Tag Archive for: adventure

When Writers Travel

Who else loves to travel?

We just returned from Southeast Asia. I’m not sure if this
was a bucket list trip or simply an area of the world we were curious about.
Both my husband and I were too young for what we call the Vietnam War, but I
remember the protests and the horrors of the war shown on the nightly news. Soldiers
being spit on and called “Baby Killers.” The MIA bracelets. Four Dead in Ohio. (My blogmate’s books are set in the era, by the way.) The guys in the deli where I worked during college
with their bravissimo: “I was stoned the whole time,” and our church youth advisor,
a then, newly-minted lieutenant, who would not talk about his time in Vietnam. My
brother-in-law, a medic during the war, who also does not discuss his experiences
I could go on, but I think you get the drift. Or maybe you
Then there’s Cambodia. A close friend’s daughter served there
with the Peace Corp and kept me intrigued with a running series of Facebook
posts. And who isn’t moved by the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge?

So we went.

And we loved Saigon. 
The locals call District 1, which is
the old town, “Saigon” while the sprawling city is referred to as Ho Chi Min
City. There’s energy and optimism, friendly people, and 6 million scooters
(mostly being driven by young, texting locals). 
One of the things we did was a
street food tour – vendors set up, legally or not so much, wherever there’s an
open spot of pavement. Hygiene may be optional for some of those vendors. 😉
Our guide for the tour said Saigon is in to “Capitalistic Communism.” They
relate to Cuba, consider Russia a socialist country, and think North Korea is a
disgrace. By the way, they still don’t like the Chinese, even as China pours
investment money into the country, and the French… well…the south doesn’t hate
them as much as the north. But you know, we never ran into anyone who openly disliked
Americans. Instead they all wanted to practice their English on us.
Go figure.
Although the War Remnants Museum, chronicling the “American
War,” was a sobering reminder of what a horrible war this was for both sides.
We worked our way north with stops in Hanoi where we checked
out the Hanoi Hilton and learned it was a massive torture prison built by the
French (see “they hate the French” above, along with the 95 years of French
Ironically enough, the Vietnamese have huge respect for John
McCain and his decision to stay with his men rather than using name and
position to bail himself out. (cough, cough, bone spurs.)
But damn, the coffee and cheese were French and amazing.
On to Halong Bay, which was awe inspiring. Seriously. I thought it would be water, a small bay, with a few of those rock monoliths. A picture may be worth a few words here.

And on we traveled, through Cambodia and down the Mekong, back to Vietnam. So many glimpses of a different lifestyle. A third world country struggling to move ahead. Pride in the remnants of a kingdom in the past. Something beyond tolerance for the religious practices embodied by hundreds of temples. The quiet serenity of sunrise at Angkor Watt. 
Terrifying safety issues in manufacturing. Health and hygiene issues
that made us cringe and wonder why we obsess over plastic straws. 
The sadness of
the long-term impact of the Khmer wiping out every person in the country who
could read and write and the current struggle of the Cambodians to find their footing. 
The search for foreign investment in the face of those struggles. Quiet disdain
for the puppet government put in place by the Vietnamese, who also installed 8
million landmines to keep the Khmer out of Vietnam. (There are roughly 4
million mines still hidden in the ground. They pay children $1 for each turned
in mine – people also use the explosives to blast fish in ponds, but that’s a
separate story – and many bear the missing feet and hands as a sickening
reminder of how dangerous those devices are.)

What can a writer learn? 

A sensory overload? That iced Vietnamese
coffee is wonderful? An appreciation for friends and a zest for life? A
sobering realization three generations of Vietnamese live in an area roughly
the size of my living room. An appreciation for air conditioning (gah, I grew
up in the South and yeah, Robin Williams had it right. Vietnamese weather? Hot
and damn hot.)

Maybe it’s getting outside our own heads for a while. Trying
new things. New experiences. Learning about a new-to-me ancient culture. Meeting
new friends and recapturing a curiosity about the rest of the world.
Whatever you want to call it, I’m glad I went. And I’m
already eyeing another area of the globe…
What the most interesting place you’ve visited lately?

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.  Visit her at http://cperkinswrites.com or on Facebook 

Sign up for her new release announcement newsletter in either place.

She’s hard at work on sequel to The Body in the Beaver Pond, which was recently presented with the Claymore Award. 

The Newbie and the Mud Flood

Hi – Newbie to the Stiletto Gang here!
Joining a busy, successful blog is a bit like stepping into
a cocktail party that’s going full blast. Bubbling conversations, inside jokes,
and shared history. What do you do? You paste a smile on your face and dive
right in!
I’d planned to carry that analogy through this post, but I
took a left turn at abnormal this morning and waded through a ton of mud and
downed trees to make sure the beaver dam hadn’t ruptured.

Hmm, that’s a different story.
Perhaps I should back up a bit. I live in the Cascade
Mountains, up above Seattle. Before we moved to the mountains, we transferred
to Washington (well, actually we transferred to a small town in eastern
Washington) from South Carolina.

When people heard about our
planned move, everyone said, “I love

Because clearly Seattle is the only thing in Washington,
Bookwalter Winery ~ http://innovatewashington.org/
We love Seattle too. But there’s the whole rest of the state.  Eastern Washington is the complete opposite
to Seattle. It’s conservative, sunny and dry, and home to fabulous vineyards
and wineries.  There’s access to tons of
outdoor recreation…and a dearth of restaurants.
As an author, I often see conversations, characters (oops, I mean interesting people I encounter), and
settings in terms of story potential. And I knew there was potential here.

Once we settled into eastern Washington, I had to write a story set here. A story about a woman who came
home, not as a failure with nowhere else to go, but as a woman who loved her
nutty parents and put her ambitions on hold to bail out the family and their business. 

Then because I write mysteries, there had to be a dead body and a puzzle for my amatuer sleuth to solve!
Besides, I could have fun with the wineries, Native American casinos…and assorted farm animals.
So – ever been to Washington? Ever had a flood tear up your
My latest book released last week. So About the Money romps through eastern Washington. Or as Patty Smiley, author of the Cool Cache series said, “CPA Holly Price juggles dodgy clients, flakey parents, ex-lovers and a murdered friend before she gets to the bottom line in this fast and fun read.”

When Holly Price trips over a friend’s dead body, her life takes a nosedive into a world of intrigue and danger. With an infinitely sexy cop—Holly’s pissed-off, jilted ex-fiancé—threatening to arrest her for the murder, the intrepid accountant must protect her future, her business…and her heart…by using her
investigative skills to follow the money, before the killer decides “CPA” stands for Certified Pain in the Ass…and the next dead body is Holly’s.

Visit with Cathy at her website http://cperkinswrites.com

Soapbox Stilettos: The Reading Habits of Men vs. Women

The topic we picked to dish about this month on our Soapbox couldn’t come at a more timely moment. Not long after we selected it, Jonathan Franzen appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine, and Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult spoke out on the unevenness of book reviews when it comes to fiction written by men vs. fiction written by women. So here’s the question we debated: why do you think (some) men are afraid to pick up books written by women? Especially novels labeled “chick lit,” “women’s fiction,” “cozy,” or “romance.” Why doesn’t it seem a problem for women to read books by male authors and female authors?

Maggie: There is this perception that anything labeled “women’s fiction,” “cozy,” or “chick lit” will only appeal to a very small segment of the population: women who like that “kind of thing.” Most of these books are about people and relationships, however, and some of your coziest of the cozies delve into some serious and gruesome stuff (see my second book, Extracurricular Activities, where the most deserving villains end up without their hands and feet). Men like escapist literature just as much as women, I believe. Honestly, though, what man is going to pick up a book that has a pair of high heels and a martini glass on the cover? I think the way many women writers are marketed contributes to the idea that only women can read those (OUR) books. I can’t think of a more female-centered book than Wally Lamb’s first, She’s Come Undone, which I consider a literary gem. Had it been written by a woman, it would have been marketed in a completely different way and reached a much smaller audience, in my humble opinion, of course. I think more men would read books that fall squarely into the “chick lit” category if the books were packaged and marketed in such a way to make them be reflective of what they are: stories about people and their lives.

Susan: I have to agree with Maggie that there are often serious issues underlying fiction dismissed as “women’s” or “cozies,” only the packaging usually belies that. Where mysteries are concerned, those softer covers, often with tea cups or cats, are frequently made fun of by those who write darker stuff. I remember one author of serial killer stories in particular who regularly belittled cozy fiction in his talks. I’ve written both dark mysteries and light mysteries, and I actually found doing humor harder than serious stuff. My amateur sleuth novels were all packaged with candy-colored covers, and I didn’t mind at all that they were marketed to romance fans as well as mystery. My debut in women’s fiction, The Cougar Club, has a hot pink cover with a handbag on it. I would venture to say a man would have to be very sure of himself to buy such a book and read it in public! I buy books written by both sexes without thinking twice, and it would take a pretty freaky cover to turn me off. There’s definitely a double standard, but that’s life as we know it.

Evelyn: People do judge a book by its cover. Men are no exception. Just as we wouldn’t pick up a book featuring a guy wearing camouflage holding a gun, most men won’t pick up a book with a woman in an antebellum dress holding a bouquet of roses. The cover is a large and colorful but clear message about who the book is written for—and who the author is.

Susan: A guy friend of mine once emailed to say, “I was reading Blue Blood on the subway and got a lot of strange looks.” I applauded him for being so brave since Blue Blood has a typically chick lit cover that’s bright yellow with cartoonish women’s legs on it. Which has me wondering if electronic readers will begin to change the book buying habits of men at all because no one can see what you’re reading. Hmm.

Rachel: I don’t think men are “afraid” to pick up women’s fiction. I think the presumed topics in those novels just don’t interest them, and that’s fair. Just a few weeks ago, a guy friend who read an ARC of my new book, Dead Lift, said he didn’t expect to like it as much as Final Approach because, where the first novel was set around skydiving, this one is set (partially) in a spa. The interesting thing is that he did end up liking the story despite its more feminine setting. This is where I think men and women differ. Women are more likely to pick up books that are more “manly” if there’s a good mystery driving the plot. But what man wants to be caught with a book that has a pink, sparkly high heel shoe on the front? Final Approach was originally edited by a male author of many romance novels. He published them under a female pseudonym. I wonder how many women are writing as men.

Misa: Raise your hand if you know the gender of Harper Lee. Uh-huh. It’s a book that’s highly recognized by men and women, but how many men think Harper’s a man? Okay, this isn’t really a reason, but I’m just saying.

Rachel: It might be the case that men assume novels written by women will deal primarily with women’s themes or that they will be softer novels. In many cases, I’d agree that’s true. When I think about books by male authors, though, none come to mind that were predominantly driven by “guy themes.” Male protagonists seem more career-driven with relationships on the periphery, and that’s okay with me. I suppose a man picking up a book with a female protagonist may tire of her endless pursuit for dates, preoccupation with her weight, or frustrations with her in-laws. The unfortunate thing is that many books by female authors do not focus on these things. We all have to keep an open mind, folks. There’s something out there for all of us to read.

Evelyn: We’re generalizing here, but it’s a pretty safe generalization. Men don’t want to talk about emotions, theirs or anyone else’s. They certainly don’t want to read about them.

Misa: Men show a huge lack of interest about personal introspection, family, and/or domestic elements in their book choices. We’re still ingrained with the age old gender differences, and reading choices reflect that. Women acknowledge that fiction can give guidance or solace but with men…not so much. They keep emotion bottled up. Books written by women tend to have more emotion built in and for a man to read such a book would, by association, mean he has those emotions, too, and he just doesn’t, right?

Evelyn: We believe that men who do read fiction are drawn to themes, more likely than not, written by other men, such as Westerns, military themes (think Tom Clancy and The Hunt for Red October), and adventure.

Misa: Men read angst-ridden books in which the struggle to overcome some catastrophic circumstance is at the core of the plot. Don’t women write this type of novel? Sure, as long as there’s emotional growth woven in. Ah, emotion, there’s that word again. Men only like adventure and triumphing over adversity just as women only like romance and love. God, it’s great to be a stereotype, isn’t it?!

So what do YOU think? We’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject, too!