whom I never had this conversation.  And as I sit here typing, I can’t remember ever having the impostor chat with a single male colleague.)  When we felt safe, comfortable, able to share, we all agreed that we weren’t quite sure what we were doing in our legal practice, that we were just waiting to be unveiled as impostors who had no right to pull down the salaries we did, who had no right to win a coveted seat among the partnership.

We were terrified someone would see us sweat.  We had utterly bought into the culture of effortless perfection.

Some of those impostors — many of them — went on to highly profitable careers in the law.  They made partner, or they became in-house general counsels, or judges or high-powered lobbyists.

Others of us chose other professions. I became a librarian, where one of the great joys of my professional life was to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I have many ideas about where to look.  I’ll get back to you.”  Later, I became a full-time writer, where I get to say, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll create it, right here, out of the fanciful ideas swirling through my brain.”  Both careers gave me a chance to exorcise the impostor, to truly work with less effort, less perfection expected.

And yet…

I suffer bouts of self-doubt. I wonder whether a particular manuscript will find a home in traditional publishing. I question whether my promotional plan for a novel is the best it can be. I watch fellow authors succeeding at X and Y and Z and I wonder why I even try to compete, because my books will never be as good, never be as recognized as theirs.

It’s the impostor syndrome stirring again.  And you rarely read those concerns here, or on Twitter, or on Facebook, because really, who wants to read the second-guessing of someone who is supposed to entertain.  Writing, especially writing full-time, is a dream come true. It’s a reward for years hard-worked.  It’s a joy and  a pleasure. Why would anyone show the blood, sweat, and tears to get here?

Bottom line:  I curate my contacts with the outside world. I don’t tell you every time I have a headache, or when the blues have set up residence in my head for a day or two, or when I didn’t sleep well, or any number of other things that prove my life is less than perfect.

In part, I don’t tell you those things because they’re boring — we all have headaches, and the blues, and lousy nights’ sleep some of the time.

But I also don’t tell you those things because I want you to think of me as a fun author, as a person you want to spend time with, as a person who truly enjoys her life and the stories that she tells.  Because that’s true — I do enjoy my writing life — despite the headaches, the blues, the lack of sleep.  Why make you think about transitory negative things when the overall scheme of things is positive?

So, am I perpetuating the myth of effortless perfection? Am I subjugating my impostor fears, with the possibility that I make other authors’ impostors raise their own nasty heads?

Or am I following through on the promise I make to my readers, the promise of every fiction author on some level — to entertain?

I don’t have any answers. But I’m asking myself more questions than usual these days…

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And So, 10,000 Calories Later…

As you know, Bob and Bobbette, I write full time. I set my schedule each day, determining how to accomplish the writing that must be done, balancing that with the administrative work generated by a career that consists mostly of self-publishing. I don’t have to report to a day-job; I don’t have an external boss.  (Okay, there’s a pretty forceful orange kitty, but I still control the bag of treats.)

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Given that life of relative leisure, that schedule of general luxury, why would I ever want to go on a writer’s retreat? Isn’t a retreat really a form of busman’s holiday? A way to take my work and stretch it over more days, more nights, more hours?

Well, yes and no.

Last weekend, I went on a writers’ retreat with three other writers. (There was supposed to be a fifth person at our little getaway, but alas, family crises intervened…) I was “hosting” the retreat; however, my home is too small to host so many dedicated writers. Therefore, I was responsible for feeding three other writers, from Friday evening through Sunday lunch. (I also volunteered to do pre-retreat bed-making and post-retreat laundry, but the actual physical-space hostess declined my offer.)

First, the retreat allows me to socialize with other writers. We get to trade stories — about what we’re working on, about which writers we’ve recently met in person or online, about new developments in traditional- and self-publishing, about the crazy, constantly changing business we choose to call our own. We talk when folks arrive at the retreat, and we talk at meals. We talk at impromptu mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks. We talk when we’re ready to knock off work in the middle of the night.  There’s a lot of talking, even though most of us are relatively introverted people.  (A lot of the talk involves actual meals or improvised snacks, hence the title of this blog post…)

Second, the retreat allows me to write. Yes, I have my own schedule, and I get my own writing done at my own desk in my own office in my own home. But when I’ve committed to traveling 1.5 hours away to write, when I’ve taken a weekend away from family to write, when I’ve carved out days on my calendar, protecting them from other events, to write, then I know I have to actually, you know, write. This past weekend, I generated about 25,000 new words. They aren’t perfect. I left myself some blanks that I’ll need to fill in later. I know I’ll have to add more to some scenes and take some away from others.  But I produced close to one third of a novel in three days, and I’m quite pleased with that output.

Third, the retreat allows me to think. I spent a little more than three hours in the car, driving up to and back from the retreat. Those hours work a bit like time spent in the shower or time swimming (without nearly as much wrinkled skin to contend with!) — my writer-brain is freed to work on plot snarls, on subplot structure, on the rough places where I know the novel still isn’t working. After arriving home, I knew that I needed to revisit two earlier scenes in the book, making clear their connection to the main plot, strengthening the complementary power of the subplot.

I fully expect to pay for my retreat.  (Sure, there’s the economic payout — gasoline and food. I mean the real cost.) That bossy orange kitty didn’t let me out of her sight last night. And I’m typing around her purring little body this morning.

But I’m incredibly lucky. I don’t have to “pay” my spouse for my retreat. He never makes me feel guilty for abandoning him, for walking out on a weekend when he had to wrangle cats alone, when he was stuck by himself for hours and hours and hours. (Yes, I know that he enjoys his own down-time. But I take the choice away from him when I choose to go on retreats.)

And so, 10,000 calories later, I’m rolling up my sleeves. I’m back to work on JOY OF WITCHCRAFT. I’m throwing new obstacles in Jane Madison’s path. Because that’s what writers do. We write. (And eat and talk and eat and plan and eat and outline and eat…)

How about you? How did you spend your weekend?

 

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Lessons from an Off-Season Beach Vacation

We added a day to the already three-day weekend last week and headed down to the Outer Banks, in North Carolina.  A relative owns a gigantic “cottage” there, a beach house that’s intended to sleep around 20.  We’ve found that we love, love, love going down there in the heart of winter, when the vast majority of businesses are boarded up and the beach is deserted as far as the eye can see.  Some lessons learned on this trip:

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  • It really is better to remember the keys to someone else’s house before you’ve driven 1.5 hours.  Through rush-hour traffic. Paying for the use of the toll-based express lanes.  (When you finally remember the keys that are hanging on the hook at home, be grateful that the cottage has a keypad entry system, designed for summer guests who arrive after hours.  Don’t bother driving back for the keys.)
  • The weekend following New Year’s Day really is the weekend when most places shut down for the season. Don’t have your heart set on any favorite restaurant. Don’t hold your breath for any particular store. That’s not why you went to the Outer Banks, anyway.
  • The restaurants (and movie theaters) that are open are going to be crowded.  Very crowded. Plan ahead, if you have time constraints.
  • Heat really does rise.  When you’re staying on the third floor of a huge cottage, with only the heater for that floor turned on, you will shiver when you walk down to the lower floors. Take a jacket when you go to inventory the bed linens in the lower rooms.  Really.
  • Sand is much more firmly packed in cold weather, especially after a day of solid rain, than it is in the summer. Plan on walking a lot farther along the beach. But you probably still won’t get to that pier, the one that seems to move farther away with every step you take.
  • No matter how thoroughly you think you cleaned your shoes, you’re going to track sand into the house. A lot of sand. Really. Even when you thought you’d knocked off every last grain. Just plan on sweeping it up — it’s easier that way.
  • There are few things more enjoyable than curling up on a comfy couch, beneath a warm quilt, sipping from a mug of hot tea, reading a RITA-submission romance novel in the middle of a driving rainstorm.

We had a wonderful break. But it’s oh so hard to get back into the rhythm of working! Of course, with a book release next Tuesday, I don’t have a lot of choice…

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Mission Accomplished (Bed Bug Edition)

About eight years ago, I started a job where I traveled a lot.  I was on the road between ten and fifteen days a month, staying in hotels throughout the U.S.  At the time, there were occasional stories about bed bugs in hotels.  I never took the stated precautions — putting my luggage in the shower until I’d had a chance to strip the beds and check for evidence of bugs, never ever ever using the wooden dressers, studying mattresses, sheets, and pillows for fecal residue of the insects, etc.

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I escaped without any bed bug bites.  In the intervening years, I’ve followed the mainstream press articles about bed bugs, noting how difficult it can be to eradicate them from homes (or hotels.)  I’ve checked out a few potential hotels on the Bed Bug Registry, but I’ve never made plans based on that information.  And I continued to escape without any bed bug bites.

Skip forward to late last year.  I was doing a lot of traveling — conferences, writing retreats, vacation.  And as fate would have it, I came in contact with bed bugs at one of those places — bites on my arms, hands, and feet.  The ones on my hands were severe enough that I couldn’t get my rings off, and my doctor worried that I was cutting off circulation to my fingertips.  She gave me twenty-four hours of treatment with steroids before she ordered the rings cut off.  I responded immediately to the drugs, so I still have my rings.

(I didn’t write about my bites publicly at the time.  The hotel followed up immediately, hiring a remediation service, and they paid for my medical treatment — and a chunk of my hotel bill.  I figured they shouldn’t get a permanent bad mark on the Internet, when they can’t control who brings what into their rooms.)

While the treatment cleared up my bites quickly, I waited for a few days, fearing that I’d brought the critters home with me.  (I’d only know if my husband got bitten; I wouldn’t see new bites, given the drugs in my system.  He took to calling himself the Tethered Goat.)  I laundered all the clothes I’d taken on the trip, using the hottest water.  I froze items that I couldn’t launder, wrapping them in plastic bags and cycling them in and out of my kitchen freezer.

And that left the suitcases.

Some Internet advice says to throw them out, that they can never be salvaged, but I didn’t want to do that because I truly believed I had not brought home any bugs.  (The Tethered Goat remained unbitten.)  Some Internet advice said to leave them in a summer garage where the temperatures reached above 150 degrees.  Um, we don’t have a garage.  And even on our worst summer days, the temperature wouldn’t get that bad.  And some experts said that wasn’t high enough to do in bed bugs.

That left freezing them.  And so, I bagged up my suitcase (and carry-on bag) in two layers of trashbags, taping closed the tops, to make sure no six-legged enemies could climb out.  I left the bags in a corner of my office.  And I waited.

During our first hard freeze, I was out of town, unable to put the bags outside overnight.  Our second hard freeze was New Year’s Eve, and I decided not to put the bagged suitcases out on our porch when there were rowdy parties going on across the courtyard, lest some drunks think it a great idea to start off the New Year with a little theft.

But last night, the temps got down into the upper teens.  Last night, I set out my suitcase and carry-on.  Last night, I let the freezing temps do their worst.

And now, I have luggage again.  Just as well.  Dragging my duffel bag through Costa Rica was a pain in the … palm.

Mission accomplished.

 

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Testing Personal Limits (or, The Great Snorkel Epiphany)

About a dozen years ago, I found myself on vacation in Mexico.  I was traveling with my then-fiance, my parents, and my very active, outdoors-y brother and sister-in-law.  Toward the end of our trip, we went to Cozumel, and I had the option of going snorkeling for the first time.

Now, I love swimming, and I’m fairly confident of myself in water.  At least, that is, in a swimming pool.  I have almost no experience with ocean swimming.  Plus, I wear contact lenses (with which I see 20/20, without which I’m legally blind.)  And I’d never used a snorkel before.  And I was pretty much certain that I wouldn’t be able to do a back-flip into the water; I wasn’t even sure I could climb a ladder on the side of the boat to get back in.

Some of our party knew from the get-go that they weren’t snorkeling.  I debated right up to the minute that I hopped over the side (no back-flip necessary.)  And, reader, I loved snorkeling.  I loved seeing the fish, I loved being in the open water, I loved conquering my fear.  I loved everything about it.

Skip forward twelve years.  Same vacation group, this time with my nephews added in.  (Oh, and the fiance is now my husband.)  We traveled to Costa Rica, and I had the opportunity to go zip-lining.

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Well before the actual trip, I decided I wasn’t going to go.  Zip-lining seemed to require too much athletic ability.  Plus, there was the freak accident (one in many hundreds of thousands if not millions) where a woman cut herself zip-lining and ended up with flesh-eating bacteria.  (Okay, I actually convinced myself I didn’t have to worry about that.)

Nevertheless, as the trip approached, I thought about the Great Snorkel Epiphany.  I began to think that maybe I *would* zip-line.  In fact, I reasoned, I wasn’t likely to be anywhere near a zip-line for the rest of my life, so I *should* zip-line.

The day of the zip-lining, I headed up the mountain with the rest of my party.  Some knew from the get-go that they weren’t zip-lining.  (Sound familiar?)  Not me, though.  I waited in line, and I got suited up in a harness and helmet.  I let very courteous men tug at straps in places no woman likes to be tugged (and I noted the prominent signs stating that the facility complied with Costa Rica’s anti-sexual harassment laws.)  I watched three iterations of the safety training, nodding to indicate that I understood how I needed to spread my legs into a V at the end to slow down, how I needed to “box” with the handlebars to brake.  I sat in the gondola as we traveled through the canopy, feeling my heart beat faster.

At the top, the watchers made themselves comfortable on benches.  I walked over to the practice run, cheering on my still-outdoors-y brother and sister-in-law.  I watched my much more leery nephew take his practice run.

And then I was the only person left on the launch platform.

I decided not to go.  The stairs were frighteningly high, and I needed to climb them to attach my harness to the line.  There were too many things to remember — sit cross-legged for the run, maintaining a perfect “crunch”, keep my arms straight, wait for the tug on the line telling me to brake, spread my legs to a V, box the handlebars.

I told the worker I wasn’t going, and he kindly asked me why not.  I told him I wasn’t strong enough, that I was too heavy.  He promised me it was safe.  I told him there was too much to remember, and he ran me through the instructions.  I told him I was scared, and he said he knew I could do it.  As he reassured me, he helped me up the stairs, and he clipped my harness to the line.

I took the practice run.  I remembered what to do, and I didn’t overshoot the landing pad (Major Fear #1) or slam my shins into the landing pad (Major Fear #2.)  But I found it almost impossible to stand up, to straighten up from the horizontal line position — it was just one thing too many for my brain-on-overdrive to process.

They unclipped me from the line and told me to get in line for the real zip-line (two miles, in eight stages.)  I got in line, just like I was supposed to do.

And then I realized that I didn’t want to go.

I wasn’t afraid that I was going to die.  I didn’t worry that I’d fall from the zip-line into the rain forest below.  I wasn’t even really worried that I’d forget to V, forget to box.

I just didn’t feel like it would be fun — not going that fast, not being that high, not remembering those things, thinking, worrying, all the way down.  I wasn’t going to have a Great Snorkel Epiphany, even if I completed the rest of the course.  I could do it, but I wasn’t going to enjoy it.

At first, I was very disappointed in myself.  I felt ashamed that I hadn’t risen to the occasion, that I hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunity.  I was confident I’d made the right choice for myself, but I was sad that I needed to make that choice. (It turns out, my nephew also decided not to go.)

This morning, I had coffee with a friend — a fit, strong friend who spends her vacations hiking in national parks, kayaking on local lakes and rivers, rock climbing in Middle Eastern ruins.  Somewhat shamefacedly, I told her my zip-lining story.  And she said, “I didn’t go either.  Just the steps up to the launch platform were too much for me.”

And that brought about the Great Zip-Line Epiphany.  Different challenges are too much for different people.  Even though my friend is much more fit than I, the ten feet or so of the launch steps defeated her.  Other people had no trouble with the entire zip-line path, but they might have been defeated by putting their face in Caribbean water.

I put too much weight on the zip-lining (and I don’t mean physical weight!) It became a referendum, and it didn’t need to be. I don’t see a future where I’ll zip-line, and that’s all right.  But I might go snorkeling again…

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