Thursday, October 16, 2014


I was able to talk the lovely and talented Lisa Black into supplying a post. -Jim Born

The Benefits of Research by Lisa Black

One of the best and worst parts of writing a book is doing the research necessary to bring authenticity and realism to your plot. The worst, because we left school behind (sometimes) long before and yet here we are doing homework. The best, because we can do something other than write and still feel that we are virtuously working toward a great tome—and because we pick up some really interesting facts. Over the years I have read about life during the Great Depression, the history of video games, and how to mix up plastic explosives in your own garage. Good stuff.

In the next book I decided to make my main character a former foster child. (This may be becoming a trend, just as all detectives used to be recovering alcoholics, Vietnam war vets, or children of murdered parents.) So I dutifully began to research foster children. This is unusual because—full disclosure—I do not like children. I bear them no ill will, but they make me nervous, which is why I never had any. Well, that and because my husband is a child and trying to raise one with him would have committed me to twenty years of daily battle.

It will come as no surprise that the foster child care system is a mess. What may come as something of a surprise is that this is not really anyone’s fault. Social workers can be overworked, underpaid and burnt out. Foster parents can be all over the board in terms of what a child needs and whether or not they can provide it. Foster children can be ungrateful and unrealistic. Biological families can be irresponsible and irreparable. But even if each cog in this system worked to the utmost of their ability, the situation would still largely stink, because no matter what else occurs a child’s life and attachments have been disrupted and that creates a very lasting wound.

Obviously the most important goal is safety. But only about 25% of children are removed due to some sort of abuse; the other three-quarters are removed for ‘neglect’ and the case can be made that neglect is simply another word for poverty. There may be cockroaches in every corner, nothing but junk food in the house and the kids haven’t taken a bath in three days, but, a parent could counter, they grew up the same way and they survived. It may not be the way we think a child should be raised—and we all, myself definitely included, think we know the way a child should be raised—but it’s hardly grounds for removing the child from the home. Or take a single mother who leaves her three- and six-year-olds home while she works. She’s not out at a rave or taking drugs, she’s working to keep them fed and housed. Yet three and six are too young to be home alone, period. So, what to do.

Foster parents, meanwhile, and contrary to popular belief, very rarely take on the role ‘for the money.’ There is not nearly enough money involved to make it worth it. Most begin this work because the children were relatives and they couldn’t let their kin go to strangers, or they do it because their parents did it and they know the importance of maintaining their community, or they do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a hell of a risk, bringing a total stranger into your home. Even if you have a perfect nice set of foster parents and a perfectly nice foster child, a removal can occur because of personality conflicts, space problems, because the child has some sort of special need and has to move to another agency or district, and so on, and each move reinforces to the child that they are unloveable and unwanted. They quickly learn not to get attached to anyone or anything, because it could all change in the next hour. And if a child can’t form attachments, a process vital for their development, then foster care has no purpose—they might as well be in an orphanage. Yet foster parents are often told by the agency not to get ‘attached’ to the children. That can lead to conflicts with the agency—the foster parents think they know what’s best because they’re with the child every day, while the social workers are more objective and have historical information (sometimes purposely) not given the foster parents. Both sides can be right, wrong, or some combination in between.

I don’t see a solution and neither does anyone else. No policy or structure or social planning can change the fact that human beings are messy, complicated, inconsistent and unique.

All we can do is try.

 Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida. Her books have been translated into six languages and one reached the NYT mass market bestseller’s list. For more information, visit

Her new novel is Close to the Bone

Close to the Bone hits forensic scientist Theresa MacLean where it hurts, bringing death and destruction to the one place where she should feel the most safe—the medical examiner’s office in Cleveland, Ohio, where she has worked for the past fifteen years of her life. Theresa returns in the wee hours after working a routine crime scene, only to find the body of one of her deskmen slowly cooling with the word “Confess” written in his blood. His partner is missing and presumed guilty, but Theresa isn’t so sure. The body count begins to rise but for once these victims aren’t strangers—they are Theresa’s friends and colleagues, and everyone in the building, herself included, has a place on the hit list. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Showering with your cat and other bad ideas

Patty here


Tigger-boo was my first feline and being an animal lover in general and a zealous new cat guardian in particular, I wanted to do right by him. I brushed him daily and said, “I LOOOOOVE my little pussy cat” in my sexiest Barry White voice because he seemed to like low tones. I bought him expensive toys that he never played with and a deluxe cat bed that he completely shunned, preferring to sleep with my Westie, Dottie (the tart). He was an inside cat and always smelled of hand lotion from being petted excessively.

And then one day I was having a conversation with a cat-expert acquaintance of mine and mentioned that I never bathed the Boo. She looked at me as if I were Fagin in Dickens's novel Oliver Twist. “That’s bad,” she said. “Really bad.”

I’d committed a faux paw without even knowing it. But errors can be corrected, so I began plotting a sudsy afternoon for the Boo. The kitchen sink didn’t seem like a sanitary place to do the deed, so I opted for the shower. After all, it was made of glass so he wouldn't get claustrophobic and enclosed so he couldn’t escape. And I'd be there to cheer him on. What could go wrong? Cat people everywhere already know the answer. I thought I’d need a blood transfusion when it was all over.



Every writer I know invariably digests negative comments from editorial critiques or reviews while often ignoring positive ones. When I receive critiques on any Work In Progress, I make a practice of listening to the criticism but also writing down every word. Then I put my notebook away and don’t read the comments until the next day. The criticisms are generally more palatable in the bright light of morning and the suggested changes are often more minor than I’d remembered. Plus, there are always encouraging comments I’d failed to hear.

This waiting-until-later tactic is even more essential when you think your manuscript is finished. At this point in the process, many writers stop asking people to read the book because they think it’s perfect. It never is. Attracting an agent and a publisher isn’t easy. If, after several reads by friends, I still have doubts about the manuscript, I send it to others who can and will uncover any additional flaws.

My first book-advance check after polishing the manuscript until it was ready


When I first opened my Twitter account, I was told by social media mavens to follow everybody who followed me. As you can imagine, doing that produced a lot of messages that didn’t interest me much. And the messages I did want to read were difficult to find in my fast-scrolling news feed.

I had pretty much given up on Twitter until recently when a fellow author with over five thousands followers compared to my measly 180, told me if I wanted to maintain my sanity, I needed to download a free app called TweetDeck that would allow me to sort messages into topics like: Showering With Your Pet or Surviving Criticism or whatever. 

So I downloaded the app and with a little bumbling around, I arranged my Tweets into columns by topic. Then I actually had a conversation with a stranger and was able to follow the thread because those notifications were highlighted in a separate column. My Tweeting life has been saved and I feel damn good about it. Next, I will attempt the death-defying trick of scheduling a Tweet to post when I’m in the shower with my cat. ME-OUUWWWW!

TweetDeck Screen Shot


Friday, October 10, 2014

When You Get What You Asked For ....

from Jacqueline

It is a truth universally acknowledged by people like this ...

That if you indulge in something like this ...

 ... and whilst out on your trusty steed, Oliver, he steps into a massive nest of these ...

 Then this will happen ….

And this ….

 Leading to this …

 But only in your dreams does the ER doc look like Clooney.

Then you go home and languish, and while getting really sick on the pain meds, you start wondering about deadlines and goodness knows what else, and how you’ll manage it all with a collar bone broken in two places, a couple of cracked ribs and a black eye.

Well, as you may have guessed, I am the one wondering about these things, seeing as that little list of injuries belongs to me!  

And let this be a lesson to you – remember that if you say, “I need a break,” expect the Fates to take you at your word.  I’ve been saying that for weeks – forgetting that just over 13 years ago, when a friend asked me about my new job, I told her that I would give my right arm not to be doing it.  The following day I had a very bad riding accident - broke my right arm and crushed my shoulder.  Had to give up that job - mind you, I wrote my first novel during my convalescence.

Now, having listened to this little tale, you know why I didn’t respond to your comments following last week’s post - I was in the emergency room!  My mother reckons I brought this on myself, by writing about healthcare.  Oh well. 

Have a lovely, safe weekend!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Building Suspense

We've already talked about this a little bit and you can call it by different names. Building suspense is a good title, but it could just as easily be called pacing. It's what happens in the novel. It would be an awfully short book if you just had a bomber try to kill a professor who somehow turns the table on him. Maybe eight pages.  That's why it's important to consider all the other things we've discussed.

We need to set the circumstances of the story. Is it set in a big city where there is a modern police force ready to respond? Or in a small town in Alabama where no one would suspect a package sitting on a porch contained a bomb ready to shred anyone who touches it? Let's say it's the Alabama town. It's a beautiful two-story house with the wraparound porch and oak trees shading the front yard. It's a beautiful sunny day that casts dancing shadows across the front lawn through the thick limbs of the sprawling trees. We know what's in the package. That's really what's important. It doesn't matter if the character suspects something is wrong. The reader has to suspect it. That's where the suspense comes in.

Next we might develop the characters. And see that a man sitting at a desk inside the house is a political science professor at local private university. His views have sparked a madman to put a bomb in the package. The professor also has a beautiful wife who is a doctor at the local hospital and three young children all playing in different areas of the neighborhood. The package sits unopened on the front porch. Who will get to it first? Lily, his nine-year-old daughter who's coming home from a friend’s house? His wife, Andrea, taking a break from a frantic day at the hospital? Or will the professor walk out onto the porch and noticed the package. Now we’re talking about a story.

We haven't even got into the motivation of the bomber yet, who’s sitting several blocks away and stewing over some article the professor has written. He's got other information about the professor sitting on the front seat of his Chevy Silverado. How the professor had moved from one university to another as he became more prominent. And how, three years before, an article he had written about religion had pushed the bomber's mother to suicide. Or at least that's what he believes.

I learned this lesson after I became published. My editor at Putnam, Neil Nyren, would often take the time to teach me and others valuable lessons in writing. In this case, he used the example of Alfred Hitchcock and his ability to build suspense. I can remember the conversation clearly. Neil talked about a bomb planted in a desk and how quickly the excitement is over if all that happens is an explosion. Whereas, if the reader knew the bomb was in the desk, you could get pages and pages of excitement out of it. This was all in response to my first draft of the novel EscapeClause. As with most of my novels, I try to mix up who the good guys and bad guys are. About halfway through the book I had the reader suddenly discover someone they thought was a good guy was actually a bad guy. Neil told me that was great for one or two pages but what the book really needed was someone who was bad from the beginning so everyone could root against him. What a good lesson. I would say I owe Neil lunch for it, but his tastes are too extravagant for me so I just leech off him whenever I get a chance to see him.

Once again there is no rhyme or reason in the sequence of these blog posts. It's pretty much what comes to me while I'm thinking about writing. I'm open to suggestions if you guys want me to change it up just shoot me a quick e-mail at

Until then, write on!

Friday, October 03, 2014

A Testing Situation

from Jacqueline

Much has been written about the over-testing of America.  From cradle to grave, we are tested for educational, health, financial or employment purposes.  Teachers bemoan the fact that they are training kids to pass tests, not provide a well-rounded education. The college application process requires test scores – despite the fact that professors are the first to admit that testing is no indicator of academic success at tertiary level. However, I have come to believe – and many studies support this – that with regard to our health we are completely over-tested, and it is a contributory factor to out–of-control healthcare costs in the USA.  But it’s an emotional flashpoint – as well as a legal wrangle.  At a big company I worked for years ago, people talked about the CYA memo – today it would be the CYA email, sent to multiple recipients. The Cover-Your-Ass message is at the heart of so much medical testing, and it is closely linked to the propagation of fear.  Let me tell you about a recent experience.

A few weeks ago I went along for my annual “GYN” exam.  Men – do not stop reading – you have wives and daughters, and no doubt you’ve had a test or two on your crown jewels, so this sort of thing could apply to you, too.  

After the exam, the physician’s assistant looked through my notes and said, “I notice that there has been a case of breast cancer on your mother’s side of the family.”  I nodded.  It’s been there in my notes for years, without comment.  Then she said, “I think you need to have DNA testing.”  So I asked, “Why?”  And she answered, “So we can assess your risk.” 


At this point I explained that my family offers an excellent statistical example – my mother was one ten kids, seven of them girls, and I have more cousins than I can count – with the majority of them female, and all around about my age, give or take a few years.  We do not exactly have a breast cancer epidemic, and there is no ovarian cancer.  “I’m more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke,” I said. “Or a thyroid problem.”  But she insisted it was the best thing to do.

“So, let’s say that there’s a result that indicates I have a high likelihood of either breast or ovarian cancer – then what?” I asked.
“Well, we would counsel you on lifestyle choices,” she replied.
“Such as?” I asked.
“Diet. Exercise. Alcohol consumption – do you consume more than 7 drinks a week.”
I laughed. “I would be hard pushed to knock back more than 7 in a month.”
“Then your diet?” she asked.
“I gave up red meat thirty eight years ago, dairy fourteen years ago,” I said.  “I eat mainly organic chicken or fish, but only three or four times a week – the rest of my diet is vegetarian.  I have to eat gluten and wheat free and I am not a sugar junkie.”
“Oh,” she said.  “How about exercise.”
“Walk the hills for an hour and a half each day, and I train in a demanding equestrian sport three hours each day, five days a week. I also enjoy a brisk sit every now and again.”
“Oh,” she said, again.
“I’ve pretty much hit the lifestyle choices already,” I added.  “I’m not overweight and I don’t smoke.  Almonds are my weakness.”  I paused.  “And if that leaves doing an Angelina Jolie – forget it – I’m not having anything lopped off out of fear.”

Still she pressed me – and I knew that fear button was the one she had her finger on.  I felt myself caving.
“How much is this test?” I asked.
“About $4000," she replied
“I can tell you now, I am not paying $4000 to be scared."
"Oh, your insurance will pay all but $400 of it," she said.

I could feel myself getting uppity – but no more uppity than the physician’s assistant was getting with me. Clearly not many people questioned the advice!

I told her I would consider. She said they would take my saliva sample anyway.
I paused. “Oh heck, you might as well go ahead with it then,” I heard myself saying.

I arrived home and I realized I was annoyed.  I was really ticked off – with myself.  I called my pal who’d had the test and asked her opinion – she was shocked that I had been advised to have the testing, as usually you have to have several risk factors (be from an African American or Jewish background, be a smoker or overweight).  Then she said, “Oh well, it’s not a bad idea to get it done.”

I called the medical office and talked it over one more time, but because I could feel the woman getting really exasperated with me, I just let it go, and have tried not to think about it.  I have an appointment for my “post-test meeting” to go over the results in a couple of weeks.

But here’s what I think. I think I have been led astray by fear itself, by an organization making money out of testing, and in a very subtle way preying on trepidation about what might – or might not – happen in the future.  Several years ago, I remember reading that, despite the emphasis on family predisposition to (for example) breast cancer, in only 3% of cases of the disease is there a family connection.  I think it’s a CYA move, and I also think someone is making a lot of money out of me providing a saliva sample, which was then sent to a laboratory somewhere – at $4000 a spit, that’s a nice little earner.

It reminded me of two other events. Some years ago, at the company where I worked, it came time for the annual visit of the various insurance companies under contract with my employer. We had to renew with our healthcare provider, and we also had to meet with another insurance provider to hear about the various supplementary insurances we might want – long-term care, emergency room supplement, and another little offering called “Cancer Insurance.”  I listened to the brief run-through of the supplementary insurances, and then declined all of them – I couldn’t afford them, for a start. The agent looked at me and said, “Not even the cancer care?”  I shook my head. “No. I don’t want that kind of paperwork sitting on my desk or in my home.”  He shook his head and with something of a flourish, rapped his knuckles on the wooden desk.  “Knock on wood,” he said. I leaned towards him and said, “What you just did amounts to intimidation. You are trying to scare me into that insurance, and I am reporting you to my employer.  You will never set foot in this building again.”   

He smirked. His error. 

In his manner, by adding fear and superstition into the mix, what that insurance representative was doing amounted to blackmail.  He never returned – not on my watch anyway.

So, I have been wondering whether to ask that physician’s assistant to keep those DNA results to herself.  I don’t really want to know, but curiosity will probably get the better of me.  Ultimately, it won’t change anything, except it might add a bit of stress – and we know how bad that is for you. Heck, I might have my seven drinks in one night!

When I was in my mid-thirties, in the Jurassic period, I was sent for heart tests – a pesky little arrhythmia along with a heart murmur had decided to make my life more interesting.  First of all the cardiac tech listened to me while I explained to her that I didn’t understand how this had happened – I was a very fit woman.  Then she asked two very important questions:  “How’s your stress life?” and “Have you ever said, ‘I’m heartbroken.’”   She had me there.  I have never forgotten those questions.

It was later, while I was running on the treadmill, that she told me she also worked in the emergency room, adding, “And if there’s one thing I know in this world  - working here and in the ER – we all come date-stamped. When your time’s up, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

OK, so I can live with that – it’s called making every day count. And you don’t do that by living in fear – whether it is a fear of not getting into the college of your choice, of not getting that job or of having yet another medical test.  Some tests are worth it. Some are essential and help us live life to the full for as long as possible.  And we mustn't forget that there are some crucial tests that people have to fight for.  However, so many are costly, requested too often, and are just there to make money for the providers.  On the other side of the coin let's also bear in mind that those providers may be afraid of legal repercussions if we are not offered certain tests.  And for us, the mortals under the microscope, sometimes the pressure comes from trying to understand what is really important and also what does not serve us – so where our health is concerned, because we’re worried and not doctors, we end up being swabbed, injected, x-rayed and MRI’d until the cows come home.  And collectively, we end up paying even more for our insurances – a whole industry built on fear and maybe.

As I left the office, having offered up enough saliva to test my DNA – while wondering what sort of Pandora’s box I’d just opened – the nurse called after me.
“Oh, by the way, you’re overdue for a mammogram.”
I nodded, and muttered to myself something that sounded a bit like “Heck.”

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Writing Characters Not Like Yourself

Writing characters unlike yourself, with experiences much different than your own, is exactly what writers are supposed to do. It's not easy, it's not necessarily fun (although sometimes it can be), but it's vital to virtually every novel ever written.

Personally, it turns me off when I hear fake sounding dialogue, out of the norm for a character of a certain age or education level. I try not to picture the author in my head and wonder why a sixty-year-old white man is trying to speak like a thirteen-year-old black girl. I'm not saying it can't be done, it's just terribly difficult to do well.

I try to avoid certain characters. It's difficult for me to write as a teenager or sound like a convincing child. I keep the dialogue short and let the circumstances explain what's going on in the scene. But that's a simple, shallow answer. Sort of what I'm best at.

Writing female characters does not feel is difficult to me. Especially female cops. I'm around them all the time and they understand that the clich├ęs you read over and over again about the beautiful cop that was tough as nails can be accurate. These are women who don't take any shit and can make you laugh at the drop of a dime. I don't simply take my experiences as a male and insert a female into them. Just the fact that a female is involved in certain situations changes the dynamic. I certainly don't mean that in any negative connotation, it is just a fact of life. Just as inserting a male and a certain situations that females have dealt with would change the situation itself. As in most things we’ve talked about, it's important to get out and experience the world and see what people do first-hand. Don't try and filter it through some cheesy TV sitcom or hackneyed police drama. As a male writer you're going to have to write female characters unless all you write about is the Civil War and you somehow managed to leave out any civilians.

One thing that I've seen trip up authors is trying to use slang and phrases they think young people are using today. This sort of thing changes so quickly that it's tough to keep up with and can date your work instantly. In addition, consider your audience. Are they really up to date with what fifteen-year-olds are using is a term for an idiot? I'll admit that I write for my audience. Hopefully my audience is younger than me, perhaps a bit thinner and little more tolerant of these sort of mistakes than I am. But I don't think it's vital for you to force your dialogue to sound contrived by a middle-aged author.

Even weapons in police dramas can show your age. If I see someone writing about a detective using a thirty-eight revolver, I realize it's an old dude writing the book. Maybe someone that retired from NYPD about seventeen years ago. Even the stylized handling of a gun and holding it sideways has fallen by the wayside. It only took two or three thugs getting shot by more accurate marksman holding the gun properly to make that bad habit a thing of the past.

If you don't wanna get out and experience the world, at least watch an MTV reality show. Their painful to get through sometimes, but you do hear things and see activities that could give you an idea of what young people are up to today. Since my kids moved out of the house I lost virtually all interest in the subject.

Another option, if you need to get out of the house, is a stop at Starbucks or McDonald's. You can hear some amazing things at the next table.

Once again, I go back to gender as being a difficult hurdle for writers, either a man writing as a women or women writing as a man. It's easy to come off as clueless. Not that hard to talk to a spouse or friends.  Run dialogue and action pass them. Believe it or not, sometimes we have to get off are asses to write a novel.

Whatever you do, just try to get it right. It's not rocket science and no one's going to shoot you if you screw it up. It's just nice to do it the right way. The first thing you might want to remember is to avoid stereotypes. Not all women are victims and not all men are master villains. Although I've learned from a number of letters and comments from other writers it never hurts to have good-looking people, either male or female populate your book.

“Action is the pulse of any good story, but the character is the heart. If the action has no consequence to the character, the story loses heart.”
Linda Yezak

As with everything in writing a novel we need to put some thought into it.  It's not that easy. 
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Great Escape: How I spent my summer vacay

Patty here

I’ve been off the grid, bare-boat cruising in the San Juan and Gulf Islands off the coast of Washington and British Columbia. Bare-boat cruising means chartering a boat without a professional captain, and that means hopefully somebody onboard knows what they’re doing or you might end up on Gilligan’s Island. There were four people on our 43-foot Ocean Alexander powerboat, Great Escape. Three were experienced boaters (including me), so we were covered. We were traveling on the same itinerary with a flotilla of about 15 boats.

Anacortes, Washington: We picked up our vessel in Anacortes marina. One of my jobs was to jump off the boat dockside and tie the lines to the cleats. But the distance between boat and dock looked like an Olympic event. I wasn’t going to be able to safely jump that distance even with my Air Nike's. Plan B: I found a portable ladder to hang off the side of the boat.

The Vessel Great Escape
Hunter Bay, Lopez Island, Washington: The first night we anchored in Hunter Bay, just off Lopez Island in the San Juans. It looks peaceful, but that night we dinghy-ed over to a killer dinner party with 56 of our closest friends. The salmon was flowing and the wine was barbequed to perfection…no, the wine was flowing…oh, nevermind. The details escape me except that the two party boats were MUCH bigger than the one I was on.

Hunter Bay, Lopez Island, Washington: the calm before the party

Friday Harbor on San Juan Island: More eating, drinking and yucking it up.

Friday Harbor Marina

Victoria, B.C.: We cleared Canadian customs in Victoria, B.C. I fought against the notion that I had to show my passport. Canada is a foreign country? What’s that all aboot? Back when I lived in Seattle, my friends and I drove to Vancouver, B.C. all the time. The city had great restaurants, Whistler Mountain ski area and a nightclub called the Cave where I once saw Ike and Tina Turner perform so up-close-and-personal I could almost see the cocaine-induced hole in Ike's nasal septum. Crossing the border was easy back then. You flashed your driver’s license, got a tip of the hat from a border agent and went on your merry way. British Columbia accepted U.S. dollars at the shops (they still do) and Washington State vending machines accepted Canadian coins (kiss that goodbye).

When I first moved to Los Angeles fresh from the Pacific Northwest, I used a Canadian quarter for a purchase in a grocery store.

Clerk: What’s this?
Me: A quarter.
Clerk: I can’t accept this. It’s foreign currency.
Me: What? Canada’s a foreign country?
Clerk: Security!

We were cautioned beforehand that Canada allowed no fresh fruit or vegetables or meat into the country (Really? Even Canadian bacon? Doesn't that have dual citizenship?). Liquor was limited to 2 bottles of wine per person or 1 bottle of hard liquor or a case of beer. I always follow directions (har, har), so before arriving in Victoria, I threw out all contraband food (including four perfectly good wieners) and made a list of everything left in the galley (that’s kitchen for the uninitiated) in my neatest handwriting on a yellow legal pad, in case customs officials interrogated me under a bare light-bulb.

Canadian Customs. That's the phone booth on the left.

After all that hoopla, we almost missed seeing the customs dock, which was about the size of a WASA cracker. And there were no uniformed customs officials in Yukon couture. In fact, there were no customs officials anywhere to be seen, just a telephone and written instructions on how to call for assistance. That was disappointing. I began to regret ditching all those wieners.

Clearing customs was quick and dirty, but I felt a little let down that somebody didn’t board our boat and search the refrigerator. I’d show them my galley list and they’d say, “This is awesome. You must be a writer.”

We had to dodge incoming and outgoing seaplanes.

Look! There's one taking off!

But finally docked in front of the stately Empress Hotel. It was smaller than I remembered from my youth (isn’t everything?) but still stately.

The Empress

That night we ate at an atmospheric and delish Italian restaurant called Il Terrazzo Ristorante on Johnson Street off Waddington Alley (Who can resist eating food off an alley?)

Ganges Harbor, Saltspring Island, British Columbia: I could have spent more time in this boo-tee-ful place. My fellow mariners and I attended a wine and cheese party at the charming Hasting’s House, where I could have stayed for dinner for a around 200 per person (that’s Canadian dollars, people! 223.056 CAD) Instead, I ate at a lovely place called Auntie Pestos, which left me enough scratch (that's hip talk for money) to replace those wieners I ditched.

View of Ganges Harbor from the Hasting's House

Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington: Great Escape left the group the next day in order to get back to Seattle and the flight home. We cleared U.S. customs in Roche Harbor. I was warned I would have to declare our garbage and dump it in a special foreign garbage “burn” container. I tried to jettison the bag in Canada but the marina wanted five bucks (and that’s Canadian bucks, my friends, 5.57640 CAD), so I decided to throw myself on the mercy of U.S. customs. Again. Disappointed. They didn’t even ask about my garbage. And there were foreign peach pits in that bag and half an onion!

Roche Harbor has a general store, a few shops and restaurants, some condos and cottages and oodles of charm. At sundown, marina officials had a flag-lowering ceremony that included a cannon blast and canned renditions of various national anthems (God Save the Queen anyone?). When they lowered the U.S. flag, they played Taps (Can anybody listen to that without choking up?).

Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington

The next day we returned to Anacortes, where no visit would be complete without a breakfast at Dad’s (They smoke their own bacon. Yowza!).

What the sign says...

But all good things must come to an end (Wait a minute. Who came up with that lame cliche? I say, Party on!)