Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lost. In the back woods of Maine. With two flat tires.

Here I go, NOT blogging again for more than a week! But I have a story that is probably funny enough to share. Warning, it's a bit of a rant, and quite long.

It’s been a crazy few weeks; I have several deadlines and have to sort through my friend Erica’s wedding photos to make a CD of the best shots. My husband is a professionally-published photographer, who, in addition to paintball photography, shoots events and also whatever photos I may need for articles. He’s just starting to get into weddings, Sweet 16s, etc.

And that (on the way to Erica’s wedding) is where this story begins.

Those who know me “IRL” know my husband and I have been having some trouble with my 1995 Blazer. Meanwhile, his 1996 Silverado needs about $3000 worth of work to be street legal again. So the poor Blazer keeps going…and going… and occasionally refusing to start, overheating, hesitating or just plain crapping out for no apparent reason.

It chose Option B, overheating, at 11:00 PM on Thursday night, in the deep dark woods of southern Maine… where they don’t believe in street signs.

You know it’s bad when the Deacon who gives the service during a wedding talks about getting lost on the way to the couple’s house. And half the people in the church can relate!

So there we were in the back woods of Maine, lost, with the truck overheating and a cell phone with about five minutes worth of battery power and our charger back in New York.

I call my friend’s fiancĂ© and tell him where we are. “I don’t know where that is, I’m sorry. I can’t think of the two streets you’re saying. I don’t know where you are.”

The conversation went on this way for a few minutes, with me repeating the names of the streets and him saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t know where you are.”

We know we’re about two minutes from the house, but we can’t find our way. And the truck is overheating. And did I mention the cell phone battery is dying?

We limp to the house by retracing our steps and finding the street we missed. But the water pump on the Blazer was completely shot.

My husband went out to pick up the parts on Friday. It actually worked out okay because my friend didn’t need her car all weekend, and was leaving for her honeymoon Sunday morning. So we borrowed her Jeep and drove out to her house from the hotel on Sunday to fix the Blazer.

She left us her keys and told us we should feel welcome to stay the night, but I insisted we had to get back Sunday. T.J. had work Monday and I had a lot of things to take care of. “Thanks for the offer,” I said. “But we’ll leave Sunday afternoon. It shouldn’t take more than two hours for T.J. to replace the water pump.”

It could have been so easy.

We got lost, once again, driving to Erica’s house. Once again we re-traced our steps down the same country roads, knowing we were in the vicinity, but unsure where to turn. Roads look different during the day than at night.

I should mention, it was 4 PM on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We almost didn’t mind being lost. We talked about the wedding, how much fun it was to see our good friends, and how unseasonably warm it is for October 21 in New England. The foliage painted the landscape bright reds and oranges… overall, a nice drive.

Then we decided we made a wrong turn and should go back the other way.

We pulled over onto the grass, ready to hang a u-turn when traffic cleared.

“Whomp. Bang. Whump. Bang.”

“What was that?” I asked TJ, fearing it sounded like a tire blowout.

“Nothing,” TJ said. “Nothing to worry about.”

“Oh good. Because it sounded to me like a flat tire.”

“Nah. We probably ran over a plastic bag.” The dismissive tone in his voice showed more bravado than was necessary. I didn’t quite believe him, but took him at his word.

As we turned back onto the pavement, we couldn’t ignore the facts. Rumble, rumble, rumble, metal rim scraping against pavement.

TJ grimaced. “I guess it was a flat.”

“I thought so,” I said.

“I did too, but didn’t want to believe it.”

We pulled onto the side of the road, woods as far as we could see. We heard the shotgun fire of not-so-distant hunters. TJ got out of the car to assess the damage. “Or TWO flat tires.”

In case you missed it:

Four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. In the back woods of Maine. Lost. With two flat tires. On a borrowed Jeep. With hunters in the woods beside us. And no cell phone service, not that we could have called anyone for help. “We can’t call Triple A,” T.J. pointed out, “because we have no idea where we are!”

T.J. put the spare tire on the rear tire, leaving us with only one flat. The situation was improving.

We walked about a half mile to a convenience store, Ed’s Discount Warehouse. “Do you sell tires?”

“Tires? No.”

Technically, BJ’s and Sam’s Club are also discount warehouses, and they sell tires. But no such luck here at the friendly neighborhood “Ed’s,” which was really more of an oversized dollar store.

“How about maps?” TJ asked.


“How about bicycles?” I ask, only half-joking.

The nearest gas station is about four miles away. We could cover that distance in about 15 minutes on a decent bicycle, 30 on a cheap one.

Instead, we rode on three tires and one rim to the gas station, going about 16 mph—ironically, about the same speed we could have done on bicycles.

There, we looked at the map and realized where we made the wrong turn. We head back and two guys in a white, mud-covered jeep slow down. “Can we help you?” they ask.

“Not unless you have a spare tire we can buy.”

It turns out they did, but when we realized it was the wrong size (only by an inch) they offered to follow us back to Erica’s house, that way we can borrow the tire (better than riding on the rim) and remove it when we get there.

By the time we got back to Erica’s it was dusk. We thanked the boys, and they took off before I could even offer them a cold drink. T.J. started fixing the water pump, and I started dinner, cracked open a beer and once again silently thanked Erica for giving us her house keys and free reign to the fridge.

We watched The Incredibles that night and turned in shortly after dark. The next morning, we got two new tires for the Jeep from the local auto parts store and T.J. finished fixing the water pump. Unfortunately, the auto parts store couldn’t mount the tires until Tuesday. I left Erica a note explaining everything, and cash to cover the price of mounting the tires, but I think we’re going to call her tomorrow. I don’t want her to pull into the driveway, returning from her honeymoon, to find her Jeep missing two tires.

The ride home went smoothly, uneventful even.

The greatest irony? Before we left for the trip, we noticed the Blazer needed two new tires.

Friday, October 12, 2007

E-mail Free Fridays?

Read an interesting segment at Christopher Null's Working Guy blog today.

In a nutshell, a group at Intel is instituting e-mail free Fridays. They recommend employees forego e-mail in favor of a phone call or a walk to their co-workers office. (This also fits with the increased emphasis on corporate health and fitness in some companies!)

I like this idea! Being an e-mail/forum/blog IM junkie, I'm going to try it.

E-mail Free Fridays pose a few unique challenges for freelance writers, at least until everyone in my circle knows the situation. I'd hate to miss an assignment because I didn't answer an e-mail (and that keeps the editor waiting over the weekend, too). And, of course, if story assignments are due, I have to e-mail those in. So here are my rules:

* I will check e-mail only once in the morning, at lunch, and before I finish for the day.

* I will scan e-mails, and respond to any that I can with a phone call.

* If they can't be replied to by phone, and are not urgent, (ie, assignment-related) they don't get answered until Monday.

* Story submissions may be e-mailed. And query letters. But that's it.

* Additionally, I may post to my blog, but not check to see if I received any comments (which I do compulsively!)

* Forums and AIM are completely off-limits. Blogs are okay, ONE visit per blog. (ie, no comment conversations for the day).

I don't have any fear of the phone, but I think this would be a great exercise for writers who try to avoid the phone, too. I'm curious to see if I get any more work done on Fridays with these rules instituted.

I'm starting now by turning off AIM.

Anyone going to join me?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Observations on Writing

Yesterday, as I finished an interview for a rather exciting article, I felt that adrenaline rush! You know the one--the giddy excitement of starting a new project, where anything is possible, and you know you'll walk away smarter and enriched.

I'm a natural adrenaline junkie--I play paintball, love roller coasters. I think the search for that adrenaline rush is part of what attracted me to a career as a writer/reporter.

Writing as a career, the adrenaline wears off in the tedium of "interview, transcribe, write." But every once in a while, a story inspires, and I feel it again. That's why I keep going. The balance of always searching for that story, while finding enough work to pay the bills.

Some time around 9 PM last night, I felt experienced another sensation I haven't felt in a while as a writer. I entered a little contest at The Novelette . The contest doesn't pay a lot to the winner, so I figured I'd spend an hour on the short essay and be done with it. Unhappy with my result, I posted the essay in the Share Your Work section of Absolute Write and got some great feedback. Then I started tweaking. Tightening. Moving paragraphs around. Searching for that perfect word.

I was no longer writing for the contest, I was writing for the fun of it. With no thought of hourly rates or impending deadlines, writing felt like a game. I think it's important to do that to stay inspired.

Check out the contest, read some of the entries (they're quite enjoyable) and vote! I wouldn't mind if you voted for my story; it's called A Heart, Waiting. But pick the story you feel is best. Or maybe submit one yourself!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Goals accomplished!

Each month, in one section of the Absolute Write forums (Just Hit Send) we post our goals for the month.

This month, several of us opted to post weekly goals. I'm proud to say I did well. Finished a few articles over the week, sent out several queries, and even updated this blog with some useful links (mostly to other AWer blogs... take a look, you may find some cool, unusual things!)

I also reconnected with an old friend, over at This friend was blogging before everyone in the world had a blog. I mentioned I had launched one, and we began discussing the evolution of the platform.

It used to be, you weren't taken seriously as a writer if you blogged. ("No publisher wants my work, so I'll just blog.") Now, it's harder to be taken seriously as a writer in certain arenas if you *don't* blog. Even if that's not the case, a blog helps for self-promotion. Blogging, in and of itself, has even become a way for writers to generate income.

But I digress... on John Ale's old blog, I used to have a little column, "Tarot Readings by Miss Michele." Readers posted questions and "Miss Michele", my spiritual alter ego, replied.

Now, when I heard about NaNoBloPoMo, I decided a "tarot card a day" blog would be a great way to post in a blog everyday. It would also be a great way for me to get back into the tarot (a hobby I pick up sporadically).

Check out Miss Michele's tarot readings. Post a question and she'll give you a free three-card reading. It's fun. It's free. It's...yeah...I'm addicted to blogging for sure.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Warning: NY-style Rant Ahead

I want to talk--or maybe I should say "gripe"--about the entitlement attitude.

I worked an art auction at Pindar Vineyards the other night. Had a great time, and the owner is a fabulous little Greek man. I couldn't pronounce his name, so I jokingly called him Mr. Pindar all night and he never complained!

It's time to close the auction and my co-worker and I have a growing line of customers. I'm taking people's money, credit cards and checks while she's helping them find their pictures to take home.

A woman jumps ahead of about 10 people in line, explaining, "I need to leave, NOW. Can you just ship my purchase?"

We don't like doing this, because it costs money, time, and--most important to me--it means I have to pack up the dang picture and take it back to the office!

I explain that we'd prefer she didn't, and if she just waits her turn, we will get to her shortly. About 3 minutes later, she jumps ahead again. "MY husband is ready to leave. Can't you just ring ME up?" It was a credit card purchase, so I couldn't just take her cash and send her away.

I look at the line, which is moving rapidly but not getting any shorter. I look at the two women who are next in line. "Would you mind?" I ask them, as the woman rolls her eyes at the further delay. Clearly, I should drop everything I'm doing to tend to her needs, right now. The other customers are not important.

As I'm smiling politely, my inside voices are saying: "What makes YOU so much more important than the other 10 people in line? Why is YOUR time more valuable than theirs? Go to the back of the line and wait your turn like everyone else. You're not special."

Keep in mind, this woman had no pressing reason to leave--no crying baby in her arms, no medical emergency--other than her husband wanted to go at that exact moment.

It makes me wonder what kind of child she was, growing up. I bet her parents jumped at her every whim; she got whatever she wanted simply by pouting her lower lip.

Parents like that have raised a society of adults who think their needs outweigh everyone else's.

I see this in line at toll booths in the NY metro area, too. A growing number of drivers think it's fine to ride the EasyPass lane until the last possible moment, and then jump in to the waiting line of cars in the Cash lane. Of course, their time is more valuable than everyone else's. These same people give you an attitude if you don't let them in.

My reaction? "You're either STUPID--because you didn't SEE the big CASH sign from miles away--or you're SELFISH." Either way, I don't see any need to help you.

If the NY Transit Authority took down license plate numbers and mailed tickets to every driver who tried this, they could lower toll prices by at least 50 percent.

Okay, rant's over. What do you think? What attitude annoys you most in society today?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Entering the Teaching World

All this research on Arthur Jones has gotten me thinking a lot about stupidity v. lack of knowledge. While stupidity annoys me, ignorance inspires me—it awakens my teacher within.

When I see a lack of knowledge coupled with a desire to learn, I see an empty vessel waiting to be filled, a white screen begging for words, a blank page yearning for ink.

That’s why I’ve decided to launch the world’s first (safe to say it IS the world’s first) writing instruction course for paintball players.

Paintball is an exciting sport, and, when the shooting’s over, it’s all about the stories. ‘Ballers love to tell stories, around the campfire, in diners, in the car during the ride home… and in the pages of about a dozen paintball publications.
Unfortunately, that great story shared over a burger doesn’t always translate perfectly into print.

It hit me today, copyediting stories for RECON, fixing the same mistakes over and over again, that I can help.

So I invited seven RECON contributors with the most potential to join my Internet writing course. The price? Two submissions to RECON, first print rights with no compensation.

If it works out well, this could blossom into an online course for team captains, in which participants will leave with a team resume, press release, and the tools to get sponsorship from any company in the industry. I would, of course, charge for that class.

Mostly, I’m doing it because I want to help people without growing resentful of the time I spend mentoring new writers.

Monday, October 1, 2007

So I'm not a beer expert...

I'm not a beer and wine expert, but I do appreciate good drinks. You know...a sweet Mondavi chardonnay with salmon, a nice red zin with an Italian meal, a hearty Sam Adams with a burger. In moderation. Meaning--stop before you puke or pass out.

Unfortunately, this weekend I utterly abused a bottle of good Chardonnay (and myself) when two glasses with dinner turned into five. One second I was making onion dip, perfectly fine and upright, and the next...well... it got really ugly.

But normally, while I'm not an expert on the topic, I enjoy and appreciate good wines and beers. In moderation. Oh, wait, I said that already, didn't I? Let me keep repeating it so I don't forget next weekend!

Anyway, I'm very fortunate that fellow writer Bryce Eddings has given me an opportunity to learn more about writing beer reviews, while getting published, as a contributor to his " Beer Taster Panel."

Check out my first review here.

Now, as an official reviewer, does this mean the Advil I took for my hangover this weekend is tax deductible?