Fun With Unused Vacation Time

I hope everyone had/is having a good Christmas Break. If you’re in the latter category, I fart in your general direction.

Actually… I can’t complain. Despite my Australia trip earlier this year, I had a lot of vacation time leftover at work, so I took the entire week of Christmas off. I’m just bitter today; having to go back to work after a long break does that to me.

It was a fun break from work, although they always seem too short in retrospect. I didn’t get as much writing done as I had hoped, but that’s mainly because I took a road trip instead. I knew I would have to be back in town for Christmas, but I still had a few days of my own to play with, so I loaded plenty of music onto my new Droid and hit the road. This wasn’t just a spontaneous, random trip: the idea had actually been bouncing around in my head for a few weeks. And I didn’t drive just anywhere; I had a specific destination in mind, namely, the Outer Banks.

For those of you not familiar with North Carolina geography, the Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands that run along the coast. You can access them either via ferry or road bridge (although certain sections, like Ocracoke Island, are only accessible via ferry).

I knew it would be cold, windy, and out of season– the Outer Banks are very much a tourist economy, and the more remote sections pretty much shut down during the winter. But the probable lack of tourists appealed to me, and besides, I had an additional motive for going. The ocean plays a fairly large role in a few key scenes in my novel, and I wanted to refresh my memory of what it was like.

Cape Hatteras National SeashoreDespite living in a coastal state, I haven’t actually made it out to the ocean since a trip to Florida in 2006. I wanted to get re-acquainted with the smell of it, the sound of the waves, the taste of salt in the air, the feel of the sand between my toes… maybe not the feel of the water, though. That would be pretty cold.

I also needed to write a couple poems to use as song lyrics; in one of the scenes, a character from an oceangoing culture sings some songs around a campfire, and in my mind, it’s a great moment that connects the emotions of people from two very disparate cultures. But I haven’t actually written any poetry in years, and it doesn’t flow easily for me. Nevertheless, I hoped that by actually being at the ocean, I could get the ol’ brain cells firing.

It sort of worked. I jotted down occasional bits of imagery or description that came to me; I didn’t get any full poems written, but at least I have some starting points.

I also realized that part of the prologue, which I’m currently editing, rests on an invalid assumption. See, I had this image in my mind of the waves crashing one at a time. Wave crash. Silence. Wave crash. Silence. That repeating sequence of noise and silence was a key part of the scene, but when I stood on the beach, listening to the waves, I remembered that, in reality… the noise is pretty constant. Sure, you can pick out the sound of individual waves if you’re right by the water, but even then it’s really just a constant roar of water, punctuated at irregular intervals by crashing waves.

It’s amazing the sort of things that can slip your mind during the carefree crazy days of NaNoWriMo.

Other than that, I mainly just spent a couple days exploring. I spent the night in an oceanfront hotel that was so quiet I startled the desk clerk, who must have jumped a foot out of her chair when I walked in. After that, it took her a few minutes to figure out which buildings had heat and which didn’t, and she spent several minutes explaining how all the restaurants were closed, except for one greasy pizza and seafood joint. On the bright side, I did find a nice little diner for breakfast that did awesome pancakes.

Cape Hatteras LighthouseThe next morning I visited the iconic Cape Hatteras lighthouse, and from the nearby beach I could see a massive pod of dolphins swimming maybe fifty feet offshore. There were also quite a few crazy surfers catching waves (at least they had wetsuits). After that, I hopped the ferry to Ocracoke Island, found some hiking trails, and went for a walk on a deserted beach. It was fun, albeit cold and windy, and even though I didn’t get much writing done, I don’t regret having a little adventure instead. If you want to see the full set of pics from it, click here. (The Droid’s camera has gotten a bad rap, but I was fairly pleased with it.)

Now that I’m back, and Christmas is over, it’s time to get writing again. More on that in my next post.

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