The Autumn of Purple Hair.

by Nicole Willson

Right before we went to London, I finally did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and dyed my hair purple. I wanted to do something fun with my appearance for the trip, and I figured that if my plane crashed on the way to London or on the way back, I didn’t want to die without ever having had purple hair.

Luckily, nothing that dramatic happened. I’m still here, and so is my purple hair.

I used Pimpin’ Purple (sigh) by Special Effects. I didn’t bleach my hair first, so the change was more subtle. At first my hair just looked very dark, but after I shampooed it a few times, the purple really started popping out.

And I really, really liked it. I still like it.

My hair the morning after I dyed it; I’d shampooed a couple of times to bring out the purple color.

At the wine bar in Dulles Airport on our way to London. A woman with awesome sky blue hair came over and complimented me on my hair. That made my day.

The color has slowly been washing out and fading to a sort of fuschia-auburn hue. In some lights it just looks like dark red hair now, although I’ve been doing a few things to try to keep the purple going a little while longer.

Monty Cat doesn’t really care what color my hair is. I think my hair looks pretty with his eyes.

My initial plan had been to make sure all the color was washed out before I had to go back to work, but that didn’t happen. I liked the color, and I wasn’t ready to let it go. And since I don’t work in a terribly strict or conservative place, I decided it wouldn’t be a big deal. Indeed, it was not — all the feedback I’ve gotten from coworkers has been very positive. One of them asked me if I’d had the color done in London, which I took as a compliment. It made me feel so sophisticated.

I’m not sure I’ll ever bleach my hair beforehand to get that screaming bright Crayola look, but even if the color keeps fading to a pinky shade, it’s still way more interesting than the mousy reddish-brown with gray sprinkles I’ve been sporting for a few years. Now I don’t know why I waited so long to do this. After all, it’s just hair.

London Vacation, Part II.

by Nicole Willson

On Saturday morning, Bill and I went to the British Museum.

Unfortunately, every other tourist in London had apparently had that exact same idea.

This unfortunate person was beaten to death when he got in the way of someone’s iPhone shot of an Egyptian statue.

The building was gorgeous, though.

We escaped to a higher floor and were rewarded with the very interesting and seasonally appropriate Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibit.

After Bill nearly got elbowed off of his seat at lunch because he had the nerve to be in the way of some jerkass’s perfect shot of his family at the table (“Here we are eating! Isn’t that so exciting!?”), we’d had enough and decided to head out. We walked to the Bloomsbury district in search of a bookstore Bill had read about prior to our trip.

An aside: London, I am insanely jealous of your bookstore scene. The night before, we’d gone to a huge Waterstone’s bookstore in Piccadilly. Six floors — a restaurant and bar on the top floor and a cafe in the basement. We got temporarily confused during our search for the Bloomsbury bookstore, but passed two more used bookstores within two blocks of the place we were looking for. And I spotted several other new and used bookstores on our various treks through London. Stores like that are dying on the vine in the US, and I don’t understand why.

Anyhow, we stopped for a pint in a wonderfully quiet pub. We were both amused that this quiet pub — the first one where we’d had no trouble finding a seat and settling in — was next to a university. Something about that just seemed wrong.

I loved the birdcages hanging from the ceiling of the pub.

We went to the Tate Gallery on Sunday. I’d been interested in this place almost exclusively because I’d heard that the building offered stunning views of London; frankly, I can take or leave a lot of modern “art”. But the promised view did not disappoint.

This piece from a Louise Bourgeois exhibit made me laugh.

Afterwards, we walked out on the river walk by the museum.

I really liked watching this Grim Reaper freak people out. Folks didn’t realize there was a human in there until the Reaper would suddenly stretch a hand out at them. The Reaper was cool. (And I’m still not entirely sure how s/he appeared to be levitating.)

Bill and I took a walk over the Millennium Bridge and back. I’d only ever seen that bridge being trashed by Death Eaters in the beginning of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” I’m happy to report that it’s all better now.

And then Bill suggested that we follow the river walk and head for the London Eye. We’d been planning to go ride the Eye on Monday morning, but the day was beautiful and I still felt reasonably energetic, so why not?

Now here’s the thing: I’ve seen the Eye in lots of shows like “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who.” I know that sucker is big.

But when we finally reached it and I looked up and saw that it appeared only slightly shorter than the Washington Monument at its top height? Something inside of me reacted like this:

I didn’t realize how afraid I’ve become of heights until that moment.

However, we’d walked all that way and I didn’t want to be taunted by any glimpses of the Eye in future TV shows. “Ha ha, you big wimp — remember when you chickened out like a big baby?” So I swallowed my nerves and asked Bill to go ahead and get me a ticket too.

The wait for tickets was probably longer than the actual wait to get on the Eye, and soon enough we were moving. Each car holds about 20 people with a big bench in the middle for those of us with sore feet. The Eye takes about 45 minutes to go through one rotation very slowly, so slowly that when I’d spot it from elsewhere in the city I often thought it wasn’t moving at all.

Nice view of Parliament from the bottom of the Eye.

I tried to distract myself from being scared by taking selfies and making stupid faces. It didn’t really work.

Higher and higher …

I started to relax once we’d gone over the top. Just as we were getting really close to the bottom and I started looking out at the street scene below and thinking “Hey, that restaurant over there could be interesting for dinner …” the damn thing stopped and then started rotating back UP. A gaggle of kids who’d been standing nearby all turned around to look at me, as if of course I’d know what the hell was going on. Boy, were they looking to the wrong grown-up for reassurance.

Anyhow, the Eye stopped moving again before we reached the top a second time and rotated back down to the wonderful, beautiful, amazing ground.

I think half the reason I do these things is because it feels so awesome when they’re over and none of my worst fears came to pass. There was a very convenient Tube stop nearby and we headed over there, rode home, and ate at a nearby pizza place for dinner, where I had a big glass of “How cool is it that I didn’t die?” wine, followed by a “Hey, I’m still alive!” pint at the Nellie Dean, the pub closest to our hotel.

I loved the name of this beer (and the beer itself wasn’t bad).

Part III to come shortly.

London Vacation, Part I.

by Nicole Willson

So my mother and I made a trip to England back in 1989, and I loved it. I’ve been wanting to get back ever since.

This year, for our fifteenth wedding anniversary, Bill and I finally made it to London (it was actually Bill’s first time there if you don’t count a mad dash through Heathrow to make a connecting flight for our honeymoon in Ireland back in 1999).

Something to note about the trip: Yes, we went to a lot of touristy spots. We were tourists. That’s what tourists do. I’ve been known to go to touristy spots in DC just because I like them, so there.

I wanted to make sure we stayed in a neighborhood that didn’t shut down at 5:00 every night, and the travel books we read made the Soho neighborhood sound like the best bet. We stayed at the Nadler Hotel. I suspected I was going to like this place when I saw this lady hanging over the entrance.

At night, her wings lit up in green.

I knew I was definitely going to like the Nadler when the movie playing on the large screen hanging by the lobby doors as we checked in was “Peeping Tom.”  That’s a wonderfully weird, dark choice for a place that had no shortage of children staying there.

This was our room. I loved the filmstrip headboard on the bed. The only thing I didn’t much like about our room in the Nadler was the strangely designed shower/tub with walls that were so high that I had to employ gymnastic skills I don’t really have to get myself in and out of the thing every morning. But everything else about the Nadler was delightful.

The blanket on the bed was not real fur, thank goodness.

We didn’t do much sightseeing the first day because we were staggering around in a sleep-deprived and jet-lagged stupor. We did walk around Soho a good bit, and I came to the conclusion that at least during the daytime, Soho reminded me a lot of what Dupont Circle and Georgetown were like before all the fun independent bookstores, music stores, shops, and restaurants started getting priced out and losing their leases.

An especially creepy shop window display. That horrible thing in the chair actually rocked.

Our first real touristy sightseeing kicked off with a visit to the Tower of London on Friday. I remembered liking the Tower very much on my last trip, and that was reinforced this time. There’s truly nothing like the Tower anywhere in the US.

I had no idea about the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red exhibition before we got there, and I was struck by the sight of all of the poppies being placed in the moat when we walked into the Tower. From a distance, it really did look as if blood was pouring out of the Tower window and flooding the moat.

Me being me, I was especially drawn to the Tower ravens.  But “bird biscuits soaked in blood”? Ew.

Luckily, the ravens are enormous showoffs and had no qualms about getting really, really close to tourists.

I thought this raven looked as if it were actually bowing to us, but I’m sure it was probably just doing whatever ravens do to say “Piss off.”

“Hello, there! Got any blood-soaked bird biscuits? I’m feeling a bit peckish. Peckish? Get it? Ha ha ha!”

This was Henry VIII’s steampunk dragon. He called it “Draggy.” He used Draggy to fend off intruders, pretenders to the throne, and wives who wouldn’t produce sons or go away quietly when he got tired of them. Draggy got a lot of use.

Because we visited at an off time, the line to get in to see the Crown Jewels wasn’t very large and moved quickly. I was amused by the number of times I heard someone mutter the name “Moriarty” as we got into the actual exhibit, and was somewhat disappointed that we weren’t greeted by the sight of a cheeky, criminally insane Irishman wearing all the jewels.

Honey, you should see him in a crown …

After we left the Tower itself, Bill somehow persuaded me to go to the top of Tower Bridge. This view of the city seemed really impressive until we rode the London Eye. More on that later.

During his Internet searches prior to the trip, Bill had found a listing for Gordon’s Wine Bar, a wine bar (duh) that’s actually built partly in a very dark, candlelit cellar and was situated only a few Tube stops away from the Tower. There’s also outdoor seating, but zzz. How boring, when there’s that neat dark cavernous space right there. It wasn’t at all difficult to persuade me to stop there, and it ended up being the only establishment we made special trips to visit twice.

Like the Tower, there’s nothing we’ve been to in America that was anything like this place. Unlike almost everywhere in Soho we walked by on Thursday and Friday nights, we managed to snag one of the last indoor tables in Gordon’s that Friday afternoon. It was a nice place to unwind after a busy afternoon. They had good wine and terrific port, and I couldn’t resist snacking on some of their bread and cheese. I’d forgotten how much I love Cotswold cheese.

Bill sits in Gordon’s and wonders what kind of blood the bird biscuits were soaked in.

A word about that Soho nightlife scene: Whoa. I’d been envisioning something like Wilson Blvd. in Arlington on a Friday night — busy, but you can still walk down the sidewalks reasonably unimpeded. What we got on both Thursday and Friday nights was like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Patrons were spilling out of the pubs and onto the streets before 5 pm, drinking and smoking (you’re allowed to take beers outside if they’re in plastic glasses, and you will not get beaten to death with rocks for lighting up a cigarette in public). By 7 pm on Friday night, we could barely make it down Carlyle Street to get back to the Nadler. Just about every pub we passed — and make no mistake, Soho has a lot of pubs — was overflowing people onto the sidewalks and streets outside.

I’ve never seen anything like this in the DC area, probably in no small part because the residents in most of the busiest neighborhoods would be very unlikely to put up with all the noise, crowding, and smoke for very long before someone’s councilmembers would be called in to start passing laws. Bill and I ended up having beers wherever we settled in for dinner on Thursday and Friday.

Oddly enough, on Saturday night the pub scene diminished considerably and we were able to grab pints in a couple of places we’d passed up due to the crowding on Thursday and Friday. And on Sunday we were able to settle in at a table at the pub closest to the Nadler.

So that’s probably enough babble for one entry. More later.

I Could Write A Book.

I’m very, very grateful that most publishers and agents these days want manuscripts emailed to them. Printing and copying that sucker and sending it out via snail mail would be no fun at all.

by Nicole Willson

Up there is Draft Four. I did in fact finish it, even if I didn’t do it within Camp NaNoWriMo’s time frame. And although I’ve been working almost exclusively in Scrivener up to this point, I decided that I really wanted a print copy of this manuscript to tear to shreds for the next round of revisions. That’s how I used to revise my work back in the dark ages when personal computers were still exotic things that existed only in school computer labs, and I think there might still be value in doing a round of changes this way. Getting the manuscript ready and printing it out was my Labor Day weekend project.

I was not prepared for how big the thing was going to be in physical form. My goodness, but that’s a big pile of paper. That’s the first novel of mine I’ve ever printed out. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that 400+ pages is, y’know, a lot of pages.

And yet there’s something very satisfying about seeing it in this form. That big pile of paper represents several years of daydreaming, writing, editing, rewriting, and overall hard freaking work. And it’s kind of a kick to know that I did that. I wrote all that. Whatever happens with the book from here, even if it’s unsellable and unreadable garbage, it’s still something I created and stuck with for all this time.

At this point, I’m hoping that the remaining revisions will be more cosmetic than structural. (Ha. I think I say that after every major revision.) I ran a word count and found that I’m pushing the standard word count for YA fantasy dangerously close to the breaking point, so I’m going to have to make like Freddy Krueger and start slashing away at this poor thing. That nice clean paper draft isn’t going to stay that way for long.

No Fun.

by Nicole Willson

So I did not finish my Camp NaNoWriMo editing rebel goal.

However, this time I think I had an actual good reason — being hospitalized for nearly a week for complications from a ruptured appendix, and still being pretty wrung out and fatigued from the ongoing recovery for the rest of July.

Turns out that when medical sites advise you to seek help if you’re having persistent abdominal pain, that’s more than just a polite suggestion. But because my pain lasted on and off for several days and never actually got that bad until the day I finally gave up and went to the doctor (who promptly told me “I think you came to the wrong place”), I assumed it couldn’t be appendicitis. Didn’t appendicitis come on suddenly and get really painful really fast? Like in that book “Madeline“?

In my case, no.

And I’m just putting this out there for others who might find themselves or someone they love in the same boat: The doctors did NOT take my appendix out, much to my initial disbelief (and the bafflement of my family). The doctor who was overseeing my care explained that my appendix was such a mess that opening me up to get at it could cause more problems than it solved. And because my infection seemed to be well-contained and I wasn’t going into septic shock, they elected to keep me in the hospital and pump me full of antibiotics until my white blood cell count and my temperature dropped to acceptable levels, at which point they sent me home toting even more bottles of antibiotics.

That hospital stay took nearly a week. For someone who hadn’t spent any extensive time in a hospital since my actual birth, that was a hell of a learning curve. Even though the hospital room itself was quite comfortable and the people I dealt with were all incredibly kind, I shed tears of gratitude on the day the doctors told me I could go home.

So if you’re ever in this situation and you’re searching the Web while muttering “WTF? I’ve never heard of not operating on a ruptured appendix!”, hi there! Now you have. It’s a more common approach than I thought.

I have to go for a follow-up CT scan in a few weeks and there is still a possibility that the doctor will elect to have whatever’s left of my appendix taken out, but for now, I’m feeling pretty good. I was allowed to telecommute for my first two weeks back at home, but this week I finally returned to the office.

And I’ve also picked up where I left off with the NaNoWriMo plan and continued to edit the first book. Even if I didn’t finish it on time, I really want to get that latest draft hammered out. It’s not that long now until November, when I want to write that completely different book. I’d like to have Draft Four all wrapped up.

Camp Nano Status Report

by Nicole Willson

Halfway through the month, here’s what I’ve done as an Editing Rebel:

I’ve edited fourteen chapters out of 33. I’d have liked to be a bit further ahead than that by now, but July was apparently designated as the month for me to get sick and stay that way.

What makes me happier is that I had a list of six things that I really wanted to achieve this month, and I’ve crossed off three of them. (However, I’ve realized that there’s one more big change that may need to happen.)

I’m not slacking this time. Yay me!

Meatball Update.

by Nicole Willson

So the Trader Joe’s stores near us have continued to be conspicuously free of the coveted meatless meatballs. I was beginning to despair of ever seeing them again. And then I happened to check Vegan Black Metal Chef’s Facebook page. (You should, too. Dude is a lot of fun, and his food looks good.) He’d just been to Trader Joe’s for the first time and was showing off his first TJ’s haul.


(And the damn packaging looks NO different from what I can see.)

VBMC lives in Florida, if I recall correctly. If you’ve been missing these meatballs and you’re a Floridian, you may be in luck.

Bill and I are going to need to go to TJ’s this week to stock up on some staples. Perhaps this will finally be the lucky visit.

Status Update.

by Nicole Willson

So I didn’t actually mean to be on hiatus that long. Yikes. Sorry about that, everyone who’s not actually reading this anyhow.

I did not complete a Book One edit during April’s Camp NaNoWriMo, alas. I don’t even really have an excuse other than my being really, really burned out on that story. I think I needed a little time away just to get myself used to working on it again.

However, I finally got back on the horse this month. Although I hate doing it, I’ve spent much of June making an outline of the current draft, and now I have a clearer roadmap of the work that I think needs to be done. (Yay. Even more work.)

It’s been daunting to realize how many drafts this simple little book has been through. I tried tallying them all up today and came up with the following:

I started with the “Draft Zero” NaNoWriMo draft, just as it came out of my head in November 2011. Someday if I’m feeling really brave I’ll post parts of it, and if you’re feeing really masochistic you can try reading it.

There’s Draft One, the first set of major rewrites I made in 2013.

There’s Draft Two, another significant rewrite in which I transferred the story chapter by chapter to a new Scrivener file in order to do some major improvements. That’s the draft I gave to my husband to read. I know you’re not supposed to show your work to people who know you, but he’s not afraid to be honest. That led to …

Draft Three, in which I incorporated a number of his suggestions.

After realizing that several things need to be punched up or moved in the story and that some of my characters still don’t seem to have much life on their own, I’ve now started poring over my newest outline and hope to produce Draft Four in July for the summer Camp NaNoWriMo session. I know I said that back in April, but I have a much clearer plan for what needs to be done to the manuscript now, so I think this upcoming month will be much more productive. And I’m very, very hopeful that this will be the last major overhaul. No matter where this book is, I’m writing something entirely different and new in November 2014.

In another status update, someone should have warned me that one day, a piece I wrote complaining about the absence of Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs would be one of the most popular things I’ve ever written. Lots of y’all out there seem very curious about what happened to those meatballs. I’ve used Morningstar Farms’ meatless meatballs on occasion, but while they’re an OK substitute, they’re just not quite the same. They also aren’t vegan, so they won’t be a viable substitute for everyone.

Anyhow, I took my own advice and wrote TJ’s back in April. They apologized for the long delay in bringing them back and told me that they should be back in stores by the end of the month. That was in April. It’s now late June, and I have yet to see the meatballs back on shelves. For shame, Trader Joe’s.

Up with QuizUp.

by Nicole Willson

A few weeks ago, I saw an online ad for QuizUp, an app that hosts a worldwide, 24-hour-a-day trivia tournament. I’ve tried plenty of online trivia games (especially in times when I was trying out for Jeopardy or practicing for my appearance), but something about this game drew me in and has yet to let go. The interface is clean and colorful and works well on both my iPhone and my iPad mini, and the game itself is incredibly addictive.

There’s a wide variety of topics that gets wider by the day, so you can either test yourself on what you think you already know or try out something you don’t know and possibly surprise yourself. I do fairly well in Spanish despite having never taken a single class; it’s amazing what I’ve picked up from bilingual labels and signs, as well as from the language’s similarities to French. And try Beer Labels for a laugh — even if you never touch the stuff, it’s fun to try to noodle out the brands simply from examining the labels, especially if the Photoshopper didn’t do a good enough job of removing identifying information.

The game offers several achievements and rankings if you continue to play and do well, especially if you do well in several categories. As of this writing, I’m “Best in Virginia” in both Horror Fiction and the new category Riddles, although there’s some pretty fierce competition in Riddles.

A few gripes: There are occasional questions with blatantly wrong answers; although you can report these easily, it can take time for them to vanish to the cornfield. And because the game wants you to have someone to play against at all times, you may find yourself matched up with a bot that answers questions randomly if there are no other actual humans playing your category. Bots tend to have low user rankings, no personal photos, and an odd tendency to know all about obscure horror novels but nothing about Stephen King or Edgar Allan Poe. Because bots are generally easy to beat, they’re fun if you’re going for the 50-wins-in-a-row Ramtastic achievement. They’re less fun if you’re looking for a genuine challenge.

It wasn’t long before I had the itch to start contributing questions of my own; QuizUp has a big green “Contribute Content!” button at the bottom of most main pages. I rather brashly submitted an entire figure skating quiz before realizing that there’s an etiquette to suggesting new topics (and that several of my questions were already part of the Winter Olympics category), but I did better with my second submission for Horror Fiction. QuizUp wrote me back pretty quickly asking me for more questions.

So yay! Someone somewhere will be using my writing.

And I am “Nicole Willson” on QuizUp if you’d like to friend me or challenge me at anything. It’s free, so what are you waiting for?