Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Snark's Eye View From the Mountains of Japan

--Susan, every other Sunday

As by now I'm sure you're all aware, I'm spending the next few months in Japan, attempting to become the first American woman over 45 to climb the Nihon Hyakumeizan in a single year--as well as the first cancer survivor to climb them within a year after finishing cancer treatment (chemotherapy).

On the summit of Mount Bandai. (A mile high, but you'll have to take my word for it.)

But this journey has quickly become about far more than merely tagging peaks and adding notches to a climbing belt. (Spoiler alert: I always knew it would, and intended it to.) My climbing notes often wax philosophical -- sometimes, downright "woo-woo" -- and yet, I think it's impossible to undertake a project of this magnitude without a great deal of internal dialogue and growth.

I WILL BECOME A BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY. (Or perhaps a moth . . .)

Or, if you did, I think you'd cheapen the journey and deprive yourself of a critical aspect of the journey. As every writer knows, the protagonist's internal arc is actually more important than the physical one (s)he undertakes--and that's true in life as well as in fiction.

However, it's also true that wherever I am, my herd of snarks is never far behind--and since I'm not revealing the bigger side of the lessons learned until I know for myself what those lessons really are, you're going to have to live with reports from the snarky side.

Tell me there's something NOT snarky to say about a display like this . . .

Let's be honest . . . the snarks are more fun anyway.

So here's the snark-cap of my travels since last we met here at MIE:

I have summited five more hyakumeizan--Mounts Nasu, Bandai, Ibuki, Omine, and Odaigahara--bringing my total climbs to 11. (And I'll be climbing number twelve by the time you read this blog.)

Technically, I didn't actually climb Mount Omine, since apparently the world will end if women cross the Great Seal at the base of the mountain--but I took my photo at the highest marker I was allowed to reach, and since that marker lies at the base of the mountain, I'm proud to say I reached the summit in record time.

(Non) Summit Photo, Mount Omine

On Ibuki, I learned that climbing mountains in the rain is a horrible idea--and that hiking through abandoned ski resorts has all the makings of an excellent horror film.

I see no way this could possibly go wrong.

On Bandai-san, I discovered something that moves even slower than I do on the trail (though not by much).

The only other hiker I outpaced on the way to the summit.

I also acquired a new, and louder, bear bell (the third bell on my pack, in case you're counting), so I can jingle up a storm with all the Japanese hikers on the mountain trails.

Chausu-dake, the active volcanic cone on Mount Nasu, taught me that volcanic gases are so nice, you smell them twice: the first time when you hike up the mountain, and the second time about twelve hours later, when you use the bathroom at your hotel.

Yay! A live volcano! (And yes, I hiked all the way to the top)

Fun fact: it smells exactly the same coming out as it did going in. (Which, I'm well aware, is more information than you needed, but now you know--and knowing is half the battle.)

Omine taught me that if you don't let women on the mountain, they'll have time to hike a beautiful gorge,

The cataracts at Mitarai Gorge


ride a monorail, visit limestone caves,

Breathtaking limestone formations in Dorogawa

cross giant suspension bridges,

One of at least half a dozen I crossed while hiking Mitarai Gorge. They wobble quite reassuringly underfoot.

and clock a 29,000 step hiking day--all the while having far more fun than the men standing naked under waterfalls on the mountain.

Respectfully submitted in place of the missing photo of naked priests beneath a waterfall.

In other words: NEENER. (Despite the law degree--or perhaps because of it--maturity has never been my strong suit.)

And Odaigahara taught me to recognize poop.

Actual sign on the summit plateau, Mount Odaigahara.

Because Japan.

(It also showed me some breathtaking vistas, which probably is more in tune with what you'd like to see - so I'll drop a photograph of that instead of something more scatalogically-oriented.)

The view from Daijagura, an outcropping on Mount Odaigahara.

Today I traveled to Nagano Prefecture, in preparation for tomorrow's planned ascent of Kurumadake. I visited an ancient shrine, watched the sun set over a gorgeous lake, and drank dragon spit--as you do, when the opportunity presents itself.

Sacred dragon drool for the win. Delicious!

As you can tell, there's plenty to snark about on this adventure--as well as enough to marvel at, admire, and learn from that it's likely to take a lifetime to fully process. One thing is already clear, however--the choice to pursue my dreams today, instead of waiting for a "someday" that might never come was the right decision for me, and it's the right decision for you as well. Whatever it is you're burning to do, find a way to do it now.

The mighty (and sacred) Tenkawa River, Mitarai Gorge, Nara Prefecture

And don't forget to let the snarks out for some exercise along the way. Traveling is much more fun with their running commentary by your side.





Saturday, June 23, 2018

I've Launched a New Career







Jeff—Saturday


I’ve always thought of “launch” as such an imprecise term. After all, leaving the pad doesn’t mean you’ll make it into orbit.  That’s particularly likely to prove problematic with the career I’m talking about.

Or rather not talking about, for on top of everything else, the event that has me writing this post is confidential, more precisely Mykonos Confidential.

Into its thirteenth year of publication, Mykonos Confidential is the often imitated, but never equaled, summertime bible of the passions, pastimes, and peccadillos of a place like no other. 

This year, as in the past, its publisher, Petros Bourovilis, invited me to contribute an article to the issue. It’s always a great pleasure and honor to be part of MC, and so I of course accepted.

But this year Petros didn’t stop there. And here comes the confidential part. DRUM ROLL, PLEASE. He asked me to participate in what has become a core part of the magazine…its fashion shoot on island locations.  Yes, you read that correctly. I was asked to model for a magazine, and not MAD.





Whatever possessed him, I do not know, but I shall await the results (and editorializing) to see how it all comes out—and how much of my “work” makes it into print.  Though I cannot share any of the shots, or give away the theme, I do have a few photos of my colleagues at work. 


We shot for three days on beaches in Mykonos and its environs, and had a blast. The people were great, the laughs many, and my role as the senior model (by multiples over the ages of the professional Russian, Swedish, and Italian-Brazilian models) did not dampen my fun in the least. I guess that comes from being used to younger souls offering me their seats on the NYC subway.

And I learned so much from them too. For example, how many of you know what’s a “Boomerang shot?” Okay, let’s amend that to how many of you over thirty.

Well, enough of the chit-chat. Here’s some photos of my last three days away from the keyboard.  I can’t wait to see the finished product. Nor though, can I wait to get back into writing Kaldis #10.  But I’m returning with a new vigor toward that project, and a bandbox of grand new ideas for Kaldis and crew from this experience.


Plus, another bucket list accomplishment marked off the list.  I’m a fashion model! Of sorts.










All I can say is, thank you, Petros, Stefanos, Thanasis, Marios, Iris, Angeliki, Eva, Maya, Daria, Lucas, Michele, Dana, Ari, and Panos for great fun and introducing me to your world.

Can’t wait to see my tear sheets.

—Jeff

Friday, June 22, 2018

Hunting for inspiration.




I recall a few weeks ago that I was writing about being at a cross roads in life and career,  and people wanting this and that, and me having no idea what was going on. Well the universe has stepped in, working its magic in mysterious ways. 

So my car failed its MOT spectacularly- seemingly headlights are not supposed to be under water, and I had a huge split in my crank/drive/prop shaft. Some thing technical anyway. Cost of repair £1200. 
Value of car £104.
Cost of car when I bought it as a stopgap 9 years ago...£1000.

So no complaints really.

Buying the new one was more complex- nobody has any new cars for sale if you want them sometime before 2025. I found some money I didn’t know I had. So I bought a nice second hand one. Got home ..that same day… to a letter from the accountants to say 'We were right, the tax man was wrong and we do owe him the extra funds.'

 So THAT’S what that money was doing there.

Well I have the car so the revenue can go and raffle.

And I got a very nice green light for the next two books. The first of those is a standalone ( why did I agree to this Stan? Michael? They are hard to write!)

I needed to find the exact location of the house where it all takes place, and ever hopeful of a film deal I wanted it to be at the top of the Holy Loch. The Holy Loch sounds good doesn’t it, for a place of evil in a beautiful setting.

So today we set out in the new car, in search of the ‘three lochs’. It turns out there is a drive now ( like the 500) called the Three Sea lochs. Basically as the Clyde turns right (?) from the ocean to head into Glasgow, it feeds three fingers of water at that point ( and another 13 lochs elsewhere) ; the Gare Loch, Loch Long and the Holy Loch.

Sounds lovely, but they are very deep and very protected by the geography of the area. So this is the place where the UKs only nuclear submarines park up. The Holy Loch used to be the home of the US naval base but they have gone, leaving a lot of broken hearts, kids with no dads and strange boxy housing schemes in the middle of no where.

The economic deprivation since they have left has been some of the worst in the UK.

On a happier note, here  are some pics of what I found.


First stop Helensburgh.  The three fingers are laid out on the opposite side and it is a very long way round.( In Scottish terms, not American scale. It's not Texas!)

This fence goes on for mile after mile. I did catch sight of a football pitch behind it.
You can guess what it protects.

Ahhh, the Gare Loch itself.
(All pics taken  from the drivers seat of a car going at 40 mph)


Head of the Gare Loch- top of the first finger.

And now the road heads inland, missing out the second fingertip. This is Glen Croe and the infamous Rest and Be Thankful road which features  in The Night Hunter.

Still trying to repair the rock fall that happened in The Night Hunter

A wee  Marle Sheltie. Cute but nippy.
There is a famous Botanical garden up here, something to do with the rainfall and warm air coming up the water.
This huge garden is right at the top of the Holy Loch  ( the third wee stumpy loch) and is about 80 miles into the drive. What a fascinating place, but more about that later. I'm looking for ideas and inspiration for 'Megan and Carla' who both grow up at the head of the loch, in a big house and I need a river or a pond to set on fire. As you do!


This could be an ornamental pond near 'The Italian House' but not big enough for my evil purposes.

A sign from above. Attempted murder !!

I could give the family this summerhouse for 'Sound Of Music' type assignations. 

Ohhh, I so wanted this to work as 'The Italian House', it's a youth activity centre within the Botannics.

But the lower part of the house looks better, this suits my plot.

And I can use this in a later book. It's very Heathcliff/ Katherine.

My characters have a park in front of the house where the grass rolls down to a 'watery thing' but the water cannot be fast flowing. I will give them a few trees like this to add atmosphere.

Imagine looking out this window and witnessing a murder!

The northern tip of the Holy Loch... all very sandy and not suiting my purpose at all.
Then I found this flowing into it.....  BINGO!!


Time for Ice Cream and the ferry home.
Far too tired to write anything!
Word count of new novel. zero.

Caro Ramsay 22 06 2018