Sunday, December 29, 2019

HAPPINESS RE-EXAMINED

by Chris Goff

“The thing about happiness is you can define it by saying, you’re happy when you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else doing anything else.” – Robert Egelstaff, kayak guide and poet

Traveling makes me happy. It also makes me feel youthful, like a child soaking up every new experience. New landscapes and cultures color the world differently, pushing me to test my boundaries, and in the chaos of exploration comes new ideas. I am filled up, regenerated and reenergized.

Antarctica

On November 26th, my husband and I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. We knew we would have little or no telephone availability and expensive and sketchy WiFi at best. For all intents and purposes, we would be off the grid, unplugged, free.

Like all great adventures, ours started with a challenge. A major snowstorm bearing down on Denver forced us to leave a day early. No problem. With a phone call or two, we were able to arrange for an extra night at the hotel and a car to pick us up at the airport in San Antonio, Chile.

Problem: we arrived just in time for the riots. The protests, as locals like to call them, had fires burning in the streets, police in riot gear racing around at high speed, and no ships in a holding pattern outside of the harbor. At our hotel, we were the only guests, the restaurant was closed, the grounds locked down and only a skeleton staff of one present.

By morning things had calmed down, we were able to eat and the staff was back, assuring us the trouble was over. “Today there will be no problems. The protestors are going somewhere else, and they never march before 5:00 p.m.” Scheduled riots! Who knew?

The Adventure Begins

We sailed on the Seabourn Quest. We’d chose the line because of the deal they were offering at the time of booking AND because they were one of the only cruise lines offering landings on the continent as part of their package. Where most cruise lines cruised by, Seabourn had a staff of 24 expedition guides (experts in various areas, including but not limited to glacier experts, kayak experts, ornithologists, biologists, whale experts, historians….), and a contingent of 12 Zodiac boats and 10 kayaks. Every day there were presentations on where we were going, the wildlife we’d be seeing, and those who had gone before.

Colin O’Brady, the first man to complete an unsupported and completely human-powered solo across Antarctica, joined us for several days and told us what it was like pulling a 300+lb sled across the continent. Battling windchill as low as -80 degrees, paralyzing whiteouts and extremely high winds, he completed his historic 930-mile walk in 54 grueling days. Currently, he’s rowing a boat with 5 other men across the Drake Passage. Certifiable!

In juxtaposition to Colin’s suffering, we were traveling in the lap of luxury. Large suites with walk in closets and bathtubs. Large verandas. An outdoor pool with three hot tubs. Four restaurants serving a gluttonous amount of food, free flowing beverage service, a full spa, and nightly entertainment. There was even a bridge club and daily High Tea service.

We began our journey in San Antonio, Chile visiting several cities along the coast of Chile, cruising in the shadows of extinct and active volcanoes, up through the Strait of Magellan within touching distance of El Brujo glacier and through the Beagle Channel. Then, after spending a night in Ushuaia, Argentina, pinned to the dock by 70 knot winds, we set sail for Antarctica. 12 hours behind schedule, we entered the Drake Passage, a 600 mile stretch of water between Cape Horn at the tip of Argentina and Antarctica. The Drake is where the Pacific meets the Atlantic, and it’s known as the most dangerous and treacherous sea passage on Earth.

Welcome to “Drake Lake.” At most we experienced 6-foot swells. I had taken Dramamine for no reason.

Antarctica

After circling a gigantic iceberg, we navigated the Nelson Strait of the South Shetland Islands and headed along the west coast of the Antarctic peninsula to Deception Island. Considered one of the safest harbors in Antarctica, it is in fact a caldera rimmed by an active volcano that last exploded, without warning, in 2015. The geologist’s excitement and enthusiasm was contagious. We had arrived.

Later that evening came the first of eight “expedition briefings.” We were told the protocol for boarding and disembarking the Zodiacs. We learned the sailor’s grip (hand to wrist), the disinfectant protocol (so as not to contaminate pristine areas). We learned the rules. “Now, I know many of you are Navy Seals,” Lucqui, the expedition leader, began. “But...”

Day 1- Cierva Cove

A sheltered harbor that housed an only occasionally inhabited Argentinian research base. The water was covered with “bergie bits,” the iceberg’s slush ice that floated on the surface. Here, while some kayaked, we cruised among icebergs in the Zodiac boats and spotted saw our first chinstrap penguin rookeries.

That evening, as we headed for our next destination, Captain announced that they had spotted orcas and encouraged us all to come out on the decks. Pulling on layers (long underwear, wool socks, fleece pants, a second base layer shirt, a puff layer and parka given to us by Seabourn, and hats and gloves) Wes and I waddled outside to join the others. Within minutes, the ship was surrounded by orcas. We estimated 50 in the pod, and they were close enough we could hear them exhale and see their whole bodies as they hunted clear, cold water.

NOTE: we were surprised to discover on that day that only about two-thirds of those on board participated in the landings. And that, in fact, there were people who never ventured out on deck, preferring to witness the beauty of Antarctica through the plate glass windows of the Observation Lounge on Deck 10. Why pay that kind of money for the same experience you could get on a large screen TV? Foddor for fiction!

Day 2- Waterboat Point

Here we saw Gentoo penguins. An historic site where, in 1921, two men overwintered in a hut improvised from an overturned waterboat, the site is now a Chilean research base where we could mail postcards home from Antarctica. $10 each for the card and stamp. Merry Christmas! Check. Check.

That evening we sailed into the Lemaire Channel headed for the Weddell Sea. As the band played and we all stood at the bow of the boat, the captain took a good hard look at the iceberg blocking the channel and at the last minute turned the boat around. Good call!

Day 3 – Mikkelsen Harbor

Enroute to the day’s landing site, we stood on the back deck and marveled at the number of sea birds wind surfing in the wake of the boat. Giant petrals and black-browed albatross, boasting wing spans of more than 6 feet. Located on a small island, Mikkelsen Harbor was home to a large gentoo penguin colony and several weddell seals, who sprawled on the snow.

This was our first glimpse of the “penguin highways.” Gentoo penguins build their nests of stones, preferably at the highest point, which means they must travel to and from the beach collecting those stones. They carry them up to their mate, who is protecting the egg, then go back for more. Unless—sometimes you’ll see them steal stones from each other, placing the stone on the right side of their nest, while another is stealing a stone from the left.

Day 4 – Weddell Sea

Here we were close to where Ernest Shackleton’s boat Endurance was trapped in the ice. In 1916, Shackleton and his 27 men were forced to winter over. With the Endurance crushed by sea ice, in the spring when the ice started to break up, the men took to lifeboats and sailed toward So. Georgia Island. This is where we were supposed to kayak. Unfortunately, wind cancelled kayaking that day. But we were not to be deterred. We immediately went to guest services and secured one of the last open spots on Day 6.

The Zodiac adventure still remained, and the expedition team was determined to get us out on the fast ice, the frozen sea ice that filled in the 1200 miles between the Antarctic peninsula and the continent. Nudging the Zodiacs onto the ice shelf, we clambered out of the boats onto a thin, 2-inch crust of ice. With 5,000 meters of sea below, you didn’t dare miss the edge. Once secure on the fast ice, gazing into the distance, at the vastness, desolation and beauty, it became clear how small and insignificant we are.

And, we saw adélie penguins, a comical and curious penguin that waddles arms open in greeting and slides on their bellies. They quickly became my favorite!

Day 5 – Yankee Harbor
Moving back into the warmer clime of the South Shetland Islands, we had another opportunity to walk—this time on land. On a small island, Yankee Harbor is home to a large gentoo populations, where the first penguin chicks were spotted, and a respite for elephant seals that lounged on the beach.

Day 6 – Elephant Island

The last day in Antarctica, and our day to kayak. A small spit of land surrounded by glaciers, Elephant Island is as far as Shackleton and his men got before having to land. It was here that 22 men wintered over a second time, while Shackleton and 5 others sailed for help. The rescuers made it to South Georgia Island, but 3 were so sick, Shackleton and two of the men left them behind and hiked across island braving steep climbs, glaciers and treacherous cervices to reach the whaling camp. Eventually ALL 28 men were rescued.


Kayaking was a real adventure. With no good landing site, it was decided we would climb into the kayaks from the side of the Zodiacs. We had trained for this. Several different days in a row we had practiced climbing into a kayak on deck from the side of the pool. What we weren’t told is that the side of the Zodiac is about a foot or more higher than the pool ledge. Getting in wasn’t the problem. Getting out…. The peacefulness of paddling through the brash ice alongside a young leopard seal cannot be described. (That's us above, in the last boat.)

From there it was Drake Lake—again. On the second day at sea, we spotted a blue whale. Weighing in at around 192 tons and up to100 feet long, it is the largest animal on earth—and beautiful. And we paid homage to the weather gods. Except for a spit of rain in Punta Arenas and the wind in Ushuaia, we had perfect weather.

The trip ended with a stop at the Falkland Islands to see the rockhopper and king penguins, a stop in Montevideo, Uruguay because you can’t travel from the Falklands directly to Argentina, and then finally Buenos Aires. We had an incredible time—so incredible that we’ve signed up for the Svalbard to Greenland expedition in August 2021. It’s the maiden voyage of the Seabourn Venture—a smaller boat with the capacity for 264 guests, 132 oceanfront suites with large verandas, 24 Zodiacs, sea kayaks, mountain bikes, ebikes and—drum roll—2 submarines. How brave am I!?! Time will tell.

How brave are you? What’s your most daring travel experience to date?

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The best book you ever received for Christmas



By: Liv Constantine

'Tis the day for gift-giving and all of us (well, perhaps most of us) hope that we’ve chosen the perfect gift for the special people in our lives. We spent time in December browsing catalogs, searching online, and shopping at our favorite stores to find just the right present.

You can probably think back over all of your Christmases and remember the presents that were most special to you. If you had to choose one that tops the list, you might be hard-pressed. But since everyone reading this is a reader or a writer or both, we bet it would be easy to pick out the best book you ever got for Christmas.



For both of us, Nancy Drew wins hands down. The titles thrilled us, and the scarier the cover the better. There was nothing like unwrapping a new mystery and knowing how exciting it was going to be to read. It was almost impossible not to open it to the first page right then and there and start reading!

The first book in the series was “The Secret of the Old Clock” and the cover is etched in our brains. This girl detective, at the age of 16, drove her roadster down winding roads, followed her hunches, always recognized suspicious characters and could pick a lock with the best of them. Next year Nancy turns 90, and she has never been out of print. In fact, over 80 million Nancy Drew books have been sold, and she has been translated into 45 languages!

Edward Stratemeyer created “The Hardy Boys”, and in 1929 imagined a girl detective who would capture the hearts of little girls. Hence the creation of Nancy Drew, who came to life in 1930 when he asked Mildred Wirt Benson, a newspaperwoman, to write the first three books. Stratemeyer heavily outlined his vision for those books and so were born “The Secret of the Old Clock”, “The Hidden Staircase” and “The Bungalow.”  She continued to write the series under the name Carolyn Keene until the 1950s when Stratemeyer’s daughter took over.

Nancy Drew was such an enduring presence in both of our lives that we still talk about her. As the older sister, Valerie’s books became Lynne’s. Lynne was so passionate about them that she made sure to make a legal claim of ownership.


Lynne passed them on to her young daughter (who is now in college), and in a year or two, the treasure trove will be passed along to Valerie’s now four-year-old granddaughter! A recent review by Maureen Corrigan in the Washington Post of “The Guardians” by John Grisham said this: “The climax of “The Guardians” slyly nods to many a classic Nancy Drew adventure: Post and Franke steel themselves to break into a boarded-up haunted house, climb up into its dank attic and unearth (as Nancy would say) a “clew” that just may decide Miller’s fate…”
Nancy endures!

Were you a Nancy Drew fan? What was a favorite book that you received for Christmas?

Sunday, December 22, 2019

THE ROGUES DO HOLIDAYS THEIR OWN WAYS

by Chris Goff

The holidays are a special time, and a stressful time. A great time for crime writers to gather fodder. Not! While rumors have persisted that murder rates jump during the holidays, it's just not true. According to research, December and the winter months traditionally boast the lowest rates of violent crime.

So much for Aunt Millie skewering Uncle Ted with the carving knife.

Still, one cannot deny that holiday stress exists. Expectations run high. Kids are out of school and excited. There's too much to do, and too many people to please. We've all heard the suggestions for sanity. "Lower your expectations." "Find ways to keep the kids busy." "Avoid conversational landmines." "Take a break." "Mind your manners." But my all time favorite is "Relish in Family Rituals.

It doesn't matter what the ritual is, sharing a special moment with family members each year creates bonds. According to Nick Hobson, Director of Science at PsychologyCompass.com, "[Rituals] serve as a buffer to counteract different sources of anxiety." In other words, they serve as a distraction, helping to preserve your mental health.

My family has a number of rituals. Opening stockings on Christmas morning while eating pumpkin pie. A big dinner in the late afternoon followed by games—Bingo, with a white elephant gift exchange; Pictionary; Charades. But my all time favorite tradition happens on Christmas Eve. All the preparations are complete and everyone has gathered. Kids are settling down, trying to be extra good while waiting for Santa to come. As the lights of the Christmas tree twinkling in the background, the credits come up, and my family watches "White Christmas." My parents started the tradition the year the movie came out—1954. A year before I was born. It's a classic starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Now 65 years later, it's still a staple in the Goff family.

I asked the other Rogues about their traditions, and here's how they responded:

KJ Howe 
The holidays are my favorite time of year for a beach getaway—whether it is in the South Pacific, the Caribbean, or another island paradise, the turquoise waters and white sand are what strikes a holiday chord for this escaping Canadian. I’m happy to leave the other white stuff for everyone else!






Gayle Lynds
When John and I married in 2011 and blended our families, we discovered we had a lot of combined holiday traditions – beloved old tree ornaments dating back a half century (at least), faded recipes from our grandmothers, and Santa Claus and reindeer songs on CDs transferred from LPs during what is now considered the Golden Age in recordings. (Oh, to still have all those old LPs!)

So considering the circumstances, how does one create something new? Have trees! As it turned out, a lot of white pines and hemlocks (perfect for poisoning a character) grow on our land. So John and I snowshoed out to cut one and drag it home. Because our trees are wild, they’re always lopsided, the branches sprawl, and they’re entirely naked in places – far from the usual tradition of symmetry. But we have a high ceiling (my first), which means the tree can be really, really tall, which is nice.

That first year after everyone finished laughing at what appeared to be a Christmas bush on steroids growing in our living room, the grandkids discovered the joy of climbing step ladders to decorate the towering green giant. And the adults found themselves fondling the soft needles and sniffing the fresh scent – heavenly. So now every year we have a Christmas bush. It’s traditional in a nontraditional way. We like it. Happy holidays!


Robin Burcell
We try to get the tree up just after Thanksgiving, and down just after New Year’s. I've collected unique ornaments for decades but absolutely adore the Storybook Renaker Brazel Beachstone ornaments.







Lisa Black
My parents’ tradition had been to put the tree up on Christmas Eve, after the children had gone to bed so they could wake to pure wonder on Christmas morning at what Santa Claus had wrought. Once we got past the age of believing in magic elves, this rule got flexed and we would help with the tree. I never knew where they came from, but from the gaps and bare spots I’m thinking someone’s back yard. In one infamous family video, my father and sister and brother-in-law are hanging delicate ornaments on pretty branches. After a break, filming starts up again but the tree looks different, the ornaments somehow awry, as if it had fallen onto one side. Because it had. My father scrounged in his basement work area and found the heaviest thing he could, an old bucket full of chains. He tied the tree trunk to the handle of the bucket and voila! It never quite recaptured its earlier sparkle, but at least it stayed upright.

But hey, with enough tinsel and twinkling lights, anything becomes magical.


Valerie Constantine
We go to a candlelight performance of Handel’s Messiah at St. Anne’s Church every Christmas. The first church in Annapolis, St. Anne’s was founded in 1692.






Karna Small Bodman
“We have been collecting Christmas ornaments from the White House Historical Association for decades. We always begin decorating our Christmas tree with these precious ornaments – each focuses on a different time frame and is accompanied by a little story about that particular time in White House history. Anyone can purchase them here: https://shop.whitehousehistory.org/holidays/ornaments



Lynne Constantine
Every Christmas Eve my husband, the kids and I go to church, and when we get home we watch A Christmas Story together. I love the nostalgic feel of the movie and it’s a great way to relax and take a little break during the business of the season.


Jamie Freveletti
Our holiday tradition has been evolving in a wonderful way as our kids' friends bring some of theirs to us. Last year instead of traditional eggnog, (which I love) my son's friend introduced us to Coquito, which means "Little Coconut" in Spanish. It's just like eggnog, contains alcohol, and is delicious!


Tell us about your holiday traditions?

Friday, December 20, 2019

J.T. ELLISON, DECEMBER'S ROGUE RECOMMENDATION, GOES ROGUE


🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

To close out our year, The Real Book Spy and Rogues are thrilled to announce December's must-read book, and I can tell you personally, I could not put it down! I attended three different boarding schools while growing up, and J.T. Ellison captured the setting brilliantly. 

An analysis from The Real Book Spy:
Last year, no thriller shocked me more than J.T. Ellison’s brilliant novel Tear Me Apart, a hard-hitting, jaw-dropping story with more twists and turns than any ride you’ll find at Six Flags. Surely, I told myself, Ellison will never, ever top that book—and yet she did just that one year later . . . which is why Good Girls Lie  is my Rogue pick this month. 
How far would you go to protect your deepest, darkest secret? Ellison tackles that question here, telling a blistering story about a ritzy, Virginia-based boarding school and the girls who attend classes there. Ash Carlisle, an outsider who is placed at the Goode School following the death of her parents, serves as protagonist, though Ellison bounces around, switching POVs and mixing things up as the plot unfolds. 
At its heart, Good Girls Lie is a mystery. After being chosen for one of the school’s sororities, Ash faces intense hazing and even some bullying, but things take a much darker turn when a fellow student is found dead of what appears, at least initially, to be a suicide. Police begin investigating, taking a special interest in Ash and the school’s dean, but as readers will quickly find out, everyone seems to have their own secrets—and they’re all desperate to keep them nice and hidden, right where they belong. 
On top of the heaping dose of nail-biting suspense, Ellison manages to capture so much more than just a surprise-filled plot. Taking readers inside what it’s like to be a teenager in today’s society—with the cliques and factions and kids who seem too perfect for their own good—she delivers a stunning look at what one goes through when, more than anything, they just want to be accepted and fit in. Landing one emotional punch after another, Ellison’s able to manipulate readers’ emotions in a hypnotic way—helplessly pulling them along on one hell of a thrilling ride that’ll leave ‘em shaken, stirred, and dying to find a reading buddy to discuss every twist and turn with. 
A huge fan of J.T. Ellison, I haven’t been this excited about a psychological thriller since Gillian Flynn rocked the world with Gone Girl. . . and if you enjoyed that book, you had better head out and grab this one the second it hits bookstores on December 30th. Trust me, you’ll be so glad that you did! 

Well said, Ryan! Couldn't agree more...this book should come with a "prepare to stay up all night" warning on it. J.T. was kind enough to join us to share a little background into the creation of GOOD GIRLS LIE! Take it away, J.T.
Thank you so much for inviting me for this!

The concept for GOOD GIRLS LIE came together quite organically. 

I was watching International House Hunters (a weekend ritual…) and the family was moving to Surry, England, so the husband could teach at a private girls school. The building was so charming, with its Gothic spires and red-brick front, my latent brain starting churning.

I always want to write stories that are something totally new for me, fresh, different. And I’d always wanted to write a boarding school novel. I went to an all-women’s college that required the students (except Prime Time—older/married students coming back to school) to live on campus. We lived behind the “Red Brick Wall” and our buildings were attached by covered trestle bridges, so we could literally move from dorm room to classroom to dining hall without ever going outside. The school was haunted, as all good boarding schools must be. We even had a staircase painted blood red, because legend had it a girl died in the stairwell and they couldn’t get her blood out of the concrete, so they painted it to match.

A boarding school mystery. Dark. Gothic. I liked the sound of that.

The moment the show was over, I opened Day One, titled a Story Idea entry (this is how I file things that don’t have titles), and pulled a plot out of thin air. 

And then I walked away from it. I had other work to do. 

But as sometimes happens, the story wouldn’t let me go. A few weeks later, a crazy line popped into my head: There are truths, and there are lies, and then there’s everything in between, which is where you and I will meet.I thought it might relate to the boarding school book, so I recorded it and moved on, which is how I handle most of the strange voices that pop into my head. 

But I couldn’t shake the words, and then I had a vision of a private school, the huge, closed gates, and a body hanging from them. I realized the truths and lies were about this dead girl, and the gates were the fictional entrance to my alma mater, which looks an awful lot like the school in Surrey. The perfect setting for a haunting thriller. 

I mentioned the concept to my editors and publisher and the way my editor’s eyes lit up, I knew I needed to find a way to write the book, and quickly. I wrote it so fast that I messed up the point of view and had to go back and switch it at the 11thhour. It was a wonderful challenge on all levels, and I’m so excited that the book’s release is finally here! I hope you love GOOD GIRLS LIE as much as I loved the process of creating it!


J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 20 critically acclaimed novels, including TEAR ME APARTLIE TO ME, and ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, and coauthored the "A Brit in the FBI" series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. J.T. is also the EMMY® Award-winning co-host of the television series A Word on Words. Her forthcoming novel, GOOD GIRLS LIE, was a LibraryReads Pick for December 2019 and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. For more, please visit www.jtellison.com, or visit her online @thrillerchick. An excerpt of GOOD GIRLS LIE is available now.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

L.C. Shaw Goes Rogue—Corruption, Secrets, & Lies



Animated Cover Developed by Hancock County Public Library (IN)

By Liv Constantine  

The idea for THE NETWORK came to me while I was a corporate marketing executive and I saw how susceptible we all are to the images and messages that inundate us on a daily basis. From advertising to television, and movies, the steady decline in morality has happened so slowly that it has occurred without many people being aware of the shift.  I began to wonder, what if these messages were intended to influence and control us more directly?

It is the book that took me the longest to write—I began it over twenty years ago and over the years picked it up, put it down again, added and deleted characters. It wasn’t until I attended my first ThrillerFest in 2014 that I was inspired to finish it once and for all.
 
THE NETWORK is a fast-paced thriller, with life and death stakes. But it is also a commentary on society. I always start with either a story or a character,  not really thinking about the genre it fits into. Moral ambiguity is a strong theme in the book, where characters are forced to look at deeply held views and examine them in the context of different circumstances. 

I wanted to tackle issues that on the surface seem black-and-white, but on closer examination are difficult to take a hard stance on. For instance, one might be opposed to or in favor of euthanasia in theory. But when faced with watching a loved one suffer, their position might shift. Conversely, would that same person still be in favor of legalizing euthanasia if that decision was put in the hands of legislators who made the decision which lives have value and which don’t?  

This book is very different from the thrillers I write with my sister under the pen name Liv Constantine, where the tension is mostly psychological. It’s one of the reasons that my publishing team thought it best to use a totally different name for these books. L.C. Shaw stands for Lynne Constantine Shaw  - Shaw is a variation of my married name.  I’ve had to use different muscles for this series, not only because it’s more action-driven, but also because I’ve become accustomed to collaborating. 

When I began writing the second in the series (which will come out in 2020) there were times when I wanted to email a chapter to Valerie to have her finish it only to remember that I was writing this one solo!  

THE NETWORK is a book that is very close to my heart.  I feel like the characters are family (the good ones anyway) and I'm happy that I'm able to continue to spend time with them in future books.  I hope readers will connect with the characters and their stories and will want to continue spending time with them as well!