May 6, 2018

Getting Cocky

Book Twitter is the BEST Twitter.

I learn something new every day. It's fun to see authors promote their books and readers suggest great books. Also, there are people like me, who should read more, but also just love to own physical books. And Book Twitter loves a good scandal. In fact it's where I first heard about the Handbook for Mortals scandal I wrote about in a previous post.

That author of Handbook managed to piss off the tight young adult community, but hold up because apparently there's a new Sheriff Nottingham in town. Like Lani Sarem, the evildoer in question, one Faleena Hopkins, is a self-deluded asshat who's playing the victim while attempting to pull yet another book scam. This red-haired lady (Ms. Clairol no. 5) started out pissing off the tight romance community but then managed to miss off the entire writing community
and it makes for even more delicious drama and snark. Well it would have, except this one affects self-published authors' livelihoods and that's just plain low and disgusting.


You see she decided to trademark the word "cocky". How apropos.

Recently, several self-published romance writers were sent a Cease and Desist letter from Ms. Hopkins saying that she had trademarked the word and that they needed to remove it from their titles or she'd sue. Note that she didn't go after those published through publishing companies, or even those with a super large following. She went after authors like herself, who probably didn't make much income from their books and relied on readers/word of mouth to carry them.

Luckily, Book Twitter hopped on it - and they did not take it well.There's a twitter thread that explains the whole sordid affair here and it's an interesting read. Also here's a video that decribes why this was a terrible idea.




She not only went after people who used the word in the title, she is now going after keywords. I'm not kidding. This chick thinks she OWNS the word. And it's funny that it's cocky because she's being quite the dick about it.

There's been quite a bit of back and forth on how she could possibly trademark a word and even some lawyers on Twitter who saw the scandal unfold and offered their help. It turns out that series could possibly be trademarked but not the word and that's causing a bit of confusion. The Romance Writer's Association also got involved and asked authors to contact them if they received one of these notices. Needless to say, she's making no friends.


It should also be noted that Book Twitter is made up of an endless amount of Sherlocks who have no trouble digging up minute details when they want to. It turned out that she couldn't probably have copyrighted the logo as the font owner, who was tracked down during his vacation, had terms that did not allow for anything using his font to be trademarked.


Faleena, for the most part, is basking in all the attention - writing about how she's being bullied, sending tweets about eating popcorn (munch munch) and pulling Maya Angelou quotes out of her ass because she loves playing the martyr. She's still not a household name, but like Lani Sarem she doesn't care. I mean this is a woman who blogged that other authors used the same stock photos she used in her books and therefore were copying her. She also states she shot a few of her own book covers and that NO OTHER AUTHOR EVER DID THAT BEFORE.

I'm going to give you a minute to process both those things. Because I don't understand how someone can be that dumb. I'm not bullying - I'm just in shock. Stock photos can be used by anybody who purchased them unless you bought exclusive rights (she didn't). And hell, even a few self-published people I know in real life have shot their own book covers years ago.

If you have time, don't have time, or just want to view the trainwreck in all its glory, please follow the hashtags #cocky, #cockygate, and #ByeFaleena. I guarantee you, you'll fall in love with Book Twitter as I have, all over again.


Also, let me know what word you could trademark if you could in the comment section below. You can't though and don't try because, you know, Book Twitter. Also, you'd be a jerk.

March 8, 2018

The Hate You Love

I don't consider myself a negative person. In fact, I'm usually quite the optimist. And I'm generally nice. When friends of mine have something wonderful to tell me about their lives, I'm sincerely happy for them. I do that with strangers too. Your life is going swell? Kudos to you! But unbeknownst to some, I have a dark side. You see, there are two terrible things I'm quite fond of.

Negative reviews and snark.

They're like tea and crumpets to me. The first thing I do with any movie, TV show, or book is to seek out the one star reviews. I also enjoy a bit of controversy, so when there's something delightfully awful about something, you can be sure I'm all up in that shizz.


Recently I found something wonderfully terrible, which brought my gleeful wickedness to light - a young adult novel entitled Handbook for Mortals. For the two of you that have no idea what I'm talking about, this book was written by music manager and self-proclaimed "Rock and Roll Gypsy" Lani Sarem, who used a buy-in-bulk scam to get her young adult novel directly to #1 on the NY Times Best Seller list. She was found out quickly, thanks to some quick detective work by people in the biz, but also because nobody ever heard of the book or its author and it wasn't even available in stores. Other authors work hard, toil over their novels and try to create a fan base, but that was a bit too much work for Lani - who was seemly only trying to get a movie deal out of the whole thing, so she decided to take the escalator instead of the stairs. Luckily, it got off on the wrong floor.

If you want to know the whole story, read this article. It's pretty damn interesting.

I saw the whole thing unfold on Twitter, how bulk purchases were made solely in stores that report to the bestseller list, how there was a promise of a movie deal that seemed solely to exist in the author's imagination. And how, upon hearing about the scam, the NY Times Bestseller List rightly returned The Hate U Give back to first place - a book which has received so much praise for its beautiful writing and developed characters that this jaded bitter grown-up chick might actually break down and read a young adult novel.

Yes, I saw it all and I wanted more. The con behind the book itself, the author's scams and excuses -  it all made for the juiciest drama series I'd ever seen. It was like Melrose Place but with modern drunk Heather Locklear. Truth be told, I probably wouldn't have cared if the book had been good, but luckily for my evil self that was not the case. Handbook for Mortals is the "Mary Sue Special" - you get an entrée of pure self-insert with a side of wish fulfillment, sprinkled heavily with typos and served with your choice of cliches all wrapped up in a plagiarized cover. And if you've read anything about the book, or the free excerpts online, you know what I'm talking about.


I'm not going to get into explicit details about the book itself.except that a 25 year-old adult woman does not belong as the heroine of a young adult (teen) novel. Heck, I know this and I usually don't read the genre. But on the other hand, Handbook for Mortals did give me hours of free entertainment in the form of wonderfully negative reviews and a healthy does of snark. Some bloggers even did a chapter by chapter review of this atrocity, the best of which can be found on Jenny Trout's site. Thank you Jenny, for making me laugh at awfulness. Again.

But hating on this book isn't me just dinging someone for bad writing. It's about greed, pure and simple, and the fact that the author has learned absolutely nothing from what should have been a humiliating experience makes it even more delicious. She's keeps on refusing to acknowledge the scam, changed her story during every interview and at every convention and even tried to lay the blame at the feet of Angie Thomas - the author of The Hate U Give. For her part, Angie took the whole thing with grace and dignity and told Lani to own her scam instead of involving her. Angie darling, you are a queen in every sense of the word.


Like all controversies, the hubbub would have eventually died down, except Lani Sarem is the goddamn gift that keeps on giving. She's blamed the young adult community for not letting new authors in. She's copied and pasted a form post on several Facebook writing sites begging for sympathy and stating that all book sales should count, even when you bought them yourself. And recently, a ton of 5 star reviews suddenly appeared on Goodreads, all within a day or two -  all posted by people with no avatar and who gave no other reviews, the majority of them hailing from Bangladesh. Now it may have just been that Handbook for Mortals appealed to faceless Bangadesh bookreaders who all opened a Goodreads account on the same day, but that seems like an EXTREMELY specific niche market. (Eventually, all the Goodreads reviews were taken down and noted as fake, but there are still some very suspicious ones on Amazon as of this writing.)

Do I feel bad about snarking on a first-time author? I would usually. I know how difficult it is to write and I applaud anyone for trying. In this case, no. The best thing she could have done was to admit that this wasn't the optimal route to writing success and maybe work on a better novel. But she hasn't and so the snark is earned.

What do you love to hate? Do you feel bad about it or do you just embrace the evil?


January 28, 2018

Happy Women in Horror Month!


February is known for many things: Groundhog day (both the day AND the movie), Valentine's Day, No Holiday To Take Off Work so Calling In Sick Day. But it's also a month that's devoted to something wonderful.

Happy Women in Horror Month! Because girls can kill off characters too, you know.

Every February the official Women in Horror Month website celebrates the awesomeness of females who love the genre, work in the genre, create the genre or just plain live it. As a writer who falls into some of these categories, I fully embrace the idea. But this is not a "awareness" sort of month, it's a celebration.
Anybody who has read this blog knows about my love of horror. I've spoken about it in Death Entertains Me and My Halloween Obsession. I wrote a whole blog post about vampires because...why the hell not? Maybe it's because I have always had a lot of support, or maybe it's that I lack a bit of overall butt-hurtedness. But I've never thought that men own the genre and that women are regulated to second. Ever since Mary Shelly sat down, wrote Frankenstein and showed her hubby how things were done, I think women have had a very strong voice. True, on screen there are many female deaths. But just think about who lives?

The final girl, that's who.

Yes, the chick who's resourceful, brave and intelligent enough to know not to go into that deep dark basement. Or at least, she remembers to take a sledgehammer with her. I like to think that every woman who creates horror is the final girl. They maybe bloody but they're survivors.

So to all of us who love horror, whatever the gender, let's all celebrate this month. And be sure to check out the WIHM Twitter and spread a little love to all those ladies who spend a lot of time trying to scare the crap out of you.

So who are your favorite women in horror be they director, writer, actress or other? Share in the comments.




December 17, 2017

My 2017 Year in Review

“Just breathing isn't living!” - Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna 

 Like most of you, I knew 2017 wasn't going to be the greatest. The political climate was horrible, work was stressing me out and I started my New Year with what felt like the superflu from Stephen King's The Stand. It all looked bleak, but I am nothing if not an optimist. Maybe, just maybe I could make 2017 work.

Narrator: She didn't make this year work.

Presenting My 2017 Year in Review.

One of the first things I did was start this blog. I named it after a quote from Final Fantasy 3  (you can read more here)  which was ironically a game I was re-playing in a direct attempt to avoid writing. I thought a blog would kick-start me into getting words down again and so I introduced The Licentious Howler - a blog about nothing in particular. The goal was to update it frequently and put my oh-so-clever thoughts out there for all too see.

Narrator: NONE of the ideas were clever. And she updated it maybe once a month.
Ahem...anyways, another one of my goals was to edit the 5 or 6 novels I've written for National Novel Writing Month, submit all the articles I've been thinking of writing for publication and get those 25 short story ideas out of my head and on to paper. Well...I continued writing here. Once a month. If that.

Narrator: Told you.

Of course there was always social media to distract me, especially Twitter which is great for talking with fellow writers, conversing with people all over the world about horror movies, etc. But even that turned sour. I would go online to find racists, Nazis and xenophobes now emboldened by somebody who was their baby-king. And so I'd sit there, slack-jawed wanting to send out a silly tweet about, I dunno, cake or something, but instead of delicious cake, I found myself writing angry tweets to people who apparently loved racism, Nazis and xenophobia. For someone who has to work quite a bit, social media was sort of an outlet. Now it was becoming a pit of vipers. It seemed like the lunatics had taken over the asylum. And my cake? Well, it was a lie.
 
And just TRY and tell me Trump isn't like a bad 16-bit end boss. I don't think he's even reached his final form yet.

Narrator: I hate Trump.

Me too Narrator! We should totally go out for coffee sometime!

Narrator: No.

 However, there was one thing that kept me going through the horrible first half of the year. In July, 52 members of my family and extended family were going to go on a European vacation. That meant one thing - I had to get in shape. I was going to be lean, mean and ripped, like 'Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2' kind of ripped. Never mind the fact that I can barely lift a 3 lb dumbbell without straining. I was going to be so in shape y'all. I had a gym membership and everything. But you know, work was busy and I had a lot of time demands.
Narrator: Excuses. She had a lot of excuses.

It didn't happen, but there was still my trip though and I was super-excited because I had never been to Europe. I was going to have the time of my life and visit places I've only ever read about. The idea kept me going through all the nonsense and craziness. Of course my boss let me know, right before I left that she had been laid off. so I didn't even know if I would have a job when I came back. Of course. Because the high-pitched girlie optimism of little Miss Pollyanna had to be put to the test somehow.

But guess what happened? I actually had a blast. We started out in Barcelona, then visited France and Italy.  And I think I have a love affair going with Rome. I want to marry it.
And yes that's me in front of the Vatican. I wouldn't have thought they'd let one of hell's lesser demons that close but luckily for me they were being polite that day.

Narrator: Hell's "lesser demons"? Don't flatter yourself. You're an imp if that.

You know what 'Narrator I created in my brain'? Shut up. I created you, I can "uncreate" you.

Narrator: But then this post wouldn't be nearly as entertaining now, would it?

Stop bothering me with facts.

Anyway, I came back exhausted but eager to see what the rest of the year would bring. Since the first half had sucked donkey cojones I thought the second half had to be better, right?  I apparently still had a job which is nice because steady income and insurance makes life a little easier. But I was working from home and it was pretty darn draining. In theory, it sounds wonderful. You roll out of bed, grab some coffee, get to your laptop, and start answering your emails in your PJs. But before you know it's after 6, you haven't left the house, you haven't had face to face communication with an actual human being all day, and no, Skype meetings don't count. Eventually doing things like brushing your hair and showering becomes optional. Day after day, I'd sit there,  headset seemingly permanently attached to my brain, remembering that awesome sunset in Naples.and wondering how the hell I got back to this.
But I guess there was another high point. I DID have a tweet go semi-viral..
 Narrator: Oh yes, that's FAR better than an evening in Italy.

Shush you! The funny thing was, this tweet wasn't political. It wasn't mean-spirited. It wasn't controversial. It was just a nice little movie fact I posted. Judd Apatow retweeted me. It wasn't as nice as when Cher replied to something I wrote or Eric Idle retweeted me, but it was nice nevertheless.

And full disclosure - I only knew this fact because I always had a crush on stuffy Brit man who gets killed in the tube. Sue me - I like them, those stuffy Brit guys.
So here we are at the end of 2017 and what have I done? Well I have to admit this year has changed me. I think I've aged 10 years in the one, and the political climate still sucks. The paradox is that not much has changed. I''m not in a relationship, I haven't moved and my career is still where it was a year ago.

Narrator: Oh so you're joining us on the pessimist side?

Maybe. But you know what? I think things WILL change. I think I can make it - no, I KNOW I will make it awesome. I can feel it. 2018 is DEFINITELY going to be my year.  C'mon 2018! Bring it.
Narrator: Here we go again. Damn.

November 1, 2017

National Novel Writing Month or Shut Up and Write

"It's the second most wonderful time of the year...🎶" - Me singing about Nano

What is Nano you may ask? It's National Writing Month which takes place every November during which a crazed group of writers risk carpel tunnel and even worse, writer's block, to create 50,000 words of a novel that they may or may not do something with eventually. It's scary, it's crazy, it's exhausting. At times it's humiliating. I love it.

I first heard about Nano when I saw someone scribbling furiously at the counter when I used to work weekends at a bookstore. His brow was furrowed, his face intense and his eyes looked like he hadn't slept in 3 days.

"What choo doing?" I asked.
"National Novel Writing Month. Gotta write 50,000 words", he replied, not looking up.
"Why?" I inquired innocently.
He blinked and then looked up from his sheet. "To write a novel."
DUH.
A couple of years later I finally decided to take the plunge (I couldn't remember the month it started so I had missed it before). During my first attempt I wrote 3000 words, then quit. The next year I discovered the social element of Nano and started attending write-ins which helped me since I'm one of those weird writers who likes having people around (yeah I know, no hate mail please). 

I wrote 50,000 words. It sucked.

What did I write about? Well I decided to "pants" it which means I had no idea or plot going into it so I started out with a story about a young girl who could draw images that would come to life, then I changed it to a haunted house and by the middle of the month, the whole thing had become about half-vampires. The plot got so bad that I pretty much reveled in making horrible things happen to each and every character. By the end of the novel I realized that a 12-year old character had gotten off scot-free without being punished for my poor writing. So I made her eat a cat.
In my defense, she was half vampire. Also that part was the best written scene in my book.

After that untitled fiasco, I deleted my entire Nano account and started again. The year after I fared much better by having at least some vague idea going in and had a book that eventually I might edit and do something with (what a concept).

Every year since then I look forward to National Novel Writing Month with a sense of glee because it does the impossible and actually forces me to sit still and write. And I have fun. I enjoy reading the forums, I enjoy talking to other people about their stories. And yes, when I can make them, I love the write-ins (although the 'I like people' part of me probably irritates those who actually wish I would stop talking so they can write).
The other cool thing about Nano is there's so many different types of stories. Mine lean towards the speculative/horror, but there's fantasy, there's sci-fi, there's drama and romance. It doesn't matter what you write as long as you're writing it. And there's a certain sense of accomplishment that comes from knowing you wrote 50,000 words you hadn't before. Even if you hate them, you wrote them.

What's my novel this year? A college-age girl and a Mormon man who decide they need to deviate from their goody-two shoes behavior and do bad things. I think I'm throwing a demon in there too, because why not? I've entitled this masterpiece "Eva and Evan Decide to be Evil" because at least with that title, you know what you're in for.

Do you Nano? Drop a comment below and let me know what you're writing this year. You can also find me on the Nano site: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/cheryl-z.

And if you don't Nano, what's stopping you? 

October 5, 2017

My Halloween Obsession

"It's the most wonderful time of the year...🎶" - Me singing about Halloween

It's not about the day itself.  I mean, the most I do on Halloween is hang out with friends and help them pass out candy while drinking mulled wine. And as much I admire cosplay people, ren fair people and those awesome crazy people who dress up because it's Tuesday, I don't do dress-up myself. Although I did love dressing up as a kid and I have several happy Halloween memories caught in photos. There were cute costumes (me as a beauty pageant queen at 5 years old), uncomfortable ones (I got the idea to dress up as a "present" by wearing a cardboard box) and some just totally politically incorrect (why did my Mom think I should be Chinese?)

Cringe. What can I say? It was a different time.

But as much as I've grown up (literally not figuratively), Halloween is still my favorite holiday. It's not the day itself, it's the days leading up to the day itself. Much like Christmas, I view Halloween as a season. For me it's a month of pure unbridled, bloody, horrific JOY.
It's not just because I'm a horror movie lover. I can watch horror movies all year round, and in fact, I actually do. It's the fact that everybody embraces horror this time of year. Like, the love that I have for all things bloody and terrible extends to other people. I can share it without apologies. Heck even my best friend who abhors all horror gets into the spirit by decorating with sugar skulls (although that's probably because she's a Spanish teacher). And I realize that after the season, most people take down the decorations, stop watching the horror movies and go back to their normal lives. Still it's nice to see everyone coming together in peace, harmony, blood, skeletons and vampires. It's a good feeling.

And while I may throw up a tree, a wreath and a few assorted inherited decorations on Christmas, on Halloween I go all out. Yes, I do need to prominently display that vampire nutcracker. Of course the pirate skeleton sits on top of my DVD cabinet because that's his place and I don't care if it looks like it's staring at you with hollow eyes, I like it that way. I treasure these guys more than any lame-ass Santa or pudgy fluffy snowman because let's face it - Halloween IS my Christmas.
Although I do feel the need to apologize to every clerk or sales person in retail stores where they sell Halloween decorations. Because *I* am the girl that goes through and pushes every single button on every talking/dancing/singing Halloween piece because I HAVE TO KNOW WHAT IT DOES! I swear I didn't know that the dancing Mummy was going to sing all the lyrics to Michael Jackson's Thriller. But in my defense, how was I to know it would do that before I pushed the "try me" button? Now let's see what this skeleton with a banjo does....

Also stores like Spirit Halloween open and it's like they know me. There are wicked animatronics everywhere and I'm not happy until I've seen my share of talking statues, skittering devil babies or creepy singing zombie girls. You can keep your pretty ornaments and Christmas-scented candles. These are the things that fill me with delight. And if they happen to shriek, howl, scream or jump at me - that's even better.

So yes while Christmas is a time for family, heartwarming tales and television sitcoms ripping off the  plot of A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life, Halloween will always be my most wonderful time of the year.

That is, until I get to watch my favorite Christmas special. The one I watch every Christmas Eve -  Billy and Mandy Save Christmas. It's the one where Santa Clause turns into a vampire, and there are little vampire elves, and Malcolm MacDowell plays the head vampire who hums Singing in the Rain, while flossing his fangs. You know, the usual holiday special fare.

You know, come to think of it, I'm ready for Christmas too.

September 18, 2017

The Getaway Part 4: Naples and the Long Sad Trip Home

Okay, this is the final blog post about my Mediterranean adventure and after this I promise to go back to my geeky posts about odd crushes, cool vampires and how the world will end. You know, just normal stuff.

So far we had Barcelona, France and Rome - now it was time for a final taste of Italy before Cinderella turned back into an American pumpkin. I actually was a boring person this leg of the trip because I hadn't booked any excursions for Naples and all the Pompeii ones were taken. Oh well next time. Some of us were still exhausted from our "Heat index over 100" Rome trip so we opted for a nice air conditioned bus tour through Naples.

The tour was fine, a little on the boring side but we got to see some of the city and Naples was chock full of gorgeous Italian people, doing Italian things and living their best Italian lives. Also, they close their shops in the afternoon so that everyone gets some time off to relax and enjoy the day. Why do I live in America again?

Heck, even their graffiti was cool.
And you know what? Whoever wrote that was right. FUCK AUSTERITY. I'm starting a band so we can release that as the title of our first single. Probably won't get any radio play but that's okay because I will not compromise my art.

Before the tour ended we had a chance to stop at a charming café and have a gelato (although I opted for the wine) while looking over the city. And this view was totally worth it, although I DO want to go back and visit Pompeii.
Before I end the Italian part of my trip, although me to indulge with one last picture, which is literally the best picture I've ever taken thanks to a fortuitous photo bombing bird and one hell of a sunset as we left the Italian port. Ciao Italia!🎔
Out last day was the only day at sea and after visiting a different port every day, having a spirited game of putt-putt nightly with family members (we called ourselves the Midnight Putt-Putt Society, although it technically was 1:00 in the Morning Meeting of the Loons), and my general inability to sit still for 5 minutes, I promised myself I would spend the day by the pool relaxing. I'm not really a pool girl, but I thought a little bit of rest would do me good.

My body had other ideas.

That morning I woke up with a horrible, terrible, awful cold. The Gods of Relaxation were smiting me severely. I quickly ran to the store on the ship and paid $21 for a $6 bottle of cough syrup but nothing worked. Rather than sitting in my room (which I should have done) or contaminate a pool whilst being miserable I decided to make myself sicker by not resting. I took in a show (an ice show so it was nice and freezing in there), spent $20 in the casino, walked countless hours around the ship and finished a book (and someday I'll have to tell you about me and my Vampire Hunter D "travel trash" novels). Then the word came that all 52 of us were getting together for a group photo. I don't remember much about it because I looked like hell, was buzzing on cough medicine and was ready to go to bed at 5pm but I seem to remember I looked a little like this:
I wasn't nearly as pretty though.

The next day, I felt worse and once more, we had to get up early so we could be booted off the ship. They did this by rooms and guess whose had an early departure? Oh well. The rest of the trip home was a blur with various family members asking how I was feeling, except my brother who calmly stated "You look like shit." A fact of which I was well aware and did not need to be informed of. Thank you.

Despite a two-hour stay on the tarmac in Barcelona waiting for our plane to depart, we all made it to our connecting flight in New York - having to go through customs each way and finally home which was, of course, an hour's drive from the airport. The only thing I remember was bringing up the stuff I needed to go to sleep and face-planting into a pillow. Oh and if you've been on Mediterranean time for a week, it will take you a week to adjust back to your normal time. I realized this when I was going to bed at 9pm and waking up at 4am the next week. So that was the sad, sick exhausting end to my trip.

I wanna go back.

August 24, 2017

The Getaway Part 3: Rome (if you want to)

Ciao baby! So far on my whirlwind trip we visited Barcelona and France, not it was time for Italy.

To tell the truth, being such a Francophile I had been more excited to see France. Weirdly enough I had absolutely no expectations about Italy. So please excuse the rest of this post where I positively gush over the country, mkay? I think I'm in love.

Our cruise ship landed in the beautiful city of La Spezia. I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about La Spezia, not that it wasn't one of the prettiest cities I'd ever been in (it was) , it was just that I hadn't booked any specific excursion so instead some of us just wandered around the city and took a few pictures. Had I not been a Janie-come-lately, I probably could have gone to Florence or visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa, where I undoubtedly would have taken the "I'm holding up the tower!" picture. But travel is tough when everyday is another city and you don't want to sleep for fear of missing out on anything. So instead my immediate family and I decided to get off the boat and explore the city on our own. And my god, who wouldn't want to live here?
Keep in mind, this was just a random street but every corner was just as gorgeous. Exactly why am I back in Michigan?

So the only thing of note in La Spezia, other than the fact that it was breathtaking, was that my brother bought pesto from a vending machine there. Yep, pesto, from a vending machine, in a jar. I don't know if he's had it yet, but we all thought it was a bit odd, even for Italy. Although if they had a cannoli vending machine I might change my mind...

La Spezia was just an appetizer because the next day we had the full course meal of ROME! 45 of the 52 members of my group went on a private Rome excursion so that we could see the main sights of the city in the short time before we had to get back on the ship. And here's where the gushing begins folks, because Rome is the most beautiful place I've ever been to in my life and anyone who tells you otherwise is crazy and should be committed immediately for their sake and the sake of others.They are a danger to society.

And people, I may just have a crush on a city.
We had a (luckily) air conditioned bus that drove us the hour long trip to the city. We immediately got off and saw the Colosseum which was breath-taking but sadly we didn't have enough time to go inside. There was a tour guide assigned to us, a cute little Italian guy by the name of Johnny, but he mainly just read out of a book. So the poor dude was being ignored while we took pictures and stared up at the beautiful thing. Sorry Johnny, but ancient architecture won out over your cute but stilted presentation.
And thank god for the new cell phone I got right before the trip, which took great pictures and which I was lucky enough not to drop into the ocean during my travels.

There are a few things about Rome, before I go on. Please, if you can help it, do not go during summer time. When I was there it was 95 degrees with a heat index of well over 100 in a crowded city with a whole lot of asphalt. Also our main tour bus we transferred to was a double decker with limited space at the bottom, so those of us who were not elderly baked up in the hot sun while gaping at all the beauty all around us. It was still gorgeous, but it would have been better had I not been slowly cooking. And with that Italian sun, even the sunscreen didn't help, I had the burned shoulders to prove it. The great thing about being up there though was gawking at all the buildings. Each building had beautiful statues and ornaments on it, and each, I'm sure, had a story behind it. One day in Rome simply isn't enough to take it all in. 
Also, there were many statues set in the buildings and there's a word for those, but I can't remember what they're called and it's driving me NUTS. If you know, please tell me in the comments section and you will be my friend forever.

Another thing about Rome was the street hawkers. They all sell hats and umbrellas but  they're all the same hats and umbrellas which is kind of perplexing since you have 10 people catcalling you to buy the same thing everybody else is selling. We did end up getting an umbrella for my mother (she's extremely fair-skinned and sun causes her to, you know, burst into flames). It was surprisingly well made, so at least there was that. But for the most part we ignored them.

After a few other stops, we stopped to get some pizza al taglio from a small set of restaurants right before we went to the Vatican. Pizza is not exactly sold by the slice as it is sometimes here, but by the cut. You indicate how much you want, they cut it from overall pizza, it's weighed and you pay by the weight. I don't exactly know the name of the pizza I had, only that it had the freshest cheese I've ever had in my life and also, that I am now ruined for other pizzas. Damn you Italy!And again, I'm generally not one to take pictures of my food, but when in Rome...
Afterwards we all had to use the restroom, so our tour guide led us to a nearby Hard Rock Cafe store where a lovely young lady by the name of Francesca let us use their bathrooms and also gave us free bottles of water. Everyone there was super sweet and suspiciously good-looking. And I do have to say that about most people we met during our adventure. Everyone was very kind. Whoever said that Europeans don't treat Americans well must have been jerks, because in Spain, France and Italy, everyone was simply awesome.

I bought a T-shirt (of course) which I found much to my chagrin, was too small, probably due to the fact that I'd been well fed all week. Ah well, it's a good incentive to lose weight. 

Finally we made it to the Vatican. Again, lack of time made it impossible for us to see it on the inside but apparently the Pope was in, even though he wasn't addressing anyone at the moment. Still it was cool to think he was inside there, living his best Pope life and dreaming his best Pope dreams. The outside of the Vatican was extremely crowded with tourists and even more street sellers than the Colosseum - and man, some of them were a bit aggressive. At least I was able to have my picture taken in front of the Vatican and I wasn't even struck by lightning. (I know, I know I'm surprised too...)
After the Vatican we made our way to the Trevi Fountain. To my dismay I found I only had an American penny to throw in and I'm not quite sure how much karma that was going to buy me. Given the exchange rate, probably not much. In fact, I'm probably going to receive a collection notice from the cosmic universe with that offering. So much for good luck!
And while I was there, I had a true Italian gelato from a shop in front of the fountain, because, you know, you gotta.

It was with melancholy relief when we got off the tour bus and onto the regular bus that drove us back to the ship. Melancholy because we were leaving the most beautiful city in the world, and relief because the bus was air conditioned and heat exhaustion was setting in. But I wouldn't have traded this trip for the world. My only regret is that I didn't have time to see more. After all Rome wasn't built in a day, and therefore that's no way to see it.

Next up: Naples and the long, sad trip home.

August 7, 2017

The Getaway Part 2: A Big Ass Boat and France

When last we left I had just left Barcelona and so our party of 52 (yes 52!) got on the lovely Freedom of the Seas for 7 days and 7 nights of non-stop ports, fun, food and adventure.  Few things about the ship:

They have stores and restaurants there and seriously WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? If I want to go to overpriced stores and restaurants I can do that at home. Luckily, our group had a reservation nightly at the formal dining room so we could all sit together and man did I ever miss eating escargot starters when I came home and found all I had in the cupboard was stale cheerios.

All that is forgiven though - because we were on a damn boat set for France, son. Word.
One really cool thing about our cruise was that, since it was international, you got to hear tons of different accents and dialects while on the ship. I made small talk with an older Australian man in the elevator and boy, I could have talked to him all day about absolutely nothing. More about the boat later. Our first stop was Marseilles, France. Different members of our group had booked different excursions but luckily I managed to get onto a tour bus that took us around the city, which was pretty cool. And folks, Marseilles even has it's own Hollywood type sign. Guess who paid for it?
Netflix.

Not even joking. They have a French series called Marseille and to promote it they built a friggin' sign overlooking the city. Out guide told us people who actually lived there were less than impressed by the thing and I kind of agree. You have beautiful architecture and monuments - why muck it up with Hollywood?

So we toured the city and got to see the Notre-Dame de la Garde a beautiful church with an amazing amount of stairs where I learned just out of shape I really am. My ailing Mother stayed behind while the rest of us trapsed about but when I came back, I found her and the tour guide talking animatedly - which is funny because my Mom really doesn't converse with strangers that much. We learned that he was not French but from Portugal, traveled a ton and spoke a great many languages. He also wanted to visit America but said he was "afraid".

Mom: Why?
Guide: Because I travel and I visit Muslim countries recently. I don't know what this Trump person would do to me. I might not make it out of there. I no not why people vote him in.
Mom and I in unison: We hate Trump.
Guide: (looks relieved).

And people, let me tell you - this was a conversation we had all during the trip with people from different countries. Quite a few people told us they were scared to visit America because of Trump. So Trump not only killed democracy but our tourism as well. Screw you Trump!
Luckily most people upon hearing we were Americans were nice to us because it was evident we weren't evil people. Or we hide it pretty well at least. The guide was probably the best guide I'd ever met AND  he'd kept my Mom entertained - I wish he would visit the U.S. sometime, at least to see that we're not all xenophobic assholes.

The next day we hopped along a tender (boat) to Villefranche (Nice) and let me tell you, the water that boat was in was pristine. The Paris Climate Control is a good thing, although one other thing is that seemingly everybody in France smokes. But as my cousin's husband put it "They look so cool." My baby nephew (well okay, he's 15) noted this too, but also added two simple words - "lung cancer".  At any rate, that water was beautiful and clean. Here's a video and excuse my lack of directional skills.


We managed to talk a taxi driver into taking us to Monaco and he even promised to pick us up a few hours later - which he did and was right on time. Whoever said French people were rude must have been rude to them first, because everybody was super wonderful. I wish we had taxi drivers (or Uber drivers) like him in America.

Oh and also, Monaco is the size of a postage stamp. We ate at an pizza eatery there because we had Middle Eastern food in Barcelona, so why not eat Italian in France? We are a backwards people. Anyways we didn't get to see Monte Carlo but some family members made it to the casino, and by that I mean, they were able to get into a lobby but not beyond that. They had to, of course, keep the undesirables at bay. At least there were a ton of cool cars to look at - cars that costs more than their homes.

So France was beautiful and one day I'll make it to Paris, where I will take a room in the hotel looking over the city, smoke many cigarettes, eat many fresh croissants and have many torrid love affairs while writing my memoires and waxing poetic in the style of Voltaire.

But for right now, I'm stuck back in my stale Cheerio life. Sigh.

Next up: Rome! (if you want to)

July 19, 2017

The Getaway Part 1: Getting there and Barcelona

I'm more of a dreamer than a do-er. I don't do a lot of adventurous things. I've never dived off of a rocky cliff, bungee jumped over an Australian rain forest.or backpacked across the moors (because you know, wolves). Also I don't take vacations like I should.

So when my Aunt and Uncle decided that all of the family should go on a Mediterranean cruise together, I was like HELLS YEAH! I'd been on one cruise before and that had been nice, so why not? Plus on cruises there's less chance of being attacked by wolves. Seriously, people - beware the moors. And remember the Alamo. A few of you horror geeks might get this, the rest of you will just be confused, as well you should.

So 52 (52!) of us embarked on our little getaway - a trip that started out in Barcelona and would go to France and Italy before taking us sadly back to our mundane, routine lives. The plane ride was long, but to my delight Delta kept us occupied with snacks and movies. During the 10+ hour travel time, I could have opted for the strong message of Hidden Figures, or the sad poetic drama of Gifted but instead I watched Logan and Lego Batman - because this is me we're talking about. Also I had been placated with Diet Coke and pretzels so that kept me content. I'm a simple girl. 

By the way, that little Logan chick is a serious badass. I want to be her when I grow up.
We stayed at the beautiful Holiday Inn Express in Barcelona because CULTURE! But of course, none of us had slept on the red-eye flight and we had one day there so why not send some sleep deprived Americans out on the street of a beautiful Spanish city? Actually we didn't get in too much trouble. Some of the family and I found a cute little Middle Eastern restaurant because when in Spain, you should not eat the food the country is known for but instead just munch on falafel and hummus, right? It was good, but why oh why did we not opt for tapas? Damn. Next time.
The waiter was a lovely guy who did tell us he "very much liked our Los Angeles". I probably would have thought that way too - except I've been there.

Those of us in the "we don't need no sleep" camp found ourselves in the little coffee shop adjacent to our hotel - El Fornet which, after tooling around the city later in the day, we saw was a chain there. Most of our family members tried to ask questions in English to the poor woman who was overwhelmed by it all so I think she was relieved when I ordered a cappuccino because that's pretty universal and also was on the menu. It took her a good 5 minutes to make though as she steamed the milk, carefully poured it on top of the coffee, then frothed a second tin of milk and slowwwlly added that too. She also smacked my hand away when I tried to get it from her because apparently she needed to add sugar packets and a stirring spoon before the masterpiece was complete. But ladies and gentleman, I have to say that this was the BEST DAMN CAPPUCCINO I'VE EVER HAD. Slow is way better. We Americans need to learn this.
And no that isn't an iStock photo - that was my actual drink. Ain't it pretty?

Revived by caffeine we then decided to go on a bus tour of the city, which was nice but probably would have been better had we not been nodding off in between stops because it had been over 24 hours without sleep and counting. Three things I noticed in Barcelona though. First, everyone on the street seemed to be carrying loaves of fresh bread and I bet it tasted wonderful. Second, there are tons of street artists including one guy who dressed up perfectly as a bronze statue (and I can't even begin to think how long that took) and a lady who could this, while I sometimes find it hard to walk in a straight line on the soberest of days:

Oh and the third thing is graffiti. Lots and lots of graffiti. That was going to be a recurring theme in all the cities we went to.

Somehow we managed to work out the Barcelona subway system and made it back to the hotel and  in one piece without embarrassing ourselves too much along the way. Adéu Barcelona, the next time I see you is when I'm coming home. :(

Next up - our big badass ship and France!

June 23, 2017

Vampires for all!

Let's talk vampires.

Oh I see you roll your eyes. Not THOSE things again. Didn't they, like, die out with Twilight or something? Zombies are where it's at now, sista. Vampires are sooo dead...err undead. Well, who are you to judge me 'person in my head who never actually said this'? You've got some nerve! But also, I like zombies. Zombies are fun. However, zombies are extremely limited. True, you can make them run fast or stagger slow, and their origins vary (disease outbreak, rabid monkeys etc.), but still, they're just zombies. But vampires? Vampires are more versatile.

Vampires are top of mind for me because I recently watched the movie Only Lovers Left Alive where Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play a stunning vampire couple - she, a bit of a bohemian, and he a rock god. Not gonna lie - Tom alone in tight leather pants was worth the price of admission. It wasn't a traditional horror film though. The vampires in this movie weren't scary, they were sexy. They didn't bite (or tried not to) because they got their blood from other means. If you met them in a dark alley, they wouldn't attack you. They'd just walk right past you because they are the ultimate in cool and you're a troll doll unworthy of their attention.
Not all vampires are sexy though. For example, there's Dracula. You say his name and an image immediately comes up in your head but that image is different for everyone because really it's just a name. Yes, Bram Stoker wrote created the character but that's not the first frame of reference that people generally have. The ORIGINAL Dracula wasn't a mack daddy at all. No, in Stoker's book, Dracula was described as being a repulsive elderly fellow with a mustache and bushy eyebrows. As for the great love affair between he and Mina, well, it just wasn't there. He didn't try and turn Mina because he loved her. He was just pissed off that Harker, Van Helsing and the gang were trying to kill him. In essence he was saying "Fuck you people, I got your woman! Ha!"

Yes, Dracula was a bit of bastard.

But a lot of people don't want to see Dracula that way. They want a gothic Byronic, sexy, mysterious guy. He can be Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman...ladies (and some of you gentlemen), you have your pick. Or if you want your vampire to be a scary monster who not so much seduces you as scares the beejeebus out of you - well you can have that too.
I have to admit, I'm kind of torn between the scary and the sexy. On the one hand, as evidenced in my last post about fictional bad boys, the dark and brooding hypnotic villain can be oh so appealing. On the other hand, I love to be scared and a frightening creature, more beast than man, also appeals to me as a horror lover. While Edward from Twilight doesn't appeal to me at all, because I have taste.

So, there's literally a vampire out there for everyone. They can be Stoker or a Rice creation. A tortured soul or an arrogant noble. They can be cruel or kind, disgusting or beautiful. Vampires are for everyone. Vampires are for all.

So, what's YOUR vampire like?

May 25, 2017

Bad Boys

Bad boys, bad boys whatcha gonna do....

Oh bad boys. I've been thinking about them a lot. You see, I recently re-read Wuthering Heights (see the post about my used book fetish). I remember loving the book as a teen when I read it first but years later I love it even more. Why? Because Heathcliff.

Heathcliff is a dick.

He is NOT a good guy, not at all. Some may think of a bad boy as someone who drives a motorcycle and smokes Marlboros with greased back hair and all those stereotypes, but this guy would eat those boys for lunch. He's not the kind of guy you should swoon for. He's downright despicable. He beats up on well, everyone actually. And at one point he hangs his wife's dog. That's right. He HANGS A FRIGGING DOG! Heathcliff abused everyone in his life (men, children, woman, etc.)  And yet...he was so compelling you wanted to read more about him.

If Heathcliff were around today, his doings would make one hell of an episode of Law and Order.

But still there are some ladies who read the book and fall in love with him. Why? Because he's angsty and dark and troubled and bitter and brooding. And because, let's face it, fictional bad boys are AWESOME.
There are several examples of the bad boy in literature, movies and television where horrible dudes doing horrible things are romanticized. Long before anyone knew that Snape was actually an okay guy, there were girls (and boys) writing hot fanfiction about him. And I've known many a grown woman who fell for Christian Grey although I have yet to figure out why. I have never read 50 Shades of Grey nor have I seen the movie and to tell the truth, it doesn't sound entertaining to me in the least. Although what do I know? I mean, I like Heathcliff, so....
Now I know there's some psychology to this, although for the life of me I can't figure out what it is. I'm not a very patient person in real life. I'm super-nice on the outside but if a guy even looked at me cross-eyed I'd probably dump him on the spot. So why do we women - good women, strong women - like these fictional guys that would possibly hurt us?

Because they can't. That's the only answer I could come up with.

There's kind of a safety net there. You can experience all the danger and excitement of a real bad boy with no heartbreak, or you know, actual physical/mental abuse and long-term implications. It's a fantasy of danger without having the visible scars to deal with. And no one gets arrested.

I probably am giving this too much thought. Girls will always have crushes on the fictional, dark, brooding dudes who would drive us crazy in real life. Just as guys will always have their crushes on...bad girls? Feel free to chime in here boys. I'm kind of interested in what kind of fictional bad girls you like, because in my mind they're probably all this:

So there you have it. Bad boys will be bad boys and girls will always love them - albeit from a safe distance. Feel free to chime in below with your fictional "bad crush". I can't judge, because, you know, Heathcliff. ;)

May 12, 2017

Death Entertains Me

Death is awesome. Death is fun. I love death.

Well, not all death. I mean fun death. Like, I don't want anyone real to die, I can't watch the news without crying. And my hope is for your Aunt Martha to make it through whatever ails her so she can live to a ripe old age. But dammit I do enjoy death as entertainment.

My Mom is fond of telling this story. When I was 2 years old, my parents took me to Disney World. They said I was pretty relaxed about the whole affair until we went on the Haunted Mansion ride. Apparently there were a ton of kids my age and slightly above who were scared and crying throughout the entire thing.

Me? I lit up like a Christmas tree.

My Mother (who is not one to embellish stories) said that I clapped and cheered the entire time. I declared that dancing spirits were my favorite thing of anything ever (and probably still are) and I wanted to go through it as many times as they would possibly allow. My parents must have been very patient I guess. I haven't been to Disney World in years but if/when I go back - it's the first ride I'm hitting.

No one in my family loves horror. No one. I did not get this genetically. I don't know where it comes from. Neither of my brothers like the genre and about the scariest thing my parents watch is the occasional John Wayne movie, although once they somehow got duped into watching Hannibal when it was out in theaters. My Mom originally thought it was about the historical figure (no kidding).

I also don't look like someone who embraces the dark. I don't wear much make-up, I have normal boring brown hair,  no tattoos and only my ears are pierced. I would look out of place at a  any horror convention. The only slightly goth thing I have as décor in my house is a sugar skull trivet I have in my kitchen. (I bought on Amazon as an impulse, but you have to admit, it's pretty damn cute).
In fact, I look like someone who would watch Lifetime and cry at the end of Sleepless in Seattle. I do neither of these things. Although the Korean horror film A Tale of Two Sisters made me weep openly. What a great movie that was (sob...sniff).

There's a tendency by "normal people" and the media to blame murders and the like on horror, to which I exclaim "Bollocks!" mainly because I'm a Yank and that word means nothing here but it's fun to say, and also because I don't think listening to heavy metal, watching horror or loving anything goth in general automatically makes one a serial killer. It's takes years of abuse plus a great deal of time, planning and a whole lot of training to do that. And I'm slightly too well-adjusted. Plus I'm lazy.

Also, when people say that horror movies are terrible I always counter with what I call The Titanic Theory. It goes like this:

   Random Person: Ewww....you like horror? But it's so gross! They show people getting killed!
   Me: Did you like Titanic?
   Person: Love that movie! But it's not horror.
   Me: LOTS of dead bodies at the end of Titanic...(smirk)

Usually they end up arguing that it's a romance, after which I point out that the "final girl" lived, just as in any horror movie, while her boyfriend was killed, also as in any horror movie. Also the great "love lost" scene happened while there were a ton of open-mouthed dead people floating around them. I may not be the most romantic person in the world, but open-mouthed dead floating people doesn't sound all that sexy to me. And of course there's the fact that it was something that really happened and a lot of people died. So there's that.

In a weird way, horror has become a sort of comfort zone for me. So while everybody's watching the latest comic book movie, I'm watching zombies eat people in some obscure movie I found from 1989. This comfort zone extends to television too. For example, I have never seen Breaking Bad or Mad Men. I have, of course, seen every single episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead.

So I watch what I watch with a smile, no matter how gruesome, because for me people getting killed in various and sundry ways helps me to relax and cope with life. I mean, if somebody's being knived by a deranged killer when all they wanted to do was party in that deserted amusement park where several people mysteriously disappeared 10 years ago on that very night, well - your problems don't seem that bad, do they?
Until next time, sweet dreams. Or nightmares. You know which one I'd choose. ;)

May 2, 2017

The Sin of Envy

"It seems that envy is my sin." - John Doe

Hey there all! I just want you to let you know that I'm filled with self-loathing and shame. And I blame it on you and your perfect lives.

Cut it out will ya? No seriously stop it.

Actually I'm kind of semi-joking here. But I do have a tendency to get jealous of other people very easily. That whole "grass is always greener" thing certainly applies to me. I'm pretty much convinced that my lawn is a desert with no oasis and an occasional tumbleweed flowing through while everybody else's is a lush green paradise. They have no problems those with the green, perfectly manicured lawns. Everything must come easy to them.

Really if we're going by movie references, I'm Kevin Spacey, and you're all Brad Pitts and I sort of want to put Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box and then giggle furiously. But then again, it's Gwyneth Paltrow, so can you blame me?
Of course I wouldn't do anything like that. Because, you know, morals. Plus I'm pretty sure it'd be all 'GOOPy'. (Yeah, I just wrote that. I hate myself....)

The thing is I tend to get into ruts. I do the same thing day in and day out. I'm convinced most people are out there living while I'm over here existing. I would love to lead a life of adventure and excitement but for the life of me, I don't know how.

There's a girl I used to work with. We were both trapped in a stifling office. One day she decided to chuck it all and move to the tropics. Just like that. Now she's doing things like captaining boats, sleeping on exotic beaches etc. The funny thing is, someone on Facebook once posted "I wish I led your life" to which she replied "You want MY life? I've never heard anybody say that!"

Wait...WHAT?

It turns out there's a price to be paid for everything. I have really close family and friends I can turn to right here. Her friends are in other parts of the country. I have a home, a place where I can keep things. She doesn't really have a home to speak of and is never quite sure where the next job will take her. It still sounds lovely in my mind, but the thing I'm slowly realizing is nobody's life is perfect.
Everybody's lives look great on social media but sometimes that's not REALLY their lives. After all, we all want to look great to others don't we? I mean I generally won't post a picture of myself with messy hair and a double chin, even though I might look that way at the time. Why? Because I want to look other people to think I look good. We all put out what I call "the highlight reel"- our best selves leading our best lives even though inside we're filled with doubt and insecurity.

So maybe I need to tend to my own lawn a bit, instead of whining about my neighbor's. After all, I usually don't see the amount of time they put into it nor do I see the amount of manure they use to fertilize it. 😉

March 29, 2017

Brain Vacation

"I abhor the dull routine of existence.- Arthur Conan Doyle via Sherlock Holmes. Or vice versa. I can't figure out the right way to quote this.

Okay let's be blunt here. We live in trying times, We live in tumultuous times. We live in pretty damn tough times. I guess what I'm trying to say is......

These times suck.

Boy do they suck. They suck so bad they even suck at being sucky. It's just one big ball of suck and then when you get to the chewy center there's a bigger burst of suck. But what can you do? You can march, you can scream, you can tweet in frustration but you also need to practice self-care. The ideal way would be meditation, yoga or a nice vacation. But sometimes you can't afford or get to those things immediately, so do what I do.
.
Take a mental vacation.
You see there are times when I hate everything in the world and everyone in the world (except you dear reader, you're perfection) and I just need to get away and do something different. It's in the times of the most stress (which is pretty much every day) where I need to go elsewhere and so I daydream. I call these my "brain vacations".

I'm a big proponent of daydreams. I consider them necessary, like food, shelter, water and reruns of Absolutely Fabulous. And I have some AWESOME ones. I do things in my daydreams that you  wouldn't be able to do on a real vacation. Unless of course you're going to a place where they specialize in that sort of thing...
Oh Ricardo Montalban - what I would give to hear your awesomely sexy voice talk about car leather once more. Sadly though, that won't happen. Even more sad is the fact that Fantasy Island doesn't exist. Luckily though, I have one hell of an imagination.

Here are some of the things that I have done during these mental vacations:
  • Solved a mystery with Sherlock Holmes
  • Solved a mystery with Sam Spade
  • Hunted vampires in London (a personal favorite of mine)
  • Beat up The Punisher
  • Flew on the airship from Final Fantasy 3/6 (also petted a moogle)
  • Had the de rigueur rock star fantasy - except I suddenly no longer sound like Mary Poppins 
  • Became a pirate captain (who ironically never stole or killed anybody)
  • Had perfect eyebrows
And if you make fun of that last one, shut up, I'm a girl. It will always be my dream.

Do I think they're stupid? Yes. Will they every happen? No - unless a certain Mr. Roarke (ahem) decides to suddenly come into existence and return my calls. But the thing is they help me cope. In a time when all the news is bad, and you wake up, go to work, come home just to do it all over again, it's nice to have a little adventure. Even if it is imaginary.

So where do you want to go on your next  brain vacation? I hear there's open bookings...