It all Started with a Bear . . .

This is a lesson on the snowball effect.snowflake

As you know from my previous entries, I was planning a trip to Phoenix to see my sister (who was also visiting Phoenix and we met up there) and I planned a day trip to Flagstaff for some serious research into Caleb and Ana’s world. (Those are my best friends, and they live in my books, in case you didn’t know that already.)

And then the bear came along—just before the flight and—Look. I’ll just tell the story, which is not about my imaginary friends.

Early in October, I was working, booking flights, answering questions, trying to not get too excited that my trip was fast approaching. A lady wanted to book a flight from London, Ontario, to Phoenix. Not too unusual, as that is a destination for a LOT of Canadian snowbirds. She knew what flights she and her husband wanted and proceeded to tell me. As our airline doesn’t fly direct from London to Phoenix, they would be coming to Calgary and getting the connecting flight to Phoenix. Imagine my surprise when she wanted the exact same flight I was already booked on! We chatted while I booked their tickets, and I asked, as I often—but not always—do, what was drawing them to Phoenix.

What about the bear? you ask. There was something about a bear. You said a bear!
Be patient, dear ones.

They were going down to meet their yet-unborn first grandchild (a girl), who would be just a few days old when they got there! (A plan hatched in my brain. Just a smidgen of an idea at that point.) She asked my plans, as I had told her I would be on that flight, too. I briefly mentioned my sister and my research plans, but I just touched on it because I was nearly excited as she was about that baby. (Sorry Caleb. Sorry Ana. I was excited about seeing where you met, but this was a real live baby event. I’ll stop now before my imaginary friends decide to stop speaking to me.)

She wanted to choose seats so I asked what their preference was. She chose (completely unprompted by moi) the seats immediately in front of my already reserved seat! She said she wanted to try to find me on the plane and I told her I’d be the one kicking the back of her seat. We laughed and the call ended.

A few days before the flight, I bought this little bear from the airlines store. Just a little pink The Pink Bear in YYCbear wearing a hoodie with the airline’s logo. My plan was to sneak it onboard and have it waiting in the seat for the new grandma. A bit tricky as I didn’t know what they looked like, and we would be pre boarding together. The day finally arrived. At the airport, I met Anne in the check-in area. She gave me some check-in advice and asked about the little pink bear poking it’s nosy little nose out of my bag. I told her my story and it suddenly seemed rather silly. Still, she wanted my picture and before I made it through US Customs (cleared in Calgary-it’s a Canadian thing to clear US Customs at a Canadian airport) and then security—both in record time, of course!—she’d posted the picture—and my brief story—on Facebook.

I was at the gate before the United Airlines flight before mine was even boarding. So we sat there, we two, the little pink bear and I, and watched the comings and goings of a lot of people. Before anyone else on the Phoenix flight arrived, however, Miss Bear was tucked safely out of sight in my bag. When the gate agents arrived, I took my precious gift over and asked if they could sneak it onboard and gave them Miss Bear’s seat number. So now, my pink bear story has grown by two gate agents and three flight attendants and Miss Bear is securely buckled into her seat. Needless to say, the bear was a surprise and a big hit with Grandma and Grandpa and it turned into quite the ice breaker, as the twelve people sitting in those two emergency exit rows became friends (and a better emergency team because of it, I’m sure.) Not life-long friends, but oh-so-friendly. Fortunately, the team work aspect didn’t get tested. It was a friendly flight.

And all because of a little pink bear.

The Pink bearBut wait. It didn’t stop there. That bear started gathering good vibes. My boss saw the Facebook picture and read the story. She nominated me for an award with the company. I knew I had little chance of ‘winning’ the final spot but I had been nominated and felt like a winner already. I’d never had a boss do anything like that for me. I felt the warm fuzzies as if Miss Bear was right there hugging me.

A few months go by. I’d all but forgotten the nomination, but of course, I had my warm fuzzy memories of how my little idea had touched a few people and this made me feel the way I had wanted the new grandparents to feel. Then I received a corporate email inviting me to a Celebration. I asked my boss about this and she said it was because of the bear. Yes. THE Bear. I joined about fifteen or twenty of my co-workers as our specific actions  were read by the management. I felt rather out of place. I mean, one person had came up with a money saving idea which was implemented, another devotes hours and hours of overtime, and the HUGE ways the others had contributed. All I did was give a grandmother a bear. You may well imagine how surprised when I saw several eyes being dabbed as my story was read. A comment was made a little later on in the same meeting about how we need to listen more to our guests, like the way that [Peggy] had listened to the guests.

Wow.
Just Wow.

Wait. It really and truly didn’t stop there. You see, I do listen. A cute little three year old was in the background during a call last week, asking his mom about their trip to (drum roll, please) Phoenix the next day. “Who you talking to, mom?” “The person who is driving us to Phoenix on the plane.” Well, after I got over the shock of being promoted to CAPTAIN, I thought that was just the cutest thing. Mom was a little frazzled, and I was helping ease her stress (details not important) but I wanted to share that sweet little conversation, so I posted it on Facebook. The Likes and Comments started pouring in. The Flight Attendants on that flight were excited to meet the family. Others watched from the virtual stands.

We were all pumped up, all these friends I had never met, a team working together. Again. One of the comments came from Anne, who had originally posted my story back in October, so I wrote to her to let her know the impact she’d made on my life by doing that one simple thing.

That in turn made her feel good to know just how her one little post had blossomed. On two separate flights, Airport agents and Flight Attendants felt good because they’d joined in the fun, my boss felt good because she had done something nice for me, my executive team that held the celebration felt good because they loved the story and were able to share it.

Great Attitude SnowballThe thought occurred to me: How many times do we, in general, pass up an opportunity to perform one little act of kindness because we feel it won’t make a difference in the long run? That nobody cares.

Instead, just do it. That act of kindness might seem little to you, but to another it could be a huge day changer. And when you add all the people who are touched by it, even if only by the story of it, the little act grows and grows, and becomes even more acts by even more people and it keeps on growing, until you can’t even imagine how many people may have felt better even if only for a second—

All because you gave one little pink bear to a stranger.

Pilgrimage to Flagstaff Part 3

Reluctantly I cleared my head of the initial shock of walking in the footsteps of Caleb and Ana and left the McDonalds and Starbuck area.

Without a map, I followed Milton and the Historic Route 66 signs toward my next goal, Crystal Magic, the bookstore I’d only seen from my stalking mode and fell in love with the name! It’s right on the corner of the street I was on and San Francisco Street.

Sacred Rites and Crystal Magic

Turning at at the lights, I grinned like the Cheshire Cat because I was about to go into that shop as soon I parked. I pulled into an empty spot across the narrow San Francisco Street (I’d always thought it was wider! I obviously don’t know how to tell these things about Google street view) and discovered I had parked right in front of a new age store called Sacred Rites, the perfect companion store in the scene where my characters mention shopping for incense and ritual drums.

my souvenir saguaro

I didn’t take a picture, as traffic was quite heavy and there were too many people (I didn’t want to invade anyone’s privacy) but I did get a little souvenir.

I then drove down the street on which I had assigned to Ana and her grandmother, recognized it as if I had walked that street hundreds of times as Ana had done. Very surreal. I knew that road.

A few turns later, and I was on the campus of Northern Arizona University. I just drove, experiencing something I had never known existed there. The campus is on some pretty hilly ground. So the hills really surprised me and explained the number of kids on skateboards. I found the Walkup Dome, where Louie the Lumberjack stands proudly.

Campus Shuttle

In the parking lot there, I discovered something else that Ana most likely used but never once told me about. There are shuttles that go around the campus. Ana seems to like walking everywhere, but I’m sure in the middle of Flagstaff’s winter snows, she probably used them. They might never be mentioned, but then again, they may crop up time or two.

I parked in a parkade that isn’t on any of the maps (it’s new, but it was finished in time to have been there.)

First stop as I explore the campus on foot . . . the bookstore around the corner. I immersed myself in all things university and Lumberjacks and bought a souvenir. Then “just follow the walkway around to the other side of that building” and I was at the Food Court in Union Hall. I had totally gotten it wrong. Well, not totally, but I never realized it faced east. In my mind, it had faced west. That’s important. Also, no revolving doors. Oops. No parking lot in the immediate vicinity, all important facts. Inside, I bought a muffin and sat at a table Ana may well have been sitting at when Caleb spotted her and made his bold move to meet her. I closed my eyes and listened. This was something I had never been able to stalk. Yes, I could go to any food court and listen, but this was the food court and the sounds they would have heard. I was a little disappointed that Caleb didn’t make an appearance.

Sadly, I left the food court but cheered up as I made my way to the library. The Cline Library is in Scene One, Chapter One. It’s hard to imagine the layout of a real place unless someone else has taken a picture of exactly what you need to see and posted it online for all to see. The Cline Library is such a place. A lot of pictures, but none that tie them together. The key spot where Caleb first saw Ana was completely wrong in the story. I have it now. It is believable now. I had to charge my phone so I had a great reason to just sit at a table and take it all in. More sounds (I had envisioned a quiet library – how outdated am I?) and a distinct lack of books. Computers everywhere, study pods, group tables. Wow.

Cline Library

 

So much more conducive to three guys studying together, making jokes, being a little louder than quiet, and then passing the reading room, and noticing a girl studying alone in that quiet area. I am now complete.

 

Unfortunately, the sun was quickly falling toward the San Francisco Peaks and I had a two hour drive back to Phoenix. I grabbed some dinner to go, and headed south.

Flagstaff Sunset

Not far out of town, I pulled over at a rest area/view point to take in my second Arizona sunset.

Absolutely phenomenal.

 

The next day, in Phoenix, Pat and I went on a tour which included Cosanti and Taliesin, both architectural wonders in completely different ways. I was able to grab a few tidbits about architects (Caleb is such a creature) and strange looking structures, perfect for inspiration on other worlds.

My poor sister also discovered first hand the truth behind this warning sign . . .warning-novelist_at_work

I plan on going back. As I mentioned in Part 1 of my trip diaries, I am in love. Not with someone, or some thing. Just in love and it’s calling me back to Arizona.

 

Pilgrimage to Flagstaff Part 2

Pat had already gone to her classes the next morning when I got up. As I dressed, I got nervous. Today was the day I was going to be entering a world which, up to that point, had been to me an imaginary world.

They gave me a pamphlet about Sedona anyway, in case I got there.

They gave me a pamphlet about Sedona anyway, in case I got there.

 

The car rental company dropped the car off at the hotel, and the concierge and bell captain gave me some touristy pamphlets and a state map. “You must see Sedona,” they both agreed. “But on the way back,” Manny, the bell captain, added. “It’s more scenic that way.” Knowing I wouldn’t have time for a side trip, I told them I’d try.

 

 

This is where the Arizona Coyotes play HOCKEY.

This is where the Arizona Coyotes play HOCKEY.

 

First on my agenda, a quick trip to the far western edge of civilization in neighboring Glendale to grab a quick shot of the Arizona Coyotes’ hockey arena for the hockey fans in the family.

 

 

So tall and majestic, the saguaro can only be found in the Sonoran desert.

So tall and majestic, the saguaro can only be found in the Sonoran desert

After an easy entrance onto the bypass next to the arena, I headed out for I-17, which goes through the northern edge of the beautiful Sonoran Desert, full of cacti varieties ranging from the squat barrel cactus to the majestic saguaros, along with many other unknown types (to this author, at least) of strange trees and bushes, all inspiration for alien flora on my desert-ish planets.

 

Having memorized the basic how-to-get-to-the-arena-from-the-hotel route (go north then turn left on Northern and go straight on until the end of the world and the bypass is right there), I was well out of town when I discovered I’d left my map of Flagstaff, marked with all the points I wanted to see, back in my hotel room.
Oh well, I can always get a map when I get there.

Steep grades all along the way.

Steep grades all along the way.

 

Along the road heading north, signs declare every 1000 ft rise in elevation. Phoenix is nearly 1100 ft above sea level. Flagstaff, only 140 miles away, is 7000 ft, taking us abruptly through three distinct climatic zones. That makes for some pretty steep grades all along the way. You go up, then down, but never as far down as you had gone up, then repeat as you cross yet another range of mountains. Along one particularly long unbroken stretch, something like 18 miles of going uphill, and of course, downhill coming back, the Highway Department has posted signs along the way, mostly for truckers, saying things like “Only 11 miles to go!”

Prickly Pear cactus and Mesquite trees in Sonora Desert

Prickly Pear cactus and Mesquite trees in Sonora Desert

 

The ubiquitous saguaro suddenly disappears at around 3000 ft, although there were still other varieties of cacti and other desert flora, such as mesquite trees and flowering brambly bushes.

 

 

And suddenly it was autumn.

And suddenly it was autumn.

 

At 4000 ft, I followed the road around a bend and it became autumn, complete with golden deciduous trees, then at 5000 ft, tall long needle pines (a type of ponderosa pine) and much cooler temperatures.

 

 

 

Cyber stalking is nothing compared to seeing the real thing.

Cyber stalking is nothing compared to seeing the real thing.

Then, before I was emotionally prepared, before I realized that I’d put nearly 140 miles behind me, I rounded a corner and saw Devil’s Chair mountain looming in the distance.
Devil’s Chair mountain is north of Flagstaff. Before I could even read the fast approaching green highway signs, I knew I was there.
Between me and that mountain lay Flagstaff, Arizona.

 

Following the highway into town and keeping on the main road, I saw the Golden Arches. THE Golden Arches where Caleb and Ana had their first ‘non-date,’ where she flirted with the spoon from his sundae and where he lost his heart.
I didn’t need a map. After all, I’d lived in that town for years.

Two doors north of McDs, I saw the Starbucks where Caleb saw—oops, almost spoiled it there! But it’s monumental to the story and for some reason I had to go there first. Okay, I admit it. I’m hooked and was in need of a hot drink by then!

Kasey & Alicia, coolest baristas around!

Kasey & Alicia, coolest baristas around!

I drove straight to Starbucks and went inside.
I stood there for a moment.
I’ve stepped into the reality of my imagination, half expecting to see Caleb and Ana sitting at a table.
A friendly barista greeted me, asking what I would like. I smiled and told her, “I’ve travelled from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to stand right here in this very Starbucks.” She probably thought I was nuts. Then I laughed and explained briefly about my mission.

Personalized Starbucks Cup from Milton Street in Flagstaff

Personalized Starbucks Cups from Milton Street in Flagstaff

I asked if they had any mugs with Flagstaff on them. No, they didn’t. Personally, I think that every Starbucks should have mugs with their city names on them. Or at least the state / province. Oh well, I found a great mug from there anyway. She took my order, then took a second cup and wrote Flagstaff Starbucks on Milton, with my name on it and handed it to me.
The mug I bought has white words on the white cup. It says:
“Fresh brewed inspiration for the day ahead.”
Perfect for me!

 

Caleb wasn't around to eat his sundae so I did!

Caleb wasn’t around to eat his sundae so I did!

On to the McDonalds.
Chronologically, Caleb and Ana went there first, but I wasn’t trying to actually relive the story. But, yes, I ordered a sundae because the scene centers around the sundae.
I sat in a booth near the back, where he sat with Ana, each learning about the other, trying so hard not to let down their guards, and failing miserably.
And so I sat there, drinking in the atmosphere, hearing the sounds they heard, seeing what they saw, feeling the hardness of the booth seat under me but imagining the soft emotions as the scene played through in my imagination, and I slowly ate Caleb’s sundae.

It was truly magical.

Just like Hollywood, I’m breaking this adventure into multiple parts.
Part 3 will reveal more discoveries I made about myself and my characters while immersing myself in their world.

Pilgrimage to Flagstaff Part 1

Last week definitely produced some high points of my literary experience.

On Monday, I hopped on a plane taking me from Calgary, Alberta, to Phoenix, Arizona.

The original reason for the trip was to visit with my sister. She lives in West Texas but was attending a convention in Phoenix. And WestJet flies to Phoenix so I could easily get there on a three hour direct flight vs a five hour flight with a one to three hour layover in Dallas or Houston. While she was busy in classes and meetings during the day, I was planning to have some time to myself. I would have loads of time to write, write, and perhaps get in a little writing.

Then it dawned on me . . .

I was going to be a mere 2-½ hours drive from Flagstaff, Arizona, the starting point (as it stands now) for my series. I’ve stalked the town and the university for years, seeking information, images, and maps on the internet. I had a sketchy memory of Flagstaff from a quick visit in 1986, but that was a long time ago and I was not paying attention to the university back then.

Old Main - 1899 NAU

Old Main – 1899 NAU

I’m sure my brother-in-law was pointing out things since he went to NAU waaaaaaaay before that trip. Don’t get me wrong. He’s not really that old.

The school was founded in 1899 so it was sometime after that. The campus may have looked like this when he went there. I don’t know.

6 miles above the Grand Canyon, maybe 7 since it’s a mile deep! (Click all pictures for the full image.)

The thought also crossed my mind that if I go to Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon is only 2 or 3 hours further north, but decided I wouldn’t want to rush seeing the Canyon, so I put that idea aside. (The man sitting next to me on the plane told me that we would be flying over the Grand Canyon, which lasted maybe two minutes, so I ended up rushing that trip anyway, but it was pretty cool to see from six miles up!)

Suddenly, I realized my trip to Arizona was not going to be a touristy type of writing retreat after all. I was going to be doing research! This is where it all began. Caleb met Ana there! My dear sister doesn’t understand why this got me all excited and she was going to see first hand how crazy life is when everything around you inspires scenes in your imaginary world. (In retrospect, I’m not sure she gets it yet. She may just think I’m crazy.)

I became enchanted with the palms, and the cacti, and the jagged hills rising in sharp contract from the flat valley floor on which rests the sprawling city of Phoenix.

Stunning sunset from the veranda on the top floor of the hotel.

Stunning sunset from the veranda on the top floor of the hotel.

The very first evening in Phoenix, I saw something that made me change a part of the story. Okay, Karen and Caralee, don’t panic. I’m only moving one scene from LA to Phoenix, because 1) I’ve never actually SEEN the place in LA except on street view maps, and 2) This is what I saw . . .

When I witnessed this sunset, I fell in love. Not with someone. I just fell in Love. I would not have been surprised if Zorro landed on the veranda to whisk Elena away. I knew at that moment, this was where the LA scene had to take place. I have to research and rewrite a few things, maybe a chapter or two at most, but since I now have the intense emotional attachment to this, it will be phenomenal.

And so ends my first night in Phoenix. Tomorrow, the trip to Flagstaff!

Stay tuned for Part 2, the next leg of my journey in Arizona.