Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Traveling or just touring?

A lot of us want to travel but not as a tourist. Huh? I think what we really don't want is to slog through a foreign spot going, "If it's Tuesday this must be Belgium." We want to experience the place first hand. We want to eat where the locals eat. Did it ever occur to you that the locals know how to avoid eating where the tourists eat?

In terms of travel adventure versus safety there's a continuum with a cruise ship on one end and hiking boots plus a backpack on the other. I don't like cruise ships much. They're like floating hotels. "If it's Tuesday, this must be . . . water." Yet few of us have the guts to strike out on our own through the forests of Transylvania or the sands of the Sahara. Here's the best thing to do: Find a tour (yes, even a bus tour) that takes you where you want to go and then adapt it to what you want. You're an adult. You aren't handcuffed to your guide. Almost all tours contain plenty of unscheduled time and, except for time en route, you don't have to do the scheduled things either, if you don't want to.

Most tours have a bunch of "optional excursions" for extra money. Is it really what you want to do? If not, go somewhere else. European tours can be ABC tours--Another Bloody Cathedral. In Turkey, I ODed on Roman/Greek amphitheatres, amazing as they are, and took off on my own for other things I'd rather see.

Of course, you need to use common sense. There are places you really shouldn't go alone, especially if you're a woman with limited martial arts skills. But you can tour without being just a tourist.

Cara Black's advice for those traveling in France who don't want to look like the Ugly American: "Don't wear baseball caps or tennis shoes." Also: Riverboat cruises are not like ocean cruises at all. They are a great way to see Egypt and parts of Europe. Aegean/Mediterranean cruises are also nice because your days are mostly spent exploring islands and you have the luxury of packing/unpacking only once.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Introducing Lacy Glass

She's a cross between Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, and I Love Lucy. And she's the power behind my next book, Scorpion House, first in a new series of adventure/archaeology mysteries. Dr. Lacy Glass is brilliant, beautiful, and accident-prone.

She has a PhD in Botany but her specialty is plant pigments and that gets her into strange places and odd situations because, frankly, winning prizes in flower shows isn't her thing. Stalking the wild indigo is. Lacy grew up in California and currently teaches at a college in Virginia. Her research projects typically end up on the laboratory floor (see paragraph 1) She isn't clumsy, she simply doesn't plan ahead very well.

Scorpion House takes her and several colleagues to Luxor, Egypt where they are to analyze the newly discovered tomb of an 18th dynasty nobleman. One of her housemates is Dr. Paul Hannah, archaeologist and unattached hunk, who is destined to cause Lacy a lot of sleepless nights, albeit unintentionally.

Lacy says to tell you not to believe anything you read about her. Maria lies.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Going to South Africa

My friend Andrea and I are getting ready for a trip to South Africa in May. We've been shot, warned, and handed enough reading material to last until time to pack. So far, my only trip to the African continent was to Egypt in 2007 and my closest encounter with a wild man-eating African animal was the fearsome Nile crocodile in the photo.

Here's what we've learned so far from the good folks who want to shrink-wrap all Americans in sterile plastic:
1. Don't pet the monkeys. You can pet the elephants, but not the monkeys.
2. Get shots for Hepatitis A, tetanus, pertussis, typhoid, and flu.
3. Take malaria pills with you and take them as directed.
4. Take Cipro pills with you in case of Cheetah's revenge.
5. Don't wear, don't even take with you, perfutme, cologne, scented toiletries or soap. Nothing to attract mosquitoes. Don't even use a dryer cloth on the clothes you pack.
6. Take plenty of hand sanitizer.

Now, realistically, this is worse than it sounds. Pertussis (whooping cough) isn't a problem in S. Africa, but you might pick it up from a fellow passenger on the flight. Yeah, and I might pick it up at the Food Lion today.

About those malaria pills. After reading Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, I was wary of the pills because they could give you nightmares. I now know there are two kinds of malaria pills: the cheap ones that indeed call forth flying monkeys and make you jump out your bedroom window in the middle of the night, and the expensive ones that don't. I've bought the expensive kind. So there.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cape Fear

This weekend I drove to Wilmington, NC. to the Cape Fear Crime Festival. This little conference used to be held on Halloween weekend, got so popular it stressed out the facilities to the exploding point, then went dormant for a few years. It's back now, very small, and in February.

I like this. It's small enough that I can blurt out comments without waiting to be called upon.

The conversation was all about--of course--epubbing and how to succeed in this new game. What I learned was that you really must generate saturation coverage for yourself on the Web and that doing this will take approximately 24 hours a day.

That is, IF you are savvy enough to do it at all.

But I had a grand time talking to other writers and eating pizza. Thank you, Jim and Joyce Lavene and Judy Nichols!