Getting a Golden Ticket to today’s Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory aka the San Diego Comic Con

I have visited San Diego more than any other vacation destination but it’s not for the warm beaches or the California sun. It’s to be crammed into the San Diego Convention Center with thousands of happy nerds, embracing their inner geeks, to attend the San Diego Comic Con.

In 2015, 130,000 tickets were sold out in one single hour. You almost feel like you have a better chance at winning the lottery than getting a registration ticket. There is no better depiction of this experience than this clip from the Big Bang Theory

This is the place where I recharge my creative batteries. If you like comic books, gaming, super heroes, costumes, or seeing upcoming television and movie programming, it’s the best 4 days you will ever have on vacation. For this blog post, I wanted to try to share that experience with you. Armed with only my iPhone, here are two clips from my favorite panels:

1) )Outlander Panel: Anything Sam Heughan says with his Scottish accent comes out sexy. So when each panelist was asked to read a quote, the audience was ready to be entertained by the actor who plays Jamie Fraser.

2) Marvel’s Agents of Shield: Chloe Bennet (Skye/Daisy Johnson) is asked to talk about the moment the cast found out that Agent Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton) was a Hydra Agent.

My photo album —

Jessie in front of the Heroes Reborn (Zachary Levi) poster

Jessie in front of the Heroes Reborn (Zachary Levi) poster

Outlander Panel: Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe

Outlander Panel: Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe

Arrow Panel: Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards

Arrow Panel: Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards

Marvel's Agents of Shield Panel: Luke Wilson, Henry Simmons, Nick Blood and Adrianne Palicki

Marvel’s Agents of Shield Panel: Luke Wilson, Henry Simmons, Nick Blood and Adrianne Palicki

Marvel's Agents of Shield Panel: Ming-Na Wen and Brett Dalton

Marvel’s Agents of Shield Panel: Ming-Na Wen and Brett Dalton

Marvel's Agents of Shield Panel: Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge

Marvel’s Agents of Shield Panel: Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge

Agent Carter Panel: Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy

Agent Carter Panel: Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy

Grimm Panel: Bree Turner and Silas Weir Mitchell

Grimm Panel: Bree Turner and Silas Weir Mitchell

Legends of Tomorrow Panel: Brandon Routh and Wentworth Miller

Legends of Tomorrow Panel: Brandon Routh and Wentworth Miller


What has been your most memorable vacation? That one that has helped inspire, relax, or revitalize you?

When Half My Brain Goes on Vacation, All of Me is Happy

A half-day writing retreat while hubby and doggie hiked to the top of a mountain.

A half-day writing retreat in McCall, ID while hubby and doggie hiked to the top of a mountain.

Like many authors, I have a day job that takes me away from my writing. I’m lucky enough to absolutely love my regular job. And yet, working full time while also writing is stressful and I have to be careful to not burn out.

I’m one of those people who become hyper-focused on projects. It’s not a skill I’ve acquired, it’s just something that happens. I become so completely absorbed in what I’m working on that everything else disappears. Avid readers probably recognizes this as something that happens when they’re deep into a good book. To me it happens with whatever I’m working on. As you can imagine, multi-tasking is not my friend. And yet I do it. I have to.

I work on lesson plans while students stop by to chat about grades and assignments. I grade homework in-between attending meetings and running to class. The constant switching tires my brain and every time I have to switch from one task to another, it takes longer to get back to where I left off.

A wonderful dinner cooked by fellow writers at a long weekend retreat in Leavenworth, WA.

A wonderful dinner cooked by fellow writers at a long weekend retreat in Leavenworth, WA.

It would be wonderful if I had the luxury to do only one thing at a time, but that’s not how the world works. So, instead I cope by staying late at school to work on projects that requires more complex thinking. Everything is quiet. My brain calms down and becomes completely immersed in whatever I’m working on.  I’m oblivious to time’s passing and hours go by without me looking up from my task.

Not surprisingly, I write better and more when I have large blocks of time available. I am not productive if I have less than an hour to write. And yet I have to be. Now that I’m writing under contract, I have to produce more in less time. The main problem I face is that my mind doesn’t let go of work just because I’ve left work. My brain keeps processing a particular problem or issue that is teaching related, no matter how much I tell it to let go and concentrate on the creative process of writing.

Imagine that. Being creative on demand doesn’t seem to work.

The workaround I’ve discovered is to force half my brain to take a vacation. I tell the teaching part to go disappear somewhere exotic and not bother me, while I force the writing half to be completely immersed in writing. I go on writing retreats with other writer friends, sometimes they are for a day, sometimes for a weekend, sometimes

for a full week.  And I attend writing conferences where I learn from workshops, network with other writers, and meet publishing professionals. Basically I eat, sleep, and think writing, writing, and more writing.

The view from my hotel room at a weekend retreat in Kirkland, WA.

The view from my hotel room at a weekend retreat in Kirkland, WA.

It would seem like this would be a lot of work and leave me exhausted. And yes, I am tired after a long day at a writing conference, but my creative well is also filled to the brim. My brain has switched over to full writing mode and ideas come quicker than I can write them down. Every synopsis fire quicker and on the same topic. That hyper-focus that can be such a curse is now an asset. I feel refreshed, happy, and so very alive. So many writers in one place at the same time generate a creative energy that fuels me and sustains me for a long time after I’ve left the conference.

And when I am in need of a refill, I plan the next writing retreat or start looking for the next conference to sign up for.

What tricks do you employ to fire your brain into creative mode?

RWA 2015

A Virtuous Vacation

Maybe this isn’t really a blog post this month, perhaps it’s a cry for help. I’ve been on a streak of virtuous endeavors lately. A mission of accomplishment. It began in May.

Off work and happily under-employed, these last few months of glorious weather and zero scheduled hours ignited a fire within me. I desperately wanted ORDER in my life. CONTROL, too. The past year has been a rollercoaster of family medical dramas, an emotional black hole, and rafts of uncertainty.

So when I looked deep inside and asked myself what would make me truly happy, an image of folded socks came to mind. And I took action. And I didn’t stop.

Personal Greatest Hits List Summer of 2015:

Painted house


Sold second car

Sold riding lawnmower

Freed up vast amount of space in garage

Donated carloads of stuff to charity

EMPTIED the office closet (I now own about two dozen books — total!!!)

I lost ten pounds

Recycled six boxes of papers

Turned bedroom closet into a shrine of orderliness, replete with folded socks and underwear

Yet all these good works have left me feeling a little unhinged by the experience. Perhaps too organized? All I know is that I’m ready to be BAD. Like Cheetos-Gin-and-Series-TV-Binge bad :) I need a vacation from all this virtuousness. SOON… before my husband figures out I alphabetized his entire DVD collection.

Finding my High School Yearbooks, Twenty Years Later

My High School Yearbooks. I was honestly shocked that I still had them. I found them in a box of old mementos that my mother refused to throw away as a child but now refused to store in her garage. My first thought was… don’t open them, High School Sucked! So I buried them under Girl Scout sashes and weird elementary school art projects and walked away.

High School Yearbooks

High School Yearbooks

But they must have been brewing in my subconscious and perhaps triggered me to reach out to a high school buddy that I haven’t seen in years. We both ended up on the West Coast and last weekend, I found myself on the Amtrak heading to Seattle Washington. My life might seem stale right now but she is just as cool as she was in school. However she almost gave me a heart attack when she casually mentioned that our 20th reunion would be next year.

This was not how my life was supposed to turn out.

In twenty years, I was supposed to return to high school a champion. I was supposed to have conquered the world so I could return to Small Town Ohio as a success and be carried upon the shoulders of my enemies. The mean girls wouldn’t ignore me and I wouldn’t be invisible to all the cute boys. Maybe the evening would end with a flattering spotlight shinning upon the huge tiara on my head. Isn’t this the fantasy?

But coming back to reality, I wanted a sneak peek into what happened to my classmates without having to buy a plane ticket to the East Coast. And thanks to social media, they found me on Facebook a few months ago when someone created a Class of 1996 Facebook group. Besides the excitement of connecting with old friends, it turns out that the mean girls still won’t “like” me online and the cute boys are now happy fathers who don’t remember me. But their opinions no longer have any influence on my daily life. My inner 18 year old self took a big sigh of relief.

For this month’s blog theme about photography, I flipped through the pages of my High School Yearbooks, full of images of people who were on the cusp of adulthood. Now I am wondering if I should go back to High School, twenty years later, with diluted expectations of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion or just move on with my life on the other side of the country. But this post did help me realize that I don’t want to be a success for the approval of others. I want to be a successful writer, all for myself.

Jessie - Freshman Year

Jessie – Freshman Year

Jessie - Senior Year

Jessie – Senior Year, same smile, better hair













So has anyone gone to their High School Reunions? Did you have high expectations? Was it a total bust? The best night ever? Or something in-between?




Shooting Under Water

I was never that interested in photography until I started SCUBA diving. The challenging combination of buoyancy control, balanced breathing, patience, and timed trigger finger added to the very zen experience of being submerged under the world’s oceans. In the dense environment of water, everything has to slow down. Your breathing. Your motions. Your mind.

The other unusual thing to keep in mind when taking photos while diving is where the light comes from, always above,  and that the water absorbs certain wavelengths (colors) of the light the deeper you dive. Red and orange are absorbed at about 20 feet, while blue, indigo, and violet stays with you. Those are not absorbed until depths well beyond safe diving limits. In order to get the reds and orange in your picture, carry a diving light or use a strong camera flash.

Although I’m hunting the perfect whale shark shot as eagerly as any underwater photographer, my favorite shots are of the microorganisms  that live in the ocean. Here are some of my favorite shots that I’ve taken over the years.

AMB_CB_BlueEyedHermitCrabThis little creature is called Frank Sinatra crab by the locals in the Cayman Islands and is extremely shy. I discovered this blue-eyed hermit crab in the waters outside Cayman Brac and had to wait a long time before it crawled out from under his house.



AMB_CB_BandedShrimp_BrittleThe Cayman dive sites I visited had an amazing amount of micro-life. I really worked on my buoyancy control while hovering to get the perfect shot. These banded shrimp and brittle star were hiding inside a huge pink sponge. The shrimps’ actual size are smaller than a paperclip.






This is not that great of a shot, but I wanted to include it to show what baby moray eels grow into. Compare this cute guy to the next photo. (This is also a great example of the red and orange colors being absorbed by the water.)









AMB_LaPazMorayLuckily these guys are pretty shy and only attack if provoked (like most animals). I found both of these eels while diving off La Paz on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.







AMB_CB_SaddledBlennyBack to Cayman Brac. This saddled blenny is about the lenght of my index finger. He darts around similar to a lizard’s movements, so getting the shot was another case of perfecting my buoyancy control.








AMB_CB_FeatherDusterWormsThese feather duster worms would retreat as soon as they detected any water movement. It felt like I held my breath for a good minute to get this shot.








AMB_CB_ChristmasTreeWormI’m going to end on the picture I’m the most proud of, my award winning shot of Christmas tree worms. I’ve only ever entered one photography contest and won the top prize: a free tank-top. :-)



What’s your favorite picture or favorite contest?







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