Saturday, December 10, 2005

Trip Report

Now that I've had some sleep and some quality time with my sofa, I'm beginning to feel human again, so it's time for a trip report.

First, the results of the "stay up all night before the early-morning flight" experiment: I think it was a success. I was rather tired, but not in a way that really caused problems, and I was much less stressed and frantic than I've been in the past when rushing to get to the airport early in the morning after having a hard time getting out of bed that early. In spite of having all night, I was actually later leaving the house than I'd planned. Not late as in chasing the departing plane down the runway, but just later than planned and with not everything done that I'd hoped to accomplish. Even so, I was too early. I have learned that no matter how early your flight is, there's very little point in getting to the airport before 4:30 because that's when they actually open.

So, for the trip itself. I won't get into too many specifics because I was researching book 3 and most of you haven't read book 2 yet, so I don't want to risk accidental spoilers. I will say that the holiday season in New York really is magical. There was snow -- just enough to make things pretty, but with the streets and sidewalks clear so there were no piles of yucky gray snow around. I had no concept before this trip of just how elaborate the department store window displays were. I'd pictured maybe some figures and mannequins with lights. Instead, I got Disneyland -- with animation, art and even a musical soundtrack. For what it's worth, I was most impressed with the Saks "modern fairytale" (possibly because the heroine had long, curly brown hair) and with Lord and Taylor's fairytale windows.

The other thing I enjoyed was the Christmas markets all over the city. They reminded me of the Christkindlesmarkts in Germany, right down to the red-and-white-striped awnings on the booths. Alas, the wares were different, and there wasn't a Lebkuchen to be had (I'll have to hit a World Market to satisfy that longing). Still, it was quite festive to wander through the huge market at Union Square while sipping hot cider with real apples in it that I'd bought at the greenmarket.

Oddly enough, I didn't end up buying much of anything while I was in New York. I wasn't really in a shopping mood, and I was a bit overwhelmed by all the choices. It was almost too much to take in and process so I could decide what I wanted, and then there was the issue of getting it back home, considering how crowded my suitcase was already. I just wandered through stores and markets to soak up the atmosphere. The only things I bought were a postcard and a couple of tops. I bought the tops at H&M mostly because I needed a dressing room. I could feel a blister forming on my heel from too much walking, and I had some blister bandages in my purse, but I was wearing tights under my jeans for warmth, so I had to pretty much undress completely to get the bandage on. So I went into a store that we don't have in Dallas that has reasonably priced things, took some things into the dressing room, then promptly peeled off my jeans and tights to put on the bandages. Then I tried on the tops and bought them. They did have the black trumpet skirt I've been looking for, but not in my size, of course (I think it was a little longer than I wanted, anyway).

I've often found that when I write about a place before visiting it, the actual location once I go there is eerily similar to what I'd imagined. This time, that wasn't the case. I took the train up the Hudson to visit Irvington, a town that I've been planning to use as the basis for an imaginary town in the book. Given the history of the general area, I guess I'd imagined something Colonial, like you might see in Massachusetts or Connecticut, but this town was more Victorian. The main street in that town could have been the high street in an English village, and the effect was quite Dickensian. I'm going to have to adjust my mental image, but I think the reality actually fits the story better and will be more fun to play with than what I'd imagined.

While I was wandering the town, I also discovered that the home of Washington Irving was right there, so I tromped down the road to get there, only to find that it's closed on Tuesdays, the day I was there. But they didn't have a gate on the exit road, so I wandered in. The grounds were covered in snow, which was gorgeous. I think that house would be my ideal -- it's got a great view and is quiet and a little isolated, but it's got a town around it (one with a good library), and then it's a 45 minute train ride into a big city. Unfortunately, I don't think it's for rent or sale, and if it was, I couldn't afford it. I hope to make another trip out there to actually go into the house next time. My editor's husband is a weekend guide there, so she said she'd try to set something up for me. She also had all sorts of fun info on Washington Irving, which I find interesting, as I'm from Irving, Texas, and we do a lot of Washington Irving stuff here. Plus, the neighborhood where most of my characters live is around Irving Place in New York City, so I've got this whole Irving connection going on. I'd love to explore the Hudson valley, in general. I've always been a fan of the Hudson River School of art, and there were places that still looked just like those paintings. But maybe when I do that it won't be in the snow.

Wednesday was my publishing business day. I met with my editor, agent and the Ballantine publicity team to brainstorm some promotional ideas for this next book, then had lunch with my editor and agent. I also did a little "shopping" for books on the Ballantine shelves, picking up the new Flinx book by Alan Dean Foster, the most recent Sarah Bird book (that I can't believe I haven't read yet) and a few galleys for upcoming books. That evening, I had cocktails with my agent at the Algonquin Hotel (how very literary of us), and then met up with a group of writer friends who were also in town that week for dinner.

So you can kind of see why I might have come home a little tired -- and I didn't even tell everything I did. As usual with these trips, I left more than ready to be home, but still wishing I'd had the chance to do more. I did get to go to one old favorite restaurant, but there were some other favorite places I didn't manage to get to. On the other hand, I found a new (to me) restaurant near my usual hotel to enjoy, a lovely Italian restaurant, complete with charming Italian waiters who know how to make a girl feel special (and with really yummy food). I usually end these trips already mentally planning my agenda for the next trip, but I don't know when that will be.

On the plane on the way home, I did a big outline incorporating my location research info into the parts I've written and then outlining the next few chapters, so I'll buckle down to work on Monday. In the meantime, I'd like to try to get my house in reasonable order and maybe my Christmas decorations up. Plus, I've got a caroling party Sunday afternoon.

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