Sylvie Writes a Romance is on Smashwords – get your 50% off coupon!

Aloha readers!

If you’re unfamiliar with Smashwords, it is a wonderful online book store for both readers and writers. Thousands of books are available in every electronic format available – iPad, iPhone, iPod, Nook, Kindle, Kindle Fire, Kobo, or even simple PDF downloads for reading on your computer.

As an author, Smashwords is an uncomplicated site to sell your books – download a Word document formatted properly, and voila, your book is now for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and many more retailers, plus added to library catalogs. The only catch is getting the format down correctly; but if you’re not computer savvy they even provide a list of people who will format your book for a reasonable price.

To celebrate my new foray into “the world beyond Amazon,” I am offering a 50% off coupon for purchase of Sylvie at the Smashwords site. You are free to email this coupon to anyone you think might enjoy Sylvie Writes a Romance! Spread the Love!

Coupon Code VT59Y – expires on 6/12/17 – use it for a Sylvie ebook.

Enjoy!

Melissa

 

Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

From Travel to Romcon and Beyond

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

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Melissa Burovac

From travel to romcom and beyond – an evolution of my writing

In 2012, I embarked on a solo RTW trip that lasted nine months. I had never traveled solo before, and have a healthy dose of social anxiety plus a great fear of getting lost with my poor sense of direction, so this was an enormous undertaking for me. I had help getting prepared from traveler friends, creating lists of places to visit and gear I might need along the way. I put my furniture in storage, not knowing what to expect for how long I would be gone, sold my beloved Jeep Cherokee, and bought a one-way ticket to Mexico. I got a ride to the airport in Lihue, Kauai, carrying only a backpack containing clothes, a point and shoot camera, a 13” Mac laptop, and a water filter. A couple months after my 40th birthday, I was as ready as I would ever be.

During my travels I visited nine countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia, Cambodia, and Thailand. I encountered natural disasters in most of the countries — two hurricanes, a volcano eruption, an earthquake and a wildfire. As I blogged, my friends joked they knew where I was by where the natural disasters were occurring. “Something exploded? Let’s see where Melissa is!”

Blogging as I traveled was mainly to let my mother know I was still alive. I had childhood dreams of being a writer, but those got lost in the flurry of making a living after college and were completely forgotten. When I returned to Kauai after my trip I didn’t expect such a reaction to my blog; people were amazed I traveled for nine months, mostly solo, and that I didn’t die in the drug wars of Mexico, or some other place they only knew from news reports. Or even that as a woman, I was able to make my way through the world without trouble — some trouble, but not much. The women who followed me online were especially impressed and wanted to know how I did it all by myself. As I heard, more and more, “You should write a book,” I recalled those forgotten dreams of becoming an author and decided to give it a try.

Wandering was born from my blog posts, mostly written in bars and cafes around the world— a little bit drunk, a little bit lost, and toward the end, a whole lot homesick from being alone. This first book of mine was self-published in June 2014.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, though. I was working full-time as a bookkeeper, writing full-time after work — mostly from the back of my truck at the beach with a $200 laptop — and I was exhausted. I lost touch with most of my friends, and was a little depressed with the sudden lack of freedom.

Finally, though, Wandering was finished, published, and it was the most exciting thing in my life to see a book I had written in print. I immediately had dreams of writing more books, but didn’t see enough income to allow me to quit my regular job. I sent copies to every major outlet and publisher I could find online but no one picked up the book. While visiting my sister in Portland I took copies to Powell’s and sold them as used just so I could go back a week later and see my book on the shelf at a bookstore.

So what comes next? I wanted to be a full-time writer but it wasn’t working out exactly as it had in my daydreams. I didn’t have another book planned, and couldn’t begin to imagine what to do with myself.

One afternoon I was flipping through articles about writing on the internet and came across one about romance writers. The three women depicted in the article were raking in huge monthly incomes from churning out romance e-books, and I thought to myself, How hard could it be to write a romance novel?

I was sitting at a bar in Portland, drinking Bloody Marys and turning my imagination to writing a quick, sexy romance novel to generate some income — and I failed miserably. This is actually the only non-fiction scene in my second book Sylvie Writes a Romance.

I love to read classic fiction, sci-fi, horror, biographies — really, anything but romance novels. In my snobby view of the writing world I didn’t consider romance novels as literature, but just a means to pass the time, and not even as “real writing.” I was completely confused when I couldn’t write anything in that genre that was remotely good. It opened my eyes to how much work any type of writing entails.

I came back home to Kauai and bought a couple used romance novels at a thrift store, and sat down to read them. The books weren’t grammatically complicated, and didn’t contain any lofty ideas, and I sat down to write again, never actually finishing either of them. I just wanted to write something for a mass market so I could concentrate on writing something more profound.

I failed again and again, never writing anything I was happy with. But these failures evolved into a new project about a writer trying to write a romance novel and failing, turning to online dating to meet men and hoping to learn the meaning of romance. It’s more comedy than romance, which suits my style much better.

Sylvie Writes a Romance was born, and published in 2016.

Since Sylvie was written, I have been working on a sequel, plus trying my hand at writing a biography. I hope to have both published this year, and still have my sights set on a full-time career in writing.

 

 

Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

 

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Indie Reader review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Aloha!

I entered Sylvie into a contest, and got a review as well. Click to see the Indie Reader online version.

 

Relax into a breezy beach read with SYLVIE WRITES A ROMANCE

 

Verdict: It’s hard to feel anything but happy after finishing SYLVIE WRITES A ROMANCE. It is a humorous story that is ultimately hopeful about our ability to connect to others and rescue ourselves from ruts along the way.

Sylvie Jacobsen is a 43-year-old accountant looking to fund her travel-writing passion by penning a cheesy romance novel. Her money-making scheme proves more difficult than she thought as she dives into the strange waters of online dating to conduct research. But is it only fictional love she’s looking to explore?

SYLVIE WRITES A ROMANCE has the quality of sunlight on the tropical blue water that surrounds its island setting. It’s pleasing to look at, but you can’t help but wonder what lies beneath the waves. The novel has a fun premise and Sylvie is a charmingly self-deprecating narrator. It’s fun to join her as she stumbles through the absurd rituals of female grooming and online-dating: applying face-masks, practicing walking in high heels, writing a how-to-flirt cheat sheet on her wrist for a date.

Author Melissa Burovac’s sense of humor sustains the narrative. The back-and-forth between Sylvie and her friend and dating-guide, Colleen, is believably witty and friendly.  (“No one’s gonna smell you through a picture,” Colleen says when Sylvie asks if she should shower before her dating-profile photo shoot.) Burovac also mines the contrast between Sylvie’s romance-novel fantasies and awkward real-life dates to great comedic effect.

The only thing missing is a greater sense of the inner lives behind the banter. Having a deeper sense of why Sylvie has waited until 43 to learn how to apply eye-liner and why her sub-conscious has picked this particular moment to send her on a quest for love would have made me more invested in her story. Burvoac does mention some past failed relationships, but it seems like a generic explanation rather than a character study that matches the detail afforded to Sylvie’s newly learned grooming routines.

Similarly, it would have been helpful to have know more about Sylvie’s potential suitors. Her dates keep going wrong because of almost slapstick mishaps, which are funny to read about. But romance is ultimately about the building relationship between two unique people. Without much sense of the men in Sylvie’s life as complex individuals, it’s hard to really care which one she ends up with.

SYLVIE WRITES A ROMANCE is set on a Hawaiian island, and one of the pleasures of reading it is to learn how the mundane details of daily life interact with the romance of the setting. “I’ve had sex during a hike at the top of a waterfall, and it was the most unsexy thing I’ve probably ever done in my life,” Sylvie thinks at one point. As with the characters, I only wanted more about both the beauty and realities of the setting.

It’s hard to feel anything but happy after finishing SYLVIE WRITES A ROMANCE. It is a humorous story that is ultimately hopeful about our ability to connect to others and rescue ourselves from ruts along the way. Think back to that tropical water: even if you don’t have a chance to plunge in, you won’t regret watching from the shore.

~Olivia Rosane for IndieReader

 

 

Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

From Travel to Romcon and Beyond

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

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How NOT to get Reviews or Sales for your Book – BookDaily.com

Good morning!

I’m pleased to share my guest blog with you. I wrote an article for BookDaily.com, and it appeared in today’s edition.

How NOT to Get Reviews or Sales for your Book

It’s not often I get anyone to listen to my opinion 🙂

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

From Travel to Romcon and Beyond

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

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Worst dive buddy ever – scuba diving on The Great Barrier Reef

An excerpt from Wandering, from the Great Barrier Reef:

 

I went with the same company but still had to fill out all the same paperwork about experience and medical conditions and such. All the certified divers were grouped together, again only about 20 of us. One English woman with a high-pitched, whiny voice had dozens of questions for the crew. One of the questions in the paperwork was “Have you ever dived in the ocean?” and she immediately flagged down a crewman and asked, “Which ocean? This ocean? What if I’ve dived in a different ocean? Does that count? Are all the oceans the same? I did dive in one but maybe it doesn’t count?” She had endless questions about the basic paperwork and the crewman sat down, realizing that he wasn’t going to get away from her any time soon. I was sitting with a Canadian woman, Tamara, and we were practically rolling on the floor laughing.

When we arrived at the dive site, the certified divers were called back to gear up and my gear was set up next to the crazy woman’s. She had trouble with her regulator, but not really, and called several crew members over to look at it. They all said it was fine, but she demanded that someone switch it out. Then we were seated, strapped onto our tanks and ready to go, when the boat ran over and severed the mooring line, which meant we had another 15 minutes to sit in full gear while they fixed it. Crazy woman started making small talk with me. “Have you dived here before?”

“Yes.”
“Is this ocean salty?”
“Um, I think that’s what defines an ocean, there’s salt in the water.”

“But is it really salty?”

“I don’t know how to answer that.”
“I’m asking because I’m really thirsty.”
At that moment I knew that she would be assigned as my divebuddy. It was my fate.

Crazy did ask me to be her buddy while we were waiting for the mooring line to be fixed. I tried to weasel out like before, crossed my fingers, and told her that we get assigned and couldn’t choose. I wished I had asked Tamara but completely forgot, and we were strapped into our tanks far away from each other. And, as luck would have it, I got Crazy for a buddy. I’m sure the crew was chuckling about being rid of her for a while. It was a group dive, but she was still my responsibility.

It was time and we finally jumped in. The first thing Crazy did was swim over and grab my arm; the dive hadn’t even started and I was already annoyed. I did my best with hand signals to let her know that at no time was she welcome to touch me, and I headed to the bottom. In the minute it took to get there I received six OK signals from her.

I like to dive with a little space, so if people are crowded around the guide I’ll hang back, or if people are doing their own thing I’ll go up front, just as long as I can see what I want and not bump into people. Crazy never got more than two feet away from me at any point; no matter how hard I tried to make some room she would swim over and touch me. Every time I looked up to see what was touching me, I’d see her flash the OK sign. I wanted to give her the finger but thought that might be a bit much. She went so far as to swim up to my head and throw an OK sign in front of my mask. I wanted to turn off her tank.

I’m not a bad dive buddy, but partners need to check on each other only so much. I was always aware of where she was, even when she wasn’t touching me; I looked back many times since she refused to swim in front of me, and she always seemed fine. That, in my opinion, is what was required of me.

There was a lot of great sea life on the dive, but my annoyance level was pretty high and I didn’t enjoy everything as much as I could have. Forty minutes of OK signals.

We were back on the boat for our surface interval, getting our tanks refilled and our gear ready. I only wore a skin suit for the first dive and was kind of cold, so I was trying to find a half wetsuit to wear as well. Crazy sat down and started to lecture me on the proper way to be a good dive buddy. She didn’t think I was doing my job.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d give me the OK sign more often when we’re under water.” I think I had given her one for the entire first dive. I let her know that I always knew where she was and she looked fine and I didn’t feel the need for constant OK signs.

“How do you know I’m OK if I don’t give you an OK sign?”

“Well, you’re swimming along normally and looking at stuff and look pretty OK so I don’t feel I need to ask.”

“But how will I know if you’re OK if you don’t tell me you’re OK?”

“Well, if I’m swimming normally and looking at stuff and I look OK then you should just assume that I’m OK too.”

“You need to give me more OK signs on the next dive, I need to know that you’re OK.”

I had to turn and start talking to the woman on the other side of me because I was afraid I was going to hit Crazy.

We jumped in for the second dive and immediately I had my shadow throwing OK signs at me. I refused to give her even one for the entire dive; I get a little stubborn when I’m annoyed. I looked back at Crazy several times; I did my job. But this time I concentrated on the reef and all the wild things living down there and ignored her as much as possible. There were squid, white-tip reef sharks, turtles, rays, unicorn fish, another giant Napoleon wrasse, and huge groupers; completely excellent.

We had about seven minutes left to dive when I felt Crazy grab my leg and pull me backwards. That’s fucking enough, time to turn off her tank for real. Her ear felt funny, she signaled, and I didn’t give a shit. I got the guide’s attention and signaled that my buddy was sick, then swam away in hopes that he’d send her to the surface. But she wasn’t sick, there wasn’t anything wrong with her ear, she just wanted attention, and after several more OK signals we resumed our dive.

During our lunch break I made it very clear that she was not to speak to me again.

The third dive was spectacular; I started it off by getting attacked by a good-sized triggerfish. It was mating season for them and they actually build nests and defend them ferociously. It would have been nice if the crew had warned us, since they dive at the same mooring every day. I was descending, minding my own business, when a big fish with pointy teeth charged at me. It was more funny than scary because trigger fish are so cute, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. I tried to swim away but he kept nipping at me, and I could see Crazy having a minor underwater heart attack from the exertion of all the OK signals she was throwing at me, which I ignored.

Most surprisingly, though, on the third dive she mostly left me alone. I looked back for her here and there and she had given me several feet of personal space. Aaah. And when we surfaced, I never had to see her again.

 

 

Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

 

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Searching for Sea Dragons in Tasmania – Wandering

Another excerpt from Wandering (published June 2014):

 

I had one more week until I was supposed to meet Shanti and her family in Cambodia, so I decided to check out Tasmania.

When I was planning, I asked Kawika and Scotty about it, and neither of them had ever been there, nor knew anyone who had been there (which immediately prompted me to resupply my tampon stash while still in the city, I was traveling into unknown territory again). I hadn’t even known it was an Australian state until I started researching. I emailed a scuba company that promised sea dragons and set up a dive, so that was where I reserved a hotel room. All the hostels were sold out, again, and the hotel in Hobart was officially the most expensive place I have ever stayed. Stupid holidays.

As I flew into Hobart, I realized that I hadn’t done any proper research. I was looking for sea dragons and nature; in my mind I saw mountains and lakes and rivers, adventures and surf and scuba. It never occurred to me that I was going to the capital city of one of the Australian states. A big, horrible city.

I was the last drop-off for the hotel shuttle, so I got a small tour of the city. I felt like I was in downtown Seattle, not the small beach towns and backwoods laziness that I envisioned. And I had to walk several blocks from my hotel to find a Wi-Fi connection at a pub. I really need to learn how to properly research destinations.

According to my emails with Sue at Underwater Adventures, sea dragons lived in the harbors around Hobart. On my first morning in town I was supposed to meet her at the docks at 7:45, along with one other woman who was equally excited to find them. I arrived at the dock at 7:40, early as usual, and Georgina got there at 7:43. We waited, made small talk, waited more, and no boat. Finally, Sue motored up at 8:20; apparently a cruise ship motored past while she was loading tanks and the wake knocked two of them overboard and she had to dive for them. A shaky start to the day.

The boat wasn’t very well-kept; it was kind of messy with stuff everywhere, with six tanks sort of bungeed to the sides, but Sue was nice. She didn’t have any crew so she wasn’t going to dive with us, which immediately annoyed both Georgina and me. It’s way easier to find things underwater with someone who’s been there before. Getting directions in Cairns for a colony of clownfish was bad enough; now we had to locate an animal that looks like kelp in darker water.

We travelled 50 minutes to our first site at Betsey Island. The sky was grey and rainy and the wind was picking up. There were dozens of crayfish pots in the area where Sue wanted to drop anchor, so it took us a while to settle in. She gave me a selection of 7 millimeter wetsuits, all of them covered in dog hair. They probably would be comfy to sleep on. After trying a few, I finally found one that fit, which meant I could fasten it properly and still manage to breathe a little. I was worried that in darker water a tight wetsuit might make me feel claustrophobic and I’d freak out, but I continued getting ready – boots, hood, gloves, and 32 pounds of weights. I could barely move. Georgina was using a dry suit; Sue didn’t have one in my size. It took us an hour to gear up for the first dive.

Then came the moment I was dreading – touching the water. It was 16 degrees Celsius. In a 7-millimeter wetsuit, it still felt like 16 degrees. It was fucking cold. Like getting wrapped in ice, then buried in snow. Then stabbed in the head with icicles. I couldn’t remember ever being that cold in my life. Every time I turned my head to look around, some water would channel straight down my back. I just kept telling myself that I was doing this for a good purpose: sea dragons.

The visibility was around five meters in the greenish water. The underwater landscape consisted of kelp forests and a lot of strange plants, but I didn’t find many fish. I saw a wrasse, a box cowfish, anemones, starfish, a rockfish, and a couple crabs, but mostly just plants floating back and forth with the current. I was praying for a sea dragon.

“Please, God, let me see one so I don’t ever have to get back in this water. Pretty please? I’ll be good, I promise.”

The first dive lasted 48 minutes and by the end I was shaking uncontrollably, my teeth were chattering, and no sea dragon. Sue kept asking if we saw the felled tree where some live, or the backside of the reef where others are. That was why we had wanted a guide.

We left for the second dive site, the blowhole in Blackman’s Bay. There was no way I could take off my wetsuit between dives, so I put a jacket over it and jumped up and down to try to get warm, but it didn’t work. I ate half a box of Tim-Tams, possibly the greatest chocolate cookie in mass production, thinking that might help. Maybe it was just a good excuse to eat so many.

On the second dive I was cold going in, and thought I would die the moment I hit the water. I vaguely remember wondering if my nipples could cut through a 7 millimeter suit. This dive was a little shallower and I was too floaty; I had to swim back to the boat after 20 minutes for more weights. I was now carrying 38 pounds; the most I’d ever used before was 14. It was good incentive to start working out again; my legs had a hard time standing under the extra weight.

We saw more kelp and more cute cowfish, but it was 48 more minutes of no sea dragons. As we swam back to the boat, Sue yelled that we should try one more time a little further down, maybe swim until we have about 40 bar of air left. Obviously, sea dragons were way more important than following strict PADI dive rules. We dove back down on the other side of the reef for a total dive time of 63 minutes with no sea dragons. I was pretty sure my fingertips were going to break off.

I was told that we were only doing two dives, and although I was upset that we didn’t find a sea dragon, I was OK with getting dried off. The weather had gotten worse and the sun hadn’t come out all day; it was just windy and rainy. All I could think about was a hot shower and obscene amounts of food.

But Sue felt bad and suggested a third dive. Georgina gave the decision to me since I was the coldest, but not by much since her drysuit had a small leak. I came all this way to Tasmania, was half-frozen, and I’d probably never make it back. Another 20 minutes wouldn’t kill me. Sue’s rationale was that the first site gets battered by storms, the second site had a bunch of spear divers a few days ago, but the third site never gets much traffic. And that was when Georgina got pissed. Imagine an older, shorter, English housewife getting really angry. But I agreed with her. Why did we go to the crappy sites first, especially when the pristine site was only 15 minutes from the dock?

The third site was Boronia Beach. Sue was begging us to dive just a little while, even though one tank only had 100 bar and Georgina had to use her tank from the last dive. We decided to go for 20 minutes or until one of us had no air left. By then we had left PADI standards far behind. I think Sue felt bad because she usually gets in the water with the divers and can find the sea dragon hangouts; maybe her crew called in sick, but this wasn’t a great day for diving. I had been carrying my camera and decided to leave it on the boat for the last dive since it wasn’t doing anything but wearing down the battery.

Sue dropped us at the edge of a reef with instructions, “Go in here where you can see the reef, swim with it on your left; if you go around that corner into the other bay that’s OK, I’ll follow your bubbles from the boat.” Georgina and I swam, freezing. I started thinking that I really was going to die, then OH MY GOD A SEA DRAGON!

It was the weirdest animal I’ve ever seen in my life. It had a snout like a seahorse, a fat little body with teensy, fluttery, useless-looking fins, and a long tail that started off fat and tapered to very skinny. It was a male, carrying eggs. In total, it was about 14 inches long, and every color in the crayon box. The sun had just come out, and every time he moved, different body parts turned different colors in the light. He had two lumps on his head that looked like horns, and two long side fins that just dangled and looked like kelp. There was another set of tiny, fluttery fins where I thought his ears should go. The overall impression was like a flying elephant with a couple tinker-bell wings. Totally ridiculous.

And of course, I didn’t have my camera. I signaled to Georgina that I was going to the boat and I’d be right back. I sprinted in my 7 millimeter wetsuit. By the time I got back I was so out of breath that I had to float on the surface trying to breathe; my suit was too tight for a proper breath. But there was a sea dragon, so I went down anyway.

Georgina and I spent 25 minutes watching him. He just swam back and forth between a couple big rocks and showed off for us, like he was on a sea dragon catwalk. I completely forgot that I was cold.

 

Watch the seadragon on YouTube.

Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

 

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Croc at Ambergris Caye

An almost-a-Darwin-Award crocodile adventure

Recently I published an excerpt from my book about a crocodile adventure in Belize.  You can find it here: crocodile blog post: One of my favorites.

Upon rereading the post, I remembered that I still had the video from the encounter.  I was upset at the time because my hands were shaking so badly that the video is nearly unwatchable.  But now I think it’s funny.  I can’t remember ever being so scared in my life and you can tell when you watch the video.  I was slowly backing away from the crocodile and thought that I should have something recorded to show John’s wife if he didn’t make it back… And a possible Darwin Award entry.

Thankfully, John was fine.  He is so fearless that the crocodile was probably scared of him.

The video showing just how chicken I really am:

Almost-a-Darwin-Award croc adventure on Ambergris Caye

 

Find the book on Amazon.

 

Croc at Ambergris Caye

Croc at Ambergris Caye

 

 

 

My first driving experience in Cuba

This excerpt is from my first driving experience in Cuba.  Driving there turned out to be a very stressful task without directions…

 

After talking with the German couple about how easy it was to drive around Cuba we decided on renting a car. We went to several rental agencies called Cubicar, all the same but with different pricing. We found the best price at a large hotel in Old Havana. It was pretty straightforward, but Gina argued about everything; I thought the salesman was going to kick us out. But she had spent the day angry about lunch, our host family, basically everything. She wasn’t afraid to tell people she was upset, which I liked about her.

We finally got our car, a generic blue four-seater, but we had no road map. That was another argument Gina had with the rental guy, which lasted for quite some time, but didn’t help us at all. Eventually, one of the men drew us a map to the autopista and we went home to collect our things and get on the road.

It was about 4 p.m. at this point, and we had to say goodbye to the people in our building, which took close to forever. One woman, Clara, with whom we made arrangements to spend our last night before flying home, wanted to introduce us to everyone who was currently staying in her apartment, and after too much small talk and very little understanding, it was 5:30 before we could leave. Our first destination was Viñales, about four hours away. We had no map and the sun was setting in two hours. I’m not certain why we thought it was a good idea to leave at that point.

But leave we did, with total fanfare from the apartment building. We agreed that I would drive and Gina would navigate. Almost from the start it was “slow down,” “watch the bikes,” “careful;” she was a classic backseat driver. I was surprised at how well I was driving given that it had been so long, and I finally had to tell her to relax, and just tell me where to go. Driving through Havana was a little crazy, but not nearly as bad as Mexico City or anywhere else where everyone owned a car. The first thing I noticed was that there were no street signs anywhere – no direction, no arrows, nothing. We followed the man’s hand-drawn map and everything seemed to be going well. Some roundabouts, a tunnel – we drove and drove and I was quite happy.

We entered a small town with no cars – everyone rode bikes or horses – and that was when I started to wonder where we were. The sun was setting and I thought, “Ok, we’re going south, I think that’s good.” But it turned out that Viñales wasn’t south. Then the road turned into a dirt track. “I don’t think this is the autopista,” I said. We drove through a muddy pothole the size of our car. Gina said we needed to follow this road for 24 more kilometers, or until the dead end that was just ahead of us.

It turned out that we weren’t on the autopista at any time. Gina knew this, she told me later, but didn’t tell me an hour earlier when it would have been easy to go back. I just figured that we were in an underdeveloped country and maybe their main highway becomes a dirt road in places. I’d spent months driving on dirt roads.

I turned around and we went back to the small town, and everyone was waving and making signs that we couldn’t understand. I wanted to stop, but Gina believed every person wanted to rob us and refused to let me talk to anyone. Our host family in Havana convinced her that this was true, and that we shouldn’t talk to anyone or pick up hitchhikers either. But I didn’t want to die in the middle of nowhere in Cuba, so I stopped and rolled my window down for the next man yelling at our car. I couldn’t understand a word he said. I pulled up to a gigantic black man who scared Gina more than the first guy, and he told me I was driving the wrong way on a one-way road. That explained the yelling. I wish I understood enough to ask why a town with no cars had one-way streets; that will forever be one of life’s mysteries to me. He used hand signals to direct us back to the main road.

As we searched for the elusive autopista, a gorgeous sunset painted the sky. Unfortunately, that meant darkness soon. We decided to go back to Havana, spend the night, and try again early in the morning. But at night with no signs, we got completely lost. “Have we been past this before?” “Which direction did we come from in the roundabout?” “Where the fuck is the tunnel?!”

After a couple more turnarounds, we found familiar ground – we found the tunnel, we found the glorious ocean on the left-hand side. Gina was almost in tears; I was trying to pretend everything was great, but all the while I was thinking about where a good place to spend the night in a car might be found when we were so lost we couldn’t find Cuba’s biggest city. I had decided that if worse came to worst, I could pull into someone’s driveway and pay them $10 to sleep in the car, but at no point did I find a single place that would be appropriate. I would have settled for slightly sketchy, but we couldn’t even find that.

I truly enjoyed my first driving adventure in Cuba, stressful though it was. Never once during my trip did I imagine I’d be driving across Cuba, so it was definitely a mark in the positive adventure column. We got lost, but I didn’t freak out even though there were no lights anywhere and I had to dodge bikes, walkers, and swerving oncoming traffic. I thought Gina might have a panic attack, so repeating “todo esta bien” over and over helped us both.

Havana

Havana

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Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

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Crocodile hunting in Belize

This is an excerpt from the new book, one of my favorite adventures on the trip.  It took place in Ambergris Caye, Belize.

 

On my final day, John and I went on a last crocodile expedition, this time to the south side of the island. We heard there was a place to see them just off the side of the road, so we jogged to the water tower. I was dying; that was the farthest I’d run in weeks, and in the blazing sun as well. We took the side roads by the lagoon, and knew we were in the right place when we saw the “do not feed the crocodiles” sign and saw a croc briefly before he went under. Feeding the crocs carried a $1000 fine or six months of jail time, according to the sign.

We didn’t spot any others, so we kept walking until we found a store to get some drinks. I asked where the best place to see them was, and apparently it was right where we were. The store had frozen chicken legs, so we bought a couple pounds and headed back. It was so hot I carried the ice-cold bag of drumsticks on the back of my neck; it was worth the purchase even if we didn’t get to feed the crocs. Police presence on the island was pretty minimal, so we weren’t too worried.

Our plan was to thaw the chicken in the water near the edge so we could break it up, tie the individual legs on long pieces of vine that were growing nearby, and go “fishing” for crocs. We made sure to get off the main road so we wouldn’t be spotted. As we were waiting for the chicken to thaw, a monster crocodile swam up and sat there, staring at us. He was inches from the floating chicken but didn’t seem to know exactly where it was since it was in a patch of sea grass. John picked up a short stick and pushed the chicken legs toward the big crocodile and instantly it lunged and swallowed the legs whole. Probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life was how fast this thing moved and how many teeth it had. I was a little nervous when it swam up, but after see- ing him move I was terrified.

I really hadn’t considered what would happen if we saw one since we had such bad luck on our first attempt, nor had I considered how frightening they might be. The chicken wrappers and John’s water bottle were sitting on the ground where we left them a few feet from the water, and the croc could smell it. Slowly, he climbed out of the water to investigate the possibility of more chicken, and that was when I got to see his claws. It was a thousand times more terrifying than when he was just sitting in the water. His eyes were tracking every move we made; as we walked around, he shifted his body to keep us in sight. No wonder the authorities didn’t want us to feed them.

The crocodile moved to check out the chicken wrapper but picked up John’s water bottle instead, mashing it several times in his jaws before spitting it out. My level of terror spiked. Terror for me, anyway. I wasn’t sure John was bothered at all. He’d done a lot of crazy things in his life; he was an adrenaline junkie who looked like a school teacher. I’m still not sure exactly how he convinced me crocodile hunting was a good idea, but traveling solo meant mak- ing friends where I could. All I could think about at that time was that moments before, I was holding a partially defrosted chicken and trying to tear the pieces apart, and how much I smelled like the croc’s last snack. I slowly began backing away.

I recovered enough of my wits to turn on my video camera, thinking that if the croc charged John, I’d have some great foot- age for his Darwin Award. The footage is funny only because it’s completely unwatchable from my hands shaking so badly. The croc finally swam off, and as we were walking home I asked John what he would have thought if a crocodile that size had approached us in the kayak the other day. He shrugged, not at all disturbed. I’m glad I didn’t think this idea through very well, or I would have missed a great experience.

 

 

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

 

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Still waiting…

I still have another two weeks to wait for the first proof of my book.  Time crawls by when I’m waiting for something important…

 

To fill the time, besides surfing, paddling, running, and generally enjoying my summer, I added some new pics to the website; mostly to the Australia and Tasmania section.  More will come soon.  I have hundreds more.

Check em out:

http://wanderwithmelissa.com/?page_id=166

 

Tasman Peninsula

Tasman Peninsula

 

 

just some publishing neuroses

I started writing this new blog to explore the crazy, life-sucking problems of publishing a first book. The actual writing, the editing, the extra proof reading, the alcohol consumption, the thoughts that everything I write sucks and people will laugh, the cover design, the pictures to include, the size of the margins, will someone be pissed off if i don’t thank her in the acknowledgments?…I literally could go on for a week with all the things that are rattling around in my brain.

Do I pass out bookmarks for advertisement? What about postcards? What do I sign at my book signing if someone bought the Kindle version? Will Kindle snobs scoff at bookmarks? Will anyone even come to my book signing?

What do I do with the 400 people signed up to my blog? treschilhouci1977@rediffmail.com can’t be a real person. I have 27 followers from rediffmail.com. What if spam is the only feedback I get? And, is this a worse rejection than the dreaded letter from the publishing house?

If I’m going to properly document my publishing process, I guess that these neuroses, among hundreds of others, need to come out at some point. So I’m getting them out first, before I even begin recounting the actual technical details of publishing.

But back to reality, I now have a completely edited third draft that I will prepare for the final read-through before submitting. OMG what if there’s a typo. Time to let that thought go. Nothing is ever perfect.

unnecessary worry

I met with my editor to go over his changes for the first quarter of my book. I had been dreading our first meeting because I would have to find out what he truly thought of my writing. I think I’m a good writer and kinda funny but obviously I’m biased. so I stressed for days, maybe he’d tell me I needed to burn the book and start over. maybe the pages would be covered with so much red ink it would take me another 9 months to rewrite.
and he finally told me…
…he liked it! a lot! yippee!

I’m much less stressed today as I start my minor rewrites. so happy 🙂

if there is spelling or punctuation errors in this post it’s because I’m trying out blogging from my phone while I wait for paddling practice to start. I get lazy on my phone.

have a great day everyone!

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