When I started this blog back in 2012, it was because I wanted to write. And though it’s been a while since I’ve written a post (March of this year – time flies!) I have been writing. A lot. And I’ll be writing a lot more. And editing. A lot. And smiling . . . also a lot.
Because while success doesn’t happen overnight, hard work does pay off.
Earlier this year, I signed a five-book deal with UK publisher Bookouture. That’s right – the same publisher who gave us Angela Marson’s wonderfully dark and gritty DI Kim Stone series. And Lisa Regan’s hauntingly disturbing Detective Josie Quinn series. And now . . . my Chief Maggie Riley series. That’s right!
But that’s not all!
Because I also have two standalone psychological thrillers coming out – the first one as early as January 2023! I should hear the final titles any day now, and also . . . covers!!!!
Which I will definitely make sure to share here, and in less time than it took me to get around to sharing this fantastic news, I promise! (In all fairness, I just came up for air for the first time in months! Seriously – family members are starting to forget what I look like!)
I can’t wait to share more details with you about this amazing journey as it gets further underway!
But in the meantime, I have. So. Much. Work. to. Do!!!!!!
It all started with the American White Pelican. They’re huge and they’re only in my area in the winter and they don’t want me to get any good photographs of them. So, of course, I’m obsessed with taking photographs of them.
The problem is, all the places I know of where they hang out keep them well shielded from my camera lens, forcing me to shoot through thickets of mangroves and tangles of trees – that is until two weeks ago, when I happened to take a short cut to grab lunch when I had jury duty and discovered a flock of white pelicans in a pond surrounded by condos. I didn’t have my camera, or the time to stalk them, but I promised myself I’d return and get the pictures I so badly wanted.
Fast forward a week, and I set out early with my camera on the way to do some grocery shopping at a store slightly out of my way – but on a direct course leading to a pond full of white pelicans. I’m almost to the pelican pond, what should I see but a Crested Caracara right at the side of the road trying to pull a flattened opossum to a better dining spot.
I know where a nesting pair of these fierce looking birds live, but I got my camera at about the same time that the area opened up to air boaters who decided that buzzing the shore was good entertainment and the birds no longer hang out on the trail like they once did, which makes them another bird I’ve been trying to get a good picture of, but there was a curb and nowhere to pull over and I refuse to do squirrely moves while driving, so I decided to go to the pelican pond real quick and then find a place to park and hike back to the Crested Caracara.
Only – I drive the half-mile to the pond and the pelicans aren’t there. Bummer. So I turn around, find a park, and hike to where the Crested Caracara was. And it was gone, too, although the opossum it was hoping to snack on was still there. This is the type of thing that happens to me quite often, a situation that my husband says is specific to Shannons because they rush into things without thinking them through which I would disagree with (in this case) since I’d been thinking about this excursion for over a week and how was I supposed to know there’d be a bonus bird dangled before my camera lens, PLUS I did stick with my original plan which makes his point moot (again, in this case), but at least he agrees it sucks when this kind of thing happens, so we’re on the same page there.
By this time it’s nine in the morning and since it’s late February in Florida I’m already rather sweaty so I decided to keep walking for a bit along the road, hoping to spot the caracara somewhere else or at least get some exercise but mainly refusing to leave until I’ve captured something interesting with my camera.
And then I see it. The (rather new) high school. And in the pond beside it – a pond which was dug to provide fill dirt for the school and the condo building next to it because the whole area used to be wetland but is now one of the top 10 planned communities in the US and because of this there are manmade ponds every quarter mile or so to keep the whole place from flooding – there, in that pond, I see several white pelicans!
They were on the high school side, and since I didn’t think campus security would appreciate me trespassing for the sake of pictures (and no way would I ever want to return to high school, anyway), I hiked down to the pond on the condo side and used my zoom lens.
And this is a typical Shannon type adventure, where the best laid plans go awry, but out of sheer stubbornness and refusal to give up and maybe a bit of the luck of the Irish (I’m not sure if I’m Irish but my name is so I claim it!), things work out in their own not perfect but better than nothing way. AND, I didn’t even have to confront any giant alligators this time (although, of course, I did see some smaller ones).
Recently, my husband and I were driving over the bridge when I saw what quite possibly may have been the biggest seagull in existence, which brought about the following conversation, and the question – is an eye an eye?
Me: “Holy . . .”
Me: “That.” Pointing. “That’s the biggest seagull I’ve ever seen. I thought it was a pelican at first.”
Husband: “It’s not that . . . wait. Did you say seagull?”
Husband: “There’s no way that was a seagull.”
Me: “Don’t wreck the car over it.” Because now he’s looking in the rearview trying to get another glimpse. “But that was totally a seagull.”
Husband: “That was way too big to be a seagull.”
Me: “But it was. That’s the kind you have to protect your eyes from.”
Husband: “You don’t have to protect your eyes from a bird.”
Me: Looking at him in disbelief. “You’re kidding, right?”
Me: “But you are.”
Husband: “But I’m not.”
Me: “Have you never seen the movie The Birds?”
Husband: “That’s a movie.”
Me: “Doesn’t mean it’s not based on fact.”
Husband: “But it’s not.”
Me: “How can you say that? Have I taught you nothing? Of course, you have to watch your eyes around birds.”
Husband: “Birds don’t eat eyes.”
Me: “What about vultures?”
Husband: “That’s different. Other birds don’t do that sort of thing.”
Me: “Seriously? What about crows?”
Husband: “Crows don’t eat meat.”
Me: “Crows eat meat. Crows totally eat meat. Unless the individual crow is a vegetarian. But crows are carrion feeders.”
Husband: Looks at me and decides not to argue because I know these things.
Me: Smirks because I know these things.
Husband: “But we’re not talking about crows. We’re talking about seagulls. And they don’t eat eyes.”
Me: “They eat fish eyes.”
Husband: “But that’s different.”
Husband: “Because it is.”
Me: “An eye is an eye.”
Husband: “An eye isn’t an eye.”
Me: “I’m pretty sure that it is. By its very definition, an eye is an eye.”
Husband: “There’s too much traffic, I have to concentrate.”
Me: “Fine. But if that thing’s around when we get out of the car, I’m protecting my eyes. One of us has to be able to see to drive home.”
At that point, I almost hoped the world’s largest seagull would follow us to the parking lot so I could see if my husband would protect his eyes or not, but, unfortunately, it didn’t.
AND my husband still claims that worrying about birds going after your eyes is an irrational fear. I shall call his people Team Foolishly Trust The Birds.
My people shall be called Team Hitchcock (it has a better ring to it than Team DuMaurier and to be honest this is one of the instances where the movie was better than the story).
So, a couple of weeks ago we encountered a rather large alligator blocking the trail at the end of a five-mile hike. The hike was a loop, and the trail was bordered by water on either side. We could see our car. But the alligator was an ALLIGATOR, and not the six or seven foot ones you see everywhere in Florida, AND it wasn’t moving, probably because it was too full, because, to be honest, its bulging gut made it look like it had already eaten a hiker.
Plus side, it probably didn’t have room for another hiker in its belly.
Minus side, it was. Not. Moving. The sun was setting. And I figured that if we did turn around and hike the 5 miles back the other way, that it would probably just waddle the hundred or so yards to reach the trail at the other end of the loop to block us that way, too.
You may think that I’m giving a reptile too much credit, but as I told my husband, we had no way to know if it was a regular alligator or an evil genius alligator without first backtracking the 5 miles we’d already hiked to find out. (I won’t tell you the rest of the conversation because there were a great many words said that I shouldn’t type, many bracketing the adjectives we were using to describe said alligator.)
We started creeping behind the alligator, and it raised its head to look at us, which was the first it had moved besides simply opening an eye, and we hightailed it back what we thought was a safe distance to rediscuss our plan of action.
At this point, I was sure we were indeed dealing with the Hannibal Lecter of the reptilian kingdom because it settled back to sleep and who could sleep at a time like this, even though it was probably just faking and laughing, which made me mad, so I took my pack off and walked behind it, and this time it didn’t dare look at me because if it did I was going to shove the bag that I’ve been sweating on for ten years down its throat and prove that a hungry woman is the true king of the jungle. After that, I just had to wait twenty minutes for my husband to work up the nerve to join me, and since he had the car keys….. I waited. Patiently, I promise.
That somewhat roundabout story brings me to my point – hiking is hazardous. We’ve encountered many injured hikers over the years, and have done our best to help patch them up. We’ve taken classes on Wilderness First Aid, read books on ‘survival in the bush’, and have reached a point where we feel comfortable in our ability to safely navigate our way back to civilization in the event of an injury.
But what if the hazard isn’t a broken bone or a sprained joint or a wound of some kind? What if it’s something else you encounter on the trail. Like a giant alligator? Or an overgrown, prehistoric turkey. Because this wasn’t the first time my path had been blocked. Or the first time I’d been made to feel unsafe on while hiking.
Only a month before, I’d taken my camera and gone hiking on my own. Let me begin by saying that there are only certain trails that I’ll hike on my own. One of my requirements is that it is out in the open so you can see far and wide in every direction. But that doesn’t always keep you safe from an attack.
It was a beautiful day in December, sunny and warm in the way that Florida is known for. I was well acquainted with the area, a wetland reserve that receives plenty of traffic by both hikers and wildlife, and was searching, in particular, for the kingfisher who hangs out there and has been (still is) eluding my lens.
Like many trails in the area, there is water on both sides of the path. Unlike other trails, this one zigzags in a series of connecting loops and you can see several miles of the twisty, turning road from about 85% of the path. I was on one of the short stretches where you can’t see everything, heavy camera aimed at a stump in the distance where the kingfisher was taunting me, when I first heard the noise. I’d heard the call before – I was pretty sure in one of the Jurassic Park movies – and it carried the way sound sometimes carries over water, where you can’t determine which direction it’s coming from.
Lowering my camera, I said a few choice words to the uncoperative kingfisher and hurried along the path. Overgrown cattails ceded to the dried husks of outbloomed water hyanthinths, and I could once again see almost the entire trail. And I discovered I was alone.
Not only could I not see any other hikers, a rarity in this area because of its picteresque nature that draws both locals and tourists alike, I also couldn’t see what had made the noise, either. But as I stood there, looking around for the source of the bone chiling cry, it came again. Louder. And I was fairly certain, angrier.
I’d been on the trail over an hour already, and it would take me at least a half hour to get back to the parking lot taking the shortest route back, so I decided to call it a day. I slotted my camera back into my vest harness (told you it was heavy) and quickened my pace towards the exit . . . when the sound came again, this time from behind me.
My skin tightened in that pre-goosebump sensation one has when their adrenal gland hasn’t quite decided how to respond and their entire body is on edge waiting. I spun to face the very loud assailant closing in on me, only to see a Sandhill Crane storming across the trail. Now, don’t get me wrong, they’re very pretty birds. Large and grey with an almost heart-shaped patch of red on their heads. They can also be very aggressive. And although I only saw one, they almost always travel in breeding pairs that mate for life. Then a low flying shadow emerged from over the water, landing on the trail on the other side of me, and the mystery of the single Sandhill Crane was solved.
Both birds proceeded to yell at me with their prehistoric war cries while strutting closer and closer. There was water at my front, water at my back, and dinosaur relatives approaching from each side. (In case you’ve never been on the wrong side of a Sandhill Crane, imagine being penned in by agressive, prehistoric turkeys. And yes, I know that there’s probably a better precursor than a turkey, but if I said velicoraptor you’d assume I was embellishing – though not by much – and if you imagined a rabid turkey on steroids I don’t think a Sandhill Crane would be far off.)
I just barely managed to skirt past the one in front by tiptoeing along the water’s edge, and the duo continued to chase close behind me for the better part of a half mile. And this, people, is why hiking is hazardous. And why you should always be prepared. Even if there are some things out there that you absolutely can’t prepare for. Which, again, is why hiking is hazardous. But so is walking across the parking lot at the grocery store (no lie) so I guess I’ll keep taking my chances.
Last year I took 2.5 million steps. Well, according to my Pacer app two million, five hundred and thirty-eight thousand, two hundred and twelve to be more exact. And that’s only counting the steps I took with my phone on me. But it’s also counting the steps my phone thinks I take when I’m driving on a really bumpy road, usually on the way to a trailhead, so I’ll call it about even.
I like to walk and it’s one of those things I’m really good at because it’s low risk and I rarely ever fall and even when I do, I do all my own stunts so I’m usually just fine, and since I got a real camera last year instead of just using my cell phone I’ve learned to be a lot more careful. Really I should start carrying it around at home because that’s where most accidents happen because statistically, your house is actually a very dangerous place, and my plan to eradicate anything with a corner or an edge in my home met an early end because of – walls.
But even though walking is something I enjoy, it’s not always something I feel like doing. Half the time I don’t really want to go until I’m on the trail, and even then I’m sometimes grumbly because my body likes to conspire against me and I’m walking with a headache or a backache or knee pain or a wonky hip and really it’s not fair because I’d prefer not to be this way, and I never asked to be hit by a car or to have arthritis and joint problems and a muscle disorder or any of the other little things that occasionally add up and feel like big things, but here’s the actual most important thing – walking always makes me feel better.
The couch is not my friend, and over the years I’ve learned that I’m going to ache regardless of what I do, so why not make the most of it and do what I enjoy doing?
I find nature and fresh air and wildlife restorative. Hiking on a trail gives me something to focus on besides myself. It helps clear some of the fog that sometimes settles around my brain and brings clarity. And even though this part doesn’t really make sense, it takes away my fatigue. That’s not to say that after an eight-mile hike I feel energetic, but the general malaise gets burned away and replaced with a different type of tiredness.
One that lets me know that despite everything, at my core I’m strong and healthy and able.
Those 2.5 steps helped me work out the plots for several novels and short stories. They helped curb angry words and soothed upset feelings. They helped me focus when I got super excited when an acquisitions editor wanted to develop one of my novels into a series. And they helped me recenter when the editor left the publisher and her replacement decided not to proceed with the project and I felt shattered.
On the days when I feel like following my dreams is a waste of time, I make myself walk.
On the days when just getting out of bed feels like an enormous effort and I need something to give me a sense of accomplishment besides just adulting, I leash up the dog and get outside.
When my husband and I start griping at each other because we’re overwhelmed with everything we have to do and there’s never enough time, we make it worse by taking a long hike together – which makes it so much better. We’re blessed to have the opportunity to see so many wonderous things, and they’re all the more special when we get to share the experience.
Even if he does get scared and yell at me when I do my own stunts. If he really wanted to help he’d do something about all those sharp edged walls in the house since they’re the real enemy. 😉
Recently, while on a hike with my husband, we had the following conversation:
Me: “Do you think an owl used to live in that tree?” (Because that’s the kind of thing I think about.)
Husband: “No. I do not.” (He does not think about such things.)
Me: “But, you don’t know for sure. It’s possible, right?” (Because the tree really did look like it should host an owl. It was that kind of tree.)
Husband: “Probably not.” (Obviously, he knows nothing about trees.)
Me: “Maybe it didn’t live there full time. Maybe it just used the tree as like a clubhouse or something.” (At this point, he gives me a look like he thinks I’m weird, but he’s the one who married me, so if either of us is a weirdo, it’s him. Just saying.)
Me: “I was just telling you the other day that I’d like to photograph an owl. So if that’s an owl tree, that would be perfect, right?”
Husband: “I don’t think owls like to be photographed.”
Me: “Are you kidding?!?!? There are a ton of amazing photographs of owls. They’re very photogenic.” (They’re probably a bit narcissistic given their good looks and photogenic qualities and all, but I’d still like to find one.)
Husband: “Well, I don’t think there are any owls here.”
Me: “We never go anywhere nice.”
Husband: “This place is nice.”
Me: “Not if it doesn’t have any owls. Hey, look at that nest.” (Because I had to change the subject fast before I sank into a depression about the lack of owls.) “What do you think lives in that?”
Husband: “It’s pretty big. Probably a buzzard or something.”
Me: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a buzzard nest before.”
Husband: “Doesn’t mean they don’t have them.”
Me: “Doesn’t mean that’s one of them.”
Husband: “Doesn’t mean it’s not.” (Now he’s just being difficult. I suspect he learned this from me.)
Me: “I think I see some feathers in it.”
Husband: “I don’t see anything.”
Me: “Doesn’t mean they’re not there.” (See. This is where he gets it from.)
Husband: “I think you’re wrong.”
Me: “You should have learned by now that I’m never really wrong.” (It’s true. ish. And if I’m not sure I’m right I preface with, “I might be wrong…” which means even if I’m wrong I’m right because I said I could be wrong, but in this instance – like most others where the husband is concerned – I was quite sure I was right.)
Husband: “There are no feathers.”
Me: “We’ll see.” (I zoom in and take a picture.)
My plan to arrange a meeting is in the works. It involves one of the windup rats I bought my dog off of Amazon because he loves to catch lizards but there aren’t as many to catch in the winter which he takes personally, plus, the lizards deserve a break because even though he has such a soft mouth that he can catch the tiniest baby lizards without hurting them, he likes to release them and catch them again and again like a cat. Eventually, they try to hide in the grass and he uses his bear claws to play peekaboo and that is when they meet their fate.
Also, he loves to play and squeak his toys but he doesn’t like to play with people anymore and gets rather offended whenever someone touches them because they’re his and not ours and he puts them in his mouth and he’s never quite sure if our hands are clean enough or not, but I want to play and it’s not fair because my hands are very clean, so I bought the windup rats for him to chase around the house which he enjoyed for two minutes until I touched them to wind them up again. Now he won’t touch them, but I’m pretty sure the owl will like them so I’m going to use them to try and make a new friend. But don’t tell the husband because he thinks it’s a horrible idea and even though I think it’s a good one, I might be wrong……
I think it’s safe to say that the last thing you want to see at the end of a five-mile hike, especially when the trail is a loop and you can see your car, is something blocking your path. Especially when that something is a particularly large alligator. One who doesn’t feel compelled to move. And there’s rather deep water on either side of the rather narrow trail….
I love this picture because if you look closely in the center, you’ll see a bit of swamp gas light. This green will-o’-the-wisp is just one of the many very cool things I was fortunate enough to see while camping in the Everglades early this year.
Despite having grown up in Florida, my husband and I both made our first trip to the Everglades last year. We spent a day exploring Everglades National Park and knew we needed to plan another, longer trip to fully appreciate the area, so this year we planned a weeklong camping trip down in South Florida.
We spent the first night at the Flamingo Campground at the far tip of the park, where the only amenity available to RVs and travel trailers was electricity. If you ever want to unplug, this is the spot for you. No cell service, no internet, no cable, a short walk to the water . . . this is the epitome of a serene setting.
But I’m not going to lie – even though I am by no means one of those people who needs to be on the grid, it’s uncomfortable when your phone becomes nothing other than an expensive clock. For me, it wasn’t even the social aspect of it. I am a person who wants to know all the things. I’m used to being able to search the internet from the palm of my hand for the answers to all my crazy questions, species identification needs, etc. And apparently I perform these searches at least a dozen times a day. It was a little frustrating not being able to get instant gratification when I wanted to know if the islands I saw in the distance were part of the Keys and the difference between an anhinga and a cormorant and the answer to all the other things I feel the need to know, but I’m proud to report I survived it.
Luckily, we were scheduled to spend the rest of our trip camping in Big Cypress National Preserve, where cell service is spotty, but can can be found. It’s an important distinction.
Let me tell you – Big Cypress is where you want to go if you want to see wildlife! It seems like once we passed the Oasis Visitor Center the small river that parallels the Tamiami Trail was lined with alligators and birds of all colors, types and sizes! I saw SO many perfect pictures! Unfortunately, while the birds don’t care about cars whizzing pass as 65+ mph, if you get out of the car, or even just try slowing down enough to get a picture from the car, they fly off.
I was a little offended because surely I’m a little less threatening than the alligators that feed on them, but whatever. I don’t have to ask Google to know the reasoning behind the term ‘bird brain’.
One of the great things about the Everglades is that the water is so clear! Like, see the fish and reeds in the water clear. Or what an alligator’s hands look like when they’re chilling beneath the surface clear.
We spent our days driving around looking at the scenery and taking short hikes. As much as we would have loved spending the entire time on the trails, we had our 14 year old dog with us, and while we’re very lucky that he’s in great health and has plenty of energy, he only has one speed, and that’s full!
The Collier-Seminole State Park has some safe, pup friendly trails. We were also able to find a number of wide dirt road trails well distanced from the water. And when tiny legs get tired, there’s always the option of traveling in style!
But after all that fresh air, there’s nothing like curling up for a good nap on the drive back to the campsite!
Once back at the campsite, it was time to work on some of our other outdoor skills! Over the course of our stay we finally perfected the art of starting a campfire from scratch using only the sparks from a piece of flint!
Full disclosure – early efforts were more frustrating than going without a phone. But with patience and effort, a new and possibly important skill was learned.
Alas, as much as we enjoyed our time in the ‘glades, we were all looking forward to a return to civilization (and real beds!) by the end of the trip. So, we left super early to get a jump on traffic.
We took a different way home, one that would take us through the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the park is closed to the public, and while they do have two short trails you can hike, we didn’t even look into it because of the pup.
But, as we were driving down the road shortly after dawn, going slow to get one last drink of the scenery, we saw a cat standing by the guardrail on the side of the road. A big cat. Big, big. With a long tail tipped in black.
Even going slow it was gone by the time we could come to a safe stop hauling the travel trailer behind us, but it. Was. Incredible. We’ve seen some pretty awesome things on our hikes over the years, from bobcat to wild boar to a mating ball of snakes, but considering how rare the Florida panther is, this was the sighting of all sightings. We were so reluctant to actually believe it that I spent the next hour Googling images of and questions about panthers. But that long tail left no doubt. We saw a panther. And while this seems like a once in a lifetime kind of thing, we can’t wait to go back and try again!
Even though Instagram (find Authors Killing It On Instagram post here) is my favorite social media platform, Twitter is the one I find most entertaining. It’s like everyone downs a few drinks, spins around until they’re dizzy, and then types the first thing that comes to mind before they can think better of it and censor themselves. The result is a steady stream of chronic twitterrhea, and as long as it’s not political, I dig it.
And just like some authors kill it on Instagram, others find their excellence on the twitterverse. So, for those of us writers who need a little direction, or those of us readers who enjoying seeing their favorite authors in their element, I thought I’d share some of the profiles I’ve discovered of authors who I think are killing it. (The names are hyperlinked to their accounts.)
Maureen Johnson: Maureen’s feed makes you think of that one friend we all have (or need) who knows how to get the party started. Her tweets are consistent and entertaining. Not only is she an awesome writer (if you haven’t read the Truly Devious series, you don’t know what you’re missing!) but she seems like she’s a lot of fun. I think most of her 147.2K followers would agree!
Libra Bray: Bray is a frequent tweeter who balances promotion, love for her fellow authors, and the side of silliness you want when you log onto Twitter. Bonus points for using a scene from The Shining as her background pic!
Jen Malone: Jen is fun! Her tweets are more about making you smile than making you buy one of her books – and you’ll smile a lot! How can you argue with that?
Suzanne Young: Suzanne was great fun, then took a hiatus. Then she came back. Then the corona virus made her go into quarantine when she was supposed to have a book launch and now . . . IDK. I’ll be sad if she’s gone, because if you look back in her feed, she was good at the tweeting.
I admit that I am an infrequent tweeter. I’m more of a creeper who lurks in the shadows, watching what everyone else does and liking it. Guess maybe I need to down a few shots first. 🤪 If you want to check out my rather bland feed, you can find it here.
Are you on Twitter? What do you post, and what do you most enjoy seeing in your feed? If you follow an author who you think is killing it, I want to know!!!