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Anticipation: The Next Best Thing to Being There

Summer doesn’t officially start until June 20th, but for most of us, the months from Memorial Day until September mean one thing: summer is here. Warmer weather and longer days, barbeques and beach combing, 4th of July parades and fireworks, camping and hiking, swimming and so much more. What’s not to like? (Well, I could list a few things, like hurricanes, mosquitoes, sunburn….) But be honest–we all love summer. Now is a very good time to start thinking about where you might go.

[pullquote align=”right”]Make all the plans you can, but don’t be so worried about getting to your next destination that you miss out on the fun of being together with family and friends.[/pullquote]Over the 30-plus years that I’ve been traveling around America, I have found that, as much as I love the serendipitous discoveries and unexpected moments that road trips often bring, much of my pleasure comes from the anticipation. I love looking forward, and by that I don’t mean “keeping my eyes on the road”, which is always excellent advice in these days of distracted driving. What I mean to say is that spending time planning and thinking about the journey, long before you set off, is perhaps the single best investment you can make.

Advance planning can obviously cut down on disappointment; for example, the more you plan ahead the better the odds are that your favorite hotel, like the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, will have a room for you when you visit. But doing research has less tangible benefits as well. The more you’ve learned about the places you pass through, the more likely you are to notice and appreciate subtle aspects of the local character. Knowing a little about local history, for example, will clue you in to the fact that that the many “Mound City” signs you see in Ohio and Illinois are not advertising parts of baseball fields or coconut-and-chocolate candy bars, but are pointing you toward some of the most remarkable pre-Columbian remnants anywhere. And if you get familiar with local literature, you’ll know that the Frost Place in New Hampshire is not just another ice cream stand; it’s the former home of the region’s poet laureate, Robert Frost.

But anticipation isn’t everything. Internet websites, search engines and sundry smartphone apps may have made access to information easier than ever, but no matter how intelligent you are in anticipating all possible permutations of your road trip experience, remember what Robbie Burns said about the “…best laid plans of mice and men.” He wrote that such plans:

…Gang aft agley,
An’ leave us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

The Scottish translation is “things sometimes turn out differently than you had planned.” Not always worse, in my experience. Just different. And isn’t having new and different experiences what travel is all about? So relax. Make all the plans you can, but don’t be so worried about getting to your next destination that you miss out on the fun of being together with family and friends. Smile for the camera, be “in the moment,” and make sure the answer to that eternal on-the-road question, “Are we there yet?” is a resounding “YES!”

Photo © Jamie Jensen

A Critic’s Perspective

PerspectiveThe critical debate surrounding Stanley Fish’s defense of “spoilers” seems to focus mainly on how it affects the reader’s enjoyment of the book, either in a negative or positive way. What I think what needs to be discussed is the purpose of criticism. Why do readers read them, and what purpose do they serve? Do they exist merely to promote a book, and to inform readers in advance of their actual reading of the book?

As a reviewer, not including “spoilers” is a limiting, often frustrating, roadblock. How are we to critically discuss a book if we have to keep dancing around the facts? This can result in more generalized commentary or surface-level evaluations instead of the more deep, comprehensive reviews that the books deserve (and which crime fiction is often denied). If reviews are supposed to avoid serious, objective discussion, then they are just another branch of publicity, like blurbs or jacket flap copy.

I agree with those readers who do not wish to have the plots “spoiled.” And for that reason, I typically don’t read reviews until after I’ve read the book. When I don’t care about advance knowledge — or when I wish to be convinced that I should read a particular book — then I’ll go to a review, and if something crucial to the plot is revealed, I understand it comes with the territory. Sometimes those “spoiler” details can change my mind and convince me to go buy and read a book that I might not otherwise have given a chance.

In my own reviews, I should note, that I try not to include many “spoilers.” However, I’d be lying if I thought that excluding some of that information has lead to weaker discussions of the texts and many regrets that I’m not delivering the in-depth review that I’d like to.

From the opening paragraph of Fish’s article on The Hunger Games, it was obvious that his was going to be more than a just a cursory review. The depth of his analysis should have been sufficient indication that Fish wasn’t going to beat around the bush in terms of plot. As a reader, I greatly appreciated Fish’s thoughtfulness and insight; and as a reviewer, I admire his craft and thoroughness. His defense of “spoilers” may have been too cerebral and academic for my own tastes, but his original piece on The Hunger Games was refreshing to read because it was a real piece of criticism, not just another knee-jerk fan reaction from Amazon.com; consumer reviews serve their purpose, but that’s not professional criticism.

Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in Beat to a Pulp, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, Bright Lights Film Journal, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Moving Image Source, Spinetingler, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review.

Why I Write “Strong Female Characters”

[This post originally appeared on i09]

Greg Rucka has rocked the worlds of comics and novels for years, including memorable Batman writing, plus the Queen and Country series and the Atticus Kodiak books. But he might be best known for being a man who writes a lot of “strong female characters.”

People always ask Rucka why he chooses to write so many hard-hitting women. And now, to celebrate the release of his new novel Alpha, he’s explaining why.

The first story I can remember writing, that I truly set down on paper, was a Christmas story that I wrote when I was ten years old. The irony of this isn’t simply that I’m Jewish, nor is it that the story was about what happened to North Pole Operations when Saint Nick “went to join the bleedin’ choir invisible.”

No, it was that, in this little school assigned short-story I wrote, the mournful elves were roused from their grief by a determined and forceful Mrs. Claus, who took – ahem – the reins of the operation in hand. Under her steely gaze, toys were made, presents were wrapped, reindeer were harnessed, and the sleigh took flight with her in the pilot’s seat.

It wasn’t, I think, a terribly good story, but it had two things going for it. It had the shameless unselfconsciousness of a ten year old author, and it had a clear feminist agenda.

Shades of things to come.

When I was in high school, I started writing a serial novel, longhand, set in the Arthurian mythos, and influenced not incidentally by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. It was the story about a young pagan priestess, a Lady of the Lake, as it were, named Adriana, and the various adventures, trials, and tribulations she experienced. I wrote this in several college-lined notebooks. This was what I did sitting in the back of the classroom during English. My thinking was, well, I’m writing it in English, aren’t I? An excuse that, incidentally, did not impress my teacher at the time, Mr. Murray.

I still have those notebooks buried in a filing cabinet in my office. As with Mrs. Claus, the story – in memory, at least – isn’t terribly good. And like Mrs. Claus, Adriana was no wallflower. While I’m certain I never once put a sword in her hands or armor on her form, she was undeniably kick-ass, strong-willed and proud and disinclined to back down in the face of adversity.

Why I Write "Strong Female Characters"In graduate school, I wrote a one-act play called Work Ethic under the guidance of the terrific writer David Milton. There were three characters in this play, two men and one woman. The woman was a Deputy U.S. Marshal by the name of Carrie Stetko, a later-iteration of whom would reappear as the protagonist in the graphic novel Whiteout, written by me, and illustrated by Steve Lieber. Whiteout was my key through the razor-wire and spikes surrounding the comics industry.

Whiteout was made into a movie. There’s a Carrie Stetko in that, too. She shares the name, but the similarities between Movie Carrie, Comic Carrie, and One Act Play Carrie begin and end with the name. Comic Carrie and One Act Play Carrie would shake Movie Carrie down behind the bleachers, laugh her out of the You Share Our Name Club, and send her limping and mewling home to mother. And they wouldn’t feel a moment’s regret about doing it, either.

In early 2001, Oni Press published the first issue of Queen & Country, a comic book series written by yours truly and illustrated by many wonderful artists throughout its run. I later wrote three novels that are – depending on your point of view – either tie-ins or crucial parts of the series. The main character of both the comics and all three novels is a woman named Tara Chace. Tara is a Special Operations Officer for the British SIS, or MI6 if you’re the kind who likes Old School. She’s basically James Bond, except without the hyperbole and the bullshit. Quiller set in a Le Carré-influenced world might be a better description.

Tara can kill people with her bare hands and escape from Iran with two bullets in her body, but she can’t maintain a personal life worth a damn.

There are more. There are a lot more. There’s Renee Montoya and Kate Kane and Sasha Bordeaux, all over at DC Comics. There’s Black Widow v1, Natasha Romanov, and Black Widow v2, Yelena Belova, and Elektra, and currently Sergeant Rachel Cole-Alves, all at Marvel.

There’s Bridgett Logan, and Natalie Trent, and Alena Cizkova, all from the Kodiak series of novels. There’s Miriam Bracca from A Fistful of Rain, and there’s Dexedrine Callisto Parios, from Stumptown, and there’s Her Ladyship, Captain Seneca Sabre, from the webcomic that I write and that Rick Burchett draws, called Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether. There’s Victoria Black from a Project That Is Yet to Go into Production but by the grace of God will soon see the light of day.

There are a lot of women.

You will have no doubt detected a theme, here. Continue reading “Why I Write “Strong Female Characters””

São Sebastião: Beaches, Nightlife, and More

Two men pass under the shade of a tree high up on the shore of a white-sand beach.
São Sebastião is sure to have a beach to suit your style. Photo © Sheila Tostes, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Map of São Paulo State, Brazil
São Paulo State
When Paulistanos say they are “going to São Sebastião,” they’re not actually referring to the busy seaside town with the colonial center located 220 kilometers (137 miles) from São Paulo, but to the 100-kilometer (62-mile) expanse of beaches and resort towns around it, included in the municipality of São Sebastião. In fact, very few people visit São Sebastião itself. Despite a pleasant colonial center, the presence of a large oil refinery and lack of good beaches mean that its primary interest is as an access point to the stunning natural beauty of Ilhabela, only a 15-minute ferry ride away.

More likely, “going to São Sebastião” means traveling to Maresias, Camburi, Juqueí, or any of the other couple of dozen beaches that precede it along SP-055, the highway linking Santos and Rio de Janeiro. The beaches themselves (most of which have pousadas and restaurants) are incredibly varied. You’ll find tiny secluded coves as well as long sweeps of sand lined with fancy vacation homes and stylish bars. While some beaches have calm waters that are ideal for toddlers, others boast awesome waves that seduce surfers. Ultimately, whether you’re in search of a family vacation, a flirtation fest, or a relaxing retreat, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for.

In the town of São Sebastião, the tourist office (Rua da Praia 174, tel. 12/3892-2620, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. daily) offers information on the entire coastline. You can also consult www.saosebastiao.com.br.

Beaches

Traveling east from Santos and Guarujá along the coast toward São Sebastião, after about 65 kilometers (40 miles) you’ll reach Barra da Una, the first beach of interest and a major nautical center. From here you can go sailing, hire a launch to take you diving off nearby islands, or go paddling up the nearby Rio Una in a kayak. Only 3 kilometers (2 miles) west of Barra da Una is secluded Juréia, backed by exuberant vegetation and blessed with a bewitchingly green sea. Farther along, Juqueí’s wide sandy beaches and calm waters are popular with families, as is the horseshoe-shaped Praia da Barra do Saí. The super-trendy beautiful beaches of Camburi and Camburizinho are magnets for a toned and tanned crowd who surf (the waves are rougher here) and sun by day and mellow out at night at the many rustic-chic bars and restaurants.

If you’re young, on the loose, and looking for even more action, avoid the excessively overdeveloped Boiçucanga and continue east until you hit Maresias, a gathering point for movers and groovers from all over the state. Big swells attract surfers, but a dangerous current makes bathing risky (although the blue-green sea is certainly seductive). As wild as the ocean is Maresias’s nightlife, with its multiple bars and discos. Another 5 kilometers (3 miles) east, Santiago is much more tranquil, as are neighboring Toque-Toque Pequeno, a quiet little fishing town with a relaxed vibe and a privileged view of the setting sun, and Toque-Toque Grande. Both Toque-Toques offer beckoning sands and good snorkeling. Hidden between them is the beautifully wild and quite deserted tiny Praia de Calhetas.

Sports and Recreation

To explore the islands off the coast, take a half-day schooner trip with Green Way (Av. Mãe Bernarda 2332, Juqueí, tel. 12/3891-1075), an operator specializing in ecotourism. Departing from Barra da Una, trips (minimum 4 people, R$110–150) include stops for diving and swimming. Equipment and snacks are included. Green Way offers kayak trips on the Rio Una (R$60 pp) as well as hiking, biking, and Jeep excursions into the native Atlantic forest. It also offers surfing classes for kids and adults of all levels of experience.

Nightlife

Sirena (Rua Sirena, Maresias, tel. 12/3077-0020, 10 p.m.–7 a.m. Fri.–Sat., cover R$40–100) bills itself as the best club in Brazil. Its phenomenal fame reels in beautiful young revelers from all over São Paulo state, seduced by the pseudo-Asian decor and casual beach vibe. Aside from electronic music, Sirena regularly features some of the top DJs on the international circuit. Although not as hip as it once was, its most serious rival is Galeão (Estrada de Camburi 79, Camburi, tel. 12/3865-1515, 10 p.m.–4 a.m. Fri.–Sat. daily summer, cover R$20–40), where you’ll hear a more eclectic musical mix of soul, funk, and hip-hop.

Getting There and Around

From São Paulo’s Tietê terminal, Litorânea (tel. 0800/285-3047) operates buses departing every two hours daily for São Sebastião’s centrally located Rodoviária (Praça da Amizade 10, tel. 12/3892-1072). The 3.5-hour trip costs R$43.

If you’re driving from São Paulo, take the Rodovia Aryton Senna (SP-070) to the São José dos Campos turnoff, then the Rodovia Tamoios (SP-099), followed by the Rio–Santos highway (SP-055), which leads to São Sebastião. For the southernmost beaches (Juqueí onward), instead of the Tamoios, take the Rodovia Mogi–Bertioga (SP-098) to the Rio–Santos. You will pass all the other beaches along the way. Travel time is roughly three hours.

If you don’t have a car, it’s quite easy to go up and down the coast between São Sebastião and Barra do Una by flagging down the bright yellow buses operated by Eco-bus (tel. 0800/771-0271) that regularly travel up and down the Rio–Santos.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.

Raindrops (Literally) Keep Falling on My Head

In general, Brazilians are (justifiably) famed for their sunny dispositions, and among all Brazilians, many would argue that Bahians possess the sunniest dispositions of all.

On a regular day-to-day basis, such a positive outlook on life can act as a soothing balm and serve as a refreshing reminder that no matter what trials you happen to be living through (and neurotically freaking out about or moodily brooding over), they’re probably not quite as bad as you think. Since life is short, forget your troubles, have a cerveja estupidamente gelada (“stupidly” cold beer), and get happy.

[pullquote] The rain puts a damper on daily life, which revolves around sun-soaked activities, and on nightlife, most of which unspools en plein air. [/pullquote]

As an adopted Bahian, who has spent a lot of time living intimately with bonafide Bahians, I’ve come to appreciate this cultural characteristic quite a bit. I’ve even absorbed it to a certain extent. However, this week all bets were off.

For 12 days now, it’s been raining almost non-stop in Salvador. This year, the famous “águas de março” (waters of March) whose job it is to “fechar o verão” (bring summer to a close) — a natural phenomenon musically immortalized by Tom Jobim and Elis Regina in Jobim’s classic “Águas de Março” — didn’t make their appearance until the end of May.

The rainy season is not a good time to be in Salvador. For most of the year, Bahia’s baroque capital is bathed in a golden light that causes its tropical colors to shimmer. However, with the rains, the unexpectedly gray, soggy city reveals an underbelly of decay and cracks, rot and misery. Streets and sidewalks are quickly transformed into creeks and rivers. Traffic is messier than usual. Landslides cause precariously built hillside houses (inevitably in poor neighborhoods) to fall, destroying homes, and sometimes, lives.

The rain puts a damper on daily life, which revolves around sun-soaked activities, and on nightlife, most of which unspools en plein air. During these damp days, Bahians hole up at home and observe, from their windows and TV sets, the landscape transformed to a waterscape.

But what happens if it’s raining inside as well as out?

I was faced with such a microcosmic phenomenon this week as my kitchen and, especially my living room, became miniature Pantanals. I’m not just talking about a few drips, but a steady and ongoing symphony of large droplets, the kind that create bloated lumps in the ceiling and small lagoons on the floor.

My internal showers stem from the fact that I live on the top floor of a small, 4-story building, which has the misfortune of sitting next to a brand new 20-story luxury condo complex, in its final stages of construction. During said construction (a hellacious period which has lasted close to 3 years), workers have proceeded to drop, toss, and lob various pieces of flotsam and jetsam haphazardly, some of which landed upon the roof of my building, blocking drain pipes and breaking tiles. Although intermittent in-house drizzling has occurred over the last two rainy seasons, this week’s living room downpour was extreme.

But back to Bahians’ notoriously sunny dispositions. The truth is a sunny disposition is the very last thing in the world you want to be confronted with when your living room walls resemble the insides of a very wet grotto. However, sunny is what I got when I called my neighbor/building super to report that it was raining cats and dogs in my apartment.

To his credit, my neighbor/building super also took action. He promptly went next door to the new 20-story condo to remind the head engineer that, several months earlier, he had signed a document promising to repair our roof upon the completion of all exterior work (i.e. over a month ago).

Within minutes, the engineer and a couple of workers were splashing merrily through my living room, noting cheerily that yes, indeed, something was amiss. They then proceeded to go out into the equally marsh-like hallway. A worker was dispatched to check out the roof for an explanation. Meanwhile, my neighbor/super, the engineer, and another worker stood around in the pseudo swamp, happily reminiscing about flooding incidents from their pasts, each one trying to top the other with tales of wet woe yanked from their personal archives. The more mirth they derived from these shared recollections, the more steamed up I was getting.

The cheery consensus seemed to be that because such leakages always happened, they always would; my inner rainstorm was merely a normal by-product of a somewhat larger-than-average amount of precipitation.

“But no,” I pointed out, while trying desperately to tap into my reserve stores of adopted Bahian insouciance. “Prior to three years ago, it never so much as dripped in my apartment.”

“Ahhh, but this year’s rains are particularly fierce,” pointed out the affable engineer. As proof that the rain itself was to blame, he proceeded to merrily point out that both Salvador’s international airport and the third floor of one its chic-est shopping centers were suffering from leaky ceilings as well.

Not to be outdone, my delighted neighbor/super (who’s also had his share of in-house precipitation over the last three years, and suffered much more material damage than me) chimed in with the fact that there had also been recent reports of rain inside a very large local supermarket.

And they were off again…

Their sunniness in the face of so much rain was so galling to me that I preferred to return to the dismal comfort of my own personal Pantanal.

I don’t know what I expected. A rapid and efficient solution would have been nice, but after 13 years in Bahia, I’ve been deprogrammed to entertain such fantasies.

Truthfully, what I really wanted was a little less joy and a little more good, old-fashioned North American bitching, griping, cussing, and crabbiness. I wanted some acknowledgment that, yes, a downpour in one’s apartment is abnormal, sucks, and is worth getting upset about.

Instead I got a lot of smiles, good humor, and entertaining anecdotes – all of which made me feel foreign beyond belief.

General Tipping Etiquette for Travelers in the US

A group of musicians including fiddlers, banjo players, and more busk on the sidewalk in New Orleans.
Street musicians entertain passersby. Photo © Daniel Martone.

As my colleague Jamie Jensen, author of the latest Road Trip USA guidebook, noted in a recent blog post, Memorial Day weekend has traditionally served as the start of the summertime road trip season. So, with Memorial Day just a couple days away, you’ve no doubt begun to make your seasonal travel plans. Of course, while figuring out the quick getaways and lengthy vacations that you intend to take this summer, it’s inevitable that, besides reflecting on favorite interests and must-see destinations, you’ll also need to consider your budget.

Given the current state of the economy, most travelers are surely eager to save money wherever they can. Visiting budget-friendly U.S. cities like Kansas City, San Antonio, and San Diego is one option, as is choosing destinations during their off-seasons, which, for hot places like New Orleans and Key West, is typically the summer. Fortunately, although many American cities have their share of pricey hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and parking lots, it’s often easy to find deals anywhere you opt to travel. Staying outside the main tourist areas, for instance, can often save you quite a bit of money, especially since public transportation is usually very inexpensive. There are also plenty of affordable eateries, vintage shops, and close-to-free attractions throughout most cities, and at many attractions, children, college students, senior citizens, military personnel, and AAA members will receive substantial discounts.

Other ways to save money include taking sharecations with friends, purchasing state park passes, using discount websites, and considering discount programs like CityPASS. Of course, while making the most of your vacation funds, be sure to remember seemingly mundane details like sales tax and tipping – both of which are critical for tourism-dependent cities.

Though you might have little control over sales tax rates, tipping is another matter altogether. As I indicate in the “Essentials” chapters of Moon Florida Keys, Moon Michigan, and the upcoming Moon New Orleans, the amount of a gratuity obviously depends on the level of service received, though general tipping guidelines do exist throughout the United States. For example, restaurant servers should typically receive 15-20 percent of the entire bill, while pizza delivery drivers should receive at least 10 percent. In addition, taxi and limousine drivers usually deserve at least 15 percent of the entire fare, while valets, porters, and skycaps should expect around $2 per vehicle or piece of luggage. The housekeeping staff of your inn or hotel also deserve a tip; a generally accepted amount is $2 per night.

Remember that tour guides, fishing guides, and other excursion operators should be tipped as well. In fact, no matter how much such experiences cost, the gratuity is never included in the quoted price. Of course, how much you choose to tip is entirely up to you. While the exact amount of a tip will depend on the cost, length, and nature of the trip in question – not to mention your satisfaction with the services received – it’s generally accepted to tip between 10 and 20 percent of the overall cost of the experience. If a guide or operator makes an exceptional effort, such as unexpectedly extending the length of an excursion or venturing off the beaten path, then I highly recommend that you increase the size of your tip accordingly.

Lastly, tourists often overlook the need to tip street performers, such as magicians, dancers, musicians, acrobats, jugglers, caricaturists, fortune tellers, and living statues. On many occasions, I’ve sadly observed spectators watching an entire performance, only to walk away without even dropping a dollar in the performers’ upturned hat, cardboard box, open instrument case, or other tip receptacle. So, if you stay long enough to observe a trick, enjoy a song, or take a photograph, be sure to leave a tip behind. After all, many performers depend upon gratuities for part, if not all, of their livelihood.

So, do you have any additional advice regarding tipping while traveling in the United States?

Soak It Up: Hot Springs of Montana

Beer bottles cluster on a heavy, rough-hewn wooden bar top.
Inside the Symes Hotel cantina. Photo by Chelsea Nesvig licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Hot water gurgles up all over the state, and it’s exploited to one degree or another by a wide variety of resorts, from the rustic to the chic. Be sure to bring a swimsuit — these aren’t clothing-optional spots! A breakneck tour of the state’s hot springs can be done in a few days, but chances are you’d rather relax and make this into a weeklong trip.


Northwestern Montana

The town of Hot Springs is a good place to kick off your tour. It’s pretty down-home, so it’ll get you used to a slower pace right off the bat. Here you can stay at the Symes Hotel, swim in the outdoor pool, and bathe in an old-fashioned tub filled with sulfurous water. Don’t rush out of town before stopping at Wild Horse Hot Springs, where the private plunges and steam rooms take rusticity to a new — and surprisingly heavenly — level.

Head southeast to Paradise for a swim at Quinn’s Hot Springs, and then farther on to the Bitterroot Valley, where you’ll find Lolo Hot Springs. This is a good place to spend the night; you can think of Lewis and Clark and their crew cleaning up here after months on the road.

The next day, continue south to Sula to the Lost Trail Hot Springs with its nice outdoor pool, indoor hot tub and saunas, lodge, cabins, and campground.


Southwestern Montana

Moving on from the Bitterroot Valley to the Big Hole, Jackson Hot Springs is the main thing going in Jackson, and it is another good place to spend a night.

But don’t miss Elkhorn Hot Springs in Polaris, another rustic place with cabins and a lodge.

Traveling northeast you’ll find Fairmont Hot Springs near Anaconda, which has large pools and full resort facilities. Stay here if you like the more luxurious style, or travel about 35 miles north on I-15 to visit Boulder Hot Springs (406/225-4339), a huge and partially renovated old hotel with a nice outdoor pool and indoor plunges.


South-Central Montana

From White Sulphur Springs, it’s another Montana-sized jaunt of 100 miles down Highway 89 to Pray and the state’s crown jewel of hot springs, Chico Hot Springs, home of a huge outdoor pool, a cool old lodge, and tons of atmosphere. Plan to stay here for at least one night and then head back north.

You can also visit the pools and day spa at Bozeman Hot Springs in Bozeman. From the “Four Corners” intersection right near Bozeman Hot Springs, head about 25 miles west on Highway 84 to Norris Hot Springs, a charming pool filled with the “water of the gods.”

One last stop, for those travelers who have ample budgets, is Potosi Hot Springs (1 South Willow Creek Road, 888/685-1695, 406/685-3330), up the road from Norris, past the tiny town of Pony. If your wallet’s too thin to take in Potosi, drag your wrinkled body out of that pool at Norris and get moving toward home!


Excerpted from the Eighth Edition of Moon Montana.

What Happens Next?

Noir sp

A recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

It’s like the lit crit version of “If you, foolish child, still believed in Santa Claus, it’s not my fault I ruined it for you.” It seems instructive in terms of that perpetual false paradigm of “literary fiction vs. genre fiction.” There seems a real desire to diminish or dismiss “suspense” as being a shallow  or “dirty” thing. The subtext is: If we are feeling the thrill of “what next? what next?” it can’t be good literature. While Fish clearly sees immense value in Hunger Games (and his piece on it isn’t a review, after all, so I can see why he was surprised that readers considered him a spoiler), he still seems resistant to admit that suspense–sensation–is a worthy thing. He seems to view it instead as the shallow aspect we must dismiss to mine the story for more “significant” aspects. But what could be more significant about the reading experience, about stories themselves, than that sensation of: “What happens next? How will it end?”

Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of five previous novels. She received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University and has taught literature, writing, and film studies at New York University, the New School, and the State University of New York at Oswego. She lives in New York City.

Dare Me, which Rosamund Lipton calls “arresting, original and unputdownable,” is coming from Reagan Arthur Books in July 2012.

Spoiler Alert

Snakes in my eye

A recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

Mr. Fish doesn’t think he owes us any warning when his reviews include spoilers. I think we all deserve a warning about Mr. Fish’s reviews, not to mention his misguided opinion – and definition – of spoilers.

He starts by stating that spoilers don’t really spoil anything. But the example he gives to support that notion – that the pleasures of a first read are only different, but no better than the enjoyment one gets from a second read – has nothing at all to do with spoilers. He states: “First-time readers or viewers, because they don’t know what’s going to happen, have access to the pleasures of suspense — going down the wrong path, guessing at the identity of the killer, wondering about the fate of the hero. Repeaters who do know what is going to happen cannot experience those pleasures, but they can recognize significances they missed the first time around, see ironies that emerge only in hindsight and savor the skill with which a plot is constructed. If suspense is taken away by certainty, certainty offers other compensations, and those compensations, rather than being undermined by a spoiler, require one.”

Certainly, readers can derive different kinds of pleasure from the first to the second read of a story. The first read gives us a chance to experience the thrill of the unknown; the second gives us a chance to more closely observe the craft of the writer since we now know the outcome. But what the hell does that have to do with spoilers? A first reading of a book is not a “spoiler.” A spoiler is a giveaway of the twist without the benefit of having the chance to read the whole story. It’s what some critics – one of whom is apparently Mr. Fish – might do in a review. When a review gives away a key plot twist, the reader has no chance to enjoy the suspense of the unknown, i.e. “is Mr. X the murderer? Or is it Ms. Y?” and “will the murderer get caught?” or “will our hero survive?” Thus, the term “spoiler” is apt, because it spoils the suspenseful aspect of the reader’s experience. But when the reader learns the plot twist by actually reading the whole story, that is not a “spoiler.” In that case the reader has been able to enjoy the full experience of following the story without knowing the outcome, of trying to guess who did it, whether the bad guy gets caught, etc. Now if the reader decides to go back for a second viewing in order to observe the story from a different vantage point, for example, to see how the writer built to the conclusion, why the “solve” did or didn’t work, that’s a voluntary choice and a whole different matter. The problem with “spoilers,” is that we readers don’t get to make that choice. The review that includes spoilers makes it for us. Continue reading “Spoiler Alert”

Dickens, Professor?

Thoughts CaptivityA recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

A common way to end the description of a book or film you’ve seen to someone who hasn’t is with, “…but I won’t tell you what happens, I don’t want to spoil it for you.” On the whole this restraint is received with gratitude. The term ‘spoiler alert’ has become standard on the web, preceding text that reveals critical elements of a plot, and could, in my view, precede many reviews that read more like synopses, but I digress. The point is, when one sees this warning, one can make an informed choice about whether to read on or not. So, for Professor Stanley Fish to posit that knowing the outcome of a story does not ruin our enjoyment of it may be an interesting academic exercise, but it is disingenuous. Yes, one can re-read a book or re-watch a film attuned to previously overlooked clues that point towards the known outcome (stories with a major reversal like The Sixth Sense being an obvious case in point) but a large part of enjoying new stories is going on an unknown journey whilst trying to anticipate where it is heading. Continue reading “Dickens, Professor?”

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