Travels, part 1

I’ve been doing a fair amount of traveling recently to promote Icefall. The first trip was to the Baltimore Book Festival in Maryland. Having lived in Maryland for several years, it felt a bit like going home. I stayed near the Inner Harbor, a place I really liked as a kid, especially the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center.

The view of the Inner Harbor from my hotel room.

Before my event at the book festival, I went to do some sightseeing. I was particularly interested in exploring the U.S. Sloop-of-War Constellation as research for the novel I’m currently writing. Below are some pictures I took of the ship.

The Captain's cabin.

The next picture is of the Captain’s toilet and bathtub (he even had a view). You really can’t see it, but the bathtub is about the size of a large sink. And this was the only toilet on the ship. The rest of the crew had to use a special place at the bow, or the head, of the ship. Which is where the expression, “hit the head” comes from.

Good aim was apparently a prerequisite for any captain.

Okay, enough bathroom trivia. How about some cannons…

The gun deck.

The Wardroom, or officers' quarters.

An officer's cabin.

While the Captain and his officers stayed in relative comfort, the crew did not. When occupied by sleeping crewmen, their section of the ship was said to become an oven. A really dark and smelly oven.

More comfortable than you might think. Like a hammock in your backyard, only without the sun, the breeze, or any sense of privacy.

The Sick Bay was eye-opening. It had several cases of surgical implements on display, which suggested all kinds of painful things just by their appearance, but were almost exclusively focused on dealing with battle trauma. And back then, the way you dealt with battle trauma was usually amputation. While amputation has become a last resort today, back then it was a first line of defense against infection and death. Amputation saved a lot of lives.

Up on the top deck, they gave us a cannon-firing demonstration, which was pretty cool.

It was loud.

So there I was on this faithfully restored ship, a noble vessel which had been used to combat slavery and had seen many battles, and then over the side I heard this swashbuckling, pirate-y music, and I looked down to see another little ship “sailing” by…

We had a real cannon. They had water guns. We had history, and they had Disneyland. I started chuckling, and so did several people beside me on the Constellation, so I know I wasn’t the only one to appreciate the juxtaposition.

Just to orient you, the windows sticking out from the side are where you'll find the earlier bathtub and toilet.

After I was done exploring the ship, I had enough time to visit the National Aquarium. One of the coolest things I saw there was an exhibit of jellyfish. I can’t think of a more relaxing activity than watching jellyfish undulating in the water. Seriously. I could have stood in front of the glass for hours, man.

The Aquarium also had a 4-D theater.

“There’s a 4th dimension?” I said to myself.  I had never experienced a 4th dimension before, I so bought a ticket to a showing of “Planet Earth: Pole to Pole.” While the theater didn’t let me transcend my limited 3-dimensional awareness, it did blow icy wind and snow in my face during the arctic scenes, fill the air with bubbles for the underwater scenes, jab me in the back when a Great White Shark took out a seal, and shoot water mist in my face as though from an elephant’s trunk. Which is to say, it ended up being pretty fun.

After that I went to the book festival for my event, a steampunk panel with Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, and Eden Unger Bowditch. Kelly and Gavin have recently co-edited an amazing anthology of steampunk short stories, appropriately titled Steampunk!, and Eden has written The Atomic Weight of Secrets. The panel was a lot of fun, and Emma from The Children’s Bookstore did a wonderful job moderating it. I was especially excited to meet Kelly, whose work I have long admired (really, check out her stuff).

Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, & Eden Unger Bowditch listening to me blather. Also, the goggles were because, you know, steampunk.

After the panel I had a lovely dinner with Emma (my publicist for the event), Emma (from the bookstore), Eden, and a really nice bookstore volunteer helping out with the event.

______________________________

My next trip was to Denver, Colorado for the annual trade-show of the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association.  But before that I paid a school visit to the Hill Campus of Arts and Sciences.  The students were awesome, especially a young man named Isaiah. He had a reading wager going at the time, and I hope he won the bet and earned his free copy of Icefall. After I finished my presentation, I noticed a display for perhaps the greatest science project I’ve ever seen:

My kind of science!

Let’s look a little closer at exactly how this worked…

Step 2.5) Do not laugh.

What were the results?  Funny you should ask…

Clearly, blue Poprocks are the best.

My sponsors for the school visit were the lovely ladies of The Bookies bookstore. After the school visit, they fed me lunch and gave me a little unintended and entertaining tour of Denver before depositing me safely back at the hotel for my event. I participated in the “Author Tea,” along with several other writers, including Utah’s own Ann Cannon and Randall Wright. During the course of the tea, I got to move around to several tables and meet some passionate and wonderful booksellers. After that, the fabulous Roz set up a dinner with folks from The Bookies, The Tattered Cover, and the Boulder Book Store.  Great food and great company.

And that was Denver. More travel coming soon…

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6 Responses

  1. That sounds like such a fun trip! We used to live in D.C., and so those pics of the Inner Harbor brought back memories.

    Funny you should mention bathrooms on ships, because I totally cover that bit of trivia in my sequel. It must be the first thing our 21st century minds think of: “How would one relieve oneself?” Of course in my mind, the question is not so elegant.

    Excellent post. Jealous of all the adventures!

    Reply
    • Matthew

       /  November 1, 2011

      Not enough bathroom trivia in kids books, I say. The more the better!

      Oh, and you’ll be having adventures of your own soon enough, Brodi!

      Reply
  2. Love the ship! That’s my kind of research. And I love ship stories. How kind of you to write one. I’m obsessed with old stuff, often think I was born in the wrong century. Miserable living quarters, disgusting bathrooms, amputate your infections–oh, to live in past! Though I suppose it’s safer just to write about it 🙂

    Sounds like a wonderful trip.

    Reply
    • Matthew

       /  November 1, 2011

      It was a lot of fun. And like you, I sometimes think wistfully about what it would be like to live in a different time and place. Of course, then I walk into a restored sick bay, see a case of surgical instruments, and I’m once again perfectly content with my thoroughly modern life.

      Reply
  3. Hey, Matt-

    Just came across your space here. Wanted to say it was great to hang with you in Baltimore. Glad we could all lean on each other (and the audience) about the whole steampunk thing.

    Hope all is well. Back in Cairo where life is certainly… uncertain.
    cheers from the revolution,
    eden

    Reply
    • Matthew

       /  April 16, 2012

      Great to hang out with you, Eden! And if you ever need an author to come visit over there, keep me in mind!

      Reply

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