The Ultimate Pilgrimage

I’m fortunate, in that without being wealthy (or anywhere close), I’ve managed to do quite a bit of traveling, thanks to a combination of tax payer dollars (i.e. growing up in the U.S. military), school scholarships, and a general awareness of budget travel options and how to find good deals.

It dawned on me the other day that I’ve visited some of the most of the important pilgrimage sites of the Western world (this is what you do when you double major in history and religion): the Camino de Santiago in Spain (the setting for my debut novel, Beneath Wandering Stars); Rome, Italy; Lindisfarne, England; Constantinople/Istanbul in Turkey.

So what does one give such a travel geek for Christmas?

Why, the icing on the cake: a trip to the Holy Land, of course!

As a Christmas/Anniversary/Last Pre-Baby Adventure, my wonderful husband planned a surprise visit to Israel, perhaps the most important pilgrimage site of all and a fascinating part of the world where East meets West. ‘Adventure’ is exactly the right word. There’s nothing like traveling to Bethlehem when pregnant (so poignant, right?) only for your tour bus to hit a pole hanging off a cement mixer, shattering your window into a million pieces that cascade all over your pregnant body (not to worry – amazingly, I didn’t get a scratch)! Out of all 50 people on that bus, I chose the worst possible seat. Maybe I should have followed Mary’s example and taken a donkey.

Besides that incident, it was a safe, beautiful, and powerful experience, as you can see below.

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Favorite Christmas Reads

The holiday season is the perfect time to curl up by the fire with a good book. It’s also a time of nostalgia, where I find myself returning to old favorites again and again. Here are a few of my favorite books to read around Christmas…what are some of yours?

icechildThe Ice Child by Evangeline Denmark

A brand new addition to my holiday reading list, this YA novelette has everything you could want in a winter story — magic, atmosphere, and a touching romance. Read my full review here.

 

 

 

littlewomenLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott

One of those childhood classics you keep reading the rest of your life. I love the 1994 film adaptation as well — the perfect movie to watch while baking Christmas cookies.

 

 

 

the-lord-of-the-rings-book-coverThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m not sure if other people feel the urge to read these books again around the holidays, but I do — probably because my first date with my husband was to go see the first LOTR movie when it came out in December 2001. 🙂

 

 

achristmascarolA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Christmas classic. I love this story more and more each time I read it.

 

 

 

Now grab a mug of eggnog or hot chocolate and get reading! Merry Christmas!

October Reads

october-reads

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

~Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

Once again, Anne sums it up perfectly. I love October.  Changing leaves, spiced cider, Halloween–what’s not to love? And for the past few years, October has been one of those months where I always seem to receive some good news. It’s also a time when I’m in the mood for atmospheric books with a darker edge. This month I’ve been re-visiting one of my favorite Ray Bradbury novels, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I found along with Cormac MacCarthy’s The Road while perusing my favorite local bookstore. What have you been reading this October?

 

Authors on the Air!

This week has been an eventful one of new adventures — I got to participate in my first podcast interview on the show SCRIBES, which was live on the radio first! Do you like podcasts? I LOVE podcasts — I love listening to them while doing dishes, while folding laundry, while going for an afternoon jog. If you’re an aspiring writer (or an aspiring anything, really), podcasts are a wonderful way to learn more about the publishing industry and hear the perspectives of the people who work within it. I hope I added something somewhat beneficial to this conversation! 🙂 It was really wonderful talking to my editor at Merit Press, Jacquelyn Mitchard — a NYT bestselling author and a lovely person. AND, as you’ll hear in the interview, it turns out that as a young writer Jackie was mentored by the legendary Ray Bradbury–one of my all-time favorite authors (and I would argue one of the most important American writers of the last 50 years). Enjoy this interview with Authors on the Air!

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Would You Walk 500 Miles? My Camino Experience

 

Do you think The Proclaimers knew about the Camino de Santiago? If you have any memory of the 1980s, you may recall the hit song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by this Scottish duo. However, if you weren’t born yet and only know the 1980s as a period of weird clothes and lots of hair, not to worry—I much prefer this recent cover by Sleeping At Last anyway.

After writing Beneath Wandering Stars, this song will forever make me think of my favorite character from the book–Seth Russo–but it also makes me think about all the reasons people might walk 500 miles in the first place. And yet thousands of people have and do, thanks to a trek known as the Camino de Santiago.

I only walked 150 miles of this ancient pilgrimage route (the most popular version, the Camino Frances, is roughly 500 miles), but even that was enough to inspire a story. People often ask where I got the idea for Beneath Wandering Stars and usually I refer to my own upbringing as the daughter of a U.S. soldier (Gabi, my protagonist, is also an Army “brat”), but there were other personal experiences that contributed to this story.

One was walking “the camino.” Or part of it, at least.

camino4If you haven’t heard of the Camino de Santiago, you’re not alone. North Americans aren’t as familiar with this 2,000 year-old route across northern Spain (yet!)—a cultural and spiritual trek that has seen a resurgence of interest among Europeans in recent decades. I only learned about the route after studying abroad in Spain during college when I took a medieval history course. A few years later, in May 2011, I bought my first pair of hiking boots at R.E.I. and spent almost two weeks walking this ancient route with people from all over the world.

Parts of it were tough (emotionally more than physically), but it was also magical—one of the best travel experiences I’ve had, and from it Gabi and Seth were born. Readers and reviewers of Beneath Wandering Stars often comment on how authentic the setting details and characters feel, and I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that aspects of both those things were drawn from real life. I definitely met people as diverse and quirky as the characters Gabi and Seth encounter along “the way,” and I also tried to recall my own inner roller-coaster as I described my heroine’s internal and external journeys.

Also, there’s just something about lukewarm showers, hostels that perpetually smell like feet, and the constant availability of cafes con leche that sticks with you many years later. Spain is a beautiful country and I enjoyed the spirit of comradery among those walking the camino, but my favorite aspect of the journey had to be how awake it made me feel—perhaps because of the lack of creature comforts (minus all the amazing food). 599181_10151009805515871_1551433263_n

For a few long days of walking without a phone, without email, and without a to-do list, I was able to focus. To pay attention to everything that truly matters. By the end of the pilgrimage, I knew writing fiction was what I wanted to do more than anything, and by the time I reached the route’s destination—the city of Santiago in the northwest corner of Spain—I almost had a story worth telling.

The details of that story weren’t fleshed out yet—those didn’t come until later. Yet I knew I wanted to write a story about real, imperfect human relationships and real, imperfect life—as well as the journeys of love and discovery that each of us must make if we are to experience a life truly worth living.

So would I walk 500 miles? You bet. 150 was just a warm-up.

Happy Book Birthday, Beneath Wandering Stars!

Today is the official release day for BENEATH WANDERING STARS, so I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who follow my blog for being a part of this journey! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the encouragement and feedback you have provided, along with many thoughtful reviews. Thank you!

Beneath Wandering Stars
This is a photo of me (and G.I. Lucas!) in my old Wuerzburg American High School soccer jersey and it pretty much summarizes my reasons for writing this story. Like my protagonist Gabi, I spent my teen years on an Army post in Germany, and I wrote Beneath Wandering Stars, in part, because I wanted to share the story of the thousands who have experienced this unique “third culture kid” upbringing. This makes Beneath Wandering Stars a bit outside the norm when it comes to today’s Young Adult fiction market, which is always a risk because it requires readers to take a chance on something that’s a little different. Yet based on the feedback I’ve received so far, those who take that risk are usually glad they did!
And I have YOU all to thank for that! Word of mouth is the best form of advertising for a book like this, so I really appreciate how wonderful you all have been when it comes to sharing this story with family and friends! I’m excited to see all the places Gabi & Seth’s story will travel to.
P.S. Speaking of which, if you come across BWS at your local indie bookstore or at Barnes & Nobles, would you please take a photo and tag me on either Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Thanks!
Buen camino!