Tuesday, July 26, 2011

North to Alaska

We’re now a month into summer, so perhaps it’s time to talk about some vacation ideas for the next few weeks. Since most of North America has been suffering the effects of a heat dome, an Alaska Cruise might seem like a nice comfortable way to spend a week or ten days. Personally, I don’t think the beauty of the Pacific Coast inland passageway to Alaska can be surpassed.

There are a several choices in where you can board your ship. For example, in 2011, ships sail out of Vancouver, B.C. for either a return trip of seven days on Holland America, or a one-way sailing to Anchorage (Seward) on Princess Cruises.

Out of Seattle, return sailings of seven days are offered by Carnival, Norwegian, Holland American, or Princess. In addition, out of San Francisco, Princess offers a return sailing of ten days.

For the very adventurous, there are ferry sailings to Anchorage on the Alaska Ferry Line out of Bellingham, Washington, where one can take their automobile or travel trailer, and wend their way home along the Alaska Highway, through the Yukon Territory and British Columbia.

Most of the sailings offer the three main ports of call in Alaska, outside of Anchorage, these being Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway.

Juneau is the capital of Alaska and is located on the Gastineau Channel midway up the Alaska panhandle. (The Gastineau Channel was named after John Gastineau, an engineer who surveyed the area in the late 1800s, and just happens to be a distant relative of mine. Of course, we never met.) There are some fabulous tours to be taken here including a tram ride up Mt. Roberts or a helicopter ride to the Juneau Icefields, with a landing on one of these glaciers. Or while-away the afternoon in Juneau’s famous Red Dog Saloon, founded during the town’s mining era. For a time, "Ragtime Hattie" played the piano here in white gloves and a silver dollar halter-top.

Ketchikan is at the bottom of the panhandle in the southeast corner of Alaska. It boasts a temperate climate and the highest rainfall of any place in the United States—15 feet per year. Ketchikan is best known for its Alaskan Native culture and great salmon fishing. In addition to native villages where you can experience a smoked salmon barbecue, they have more totem poles than anywhere else in the world. Like most cruise-port towns, there are some great duty free stores near the harbour, where you can buy anything from Gucci handbags to Movado watches.

Next week: Skagway, Anchorage, and cruising Glacier National Park

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why I Love Winnie the Pooh

From the original 1925 copy of "The House at Pooh Corner"

When I was very young, during WWII, we had “blackout nights” in my town.

I lived in south-central B.C. in a place called Summerland. It was a delightful area for a small girl to grow up, except for these reminders that the world was an angry place for many people. Summerland was in the Okanagan Valley and only about 330 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The authorities feared that at some point, the Japanese might send over bombers, and we should be ready at night, with our windows blacked out.

Since both my father and much-older brother had enlisted, my mother and I were alone. So it was up to poor mom to put tarpaper over the windows, turn the lights down low, and try to keep a small 5-year-old from being too frightened. During these times, she would read to me; and the books I loved best were all about Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh and his delightful friends. To this day, I still have my original copies of “When We Were Very Young” and “The House at Pooh Corner” in my home library.

I know there have been short featurettes in the past, based on these enchanting characters, but I never had the opportunity to see them. Now I discover they have made a full-length feature, which opened in movie theatres last Friday. Even though, I don’t have grandchildren, I intend to see it; and I think that, if you seniors out there are grandparents, it will be a enjoyable way to spend a rainy day with them. Take them to this endearing movie, and I’m sure, they’ll remember the day, for the rest of their lives.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Midnight In Paris

I seldom go to the movies anymore. I’m just not interested in buildings blowing up; or cars careening out of control; or machines that turn into alien monsters; not to mention vampires and werewolves that charm young ladies into compromising situations. It’s so handy just to dial up “Pay for View” and watch on the screen at home. If I hate it, I can turn it off and I’ve only lost a few dollars and not much effort.

The last show I saw on the big screen was “The King’s Speech” back in January, which I loved and rooted for to win the Oscar. However, the advertising for “Midnight in Paris,” intrigued me. And since it was filmed in Paris, I figured it deserved to be seen on the gigantic screen of a movie theatre. As it turned out, I loved it, and was glad I went. I think most writers would. It is beautifully filmed, with a story that will intrigue my target audience of senior citizens and writers alike.

"Midnight in Paris," tells about a Hollywood screenwriter and his fiancĂ©e, who are really quite incompatible, visiting Paris, where he longs to live and write like the writers in the early part of the 20th century. Her, not so much. Then one midnight, when they’ve had a tiff and he is out walking in the rain, he suddenly finds himself transported into the Paris of the 1920s, where he hangs out with such contemporaries as Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Pablo Picasso.

With large screen, cinematography focussing on spots such as the Champs-Elysees, the Arch de Triomphe; Paris lit up at night; the Moulin Rouge; the gardens at Versailles; as well as the Hall of Mirrors; this movie hardly needs a plot. Nevertheless, it does have one, and it boils down to the fact that believing that life lived in a different era is much better than our own is an illusion.

Old Woody Allen proves that he still has the gift of providing a great movie experience. A most enjoyable, as well as beautifully filmed fantasy.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Guest Writer - Dan Meade

Dan Meade is this week’s guest and he tells me that he does qualify for AARP membership, so that automatically makes him eligible as a “Senior Moments” guest. Dan is a very private person, so I didn’t ask where he resides now, but he has lived in such places as New York, Vermont, North Carolina, Arizona, and Texas. He loves the mountains and lives to explore the forests and rivers in isolated areas. It’s not surprising then, that “The Quaking Sun” is set in the backwoods of West Virginia.

Dan’s book was a semi-finalist in the very first ABNA contest. Being in the top 100 out of 5,000 contestants shows you how good they thought the book is. It was originally entitled “The Land of the Quaking Sun” and had one of the most intriguing openings I have ever read. Here is our interview:

Betty: Tell me, Dan, what is this phenomenon you call the quaking sun? I’ve never heard of it before.

Dan: That question makes me smile because it reminds me of some of the most enjoyable moments of my life. For a few minutes each year I get to sit back, relax, and enjoy a glorious light show. What I see is the sun appearing to break apart and move erratically about the sky. Although it sounds impossible, the phenomenon that creates the illusion is really very simple, so simple that it is almost anti-climactic.

I'd be tempted to describe the conditions that create the illusion, but the event really belongs to the mountain-dwelling Tyree Clan, the family at the heart of "The Quaking Sun." They’ll share the event with anyone who chooses to spend some time with them. This is probably a good time to explain the title change from “The Land of the Quaking Sun” to “The Quaking Sun.” Many readers thought that the original title sounded like science fiction and I had to agree with them. But science fiction has no part in either the story or the illusion, so I made the change.

Betty: So then how does this particular title fit the storyline and how did you come up with it?

Dan: I think that the “The Quaking Sun” is a perfect fit for the story and cannot even imagine a different title. It actually matches up with three distinct elements of the story. The most obvious connection deals with the ancient warning carved into the rocks at the head of the mountain gap leading to the Tyree home. Petroglyphs warn that those who stay too long in the land beyond the gap—past the time of quaking—will disappear, body and soul, from the face of the earth.

A second connection comes from the meaning of the actual words, the quaking sun. They promise a cataclysmic event, which is what threatens when outsiders invade the Tyrees mountain home. The outsiders don't know something that everyone who lives in the backwoods knows: you don't mess with the Tyrees!

The third, and least obvious but most important, connection concerns the illusion that makes the sun appear to quake. We’ve all heard that you shouldn’t believe everything you read. Well, it’s also true that you shouldn’t believe everything you see—I know the sun doesn't really break apart. Near the beginning of the story, two men encounter Fawn Tyree, the heroine of the story. One sees a beautiful, shy teenage girl. The other likens her to a rattlesnake. Which man sees the truth and which one sees the illusion?

Betty: That sounds like an amazing plot line. When did you first have the desire to write, Dan?

Dan: I’m not really sure when that happened. I had one story that kept popping into my mind for years before I finally decided to write it down. I finished it in 2001, but never really promoted it. I actually have a much better recollection of the time when I decided that I didn't want to write. I was still in grade school when I made the firm decision to never write when I didn't have to. I apparently lacked intuition back then.

Betty: So when did you actually begin to write this particular book?

Dan: I think it was 2006 when I began typing it into my computer, but the actual process of creating the story would have started at least a year earlier. I think it takes me a minimum of two years to get from the initial inspiration to the first draft. Again, I really didn't promote the book until I saw the opportunity to enter it in the first ABNA contest.

Betty: The book got some wonderful reviews in the contest. Publisher’s Weekly had this to say about “The Quaking Sun”: “Moody writing, deftly-handled suspense, and truly frightening villains make this a riveting read.”

In addition, from fellow author, Susan Froetschel who said: “This great family saga will haunt you long after you’ve turned the last page; and leave you wanting to read more from Dan Meade.”

Does this mean there will be a sequel or, at the very least, another book?

Dan: Many readers have requested that I write a sequel to "The Quaking Sun." Initially I told them that I couldn’t, because of the way I write. The characters come to me and tell me their stories during the early morning hours when my mind is not bound by earthly thoughts. All I really do is organize their thoughts and write them down. I consider myself to be the quintessential ghost writer. The problem was that the characters never told me what happened in the years following “The Quaking Sun,” so no story was possible. Then, to my surprise, the characters visited me again about a year ago. I now have the information needed to write the sequel my readers have requested. But that takes time.

In the meantime, perhaps sometime this month, I will be releasing a different novel, “The Rest Of Eternity.” It is an adventure/saga that poses the question, “How many times must the wind blow to determine one’s destiny?"

Betty: Well, thanks so much for being my guest this week, Dan. I can hardly wait to get my copy of “The Quaking Sun” and am looking forward to your new book.