Jabby little teeth

I seem to be out of words.

I sit down to blog, but there’s nothing there. There are personal things I could rant on about, but that feels a little too close to the bone and obvious and, and…And that leaves me not knowing where to start. I self censor to the point of muteness.

And then I thought about the courses I’ve taught, and how many of our quick writes start with just a word. So that’s what I’m going to do to get myself writing again. (I can’t seem to get into the headspace to begin my next manuscript, either).

I’m going to use the Word of the Day at Merriam Webster and simply see where it takes me. Like this…

balkanize

1 : to break up (a region, a group, etc.) into smaller and often hostile units

2 : divide, compartmentalize

This was a weird fit today. I’ve been fighting the black dog all week, its jabby little teeth nipping at my already moth eaten confidence. And in order to keep moving I have to compartmentalise. I have to focus on my manuscripts and words and the gym and movies. Anything that muzzles the black dog for even a moment. But it’s always there in the background, a dark region spreading over the shadow of my soul and kept at bay only by forced balkanisation, where the regions shift and grind against one another in an ever present battle for the essence of what is left of me.

Perhaps, one day, they will be less hostile toward one another, these balkanised regions of me.

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Let’s get steamy

Last year I was honoured to co-edit the Escape to Pleasure anthology with the wonderful Sandy Lowe. It was fun and we had a great time choosing the stories.

This year I’ve been given the opportunity to do it on my own. Silk and Leather is about losing your inhibitions, about taking a wild ride, and about chasing that dirty dream.

We had a ton of submissions, and it was really hard to choose. Some submissions came from total newcomers to the game, some came from old pros. They were all excellent and they were all hot. But at the end of the day we could only take twenty.

And those twenty are a sexy submersion into sublime sensuality that will have you turning pages.

We’ll release the list of authors included soon. It comes out in April so you’ve already got something to look forward to in 2020.

What’s in a name?

A number of times recently I’ve had discussions about pen names. It’s a subject that comes up in my writing courses, too.

Q: Should you have one? How do you choose one?

A: Maybe, and carefully.

Here is the primary question to start with: if someone Googled your real name and found your books, would you be 100% okay with that? One hundred percent. If not, if you have any doubts at all, get a pen name.

I write my novels under a pen name, but much of my published erotica and poetry is under my real (then real) name. I wish I’d used a pen name from the start; not because I’m in any way ashamed of what I’ve written, but because my place among many different types of marginalised communities means I’m aware I can be Googled, and there’s a sense of professionalism that makes me want to keep that writing separate.

But, it is what it is.

And that’s part of my advice about pen names. Think ahead, not just about today. Because once it’s in print, that’s forever.

The other part of my advice is to think it through. Choosing a name like pert butterfly butt is cute, but is it the professional writing face you want to turn to the world? Is it something you’ll answer to in public, at readings? Will it get you taken less seriously than a more standard sounding name? Does it make you sound like an amateur cyber writer? If you have a long and wonderful writing career, will you be happy you published under that name?

These are questions only you can answer for yourself. But give them real thought, because as I say…forever. It’s kind of like the tattoo of publishing. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. And then you can decide how solid you want that wall between real self and author self to be.

And one last thing; someone asked me about having a second pen name, as they might be genre jumping slightly. This is a pronged question. Are you going to be doing lots of writing in a single genre? Do you have a solid fan base within that genre?

Then yes, you should consider it. Pen names allow you to play with different genres and still keep your readership happy. However, if you’re a natural genre jumper, if you write all over the place anyway, then there’s probably no reason to bother with it.

Happy writing, under any name you use.

Week 2: eerie history and traffic

If you’ve read any of the other blogs, you’ll know I’ve mentioned the insanity of driving in Italy. We thought it might be different near the bigger cities. But we found on our way to Pompei that they’ll randomly close roads, and the detours take you back to point A… What should have taken 30 minutes took an hour and a half. There was swearing. And radiating tension that required the windows down so they didn’t shatter. But we made it with five minutes to spare…

We’d had enough advice to know that a tour of Pompeii was imperative, as it’s too big to wander, and understand, alone. So we booked a two hour tour with a local archaeologist, whose specialty was mosaic reconstruction. She was amazing, and kept trying to find places in the shade where we could stop to talk.

Pompeii is immense. I’ve never understood the scale of it from photos and such. Our guide said it would take three full days to see the entire thing. We saw a lot. And though there were a lot of people there, it was big enough not to feel particularly crowded. And two hours was enough. It was 34 degrees and we were done in.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the spa at the hotel. We took the hotel shuttle up to the village and had a fab dinner, then walked back–down some 200 uneven, cobbled stone steps. It was wonderful.

We decided to forgo driving to our tour of Herculaneum the next day, and took the train. The receptionist assured us it was a better idea…

It wasn’t.

The train was an hour late, and we were again rushing toward the tour. On arrival, though, no one was there. Just a few tourists milling about. We’d been told it was much quieter but this didn’t seem right. Long story short, after much two-language broken conversation, Nic looked more closely at our tickets.

The tour was at 3:00. Not 10:30, which we’d arrived for.

So…they gave us our tickets and we wandered through it ourselves. Thanks to our guided tour at Pompeii, we recognised plenty of things. And still managed to spend almost three hours there, too.

It’s different from Pompeii. It’s more intimate. You can still feel the shadows of people lingering in the corners. You can still hear the children dashing down the streets. And you can still see the piles of skeletons in the caves where they took shelter. The colours in the mosaics are still vibrant, and the mud that covered the city is still visible on the window grates.

It left me feeling deeply affected, and most of the city is still buried beneath adjacent apartment buildings and shops. It’s a live excavation site. If you only have time for one thing in the region, go to Herculaneum. But take a tour…

The train on the way back was a short persons horror story. It was packed shoulder to shoulder, standing room only. It was boiling hot, and I had sweat dripping from every pore on my body. It was all sweaty backs and armpits thanks to my vertically challenged body. I stumbled off the train and swore I’d never complain about the traffic again.

We decided that seeing Mt Vesuvius was enough. We didn’t need to make the climb. We headed back to the pool.

A few photos:

Week 2: it begins with a walk

If you’ve never been to Milan airport, let me set the scene:

It’s Sunday. We figured it would be a little quieter. We arrived in plenty of time, as we always do because I’m a panic traveler.

The doors open to chaos. Loud, unruly, rushing chaos. Eat or be eaten airport madness. We get in the check-in line, knowing our bags might be a little too heavy, and have people glued to the back of us the whole time, constantly pushing forward like lemmings toward a cliff.

We get to the check-in–it’s automated machines, not people behind desks, though there are ‘trainees’ standing beside them, helping you do everything the machine is supposed to do for you. And thank the skies for that. Because the machines were running like they were still on dial-up. You could almost hear that special noise it used to make when you booted it up.

And people were shouting. Yelling at other people to hurry up, being told they were in the wrong line and doing some more yelling. Other people yelling from the back when it looked like someone was cutting in line. And all of this done in various languages.

Chaos. We couldn’t help but laugh.

And once we were through, we made it to the gate with no problem and the flight was an easy hour or so down to Naples, where we picked up our car and headed to our place for the week, a resort in Vico Equense, not far from Sorrento.

It was HOT. Like, 30 degrees kind of hot. When we got to the resort, down steep, narrow roads, we were impressed by the size of it. It’s right on the water and surrounded by cliffs. At check in, the receptionist said she’d take us to our villa to help us find it… And it was good she did.

It was a quarter of a mile from the reception area. Past pools, past the spa, past vineyards and apricot trees. The villa itself needed a bit of love, but it was huge and had an amazing view of Mt. Vesuvius, right there across the water. We left our bags in the villa and headed straight for the spa area, where there were five different pools and no kids. We had dinner at the resort, looking out over the water, the volcano in the distance. It was surreal, and incredibly beautiful.

There was aircon in the room, and I slept better than I had for the last week, which was a blessing.

Tomorrow: Pompeii.

And the rest of Como

Honeymoon, week one: Lake Como

So, once it cooled down a little in Lake Como, I managed to sleep through the night. That means I spent my days exploring and relaxing, and my nights sleeping…and that meant I stopped blogging. Good intentions and roads to hell and all that…

The rest of the trip was fantastic. There was a massive thunder and lightning storm over the lake, it hammered it down in the morning, and then it was clear blue sky the rest of the day. We attempted to go to the only island on Lake Como, Isola Comacina, to rent a boat and putter around the island. Turns out, it was a local festival with fireworks over the lake at night, and there was no boating allowed.

It wasn’t unlike a California beach party, and we were out of there as fast as we could climb the hill back to our car. We headed to Como, thinking maybe we could get a boat further away, but that didn’t happen either. So we plugged in the address of a burger place, got lost, drove through a restricted zone (we’re waiting for the ticket), and had burgers that were pretty awful. No wonder they eat a lot of pizza and pasta…

We spent the last day relaxing in our cute little apartment, looking out at the lake and just being glad to be there.

Lake Como is beautiful. It’s crowded, the driving is insane, and if you’re there over a weekend, be prepared for insanity. I’d love to go back, but probably in the quiet season, when we can drive around without the chaos.

Next: we’re off to do the Pompeii/Vesuvius thing…

My favorite photos of that week:

 

Day 4: summer solstice birthday wanderings

I love waterfalls and there are a lot of them here. You just have to go in search of them. Fortunately we both love that kind of adventure. And with it being my birthday as well as summer solstice it seemed a good day for it.

Rain was forecast for the afternoon so we headed out in the morning. Our destination was Orrido de Bellano, the gorge at Bellano, on the far side of Lake Como. After that, we’d head higher, going until we crossed over the very top of the lake, and then driving back down the other side, thereby having driven the entirety of the lake, which appealed to Nic’s sense of finishing things and to my desire to see as much as possible.

It was an easy drive. There are a ton of really long tunnels on that side, so you don’t see a lot of landscape, but the length and types of tunnels are interesting too. The Orrido was well sign posted (unlike Nesso’s) and we got there with only one u-turn.

And wow. It sits above a church built in the thirteen hundreds, and it costs 4 euros to get in. The walkways are perfect for looking down at the lower falls, and the climb is gentle to the largest one. This isn’t a get your feet wet waterfall; it’s actually used to generate power, so it’s something to appreciate but not swim in!

It was stunning, with three massive falls and water a pastel jade that you have to see to really appreciate. We were there for about an hour and a half, just taking photos and breathing it all in. The Devil’s House, with its paintings and unknown origin, is really interesting.

We had a quick lunch at one of the only two lakeside restaurants, then made our way back to the tunnel road that took us across a nature reserve and the very top of Lake Como, the only place where you can drive across the lake.

On the other side we were surprised to find a lot of caravan holiday parks teeming with children and signs in English. We hurried through those, but we did stop for gelato in Dongo, where we saw baby grebes hanging out with their parent.

The rest of the drive was beautiful, and as we got closer to home we were both tired (four hours of sleep the night before was catching up with me) and so we headed home to have a quiet, relaxing meal on the deck. The forecasted rain sent about ten drops our way, and we were able to finish the night with a 2 mile walk around the village.

It was a perfect birthday. Yes, I feel fat and old and I wish I looked like an entirely different person, but I’m so grateful for this beautiful life I’m leading.