Category Archives: General Travel


20130324AliceFrontCoverWebSizeI don’t enter my work in many contests because those fees add up quickly. However, I realized my very short novel Alice had never been entered anywhere, so I put it into two categories in Writer’s Digest 25th Annual Self-Published Novel Awards. I think of it as a fun story, so I put it into mainstream fiction, but one of the customer reviews on Amazon calls it a “modern day ethics story,” so I also entered it in the inspirational category.

It did not win in either category, but I requested feedback from the judges involved and it arrived today. They each give a numerical score of 0-5 in five areas: Structure, Organization, and Pacing; Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar; Production Quality and Cover Design; Plot and Story Appeal; Character Appeal and Development; and Voice and Writing Style. They also provided a brief written commentary.

I opened the email with the mainstream category judge’s commentary first. My best numerical score was for Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar, and that was a four. Plot and Story Appeal got a two. The rest were twos and threes. The commentary was negative all the way – I definitely will not be sharing any part of it.

Then I opened the email with the inspirational category judge’s commentary. Everything got five’s – a perfect score – and the commentary ended with “one of the most interesting and useful novels I’ve seen.” I immediately posted the full commentary in the author comments on the book at Amazon.

Now both of these judges were presumably working with the same instructions for scoring – probably a rubric of some kind. I think the key is in the Plot and Story Appeal. The first judge gave that a two, the second a five. The first probably did not enjoy any of the process and got it done as quickly as possible; the second obviously enjoyed the book thoroughly and may not have looked at the technical aspects as critically as a neutral party. While I like the perfect score, I need to keep that in mind when my head starts swelling.

The bottom line is, no book appeals to every reader, including judges and reviewers, and most contests will have a single person doing the first screening read.

So what should you do when you get a negative review or commentary? Munch on a piece of chocolate and look at the details and decide if any criticism is justified. If you can’t make changes to this book, use the criticism to improve the next. When I entered Michael Dolan McCarthy in the Amazon Breakout Novel Awards, I got a full reading of the manuscript by Publisher’s Weekly and that reviewer pointed out my strengths as a writer and places the novel was weak. I hadn’t published yet, so after the initial cringe, I went back and fixed the problem areas. I quote the positives. Alice is already published, but if I write something similar, I’ll revisit both of these commentaries.

There’s sometimes a delay updating info at Amazon, so here’s the full positive review:

Judge’s Commentary 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

“ALICE by Sheri McGuinn is a wonderful short novel that’s an easy read. Yet it contains deep threads along with an important mission. Using the power of fiction, the novelist encourages readers to do something for the community — that is, using abandoned buildings to house the homeless. This is a worthy idea that I hope many will be inspired to adopt. Although it’s been awhile since I had major contact with teenagers, I believe the author captures the voice of a thirteen-year-old very well. The narrator has a sense of wisdom, awe, and inexperience that marks many in that age bracket. Baby Girl is a storyteller I enjoyed spending time with, and I think others will, too. The bright yellow book cover captures the attention right away. The flowers are whimsical, and remind me of the hippie era, which is of course ideal for this book. The back cover design is also whimsical, and lets the reader know what to expect. I would have liked to see an author bio here. The resources listed inside, along with promos for the next book and the self-publishing guide are all practical and helpful. Overall, one of the most interesting and useful novels I’ve seen.”


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In 2011 I visited Derry in Northern Ireland. I wasn’t writing this blog yet, but I was keeping notes.

As we approached Derry, our guide gave us historical information about the 1916 Rebellion through the Civil War and into the Troubles that started back up in the 1960’s and continued until the Peace Treaty 1998, during which time it was essentially a war zone. Most of Northern Ireland is 70% Protestant, 25% Catholic, and 5% other religions, but Derry reverses the first two statistics – most people are Catholic. Back then, people had to own property to be eligible to vote. The Protestants controlled the property and businesses, so most Catholics did not have the right to vote. Therefore, while Derry was mostly Catholic, Protestants controlled the government as well as business. So it wasn’t just religious differences but also the subsequent economic and political inequities that led to the Troubles. Our guide in Derry, Ronan McNamara, talks about that at the beginning of this YouTube:.

By the way, when he first got on our bus, Ronan addressed his appearance immediately: his mother is a Chinese Buddhist, his father is Irish. He was brought up in Derry during the Troubles and did his best to stay out of conflict. He now has children and is happy that they do not hear gunfire or bombs. He was also excited that tourists are returning to Northern Ireland and making his work as a guide possible.


Ronan explained that most people were just trying to live their lives through the Troubles, but the violence was all around them. Historically, Derry was a walled city and despite the Troubles, much of the wall and many of the gates are intact. Now the city is investing in its heritage and its future – this started even before the Peace Treaty of 1998.

In 1992 Catholic and Protestant teens built The Craft Village together, paid by the Inner City Trust:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Peace Bridge opened the year I visited, 2011:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd construction and renovation was going on all over the city:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhenever conflict/war/terrorism is pursued in the name of religion, it is wise to take a closer look at economic and political issues that may be addressed less emotionally and effectively to eliminate the basis for problems.

Wow -17 countries

As poorly as I’ve maintained this blog, people from 17 countries have viewed it.

New Year’s resolution: write more!


I’d been home less than twenty-four hours before I had to head north for a training gig on the Hopi reservation. I’d never been up there & didn’t have time to do much sight-seeing, but saw enough to know I’d like to go back with more time. Stayed at the Hopi Cultural Center, which was very nice. Taught about thirty miles away. The first day, we had a power outage that lasted about six hours – which meant no dinner because restaurants need power and it was out all over the reservation and beyond. It was really windy. Fortunately, I travel with almonds and will never starve.

Anyway, here’s a video:



I went to Manhattan for Book Expo America. I’d spent a bundle on having my books displayed and airfare, so it was important to keep other costs down. For starters, I flew in the morning the conference began and flew out the evening it ended, so I only needed two nights’ accommodation. While I might have been able to find a couch, I decided it would be better to have those two evenings to have some time to myself after pitching myself all day. The options at first seemed to be hundreds of dollars per night near the Javits Conference Center or having to figure out transportation back and forth from New Jersey. Then I found The Out.

The Out regularly features an artist's work.

webTheOutArt1The Out NYC is on 42nd St, between 10th and 11th Avenues. Their rooms are expensive, but they have some hostel-style rooms that are closer to $150/night. The artwork in the entry and corridor to the rooms left me wondering, but I later learned it was simply the current artist exhibit.


Hostel means you share the room. The beds are twin-size built-in bunks, each with its own TV, shelf, and reading lamp. They each have a heavy curtain to close for privacy. It turned out that two of my roommates were male, but since none of us spent much time in the room, it wasn’t really awkward. The staff were extremely helpful, giving me the same directions when I’d lose the first note. They didn’t fuss the last day when I stored my luggage and got in and out of it a couple of times before leaving.

webManhattanMenAtWorkIt was a short walk from Javits Conference Center to The Out and a slightly longer walk to Times Square and Central Park. There’s lots of construction going on. Friday night was definitely busier with people heading to shows and/or dinner.

webCitibike In Central Park, the road’s shut off to cars, but there’s a pedestrian lane to keep runners and joggers separate from the bikes that zip along. Classes meet there to exercise, and there are also bikes you can rent. There are horse-drawn carriages nearby. One of the drivers told me he had to take training and get a license, then work for a company that has all the permits necessary. You still hear the city in the park, but it’s nothing compared to walking down the street.

webCentralPark  For short videos:

 Sounds of Fifth Avenue

Central Park






The Out staff gave me four different places to eat, each of which was fantastic. One was a natural food store/deli on 42nd and 11th where I ate breakfast. The others were Thai, Greek, and Turkish. The last one, their masseur (yeah, The Out is really a nice resort) walked me to the restaurant because he’s Turkish and wanted to be sure I got to the “real” Turkish restaurant. The Thai Restaurant is called Room Service and is on 9th Ave. It was very affordable and the chicken in my curry was tender. The Greek restaurant’s specialty is fish. They’re Kellari Taverna at 19 West 44th St., close to Fifth Avenue. Their specialty is fish and their baklava is amazing, too. At dinner time, they were packed with reservations, but another lady happened to have come solo without one and they gave us hugs and kisses for offering to sit together.
The one thing about dining at the usual dinner hour is that it’s noisy. I thought maybe it was because the Thai place was small and informal, but the Greek restaurant was upscale and conversation across a table required shouting and repetition. If you like a quiet dinner, go early. My last day at Turkish Cuisine on 9th Ave., I was the only one in the place because it was 2 PM. Again, the food was excellent.
For more about Book Expo America, catch my writing blog at Goodreads. The next post here should be the plane adventure!


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Mogollon Rim

I live across the street from the Mogollon Rim in Lakeside, Arizona. The drop is relatively gentle here, but it’s still awesome to look out over miles and miles of pines.


There’s a short handicap-accessible trail off 260 in Show Low, Arizona that I’ve walked several times.


My friend, Laurie Dee Acree, writes hiking books and is working on one of the General Crook Trail, which is by the Rim outside of Payson, Arizona. We met at the Mogollon Rim Overlook, about halfway between Payson and Heber-Overgaard on 260.  It’s much steeper!


We checked out the trailhead there.


Then we drove across 260 and down to Woods Canyon Lake ( and hiked around the lake, which included hiking past a bald eagle nest they keep fenced off. I’ve kayaked this lake and walked part of the trail before. It’s a really pleasant way to spend a day.

WebBoaters  WebEagle  WebKayakTied  WebBoaters






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Traffic and Taxis in Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru


This is just one side of Lima. The city is huge, and the haze is the pollution from all the traffic, combined with an inversion system like that in Los Angeles. I actually brightened up this photo a bit so at least the near buildings would show better.


Aside from our long weekends being tourists outside the city, my group spent five weeks in Lima living with families and being students. Most of the time I walked three or more miles a day and I used the buses a lot, once I figured them out. Pedestrians do not have the right of way, at least not in practice, and buses let people off in the middle of the street if they’re stopped at a red light. It was definitely important to be alert.

The ISA driver told me normal rules do apply, but are widely ignored—so people frequently make lefts from the right lane and rights from the left. Until I got used to that, I usually crossed the street mid-block where I didn’t have to worry about turning cars.

Video of a Lima intersection at rush hour!

 Taxis: Taxis come in all shapes, colors, and age.

ImageThese three-wheeled taxis are in the rural areas and in the narrow streets on the edge of Lima. The picture on the right was taken out the window of our full size bus.



They say it’s safer to get a radio taxi, but they’re more expensive and don’t always show up, so standard practice is to flag down a street taxi. Others stop behind the first, so you can take time to bargain. One pair of students in our group had an extremely bad experience the first week—the driver pulled into an alley way and locked them in the cab and demanded their money. The ride cost them fifty American dollars.

Aside from that, the main complaint was crazy drivers.

How to have a safer ride:

There are no guarantees. While I lean towards newer taxis with neatly dressed drivers, the driver who robbed the American couple was in a dress shirt. However, usually these steps will increase your “luck” in rides:

  • Watch how they’re driving before you flag them down!
  • Know how to handle the money:
    • Know how much it should cost to get where you’re going.
    • Set the price before you get into the cab.
    • Have exact change ready in your hand and don’t pull out the rest..
  • If you HAVE to take a taxi late at night, do so in a large group, especially if you’re leaving a club or other place where the driver will assume you’ve been drinking and are therefore more vulnerable. The robbed couple were leaving a club late at night.

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Asking for help.

One of the most important life skills is the ability/willingness to ask for help. This is especially true when traveling.

Asking for help

In Peru, some of my fellow students were far more fluent than I was, but handicapped by reluctance to ask a stranger for assistance. My viewpoint is that if you are ever in a really bad situation alone, it’s going to be a stranger who helps–so practice talking to people every day! It’s also the best way to practice a language you’re learning and to get a feel for the local culture.

That said, I do not start gabbing with strangers who come up to me on the street. They might have an ulterior motive, like diverting attention from the partner who’s the pickpocket. Instead, I choose people who are working or otherwise look like they have a purpose.


  • Asking for directions, I usually go into a store and speak to someone who works there.
  • At a bus stop, I’ll ask someone dressed for work for help. If they’re wearing business clothes, there’s also a good chance they speak some English and want to practice.

Best experience:

I was having trouble getting the right bus home in Lima one night, so I asked a woman in business clothes which number I needed. She started to explain, got interrupted by a phone call, and automatically left on her bus. When she realized what she’d done, she got off, walked back to me, and rode an alternate bus home with me, as our destinations were within a few blocks of each other.

Worst problem:

People want to help even when they have no idea where you’re going–they’ll give you crazy instructions rather than appear unfriendly. So I keep asking along the way, to correct as needed.


Healthcare abroad

My daughter had no health insurance when she was in Mexico and stepped a sea urchin. She suffered for days before going to a hospital in the middle of the night for help. The bill was less than ten dollars.

I lost a crown (cap on my tooth) in Cuzco. ISA found the least expensive yet competent dentist.

For the first appointment, I wrote out the essential details in Spanish and had the ISA staffer who took me to my first appointment check to make sure it made sense. She made a couple small corrections and I told her to leave once I met the doctor.

The dentist doesn’t speak as much English as they’d thought, but it’s a familiar environment, he has visual aids, and my Spanish has progressed enough to communicate with him on my own.  He works alone and has only one patient at a time—a much more tranquil atmosphere than the usual large office. His competence was immediately evident and, since there were no distractions, he was completely focused on the work he was doing. I decided to have him do less urgent work as well, since I don’t have dental insurance in the States. Compared to what I’d have paid for the same work, I’ve saved almost enough to cover the cost of my plane ticket down here.

I’m going to get his email. If I ever need major dental work again, I may come back here for it!

¡Hola! From the Alternative ISA Student in Lima, Peru!

ISA Summer 2012 Lima, Peru

I’m a college student—again—and I’m not alone. Changing careers or finishing an interrupted education are only two of the many reasons for older students to be in a university program. If you’re one of us, don’t count yourself out of the other benefits of being a student—discounted rates for many activities, cheap health insurance, and TRAVEL experiences. Aside from the pure fun of travel, we live in a global economy where it definitely helps your portfolio.

When I signed up for a trip to Peru this summer with ISA (International Studies Abroad), I had to sign off saying I knew most of the participants would be in their twenties. Did I have doubts? Absolutely. I even bought the bail-out insurance. Who did I think I was kidding? Was I going to be a freak? I should have spent more time brushing up on my Spanish. The thing is, having doubts is the norm. Young people going abroad for the first time, or living with strangers for the first time, or not sure their classroom language will be enough—all of them have doubts, too.

I’ve been here a week, and it’s wonderful. When I first got off the plane, I introduced myself as the “alternative student” and the moment of shock was immediately replaced with curiosity and acceptance. I am by far the oldest student, but not the only “older” one. It doesn’t matter. We’ve been included in the group’s Facebook page and outside activities without prejudice. The prevailing attitude is, if you’ve made here, you belong.