Friday, December 9, 2011

Newest Adventure

This week brought a bit of good news for those of you waiting for the third book in the Enemy series (the follow up to Enemy Within  and Enemy Games - tentative title: Enemy Storm). While that book is in the works and has no release date as of yet, I may have a brief diversion to offer: an erotic novella set in the Enemy universe. If you read Enemy Within, you may recognize the hero of this novella, called Enemy Mine. (Yes, I know about the 1985 movie - I'm bummed I don't get to cast young Dennis Quaid in my novella - but he's all wrong for the role. Sigh.)

Berkley will be publishing Enemy Mine in April of 2012 as an e-book only. This week, my editor emailed to say she had no revisions and the story was headed straight to copy editing. Yay! That no revisions thing is a great tribute to my very thorough critique partners. Thank you, guys!

I don't have a cover yet, but the moment I do, I'll post that.

What possessed me to write a short erotica? I wanted to see whether I could. When I started the story, I doubted that I could write erotica. One of my good friends, Jeffe Kennedy, writes BDSM erotica, as well as contemporary fantasy. She acted as my writing mentor, pointing out where I'd gone astray with the romance or the emotional content. Between her explaining certain psychological aspects of erotica content and author Laura Bickel's excellent editing advice, the story went together relatively easily. I even flattered myself that it wasn't terrible. My local critique group, comprised of Darcy Carson, Lisa Wanttaja, Melinda Rucker-Haynes, DeeAnna Galbraith and Tina Larson helped iron out the rough bits.

Now. The story. Here's the back cover copy:
"It was a priority-two alert for beautiful Commander Cashel Khaleize: a contract put out on the life of Xiao Zhong. Professionally, Xiao was the Captain she reported to. Personally, he was man she desired.  But as female Guild Assassin Mekise Tollenga closes in, Xiao wonders if even Cashel can be trusted with his safety. And with a tenuous bond between them, Cashel wonders how far she’s willing to go to earn that trust."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lessons in Life, Death and WordCount

I learned some important things today.
  1. If the cat is desperate to get out of the boat and onto the dock, there's a good chance there's a dead critter somewhere on said dock that he wants to get in his jaws. :P
  2. I am capable of writing more than ten pages of fiction in one day.
No. These things aren't really related, but fortunately for me, life is slow enough right now, that these were the day's stand out issues.

That I can write lots of words per day really shouldn't come as a surprise. I've done it before. On rare occassion. And I didn't know why or how I'd managed to pour on the wordcount. Add into it that this has been a truly lackluster NaNoWriMo for me and you may begin to see why I'm suprised by 13 pages of new content in one afternoon. Is it any good? Oh, heck no. It's pure brain dump. Rough draft in its roughest form. But I can fix that.

I'd gotten up this morning with the determination that I was going to write and I was going to do my darnedest to write fast. There was a scene knocking around inside my head. Good. I at least had some notion of what I intended to get on virtual paper. But it didn't click for me until a fellow chapter member posted a link to a blog written by Rachel Aaron about how she'd significantly increased her productivity. It's a great post that does a terrific job of identifying and quantifying what made my rare high word count days work. As soon as I read the breakdown, the 'of course' bell went off in my head.

Now, I know what I need to make each day a high word count day. Time, a rough story map, and investment in a scene. Read Ms. Aaron's breakdown in the link above. It's detailed and well presented.

It is a bit more involved than keeping the cat away from the poor disemboweled duck we found on the dock this morning (otters? an eagle? messy and sad.) The cat glared at me in horrified astonishment when I muttered a brief blessing over the duck and nudged its corpse into the water.

I think I'd rather keep trying to increase my word counts than have to prevent the cat from dragging dead things back home.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Wrong Aliens

NOTE: Reposted because I had to edit the post just to prove I knew the difference between its and it's.
 
This is a good news/bad news post. The good news: the 'habitable zone' - the distance from a star in which life could conceivably survive is growing. Space Daily reports that models suggest Pluto may have a liquid ocean under its ice cover. New Horizons is going to check that out. Since water seems the most likely place for us to find extra terrestrial life (as we know life, at any rate), the habitable zone suddenly extends much, much farther from the sun than most of us ever imagined. A book written by a pair of scientists in the late 90s called Rare Earth, does a great job of laying out the case for complex life (animals, plants, etc) being exceedingly rare.

If New Horizons finds an ocean on Pluto, none of that case changes. We aren't likely to find a society of merfolk swimming the dark ocean of our erstwhile ninth planet (now, officially a 'planetoid' - it's been pretending all this time. Who knew?) We *might* find single celled organisms. If Pluto were to offer up a jackpot of submarine life, we'd find a couple of multi-celled critters. Honestly? Assuming a probe were ever to actually make Pluto, land, bore through the ice and end up in the ocean with all sensors still intact, we'll be lucky to find some kind of primordial goo.

Remember. This is the good news.

The bad news: If the insulation of liquid water expands the habitable zone so dramatically, are science fiction romance authors pairing their heroes and heroines up with the wrong kinds of aliens? Maybe we should be coming up with unlikely love stories between an air breather and one of those Plutonian merfolks I mentioned probably didn't exist...

Granted, we're assuming that Earth isn't the only planet in the universe positioned in such a way as to support complex, humanoid life. It's probably also worth assuming that *our* form of complex life might not be the only form of complex life in the universe. But isn't it interesting to contemplate how a species that evolved in a dark, cold ocean would go into space? Why would they? And what would their senses be like? Vision wouldn't work. Not in the dark. Unless it's thermal.

Okay. Now this is getting interesting.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Time to Prune

It's the dark time, despite today's sunset (which happened around 4:30pm). Our unseasonably fabulous weather comes to an end, the weather service tells us, around midnight tonight when a storm is supposed to blast in and leave us all shivering. Tis the season, I guess. But it's also, to quote Richard the III in a really terrible way "... the winter of our discontent..." Winter? Not yet. But for me, November really is my season of discontent. It's the full first month of dark - by which I mean the time between Halloween and Yule. In the northern hemisphere, the plants are dying back - all of the exuberent summer growth and expansiveness - shrivelling.  

I feel a little like a part of me wants and needs to do the same - as if I could prune back aspects of my life in order to conserve resources and thereby ensure I survive the winter. Yeah, yeah, I know. Unless the zombie apocalypse hits between now and March 21st, 2012 my survival isn't really in question, but work with me. We're surrounded by animals going into hibernation, vegetation pulling resources and energy back into the vital core. It's only natural that we respond to those same rhythms.

I've noticed a pattern. I get really, really down in November. I'm angry, anxious. I feel like I might be going right off my rocker in a subtle, but terrible way. That's when I start cutting. I begin examining my life and pruning away the bits that aren't serving me or that are actively dragging me down. Time and again, I'm stunned and dismayed by how much of my time and energy has gotten syphoned away. I saw that as if I weren't complicit. Clearly, I let my time and energy get scattered. Randomized is how we described it at work. That's how I feel until I start chopping back all of the useless energy and time sucks. Some of that is hard because it's family I have to say 'no' to. Some of that family understands. Some of them do not.

It won't matter. When you feel like you're living your life for everyone but you, when the things you hold most dear are shoved into the background - it's time for a bit of compassionate pruning. No need to be mean when saying 'no' to someone. Recognize that helping others is only helping when there's an exchange of some kind. When there isn't, you aren't helping. You're enabling. And that's not healthy for anyone.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

All Hallows

Find me at the Darker Temptations blog today, talking about the Witches' Holiday.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Interview and Book Giveaway

I am being interviewed today on My Bookish Ways. Have a look, say hello, maybe win a signed book.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Steamcon Recap

Steamcon III is over and done. Much fun was had. Too much money was spent. And every single photo I took on my husband's little point and shoot is orange. All of 'em. I want my camera back. I swear to you, just in time for Halloween, his camera is possessed.

Workshops: I stuck to the science themed workshops - one on the physics of aether as espoused by Victorian science was really fascinating. I'd had no idea that the idea of aether was as difficult to kill as it turns out it was. Apparently, it held on until the 1920s. There was even some speculation that Dark Matter is modern physic's aether. Very fun stuff. The other workshop was on the physics of the ocean - submarines, living, working, and functioning at depth, what the life forms look like at various depths and pressures. Also a good time. Naturally, we talked about the challenges of reaching the bottom of the Mariana Trench - something that has been done only three times and only one of those with a manned craft. That was in 1960 with The Swiss-designed, Italian-built, United States Navy bathyscaphe Trieste. Evidently, it's easier to get people to the moon and back than down to the bottom of the ocean and back.

Let's see. Games, music, afternoon tea, costumes...the DH went to workshops on making props and on modifying found objects, since crafting is one of his interests. We did discover the hard way that his glass flask with the cork stopper leaked. I was okay with that. Diet Mountain Dew carried in a clear glass bottle slung from a belt? It just looked wrong.

We had a great time, but, boy. I'm exhausted. So now I'm sitting here with a purring cat, a cup of tea, and a box of pumpkin spice cookies from the grocery story. I can recommend everything but the cookies. All spice, no pumpkin. Overpowering spice. Too bad. I guess I have to make that maple pumpkin pie afterall.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Where to Find Me

I'm over at the Word Whores (It's not bad, I promise! We just sound naughty.) talking about why I think there's no such thing as a sidekick.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ode to a Dead Camera

It's a fabulous, sunny (if chilly) day in Seattle, one of those rare mid-October sunshine breaks that lights this area with gold. Yes, okay, it is a bit of poetic licence maybe, but really, from a physics standpoint, at this latitude, it works. Height of sun in the sky - or lack thereof - plus angle of light passing through atmosphere leads to the yellow, orange and red wavelengths getting through and altering the color of the sunshine. The sky turns an amazing, deep blue. But the only way you're going to get warm in this sunshine is if you're in an enclosed greenhouse. Most of the heat gets shunted away with the shorter light wavelengths.

Trees are changing color. Liveaboards at the marina are putting up Halloween decorations. It's all festive and lovely and I can't take a photo. My digital SLR was a casualty of our cruise. It was sitting on the table when we hit some truly crappy sea conditions. We were so busy managing the boat, I didn't have a chance to get that camera tucked away. We hit a wave sequence and wham. The camera bounced from the table to the floor. It won't take pictures at all now. Autofocus *tries* but the lens won't move. Off to find a repair shop. Hoping the camera can be fixed and that it won't cost me more to fix it than it would to replace it. Turns out that after living without it for a little while, I really miss it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where the Geeks Are

It's Geek Out weekend for me. I'll be at Steamcon III, the Seattle area steam punk gathering, and while I'm not appearing in any official capacity, I will have copies of books with me if you'd like to say hi. I'll be the one in all black...mm...doesn't narrow it down much. Okay. The best I can do is my name badge. It really does say Marcella. And there can't be *too* many of those wandering around. It's a nautical theme for Steamcon this year and my costume -- is lame. Does the fact that I actually *was* out at sea for five months by me any costume sympathy?


Regardless, if you're at the con, stop me. Say hello. Mock my costume. It's all good. Give me your take on the best panels of the con.

At the end of the month, I'll be presenting a workshop at the Emerald City Writers Conference, called Acting on the Words. It's an hour long class focused on meshing action and dialog with high emotion. While the workshops are free to Conference attendees, they are limited only to those people who have a paid Conference ticket. The Bookfair, however, is open to everyone. It will be held Saturday, October 29 from 4:30 until 6. Have a look at the list of authors. It's huge. I'll be holding down a portion of a table, too. I will have candy. Stop by. I'd love to see you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

You Know Your Cat Is Trying to Kill You When

I post this not as a whine - mostly - but as a public service to all you writers working on fight scenes.  You see, my cat tried to kill me this morning. There I was sound asleep. The 13lb girl you see at left here, jumped a very long way, and landed, all four feet in one spot, on my lower belly. I was awake. That everyone else on board wasn't, given my shriek of dismay, surprised me.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

This is Karin (say CAR - in) rocking the book tee from Enemy Within and mimicking the front cover pose. If a picture is worth a thousand words, Karin completely makes my word count quota for the day.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The "You Can't Be Serious" Rant

If you're a migraine sufferer, you know that migraines aren't just headaches. They're neurological events with symptoms that can arise 24 or more hours before the pain hits. Depending on how your symptoms manifest, you may spend a day being unusually clumsy - walking into doorframes, dropping things more than usual, misjudging distances - or as symptoms begin, you may hear ringing in your ears. You may experience visual aura (which is the medical way to say 'can't see') as the blood vessels in your eyes spasm.

The really scary migraines mimic stroke. You can't think of words, or you speak to say 'going to take a bath' and it comes out gibberish. You can *hear* it came out wrong, but no matter how you try, you can't get the correct words out of your mouth.

Have I established a picture for you? Migraine = bad. A person suffering a migraine is neurologically impaired over and above the pain and nausea associated with the killer headache.

Modern medical technology created drugs to stop migraines cold. For those of us who are very, very lucky, those drugs work miracles. Take a pill and within 20 minutes to an hour, the pain and nausea are gone. So, too, are most of the neurological symptoms.

Here's the rant. Miracle drugs for migraine sufferers - life is good, right? Except, how do the geniuses at the drug companies choose to package their medications for people who are in the midst of suffering a *neurological event that may leave them blind and shaking from the pain*? Sealed in itty bitty blister packs. You have to peel backing from the pack in order to punch the pill out. This entails getting a fingernail beneath a tiny sliver of plastic coated aluminum. And you're supposed to do this while you can't see. While you're so sick you wish you could die. While the signal processing between your brain and the rest of your body is returning a 'all circuits are busy, please try your call again later' message.

It's as if the drug companies got together over beers and someone said, "Hey! You know what would be really funny? Put these great migraine meds in packs that no one actually suffering a migraine could possibly get into! Ha ha! Isn't that a riot?"  And they were all drunk enough to agree.

I'm lucky. I live with someone who doesn't suffer migraines and who is more than willing to peel blister packs for me. But let me tell you. When he's not home and a headache hits? Yeah, drug companies. Are your collective ears burning? That's this migraine sufferer. Cursing you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Great Otter Attack

This little guy and his mum are river otters we spotted playing in a dinghy in Snug Cove. They aren't the otters in the tale I'm about to tell, but they were characters in their own right. They didn't give a hoot that I was standing two feet away clicking photos as fast as the camera would take them. They were engaged in their own business and I didn't figure in to their antics. Except as a focus for the little one's hamming for the camera.

The Great Otter Attack, however, occurred in the Gulf Islands. Degnen Bay. It began with petroglyphs. We'd read in a guide book that the approach to Degnen Bay had a spectacular, if hard to find, petroglyph marking the entrance to the bay. The island itself had several stellar examples of ancient petroglyphs. We thought that sounded pretty cool, so off we went to anchor in the little bay. The spot is popular with people who live on the island, so the bay is full of boats on mooring buoys. We found a spot in shallow water where we could safely put down an anchor and pull up our dagger boards. After a pleasant evening and a try out of the new barbeque, we closed up the boat and headed to bed.

Fast forward to o'dark sometime of the night. DH and I are sound asleep, when suddenly, three hearing cats (the fourth is stone deaf - she misses alot) materialized in the master cabin, jumping up and down on me in a panic. I awoke. The boat was rocking back and forth as if a power boat had come through at speed. Except I didn't hear a boat. THUMP. Something hit the hull and the rocking intensified. My heart answered that thump by knocking against my ribs. I figured the tide had gone out farther than we'd thought it would and we were banging against rocks. I spill out of bed and peer out the windows.

Plenty of water all around us. No more noises. No hitting anything, but we're still rocking. Frowning, I climb the steps up to the door and look out the back.

Something walks across the transom.

Every last bit of air gets sucked out of my chest. OMG. One of the cats got out and is locked outside! I glance over my shoulder. Three cats on the table watching me with huge, we're-freaked-out eyes. Erie's asleep in her basket in the aft cabin. Okay. Not one of MY cats...I glanced back out.

Something ELSE walked across the transom.

"There's something on the boat!" I hollared.

The DH pokes his head up to look at me.

SPLASH

That's when it hit me. Otters. The stupid otters were chasing one another between the hulls of the boat, bouncing from one hull to the next - which made us rock, then they'd shoot out the back, up the swim step across the transom and back into the water.

Apparently, the sight of me in my jammies was enough to convince them that playtime was over. They took off and didn't return. Once the initial burst of terror receded, the whole experience was pretty cool and we regretted not getting to watch them playing chase across our boat. On the other hand, we didn't particularly want otters on board - especially since we sleep with the forward hatch open and we could envision an otter falling through - into the boat. No way that would have ended well...No matter how cute the little buggers are, they're only cute from a distance. Really.

Petroglyphs? Never saw 'em. Walked all over that island it felt like. Never found the petroglyphs. Let this be a lesson: Don't leave the directions aboard the boat when you row ashore.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How to Up Your Contest Scores in Three (not so) Easy Steps

This blog post is the result of a conversation Jeffe Kennedy and I had while she was in the midst of contest judging. As we compared notes, we realized we were seeing the same issues time and time again. So here's *my* version of How to Up Your Contest Scores in Three (not so) Easy Steps!

1. Cut to the chase - All of that lovely set up you've done showing us how your heroine's life sucks, yet what a wonderful gal she is? Yeah. Cut it. All of it. Drop us directly into the moment of crisis - the moment when everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Here's where my advice will differ from Jeffe's because I'm very much into the whole action/adventure thing. Your opening line should be the moment that your character's life is changed forever - he or she doesn't have to realize that's what's happening - but your reader should. Line one of my first book, Enemy Within: "Sun glinting off the barrel of a gun stopped Captain Ari Idylle dead in her tracks."

The first line from Jeffe's novella, Feeding the Vampire: "“I’ll do it,” I said."

Neither of those openings gives you a whole bunch of information, but both openings tell you that each heroine is about to have a day unlike any that's come before - even if neither of us tell you a single thing about the days that came before. Some of our other works give you a sentence or two of normal life before everything comes crashing down, but if you hear yourself saying "But you need to know this in order to understand..." No. Really. We don't. You need to know that in order to motivate your characters so they can stay true to themselves even while circumstances force them to change. Your readers only need tidbits of backstory sprinkled into the text AFTER the inciting incident (the alien abduction, the zombie attact, the hot guy in the beat up car dented her new BMW, whatever).

If you're receiving feedback like: Backstory dump, or Story starts in wrong place - this is where you want to start. Dump us straight into the action of your story along with your character and we won't be able to help but get yanked in along with him or her.

2. Internal conflict, external conflict. Know the difference and understand that romance requires only internal conflict. External conflict is icing. If you are writing a romance novel, your characters must be a danger to one another on an emotional level - this is internal conflict. It can be as simple as he's a cop and she saw the hell her mother went through every day because she loved a man whose work put him in the line of fire - then he died in the line of duty and the heroine swore she'd never do that to herself. In order for that romance to work, he has to convince her to accept risk and love and potential loss as a part of life. That's internal conflict. The drug war involving local street gangs is external conflict. In a romance novel, external conflict should, ideally, heighten the internal conflict in some way (either forces the hero or heroine to accept the need to change, shows up the vast differences in belief structures, etc) I like knowing why my hero and heroine are a danger to one another. So I ask that specifically when I'm first planning out a story. How is this guy a risk to her? How is she a risk to him? In one of my stories that's still in the planning stages, the hero has to drain the heroine's lifeforce in order to gain his freedom. He's a risk to her not just because he has to kill her, but because he has access to her every memory and there are some memories she's not willing to live with. She's a risk to him because she has the skill and knowledge to destroy him. They each have the other's lives in their hands. Did I mention they're sharing a body? Yes. This *is* intended to be a romance. So how are they going to work all of that out? There. You now understand internal conflict. So many obstacles, yet somehow, these two have to unbend enough to work together and maybe even fall in love. The external conflict - a bad guy kidnapping and hurting kids - works to force these two characters to face their fears, resentments, and prejudices. It is the external conflict that, finally, forces them to either break down the walls between them or they both die.

So. To be clear. Romance requires ONLY internal conflict. Without internal conflict, you don't actually have a romance story. This is fine, if you aren't writing romance. But if you want to sell a story as a romance, you can't pretend a few sex scenes between waves of rabid zombies attacking equals a romance. It doesn't. Your hero and heroine have to have a reason they cannot possibly love one another. Then they have to proceed to get past that (or not - if you like tragedies). Use your external conflict to force them to get past their 'you are the last person on earth' protests.

As a note: I'd once been told that in a romance, you should resolve your external conflict (kill the bad guy) first, and resolve the romantic conflict last. I've since seen some authors changing that up a bit. So take that bit of advice with a block of salt. If you're seeing feedback about 'where's the romance' or 'all external, no internal conflict', start here.

3. Put it in dialog. As much as possible, get out of a character's head and get him or her talking. If they think it, why can't they say it? If a hero says what he's thinking about heroine, you give your heroine a chance to respond verbally. That interchange will tell your readers far more about those two people than entire paragraphs of what they're thinking. Instead of Sam looking at Rene and thinking, "Whoa, she's cute!" Let him eye her, sidle up next to her, wondering what it was she was carrying over her shoulder and say, "What's a gorgeous gal like you doing in a post-apocalyptic dump like this?" Rene awards Sam a hard stare and drops the limp body of a dead man at his feet. Sam blinks down at the dead guy's wide open eyes. "Ditching the body of the last smart ass who tried to sweet talk me," Rene retorted.

Because humans are social animals, we're infinitely more fascinated by two people talking than we are by anyone thinking. Get the thoughts into dialog *especially* if they're remotely embarrassing or compromising! That's where the fun is. Let your characters out to play. You can always pull them back later.

If you're seeing feedback about 'too much exposition' or 'why are they thinking all this' start here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Not Winning a RITA

So for those of you who missed the main event, my first book, Enemy Within was a finalist in the Romance Writers of America RITA contest. This contest is billed as the Oscars of the romance industry. It was a huge deal (to me) to final in two different categories: Best First Book and Paranormal. I'll say right away the book didn't win in either category.

And that was surprisingly okay with me. I think my friends and family were more disappointed than I was. My friend and RWA11 roommate Jeffe Kennedy had taken on the task of texting my husband the play by play. After the fact, she showed me the profanity (on his part) laced reactions. My biggest regret of the evening was that I had a huge, long list of people to thank. I only regretted not getting to say thank you in that public venue.

I'd been strangely ambivalent about the possibility of winning a RITA in the first place. Isn't that odd? When my agent, Emmanuelle Morgen, asked why, I'd said something about there being no where else to go. She assured me there were all sorts of pinnacles to strive for after a RITA - the NYT list, foreign rights, movie deals, hard back...I think I may have asked whether winning a RITA would ensure another book contract. We won't go into the response on that one. I may have acquired a new bruise.

Kidding. I guess my trepidation about possibly winning a RITA with a first book stemmed from the fact that I feel like I'm still learning about writing. I haven't mastered it in any way, shape, or form. (Some days, the whole writing thing stomps all over me - so there's a ways to go for mastery.) Is it stupid to say that while Enemy Within is a romance novel, the romance wasn't really the point of the story? And the RITAs really are about the best romance has to offer. So, no. I wasn't disappointed.

But I also won't stop entering the contest.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Meanwhile...

You've noticed we're behind in posting. We really aren't still in the San Juan Islands. No, we cleared into Canada some time ago and have been cruising, taking photos and problem solving since. We're at a pause for the next week while I go to New York to attend the RWA National Conference. Keith and the cats are in Victoria, BC docked right in front of the Empress Hotel. They'll hold there until I get back.

The problem solving involved felines. Hatshepsut came down with a urinary tract infection. We found a fabulous vet clinic in Nanaimo - the Clinic for Cats - a short cab ride from the marina. They diagnosed her and gave us Clavamox pills. Woo hoo, done deal right? We sail away from Nanaimo, anchor at a marine park. Hatshepsut promptly has a reaction to her meds. She was miserable and we were in the middle of no where. We pulled up anchor and hurried into port. We were too far south at this point to return to Nanaimo. We called the Clinic for Cats, explained what was happening and told them where we were (Sydney, BC). They said, "Give us five minutes, we'll call you right back." They did. They'd found a hospital near us, sent all the records, told them to expect us, called us back and told us the hospital was waiting for us - they'd give Hatshepsut a shot and all would be well. Sure enough. The Sydney Animal Hospital gave Hatshepsut a long acting antibiotic shot called Convenia. No more need for the Clavamox that had been making her feel so horrible.

Okay. Everything's fine, now, right? We haul the girl back to the boat, sit down, and notice that Cuillean isn't acting right. Uh oh. From watching her, I figured she had an impacted anal gland. This means another vet visit. Those things will rupture and you don't want that. Except that it wasn't. I'd gotten it wrong. I knew this when I saw the blood on my cat. She had an abscess and had pulled the scab off. She was bleeding. All over the boat. It wasn't dangerous, and once she'd opened the abscess, she felt much better, but it still required a trip to the clinic. So first thing Saturday morning, we were back in a cab headed to the Sydney Animal Hospital with another cat. Cuillean was dehydrated, needed a bit of minor surgery to finish draining the wound, and she needed antibiotics. They took very good care of her and we had her back aboard that afternoon. She's healing well, now, and we're hoping that's the end of the feline veterinary adventures.

We do have more photos to post and stories to tell about river otters using the boat as a jungle gym in the middle of the night. We'll get those posted. Eventually. I swear.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Roche Harbor, San Juan Island

The resort of Roche Harbor. This is the family home and remaining company town from the largest limestone quarry west of the Mississippi. The hotel was built by John McMillan, the quarry owner. It housed customers and other guests (including presidents and actors). The main pier is from the original quarry structure.

The new docks. The service at Roche Harbor is the greatest. We called for a slip assignment and staff met us at the dock to help catch a line, give us directions to everything and to offer to send over the pumpout boat.

Looking to shore, the little houses in the back are what remain of the company houses built for families (they're now restored accommodations for the resort) - the single men lived in barracks.

This was originally McMillan's residence. It's now a restaurant where the food and drinks were really super. Crab bisque. Mmmmmm.

McMillian had a church built. It was bought and converted into a Catholic chapel some years ago. It is still privately owned.

One of the remaining lime kilns. The resort has done a great job of preserving the remains of the quarry and of putting up signs explaining the history and the process behind the limestone business.

This is the McMillan family mausoleum. In the center is a huge stone table with stone chairs all around it, one for each family member. Their names and dates are etched into the backs of the chairs and their ashes are interred in the seats. This was a great stop full of lovely hikes and full of all kinds of history. On the way to this site, you pass by a sculpture park. It's a huge field with sculptures scattered around the landscape for you to discover and to stumble upon. It was the best art museum I've ever been to and was the icing on the historical cake made up of Roche Harbor.

Reid Harbor, Stuart Island

Reid Harbor from shore, looking out of the harbor. That's the park pumpout dock there in the foreground.

The dinghy dock from shore. This shoreline is steep, very much like the shore you see on the opposite side. It was quite a hike getting to the county road that would take us out to the lighthouse.

Look at the color of that water. It was gorgeous.

A family on the island runs a trading company. They have two 'out' stations on the island like this. Both provide water for hiking tourists. This one is right beside the island school house - lovely construct. Couldn't get photos, though. School was in session and we didn't want to distract the students. The trading post offers tee shirts, hats, sweatshirts and children's items. Payment is on the honor system. Take your item and mail payment in the envelope they've enclosed.

Haro Straight and the end of our hike. We found this overlook, sat down, had lunch and kept our eyes out for orca feeding in the straight. That is Canada off in the distance. Beautiful stretch of water. Beautiful day. No whales.
Reverse hike. We're at the lowest point of our hike back. We still have to scale the steep granite ledge on the left hand side of the photo in order to get back to our boat. Didn't bother counting calories this day.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sucia to Reid Harbor by way of Friday Harbor

After all the geeky photos of Sucia Island Marine State Park geology, Keith and I went back to the boat intent upon starting the engine to charge the house batteries while we had a nice hot shower. The hot shower part was no trouble. The solar shower had heated our five gallon bath water to 116 degrees.

But starting the engine? Mm. Is it supposed to make that noise? Didn't think so. This can't be good. Our house batteries were dead. Too dead to start the engine. Fortunately, there's a third battery held in reserve. We switched over to it, and the engine started right up. Okay. Back on track. At least our dead house batteries are being charged by the engine. We'll shower and get cleaned up. Everything will be fine. First, showering two people in five gallons of water in what amounts to a closet is no mean feat. You'll get no photos of that. Second, everything was not fine. The moment we shut down the engine, the house batteries began bleeding off their charge. Batteries aren't supposed to do this. It was clear we had at least one dead battery.

Keith set to diagnosing the issue while I fired up the BBQ. That's when I saw this headed directly for us on the current. It's a tree. An entire, freaking huge tree. I know it looks like a black dot. But that black dot had a bead on us and circled in for the kill. Several times. When it became apparent it was going to hit us, I ran for the boat hook to fend it off. Keith apparently thought I was going to end up in the water, cause he dropped everything and came running when I began swearing at the tree just as it came close enough to poke with the boat hook. It hit us, but I'd slowed it way down and shunted it to one side, so the impact didn't even mar the gelcoat. I stood watch with the boat hook for a few hours until the outgoing tide sucked the monster out to sea. I wasn't sad to see it go...it would have been a long, cold night out there in the dark trying to figure out where it was.

Keith found the dead battery, disconnected it, started the engine again to charge up the remaining house battery and said, "this'll get us through the night." Yeah. You see it coming, don't you? He uses a CPAP - a breathing machine. To run it off of the batteries, he has a tiny 400 Watt inverter that plugs into the 12 volt plug. At 4AM, the final house battery gave up the ghost. We discovered this the hard way because the inverter has a power interruption alarm that sounds like the hounds of hell are screaming in your ears. And I wear earplugs to bed. We levitated out of bed, pulled the inverter plug, calmed freaked out cats and humans, and watched the diesel heater choke and quit (it needs a tiny trickle of electricity to run - this battery had nothing to offer). We trudged back to bed and hoped the adrenaline would fade enough that we could get a few more hours' sleep.

Once the sun came up and we gave up pretending to snooze, we switched to the reserve battery, started the engine and diverted south to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island where we could blow yet more money replacing stuff. You do realize that when you're on a boat you walk everywhere? The West Marine in Friday Harbor is six blocks up from the marina or so. We had to carry two lead-acid batteries back to the boat. And then carry our spent batteries back to the store for core recycling. Suffice it to say it was a very long day. But the batteries are in and working beautifully. After a brief delay to accommodate a brush with the flu, we set out for Reid Harbor on Stuart Island. And look. We got to sail.
We have the screecher up as we approach Spieden Island. The screecher is a large sail designed for use in light wind. Very versatile sail - it's on a track that allows us to shift the leading edge of the sail from one side of the boat to the other depending on wind angles. In this case, we had 11 to 13 knots of wind coming over our starboard aft quarter. Very comfortable and easy point of sail for a cat.

 Yes. We could have put up more sail and gone faster, but it was such a nice day, we didn't see the point. Then we realized that the currents were taking us awfully close to the island with its danger marker (the tiny black and white thing in the photo left). Keith said, "Time to start the engine and furl the sail." I went top side to pull the furling line. The sail began rolling up on its furler. Then the line jammed. I may have said a bad word. The sail would not budge. I even tried getting a wrap on the winch to see if I couldn't pop the jam free. No go. And we were still getting closer to that stand off marker. I told Keith I'd deal with the sail, to go ahead and start the engine. He did and eased us around the tip of the island.

When the furler on that sail jams, the only rememdy is to take the entire thing down and stuff it into the sail locker until you're someplace either at anchor or at dock. It's not a big huge thing to take the sail down in light wind like we had. In fact, once we rounded the tip of the island, we had no wind except what our motion generated. In 15 knots of wind, that great big sail is flat dangerous when it jams. No offense Shaeffer, but after putting in the rope guides and even switching to a smaller line size as suggested to prevent the countless jams just like this one, I think I can say this furler bites. If I had $2k I didn't know what to do with, I'd replace that itty-bitty piece of ... hardware with something reliable. Not that I'm bitter about hanging off the bow of my moving boat trying to release a pin so I could drop a sail that shouldn't have needed to be shoved in a messy lump into a locker. I'm also not bitter about spending precious hours of what should have been time relaxing at anchor having to manually unwrap and then rewrap furling line just so I could get the sail back up and working again. Yeah, that sunburn is totally the furling system's fault.

Eh-hem. So the sail is back up. It's furled now. But I doubt we'll entrust the safety of our boat and our family to that furler any more. It makes me sad. I really like that sail. Next: less whining, more photos. Stuart Island and Roche Harbor.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sucia Island Marine State Park

Sucia Island sits on the northern edge of the San Juan Islands. Geologically, it's a very different place than the rest of of the islands. Most of the San Juans are a submerged mountain range - dense, black granite - lots of cliff faces, steep hills, and craggy bits. Sucia is ancient, uplifted seafloor and riverbed. Part of the island is comprised of 70 million year old rock, the rest is 50 million years old stone with modern soils developing on top. So bring on the photos!
Geology of the island - the yellow layer is the 70 million year old portion of the island.

This is the cove where we moored at Sucia. The dark spot there in the rocks is a cave. Two river otters were nesting in there from what we could tell. We had a great time watching them hunting and playing in the shallow water.

Copernicus at the mooring buoy in Fox Cove at Sucia.

This is a mushroom rock. Apparently, sandstones can weather on the top to something like concrete, then when the softer underlayers are exposed they weather faster, creating these features.

70 million year old mud. The entire shoreline was made up of this rock. Maybe we really were walking on dinosaurs.

The mudstone flats exposed by a minus tide.
Anemones exposed in tide pools in the rocks.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Anacortes to Sucia Island Marine State Park

Leaving Anacortes. Our joke was that we'd fixed the heater (with the dealer's help) and thus ensured weather that would mean we didn't need it. Nice theory. Evenings are chilly. We've been using the heater pretty religiously. It's a thing of beauty. Once Keith and Doug from Scan Marine chased down the problem (we were sucking air into the fuel supply - had to eliminate that), the heater began performing brilliantly. It really *does* heat the boat to a nice, toasty temp.

Sucia and Matia Islands off the starboard bow. It was a gorgeous day, but the incoming tide was running fast and hard. At one point, crossing Rosario Straight, I went from being in 300 feet of water to being in 50. And rip tide had the water white capping in just that spot. I spun the wheel, turning nose to tail and took us out the way we'd come in - I assumed I'd found a reef and needed to get off of it. The only problem was that when I turned around, we were nose into the current, and we were standing still in relation to the shore of Orcas Island...this is a bad thing. I opened the throttle and flat got us out of there. So much for fuel economy. After that shot of adrenaline, we made it around Lawrence Point on Orcas and started up the northeast side of the island, taking Clark Islands Park off starboard. More swirly currents. Saw porpoise feeding in the rip tides between Clark Island and Orcas. Again, I was in 300 feet of water, when suddenly, I had 14 feet showing on the depth sounder in the midst of the rip. It bounced down to 24 feet. Then up to 12. Then to 33 feet.  I had the pod of porpoise underneath my boat, screwing with me. They tired of the game and peeled off as I left the churning current.

We by passed Fossil Bay in favor of secluded Fox Cove. The beach in this photo is from the boat after we'd tied up to a mooring buoy. Campsites line the shore, though few people were there mid week. The cove has four mooring buoys, but save for the fishing boats that came through the cove en route to where ever, we had it to ourselves. Fox cove is on the south western side of Sucia and is protected from the open water of Boundary Pass by Little Sucia Island.

The north shore of Fox Cove, golden in the early evening sunshine.

The view past Little Sucia into Boundary Pass. That smudge on the horizon is Canada.  Well. One of the Gulf Islands, anyway. We watched the BC ferry pass, as well as huge commercial cargo ships, and were glad we had the protection of that little island to break up the wakes. The park has no lights. The nights were brilliant and clear. The moon rise that first night looked like something out of a horror show. The eastern horizon turned dusty orange. Then the orb of the nearly full moon, distorted by layer upon layer of atmosphere to twice its normal size, edged into the sky. If my camera wouldn't have reduced it to a simple bright patch of sky, I'd have attempted a photo. But a night shot? From a boat? Yeah. That wasn't going to happen. Sorry. I deeply regret not being able to capture a truly eerie photo from that moon rise.

This is a photo from the next morning. It's a cave. *The* cave where a pair of river otters were nesting. We watched them all morning. They'd tumble out of the cave and spill into the water, hunting fish and clams. Then they'd climb up on the rocks and rub their faces against the stone while their tails s-curved back and forth. It was a great show and we hated to disturb them by getting the dinghy down, but we both really wanted to go ashore to explore. The otters didn't actually seem to mind, even if they steered clear of us as we rowed into the beach.

Next up: More geology than you'll ever want.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cornet Bay to Aborted Deception Pass Attempt

The landmass lost in the lowering clouds is Fidelgo Island. A pair of bridges connects the island to Whidbey Island and to the mainland on the east. This bay approaches the narrow passage between Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. It's a treacherous bit of water. The currents run so fast through this passage that we've seen boats with their engines wide open, still being pushed backward by the current.

This photo to the right offers a glimpse of the bridge. It's the smudge showing just above the low-lying islet in the middle. We have to time our attempt through the passage. We'll wait for slack and make our run. The state has parks on either side of the passage with dock space for those of us who prefer to tie up and wait for the current to die down. The danger of running the passage at peak current is that once the water is running past your rudders faster than you're going, you've lost steerage. A narrow passage lined with granite isn't a spot where you want to have no control over where you go.

As you can see, our copilot is gravely concerned.

Oh, wait. So's the captain and his cohort. I took us up the inside of Whidbey Island into Cornet Bay, the state park just inside Deception Pass. Keith comforted Autolycus. Or was that the other way around? Hard to tell at the point of this photo. We planned to spend the night tied up to a float in the state park (floats mean no power, no water, but they also mean no anchor dragging). Turned out, we got to the park and tied up just in time. It was the opening weekend of boating season and an entire fleet of racing boats came in to tie up. It was the 'Round Whidbey Island Race. These folks rafted boats four deep. They grilled burgers and hotdogs in the rain, then got up the next morning early to make their run through Deception Pass so they could raise sails and finish the race around the outside of Whidbey.

Autolycus, before the docks filled up with boats, enjoying a little shore leave.

Madam Erie, inspecting the docks. She was not impressed. The wood seemed to confuse her.






Note about Cornet Bay: bouncy. The state park has boat ramps right beside the docks with no break water between. Fishing boats launch from those ramps and go screaming off in search of whichever seafood suits them. It made for pretty uncomfortable moorage. Especially at the prices the park charged for mooring up to a float with no amenities. We're pretty much crossing this stop off our list.

Deception Pass: We got up with early and made to get underway before breakfast, intent on making our run through the pass at slack. Two things happened. The cabin heater gave out again. And as I was on deck casting us off, one of the lines caught on my PFD. I yanked on the line to free it. It had wrapped around the "Jerk to Inflate" tab on my life vest. The CO2 canister fired. PIFF. Good news: The life jacket works and no sea water was involved in finding that out. The bad news: Useless once inflated. We had to find a re-arming kit at a marine store to make it usable once more. More bad news: I couldn't breathe with it inflated. I have the vest adjusted for comfort while it wasn't inflated, which meant that once it blew up like a balloon, it was way too tight. I couldn't get out of it. Keith had to help me escape the neon yellow monster. A quick consultation later, we diverted to Anacortes - back the way we'd come, into the La Connor cut and into Padilla Bay, then into Anacortes. Naturally, the West Marine in Anacortes didn't have the parts we needed to repair my PFD. Since, with my lower center of gravity, I do all the deck work, I have to have an autoinflating PFD while outside the cockpit. Keith gave me his. He wore one of the bulky, orange life jackets whenever he had to be on deck, too.

PS: Restaurant tip in Anacortes: Adrift - seafood/burger restaurant. Excellent food. Keith had the crab au gratin. I had coconut green curry catfish. Sounds weird, I know, but the flavors were subtle and fabulous. Key Lime (the real thing) tart for dessert. Mmmm. We're going back.

Next up: San Juans, the PFD fix, Rosario Resort and wildlife!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

More Book Photos

This is an edit (with corrections in the original text) of a previos post. I'd hoped that Blogger would be smart enough *not* to publish it as new...apparently, it's not. Sorry.
Science Fiction and Fantasy author, Noel-Anne Brennan with a tricky, reverse-bound copy of Enemy Games...or maybe the photo was taken in a mirror...whichever entertains you more. She preferred to suggest that aliens delivered her copy to her.

This is Sammy in Texas with her copy of the book. Did someone tell her I'd modeled the hero on one of my felines?
True friendship is reading a book one of your pals wrote, even when it's in a genre you don't like. This is Faye from California. She's a voracious reader and she has as many cats as I do. Some of hers are even more neurotic than mine. Is it any wonder we're friends?

And this is Cosmo. He's 18 and very dear to my heart. He belongs to Carol White. Kind of her to let him read the book first. Does he dog-ear pages, Carol?