That Time in Oberammergau

I’m coming up on living in the UK for 6-months! And while I’ve told you what parts I love, and what parts have no love lost, I haven’t stopped to tell you what I’ve been up to.
Other than, you know, that whole Star Wars reboot thing.

So, time to update my travel journals.

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Follow us on our ah-maze-ing adventures!

Here’s what’s happened so far:

November/Dec – Arrival in the UK, hotel living for a month, road trip around Southern England for Christmas and New Year’s.
January – Finally moved into our house! Visited Lincolnshire, England.
February – Oxford and York.
March – London for St Patty’s, then Oberammergau, Germany for a week.
April – Scotland and Madrid trips.
May – More local and Londonian fun, and a trip stateside for a friend’s wedding.

T20170327_102931he next six months look to be much more ambitious. The goal is to hit a different spot in the UK every month, and somewhere else in Europe every other month.

I should probably blog about all these things, and maybe I will, but for now I’m jumping into the middle. That’s a classic storytelling technique known as in medias res, which is Latin/Pretentious for “into the middle [of] things.”

So, let’s start with Oberammergau, Germany. This was our first European trip, so it’s a beginning of sorts.

Come with me, fly into Munich, which is actually Munchen, but is called Munich because…globalism? Then we’ll take the Autobahn and max out the rental car’s four-cylinder engine until the display screams, “SLOW DOWN – SNOW TIRES!!!”


Food and Drink

I’m not going to pretend to speak for the entire country, or even the region (Bavarian Alps), but I am going to make a few generalizations. The first, is that this is a “meat and potatoes” kind of place. If you ask for a salad, you’ll get one, but it’ll be made out of potatoes.

Let’s talk about the pictures above. Clockwise, from bottom right.

  1. Prost! Welcome to Germany, land of the beer. On this trip I discovered Weissbier, which in its unfiltered form, makes for a unique, tasty, frothy treat. Sort of like the Hefeweizen I’m used to, only more floral and playful. I’m still hooked months later.
  2. Though we went at the start of springtime, this is still mountain country and there was a chill in the air at night. Some warm mulled wine helped immensely.
  3. Bavarians are known for their sweets, and my week here did not disappoint.
  4. Ox steak. A new culinary adventure for me, if not for the region. Cooking ox with smoked hay seemed all the rage, and why not, it worked. Definitely a pricey meal, though not outrageous and certainly worth it.
  5. This fried chunk of meat  (bigger than the size of my fist!) was called a “pork knuckle.” Add a dumpling, cover it all in gravy, and you get a deliciously rich and heartburn-inducing meal.

Sights and Sites; Scenes and Seeings

In addition to having a really fun name, Oberammergau has many desirable qualities. Not the least of which, is that it’s a sleepy town without a lot of foreign tourism. Many German tourists do indeed travel here, and there are always foreigners present, because it’s the location of a NATO training school. But there’s a delightfully pastoral “untouched by the world” feel to the town.

I won’t go on and on breaking these pictures down one-by-one (though they do have captions). Instead, here’s generally what you see above:

We stayed in a mountain town with amazing views. The first picture is taken from our hotel. Others are right around–it’s a small hamlet. There is an awesome restaurant that one can hike to, which is a steep walk, but worth it. And boy does all that rich food taste amazing afterwards. There are walking trails everywhere, nice wide open ones. And there are monks who brew and distill. Like a lot of the Old World, the churches are the some of the most impressive sights in the town. They are a wood carving people, who also love their meat so much it’s stored in vending machines.

The Passion of Oberammergau

Once a decade, the whole town comes together to put on a play about the life and times of Jesus Christ. You read that correctly. Once a decade, for like three months straight. Hundreds of thousands of people journey to this remote hamlet for the play which is literally performed by the entire town.

Unfortunately, the play won’t be going on next until 2020, but I was able to learn quite a bit from the museum (pictures above). The story goes, that the town vowed to perform this play to honor God if He would spare them from the plague. Well, seems to have worked, because the townspeople have been dutifully holding up their end of the bargain for nearly 400 years!

Ludwig II’s Two Castles

Beyond the Passion Play, the area is most well-known for the architecture of King Ludwig II. The first castle we visited was his home in the last years of his life, while the second was the famed Neuschwanstein castle, still incomplete, yet world-renowned for giving its iconography to Walt Disney’s logo.

Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside. These were works of art, modern for their time and gilded to the gills. Beautiful spots, worth visiting.

My Takeaways

It was nice getting some springtime sunshine after the damp cold of British winter. I joked after I first arrived that the most notable difference between the two countries is that they sell sunglasses in Germany.

With a name like Schannep, I must have some German heritage somewhere (though no evidence of it in Oberammergau…).

Don’t mind me, just blending in.

I lived in Germany from kindergarten to second grade while my dad was stationed here by the Army. My memories are mostly of Kinder eggs, sledding, playmobile toys, and mainly just being a kid. I have memories of seeing a salt mine, some mountaintops, and sites outside of Germany like the leaning tower of Pisa.

And then there’s spaghetti eis.

“Eis” is the German word for ice cream, and this was without a doubt my favorite childhood dessert. A layer of whipped cream serves as a base, which is then topped by vanilla ice cream/gelato put through a press so it comes out to look like spaghetti noodles. A strawberry “meat” sauce topped with white chocolate “parmesan” shavings completes the illusion.

Spaghetti was my favorite meal, ice cream the best treat, which made this confection the perfect go-between.

I had spaghetti eis here in Oberammergau for the first time in at least twenty-five years. Mostly as a novelty, I ordered it up, expecting something deeply sugary-sweet, but I got more than I bargained for.

With the first bite, my entire body swirled with warmth, like a hug from a loved one after a prolonged absence. I couldn’t have described the taste or texture by memory, but this was comfort on an instinctual level. It’s moments like these that make travel so rewarding.


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Enjoy “following” me on my travels? Want to read more blog posts like this one?

Leave me a comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

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What the deuce is taking so long? (UK trials & tribulations)

Not that I’ve heard anyone utter that phrase, but I figured “bloody hell” might not be appropriate in a blog title.

Culture shock is a thing. Oddly enough, I didn’t experience it much during my first few weeks, but perhaps that’s because I’m used to being a tourist. Now that I’ve been in a foreign country for the longest span in my adult life (that’ll be two full months on Thursday), I’m forced to deal with the minutia of a different country.

Nothing shocking about that — except the shock and awe!

Sure, it’s weird being told I have an accent. And the food and beer might be different. But those things can be charming (and delicious!).

What’s less fun is the snail’s pace at which capitalism operates here. I mean, this is an island nation that could fit inside Texas and it gets the same degree of cellphone coverage as west Texas.

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Shouldn’t this whole place be glowing green like some kind of radioactive wasteland?!

Feel free to make your arguments about which side of the road is technically the “right” side, or how many words the letter “u” needs to be present in, or whether or not cheese is a dessert or an appetizer — BUT — one thing is for certain. USA reigns supreme when it comes to taking your money.

Here’s what I mean:

We found a place to live. Great! How soon can we move in?
Well, let’s see, today is the 6th of December. It’ll take a few days to draw up the application, run the proper checks and whatnot. But no one really wants to clean carpets or touch up paint over Christmas, so…
We’re living in a hotel with our dog and cat. They can paint with us in there. Seriously, how soon?
Well, if you’re in a hurry we can really speed things up and get you in on the 7th of January!

A rental agency in the US would get you in your house in a week, tops. Or, how’s this one:

Hi, Toyota dealership! We saw a car on your website that we’d like to buy. Let’s make it happen!
Well, I’ll have to check if that’s on the lot. Let me ask you some questions about the kind of car you want to buy.
Umm, this one. Here, look on my phone.
Well, I told you, I’d need to see if that’s here.
Can you…go do that, then?
Well, yes, but only if I can finish my questionnaire first.
Okay…
(later) Brilliant! We have the car.
Great! We’ll take it. Here’s a loan approval letter from a UK bank.
How does next week sound?
For what?
For buying the car.
We don’t own a car yet, I was hoping for sooner.
Well, then, how does *early* next week sound?

Yeah. The US would have you drive the car off the lot and the salesman would be treated to a steak dinner that very night.

Hi, I’m currently on a month-to-month plan for mobile phone service and I’d like to set up a yearly contract.
Well, you’d need a UK billing address first.
Okay, I’ll set that up. How about now?
Well, you need a UK credit card.
I use my US card for the month-to-month…
Right. That doesn’t matter. You need a UK card for this.
Okay, can I get a UK credit card?
No. You have no credit history in the UK. In fact, you’ll need to sign for all your purchases every time you use a US credit card (but no one else has to do that so don’t expect anyone to have a pen or even know what’s happening!) and if you go to Costco, be prepared to bring a suitcase full of money.
Okay, I guess I’ll just keep paying month-to-month like a drug dealer. Thanks!

If you think a US phone company would let you out of their doors without a phone contract, internet, and cable TV, then you’ve never seen true capitalism at work.

The reason I’m writing (whining) about this is twofold. One, I just finally got internet!

Hi, I’d like to give you money. i can haz nternets, plz?
You’re in luck! We’ll get you set up in two weeks!
Lulz

And two, because all my stuff we shipped from the US on November 14th still isn’t here yet. Well, that’s not entirely true. My household goods are in this country, I’m told, but customs isn’t ready to release them to us yet. Instead I get to answer questions like, “Does the pancake mix listed on your inventory contain dried eggs or dairy?”

Here’s an email I received yesterday, verbatim:

Customs have come back to us and they have asked: All seeds- Are these for planting or eating?
Hello, The seeds are excess gardening (planting seeds). There are not very many and I’m not even sure we’d use them. But we’d be willing to eat, plant, or burn them if we can get our household goods faster! Thanks for your help.

And that was literally my response, which probably means I have another month before I’m neck-deep in cardboard.

Okay, that’s it. Rant over. And yes, I realize I’m complaining about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that parallel-universe me would kill this-universe me for.

But that’s what blogging’s for, right? Thanks for letting me vent. Now to end it on a positive. If there’s one area that the UK crushes the US on, it’s the prevalence of puns. They’re everywhere. This was on my neighborhood walk:


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Feel my pain? Or am I a spoiled American?

Leave me a comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

My Reddit Experiment and the Troll Who Ended It

In case you’re not one of my usual readers, I recently self-published a book and I’m looking for ways to promote my work and spread the word. A couple of friends suggested I check out reddit.com and put up a few posts there to try and garner more interest. I’d never used reddit before, but I had heard stories such as the guy who got a screenwriting gig from reddit, so I thought it could be worth a try. After all, my book is a solely electronic experience and reddit is easily one of the largest online communities out there.

So I gave it a shot, starting out with an AMA (Ask Me Anything) detailing my recent life.

Looks so innocent, doesn’t it?

It was a fun experiment, but ultimately a failure from a book promotion standpoint as people were far more interested in picking the brain of a former nuclear missile officer than they were in talking about anything I’d written. Still, my blog got 25% of its page views for the year… in one day. So I figured I should give it another try.

My next time around, I decided to post specifically about the book. I posted an announcement in the zombie forum, put my book cover in their pics section, and asked a question in the writing sub-reddit. This is where my troll was lurking.

I asked if my self-published book looked professionally done or if there were any aspects that screamed, “Amateur!” and the answers started trickling in. I won’t give you a link to this post, and (hopefully) you can’t find it, because I’ve since deleted it.

Allow me to explain why.

One commenter praised my blurb, saying it seemed to keep in tone with the book. Another said the cover looked professional, but the fact that I have only five-star reviews on amazon made him suspicious. This latter point is what the troll jumped on. She/he immediately threw out accusations that I’d written all the reviews myself, even going so far as to create multiple reddit accounts to have a conversation with myself online. The troll then submitted their own accusations to the “worst of” reddit under the title “User schannepj submits own post to r/bestof, uses same shell account [“Brian”] to post fake amazon reviews of his book and sell it on r/writing.” Luckily, a moderator quashed this flagrant lie of a post.

In the light of recent sock puppetry scandals, I’d like to take a moment to address my glowing amazon reviews. INFECTED has only been out for two weeks, hardly enough time for the independent reviewers and bloggers I’ve contacted to have a chance to weigh in. As of right now, most of the reviews are written by friends, but of their own volition. I never asked anyone to post five-star reviews. And I certainly never wrote any reviews for myself.

Even after I explained this, the troll did not relent. One of the friends who suggested the reddit campaign even tried coming to my aid:

I’ll self-identify as one of the author’s friends, and FWIW, I’ll vouch that Brian is a very real perosn(SIC) and a very ardent promoter of James’ work. James debuted his book to our group by passing an iPad around a circle with a bottle of Jamison(SIC) in the middle. It’s no surprise that the participants of that drinking game wrote several of the rave reviews you see the very next day.

I’m gritting my teeth and trying to be polite here because, even though you insulted my friend, there are some truthful observations in your comment–even if you misinterpreted the information. You seem concerned with preserving the credibility of self-publishing. What would you have a fledgling author do? Ask his friends NOT to help?

The troll stopped claiming sock puppetry, but did not apologize. Instead, she/he shrugged it off with an, “[It’s] all the same to me because it has the same end result: game the system.”

Okay, so let’s drop the whole troll issue for a moment and discuss the core issue here: Is it wrong for friends to post online reviews without some sort of “I know the author” caveat upfront? Should I have said, “If you know me, please don’t review my book”? I don’t think so, I think I should tell everyone I meet to review the book, but I’d certainly love to hear some other opinions. These are only my *first* reviews and I hope to see many more from people I don’t know, like this one on Goodreads. It’s an interesting scandal-filled world out there, where reviews are of the utmost importance, and self-published authors will do anything to succeed.

I know my integrity’s intact, and I stand by my product. I’ll just be staying off reddit for a while. But the troll did bring up a good point, albeit in a roundabout and vindictive way: I need more reviews.

So… calling all reviewers–anyone care to give me an honest read?

I Will Be Happy, Damn It

I’m a former Air Force officer, I left that job and Montana about a year ago, so I’ve been doing some reflecting.

In the past year, aside from a ton of writing, my main goal has been to get happy again.  I was once a happy-go-lucky type and I’d slowly become bitter through my nine years in the military.  So I resolved to never have a bad day.  It’s all my time now, I told myself, it’s up to me to make sure I’m happy.  I can no longer blame anyone else.

And I did it!  A whole year without a bad day.  But here’s the thing–it’s not like I wasn’t frustrated and it’s not like everything has gone my way.  The difference, is that I chose to be happy.  And you can too.

If I had to put it succinctly, I’d say a good life is simply a collection of moments lived well.  So then the key to a good life is simply enjoying each moment.  There you have it, the secret to life.

I think one of the biggest dileneators between man and animal is that we can choose to be happy.  Hear me out.

Like me, my dog is happiest when she’s writing.

A dog can be happy.  I can see my dog is loving life when we’re playing or I’m giving her attention, and I can tell she’s sad when I put her in the crate, scold her or she’s feeling sick.  But none of those things are within her control.  She has no concept of what happiness is.  We, as humans, can actually outthink our bodies.  We can tell when outside forces are affecting us, and we can literally say, “No.”

It’s not easy, but we can.

If you get a flat tire on the way to a weekend out of town you can either get pissed and curse the tire, or you can say, “I’m going to enjoy my weekend and this won’t stop it,” fix the tire and move on.

They say life isn’t about the destination but the journey. What if the journey is so ridiculous and discouraging that you wonder if the destination is actually worth it?  I say the journey is the journey.  You can complain that your butt hurts and car travel makes you nauseous or you can get some snacks, plug in an audiobook, and enjoy the scenery.

I think we have to overcome our own cynicism, to some extent.  I have a friend on his way to becoming a professional pilot and he’s worried.  What if he hates it?  What if it’s true that pilots are only glorified bus drivers?  All that stuff is just in his head, I say.  He already knows he enjoys flying.  So if it’s, “I’m just a glorified bus driver” vs “I get to fly through the sky on a daily basis, a career that Da Vinci only dreamed of, like a Greek god blazing across the earth on gossamer wings”…which one do you think should he pick?

Comedian Louis C.K. provides some insight on the topic.

I’m not naive enough to say everything is your choice. Like you can get kicked in the balls on a daily basis and say, “I’m still happy!”  So control what you can and roll with the rest.  Get out of bad situations, do your best to enter good ones.  That’s what I did with the Air Force job.  I’m sad to say, it got me down in a major way.  I don’t hate the military or anything like that, but do I hate what I did?  Absolutely.  I was a nuclear missile officer–a Missilier, if you like made-up words–which I firmly believe is the worst job an officer can have.  I was frustrated, overtaxed, undervalued, and perpetually tired.

Beyond the pale
Feb, 2011. No, that’s not the flash. I was that pale; what do you expect? I worked underground. There were no tan lines on my body. And this is on a happy day, my birthday, yet still I look like a freshly exhumed corpse. Here’s what I look like now.

I’ll save that missile talk for another day.  Today’s about being happy.

I created this blog post while I was on a run, as a discussion in my head, after things were looking up.  I started off tired and feeling like crap, so I told myself to enjoy the sun, the breeze, and the way my body felt.  Then I grew happier.

That’s all it took.  Just outthink the negative and you too will be happy, damn it.

P.S. (If you want some awesome insight on feeling happy while running, I highly recommend Born to Run.  Maybe you can listen to it as an audiobook on your journey?)

A 5k in 4 Countries and 9 States

Springing off the great suggestion of the  Automattic Worldwide WP 5k, I decided to extend the offer to my network and bait the trap with a $10 amazon giftcard for top male and female finishers.  The Asynchronous Team was comprised of friends, family, colleagues, and followers.  I asked for a picture, race time (to determine the winner), location, and something stating why they ran.  Many rallied to the call of walking or running a 5k, and those who volunteered to send me a bit about their race are featured below.

Looking good, girl!

Congrats to our female winner, Michaela G. in Montgomery, AL!

Michaela G.

3.2 in 23:59
Montgomery, AL

Despite the fact that I split the categories into male and female, Michaela was the our overall winner.  She’s awesome, and my fiance.

She’s only in Alabama for training, but she’s been working out a lot and it’s paid off!

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Apparently he's so fast you can't see him!

Congrats to our male winner, Nate D. from Easthampton, MA!

Nate D.

3.1 “pretty flat miles”
Easthampton, MA.
23:40

Why Nate’s running?  He’s an avid runner, but the last month he’s been swamped with work and hasn’t gotten out.  This challenge provided the motivation to get out and clear his head.

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The long hair is temporary, but I'm diggin' it.

James Schannep (your author!)

Texas
3.15 in 25:00

I grew up in Texas (mostly) and my parents still live here.  Whenever I visit, my dad and I walk a 5k every morning joined by his golden retriever, Trooper.

This visit, I’m taking care of my dad while he recovers from foot surgery.

Down, but not out.

He was heartbroken he couldn’t participate in my big 5k day, so I made a plan to keep him involved.  He became my official lap counter and photographer.  Trooper watched while I ran with my lab puppy, Buttercup.

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Derek's midnight raid

Derek W.

Singapore, Singapore

Official start time: 2310 Singapore time zone 29APR2012

“I ran for about 6.1k then walked another 3.5k. I did not finish until roughly 0015. Have some amazing friends in Singapore and they invited me to live out here which is why I will likely not be able to attend the wedding… :(”

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This is Tony's happy face.

Tony M.

30 minutes 20 seconds (start time was 1300 EST)
Fort Washington, Maryland (4 miles outside of Washington DC)

“I’m running because I think Facebook users usually emphasize useless things in order to make someone else feel that their life is somehow lacking. This activity doesn’t require money or extensive equipment/planning and it’s built around unification of effort despite distance or dissimilar localities. I think it’s cool and positive.”

Oh, Stephen...

Stephen S.

Killeen, TX
3.1 in 28:27

Stephen did THREE 5ks this weekend with his new bride, Amy.  They enjoy being active together.

No, these are not raceday pictures.

Amy S.

Killeen, TX
3.11 in 37:07

My lovely sister!  She likes to do races, but she ran today solely because of the Asynchronous team.  It was run #3 after all…

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Point to the man in the picture having a good day.

Chris B.

Ponce inlet beach, FL
28:12

Why’d you run, Chris?  “Because I wanted to support a friend’s idea. And for a great view of the…uh… ocean”

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Not much, Mike. Not much.

Mike B.

Los Angeles, CA

“I have no idea how far it was, but it took me about 24 minutes.  Should be around 5k, considering it was pretty hilly and I was going at jog pace.  What else do you need from me?”

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Good to see great friends!

KacyJane & Mike G.

“Time: ME: 37 minutes (I walked) Mike: 27 Minutes
Location: River’s Edge Trail, Great Falls, MT
Me: Trying to get back into shape after a stroke.
Mike: Trying to get back into shape. Thanks for the Idea, it was fun.”

RichRun
Just another day in paradise.

Richard Y.

Hawaii
22:45

Why did you run, Rich?  “PT huah, also I did it to make sure Michaela didn’t get to uppity thinking she was faster than me.”

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Do you see the Irish wolfhound?

Hans C.

Wildcat Hills, just inside The Ghost wilderness area, Alberta.
5.7 km
265 m elevation gain
1620 meter elevation
220 M&M’s
1 hour 37 minutes

I hesitate to call Hans’ hike a “walk”, but if ever there were a badass walk, this is it.  And thanks for the candy stat!

"Going my way?"

Bart and Marcella S.

5k run (walk!)
on the beach in Carlsbad, CA
Start 10:04am, finished in 45 minutes.

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45mins is a pretty fast walk, eh?

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This couple is one of the more fun I’ve had the  pleasure of meeting.  Lucky me, we’re related.  They ran today because Marcella loves two things: facebook and a challenge!

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If they did it...what's your exuse?

Samantha, Brian, Liam, Stella & Chief D.

Queidersbach, Germany
1 hour (we would have run but the stroller weighs 50 lb!)

“We participated so that we could have some family fun walking in the Germany countryside.

Thanks for the idea!”

Sister walk!

Sarah D. and Alison B.

Texas
3.15 in 1:04:00

These are a couple of my sisters, and yes, I walked it with them too 🙂 And then I took a nap.  They’re busy working moms striving to make fitness a priority.

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I only had to give a few piggyback rides.

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The kiddos followed us the whole time!  First 5k race–29 April 2012.

That's a "go" sign, people.

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Hal W. & Janet S.

Osmanthus Trail, VA
6+ miles, with a 3.1 loop
Loop in 48:12

“It was a great day for a hike/walk here…It was partly cloudy and a tad chilly, in the low 50s. We walked in on a multi-use path called the Cape Henry Bike Path (the photo is from that part of the hike). My wife and I hike/walk (sometimes jog) for exercise, but also as a way to spend time together. We always have fun conversations about art and life and day-dreaming.”

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Thanks to everybody who participated, and to our honorary members as well.  Great job everybody!  Winners can expect their prizes soon.  Let’s not wait a year to do it again…

Books

I’ve started querying my historical fantasy novel, which I’ll refer to as WTZD until I can give out more details.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to blog about this, as publishers like to be tight-lipped about their in-development projects, and it dates my efforts to any agent looking at this site.  BUT that’s why I started this blog, to track my progress as a writer.  So what does that mean?  Unfortunately I can’t say much, yet.  Just that the novel is done, loved by my inner circle of critics, and ready to be shown to literary agents.  I am, as of this post, unrepresented.  That will soon change .

What I can share, is this image below, which I found while doing research for my queries.  It sums up, quite nicely, my goal with WTZD.  To enthrall and feed imaginations.

Wish me luck.

Books - That is exactly how they work

Source for: Books