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I write novels for teens and adults. Visit me here & on my website http://www.jenniferarcher.net

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Writing on the Road: Seattle

The new picture of the sailboat gracing the top of my blog was made during my trip to Seattle at the end of May. I’ve had a bad case of the travel bug all of my life. Luckily, I married a man with the same affliction! Since we’ve been together, we’ve traveled as often as work, children, and finances allowed us to. Lately though, with one of our sons out of college and the second soon to follow, we’ve been going off to explore new places and old favorites more often than ever before.

One of the great things about being a writer is that I can work from anywhere. Even so, sometimes I put the writing aside and allow myself a total vacation. Everyone needs time off to revitalize. But I’ve learned that I can’t do that every trip – especially when I have looming deadlines – or as much as I enjoy the excursion , the work will always be at the back of my mind, poking at me, reminding me it needs to be done, and I’ll get a little grumpy. I used to worry that family and friends traveling with me would think I’m strange if I shut myself away a few hours a day to scribble in my notebook or type on my laptop. But after a lot of years spent writing books, I’ve learned that most “normal” people (a.k.a. “nonwriters) think writers are a bit strange, anyway. Better to be strange and happy than strange and irritable! They undoubtedly enjoy my company more – and I know I enjoy them more, as well as the vacation – if I squeeze in some writing time before the play. If I just get up a little early while everyone else is still sleeping and spend those first hours of the morning with my characters, I’m a happy girl the rest of the day!

My oldest son moved to Seattle in January of this year, and my husband and I were thrilled about that. Seattle has been on our “want to explore” list for a very long time. We weren’t disappointed. I loved everything about Seattle! The laid-back, casual atmosphere, the water, the vibrant neighborhoods, the seafood, the houseboats.

Our friend Dane took us on our first sailing excursion on his beautiful boat.
We drove our son’s car onto a ferry and went across to Bainbridge Island then drove part-way around the Olympic Peninsula one day, went to Pikes Market the next, and a smaller fish market, two farmer’s markets and a street market in the following days.

I especially liked how Seattle is made up of different neighborhoods that are like small towns within the city itself – each neighborhood having its own vibe, as well as its own shops, restaurants, grocery stores, etc., within easy walking distance of its housing area.
I enjoy “walking cities.” I miss that in my own town. Where I live, if you see someone walking along busy streets, you figure that their car must have broken down!

I was happy to see many small, independent and specialty bookstores still in business in the neighborhoods of Seattle. In this economy, when even the giant chains are hurting, I hope that these small stores can hang in there and survive. That’s another thing I miss in my own hometown – independent and specialty bookstores. It seems that, like newspapers, they are too quickly becoming an anachronism in more and more places.

I came home from Seattle with great pictures, great memories provided by my son and his friends, and some beautiful jewelry I bought at a street market in the funky Fremont neighborhood.

My Acholi Bead bracelet and earrings were made out of recycled paper by women from the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda. After Africa’s longest running war forced them to flee their homes, these women are rebuilding their lives and taking care of their families by creating these pretty,unique, and reasonably priced pieces of jewelry. Read more about these women and Acholi Beads here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Oasis of the Panhandle

I’ve been away for a while, having some of those new experiences I promised myself I’d have way back at the beginning of the year. I’ll start by telling you about my visit to Canadian, Texas last month to research life in a small Texas Panhandle town for my Young Adult novel-in-progress. My friend, writer Linda Castillo was nice enough to make the drive with me and we spent the day exploring the town and surrounding area.

Canadian is located in the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle, slightly more than a 2 hour drive from Amarillo and only about an hour’s drive from Pampa, where I lived for 6 years, from the time I was in the 5th grade through my sophomore year of high school. During all that time, I never ventured north to the “oasis of the Panhandle,” and my recent visit took me by surprise; the town truly is an oasis in the corner of this flat, parched land I call home. Whereas the bed of the Canadian River branch that runs through my area of the Panhandle is usually cracked and dry, water flowed in abundance beneath Canadian’s “River Wagon Bridge.” And in striking contrast to the flat, treeless, almost desert-like plains surrounding Amarillo, our drive through Canadian’s countryside took us over rolling green hills and into valleys graced by swaying cottonwood trees.

Upon arriving in town, we stopped by the Visitor’s Center where two very nice ladies loaded us up with information about must-see places. Then we drove through quiet neighborhoods lined with stately historical houses, following the giant cat paws painted on the streets to the Canadian Wildcat’s football stadium. (Any book about high school students in small town Texas without football in it, is a book written by someone who doesn’t know what Texans are all about!)

Soon we ventured back to Main with its old-fashioned street lights. (Which I learned are brand new.) We parked the car then browsed the quaint shops and antique stores. The staff at the Canadian Record, the town’s award-winning newspaper, gave us a tour of their offices and were nice enough to take me in back to see the old retired printing press that the paper used decades ago.

After leaving the paper, my growling stomach led us to the City Drug Soda Fountain where we ate lunch. Entering the fully restored soda fountain with its black and white checkerboard floor, round red bar stools and cozy booths is like stepping back into an episode of Happy Days. I had a really tough time choosing between the many sandwiches, salads, soups and quiches on the menu, but in the end the quiche won out. The food was tasty -- even though the menu board is beneath an old pharmacy sign that reads LAXATIVES. (Luckily, the quiche did not have that effect.)

After the oil and gas boom ended in 1985, Canadian’s economy suffered and the town began to shrink. The Canadian River Valley’s abundant wildlife and outdoor resources saved the day. Ecotourism is now Canadian’s main business industry and has brought new jobs to town. According to an article entitled A Success Story From Canadian Texas – But It Can Happen Anywhere on the website Fermata: The Business of Nature “Canadian has a wildlife co-op that books trips for nature tourists to see prairie-chickens and to immerse themselves in a cowboy culture for a few days. The profits from the tours are split fairly among restaurants, B&Bs and ranchers. A $250,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant funds biologists to help ranchers make habitat improvements for Lesser Prairie-Chickens and other prairie wildlife.”

Since we didn't have time for a formal nature trip, Linda and I checked out much of the flora and fauna Canadian has to offer (as well as some very interesting graffiti on the adjacent railroad track retaining wall)from the River Wagon Bridge I mentioned above. It's located two miles north of town on highway 60. (And it’s free!) This amazing 3,255 foot steel bridge with wood plank flooring was completed in 1916 and is now a part of a trail for hikers and bikers that crosses over the Canadian River. With its impressive length and arched-back trusses, the bridge is a truly striking sight . . . and a little eerie. After walking across it, I had a feeling a fictional version of it would work its way into my story. And I was right – it already has! Eerie = good when you’re writing a ghost story.

Then it was back to the City Drug Soda Fountain, where I was forced to make the tough decision of whether I should have an old-fashioned ice cream soda, root beer float, or homemade pie. The coconut pie won and it was sinfully delicious. I figured I walked off the calories, so what the heck?

The day in Canadian was so interesting and fun, and the residents were so welcoming and friendly that I hope to make a trip back next October for their annual Fall Foliage Festival Arts & Crafts show. I’ve heard the drive is beautiful with the leaves changing color, and that the event is a lot of fun.

This research trip, along with my earlier one to Panhandle, Texas has really helped bring my novel's fictional town of Cedar Canyon to life in my mind. Cedar Canyon has become a unique mix of those two towns, with a heavy dose of my own imagination tossed in.

I've only touched on a small segment of what Canadian has to offer. For example, the old Palace Theatre on Main, like the City Drug Soda Fountain, has been restored to its glory days, and current movies are shown there. If you’d like to know more about the town check out their website

Next post--My recent trip to Seattle.

Happy Reading,


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