Archive for July, 2010

Marin Thomas Guest Blogs Tomorrow!

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Yes, I’ll return to posting about Peru. Look for a new Peru post this Wednesday. But, first, let me entice you to visit tomorrow and meet my pal, Harlequin American Romance author Marin Thomas. Marin is blogging about the Harlequin American Romance line and how it differs from other “home and hearth” category lines at Harlequin/Silhouette. Here’s your chance to pick the brain of a successful American Romance author—whether you’re a writer or a reader. Marin would love to hear from both!

Every person who leaves a comment at Marin’s blog tomorrow will enter to win a copy of her latest American Romance, DEXTER: HONORABLE COWBOY. Please leave your comment on tomorrow’s post to enter. If you’re reading this post through a feed at Goodreads, Facebook or another social network, please note that you need to visit www.museinterrupted.com to enter.

Without further ado…!

About DEXTER: HONORABLE COWBOY

The Codys: First Family of Rodeo Mini-Series

For This Cowboy, Family Comes First

Josie Charles was back in town, and Dexter Cody desired her as much as ever. She was his twin brother’s girl, but it was hard to act honorable when all he wanted was to stake his claim on the woman and her boy. Sooner or later, his brother was going to step up and do the right thing. And when that time came, would Dexter be able to step aside and lose Josie all over again?

No way was Josie losing her heart to the sexy-as-all-get-out rancher. The last thing the single mother needed was another Cody messing with her life. But her high school pal had sure grown into one fine-looking cowboy. Caring. Hardworking. Responsible. Exactly the kind of man she’d want to be a father to her son.

Which one is the right brother? Looks as if there’s going to be a showdown…

About Marin:

Marin grew up in the Midwest town of Janesville, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Arizona in Tucson on a Division l basketball scholarship. In 1986 she graduated with a B.A. in radio-television and married her college sweetheart in a five-minute ceremony in Las Vegas.  Marin was inducted in May 2005 into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame for her basketball accomplishments.

Even though she now calls Chicago home, she’s a living testament to the old adage “You can take the girl out of the small town but you can’t take the small town out of the girl.” Marin’s heart still lies in small-town life, which she loves to write about in her books.

To learn more about Marin and her books, please visit her website.

See you tomorrow!

I Write Like Stephen King (So I’m Told)

Friday, July 16th, 2010

I write like Stephen King? That’s hilarious. I’m married to Steven King! (Different spelling, different man, but it still tickles my funny bone).

I write like
Stephen King

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I cut and pasted the first several paragraphs of my WIP into the program on the Analyze Your Writing link (see badge).

I can’t even read Stephen King. I’ve tried. He scares me.

Take the test. What famous writer do you (supposedly) write like?

I saw on Twitter that Margaret Atwood, my favorite Canadian author (my favorite author, period) supposedly writes like James Joyce. I’ve read Joyce. I’ve read Atwood. I prefer Atwood. I think she writes like herself.

I’m On Canadian Amazon!

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

It’s about time.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m taking a break from the Peru posts. Not to worry, those who have been following the stories and pictures of my travels, I’ll start blogging about Peru again next week. For now, I am excited (and relieved) that the trade paperback versions of my two Amber Quill Press romantic comedies, HEAD OVER HEELS and BORROWING ALEX, are now FINALLY available on Canadian Amazon.

HEAD OVER HEELS was on Canadian Amazon for a short while. The printer that Amber Quill Press uses had subcontracts with Canadian printers, so if someone in western Canada, for example, ordered the trade paperback, the books would be printed and shipped from Victoria, B.C. Then Amazon (the big American conglomerate) bought the printer–and immediately canceled the printing sub-contracts. As a result, BORROWING ALEX has never been on Canadian Amazon. Until now!

Earlier this year, I blogged that Amazon had announced they were opening a Canadian warehouse, and I had hopes this meant my books would FINALLY be available for Canadians to order without having to worry about border-crossing charges, etc. That day has arrived.

Here are links to the pages, if you’re interested:

HEAD OVER HEELS

BORROWING ALEX

You’ll note that Amazon states that the books are not in stock but you can order and they’ll deliver the books when they’re available. What this means is that they are either: (1) shipping them from the U.S. warehouse to the Canadian warehouse and then to you, or (2) waiting to print copies once they receive an order. You see, because they bought the printing company that services a number of micro-publishers like Amber Quill Press, when someone orders a book from one of those publishers, Amazon either orders from the printer and then ships to you or Amazon prints copies itself within its warehouse. They do the latter in the States, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they had in-warehouse printers set up in their Canadian warehouse, too. That’s the beauty of print-on-demand. They can print just one copy or they can print 100 and then stock the rest, depending on how many orders they receive.

So if you’re Canadian, hope on over to www.amazon.ca and check it out! If you type my name into the search engine (remember that E in Procter), a page listing both books miraculously appears. Yoop-yoop! And, oh, yeah, you can qualify for free shipping by adding my books to other books you order. So yoop-yoop for you, too!

If you have a Kindle, both books are available through the U.S. Kindle store.

How Do You Say…?

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Recently, I had to provide pronunciation guides to the audiobook publisher for HEAD OVER HEELS and BORROWING ALEX. I sped-read (speed-readed?) both books to find words that might trip up the narrators. A mental forehead slap happened nearly right away. I’d forgotten that some readers have a tough time pronouncing the name of my heroine in HEAD OVER HEELS. Her name is Magee Sinclair. Magee is pronounced like the Irish surname, with a hard G, like Mr. Magoo but with E’s instead of O’s. I did everything I could in the writing of the book to ensure the name wasn’t pronounced like Maggie, but can’t be assured of my success. Even an old friend said she wanted to say the name like Maggie. When I asked her how she would pronouce Magee if she saw it on a business (like Magee’s Garage), she could pronounce it easily enough. Go figure.

I’ve tried to give my characters easier-to-pronounce names ever since. Frankly, I knew the name Magee would give some readers conniptions before Amber Quill Press published the book. But I’d had the name on my character names list since I was pregnant with my first child. I loved the name, and it suits my heroine to a T, because she’s a bit of klutz (a Ms. Magoo, shall we say).

Now, my legal name is Cindy. It isn’t Cynthia and it isn’t Lucinda. My birth surname, Procter, is spelled with an E—NOT like Proctor. When my mom registered me for grade 1 (I didn’t go to Kindergarten; it wasn’t available in the community where I lived at the time, way back in the Dark Ages), I distinctly remember the principal coming along and speaking to my mom by the registration table. You see, the principal of my elementary school had once taught my father and uncles in a one-room schoolhouse. You’d think she would have known how to spell Procter, she had enough of the little rascals in her school. Yet somehow my name got registered as Proctor—argh! And no matter what my mother said, whoever actually recorded my name was not convinced that Cindy was a bona fide name in and of itself. Until I was in grade 3 and my wonderful teacher, Mrs. Brady, asked me why I kept mangling my library card, on which my name was written as Cynthia Proctor, the problem persisted.

At least people know how to say Cindy, though. It’s not as if I’ve had to suffer through people calling me Sign-Dee or Sin-Die. No one has ever called me Kindee. I have been called Sydney before, though, usually by people young enough that they don’t recognize “Cindy” as a name. What’s that I heard? She must have said Sydney. I know Sydney is a popular girl’s name these days, but it makes me think of Woody Allen. I am not at all appreciative when someone calls me Sydney.

How about you? Do you have a name that’s difficult to pronounce? Or, it looks easy enough to you but people mangle it regardless? Share your horror stories here.

Peru, Day 8: Huancayo

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Today, both Steve and I fell ill, but luckily we waited until we returned from a full day visiting artisans’ workshops in the villages around Huancayo (well, Steve woke up feeling cold, but we didn’t realize he was getting sick). Visiting the artisans was one of the highlights of our trip. The people in Huancayo aren’t as accustomed to tourists as they are in Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Aguas Calientes (the town closest to Machu Picchu), and Puno (Lake Titicaca). Nasca is more accustomed to tourists, as well, but we never felt like we were being hassled in Nasca (“Buy this! Buy that!”). And we didn’t experience incessant hawking in Huancayo, either. They just let us be. Even if you’re going through the markets, no one made an extra effort to get you to buy THEIR wares. They just let you browse at your leisure. I didn’t realize what a treat this was until we reached Cusco, where “Peruvian Disneyland” came into full swing.

In Lima, we were cautioned that the highland people (around Huancayo) might not be as welcoming, because they aren’t accustomed to tourists. Nothing could be further from the truth! They were very friendly and wanted to make us feel welcome. I’d thoroughly recommend visiting Huancayo for the experience of taking the train. But I wouldn’t stick around the city. We signed up for two day tours, one with the artisans and the second taking us around the historical areas of the city. We were joined on the first day by four tourists from Japan, who were a delight. We had so much fun getting to know them. The two days were packed! We had to cut the second day short…because of falling ill and the blasted laundry not getting returned when we were told it would be. But the days were excellent, and our guide, Suzannah, was warm and generous and overall just a very nice person.

The landscape surrounding the villages outside of Huancayo was totally different than what we’d experienced in Nasca. Remember the lunar-like landscapes of Nasca? Surrounding Huancayo, there’s green! Tons of green! Again, a white sky in the morning, which, again, we were told was unusual for Huancayo. But the green, green valleys felt like home. Very peaceful.

We also saw a lot of Peruvian women wearing traditional dress. Our guide, Suzannah, was in jeans and a long-sleeved top like we were, but braids, skirts and hats were the uniform of the day for the women we encountered as we traveled through the villages:

Trip Tip! Posting the photo of this woman’s braid reminded me of my own hair experiences while in Peru. I have lots of hair, but it’s thin. If I don’t use a blow-dryer and/or curling iron, it just kinda hangs lankly. So I took along a travel blow-dryer and my mom’s tiny butane curling iron. In Huancayo, the curling iron stopped working. I thought it was broken, but it worked again in Lima. It also worked in Aguas Calientes (outside Machu Picchu). But not in Huancayo, Cusco, or Puno, all of which are 11,000 feet above sea level or higher. Machu Picchu is about 8000 feet above sea level. So…if you need a curling iron, buy a tiny electrical one. The butanes don’t work above 8000 feet!

Our first visit was to a gourd carver. We didn’t just visit his place of work; we were in his home. He looked pretty old by our standards. I don’t know how old he actually was, but I asked Suzannah how long people lived in that area, and she replied, “Maybe 65 or 70.” They work very hard. Oh, and we learned from our guide at Machu Picchu that they don’t have pensions. So they keep working, unless they have someone else to support them.

Two little boys were in the pinkish-red building that probably housed the kitchen. They played peek-a-boo with Steve through the window while the woman in back washed and rinsed clothes (did laundry) in the courtyard. The homes all usually have courtyards.

The rows of gourds that the artisan sold in his workshop. He would also sell them to markets in Huancayo and elsewhere in Peru, and the markets would then raise the prices to get their cut. These shelves are directly opposite from the main entrance and the woman washing in the picture above. That's corn you can see hanging there. Very fat kernels on the Peruvian corn! Above the shelves is a loft filled with gourds and gourds and gourds.

Close-up of the old man showing how he first carves the gourds. He's training his granddaughter (who's still a child) to follow in his footsteps and keep the family artisan traditions alive.

Here she is, a cutie. She sat beside him at one point to show us her developing talent.

Love his glasses! Now he's showing how they burn colors onto the carvings. It's really his wife's job...

...so she gets into the act! If you think she looks pretty short, she was. I'm 5'4" if I stretch, our guide Suzannah was at least two inches shorter than me, and this woman was another 2-4 inches shorter than Suzannah. I've never seen shorter people than I saw in Huancayo. Because of the high elevation, their lungs are very developed, but they don't grow very tall.

They make two main types of decorative gourds: one with elaborate carvings, and the etched lines are darkened with soot. So it kind of looks like they’ve been drawn on, but they haven’t. They’re completely hand-carved.

The second type of gourd is also carved, but the carvings aren’t as elaborate. These are the gourds that get “painted” by burning with the end of a stick.

It was a treat being in the gourd-maker’s home. We were the only tourists there. Our second stop took us to see weavers, but it was a far bigger enterprise and a tour bus with over a dozen people quickly descended, so we left to see the silver jewellery maker. Completely handmade silver earrings and necklaces. Very intricate work. We were totally blown away.

Me and my Peruvian doorways! We were inside the courtyard of the silverworker's home. Above this door hung rows and rows and rows of the thick-kerneled corn, which was drying. I love how the husks look against the old door!

The silver jewelry artist. She wore her shawl and hat the entire time she worked (she made part of a pair of earrings in our presence). I took this photo after the jewelry-making demonstration. She's very happy because our Japanese tourist friends practically bought out all her stock!

She started with a string of silver, which she thinned using this contraption. Her tools included a nail, a thin pair of pliers, and a mini-blowtorch.

She fashions her designs by hand. Her worktable is in a sheltered area of the courtyard.

Finished jewelry pieces cooling in water. She'll use these to create earrings and necklaces. Did I buy any? You bet! One necklace, and at least four pairs of earrings to both keep and give away as gifts to family members. This woman worked hard, was super nice and cheerful. We all wanted to support her.

After visiting the artisans, we went for lunch. Steve introduced himself to a Peruvian delicacy:

Guinea pig for lunch, anyone? Steve was brave enough to try it, but didn

Of course Steve had to ask WHERE they got the guinea pigs. They were raised behind the restaurant (evidence they really are the same animals North Americans keep as pets.)

In the afternoon, we visited a monastery and met Peruvian children on a school outing. By the time we were dropped back at our hotel, we were exhausted. Steve had begun feeling worse and worse throughout the day, and I noticed a sore throat coming on. Strangely, we had different illnesses. I began a sore throat/head cold combination. A visit to a Lima pharmacy after our weekend sojourn to Huancayo helped with my sinuses, but the sore throat kept returning to haunt me, and I have only recently recovered. Traveling by air is not your throat’s buddy, I discovered on this trip. Taking 4 planes in 24 hours REALLY ain’t your throat’s buddy!

Tip Trip: No, I couldn’t find North American cold remedies in Peru. Not even in Lima. Some North American products existed (like Lays potato chips), but not in cold products. But little drugstores are everywhere and the personnel are helpful. The Peruvian cold tablets I bought for my head cold worked like a hot damn!

As part of the tour, we had vouchers for a free dinner, but neither of us felt up to it. Steve got sicker and sicker throughout the night. He wrapped himself in blankets, and we waited for 9 p.m. to arrive, which was when our laundry would get returned…we thought! When it wasn’t returned, we went round and round with the hotel reception guy, who, frankly, wasn’t at all helpful. The girl the next morning really tried to help us, but he’d say things like, “I’ll come to your room to talk about it,” and then never show up. Meanwhile my poor dh was getting sicker and sicker. We finally discovered, after being told time and time again, “We’ll have it in your room in half an hour” (but in Spanish, which we were translating and maybe mangling in the process), that we weren’t getting our laundry that night. This was when we learned that they didn’t actually do the laundry IN the hotel. They had machines, but used them for the sheets and towels and farmed out the laundry. Nobody told us this when we decided to use the “laundry service.” Never again did we use a hotel laundry service while in Peru. We found laundromats on our own, on the street. They are plentiful.

Tip Trip: In the highlands, most Peruvians still do their laundry in rivers, or in wash tubs in the back yard. They can’t afford washing machines and dryers. If they have them, it’s usually for a business. So when a hotel says they provide laundry service, unless it’s a very big hotel, what they mean is that they send OUT the laundry to be done. Then they charge you exorbitant prices for acting as the middle man. It’s very easy to search out laundry services on your own and negotiate a price before the work is done. We did this in Cusco, and our laundress handed us back perfectly washed, dried and folded clothes a few hours after we dropped them off. Compare this to our hotel in Huancayo, where the laundry was sent out not to one, but two different laundry services, and then no one could tell us WHICH laundry services or when we might expect them back.

More adventures in laundry next time! Did Steve and Cindy get their laundry returned? Was it stolen? Sold? Embroidered?

These questions and more will be answered in the next installment of Peru!

Peru, Day 7: Huancayo, Here We Come

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

We trained to Huancayo on a Friday. I remember because the train only goes on a Friday. The purpose of the Huancayo leg of our journey was the train ride rather than the destination. My parents rode the train 30+ years ago when it went up every week and basically only locals rode it, and my mother’s horror stories of the chicken claw soup they were served (claw intact) made this an experience not to be missed! Were they still serving the chicken claw soup? (We didn’t seriously believe they were). At the time my parents rode the train to Huancayo, it was the highest elevation train in the world. It took 38 years to build the rail line, which opened in 1908, and it’s considered a mighty feat of engineering. It travels from sea level up to about 15,000 feet above sea level before arriving at Huancayo, which is at about 11,000 feet above sea level. It has 56 bridges, some over spectacular ravines, 69 tunnels, a dozen switchbacks (zig-zags). It doesn’t curve around the mountains, it goes back and forth up the mountains. So there are many times when you look out your window and see two sets of tracks. One set that you were just on, and the next set to take you up further. It was very cool!

Steve as we prepare to leave the Lima train station.

When I first started researching the train trip, I couldn’t find any information. It wasn’t in my Frommer’s Peru, and an Internet search turned up zilch. But my mother insisted that this train existed, and so I continued searching. It was one of the highlights of their trip. Why would we want to miss it?

The outskirts of Lima, typical neighborhood. The train is traveling backwards at this point.

Six months passed, and I began researching again. Turned out the reason I couldn’t find information the first time was because the train closed for at least 15 years at some point after my parents’ visit. It only takes 6 hours to travel to Huancayo by bus now, so why have the train? For the historical value! Thanks to a lot of hard work on the part of some devoted individuals, the historical train to Huancayo began running again less than a handful of years ago, but the schedule wasn’t set in stone. By a long shot.

At the first stop after Lima. The passengers get out, shake hands, and B.S. while workers prepare to turn around the train engine around on this huge turnstile.

Turning the engine. After this point, the train traveled forward all the way to Huancayo.

Eventually, as our trip neared, we discovered that the train was now running once a month. We quickly booked the best time for us and designed the rest of our trip around our weekend train ride. As it so happened, the train went up on a Friday on the weekend we booked and traveled back down on the Sunday night at 7 p.m. Other weekends, it runs back down on the Monday during the day.

One of the dozens of tunnels we traveled through. Note the two sets of train tracks. Things had slowed to a crawl as the workers prepared to move the train off one track and onto the next. In this fashion, we zig-zagged up the mountains.

The bar car, the access point for great pictures!

Chugging along. Taken from the bar car as we rounded one of the multitude of curves.

The train is now called the highest “historical” elevation train in the world, because the pan-Himalayan line which runs across Tibet, built in 2005, now climbs to over 16,000 feet. But! The Huancayo train still has the highest elevation stop in the world at which passengers can get out and pass out from the thin oxygen in the air, if they so choose. The Peruvians are very proud of this (as they should be; it’s fun to watch gringos pass out). The Peruvian train is the “original” highest-elevation train in the world. Because it was built over a century ago, it has historical significance. Honestly, it’s an experience not to be missed. If we had to sacrifice visiting Arequipa to ride this train, so be it. The only tourists we met during our entire 3 weeks who’d even heard of the train to Huancayo were the people ON the train.

Steve got out at 15,000 feet elevation. I got out, too, but after two steps I became very dizzy, so I went back in with the excuse that it was hailing. No idea who took this photo!

Now, the train is running twice a month. So hopefully more and more people will discover it. It was a blast.

These days, the DH and I were able to choose to pay a bit more and travel in the tourist cars—more comfortable seating and a bar car! Other tourists from around the world were with us, but Peruvians were with us, as well. No chicken claw soup! I can no longer remember what we were served or how much of it I ate, but I made sure to take advantage of the coca tea in the bar car (a hot drink that helps you deal with altitude sickness). We’d also bought sorochi (spelling?) tablets at a Lima pharmacy, which also help with altitude sickness.

I hadn’t traveled on a train since we backpacked through Europe in 1981. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy train travel. We got to know other passengers, and the most delightful passenger was a little Peruvian boy named Fabian who sat across the aisle from us with his mother (his father was a few seats back). Fabian didn’t know a lick of English, and neither did his mom. We didn’t know a lick of Spanish. But the DH had his handy-dandy English-Spanish phrase book, and a great deal of this 12-13 hour ride to Huancayo consisted of attempting to converse with Fabian because he totally loved my DH (as most children do) and wanted to know where we were from, how old we were, etc., etc. He was, quite simply, adorable.

The illustrious Fabian. Note his snow pants! At first we thought he wore them just because he's a kid and that's what kids do. But when we arrived at Huancayo with only our fleeces on, Fabian's mom dressed him in a snow jacket and gloves and then donned the same herself. It think it's fair to assume that Peruvians and Canadians differ in their estimations of "cold."

More zig-zagging tracks.

Peruvians have a thing with putting stuff on their roofs. This roof is fairly empty. Outside of Lima and as we traveled to Huancayo, we saw tons of roofs with all sorts of stuff all over them. Bricks, old chairs, dogs, anything, it seemed, to keep the roof on. Note the funky looking mountain in the distance? It looked like melted marshmallows. No idea why it looks like that.

By the time we arrived in Huancayo, it was just after 7 p.m. and we were exhausted. We quickly found our hotel and bunked in for the night. We also decided that 9 p.m. on a Friday night was the perfect time to arrange our first attempt at getting our laundry done in Peru. The laundry guy came and took our bag of stuff, promising we’d have it back by 9 p.m. Saturday night. Hah! We did not see our laundry again until a couple hours before leaving for the train again late Sunday afternoon. And it took several conversations—with an interpreter—to get it back intact. Adventures in Laundering. We learned a valuable lesson. When hotel personnel takes away your laundry in Peru, that doesn’t mean the laundry is washed IN the hotel. Take note! (You can just sense a Trip Tip coming, can’t you?). Next time!