Posts tagged with: travel

Traveling to Open a Writer’s Mind

Happy Friday! What are you up to this weekend? Perhaps you are headed out on vacation? I just returned from our family house on the coast of Maine. We inherited the 19th century home from my husband’s grandparents. It’s bank of wild primroses and lupines leads down to McCollum Beach. From the porch you can look out at the lobster boats chugging along the reach. Much love, sweat and inheritance money have been poured into making the house functional again so that we can spend most of July up where the daytime highs are about 70 degrees. The house and property have become my happy place. Being there “fills my well.”

Do you like to travel? Maybe even locally, to museums and parks. Not only does stepping away from the house help you to remember that there is a big, beautiful world outside, it also helps give you setting details, characters, and plot turns.

Taking any type of public transportation can give you all sorts of interesting characters. Flying home from Maine this last time, the lady next to me seemed to be in a constant state of anger. She wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone, kept her hat on, mumbled to herself and disinfected the seatbelt, tray and chair arms with Clorox wipes. Oh my gosh, I wanted to take a minute inside her brain, but no matter what, she wouldn’t interact with me. If the airplane had lost its engines, and we were barreling to the earth, I wonder if she’d have held my hand (after she Cloroxed it). By the time we landed, I’d created a whole back story in my head about her and the louse who’d cheated on her and taken her cat.

Exploring small towns always gives me rich characters. We stopped at a small pottery store with an open sign out, but no one was inside. There was thousands of dollars worth of beautiful pottery and a note asking people to write down what they bought, add in the sales tax, and leave cash or a check in the lock box. The artist even went so far as to say that people could take the pottery and mail him a check if they only had credit card. We were so impressed by his faith in people! I bought three lovely pieces.

Then there is the old man we drive by each time we go to get soft serve ice cream from our house. He must be in his 80s. He has a hunched back and usually is working in his yard or on top of his roof without a shirt on. He’s quite tan. I think the work keeps him going.

My husband and I attended the University of Maine nearby (a small off-shoot of the main campus). One of our professors still teaches there, and we visit her each summer. She’s about 4ft 10 inches tall and wears two long braids. She just turned 73 yo. Dr. Kraus is also a wildlife rehabilitator. We’ve known her to heal owls, eagles, vultures, moose, deer, bats, rabbits, etc. Her property is like a secret garden with nooks of flowers and flitting dragonflies. This year she is nurturing two baby deer. One is only three pounds. We were able to spend the evening with her and watched her bottle feed them. My daughter is convinced that she is the real

Dr. Kraus with my Highlander

Mother Nature. If I ever go back to writing paranormal, Dr. Kraus will definitely play that role.

Even the different landscapes of Maine, the smells and sounds, call all my senses to awareness. Hiking in the pine and salt-water breeze, tasting the wild blueberries, listening for the snort of a deer in the brush close by, breathing in the cool fog that surrounds us like a sentient being.

Fog wrapping around the islands


All of it excites my writer’s blood. I keep my eyes and ears wide open, my mind and camera cataloging as many new experiences as I can. It feeds my spirit and will enrich my stories.

Even if I don’t write about Maine (which I hope to in the future), there are parts that can easily fall into my Scottish stories. In fact, the coast of Maine is very much like the coast of Scotland when we explored the Highlands a few years ago. I’m so fortunate to have visited both.

Have you visited anywhere that opened up your writer’s senses, giving you details to carry home? Even a trip to the town next door can give you fresh details for your next fabulous manuscript.

P.S. We also rent out our two cottages and 3 bedroom house on the coast of Maine during the summer. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested, and I’ll send you the VRBO links.

Journeying to Wild Places for Inspiration

Happy Monday, everyone! 

I’m writing this post from the deck of our house on the coast of Maine. We inherited my husband’s grandfather’s vintage home and property in this small lobster-fishing village ten years ago and have been fixing it up. It is beautiful up here and cool in the summer, in complete contrast to my sweltering home in North Carolina. So my family and I retreat up here for three weeks each July. 





I’ve learned from our visits that the USA has so many different cultures and landscapes. Jonesport, Maine is like a different planet compared to our suburban home in NC. The people, the weather, the daily living, even the color of the dirt and wildness of the terrain are so varied. The differences spark an awakening in my author brain. 

When life and daily living are routine, we tend to glance over the small details. Our lives can become flat, which translates into flat, boring writing. By visiting another world, we become aware of the little details, the brilliant little divots in the perceived smoothness of the life around us. These details breathe new life into my writing. Even doing things that I normally do (like morning yoga) feels completely different in a new location.

I’ve met such amazing characters here. The couple that visits hospital cafeterias in towns as they travel to find nutritious, cheap food instead of stopping at Burger King or McDonald’s. The 80-year-old man who still moves scaffolding all on his own to fix our roof. The woman who is writing a book full of cliches because she likes them. The goat farm family who sells cheese and soap. The physically challenged man who uses his eye movements to type out his stories at the small library across the road. The couple who tried to have sex on our cabin porch next door until we sicked our friend, the angry Irishman, on them. The winery owners who make the sweetest blueberry wine. The list goes on and on, and the character details fill my brain. 

The landscapes are also enrapturing. Fog that snakes around the island before our house, which seems to have a mind of its own. The seals basking in the sun on the small islands a short boat ride away. The lobster boats chugging in and out of the reach. The boulders poking up through the moss-covered pine forest like giants’ kneecaps. 

Top of Blueberry Hill overlooking Spring River Lake

I’ve only been here a week, and so far we’ve gotten trapped on an island by the incoming tide and had to run through the freezing water rising over the connecting sandbar. We’ve canoed a lake, climbing an unmarked mountain to eat sweet wild blueberries at the top while sitting on a painted American flag. We’ve explored two marked hiking trails and seen a seal bob up right off the cliffs, with a feisty lobster in its mouth. We’ve watched lobster crate races, lobster boat races, a parade, half a dozen bald eagles and fireworks that we couldn’t see because of the fog (looked like a naval battle in the smoke) and my husband hypnotize a lobster before we steamed him (the lobster, not my husband).

Hypnotized lobster – see what a Marine Biology degree will teach you!

Wild Maine Blueberries – can’t get more organic than this!

The sounds and smells are different from NC. Pine, primroses, the sweetness of moss and wildflowers in the forest, the smell of the tides. The lapping of water and chugging of lobster boats fill the air, punctuated by the caw of seagulls and rustle of wind through the trees. 

Enjoying the warmth of the rocks while watching the ocean.

All of the details are interesting because they are distant from my usual daily life. And even though I am not currently writing a Maine set book with a vengeful fog antagonist, my mind feels more awake than it has in months. My words flow more easily, and I can breathe. 

So, my advice is to try to seek out “the wild” in contrast to your tame, normal environment. Whether that means going to New York City when you live in the country or heading to the beach when you normally wake up to mountains. Even driving to a new town in your state where you can investigate a local museum or new library can inspire. Sit and breathe and take in the people and landscape around you. Give your muse something new about which to be curious. It will awaken your writer’s mind.

What journeys have inspired you? Have you met a character or experienced a landscape/setting that will or has found its way into one of your books?

P.S. The house and both little cottages are for rent during May, June, August and September each year. The VRBO links are below if you’re interested, and they are also on Airbnb. 

Primrose Cottage

Lupine Cottage

The McCollum House


Get a Room, Part II: Advanced Priceline Bidding Strategy

My first Priceline bidding tutorial gave you a couple of key cheats to master the system: how to tell which hotels you’re bidding on, understanding which zones/star levels to select, and a general strategy of deciding how much to bid. But you’re still left bidding just once every two hours, which gets old.

Now you’re ready for the big guns. Yes, it comes in spreadsheet form. But it’s EASY, and it helps you bid more quickly. It’s the Priceline Rapid Rebid Strategy (I just made that up, but it sounds good). I’ll give you an easy method and free tools for maximizing your bids and getting the best possible hotel in your desired region. At the end, you’ll find a downloadable copy of my master Priceline spreadsheet to do with as you please.

Get a Room, Part I: Basics of Using Priceline to Bid on Hotel Rooms

Need a room for RWA’s upcoming national conference in New York City?

Daunted by the prices and complexity of finding the best deal in the right location?

Wish you could use Priceline to bid your way into a fabulous room, but afraid of ending up in New Jersey?

FEAR NOT! I’ve been using Priceline for years, and I’m here to walk you through it in this two-part series. Today we’ll tour the Basics of Bidding. Next week, look for an advanced course in maximizing your bids using free re-bid zones (don’t worry–it’ll all make sense eventually!).

Romance writers as Travel Companions

Please don’t tell the extended Essex family, but I’ve just discovered that I like to travel without them. It is a rather astonishing revelation for me, as I very much enjoyed travel with my family. But I’ve discovered better companions—other writers!

Imagine yourself on a road trip with a fellow writer—I took just such a trip earlier this summer with romantic comedy author Tracy Brogan, and it was marvelous, productive fun.

Now, imagine that experience times six! Imagine it in a foreign country, like Scotland, with six other romance writers, some of whom I had never met. Recipe for disaster? Not at all.

My trip to Scotland was as part of a group of seven women— Deborah Barnhart, Lorraine Heath, Liz LeCoy, Cathy Maxwell, Kerrelyn Sparks, and Bonnie Tucker and myself—romance writers all, at various stages of our careers, but all with the desire to fire our imaginations with every sight and sound we could conjure out of the Highlands. We had no fixed itinerary, but decided where we would go and what we would do and see each day, depending upon the weather, and upon what piqued our imagination on the day. 

The Edradour We toured cities and countryside. We climbed up castle towers and motor sailed down Loch Ness. And then we wrote. We drove across unfenced pastureland dodging sheep, visited distilleries and sipped whisky. We learned to shoot clay pigeons on a grouse moor, visited the Queen’s favorite Scottish church, (or kirk). And then we wrote. 

We looked for crusader graves, and the memorial stone dedicated to the memory Queen Victoria’s favorite, John Brown. We danced in stone circles. We learned about plaid. We learned some more about whisky. We tasted some more whisky. We ate mouthwatering local seafood and produce. And then we wrote some more. 

We learned about the storied, and often bloody, history of  Scotland and the Scots. And we listened to the voices around us, raised in passionate debate over the Scottish referendum on whether to remain a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or to go independent. Scotland stayed with the Queen and her kingdom, but I don’t imagine that will be the last we’ve heard from the Scots. Not by any long stretch.

And it won’t be the last you’ll hear from me and my fellow travelers on the subject of Scotland. We have pledged to band together to produce an anthology of novellas inspired by the country that fascinates us still. Look for it for Christmas 2015.

And in the mean time, look around you at your next romance writers’ convention for some like-minded travelers. My suspicion is that you’ll find romance writers very good company indeed.

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Nan Dixon

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Nan Dixon, a finalist in the Contemporary Series Romance category for SAVANNAH SIGHS. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

Writing and Travel

I’m a writer living in the landlocked Midwest and I had the audacity to set SAVANNAH SIGHS, my 2011 Golden Heart manuscript, in Savannah.  What the heck do I know about this southern gem of a city?

Initially, not much.  When I first drafted SAVANNAH SIGHS, I’d only visited Savannah for a long weekend.

Let me take a step back.  I have 3 sisters – we do not discuss ages – since we are – amazing as it seems – all 39.  (No, my mother did not have quadruplets.)  For the last nineteen years, we have taken a long weekend – a Stevens Women’s Weekend.  Initially with our mother, now just sisters.

One sister acts as the social director and plans the whole trip.  The social director rotates each year.  I’m next up in 2012 and have so many ideas.  What is unique about the planning is the other 3 sisters do not know where we’re going.  The social director gives out clues: temperatures, what clothes to pack, possible sight-seeing items, but never tells us the destination.  (The guessing is part of the fun.)  Even airport staff and TSA cooperate by not letting us see our boarding passes or bag tags.  We never sit in front of the correct gate in the Minneapolis airport.

My turn as Social Director rolled around and I had always wanted to see Savannah.  Then I started researching the area.  Do you know that River Street is paved with flagstones from England?  The stones were ballast on ships coming to the Colonies and then dumped at the Port of Savannah to transport cotton or tobacco back to England.  Our industrious ancestors did not waste those stones.  I used that as a clue for my sisters – “Although we will not be going to England – we will be walking on parts of England.”

We flew into Atlanta.  Driving down to Savannah I caught my first sight of cotton growing.  In Minnesota, I see corn, wheat, soybeans, and cows – not cotton.  We drove into the historic district of Savannah, drove under the live oaks covered with moss, and I fell in love.  Sure, it may take you twice as long to get somewhere in Savannah because all the squares are one way – but what an incredible detour: the flowers, the statues and the people are amazing.

As we wandered Savannah, enjoyed a ghost pub-crawl, kayaked at Tybee Island, ate, and ate, and ate, the seed of a story grew.  What if four sisters owned a B&B in Savannah?  What if the mansion ate money?  What if their mother had named all her daughters after presidents’ wives, and all the rooms in the B&B, too.  Of course, there would be a ghost and a serial-killer cat.  Cooking and baking were a natural.  How would the four sisters find true love?  What trials would they face?  What would rip them apart?  Would all four sisters really want to run a B&B – or would it be a calling for some – and a cross to bear for others?

My love affair with Savannah started with my sisters and then became a romance series.  When I dragged my husband down for more research last spring, he also fell in love.  If you get a chance, I recommend taking the fascinating Bonaventure Cemetery Tour.

What happens when you travel – even just to the mall?  Does the ambiance end up in your stories?  Do you eavesdrop on other people’s conversations?  What’s your favorite book setting and how did you come up with it?

Nan Dixon is a two-time Golden Heart finalist and proud member of the Unsinkables and Starcatchers.  A self-confessed contest junkie, in 2009 she won the Contest Diva award with 18 finals (3 manuscripts) and plans to bring the recently received tiara to nationals. You can find her at

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