Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Disney Tips - Saving Money & Avoiding Lines

In writing, authors are referred to as either "plotters" (people who generally have the entire plot of a book figured out before they begin writing) or "pantsters" (people who just start writing with no real idea of where it might go...i.e. "fly by the seat of their pants").  I think the same can be said about visitors to the Walt Disney World Parks.  There are those that plan their trip down to the first ride to hit and the lunchtime meal, and those that wander into the park around noon and see where the day takes them.  In writing, and in almost everything in my life, I am a proud plotter...and at the Disney parks, during the week long break shared by all the schools in the New England states, this pays off big!  So I'm sharing the best tips I've learned from our previous trips - hope it helps you plan your own visit to the Disney parks.

Tickets:  It's tough to find meaningful discounts, but I go with Undercover Tourist.  It looks like a higher price than the Disney website at first, until you realize there's no $20 tax added to each ticket on Undercover Tourist.  The tickets are legit, and the website is useful for many things.  You want to have your tickets in hand before you walk up to the gate.

On the UT website, there is a calendar with codes for each day of the year, and each park.  Use this to plan which day you should hit each park, obviously going for the least crowds.  I also avoid days with extended hours for certain people.  That draws more people to that park, and that's what I'm trying to steer clear of.

If you have a choice for Animal Kingdom, go with an early opening day.  The animals tend to be up and about early in the morning, and this animal lover wants to see them all!

Speaking of opening hours, you HAVE to be there when the rope drops if you want to avoid the lines on peak vacation days.  Period.  Believe me, no one enjoys getting up early less than me.  I'd gladly sleep until noon if allowed, especially on vacation.  But would I rather get up early, wait in zero lines, and come back to the room for an afternoon nap after hitting every ride the kids wanted?  You bet.  I don't do lines well.

To save money, pack backpacks for everyone who can carry one the night before (and have water bottles cooling in the fridge or freezers to stick in there right before you leave).  We bring plastic ponchos purchased at the drugstore for pennies, in case of rain or to use for water rides.  We bring snacks and drinks, of course (no straws allowed at Animal Kingdom - so no Capri Suns or juice boxes packed for that day).  You can bring soft, handheld coolers, but nothing with wheels and nothing with hard sides.  Remember, you do have to carry the stuff around all day.

Since we're at the park early, and saving money on other things, we like to treat ourselves to a calm, sit down lunch some days.  Our favorites are the Rainforest Café at Animal Kingdom and either the Sci-fi diner or the 50's café at Hollywood Studios.  You MUST make your reservations in advance.  We go on the early side, because (a) we're hungry by 11 (b) most people have lunch later, so less people on the rides or at the exhibits around noon and (c) even if you have a table reservation, the restaurants get backed up as the lunch hour progresses.  Again, I don't like to wait.

On that note, it's important to take advantage of the FastPass system.  A lot of people don't understand how this FREE system works, and therefore don't benefit from this easy way to avoid lines.  There is a little bit of a science to it, and the system was changing at the time of this post, so I'd suggest reading these new FAQs (keeping in mind that now only 3 FPs are allowed in one day).  If you are staying on the Disney property, you can get your FPs in advance - a great idea.  We couldn't do this, and even early in the morning, the line for Soarin' was so long that by the time we got in line to reserve our 3 FPs, all the time slots for Mission: Space were gone. 

On another great website, easy wdw, there are also "cheat sheets" worth viewing, with tips on how to best plan your day around the popular rides and attractions.  For example, my kids don't need to see the parade at Animal Kingdom, so the cheat sheet suggests we do the walk-through animal exhibits at this time, as most people will be lining the streets watching the parade, and a great deal of the park is closed off at that time to allow the parade to complete its route.

On the official Walt Disney World website, you can make FREE beautiful color customized maps for your trip.  The process will allow you to choose the rides, shows, exhibits, and restaurants most important to you, and places them on the map for easy identification.  It's a good way to familiarize yourself with the most popular rides before you get to the park--and you need to give yourself 4 weeks to get these delivered (also free), unless you want to print them out at home.

Our beautiful, high quality map
highlighted with our priority rides

Armed with a plan, you will save money and avoid long lines.  What to do with all the extra time you save?  Why, read a book of course!  Grab one of my ghost story/steamy romances for the plane ride or the pool side and lose yourself in the pages of GULL HARBOR or SILVER LAKE!  Have a great trip, and feel free to leave your tips below.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cover Contest - Please vote! #amwriting #romance

January's cover contest at You Gotta Read has begun...and GULL HARBOR is lucky #13!  This is a one click vote, no registration, no email, no info needed.  I'd be so grateful for your vote if you have a moment!  The Wild Rose Press cover artist Rae Monet did an exceptional job on this cover, and I'd love to see her work get the votes it deserves.  The link is here: 

GULL HARBOR is entry #13
Cover art by Rae Monet

Thank you!  If you have your own book cover, you can enter it for a future contest--the winning entry receives a nice promotional spot on the website home page.  Enjoy browsing the covers, you might find a few new reads for your TBR list.  Happy Reading :) 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Number 13 - Lucky or Unlucky? #Superstitions

I embraced the number 13 long ago, since it is the date of my birth...I've had plenty of birthdays on Friday the 13th, in fact.  I do sometimes wonder if being born on the 13th has anything to do with my love of all things spooky, though.  All my novels incorporate some type of supernatural suspense, whether it's a mystery surrounding a haunting (GULL HARBOR and SILVER LAKE) or a quest for revenge undertaken by the world's last half-angel (DIVINE FALL).

Some of my most popular posts discuss the reasons behind our superstitions.  This one delves deeper into the number 13 - while I consider it a lucky number for myself, many people don't!

A fear of the number 13 is known as Triskaidekaphobia.  I actually once worked in a building that lacked a 13th floor.  To me, this made little sense...did the people on the 14th floor not realize they were actually on the 13th floor?  Still, the button in the elevator did not exist.  Why does the number 13 get such a bad rap, anyway?

Some reasons stem from various religions.  In Christianity, for example, 13 people sat down to The Last Supper: Jesus Christ and 12 disciples.  The last to sit down, the 13th, was Judas Iscariot, who would betray Jesus. 

According to Norse legends, the 13th (uninvited) guest to arrive at a banquet of the gods was Loki, who then killed another god and set in motion a series of tragedies.

Historically, condemned people climbed 13 steps to the gallows.

A coven was traditionally made up of 13 witches.

In the deck of tarot cards, XIII is the card of death - a pale horse and rider.

Apollo 13 was the only unsuccessful mission to the moon; the oxygen tank exploded, putting the lives of the astronauts at risk.

Finally, 12 is considered a perfect and magical number in many disciplines and traditions.  There are 12 months, 12 zodiac signs, 12 days of Christmas, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles of Christ, 12 principal Olympian gods of the pantheon...the list goes on and on.  It follows, then, in some people's minds, that to add a number to 12 would make it unlucky.

I find the reasoning fascinating, but I still like the number 13.  But I also have black cats, and we cross paths all day long.  But of course, I have my good luck rituals as well...I have to pick up every penny I see on the ground!

I may pick up a few extra today, just to be safe!  Have a happy Friday the 13th, and grab one of my steamy romance + ghost stories for this combination Friday the 13th/Valentine's Day weekend!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Should I take a break? Can I? #amwriting #romance

Since 2008, a very large chunk of my life has been writing.  I began Silver Lake during an 8 hour car ride, once a friend had given me the final push I needed to get started (if you don't at least try, you'll never know...words to live by).  The entire first draft took me two and a half years, because at that point, it was mostly a distant dream.

During that time span, we remodeled our home, including the kitchen...so for six months, I awoke every day to different people stomping around the house before I even got dressed.

A giant hole in the yard
was just the beginning

I'd trudge down in my pajamas and ask where they put the coffee maker that day, because that and the toaster oven were the extent of our working appliances.  Usually it was sitting on a step ladder somewhere, and occasionally I had to find an extension cord to get it working.  Let's just say it wasn't the most conducive environment to write romance.  If I even tried, invariably a contractor would show up within five minutes, asking me where I wanted the light switches to go.  Huh?  Put them where you think they should go.  I'm trying to channel the ghost of Brandy.

It was worth it!  ^ This stool is
where I write.
But once I began querying publishers and agents with Silver Lake, writing became more of a compulsion than a hobby.  I had editors interested who wanted to see changes.  I rewrote and rewrote again, and every time I had to endure the painful wait for feedback, I turned to my new story.  By the time Silver Lake was contracted by The Wild Rose Press, I ecstatically told myself it was time for a break.  But I couldn't do it.  I was deep inside the fictional Cape Cod town of Gull Harbor, helping Claire deal with both a dangerous spirit and her ex-boyfriend, Max.

Gull Harbor was finished--and contracted--in record time.  Certainly it was time for a rest.  But I had two new stories tugging at my imagination--which to pursue?  I decided it was time for something different, and I embarked on a journey into the world of Nephilim in my first YA paranormal romance.

Nine months later, I had yet another finished full length manuscript.  Three in five years...not bad.  Since my current publisher does not handle YA, I began the query process all over again.  That in and of itself is quite a daunting and time-consuming process.  Surely now I should take that break, relax, and hope an agent or publisher is interested in Divine Fall.

I'm trying.  Really.  But I feel strangely adrift.  I miss my characters.  I miss living in their world, experiencing their next moves as the intricate plot comes to life in my mind.  Jamie and Dothan will have their incredible story told, and I'm sure I'll be back with them when it's time for edits.  But in the meantime, can I just sit back and wait?

Again, I'm trying.  But that other story that took a backseat to Divine Fall is beckoning.  The first three chapters are there.  The preliminary research is done.  Emily and Brett are waiting, and so is Jonah's ghost.  I know on some level my brain needs time to recharge.  Somehow, I need to get that message to my characters.  Their time will come.  They'll have to be at least a little bit patient.  And I'll admit, I'm not usually one to advocate patience--it's not my strong point.  But in this business, it's a necessary virtue. 

So I'll tackle my To Be Read list while I try very hard to take that break from writing.  Judging from the long blog post I just joyfully typed up, it should be no problem.  Wait...