Realm Makers and Novel Writers Beach Retreat Part 4

Getting to St. Louis

credit: Ryan Dodd

I’d hoped we could make it to Val Dosta before sleep Monday night (July 29th), but there was no way we’d be able to leave that night. This meant the trip would be compacted into 2 days instead of 3. Don’t forget, I was the only driver.

We finally left about 2 Tuesday afternoon, which meant we missed rush hour traffic through all the cities we’d cross that day. Though there were storms to the right and left, we had barely any rain, just gorgeous vistas. Thank you, God!

The drive wasn’t bad, with the exception of construction around Atlanta (even at the late hour we got there). Traffic moved; it was just tight and nerve-wracking. Did I mention I hate driving? Yeah, I really wanted to go to this conference.

Even worse were the mountains just before Tennessee, when the surroundings seemed to disappear along with the road when going over a hill. Believe me, I was grateful we were almost to our stopping place!

Unfortunately, our instructions to the hotel in Chattanooga weren’t clear, and we missed a turn, ending up in an industrial section. We got back on the highway and backtracked to the first exit off I75, where we found a Holiday Inn Express.

Once again, the bed proved to be a problem. Not fun at 2 in the morning after a LONG day of driving! The manager had us check a couple of rooms, and then took the castors off the lowest bed himself. He also gave us the lowest rate he could find—a military discount—since we arrived so late. Huge blessing and completely God’s providence. The manager wasn’t even supposed to be on duty that night. His night auditor had a sick child, and he believed family came first.

The next day, we woke to rainy grayness. We checked out, got spicy chicken sandwiches at the McDonalds next door and got on the highway…only to stop.

Btw, those sandwiches were the best we’d ever had. The sweet tea I’d been looking forward to, though? Not so much. Can’t win ’em all, right?

We called my sister and she looked up the traffic info for us—accidents galore due to the rainy weather (thankfully, it wasn’t actually raining anymore). Fortunately the worst accident was on the other side of the highway (an overturned car—yikes!) and we were soon sailing, though not smoothly, because I discovered that I. Do. Not. Like. Mountain. Driving.

The clouds hung low, hiding the tops of the mountains beneath a drippy, gray cotton-candy ceiling. This, along with huge semis, made for a claustrophobic drive. I got in the right lane and stuck to my own pace around the speed limit. Let the other guys speed around me; I was not going one mile faster than I wanted to. 🙂

Realizing that we could hit a problem with the bed in St. Louis, we called the hotel. They measured it, saying it was ~23½”, but we could “press it down” to the 21” we needed. Uh, yeah. We spent most of the drive through Tennessee trying to contact a few other hotels, with even worse bed height numbers.

The worst part was getting to Nashville at 4PM. I remembered it being a tight, weird interchange when my sister and I drove through almost exactly ten years before, so I’d done the Google street view to see which lanes I needed to be in. Heh, guess which section of road is now under construction?

I almost hit an auto hauler. Almost.

Fortunately, everyone was getting onto the other highway, so after our single-lane interchange, things smoothed dramatically.

I would like to propose that we simply cut Tennessee out of the middle of the country so that no one has to drive those roads. All in favor? Aye. Motion passed; prepare for extraction.

Kentucky wasn’t much better, but for entirely different reasons.
We got there when the sun was starting down, and our route went west. My glasses are transitions and don’t change well in cars, so I used a pair of the sunglasses we got in our bucket in Daytona. But the darkened view made my body believe it was time for sleep. Not good.

Fortunately, the weather was beautiful and the drive fairly smooth.

We got to St. Louis about 1 or 2 in the morning, after a white-knuckle drive on part of the beltway. The room was nice and big, and the bed was nice and high—with a thick frame around it that left too much of a gap for my husband to cross, even if he could have made the lift.

No. No, no, no. This was not supposed to happen!!

Despite the fact that my sister would be leaving for Las Vegas the next day, we called her. For the next hour or two, we and the front desk manager called hotels around the city (again). No one had a bed that was low enough. My sister talked to a nice woman at a Drury Inn near the airport who mentioned having a pull-out couch we could try.

At this point, I’d have taken a manger. I have so much more appreciation for what Mary went through.

We got directions, got lost, and had to drive through the airport, but finally made it. I checked the handicapped room first, but the bed was 25 to 26”, so we measured the pull-out couch in the suite. Close enough for government work. My husband couldn’t fit into the bathroom (for brushing teeth, etc), but there wasn’t anything to be done at this point.

And it was nicer than a stable.

The woman suggested I book for the rest of the stay since she was giving us a discount and couldn’t guarantee it when she wouldn’t be there the next day, should we decide to stay more than that night. I agreed, but only booked through Saturday night instead of the extra day I’d planned to take for catching up on sleep and hopefully getting to visit the arch. Turns out, God was in this, too.

While unloading the car, the lady asked if we wanted some breakfast since she was setting up for the morning. (I think it was about 3:30 at this point.) Couldn’t tell you what we had, but it was good. So glad to find gracious people in the midst of these types of circumstances!

Then I made up the couch for my husband, getting another blanket from the front desk since he was worried about a pressure sore. I had looked up directions to the nearest Target (by the other hotel, of course) so we planned to buy a foam topper the next day.

The couch wasn’t big enough for both of us, so I had to sleep in the bed in the next room. I’ve only slept apart from him one or two other times in our entire marriage. 😦
Better than a stable, better than a stable…

The next morning, I clarified directions for Target, but they pointed me to a closer one, and we headed off. I cannot tell you how glad I am that we’d made it into St. Louis with a day to spare before the conference. Had we arrived Thursday night instead of Wednesday, none of this would have been possible to deal with.

We got supplies from Target (a nice, cheap twin foam mattress topper) and a few subs from Subway for meals at the conference. And, because we have to check out all the options, we looked at a few cheap motels:

Travelodge—My sister said they’d been surprised to hear about ADA compliance when she talked to them the night before. Sure enough, the entrance would’ve been hard to navigate with the wheelchair, and they had the fridge in the entry hall in the room, so my husband would’ve had difficulty even getting into the place…with a 24” bed. Sorry, not remotely worth the hassle.

Same with the Econolodge. Small room, 24” bed. No thanks.

We pressed on and passed a road that my husband recognized as the university address. So we turned in and found the place where the con would be. That’s when I discovered my south-of-the-south brain had led me to assume we’d be on flat ground. Not.

There was a ramp, about as long and almost as steep as the ramp up to the monorail at the Transportation, Ticket Center at Disney. There was no way I’d be able to do that in the heels I planned to wear to the dinner Friday night. Mental note that I’d need my sneakers, or mountain climbing equipment. 😉

Inside, we found the rooms, and a guy asked if we needed help. Turns out he was their university liaison, so he knew where all the events would take place and pointed out a handicapped bathroom (where I ended up changing Friday night). We mentioned the ramp and he told us we could park in the faculty lot around the corner, which had a smoother approach. Yay, God!

Though we were still short on sleep, we finally felt prepared for the conference.

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Realm Makers and Novel Writers Beach Retreat Part 3

The Inbetween:

My sister met us at home and helped unpack, start laundry, and begin preparations for St. Louis. In the middle of it, we had to leave for dinner with my husband’s family.

We’d eaten at that restaurant in their hotel when they visited back in 2005, but we’d stayed in the section at the same level as the entrance. This time, we wanted a quiet table in the back corner.

They had a little lift to go down the two steps, but it was on a banister type-thing that turned as it lowered. It looked rickety at best, and my husband’s chair didn’t quite fit. Plus, it had some problems trying to move. It took a good ten to twenty minutes to get him down—probably would have been easier for all of us to lift his chair down ourselves. 🙂
At least dinner was good…until I found a hair in my food. They made another for me to take with and comp’ed part of the meal.

It was good to catch up with family, though. Looks like two weddings in the near future: a cousin and my husband’s brother. (Yay!!)

Back home, we worked more on preparations and fell into bed far later than I’d hoped—which is always the story before a trip. Sleep just goes right out the window with that much stuff to do.

Won’t mention the meltdown I had at the doc’s office on Monday morning, but we left with what was needed. Then we headed home so I could take a nap—oh wait, the cats were due at the vet’s office to board. No sleep for me. 🙂

Raiyna Sunshine

Realm Makers and Novel Writers Beach Retreat Part 2

Novel Writer’s Beach Retreat:

After 4 jam-packed days of preparation, we arrived in Daytona on Friday evening (July 26)—later than I’d wanted, so we missed dinner with the group. We checked in and went up to our 2nd floor room. Oceanfront. Sweet! I cannot tell you how beautiful that was to see after all the stress of getting there…

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But the bed was too high for my husband to transfer into from his wheelchair.

This is something we hadn’t thought much about before. At a local hotel where we sometimes stay for our anniversary, my husband uses a copy of Stephen King’s Under the Dome for a boost to get into the higher bed. But we’ve never actually measured the height.

When we bought our new bed in early June, we really began to think about it—especially when he almost got a pressure sore from the firmer bed. We tried to use the guest bed his mother bought for us, but that bed is 24” from the floor to the top of the mattress. (Our bed is 21″) My brilliant idea was for him to transfer onto a night table then transition into the bed. That resulted in a shearing injury and a whole host of other problems. (Oh the trial and error of life with a disability.)

Since this bed was  also 24″, I knew it wouldn’t work. I asked the front desk if they had a room with a lower bed. They showed me one on the 8th floor that was a suite. However, it was very small and tight (and not an ocean view, though I wasn’t opposed to losing that option for a bed that would work). Unfortunately, the bed was the same height.

My husband told me to see if they had someone from housekeeping or maintenance who could remove the castors under the bed to lower it. Our new bed had come with wheels, but they left them off to make the bed the right height. He figured this could be done to the hotel bed, too.

The guy that came in was able to get a couple of them off, but it was a king bed, and he needed something to hold it up so he could reach the ones in the middle and back. Since we were going to stay in the room by then, I unpacked, fumed at the stupidly-designed closet, and prepared to head down for the opening session of the conference. The guy told us not to worry, he’d figure it out. He cracked a few jokes that helped ease the tension I’d felt at the bed, at the stupidity of how people implemented the ADA codes, and at the stress I’d been under for the past week.

Little did I know this would be one of the easiest stays we’d have.

Side note on the closet: They usually put a lower rack in so people in chairs can hang clothes—often with hilarious results. This one had a shelf that made the higher rack too short to hang shirts, and then put the safe in the middle of the lower section, taking up almost all of the space. Even the maintenance guy looked at it and said, “Yeah. That was a stupid design.”

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Though it’s hard to tell from this angle, the shelf extends to the front, so my shirts and pants aren’t hanging straight down, but draped against the edge and sticking out of the closet.

Then, when we walked into the meeting room, the chairs were lined up wall to wall with no space for a wheelchair. I have to admit frustration when I walk into situations like these. I’m always stressed out just trying to get to places on time, and then to have there be no room for my husband? grr.

But people are always kind. A couple of them moved, and we managed to make it work. Turns out the hotel had only opened in May, and they’d assured the host (and he’d seen blueprints) that the meeting room would hold 40 people.

Uh nope. But we got a good laugh out of it. 😀

They also gave everyone a plastic bucket (with shovel attached to the handle) filled with various snacks, paraphernalia and a pair of sunglasses. Such a neat idea! It’s the little things, you know?

After that, things improved immensely.

During the retreat, they read my first page (projected on the big screen, no less) and Mark Hancock, Eva Marie Everson, and Rachel Hauck all discussed it.

Eeep!

They had many encouraging things to say about it, and I felt elated by the experience.

The next evening, we broke into groups and did a Word Weavers style critique of the 1500 word samples we brought. I chose a scene I was currently working on—a bit more confusing than if I’d chosen the beginning of the story, but that helped my purpose: if they could understand it, I knew the scene would be fine. The reactions were mixed and though I had several say, “This isn’t my genre”, Rachel Hauck’s assessment challenged me.

She told me the scene was too neat and tame compared to the emotion that should be shown.
I would mull over that for the next month.

During the last session, I won one of Eva’s books as a door prize, and we bought Rachel’s latest (and had both signed, woot). Then they handed out prizes I’d seen mentioned but hadn’t paid attention to.

The first prize went to me: an hour-long mentorship with Eva.
She said it came down to the first line of the one-page samples.

Oh, wow! Commence internal dancing and butterflies. 🙂

Then, without a moment to lose, we headed home…only to hit bad traffic on I4 due to construction on a long stretch with no off-ramps. We were stuck. But we spent the time talking about the great retreat and kept our spirits up.

Realm Makers and Novel Writers Beach Retreat Part 1

This summer was super busy for my husband and me, and I’d like to share why:

The Set Up

I first heard about Realm Makers in March or April and really wanted to go.
At the same time, I learned about the Novel Writers Beach Retreat to be held in Daytona Beach the last weekend in July. Once my husband heard that RM would take place at a university in St. Louis with dorms as lodging, he said no, that the NWBR would be better for us.

I prayed God would make me able to accept his answer and be content with the closer conference. I knew my husband was right; dorms aren’t known for being wheelchair friendly.

At the local ACFW meeting in May, a friend mentioned RM again since she’d be teaching there and knew we’d be interested in a speculative fiction conference. I told her we couldn’t go because of the dorms. And again submitted my disappointment to God.

Meantime, the meeting was about synopsis writing. They announced a contest for a 1-pg synopsis to be held in June. I’d thought I wouldn’t have to write a synopsis since I received a request for a full manuscript, but one of the other authors mentioned sending one with every request he’d received. Since his experience sounded similar to mine, I realized I should indeed write one. Seized with inspiration, I spent the next few weeks writing and editing it.

In June, we contacted  the NWBR host about handicap accessible rooms at the hotel in Daytona, and he said spots were still available and the rooms would be no problem. We signed up for it, and I sent in my first page for a critique session to be held during the retreat.

I thought about surprising my husband with a getaway at the hotel so we could check the bed height but decided against it.

I wish we’d gone.

The weekend before the NWBR was another ACFW meeting and my friend mentioned RM again. All this time, I’d not been able to accept that I couldn’t go. It honestly felt like I’d be at the adult table while all the cool kids got to go to St. Louis. 😦

I talked to my husband about it again, and he was surprised (as was I, truthfully) at how much I really wanted to go. We discussed the ins and outs of how we might make it work.

Finally, he agreed that if the doctor had an opening for him to get a leg bag, we could go. Monday (July 22), we called and scheduled the appointment for the following Monday, anticipating a quick turnaround between the cons. I also booked the hotel room in St. Louis and arranged lodging for the cats since my sister would be in Vegas the same weekend.

But then I was on Facebook and saw a post by the host of RM. The con was full. 😦 I felt hollow inside. So close…

I emailed her to have our names put on the waiting list and spent the rest of the day reading a book while again trying to be okay with God’s obvious NO. But I couldn’t bring myself to cancel our hotel room. My mother-in-law called because my husband’s uncle and aunt would be in town Sunday (the night we’d get back from Daytona) and wanted to meet for dinner. We agreed, looking forward to it.

I’d love to say I’m steadfast in my faith and trust in God, but I’m not. Let’s just say that was a very, very dark night.

Tuesday, I woke to an email from RM that there was room. I talked to my husband as soon as he woke, and then emailed and asked if she could fit both of us. She responded that if that was the determining factor, she’d make it work.

Feeling like an errant child given a hugely undeserved blessing, I signed us up and immediately began preparations…with one less day to do it all.

It’s a fear I would continue to have in the back of my mind for the entirety of the trip. Did I push too hard to get what I wanted? Not accept God’s no, so he left me to my selfish desires?
I don’t think He punishes with blessings and guidance, though. So I have to believe He wanted us to go.

My sister and Dad helped us shop, get the car checked out (a blessing because the mechanic didn’t charge us for it!), consult maps and try to plan the drive to St. Louis. We signed up for AAA and printed out a trip tik. And packed…