Tag: road tripping

Thursday Things: The best book store in North Carolina closed!

thursday thingsOne of the settings in my novel Yours to Keep or Throw Aside is a bookstore, McKay’s, in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. It’s where Andrew and Kasey, the two main characters, meet, and several scenes take place in its attached coffee shop.

While Asheville does have a downtown bookstore, I actually modeled McKay’s after the Books-A-Million I worked at while I was in college – not that the specific details of the store actually matter to the story, other than it has coffee, books, tables, and couches. I don’t think its baristas or employees even have names.

I stole the name from my favorite used bookstore, Edward McKay’s in Raleigh, NC. I probably spent way too much money there (is that even possible at a used bookstore?), but they had a wonderful selection of everything – lots of obscure titles that look great sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. When I was back in the Triangle in March, I may have spent an hour or two there, browsing the shelves and buying a couple bags of books.


About a week or two ago, without any warning, they announced they’d permanently closed that store (although they still have a couple locations around the state).

Good news, however, in that MY McKay’s – my fictional one in Asheville – is still open, and it’ll even have a brief cameo in the sequel to Yours to Keep or Throw Aside that I’m currently plotting out.

RIP, Edward McKay’s. :(

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YTKTA coverAbout Yours to Keep or Throw Aside:

After her husband’s infidelities are revealed, Kasey Sanford just wants to rediscover who she is. After an abusive childhood and years as a career soldier, Andrew Adams just wants someone to tell him that he’s doing the right thing with his life. When their paths cross, Kasey and Andrew embark on a tumultuous journey that demonstrates just what they’re willing to do to save the ones they love.

ebook and paperback: Amazon

audiobook: Amazon * Audible

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Thursday Things is a weekly-ish feature highlighting little known facts, ideas, and stories behind my stories. Is there something you want to know more about? Let me know!


Thursday Things: random facts about the history of mental hospitals

ThursdayThingsMy short story “Tim and Sara” takes place at Kirkbride, a state hospital. Although the story is fictional, the hospital isn’t.

My Kirkbride is based on the state hospital in Fergus Falls, Minnesota (which is also the building on the story’s cover). What makes this building different than other state hospitals is its design and purpose.

Pre-Civil War, people suffering from mental health issues in the US were treated like criminals: locked up in tiny cells, often shackled and abused.

In the 1840s, Dr. Thomas Kirkbride came to the now obvious conclusion that people suffering mental health issues would do better in airy, light-filled buildings with private rooms, so he designed a bunch of state hospitals that tried to respect patient dignity. The Fergus Falls building was one of these.

As the US has moved to community-based, out-patient treatment for people with mental health issues, many Kirkbride buildings have been torn down or sit empty, like the one in Minnesota.

Fergus Falls state hospital

Fergus Falls state hospital in 2013

I used to drive past it on the interstate, and although no one’s there now, it still makes for a cool story.

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Tim and SaraAbout “Tim and Sara:”

The victim of debilitating flashbacks, Tim is content to spend the rest of his life at Kirkbride, a state mental hospital. But his friend and fellow resident Sara is concerned that she has to save her soul before it’s too late, and so she devises a plan to break them out of the hospital. Can Tim help his friend while holding onto what’s left of his sanity?

Available for $.99 at Amazon or free through Kindle Unlimited

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Thursday Things is a weekly-ish feature highlighting little known facts, ideas, and stories behind my stories. Is there something you want to know more about? Let me know!

Weekend Writing Warrior 9/18/16 #8Sunday

Gunflint Lake on the MN/ON border

Gunflint Lake on the MN/ON border – the Boundary Waters start right across from it.

For September I’ll be pulling from several related short stories I wrote this summer, all dealing with the apocalypse.

Here’s what we have so far:

  • “Special” – a pair of twins with special abilities living in caves due to airstrikes
  • “The Graveyard” – a plague kills off most of a western mining town

This week it’s “E.L.E.” – a woman is out camping in the Minnesota Boundary Waters when disaster strikes. Like last week’s excerpt, this story was inspired by a trip through the setting this spring.

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My dad used to say that extinction level events happened every 700,000 years or so, and we were more than overdo. Nonetheless, when an earthquake hit while I was out camping in the backcountry, I ignored it as anything more than routine seismic activity. Sure, earthquakes rarely hit northern Minnesota, but I’d come out here to relax, not to increase my anxiety by worrying about stuff I couldn’t do anything about.

The ash came a couple days later. Forest fires weren’t uncommon up here, and even though we were under a burn ban, this wouldn’t have been the first time someone’s campfire took out a few hundred acres. It was enough to send me back to civilization, though, because it wouldn’t be pretty when that blaze caught up to me.

I’d just stowed the last of my gear in my canoe and was preparing to shove off when a man strolled out of the forest. I tensed.

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Post a link to your eight sentences blog entry, or join the fun at the Weekend Writing Warriors website.

And if you’re a writer, sign up to be a Friday Five author, which gets you and your latest work featured on my blog.

Postmodernists, postpositivists, and truth vs Truth


Found this on a Galveston beach. Is it an alien lifeform? Inflated plastic? Postmodernist storyteller me says both are plausible!

I’m on a quest to take as many research methodology classes as I can while getting my PhD, and this semester one that I’m taking is qualitative. I’m a quantitative person, so this is a major thinking shift.

Qualitative is case studies and interviews and ethnographies and telling the story one person or group at a time, while quantitative is surveys and statistics and applying your findings to larger groups.

One of our first assignments is a position paper, in which we explain which paradigm we follow, relate our history that brought us to that paradigm, and then explore our biases that will affect our qualitative research. I’m stuck between two: postpositivism and postmodernism.

Postpositivists think that the objective Truth is out there, but our methods of seeking it are flawed by our biases.

Postmodernists think everyone has a truth, and your truth isn’t any more valid than mine because it’s all relative.

Basically, the two are on opposite ends of a spectrum (well, positivism and postmodernism are).

(Fun story: I went to a Catholic high school, and my junior year we had to take Apologetics, which we defined as apologizing for your faith but is actually defending it. I routinely argued with our teacher, a poor priest right out of the seminary, that all religions were seeking the same end goal – peace and love and happiness in whatever comes next – but just had different ways of reaching that goal. Kinda like a bunch of people climbing a mountain, but from different sides – they all want to get to the top but are each taking a different route. The teacher strongly encouraged me to sleep or read in class so that I wouldn’t constantly pull apart the course material.)

As a researcher, I want to find Answers. As a social worker and social justice warrior, I want underrepresented voices to be heard so that we can bring about change to unequal systems. As an author, I want to tell my character’s story and make it just as valid as anyone else’s.

My question tonight: If I have my perception of the truth, and you have your perception of the truth, and everyone reading this and in the world has their perceptions of the truth, how do we as researchers decide whose truth is most valid? Applying a postmodern perspective, can we even decide that someone’s truth is invalid, and how does this fit into our role in “mitigating against epistemic injustice in educational research?” When is it okay to judge a culture or individual as “wrong” or “bad” when its members are doing their best according to their beliefs?

Weekend Writing Warrior 9/11/16 #8Sunday

clown-motelFor September I’ll be pulling from several related short stories I wrote this summer, all dealing with the apocalypse.

Today’s story, tentatively called “The Graveyard,” was inspired by a town I passed through while wandering the country this summer: Tonopah, Nevada, home to the “haunted” Clown Motel located right next to an old graveyard filled with plague victims. Fun. :)

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The plague hit quickly and deadly. In the course of just a couple weeks nearly half the town was dead, with those left alive torn between caring for the sick, burying the dead, or fleeing the county before they were struck down too.

With Pa taking the easy route and hightailing it out, and Ma dying right off, that left me the task of looking after the young’uns, and my older brother to bury the dead. Then the plague took him too, and most of the little’uns, until it was just me and baby Nylen after the plague was gone.

Pa had wanted a right proper homestead but there ain’t really any call for farming in the Nevada desert. He’d always talked about moving – west to California or north to Dakota Territory – but Ma’s people were here in Nye County and so she put her foot down. I thought about moving me and Nylen somewhere too, but where does a sixteen-year-old girl even go? So we stuck around, nearly the only folks still in town, determined to make the best of a bad situation.

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Post a link to your eight sentences blog entry, or join the fun at the Weekend Writing Warriors website.

And if you’re a writer, sign up to be a Friday Five author, which gets you and your latest work featured on my blog.

Roadtripping 2016 trip #2: culinary excursion


Gunflint Lake, on the MN/ON border, full of yummy fish

Last year I made a roadtrip wishlist. I only made it to one place – the Southeast (although we went to Mackinaw, Michigan, instead of Duluth or Door County – similar latitude). Fortunately, I’ve been able to hit a couple more places so far this year: we went to Tulsa and then on to San Antonio and Galveston, Texas, over spring break, and this weekend I returned from a weeklong trip that included Thunder Bay. My son and I are headed west along Route 6 to California in July, and then we’re taking it east to Nova Scotia in August. Not bad, as far as trips go.

About this last trip, though. I found a great deal for a little lodge in the woods of northern Minnesota, the perfect reward for graduating with my master’s in May. I’m not working this summer – just a few projects, most of which can be done from home – so I decided to take advantage of my free time by heading to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and then over to Winnipeg before coming back.


Kakabeka Falls, Thunder Bay – also full of yummy fish

One of my favorite reasons to head north (other than the cooler temps, especially in summer, and the beautiful scenery) is the food. Specifically along the Great Lakes, just about every local place specializes in fresh whitefish, like perch or walleye. I don’t scrimp when it comes to restaurants on vacation – I head to the cheapest 5-star places I can find.

This trip, we ate delicious walleye sandwiches from the Border Waters, the countless lakes that dot the border between Minnesota and Ontario. We changed it up in Thunder Bay at a Canajun (Cajun done Canadian style) restaurant, that offered yummy walleye po’ boys.

We changed it up, however, when we headed inland to Winnipeg. I love eating ethnic foods, especially ones I can’t get back home, and Winnipeg had plenty to offer. We settled on Ethiopian; we’d eaten it in San Antonio and it wasn’t something we could find locally.

Ethiopian food

Homemade misr wat (red lentils), atakilt wat (potatoes, cabbage, and carrots), and goman wat (collards) on injera (bread)

Hot damn, that was good. We split a veggie combo and a meat combo, and the woman who runs the place gave us lots of extra injera, the traditional flat bread. She also sold me a huge bag of the berbere spice mix so I could make my own stuff at home. Which I did, for dinner tonight, and it was wonderful.

We also hit up the Forks Market, where we ate awesome Indian and Greek and pastries. Lots of pastries. It’s probably best I don’t live in a place like Winnipeg, because I’d have a hard time not eating constantly.

Where’s your favorite foodie destination?

5 lessons learned from a summer of traveling


Kayaking Lake Huron

A cousin recently told me, “Dang, girl, it’s like you’re always on road trips or vacation.” And it’s true; if I don’t go somewhere at least every month or two I get very cranky. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to get out of town a lot this spring and summer: Omaha for Easter; Door County, Wisconsin, in mid-May; camping in Wisconsin Memorial Day weekend, followed by a long weekend in Montreal; 4th of July in Saginaw, Michigan; and finally a week wandering around the Southeast.

There are several things I’ve learned while traveling, that apply to just about every trip I’ve taken.

  1. Take that picture now. You might tell yourself you’ll come back later and get that shot, but let’s be honest: it’s not going to happen. If you want to get a picture, or eat that street food, or buy yourself 4 new gnomes at that souvenir store, do it now because something will come up that keeps you from doing it later.
  2. Take the road less traveled.

    Early morning fog on the Ohio River

    If life is a journey, not a destination, why not apply this to trips as well? There’s a spot in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair that explains this: “Secondary roads are preferred. Paved country roads are the best, state highways are next. Freeways are the worst. We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on ‘good’ rather than ‘time’ and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes.”I don’t like interstates because the scenery is the same: Applebee’s and Walmart in a strip mall, distant fields, everything the same. Sure, it gets you there more quickly, but you’re not actually seeing anything. I tried to take pictures as we drove through the Appalachians, but you can’t get anything from an interstate. On a highway, however, you can stop and savor the details. You can find random stores and people and a deeper understanding of what shapes people’s lives, from empty storefronts to neighboring farms to dozens of Baptist churches near a community.

    Same goes with tourist attractions. My son and I joke that we’ve gone to an overrated water attraction ever year: Niagara Falls in 2013, Old Faithful last year, and Chattanooga’s Ruby Falls this year. Ruby Falls was nice, but the next day we hit up Raccoon Mountain Caverns and they turned out to be the best cave system we’ve been to – plus there were a ton less people AND it was cheaper.

  3. Take more time.

    NC’s Outer Banks – beautiful AND no one’s there!

    When I travel, I have goals for the day: on the road by 8. Destination by midmorning, lunch at a particular restaurant, at the campsite by 5. I don’t think we met my timeframes a single day on our last trip. And that was okay. We left late because we were chatting with neighbors. We arrived late because we stopped along the road to take pictures. We spent more time at the destination than we anticipated. Maybe we didn’t do everything I’d wanted, but we still had a great time.

  4. Don’t take

    My son “surfing” at Virginia Beach this summer

    control. Midsummer, my son asked why we always had to do what I wanted on trips, so I let him plan our big end-of-summer trip. We ended up at some places and restaurants I wouldn’t necessarily have picked, but all ended up having fun.

  5. Take chances. Is there somewhere you want to go, or something you want to do, but you’ve never gone or never done it? Do it. Maybe it’ll turn out sucky, but at least you’ll get some good road warrior stories to share. Like #1 above, don’t go through life forever regretting not taking that trip or doing that activity while there.

If you’re a traveler, what do you think of this list? Anything you would add or change? And if you’re not a traveler – what are you waiting for??

Steampunk lighthouses and roadtripping for research


Stavkirke on Washington Island

To celebrate making it through another semester of grad school (and especially for passing Intermediate Statistics), I rewarded myself with a roadtrip to one of my favorite spots, Washington Island, Wisconsin. It’s part of Door County and therefore gets hit pretty hard during tourism season, so it was nice to make it there a week before the craziness hit.

The island is accessible only by ferry. It’s small – 35 square miles – but wonderful for hiking or just watching the waves on the beaches. And eating, especially if you like fish, which is caught in the morning and served fresh for dinner.

Driving back, I decided to detour along Lake Michigan. It was out of the way, but I needed to head along the shoreline to find the lighthouse that’ll feature prominently in an upcoming novel, On the Other Side (working title). Unfortunately it was solid fog and I was unable to see any of the five lighthouses on my list. But the trip wasn’t entirely wasted – I was able to stop by Popeye’s in Milwaukee for dinner (the nearest Popeye’s to where I live is about 2 1/2 hours away).

On the Other Side will be a bit of a change from my other stuff. It’s a political thriller featuring a Victorian steampunk heroine, a modern-day Chicago architect, and an inventor in the vein of Nikola Tesla.

And a lighthouse, if I can ever find the right one.

Roadtripping 2015

rock pile

Lake Superior near Split Rock Lighthouse, Minnesota

The weather is warm-ish. The semester is almost over. I’m itching to travel.

I love to travel. I especially love road trips along two-lane highways (I dislike interstates).

Coming up in the next month, I have a camping trip in Wisconsin and a long weekend in Montreal (flying, not road tripping). And on the wishlist for the summer/fall:

  • Thunder Bay, Ontario, and this time I will find a kayak rental place
  • My annual trip to Washington Island, Wisconsin, or maybe Duluth, Minnesota, or Copper Harbor, Michigan
  • Channahon, Illinois (because Staples’ website thinks I live there) for a weekend of camping
  • The Southeast: the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, Atlanta, Charleston, a North Carolina beach or two, and my old haunts in Durham
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma (although that might wait until spring break next year when I can turn it into a stop on my way to South Padre Island, Texas, and New Orleans)
  • The entire length of US Rte 6 because Route 6 runs uncertainly from nowhere to nowhere, scarcely to be followed from one end to the other, except by some devoted eccentric,” and I am that devoted eccentric
  • Back to Pondicherry, India, for winter break

My son and I have decided we’re going to visit every US state and Canadian province and territory by the time he graduates high school in ten years: 27 states left for him, 15 for me, and 11 provinces/territories.

Are you a traveler? What’s on your list of places to visit this summer?

Summer roadtrip #1

It’s not technically summer, but I am halfway through one of two weeks I get off from classes this summer, so yes, it is summer for me. I start an internship and a couple classes next week, so I thought I’d unwind this past weekend while I had a little bit of free time by heading to a remote, relaxing location: Washington Island, Wisconsin.




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