A Sip and aTrip Takes You into a Dream

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Travel Memoir

Many Americans have made their peace with the “gotta get ahead” pace of daily life. In fact, often urbanites and sophisticates in the United States wear the burden of their busyness or over commitment as a gold star. Yet, some dream about how life might be in a smaller place with a slower pace. The biggest dreamers imagine themselves abroad – Italy, France, Africa, or China. The speculation touches the part of the soul that whispers, “What is more?”

There is something innately romantic about the idea of going to Provence, a storied region in the southern France that makes most people sigh who yearn for wine, cheese and conviviality, combined with beautiful vistas, and a slower pace of life. Keith Van Sickle’s One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence responds to the hunger like a four course dinner. I had the same positive reaction to Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, and more ever more to former fashion editor Karen Wheeler’s Tout Sweet series.

The author, a tech consultant who made his bones in Silicon Valley, gets a taste of life outside the “run, run” daily pace in the United States during a work assignment in Europe. Van Sickle and wife Val went to Neuchatel in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. “We lived in a village so small that the streets did not have names and the cows outnumbered the people,” he offers. That is a sample of the wit, clarity, insight and personality in the prose that makes the work an even more attractive read.

One of the interesting dimensions of the work is the author’s spirit. He does not glamourize life in Provence, but rather lays out the ups and downs of the adventure in breezy snippets. Most of the chapters are short yet filled with insight. Readers will enjoy the challenge as he and  Val struggle to learn a new language, and find ways to let go of common U.S. practices. For example:

We were in St.-Remy and stopped at one of our favorite restaurants for lunch. I went to the restroom, a one-room affair used by both men and women, and had to wait in line behind four ladies.

When I finally made it to the restroom I was surprised to find the toilet seat up. Even after four ladies! I told Val about this and she said it was common, that even when there was a separate ladies room, women would often leave the seat up after they were done. Apparently it’s a French custom.

Readers will be quickly impressed by the way Van Sickle gives wings to words. His sentences tend to be tight, which allows him to pack a lot of detail, meaning and humor into a small space. Rather than a “and the next day” narrative, the 192-page book is more about “and then there was the time,” which helps to quickly carry the reader through the story. For example, I loved a tale he told from his first days in France in a three-paragraph chapter:

Soon after we arrived, we went for a hike around the Etang de Berre, a bay so large that it’s almost an inland sea. We sat on a bench to eat our lunch and a poodle came up to me, looking for a handout.

I had finished my sandwich and was eating an apple. I figured that since Lucca liked apples this poodle would too, so I tossed him a piece.

Obviously, I had not counted on the refined palates of French dogs. He sniffed the apple and gave me a withering look. Then he turned his back, heisted his leg over the apple, and trotted away.

Van Sickle rolls out the adventure of his adjustment to Provence with a similar candor, which in the end develops a voice that bids the reader to relate to the author more as a friend than an adventurer. Most readers will read the last word in the book and wish they could hear one more tale. One Sip at a Time ends, yet the author offers Francophones, dreamers, travel-lovers, as well as those who might want to try a similar adventure, a chance to continue the relationship through a blog where he share insights into France and the adventure that is life.

One Sip at a Time reminds readers of when travel memoirs were a major entertainment source, and the urge to travel was more tightly tied to discovery. The reader gains insight into how one struggles to fit into another culture. At the same time, Keith and Val show readers that an effort can capture a dream. Readers who might want to move to the French countryside can make it, One Sip at a Time.

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Goodbye Indie Writers…Until Next Year

There are writers conventions, salons, workshops, retreats, and meetups throughout the country. I have been to many, but few have I enjoyed as much as last weekend’s  Orlando Indie Bookfest 2015. Most of the activity -panels, signing, authors, bloggers – were the same as other events. The chief difference was the camaraderie. 

Tawdra Kandle

I spent time with an earnest crowd of more than 100 authors, fans and bloggers who were as anxious to meet and encourage solid acquaintances as well as nurture newbies in the nuance of their crafts. One thing is certain, if you already are, or want to be a serious author, the road is open. The publishing industry has undergone a paradigm shift. E-books have revolutionized where an author can reach. The rest depends on desire, talent and organization. You could feel the warmth and good spirits in the sessions where candor was key in shaping an atmosphere where those new to authorship could find a leg up, and old guys like me, who have published in traditional houses could find a a boat load of information and encouragement to reinvent.

Mandie Stevens

Orlando hosted similar events in 2013 and 2014, so IBF 2015 co-convener Tawdra Kandle, who writes Paranormal, New Adult and Contemporary Romance, said she and partner, blogger and Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Romance author Mandie Stevens were not new to the idea. At the same time, they had no concept the biggest challenge was going to be time. 


Between February and the opening July 30 session, Kandle and Stevens pulled together a tightly dedicated crew of helpers that included their pre-teen and teen-aged children to organize authors,speakers and activities, as well as the nuts and bolts of a three-day event at the upscale Caribe Royale Resort Hotel and Convention Center about two miles from Disney World.
“We really had to scramble,” Tawdra said. I saw proof of that in Mandie and her during the three days. They were on the move, and seemed to have skills at
“herding cats.” 

“Organizing an event like this while also being a prolific romance writer, attending other events and releasing books  was a challenge, said Tawdra, who released three titles during the build up to the convention. “I didn’t sleep much.”
Beyond that, they found that those who were used to past IBF conventions were a hard sell. Most of them were skeptical of the newcomers. As might be expected, comments such as, “But we’ve always done it this way,”  were tossed. Others wanted to know why Kandle and Stevens made certain decisions. “Mandie and I tried to explain our rationale at every step,” she said. “Eventually, everyone seemed to understand!”
As she gave further explanation I began to understand that the optimism was warranted. Tawdra said the target audience – authors, bloggers and readers – were “genuinely excited,” was a surprise. In her words, “The enthusiasm was contagious.”

More surprises:
  1. How much physical work went into tasks on July 31, the first full day of the gathering. “My body is one big hurt today,” she wrote.
  2. How accommodating everyone was at the Caribe Royale Resort. 
  3. The awesomeness of Jana Oliver. “She is so much fun,” Tawdra said. 

I can attest to that, too. I called the award-winning prolific author a force of nature. Throughout the three days she moved through session after session with conversations in between and always held a ready smile and a quick wit. Some credit in that should extend to her husband/roadie Henry. He was always behind the scenes with what she needed to shine. When I complimented them on their contributions to the event, and mentioned Henry, Jana joked, “He says I’m his retirement plan.” 


As for next year, Tawdra said, “YES!! We already have tentative dates,  likely in the fall. We have authors eager to sign up. We have readers making plans! And we’ve made a list of what we want to change in our process. 2016 will ROCK!” 

Interested? Here is a link to sign up for IBF2016  information.