Last Chance to Enter!

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Xina Marie Uhl:

Enter to win this great package!

Originally posted on disregard the prologue:

Teri Polen’s giveaway (signed paperback copy of bound, mermaid charm, sea glass, and assorted papery swag) is ending soon! She’ll be announcing the winner July 31, which means there’s only a day or so left to enter. This is a fantastic prize from a generous reader, so be sure to enter!

(US and Canada only for this one, but I’ve got something different coming up for everyone else next month)

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Click here to enter. Good luck!

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Ten Ways to Make Your Next Comic-Con Even Better

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045 (Copy)Well, San Diego Comic Con is over now, sadly. The cosplayers have un-cossed. The street preachers have disappeared. The flyers, leaflets, and business cards littering the avenues have been swept away. It’s bittersweet, in a way. Before you forget about it entirely in the rush of everyday life, however, linger for a moment longer.

As a nine-year veteran of SDCC, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make your experience even better next year. My list of ten tips, learned through the school of hard knocks and meager disposable income, are:DSCF2223 (Copy)

1. Yes, you can save money on parking. Parking fees next to the convention center are astronomical. Fees at the closest hotel rooms are almost as bad. It’s not all that easy to get. So what’s a poor nerd to do? Park further away and take the trolley or a cab. Joe’s Auto Parks is 12 blocks away and only $5 for the whole day. Well worth the walk (http://joesautoparks.com/san-diego/). Or park at the airport for $13 a day (economy lot) and take a cab in.

Edited to say that you can also park at Qualcomm Stadium for free and take the trolley in. An even better deal!

2. Your luggage does not have to be heavy enough to dislocate your shoulder. Before you leave next time, pack light and make sure you have lots of extra room for the inevitable crap you will accumulate. The swag, people. You know you have to have it. And you really need room for it. T-shirts. Posters. Gigantic bags. Buttons. Paper hats. Horse masks. Whatever, dude.

3. Take the train if you are coming from LA or other points north. Seriously. It’s so much better than driving could ever be. I vowed to take the train after sitting stuck in traffic on the freeway off-ramp for 45 minutes. But you should be aware that you might have to stand if you board at an extra busy time. Comic Con often coincides with the opening of Del Mar, the race track. There’s nothing like riding the train next to cosplayers and wannabe Southern belles in huge floppy hats and frilly dresses, their flawless, manicured nails clutching a bottle of vino in disguise, and their loud shrieking laughter proof that they’ve already imbibed.

4. Watch your badge. They can and do fall off that crappy plastic badge holder and then you’re faced with big problems. If you can’t find it via lost and found at badge registration, you’ll have to pay daily fees to replace the badge.

5. Support independent writers and artists. The Exhibit Hall is a feast for the senses, like all of Comic Con and as such it can be completely overwhelming. Don’t let the loud moneymakers have all your time and attention, though. Visit Artists Alley or the Small Press tables to find unique books, stories, and artwork and know that you are supporting the efforts of starving artists directly.

6. Team up with friends. First of all, it’s really easy to start chatting with people next to you when you are waiting in 6 hour lines. I’ve made two good friends doing just that. Friends are also extremely helpful when it comes to purchasing badges and sharing hotel expenses. Plus, they are overall fun.

037 (Copy)7. Avoid the crowds by entering the convention center through the back door. What? Is it possible that you don’t have to struggle down the maddening hordes at the front of the convention center in order to get inside? Yes, my friends. It is true! For I myself have used this little known entrance this very year! Don’t feel bad, though. I only just discovered it despite the fact that it’s so easy to find. Just look at the map and plan out your route. Because so few people use it, though, it seems too good to be true. Forge on and ascend those stairs, though. At the end you will find your reward.

8. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Sure, the temperature may only be in the 70’s, but the humid ocean air and the sun beating down on you as you wait in 5 mile-long line after line may heat you up and dehydrate you more efficiently than a commercial pizza oven. Is your only recourse to shell out $4 for a teensy-weensy bottle of water? Nay! And again I say, nay! Bring your own water bottle and slink to the back of the big halls where you will find water stands. Also of considerable help are electrolyte pills, which you can buy online or at your local health food store. They contain the electrolytes that Gatorade has but without all the added sugar.

9. Sleep short but sleep well. A long restful night’s sleep is too much to ask between rooms shared amongst 14 people, sleeping on the sidewalk in line, and nonstop parties. However by making use of ear plugs (for those 13 snorers in your room) and eye masks (to blot out every last scintilla of light) you will sleep deeply during those precious few hours, and away (mostly) refreshed for another day of fun.DSCF2182 (Copy)

10. Don’t give up on Hall H. This is what I did a few years ago. I saw the hellacious lines that stretch on not just for one night but two in order to get into Hall H for Saturday’s program. The new wristband policy, despite its flaws, does cut down on the need to sleep in line. You may still have to wait a long time but during certain days – Thursday and Sunday, I’m looking at you – you can walk right into your panel within an hour or so of its start. It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. I did it myself.

And just for the record, I plan on being there for my 10th Comic Con next year, when I will perhaps discover even more tips to enhance the crazy free-for-all that we all love so much.

What do you think of these tips? Do you have any to add? Comment below!

Cover Reveal First Choice, Second Chance a Romance by Fallon Brown

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Xina Marie Uhl:

Congratulations, Fallon!

Originally posted on :

Today I’m sharing fellow WIPpeteer’s Fallon Brown‘s cover reveal for her novel First Choice, Second Chance, the first in her small town contemporary romance series Kurztown, set to be released 8/18/15. And, just to keep you in suspense just a bit longer, the blurb:

One wrong choice doesn’t have to lead to another

Seven years ago, he watched her drive away.

Lila Corelli was the love of Mason Akeley’s life, but she chose a music career and another man over him. He thought it would destroy him, but he’s been scraping by; on the family farm and in life. Now, she’s back in town, and he feels like he’s barely hanging on.

She made a wrong choice.

Lila knows she made a mistake. She thought she had been on the right path; to her career, love, her life. Instead, she never saw the disaster one wrong choice could…

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Encouragement Along the Way – 98-100/100 Camino Photos

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By the time you read stage 12 in the Brierley guidebook (the bible of the Camino de Santiago), many are struggling. Even the residents write messages of encouragement on their driveways. In English, this reads, “Good walk, pilgrim!”

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Perhaps it is the accumulated weight of day after day of walking that causes many to despair. Perhaps it is the hills. Or the rocks. Yes, probably these. There are so many of them! But they are easy materials for an artist’s imagination as well.

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Not too far into my day I stopped at a little shop for a bathroom break and a cup of coffee. Sitting dejected at a table was Gisele, a young Austrian girl who had stayed at the same donativo as I in Tosantos.

“How are you?” I asked.

Her face crumpled and tears sprang to her eyes. “Not good,” she admitted. I knew that her foot had been hurting her. It had gotten worse, and she did not think she could make it through the walk today, which traveled through countryside sparse of habitation.

I suggested a bus or taxi into Burgos and she admitted that she did not want to ask her father for extra money for such an indulgence, whether or not it was necessary.

“I am sure he would not mind,” I said to her, putting myself in her father’s place.

She didn’t seem convinced. After a little more chatting she decided to pay the money for the taxi. The sadness had passed and she now had a plan to continue. It felt good to be a small part, no matter how unremarkable, of another’s Camino just when she needed it the most.

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Later, I saw Gisele in the cathedral in Burgos. Her demeanor had changed totally. “How I love this place!” she said. Indeed, it is a highpoint in the trip. And, since I have many more photos to share with you, I will continue this series beyond just 100 photos. Will you join me on the Way? I hope so.

~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

 

Comic-Con 2015

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So I’m taking a little break from my 100 Spanish Photos series to post a bunch of pictures from a different kind of pilgrimage – one that I have gone on every year since 2006. San Diego Comic-Con. The granddaddy of pop culture conventions and more fun than is almost humanly possible. Have a taste of it, dear viewer. And you, too, may decide to enter the wild terrible fray that occurs when tickets are available every year

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Life in All Its Manifestations – 92-97/100 Camino Photos

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In the Montes de Oca along the Camino de Santiago approaching Burgos you will find nature in all its glory. That which is manipulated by humans such as these sheep

and this display of succulents

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And that which is wild and unexpected, like this little denizen of the mountains

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A bit beautiful

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A bit creepy

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And perhaps a bit strange. A bit of Scripture, out of context, and oddly resonant, springs to mind. “I am a brother to dragons, and companion to owls.” Job 30:29.

Soon enough, though, such musings disappear as I pass once again into a small village, and am reminded of the many kilometers ahead.

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~

It seems that 100 photos are just not enough. I have traveled about 300 kilometers so far – but there is much more to go. Please, then. Join me as I extend this series to 100 more Camino photos.

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

 

Back in Time – 85-91/100 Camino Photos

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You have walked through the verdant fields, following the ever-winding path. The day stretches long, and you must find a place to stay the night. Here, in Tosantos, you come upon a humble albergue.

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Inside, you are greeted by volunteers who speak only Spanish. They welcome you, nonetheless. A fellow pilgrim translates as the volunteers explain the house rules. Everyone prepares meals together, and eats together. No rising before 7 am. The house is old – 18th century – and the floors creak so much that early risers wake everyone. At 5:30, a woman comes to show you the church in the rock on the other side of the highway. You may go with her or not, as you see fit.

This is a donativo. You pay what you can, and your donation buys food and keeps the electricity on for tomorrow’s pilgrims.

You acquaint yourself with the other pilgrims, many of them young. The young seek out the donativos because they lack funds and embrace adventure. They are from Estonia, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Norway, Spain, Korea, and the US. With them, you ascend uneven stairs.

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Later, you interrupt a young couple kissing on these same stairs. They turn away in embarrassment, and so do you.

Above, beams are set in the walls and ceilings with care, but not machine-like precision.

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Right on time, the woman comes to lead you through town and up the hill.

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You may take photos of the outside, but not of the inside, the domain of the Virgin.

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It is cool inside, hewn from the rock itself. A crack splits the ceiling, and plaster clings to it. The Virgin is a humble likeness with a beatific smile, and painted jewels in her crown. She is carried through town in a procession in the fall, then returned to her home. Local wildflowers adorn her altar, a simple offering.

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As in the Monastery of Suso hermits dwelled in caves in the hillside. The church was added on later, a natural sanctuary hallowed by the prayers of long-ago saints.

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The caretaker urges you to look back when you travel the pilgrim road again tomorrow, and see the beauty of the church in the rock. You thank her for her care, and donate coins to the Virgin.

It is time, now, to return to the albergue. Outside, in the gathering twilight, you realize that you have gone back in time. It is quieter, here, and now. The rhythms of the earth and the sky are easier to hear, that way. Faith is real; mystery is its hallmark. The Virgin of the Rock watches you, and demands your devotion. You give it willingly, and though you lay down on thin mattresses on the floor, you sleep well as reward.

~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

Details of the Fantastic – 79-84/100 Camino Photos

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On the way to Belorado, I stopped at a roadside bar to use their restroom. As decoration, I saw this ancient piece. “Viejo,” I commented. Old. “Si,” confirmed the proprietor. Who can say how old? It has a Roman look to it, in my eyes. Perhaps it has been harvested from some ancient temple. It is entirely possible, here in Spain.

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Storks form common decorations, as well. They appreciate church towers most of all.

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And together with dwellings carved from rocks, they provide a beautiful detail in a panorama.

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Color abounds in Belorado, a knightly history.

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The town of Belorado seemed lonely, and when I declined to stay in the albergue where I ate lunch, the proprietor looked disappointed. Economically, the place is struggling. Perhaps that is why their art hearkens back to the glories of the past.

~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

On the Trail – 76-78/100 Camino Photos

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I left Santo Domingo de la Calzada early the next morning, and was treated to a beautiful dawn.

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Fellow pilgrims, many in twos or threes, passed me as I walked alone. I did not want their company, though, because dawn passed into a beautiful morning. Fields stretched out all around me, like these.

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Water gurgles in springs and hidden streams in the ditches beside these fields. And something else, once. An old man, scooping unseen items from the ditch to a plastic bag. Others passed him without a word, but I stopped.

“Hola,” I greeted him.

He answered back in native Spanish, and said more that I did not get. He gestured at my scallop shell and I made out the word “peregrina” (female pilgrim). Then, he opened his bag and I saw what he was gathering. Snails. Large and fresh. Probably for dinner.

He said more to me, then he leaned over and kissed both cheeks. I bid him farewell, warmed by his words, though I did not know what they were.

Off I went, into the distance.

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If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

Sacred Chickens – 72-75/100 Camino Photos

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Santo Domingo de las Calzada is an ancient pilgrim town that, on the surface, looks much the same as other Camino de Santiago towns. By Stage 9 of the Brierley guidebook you have undoubtedly seen your fair share of them. But surprises await the pilgrim here. Mainly, the poultry:

chickens

How so? Well, it seems that a miracle is involved. The story is located at the town’s official website:

Legend tells of a German Pilgrim called Hugonell who was walking to Santiago with his parents, when they decided to rest at an inn in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The owner of the inn´s daughter immediately fell in love with him; however her feelings were not reciprocated, so the girl, angered, placed a silver cup into his luggage and accused the boy of theft. Thieves at that time were punished by hanging, and this was the fate of Hugonell. His parents, saddened by his death continued the pilgrimage, and upon arriving in Santiago de Compostela, began their return journey to visit the grave of their dead son. When they arrived in Santo Domingo however, they found their son still hanging in the gallows but, miraculously alive. Hugonell, excited, said to them: “Santo Domingo brought back me to life, please go to the Mayor´s house and ask him to take me down”.

Quickly, the parents arrived at the Mayor´s house and told him of the miracle. The incredulous Mayor, who was preparing to have dinner with friends, responded: “That boy is as alive as these two roast chickens we are about to eat,” and suddenly, the chickens came to life, sprouted feathers and beaks and began to crow, and so, to this day there is a saying about the town which goes: “Santo Domingo of the Way, where the roosters crow after being roasted”.

And so it is that a cock and several hens are kept to remind the town of the miracle. There is a place for them in the cathedral (which, sadly, I did not photograph) and the rest of the time they live in the above cage at the Spanish Confraternity’s albergue called Casa del Santo. The birds are shuttled back and forth from place to place, with all due recognition and care, I am certain.

The other thing of note here is the bell tower, which stands across the street from the cathedral for some mysterious but unknown reason. You can see a lovely view of the city from up there.

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Back at the albergue, I found myself washing my trail clothes next to an exasperated Italian man. “How does one do this?” he asked, flinging water and soap everywhere. I directed him toward the wash brush, and together we cleaned our clothing as it began to sprinkle.

All in all, a memorable day on the Camino!

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.