Wednesday
Jul162014

Life in Burgundy--Days One through Four

Good grief, this poor blog. I've never gone this long without updating it. Where did the time go?

Well, longtime readers of mine will know about my writing energy unit (WEU) concept. As a woman with six awesome kids and a foster daughter; a fabulous husband; a darling dog; and a demanding, five-day-per-week teaching gig during the school year, I find myself with only a very limited amount of time/WEUs to write every day. And those WEUs have been spent on fiction lately, to the detriment of this blog.

Since my last post, I've finished a middle grade contemporary fantasy (it's now being considered by an agent or two). I've written a romance novella that was included in this anthology that came out yesterday! And then there was that short story that will come out very soon as part of this anthology

I have another commissioned work of longish-form fiction that needs to be drafted by the end of the summer, but that's on hold at the moment. Why? Because I'm on vacation with the family in fabulous France. Southern Burgundy, to be specific--and we're having the time of our lives. 

The photo at the top of the post is what we see from our bedroom window. The view is even more fantastic than the house in which we're staying. Every time I walk into the room, the view captivates me, and as the light changes throughout the day, I notice new things to love. I'd have a hard time getting sick of that scenery, I can tell you.

We're doing another house exchange through HomeLink. Our first exchange was with a family from Neauphle-le-Château in 2009, and we spent a grand three weeks showing our kids around Paris and its environs. The year after, we exchanged with a family in Twickenham, England, and had a similarly memorable time.

But the next year, it was time for Christian to go to college--and the summer after that, we moved to California, and so on. Finally, this year, we felt ready to do another exchange. Our first choice was Italy, but nothing worked out there. For a while, it looked like Bath might be a possibility--but then, that fell through as well.

Then we got an exchange offer from a family in Burgundy, and things fell into place. We realized that from here, we could visit Patrick's extended family in Lausanne, Switzerland (we're headed there this weekend), and that we'd also get to see a gorgeous part of France that is less frequented by tourists. 

The one sad thing about our exchange is that Christian, our oldest, couldn't come with us. He's between his junior and senior years of college, and he scored a jaw-droppingly cool internship with Senator Reid in Washington, D.C. for the summer. He's having a great time, and it's the kind of opportunity that's life-changing--but I wish we could clone him, because we miss him very much.

The good/bad part of exchanging houses--at least, if you're a bit obsessive, like I am--is that it involves a considerable amount of deep cleaning beforehand. (Yes, it's a ton of work getting the place ready for the exchange family--but the flip side is that you come home to a house that's pretty darn clean. Thus my ambivalence.)

But clean we did, and pack (very lightly) we did--one large suitcase and three carry-on suitcases for the seven of us--and we were off. Day Zero: We flew via Air Canada (highly recommended: organized, drama-free, and prompt) through Montreal to Geneva. One of the few downsides to living in California is that it takes fourteen hours (including layovers) to get to Europe instead of just six or seven. But we survived. 

Day One: We barely fit all our luggage into our rented minivan (thus the need to pack very lightly) and headed west into France. We got to Prissé at about noon, a couple of hours ahead of my pessimistic schedule. Geneva's baggage handling and car rental systems were true to the legendary Swiss stereotype of efficiency! We met our exchange family's neighbor, who handed over the key to the place that would be our home for the next three weeks. 

We knew a little bit about the house before we arrived--that the oldest part of it was built in the 17th century, and that it has sixteen bedrooms and extensive grounds--but it wasn't until we arrived that we realized we'd really won the house exchange lottery. I'll do a separate post with photos of all the rooms and as much of the history as I've gleaned; it's pretty amazing. 

We had a delightful time exploring corridor after corridor on all four floors, both attics, and the extensive cave (basement), and then the kids each chose a bedroom and unpacked. Anne and Daniel decided to bunk together in a darling room in the north tower, and I don't blame them; all the hallways can be a tiny bit spooky, and it took us a while to orient ourselves. 

Patrick and I made a trip to the Super U, the local supermarché, to stock up on food and supplies for the next day (Sunday) as well as the day after (Bastille Day). We had a simple dinner of amazingly fresh and exquisite local food and called it a day. 

We didn't get much sleep the first night, but we did our best. Day Two: We'd planned to go to church, but ended up sleeping right through it and not really minding. We're on vacation, and we refuse to push ourselves.

We went into Mâcon in the afternoon and explored a bit in the light rain (which we all welcomed, having come from drought-stricken Los Angeles). That evening, we watched the World Cup Finals, and it was cool enough (with the big windows open) to have a comfy fire. 

Day Three: Since Monday was Bastille Day, a national holiday, we knew all the tourist sites would be closed--so we went to Switzerland! I've spent time in Lausanne, but had never been to Geneva before, so it was an adventure for all of us. We saw the iconic Jet d'Eau (and plenty of swans, geese, and ducks) on Lake Geneva and ate our lunch on Rousseau Island.

Then we walked up to the Cathedral of St. Pierre, then through charming streets and parks to the Reformation Wall, and back to a supermarket to stock up on chocolate. It may not sound like a lot, but it was quite a bit of walking, and we were still jet lagged. Why push it? We've got days and days left to our stay. 

Another evening in our lovely house; another wonderful dinner. I'll probably have to do a separate post about the food: the cheeses, the milk, the bread, the desserts. Delicious! After we cleaned up the kitchen, Patrick, James, and Hope went on a sunset bike ride; it's light out until about 9:30 this time of year, and we all want to make the most of the amazing countryside that surrounds us. 

Late evening routine: Patrick and I, remembering how we watched a couple of exciting seasons of Lost with our big boys on our London trip, wanted to find something similarly engaging to watch with James, Hope, and Tess in the evenings after putting the littles to bed. We decided on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and so far, it's been a hit. 

Day Four: Yesterday, we visited Brou Monastery in Bourg-en-Bresse. I'm going to run out of words that express extreme beauty very quickly. 

This gem of Flamboyant Gothic architecture was a joy to explore. The church itself was amazing, as was the unique, three-cloistered monastery. One of the best parts was having it all nearly to ourselves; there were only a few other visitors. I was very tempted to gather the kids in one of the small, side chapels so that we could sing something in harmony literally a capella, but I forebore, not wanting to cause a scene. Or have people leave money at our feet. Because they would, of course. :)

We ate our picnic lunch in the shade of a quince tree in the middle of the monastery's formal (but unfortunately somewhat overgrown) vegetable garden. Most of us were tempted to do some weed-pulling; the local volunteers must all be on vacation. 

Then we drove back through Mâcon and followed the signs to Solutré. It's one of two roches in the area, and archaeologists theorize that it was once a prehistoric hunting site. Early man would apparently drive herds of wild game off the cliff, then collect the bodies at the bottom. Today, Solutré rises above picturesque villages and hectare upon hectare of grape vines. Apparently, this area produces some of the finest wine grapes in the world. 

It was a strenuous but gorgeous walk to the top. Anne had hurt her foot earlier in the day, so had a bit of a challenge, but she made it both up and back. Once back at our car, we rewarded ourselves with Prince cookies and headed back to the house.

Patrick and I had thought about taking the kids to Lyon today, but this morning, we decided against it. We need to do some grocery shopping, and Patrick has a bit of work to do. We'll do something local and low-key this afternoon instead; there are literally a score of ancient châteaux within a few minutes' drive of the house. Stay tuned for more updates!

Tuesday
Apr222014

The Weekend Getaway

This is our darling house. The guest house is around back.

As part of the Altered Perceptions IndieGoGo campaign, I've come up with a perk for a couple of big donors. It's outlined on the website, but I thought I'd give some more details here. 

Weekend Writing Retreat

A private, spacious, light-filled, air-conditioned guest house in sunny Pasadena will be all yours for a full three days and two nights. It includes a kitchenette with refrigerator (stocked with snacks and drinks of your choice), queen-sized bed, desk, full bath, Wi-Fi, cable/Blu-Ray, and a huge library of books and movies. The pool and hot tub are also available for your use.
Three gourmet meals* per day will be delivered to your door at times you schedule, selected from a menu similar to this: 
  • Homemade cinnamon rolls, yogurt parfaits, or French toast for breakfast
  • Panini, chicken salad, or charcuterie plate for lunch
  • Poached salmon, homemade ravioli, or homemade fried chicken for dinner
You are responsible for your own transportation (we'll work out the dates). Bring your laptop and your imagination.** We'll provide the rest!
 
* Here's the thing about the food. I've published a cookbook and taken a class at the Culinary Institute of America. I promise: the meals I provide will knock your socks off. But say you wanted to go out to lunch instead (on your own dime). Really good restaurants are within a few minutes of our house, like Din Tai Fung, named one of the World's Best Restaurants. 
** You don't have to be a writer to claim this perk. Instead, you could bring your significant other for a relaxing break. If you're a hiker, you should know that there are amazing hiking trails literally around the corner from us (and I can pack you a box lunch in that case). Take our boogie boards to the beach, 45 minutes away. Or go to Disneyland. Pasadena boasts great museums and amazing gardens. And, you know, there's L.A. Seriously: so much to do and see. You'll love it here.
Thursday
Apr172014

Altered Perceptions


Escaping Criticism, Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874

I've mentioned before that I have an anxiety/depressive disorder. I cope. A lot of the time, I'm fine. Most of the time, I can get through my days regardless. I'm very lucky.

But it's always there, like a scar that never really fades, and that once in a while swells up, gets ugly, and causes problems.

And maybe like attracts like, because I know a lot of people who struggle with mental illness in one form or another. Since you're reading this, you probably know someone who struggles, too. 

Which is why I'm thrilled to tell you about a new project I'm involved in. I was recently invited to contribute to Altered Perceptions, an anthology that SF giants Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson are organizing to benefit writers with mental illness in general and the über-awesome Robison Wells in particular. 

The anthology will consist of:

Ally Condie, Foreword

Dan Wells, Introduction

Annette Lyon, An unpublished chapter from her retelling of the Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala

Brandon Mull, Deleted scenes from Beyonders 2
Brandon Sanderson, Five completely rewritten chapters from The Way of Kings, in which Kaladin makes the opposite choice of what he makes in the published novel
Bree Despain, An alternate ending to The Lost Saint and an alternate beginning to the Shadow Prince
Brodi Ashton, The first chapter from her YA novel about an alien who has to rescue the boy she loves
Claudia Gray, A deleted scene from A Thousand Pieces of You
Dan Wells, The original John Cleaver free write
Erin Bowman, A deleted scene from Taken
Howard Tayler, A creative non-fiction story about life with mental illness
J Scott Savage, Three original chapters that led to writing Farworld
Jennifer Moore, A deleted scene from Becoming Lady Lockwood
Jessica Day George, A deleted scene from Princess of Glass, in which the main character plays poker with a witch
Josi Kilpack, The original opening scene to Tres Leches Cupcake
Kiersten White, An original short story set in a dystopian world
Larry Correia, A deleted fight scene from Swords of Exodus
Lauren Oliver, Two deleted scenes from Pandemonium, plus a hilarious scene about the plotting process
Luisa Perkins (ME!) A short story called  “Seeing Red," a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood"
Mary Robinette Kowal, A deleted scene from Valor and Vanity 
Nancy Allen, Bonus scene from Beauty and the Clockwork Beast
Robison Wells, An epilogue to the Feedback and Variant duology
Sandra Tayler, Creative non-fiction, “Married To Depression”
Sara Zarr, A story featuring characters from one of Sara’s previously published novels
Sarah Eden, “Farewells” for Longing For Hope and Hope Springs
Seanan McGuire, The original opening for Discount Armageddon
Shannon Hale, "Ravenous," a previously unpublished scifi short story
SJ Kincaid, The original first chapter of Vortex, before it was entirely rewritten

 

Do you notice any familiar names? Like, at least NINE New York Times bestsellers? And a bunch of Hugo winners, yeah? These are amazing, generous, talented people, and I'm over the moon at the opportunity to have my work included with theirs--especially in support of such an excellent cause. 

This anthology will be seriously GOOD. I can't wait to get my copy! The IndieGoGo fundraiser will go live next Monday, so look for more information coming soon!

Tuesday
Mar112014

New Podcast!

Annette Lyon and I have started a new podcast devoted to making the grammar, usage, and mechanics of American English fun and understandable. Here's our first episode, and here's the blog!

Thursday
Feb062014

You people are AWESOME.

I'm delighted to announce the winners of the giveaway to benefit Rob Wells, but before I do that, I want to thank each and every one of you. You are fantastic.

You all spread the news. Some of you gave cash. Others bought books. Some didn't have any money to give, but put the word out anyway. Many of you donated lovely incentives to encourage even more widespread giving.

Every bit of your generous efforts helped. You have made a huge difference in one family's life.

I won't disclose a number, but know this. You have helped keep the wolf from the door. Rob's ever-stalwart wife Erin can put groceries in the fridge with a lighter heart. Rob's kids can sense an ease in the stress level of their parents. And Rob has had a lifting of the mind-numbing financial anxiety that is absolute poison to creativity.

You did all that, and I hope you feel in your hearts the warm glow of satisfaction that comes from helping a brother in need. Thank you.

So let's move on to the warm glow of anticipation! Thanks to RANDOM.org, I came up with the following:

The $50 Amazon gift certificate goes to Krystle Perkins!

The goodie box from me, including my books and chocolate, goes to Maizie Arroyo!

The signed Sarah M. Eden two-book set goes to Shannon C.!

The hand-covered journal OR query critique from C. Michelle Jeffries goes to Cindy Mackert!

The signed Annette Lyon books go to Rebecca Lamoreaux!

The first chapter and query critique by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg goes to Braden Bell!

The signed C.J. Hill books go to Peggy Allred!

The book submission package critique by Shallee McArthur goes to Jennifer K. Clark!

The signed Dan Wells book goes to Julie Frost!

The signed Heather Moore book goes to LuAnn Staheli!

The signed Christy Dorrity book goes to Shelly Brown!

The signed Stephanie Black books go to Kathy (Scout 917)!

The signed book and 10-page critique/edit from LuAnn Staheli go to RuthAnne Snow!

The Michelle Beauchesne CDs go to Chris Todd Miller!

The Braden Bell trilogy goes to Dave Stanworth!

The naming rights to a J. Scott Savage character go to PGW/@hataroni/Zennerd!

The critique and novel by Chris Todd Miller go to Margot Hovley!

The Redbox gift card and novel by Danyelle Ferguson go to Laramyn!

The Julie Daines book goes to Luisa Johnston!

AND the signed Brandon Sanderson book goes to Cindy Fisher!

Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks again! I KNEW you would do me proud. 

IMPORTANT prize delivery logistics: If you already input an email address when you left a comment on this blog, I will pass it on to the person who donated the prize, and he or she will email you for delivery information. If you did NOT leave me an email address (or did not email me privately), PLEASE email me at

luisaperkins at gmail dot com

with your contact information! If I don't hear from you soon, I'll do another drawing and give the prize to someone else. Thanks!