Darcy McClain and Bullet Thriller Series

New Zealand 2014: Christchurch and Aoraki Mount Cook


Christ’s College was built in 1925 in the Gothic and Tudor perpendicular style. The structure was reenforce against earthquakes in 1987 and only suffered minor damage during the 2011 earthquake.

As I’ve mentioned in several blog posts, I am not a fan of long flights. After three hours, I’ve hit my limit for sitting in one place. But the flight from Brisbane to Auckland was quite pleasant—the seats roomy, the service excellent, and the food tasty. For once, I was a tad disappointed when we landed three and a half hours later.

And what I dislike even more than a long flight is riding in a puddle jumper plane. David tries to appease me by saying, “It’s a regional jet.” Regional jet or puddle jumper, being sandwiched in a seat on a small plane for more than an hour is murder. Thankfully, the “regional jet” from Auckland to Christchurch landed just twenty-five minutes over the one-hour limit. But who was counting?

With back-to-back flights and a layover in Auckland, we arrived in Christchurch at 8:00 p.m. and drove straight to our hotel—the George. Tired and hungry, we wanted to dump our luggage in the room and grab something to eat. The hotel has a fine dining restaurant, Pescatore, but we wanted light fare, so we ate at 50 Bistro—tomato bisque followed by grilled scallops. We finally climbed into bed at midnight and I snuggled up to George, the keepsake teddy bear left on our bed during the first-night turndown. A nice touch. I still have George and he is such a good traveling companion, always well-behaved and welcomed at lodgings worldwide. You can follow him on Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/TheGeorgeBear.

Christ’s College

We woke to a chilly, overcast day and walked into downtown Christchurch. There were still some signs of the 6.3 earthquake that hit the town in 2011, and I thought about the two thousand people killed in the quake. One shop owner shared her story and the deadly details hit home, as I’d had my share of earthquakes over the years—Mexico, South Africa, and a number in Southern California. We spent the morning exploring Christchurch and wished we had allowed more time for sightseeing. But a reliable source (David) told me we will return soon to explore some more.

In the afternoon, with David behind the wheel of our rental, we motored onto State Highway 8, the Inland Scenic Route to Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village, about a four-and-a-half hour drive. Before we set out, the receptionist at the George said, “This is New Zealand. The journey is as exciting as the destination. Take your time and enjoy.”  And indeed we did, driving past acre upon acre of farmland, pasture upon pasture of countless sheep, cattle, and deer farmed for domestic sales. I fell in love and wanted to take home a lamb.  

David will be the first to admit that he does not have the “farming gene,” so he surprised me when he said, “I could live here and I’d farm.” What? I asked him to repeat that statement, and he has, many times in the past three years. In fact, he liked New Zealand so much that we plan to return in 2018. And I can’t wait to head Down Under again.

For one, I missed out on visiting Lake Tekapo, an alpine spot at the foot of Mount John. I was captivated by the deep turquoise of the lake’s water, which is created by rock flour from the surrounding glaciers that is suspended in the water. The glaciers in the headwaters grind the rock into a fine dust as they make their journey down toward the lake. Lake Tekapo is set against a backdrop of snowcapped mountain peaks—a magnificent blend of white and turquoise. I also wanted to see the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo, so both the lake and the church are on my must-see list for trip two.

Nestled in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, the Hermitage Hotel was the perfect base camp for our hiking and ATV adventures, which is why we chose it. The building is not the typical log or timber lodge you’d see in the US or Canada. The commercial looking, blue-gray steel structure rises from the valley floor like a metal giant, and not everyone thought the modern architecture was appealing. “Military barracks,” I overheard one visitor say. Personally, I found the style intriguing, and we had a wonderful stay.

The first night, we ate in the Panorama Room. The porcini mushroom appetizer was good, but the entrées stole the show. I had smoked salmon with a potato mousse and baby peas. David ordered the venison with blueberry and juniper sauce and grilled vegetables—both meals cooked to perfection. For dessert, a sampler of homemade ice creams.

Damage to Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquake.



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Australia 2014: Cairns 

Monday morning, we killed an hour poolside at the Peninsula Hotel, then packed our bags for the drive from Port Douglas to Cairns. As soon as we arrived at the Pullman Reef Hotel in Cairns, the woman behind the check-in desk greeted us with “The pool’s closed.” Her pensive expression told us she expected a negative reaction, but David smiled and replied, “That’s fine. There’s an entire ocean just across the street.” She beamed. “You’re the first guests not to complain.” And indeed there was an entire ocean, and more, across the street from our hotel.

Cairns Esplanade.

The Cairns Esplanade features an outdoor amphitheater, a large swimming lagoon, grassy picnic areas, walking tracks, public barbecues, shops, restaurants, children’s playgrounds, and the departure terminal for the Great Barrier Reef tours. A long promenade stretches the length of the waterfront, and as soon as we unpacked we made a beeline for the boardwalk, interested in finding an outdoor café for a bite to eat. We chose the Wharf One Cafe, mainly for the location, and ended up eating a very late breakfast rather than lunch. Both of us ordered the cane-cured salmon on toast with two poached eggs, a light meal that wouldn’t ruin our appetite for dinner. We walked off the meal and spent the afternoon touring the waterfront and the cruise terminal.

That night, we dined at Tamarind in our hotel—Thai cuisine. David ordered grilled snapper with turmeric and mint and a side of papaya salad. True to form, I ordered the Penang duck curry with caramelized pumpkin, roasted peanuts, chili, coriander, and served with scented rice. For dessert, a good port, and we called it a day.

Green Island day excursion

Dundee’s restaurant

The next morning, we headed to the Reef Fleet Terminal to board a double-decker boat for a half-day excursion to Green Island. We snorkeled, toured the island, and then queued up for a glass bottom boat cruise—arriving back in Cairns for a late lunch at Mondo On the Waterfront. After an active morning, I was ready to relax on their outdoor patio and people-watch as I enjoyed my squid salad.

For dinner, we ate at Dundee’s Restaurant, both of us ordering the fish special, trout with a dill and crème fraîche dressing.

Mondo On the Waterfront.

We woke early on our last day in Cairns, and rather than use the fitness center at our hotel we power walked the pier for exercise, the morning a pleasant sixty-eight degrees, cool by Texas standards.

That afternoon, we caught a flight from Cairns to Brisbane, where we would spend the night. The three-hour plane trip passed quickly, and soon we were checking into the Novotel at the Brisbane Airport.

We freshened up and took a cab to the Reserve Restaurant Milton for one of the best meals we had during our Aussie and Kiwi vacation. The restaurant is housed in “an old terrace building” very reminiscent of historic homes in the French Quarter in New Orleans—plenty of ornate ironwork, crystal chandeliers, and stunning river views.

We started the night with drinks in the upstairs parlor overlooking the Brisbane River before moving downstairs to the dining room. From the prix fixe menu, we chose the pheasant terrine. For mains, David had the lamb rump and I had roasted duck. For wine, we decided on a pinot from the Yarra Valley called Giant Steps, a vintage we fell in love with and had a difficult time finding back in Texas. Of course, it was the name of the wine that initially sold us. Dessert was a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate tart. I could have eaten two or three, but I had to save room for the cheese platter and port that followed dessert.

And I’m sorry to write, in 2015 the Reserve Restaurant Milton closed. According to the owner and chef, Kieran Reekie, there has been “a radical change in diner habits, including a shift towards cheaper meals and trendy chains, like the recent influx of burger joints,” which made his award-winning fine diner unsustainable. He went on to say, “The younger generation doesn’t want to sit down for dinner. They want to stand in a queue and have a drink and snack here, then go for a burger, and maybe dessert somewhere else.” That is indeed a shame. For us, the Reserve offered an indulgent dining experience—one of our most memorable in 2014.

Giant Steps Story

A month after I returned to the US, I finally tracked down a wine distributor for Giant Steps and drove into Dallas to buy the pinot. When I placed the order, the store owner informed me that I had to buy an entire case, as it was a special order. I asked if he could order two cases. I wanted to have extra bottles to give as gifts. He sounded exasperated when he replied, “O…kay.”

The website had the store opening at 9:00 a.m. I arrived at 8:45 a.m. At 9:20 a.m. a postal worker dropped off the mail and said, “They don’t open until ten. I know what the website says, but you won’t see the owner until ten.”

At 10:00 a.m. sharp, two men showed up. They worked for the store. I called the owner to ask if he was on his way. He was finishing breakfast and would be there by 10:30 a.m. I reminded him that his website said 9:00 a.m. Yeah, he knew—he had never gotten around to updating the store hours. Thank goodness this is far from the norm for Dallas establishments, and fortunately for me, I was successful in locating a more reliable liquor store for my Giant Steps purchases.



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No Such Thing as FREE!

Someone paid for it.

FREE in the context of this blog post applies to material things, which means there is a financial cost involved, as opposed to “the best things in life are free,” such as inner peace. But even the latter could have come at a cost.

Some time ago a fellow writer, Ray (not his real name), asked me to lunch. He wanted to celebrate the release of his current novel, the third in his science fiction series. He had just received a print proof of the book and the excitement in his voice was obvious. But he didn’t look at all happy when he arrived at the restaurant.

We ordered and our server brought our drinks, iced tea for me and wine for Ray. “What I really need is a stiff drink,” he said as the server left to place our lunch orders. I couldn’t imagine what had soured for him in the three days since he had invited me to lunch.

After a gentle probing on my part, he said, “I love the book cover. It’s not that.” I agreed, the cover looked great. “It should,” he went on to say. “The book designer charged me a small fortune.”

I smiled. “Come on, Ray. There’s no such thing as free. You knew that when you made the decision to self-publish.”

He glared. “I know. So why does everyone else expect something for free?”

“Okay, unload.”

“First, I had to pay to have my website professionally designed. Then it took me a year to do the research and another two to write and polish the manuscript before I had a professional editor edit it. Then I hired a book designer to design the cover and the interior layout. I paid to have the print book typeset and to have it converted to an e-book. And, I paid to have the book proofread.”

Wondering where all of this was leading, I said, “But you uploaded both editions to Barnes and Noble and Amazon at no cost, right?”

“Yes, but I paid ebookpartnership for worldwide e-book distribution and IngramSpark for print distribution. And, I paid to have the book reviewed and to enter a contest.”

“All optional costs.”

“I know, I could’ve done that myself and saved the money, but the point is I’ve paid and paid.”

“But look at what you have.” I motioned to the print proof sitting on the table. “From what I can see, you’ve accomplished your goal of a quality product, so what are you angry about?”

“I haven’t even begun to promote the book, never mind sell it, so I hired a publicist.”


He swigged his wine. “It all started with my website designer. He asked for a free copy of the book. He’s in Canada. Do you know what it costs to mail a book to Canada?”

“Off the top of my head, no, but I know there’s no media rate on international shipments and Canada is considered international. And worse, you have to fill out the custom paperwork.”

“It cost me $13 to mail it, and the book sells for $13.99. Not to mention standing in line for over a half hour to mail the damn thing. What’s the old saying? Time is money?”

I nodded.

“Backtracking, when I got the contract from my editor, it states that she’s entitled to a free book once it’s released, so she can put it on her bookshelf.” He rolled his eyes.

Our food arrived and our server freshened our drinks.

Ray held up his hand. “I’ll cut to the chase. The book designer wanted three free copies of this book and three each of the two previous books to be sure the series had continuity.” He took a sip of wine. “God bless my proofreader, who did not ask for a free book, because that afternoon my publicist emailed asking for all three books in the series so she could bring herself up to date. In the next paragraph of the email she said I should offer the current book as a giveaway on Goodreads and offer my first book free on my website—to build my mailing list. And she would need at least twenty-five ARCs—advance reader copies—to give to reviewers, right after I signed the printer’s contract and provided him with a credit card number so he could print the ARCs. Oh, and she had ten other reviewers who were willing to accept the e-book edition.” He set down his glass. “Ten free e-books. She signed off by saying she had entered me in four contests, and to be sure I mailed their free copies by the end of the week. They want print editions.”

“All I can say is, as an author I empathize.”

“And Amazon will pay me 70 percent royalties minus the printing for the print edition, minus this, minus that…”

I flagged our server.

“What really set me off was bumping into an old friend as I was entering the restaurant. He bragged about lending my second book to six friends who enjoyed it as much as volume one, which they also passed around. ‘Beats buying fourteen books,’ he quipped. But here’s the clincher. My publicist said she wouldn’t be attending any writers’ conferences this year, because all people wanted to do was pick her brain on how to promote their books. I quote: ‘Everyone wants something for nothing.’”

Our server arrived. I ordered a refill for Ray, refused more tea, and asked for a glass of wine.

I consoled Ray for an hour, paid for our lunches, and drove home. The first e-mail to pop up on my computer screen read, “Are you really taking a hiatus from blogging, or are you taking a break?” It was from a blog subscriber. “A hiatus sounds like you’ll be gone for ages, while a break sounds like a short absence. Regardless, what will you do with all that free time?”

I’ve never viewed time as being free. It’s a priceless commodity. Harvey Mackay, a businessman, author, and syndicated columnist, said it best:

“Time is free, but it’s priceless.
You can’t own it, but you can use it.
You can’t keep it, but you can spend it.
Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”

He also said, “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”

So what was I going to do with all of my free time during my hiatus? Let’s see. I have a dream, a goal with a plan, and a deadline for book four in the Darcy McClain and Bullet Thriller Series. I guess it’s back to work on CLON-X and my next blog post where we head Down Under.


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