Monday, August 25, 2008

Life--and Death--on the Mighty Merrimack

I've lived along the Merrimack River my entire life, and I've always had a healthy respect for its powerful currents and tempermental tides. We've been flooded twice, and evacuted once due to dangerously high flood waters, but thankfully we've never sustained any serious or permanent damage. Call us crazy, but we love it here. When I look out the back windows of my house, I see the long sweep of the river as it curves toward Haverhill, and we're fortunate enough to live along a section of river that has no buildings, so the opposite shore is just an endless stretch of nature. Every day brings something new; herons, cormorants, the occasional bald eagle, and once we even saw a harbor seal. We can step out our back door, walk out onto our dock and be on our boat in less than a minute. We've navigated those waters more times than I could possible count.

Here is a picture of the Merrimack River from a vantage point at Maudsley State Park in Newburyport. This will give you a sense of how wide the river can be in places. At times it feels more like an enormous lake than a river, but when the tides change you can feel the powerful pull of the currents.

Every year, it seems, we hear a story of how somebody drowned in the river. It's usually the result of risky behavior or a senseless accident; the man who fell off his dock after a few too many drinks, or the man who foolishly thought he could swim out to his mooring, not realizing the current was much too strong.

Eleven years ago, an intensive search of the river and its miles of shoreline was undertaken, as the police looked for the body of a young woman. Her boyfriend had apparently bound her with duct tape and tossed her into the frigid waters of the Merrimack, about ten miles upriver from where we live, in January. About six months later, our neighbors were dragging the bottom of the river with a grappling hook, trying to locate their mooring line when they encountered something heavy and pliable, tangled in their line. They managed to free whatever it was, but were unsuccessful in wresting it to the surface. The next morning, the body of the young woman was discovered washed up beneath the docks just across the river. There's no doubt in our minds that the "something" our neighbors encountered while searching for their mooring line was, in fact, this young woman's body. So while the sun sparkles on the water's surface, making the river look beautiful and serene, you never know what lies beneath. And you never expect that the next person to make such a tragic discovery could be yourself.

Today, John and I decided to take the boat out to a sandbar near the mouth. I love boating on Mondays because all of the pinheads and weekend boaters are gone. There is virtually nobody on the water and we have the entire river to ourselves. We had the boat on open-throttle as we neared the Rocks Village Bridge, when John shouted that he thought he saw somebody lying on the shore. Understand that this is not a river that is sunbather-friendly, and this particular stretch of riverbank is heavily forested and only accessible by boat, so it would be very odd to see somebody just lounging on the shore. So we turned around and trolled back the way we had come. As we drew closer to shore I could definitely make out something amongst the river grasses.

The tide was beginning to go out, and there, on the shallow beach was...a cow? I couldn't tell...I could only make out a broad strip of white, bracketed on either side by a strip of black. But as John brought the boat in closer, I saw it was the body of a man, lying on his side facing the water. The white strip was his torso, exposed by his black T-shirt where it had ridden up under his armpits, and beneath his belly, his black shorts. His head and face were covered in river mud and weeds, but it was his arm that struck me. Rigor mortis had set in, and his arm and hand were cocked at an angle that made it appear he was beckoning. To be saved. To be found. To be brought home.

We called 911 and the harbor patrol sent a boat and three officers, and we waited while they brought the coroner in by boat, too, until they finally told us we could go. By then, I had no desire to go to the boaters' beach, so we headed to Newburyport and had a couple of drinks at Michael's Harborside instead. I can't get the image of that slender, white hand out of my head. Who was he? How did he end up where we found him? Had he been missed prior to our discovery of him? We frequently see groups of exuberent young men, screaming past in their powerful cigarette boats, whooping and laughing and not giving a care for their own safety or that of other boaters. Had he fallen off of such a boat? Maybe we'll find out, if they run a story in the paper. Maybe we won't. But I'll go to bed tonight thankful that my own kids are safe in their beds, with my thoughts and prayers going out to the family of the poor guy we found today.

Friday, August 8, 2008

More Pics from San Francisco

I found my camera download cable, so can finally share some more pictures from San Francisco with you. On the last day of the conference, we ventured down to Fisherman's Wharf. It was surprisingly chilly, and there was a brisk wind. It actually felt like autumn.

Here are Jessica and Cathryn and myself at the entrance to the wharf:It was incredibly crowded, with all sorts of smells from the nearby food vendors and restaurants, but I stopped to admire this gorgeous fruit stand:The proprietor was a lot nicer than the guys who man the fruit stands at Haymarket in Boston! I've seen women get their hands slapped for handling the produce there. We meandered our way to the water where we could see Alcatraz in the distance. The day was hazy, so the pictures didn't come out very clear. The water in the bay was very rough and choppy, not unlike a washing machine. Alcatraz is that blurry lump in the background.

We saw the famous San Francisco sea lions. They're so glossy and sleek when they first come out of the water, but after lounging around on the docks, their fur dries to a reddish-brown color. They reminded me of truffles rolled in cocoa powder! Okay, maybe that's just me...I frequently have chocolate on my mind. Here are Jessica, Cathryn and Nina in front of the carousel.

We took a streetcar from the hotel to the wharf, but opted for a taxi for the return trip. We didn't want to completely miss the Golden Heart and RITA awards. Here's a picture of the ceremony when they announced Samantha Hunter's book, Untouched, as a RITA finalist! Yay, Sam!
And for my husband, the boat-guy, here is a picture of San Francisco bay:

This year, the west coast. Next year, the Capitol!!

Monday, August 4, 2008

All About Gerard

I'm home today, recuperating from the conference and totally energized to start working on my fourth book for Harlequin Blaze; I have a Sep 30th deadline, so working on this manuscript isn't just a good thing to do, it's like an imperative. The book will be released in Nov 09 as part of a mini-series with the following authors: Samantha Hunter, Tawny Weber, and Lisa Marie Jones. And since my story is a self-indulgent fantasy based loosely on Gerard Butler, I thought I would just dish about him today to sort of get me in the right frame of mind... This picture, above, must have been taken during his 300 days, as he's sporting the beard and the six-pack. Isn't he gorgeous?

And here he is, showing off his very big, um, sword. I can't imagine anyone more suited to a kilt than Gerry.

This picture, below, is one of my all-time favorites. He could be a cop or a bad boy in this pic, but he definitely looks commanding. Personally, I love his hair short.
Or long! Here he is when he filmed the television mini-series, Attila:
Here's a close-up. I don't think I've ever seen a picture of him where he's completely clean-shaven. He always sports a little bit of scruff. I like his laugh lines.
And what's not to love about this picture, below?
Okay, now that I've had my Gerry-fix, I can sit down and begin writing. Have a Gerry-licous day, everyone! Um, just one more picture...
Alright, now I'm good!! Have a great day!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Please Turn Off All Personal Electronic Devices...

I made it safely home from San Francisco, but I am completely exhausted. I was hoping to download my last set of photos from the conference and from our brief foray yesterday afternoon to Fisherman's Wharf, but discovered I left my camera download cable back in the hotel room. This doesn't come as a huge surprise; I'm on my third (or is it my fourth?) download cable.

On my Cincinnati-Boston leg of the trip, we were a little late departing the gate, but the pilot thought we might still arrive ahead of schedule due to some strong tail winds. I had asked my husband to pick me up at 6 pm, but after a quick calculation realized I'd actually arrive closer to 5 pm. So I really wanted to call him and ask him to come earlier than we'd planned, but the airline attendant had already given her "Please turn off all personal electronic devices" speech. So as we were being pushed back from the gate, I pulled my cell phone out and turned it on. I really, really wanted to send John a text message to pick me up an hour earlier, but the man in the seat next to me shot me a disapproving look and then snapped his newspaper, and I found myself hesitating.
What would happen if I chose to use my cell phone after we'd all been told not to? Would the cell phone signal really interfere with the pilot's ability to fly the plane? Or the radio control tower's ability to monitor outgoing and incoming flights? Could my piddling little cell phone call result in an air disaster of catastrophic proportions? I shifted in my seat to hide the fact that I was going to make the call anyway. Or at least send a text message to John. But as I pulled up a blank message screen, and prepared to enter my text message, I hesitated yet again. I rememered the tag attached to my pillow when I was a kid..."Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law" or something like that. It may have even read, "Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Death."
There was no way I was removing that tag. And as I slid the phone closed, I realized there was no way I was making that call, either. I couldn't do it. I was too afraid that if I made that call, this is what would be waiting for me once I reached Boston:
As it turns out, we ran into some nasty weather and were put into a holding pattern over Rhode Island for forty minutes until Boston cleared us to land, and I actually arrived in Boston fifteen minutes later than we'd planned.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Harlequin Party

Held at the San Francisco Four Seasons Hotel...I knew we were in for a good time when I saw the doors to the ballroom were flanked by white tuxedoed waiters handing out signature martinis called a Grape Fog...a combination of vodka, chardonnay, and something else, with a grape sitting at the bottom of the glass. Surprisingly, it wasn't bad!

The ballroom was enormous, awash with soft pink lighting. In the center of the room was a the bar (open), and overhead was an enormous pink sculpture of the Golden Gate Bridge. Each corner of the ballroom had been designated as an area of San Franciso...the corner where they set up the enormous chocolate fountain and the fondue buffet was named Ghirardelli Square. They also had food buffets in two other corners that looked amazing, but I didn't eat anything. There was a cute DeeJay and a good-sized dance floor. We were some of the first to arrive, so I was able to take some pictures of the ballroom before it became too crowed.
There were these pretty trees scattered around the ballroom, surrounded by padded benches. I heard (the next day) that the dancers actually felled some of these trees in their dancing exuberance. I walked over to the party with Holly Jacobs and Nancy Warren, each of whom received a Harlequin award for having written more than 25 books. Here is Nancy, wearing a pretty green dress (although it looks more yellow in this picture)...

Here's another picture of the bar, and you can make out the bridge structure above. This is still early...within an hour, however, the ballroom was packed so tightly that you could barely maneuver your way through the room, and the dance floor spilled out to include the area around the tables themselves. The music was mostly from the 80's...songs like It's Raining Men, and We Are Family. It was very loud, very raucous.I spent some time with my new friends from Australia, Emily Forbes and her husband, James. I met some really wonderful authors who flew all the way from Down Under to attend the conference. I found them to be incredibly warm and funny. Here is a picture of Emily and her husband. Doesn't she look beautiful?

Of course, this was still early on in the evening. It wasn't until a bit later that people really starting letting loose. There were no lampshades, but James made do with his napkin.

It was a very fun party, although I found it overwhelming. There were so many people there! There were men in kilts, men in shorts, and women wearing everything from jeans and tank tops to long, sequined evening gowns. There were many (many, many) people there who weren't Harlequin authors, and the following day I heard that next year, they may require you show your invitation at the door in order to attend. Maybe next year, I'll have a picture of myself with my good friends (and future Harlequin authors) Cathryn and Barbara! That would make the party absolutely perfect.