Brazil: Sightseeing (Part 2)

Brazil Travel post #7: Sightseeing 2 (intro post is here).

Today, let’s head back into the Atlantic Rainforest for some super amazing views.

This isn’t even the view we’re shooting for; we’re just getting started!

Tijuca National Park

It’s likely that some of you noticed the lush and verdant Rio scenery and after yesterday’s post thought, “That’s only 10% of the original forest? Whoa.”

Whoa, indeed. But that’s because what you’re looking at isn’t the original forest. The Brazilian government actually brought the jungle back, replanting nearly 12 square miles of forest, thereby creating a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the largest and oldest man-made forests, having been restored in the late 1800s after concerns that the massive deforested farm lands were sucking the area dry of drinking water.

We enjoyed this restored rainforest with a guided jungle hike up a storied trail, all the way up the mountainside to the best view in the city. I must say, if I hadn’t been told, I wouldn’t have known this was “new” jungle.

You know, there just aren’t enough hiking maps made into tile mosaics these days.
The aptly-named Tijuca Falls.
One of many trail markers.
The cicadas were very active, singing and molting.
Bizarre relative of the banana tree.
The trail was clear and wide for the most part, but you still had to watch your step.
And watch your handholds too…
Cicada sighting.
Near the top, our guide said these steps were put in to impress the visiting King of Norway, who loved climbing mountains.
Not for the faint of heart (like me!).
Success.
Now thats a panoramic view!

Escadaria Selarón — The Tile Steps

After a late lunch we went to the famed tile steps, known as the Escadaria Selarón. The steps are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who began by simply repairing the steps in front of his own home with brightly colored, ceramic tile. The project eventually consumed the artist and continued to grow, expanding even to this day.

It was difficult to get a shot that wasn’t socked-in with other onlookers.

There are literally thousands of tiles, brought in from all over the world, so here you’ll see a small selection of those pieces that caught our eye.

Arches National Park — weve been there!
The project began in 1990, but I suspect some of the tiles are much older.
Though his neighbors originally mocked the idea, the stairs are now a source of national pride.
When I said brought in from “all over the world” I meant it!
Must be interesting to call this your front steps.
Chat Noir.
“Eclectic” doesn’t even begin to describe the style.
Buncha kids.

That’s it for today!

Tomorrow? Let’s finish up our Rio sightseeing tour with a grand finale….

Click to continue: Brazil: Cristo Redentor–Wonder of the World.

I know where we’re headed, and we’re so close!

Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Which of the two seems like your kind of climb?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Brazil: Sightseeing (Part 1)

Brazil Travel post #6: Sightseeing 1 (intro post is here).

From the outset, I can tell you I’m going to have to split this topic into multiple parts. There were sooooo many sights to see, especially with a “MURDERED Bucket List” in my back pocket.

Jardim Botãnico — The Botanic Garden

Rio de Janeiro was once home to the expansive Atlantic Rainforest, a different type of jungle than its more famous Amazonian cousin. Once Rio was declared the capital of Brazil, the city flourished and the rainforest dwindled to roughly 10% of its original size. This was largely intentional, as Brazil became an important produce exporter, and as demand grew, so did the demand for farmland.

The botanic garden was founded in 1808 by King John VI of Portugal (Brazil was in the Portuguese empire at the time) who decreed that a garden should be built to see which foreign plants might best thrive in Brazil’s climate. Thus, the botanic gardens were born, and once that job was completed in 1822 they became a public site.

Today it is a beautiful park full of exotic flora, including 900 varietals of palm, as well as wild monkeys and hundreds of jungle birds. Here are a few of the fantastic images we captured:

Shall we?
Shall we?
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A beautiful spot for locals and tourists alike.
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Dr. Seuss would be proud.
Monkey in a jackfruit tree.
Monkey in a jackfruit tree.
Ready?
Ready?
Leap!
Leap!
Just one of a billion flower photos Michaela took.
Just one of a billion flower photos Michaela took.
Serenity before lunch.
Serenity before lunch.
See the statue on the hillside? I'll give you three guesses what the last stop on our sightseeing tour will be....
See the statue on the hillside? I’ll give you three guesses what the last stop on our sightseeing tour will be….

MAR — Museu de Arte do Rio

From natural beauty to created beauty. The MAR holds some of Brazil’s most impressive artistic pieces. Let’s see a few.

Shall we?
Shall we?
#CIDADEOLYMPICA
Hashtag seen in real life. #CIDADEOLYMPICA
Theres something about a painting I dont understand captioned in a language I dont understand.
A painting I don’t understand captioned in a language I don’t understand.
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Slice of life from 1940s Brazil.
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Perspective.
Powerful perspective.
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Disney’s short-lived Brazilian character, Jose Carioca, which roughly translates to “Rio Joe.”
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These were actually TV shots of monkeys arranging bananas, meant to look like they were spelling…something.
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Quite stunning.
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Brazil’s take on “The Thinker.” It’s a monkey contemplating a turtle.
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Impressive.
Not creepy. At all.
Patently bad-ass.
Ostrich selfie?
Does this guy trot? Because that would be amazing.
Does this guy trot? Because that would be amazing.
Umm…science?
Presumably found in a serial killers basement.
Presumably found in a serial killer’s basement.

Click to continue to: Sightseeing Part 2.


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Are you more a museum type or a garden type?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Brazil: Into the Favelas!

Brazil Travel post #4: The Favelas (intro post is here).
Come on, let's explore the winding alleys and hilltop views of the favela together.
Come on, let’s explore the winding alleys and hilltop views of the favela together.

Today, we journey into one of Brazil’s favelas. What exactly is a favela, you ask? At it’s simplest, a slum, but the favelas are so much more than that. 11.4 million people live in one of Brazil’s ramshackle hillside communities. Let’s explore exactly what makes a favela so unique.

The favelas of Rio de Janeiro are world renowned stacks of poverty, drug use, prostitution, and violence. Rivaled only by the slums of Mumbai, you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than in the favelas of Rio. Or at least that’s how it used to be.

First, some history.

View from Rocinha favela.

Before “favela” became a generic term, it was the name of one particular village. The first favela was formed at the turn of the 20th century, after the War of Canudos, the bloodiest military-on-civilian massacre in Brazil’s history. The soldiers killed nearly every man, woman, and child in a 30,000 person settlement in a military action dubbed a civil war.

When these 20,000 soldiers, many of whom were suffering from what we would today call PTSD returned to Rio, they found no government assistance nor any place to live. They founded the first favela, and it was named after a skin-irritating tree found in the massacre region.

From these inauspicious beginnings, more favelas cropped up as more poor citizens were displaced and found no other option but to band together and fend for themselves.

Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio.
Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio.

If your choices in MURDERED lead you to work with Agent Danly, and his subsequent investigation leads him into the favelas, it’s a prospect so dangerous that he’s hesitant to allow you to accompany him.

“Listen, you’re doing great, but I’m not sure you should stay with me. I aim to get to the bottom of this, even if that means coming head-to-head with the drug cartels in the favelas. You can’t even imagine what it’s like in there—gangsters dance in the clubs while shooting AK-47s in the air. Even the kids are armed and they won’t hesitate to shoot you if they think it’s worth a laugh. I can’t put your life in jeopardy like that…”

So if these place are so dangerous, why were we crazy enough to visit?

Pacification

In preparation for 2014’s World Cup and this summer’s 2016 Olympics, Brazil has made a considerable crackdown on crime, and this includes “pacification” of the favelas. Pacification is a hostile take-over of the slums in a military operation. Elite special forces are sent in to take out any violent resistance, and then a permanent police force is left to keep the region free of drugs and firearms. In fact, once a favela has been pacified, the Brazilian flag is placed on a high building top — to show that the government has conquered this foreign territory within its own borders.

So while I was expecting this:

What we got was this:

A favela musician and his "manager." The man spoke perfect English and includes favela children on his albums.
A favela musician and his “manager.” The man spoke perfect English and includes favela children on his albums.
A vibrant city market attracting customers from all over, much like a farmer's market in the states.
A vibrant city market attracting customers from all over, much like a farmer’s market in the US.
Might want to cook your meats well-done, just to be safe.
Might want to cook your meats well-done, just to be safe.
"Jackfruit" is common, but has a love-it-or-hate-it taste.
“Jackfruit” is common, but has a love-it-or-hate-it taste.
Pet fish?
Pet fish?
Fresh fruits, spices, everything.
Fresh fruits, spices, everything.

Rocinha is one of Rio’s older pacified favelas, having been pacified in 2011, and our visit was full of unexpected experiences. The people who live there can range up to middle class, our guide informed us, and in addition to pacification, the city government has helped the community receive clean water, free electricity, even wi-fi.

We were a bit wary of a visit, not because we thought we’d be unsafe, but because we didn’t want to offend or exploit people or go on some sort of voyeur tour.

The visit was anything but. Our guide is a well-known figure in the community and the tour company gives back a portion of every ticket, totaling to tens of thousands of dollars donated thus far. There were smiling faces waiting to greet him by name, and we were even given a trip to see the schools they support.

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Stepping into another world.
Our guide, Alfredo, in the school.
Our guide, Alfredo, in the school.
Even English classes provided.
Even English classes are provided.
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Feliz Natal (Merry Christmas!).
Who knew the kids were fans of the zombie genre? (heh)
Who knew the kids were fans of the zombie genre? (heh)
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The locals take pride in the unique look of their communities.
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We did!

In addition to the portion of our tour price donated, we bought jewelry made by the students, music and paintings made by locals, and even the “best caipirinha in Rio” at an alley shop.

If you ever get the opportunity, I’d highly recommend a visit to the favelas. Just make sure the one you go to has been pacified, use a reputable guide, and don’t go at night. Just because improvements are made, doesn’t mean those elements that gave the favelas their reputation are gone completely.

That’s it for today. Up next? I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry. Let’s check out Brazil’s food and drink!


Thanks for reading! Did you enjoy your trip into the favelas?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

 

Brazil: All about the Beaches

This is topic #2 in my Brazil Travel series. If you want to start at the beginning with the intro post, you can check that out here.

It’s impossible to think of Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil as a whole, without thinking of the beaches. And seeing as how we left Colorado in December, it’s one of the parts I was most looking forward to. Here’s a picture taken the day before we flew out.

The dog was warm, at least.
The dog was warm, at least.

And here is the view we found after landing:

Photo taken from outside the Tropical Resort.

River Beaches

I’ve mentioned that Manaus is a port city, but what you might not have known is that it’s solely a river port. And these are river beaches. In fact, the area of the Rio Negro where we visited is the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. That’s how big the rivers are down here!

Meant to show scale, but if you look closely, you can see heron flying along the water and a caimen swimming as well.
If you click and zoom in, you can see a heron flying along the water and a caimen swimming center left.

The water is full of predators, as small as bacteria or parasites, famous like the anaconda or flesh-eating piranha, large and aggressive like caimen, or dangerously stealthy like the river stingrays lurking at the bottom. In MURDERED, I mentioned that the biggest bull sharks are known to swim upriver to hunt in fresh water.

But the absolute worst thing down here is the candiru, a parasitic fish that seeks out the smell of urine and will swim up your urethra if you pee. Plus, it has barbed fins so it can’t be easily pulled back out.

So, of course, we decided to go swimming in the river.

Aggressive river animals HATE selfies.

Since my mom is probably reading this, I will say we swam by a sandbar, which is safer because the animals are attracted to vegetation and a sandbar is essentially the desert of the river. Didn’t stomp around on the bottom, didn’t wiggle my toes, didn’t swim near anything that looked like a log, and definitely didn’t pee in the river.

The real beaches, however, are those famed spots found in Rio de Janeiro.

Ipanema Beach

Good luck going to Ipanema without this song in your head.

This place is a world-renowned paradise. They have a wonderful beachfront walkway, including a sepearate bike path. During peak daylight hours, the whole side of traffic nearest to the beach is closed off for pedestrian use. People walk along, tan themselves on the beach, play volleyball or soccer (or a mix of both) and generally enjoy life. It’s legal to consume alcohol in public in Rio, so many enjoy drinks on the beach as well. Check out the view for yourself:

That's a favela on the far hillside. A great irony here is that the poorest neighborhoods often have the best views.
That’s a favela on the far hillside. A great irony here is that the poorest neighborhoods often have the best views.

There are, of course, a few downsides. Crowds, for one. Another biggie is the poorwater quality. According to the Associated Press, the bacteria and virus levels are about as high as swimming in raw sewage. While we saw quite a few people in the water, we skipped this swim. Remember that urethra fish? Yeah, we would rather swim around that guy than go in the ocean in Rio. A fact that is made all the more painful by how oppressively hot it is down here. And I mean hot:

So, there’s a lot of sweating involved. Yet the perfect solution is waiting for you every quarter mile in the form of snack & drink stands. The perfect treat for my money was “Coco Verde”–a green coconut split open with a machete, ready for you to plunge a straw inside and taste the sweet, cool coconut water within. The first I tried was probably one of the most refreshing experiences in my entire life.

R$6, or under $2 USD at the time of our visit.

Sweet nectar of life.

Copacabana Beach

Connected just down the road from Ipanema, but if you’re not careful, you won’t even notice the transition.

Equally famed, this part of Rio does get it’s own earworm worthy song too:

During our visit, Copacabana beach was getting ready for the New Year celebration, which included some great sand castle art like the shot below:

Christmas, New Years, Christ the Redeemer, and the Olympics–this sand castle had it all!

Yet it isn’t all fun-and-games and sight-seeing. Rio can still be a dangerous city, even with the massive police crackdown that’s been going on since the World Cup and has ramped up for the Olympics. Opportunistic thieves are still prevalent in popular areas, and with so many people, the police often have to deal with violent outbreaks.

One such day, as we were walking on Ipanema beach, riot police stormed down to the shore. I couldn’t see what was going on, but a helicopter circled above with militarized police hanging out the sides, machine guns drawn.

Stock photo because I’m not brave enough to lift my camera when armed military police are running past. Sorry, not sorry.

We chose to keep walking without exploring the scene. What ever happened? I’m not sure, and I can’t find anything about it in the news either. Who knows, maybe I passed up a chance to work with Rio cops and DSS agents to try and solve a murder….

Click to check out the next topic: Graffiti.


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Should I have swam in the ocean? What about deciding to do so in the river?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Brazil: Resort, Hostel, Palace, Guestroom

For the first post in my Brazil Travel series, we’re going to talk about lodgings. If you missed yesterday’s intro post, you can check that out here.

These are the places we stayed: A resort, a hostel, a palace, and a guestroom. As mentioned, we also stayed on a boat for a week, but that’s a post for another day.

Eco-Resort Hotel Tropical

Before we embarked on said boat, we stayed at a resort. When we flew into Brazil, our first stop was the port town of Manaus. The boat trip met at the lobby of this particular hotel, so we decided we should splurge and stay here. It’s unfortunate that Brazil’s economy isn’t doing so great right now, but as a result, this resort cost about as much as an average night in a chain-hotel in the United States. And here’s what we got:

tropical-manaus-ecoresort
I didn’t take this photo, but it gives you a sense of the amazing location.

What a fantastic way to end 22 hours of travel (three flights, each with layovers that required us to exit the terminal and go through security again at a new part of the airport. Not fun. I’m calling you out, Miami and Brasilia!). Everything was reasonably priced and they do mean “resort.” Three restaurants, two bars, tennis courts, massive swimming pool, private beach, and a mini-mall on site. This place even has its own zoo!

If you ever end up in Manaus, stay here. Just don’t use the taxis parked out front. Once in Rio de Janeiro, we quickly realized that the Manaus resort taxis were probably charging 3x what the city taxis would have cost.

Because we stayed in Rio from December 26th through the 31st (one of the most popular travel times in Brazil, matching up the holidays with summer in the southern hemisphere) the hotel situation was rather difficult. I wanted to stay where “you” stay in MURDERED, and I managed this to a point, but we couldn’t stay there the whole time due to the location’s massive popularity. We were forced to move around, which ended up being a lot of fun once we embraced it.

Hostel Che Lagarto Ipanema

Here’s where your American tourist character is staying with friends at the start of the book. Back when I was doing research, I picked this location because it’s a popular spot for young, unattached travelers, and it’s a location in the thick of things. It’s also recommended in the Lonely Planet tourist guidebook I consulted, so it seemed likely your character might have done the same.

As you can see in the hostel’s Facebook post above, I told the staff that I wrote a book featuring their location and they were very appreciative. The manager didn’t believe me at first, but once I showed him in the text, he flipped out. In a great way. He started off by showing all the workers on duty, then he moved on to showing all the guests who were present in the main lounge. That skin tone is due in part to the tropical heat, but mostly because it was a little embarrassing.

"Behind the scenes" of that facebook post.
“Behind the scenes” of that facebook post. In addition to the photos and handshakes, I left a signed copy of the book at the hostel too.

The hostel itself does what it says on the tin, and they’re quite good at it. They host events that change every day, ranging from parties to sight seeing. Each evening, there’s a “happy hour” where you get as many free drinks as you can down in half an hour (Caipirinhas, specifically. They’re the sugarcane-rum-based national cocktail). That, of course, is only the beginning of the party.

We’re a few years older than the target demographic, so we opted for a private room rather than sharing a communal area of bunkbeds and showers that is the signature of hostel lodging. If you decide to visit, bring earplugs. And ask to see the book!

Heres the master at work.
Here’s the master at work. Needless to say, it’s a busy 30 minutes for the man.

PS — If you so choose, in MURDERED you can end up back at your hostel on the first night and meet the bartender at this very location.

The Copacabana Palace

Here’s how the next hotel is described in the book:

“The government SUV pulls up to the city’s most famous hotel, the Copacabana Palace. Only three miles up the road from your old hostel in Ipanema but three times the price for a room, you’re greeted with all the pomp and circumstance of a visiting rock star. The white façade is something out of the 1920s, and to be quite honest, it looks more like a presidential home than a hotel.”

Wanna come check out a friggin PALACE?! Yeah, me too.
Wanna come check out a friggin’ PALACE?! Yeah, me too.

Your other lodging choice in the book is getting set up at this luxurious hotel located directly on Copacabana beach. The center-stage for the New Year’s celebration known as “Réveillon” was set up on the beach directly in front of the hotel and a private archway was constructed so guests could move to and from the party. The rates for the holiday (New Years is huge in Brazil) were higher than the already normally pricey rooms.

Turns out…we didn’t actually stay here. It was way too expensive for us–BUT, we did manage to come for the poolside breakfast, and if you get the chance, I would highly recommend doing so yourself. A smorgasbord of fruits, pastries, and other exotic treats awaits.

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If you’re able to afford it, I’d recommend you not miss this spot. And if you stop by to visit, they have a signed book too, so ask to see it!

Airbnb by the Sea

For our final lodging, we found a diamond in the rough. And by rough, I mean we rented a spare room in an affluent neighborhood right next to the ocean. Check out this view!

View from our window.
View from where that dude was standing.

Go ahead, zoom in on that last picture. Just across the bay…it’s the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue! How amazing is that? We picked this place because it’s (a bit) out of the way, and because we could check out the other half of the city. The room is called Urca with beautiful view!!! and the deal is impossible to beat. Clean, and beautiful indeed, with a great price to boot. If you go, tell Cissa we said hi! She has a copy of the book too.

Click to continue to the next topic: All about the Beaches


Thanks for reading! Where would you most want to stay? Questions for me?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Come with me, Vamos o Brasil!

I’m back from spending the holidays with my wife in Brazil! As promised, I’m going to tell you all about it.

The trip was split into two parts. First, we took a riverboat deep into the Amazon jungle. The Amazon river itself is far too settled for a true rainforest experience, with industry and cities crowding her mighty banks. Instead, we went on the adjoining Rio Negro, living on the boat for a week. During this time we took day excursions into the jungle on foot and explored the islands, inlets, and archipelagos with smaller watercraft.

The Tucano! Our home on the river.
The Tucano! Our home on the river.

It was a magical, crazy experience that included fishing for (and eating!) piranha, seeing our guide “charm” an enormous, bird-eating tarantula bigger than my hand out of its burrow,  watching giant river otter chase a large caiman alligator onto land, and much, much more.  I’ll blog about these stories (with pictures!) day-by-day as we go along.

For the second half, we journeyed to Rio de Janeiro, a vibrant city home to more than 12 million people, and the setting for the vast majority of the events featured in MURDERED. Here we saw the sights, ate like locals, strolled the beaches — and found adventure as well.

One of Rio's many "favela" slums. Yep, we went here.
One of Rio’s many “favela” slums that dot the hillsides. Yep, we went here.

Each day, I’m going to share with you pictures and stories from the trip, as well as highlight those experiences that you can live for yourself in MURDERED.

I’m not going to present all the photos and stories chronologically, lest I risk turning this into a family vacation slideshow. Instead, I’m going to share my experiences in Brazil by subject. I’ll show the people, the places, graffiti, food, the jungle, and more. Because my book begins in Rio and moves out to the jungle, so will this blog. Each day will be something new.

How many days? I’m not sure yet, but I hope you’ll join me in reliving this truly epic journey.

Click to continue to the first topic: Brazil: Resort, Hostel, Palace, Guestroom


Thanks for reading! What parts of Brazil are you most excited to see? Have you ever been? Requests for stories or anecdotes on travel?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

My Big Trip — To Brazil!

Redeemer
Can you guess how excited I am? Thiiiiiiisss much.

In a few days, my wife and I are headed on the trip of a lifetime. A bucket-list trip, if you will. We’re going to Brazil, first to take a boat down the Amazon, see the jungle, and then head to Rio de Janeiro to see the sites like the one above.

I know what you’re thinking–didn’t I release MURDERED two years ago?

Sure did, and I made the setting as authentic as I could–for someone who had never visited Brazil. And in doing that research, I created a travel guide of sorts that I now aim to follow.

Originally, I thought I’d blog about the trip as I went, but after some thought I’ve decided to delay that until the return. I don’t want to have to rush to an internet cafe everyday and I don’t even think it would be feasible for my river/jungle portion. Instead, I’m going to blog each day as it happens, day by day, then publish it when I get back in daily episodes as if the whole thing were only on a delayed timer.

So when I get back, I’ll tell you all about it.

I’m going to stay in the hostel your character is staying in at the start of the book. Eat at the same Copacabana Palace you can eat at in the book. Ride the cog train up to the Christ statue. I’ll even head into the favelas! During the day, of course. I know the consequences…

Test your detective skills in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro's favelas.
And, more than anything, I’m going to paint the town red.

I hope you all enjoy your Christmas break as much as I will and I’ll catch you in the new year!

Edit: I’ve started blogging about the trip. Check that out here.


So, what do YOU think? Have you ever been on a trip like this? Doing anything fun over winter?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Filosophy Friday

Or Philosophy Phriday, take your pick.

One day I’m going to write a time travel Click Your Poison book (I’m thinking it’ll be “next” after I finish up the murder mystery I’m working on now) and it’s got me thinking. Time travel has always fascinated me and this book would be an awesome challenge. I’ve often thought if I have one “gift” as a writer it’s an overactive imagination. Well, this ought to put that gift to the test.

Credit: “Time Warp” by Chuck Brittenham

Time travel is a hell of a lot of fun, but it’s also a larger look into who we are as a collective species. We get to see where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going, all in the space of a single adventure. Or, as will most likely be the case with CYP#3, three unique adventures within one book. I’ve thought about time travel a lot over the years and it’s always inspired creative thoughts. What if this? Oooh, but what about that? Now it’s time to let some of those marinated thoughts back out and to contribute something to this story universe. Like the other books in the series it will still be titled toward entertainment on the entertainment-to-art scale, I have the opportunity to, you know… say something profound.

For the “early future” I have a lot of room for social criticism. So many books have already done the Distopian thing, and I wonder if it might be more poignant to do a Utopian vision, perhaps to inspire rather than scare into change. As my brilliant friend Damon says,

We’ve scared ourselves into pessimism with dystopian
stories. Now we just assume the future is going to suck.” – Damon, smartypants

Consider this as one example: We’re reaching a point in our society where efficiency is eliminating more jobs while population growth is expanding the need for them. Something has to give. But why can’t there be a solution? Why not robot servants to do our dirty work, and then a leisure economy composed of artists, craftsmen, and entrepreneurs? You could get a stipend for food and living expenses, then your earnings as an artisan are used strictly for relaxation-based consumerism.

Robot farming is already in development.

I’m saying the rules have changed. There has been a cultural revolution. Perhaps, without the inherent need for “work”, we turn inside. That’s historically where most thinkers, philosophers and authors have come from — they were people who didn’t need to, or chose not to, work for a living. Could there be, would there be, a shift inward toward enlightenment and education?

This is by no means a set-in-stone plot element to the book. I may very well change it completely as I delve into the research; I’m just thinking out loud here. What do you think? What positive changes might the future hold? I’d love to hear some outside thoughts.

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 Monet Experience

Monet Experience (noun): The process or fact of personally observing, encountering, or undergoing something for the first time, or without any preconceived notion as to what might be entailed or encountered. To be a blank canvas.  I went into the movie without even seeing the trailer, it was a total Monet Experience.

“Water Lilies at the Bridge” by Claude Monet – 1890

This is the coining of the term; its first non-spoken use.  Monet, like me, often longed to see the world without any preconceived notions, prejudices, or expectation whatsoever.  To see the world for the first time, like a child, but with an adult mind with the capabilities to appreciate such a thing.

When you taste a new dish for the first time, when you read a book with no idea what it’s about, when you visit somewhere you’ve never even seen pictures of — you’re having a Monet Experience.  In the fashion of an Epicurean, I find no greater bliss than experiencing something new; no matter how small.  So when I read that Monet felt the same way, it finally gave a name to what I’d been feeling all along.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”
– Claude Monet

And to be frank: I’m not narcissistic enough to call it a “Schannep Experience”.  I like the name “Monet Experience”.  Associating a man so full of passion, genius and talent adds an element of beauty to a concept near and dear to my heart.

As both a purveyor and rabid consumer of books and movies, a Monet Experience is essential to my enjoyment.  Friends call me a “Story Purist” because I don’t like to know anything about a book or movie going into it.  The writer intends information to be revealed in a specific way, and it tickles my senses for the process to unfold in such a manner.  Spoilers, an apt name if ever one was writ, ruin that experience.

Ever watch a movie trailer, then say “Thanks for showing me the entire movie”?  This is far too commonplace, in my opinion.  Teasers do much better, but if I know I’m interested in something, I’ll skirt any conversation or exposure to that work.

“It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” – Claude Monet

My love of the Monet Experience was cemented by a single event.  I’ve served in the military, and during basic training we were cut off from the outside world.  After we were able to leave the gates for the first time, I went to see a movie with a few friends.  We had no idea what any of the films playing were about.  “What should we see?” we asked one another aloud.  A patron leaving said, “The Ring is a really great movie.”  We all shrugged and bought tickets.  It remains to this day one of my favorite movie-going experiences.

“So how do you pick movies and books?” you might ask.  Simple: by recommendation.  Trusted friends and critics say something is amazing and worth my time, and I check it out.  Or by reputation.  There are writers and filmmakers whom I believe produce quality art.  Once I’m a fan, I’m hooked till they lose me.

Bottom line: Sometimes you can’t avoid the hype, but I find it more pleasurable not to seek it out.  Give it a try.  Only a Monet Experience can provide the joy of unadulterated perception.

© James Schannep and jamesschannep.com, 2011-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.