Anywhere in the world: Or how I won the coolest contest ever

Just last week, Spencer and I sat chatting. A cooking show hummed in the background. I turned to him as I often do, posing Big Issue questions.

“If money weren’t an object,” I started, “and you could go anywhere in the world — anywhere — where would you go?”

He turned to me with a thoughtful expression, his bottom lip puckering slightly. “I . . . would have to think about that,” he replied carefully. “I really don’t know.”

“Think about it.”

“. . . I don’t know. How about you? Where would you go?”

Visions of sunsets in Greece or sunrises in Hawaii danced before my eyes. I thought of Scotland and delicious meals there, and of Italy’s history and rich architecture. I thought of London, my favorite city, and of Big Ben. The Thames. The Tube.

I thought of the many places I hope to see someday and the things I want to experience. The vistas that will take my breath away. The spots rich in history and culture and beauty, and all the things I want to capture with my camera.

And something incredible has happened.

In April I toured through England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and Wales with Trafalgar Tours, an awesome tour company with planned excursions all over the globe. I’ve recounted many of my adventures from that trip (with more to come!) and had so much fun with my family. We saw more in 10 days than I could have imagined and made many warm memories.

Trafalgar recently put out a call for “WOW!” moments from past travelers, asking participants to send in stories and photos of their favorite times on Trafalgar vacations. Dad showed me the travel magazine with information on the contest. Thinking of our trip isn’t hard for me — and neither is writing about it.

Without much thought, I sat down and wrote up five paragraphs on my “wow” moment from Woodstown on the Irish Sea — an incredible place where I danced with a local, sipped Smithwick’s and made friends with an Irish dog. It was at the end of our trip, which had been a rollicking adventure all over the United Kingdom. I was enchanted with the Scottish, Irish and English we encountered, and felt distinctly at home everywhere we went.

It was “foreign,” yes, but in the best way possible.

I sent in my entry.

Thoughts of the contest fell by the wayside, buried under months of vigorous work and busy weekends.

On Friday, slumped over at my desk after a work pot luck, I was listlessly scanning my email and waiting for the work day to end. Useless since my big lunch hours before, I was so tired that I had awkwardly tried to stand and fell out of my rolling desk chair. In front of my coworkers.

And that almost happened again minutes later.

At 4:45 p.m., an email marked “important” landed in my inbox. It was from Trafalgar. About the contest I’d entered two months ago.

I won.

I won the grand prize. My “wow” moment was picked by the company for publication in their magazine’s fall issue, and what was my reward?

A complimentary trip for two on any Trafalgar tour.

Any tour. Up to 10 days. Anywhere in the world.

Anywhere. In the world.

As soon as I processed the message, my hands started to shake. I’d known the stakes when I entered, sure, but never thought I would actually win. I mean, who wins a free vacation? Those are reserved for Internet scammers and radio competitions, right? You have to be the tenth caller on the tenth day of the tenth month or answer 10,000 trivia questions or something.

You don’t just win a free vacation.

But I have, friends. I’ve won a free vacation to take in 2012. It’s on the website and everything.

And I’m faced with the best possible dilemma — an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime chance to travel anywhere my heart desires. I’m left answering the very question I posed to Spencer:

If money weren’t an object and you could go (almost) anywhere in the world, where would you go?

My God, the possibilities.

I’ve had a week to calm down and think and plan. I’ve narrowed down my choices to two continents — yes, because that is helpful — and figure I want to go somewhere mountainous and beautiful. Somewhere I can take pictures. Somewhere I would never go on my own, because I’d be too nervous or wouldn’t bother.

France, because I need to see Paris. I just . . . do. And the French countryside? I almost feel as if I’ve already been there, having read about it so often in novels — but that’s not the real thing, of course. And there are tours that tackle both France and Switzerland, and also others that cut a large swath through France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.

That sounds awesome, and is heavily my favorite right now.

But there are the Rocky Mountains of Canada, too. And Western Canada. I’ve never visited our neighbor to the north save one trip to Toronto years before (and Niagara Falls, too), and the scenery calls to me. I don’t much about Canada (bad neighbor!) but am certainly willing to learn.

And then there’s Greece, the original answer to the question I posed — a question I never thought I would honestly get to consider. The beautiful coast and Santorini, cite of the Traveling Pants books I love. Olympia. Delphi. Athens.

Needless to say, life has just gotten way more interesting.

I’m in no hurry to make a decision. In fact, I’d really like to milk this for all its worth! I didn’t know when I’d be able to take an international trip again after last year’s excursion, and I definitely never thought I’d go on a trip I didn’t have to pay for (aside from pesky things like airfare, of course). As planning a vacation is half the fun, I’ll be planning until my little OCD heart’s content.

I really can’t wait.

So tell me, friends: where would you go? Money is no object. You have all the time in the world. Where, where would you go?

Autumn, contests, awards and more

It’s September! A bright and shiny new month! And the start of fall, my most favorite of all seasons! Though the leaves are still that bright-and-shiny green, I’ve decided to throw caution (and sanity) aside and already whip out my fall wardrobe. According to my sister, today I’m rocking a look that screams “college girl in 1952.”

It’s really just an excuse to wear both my new red cardigan and houndstooth scarf — even in 86-degree weather. In an ideal world, I would look like an extra on “Mad Men” and channel Audrey Hepburn in my daily wardrobe . . . especially if that meant wearing a little extra something from Tiffany daily. But in this world, I’m just a run-of-the-mill writer who hopes she doesn’t look like a crazy vagrant most days. And she can keep her hair from frizzy badly enough to block out the sun, all the better.

I love the fall and seem to write these sorts of posts yearly — updates about life turning a new corner and exciting things that are afoot. On my mind now is the Indie Lit Awards, honors given by literary bloggers to the best of the best in new books out in 2011. I served on the literary fiction panel last year and had the best time — especially since that’s how I discovered Peter Geye’s Safe From The Sea, one of the most powerful novels I’ve read in a long time.

Now in its second season, the Indie Lit Awards are a great way to discover notable books in a variety of genres — and nominations are now open. Think about the books published in 2011 that you’ve devoured whole, then pushed into the hands of every reader in your life. We want the books that blew your mind. That changed everything. Nominate now using a simple form in categories including biography/memoir, GLBTQ, fiction and more. I’m proud to again serve on the fiction panel and look forward to our “reading list” being established from the nominations.

Next up on my list of random Meg thoughts: um, how delicious is Dunkin’ Donuts’ pumpkin spice latte?! It’s out now and sent me tumbling into a delightful sugary rush yesterday afternoon. Starbucks is a bit behind the times this year, not bringing their concoction back until next week, but I’m all right with that. As long as I can get my ridiculous pumpkin fix, I’m happy. (And I promise not to post too much on my pumpkin obsession this year — I think I’ve already got that covered.)

I also wanted to thank everyone for their nominations in this year’s Book Blogger Appreciation Awards, which are happening Sept. 12-16! I’m thrilled to have been long-listed in the Best Written Book Blog and Best Eclectic Book Blog categories and really appreciate the support! I’m looking forward to participating in this year’s festivities — it’s always a great time and a wonderful way to meet new faces in our book blogging community.

In somewhat related news, I recently learned that I did not win the “Jane Austen Made Me Do It” short story contest — and though disappointing, the talent on display in that competition was tremendous. Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of Austenprose, will debut her Austen-inspired anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It on Oct. 11. Congratulations to Brenna Aubrey, author of “The Love Letter,” for penning the winning short story — and thank you all for your votes and encouragement in February. Writing “Spinning White Hair Gold” was an exciting challenge and I really appreciate having made it to the Top 10! Can’t wait to read the book this fall.

. . . Well, this was an amazing amalgam of material. I’m getting ready to venture north and visit Spencer’s family in New York over Labor Day weekend, and Laurie Notaro’s It Looked Different On The Model will be my eight-hour-car-ride companion! I’m also super pumped for my friend Erin’s wedding on Sept. 10 and am still depriving myself of anything chocolate, carb-heavy — or flavorful. My “diet” has been intense, but that bridesmaid dress is not going to wear itself.

Though it is snug enough to stand on its own.

P.S. Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for Kristine Gasbarre’s How To Love An American Man, one of my favorite reads this year. Krissy and her publisher were kind enough to increase the giveaway to two copies, and I’ve extended the deadline to Tuesday, Sept. 6. Just share your family memories here to be entered.

I read it and now you can: win THE DUFF!

It’s no secret that my feelings on Kody Keplinger’s The Duff were lukewarm, at best. And since I purchased the novel with my hard-earned cash, I’d like to pass it along to a good home — and a reader who might enjoy it!

My gently read hardcover copy is up for grabs for one winner in the U.S. or Canada by submitting this form. The giveaway is open until 12 p.m. (noon) on Friday, Nov. 5, and one randomly-selected winner will then be emailed (and announced in this post) by yours truly. One (+1) additional entry is available per person by spreading the word on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Maximum of two entries total per entrant.

Your submitted information is seen by my eyes only, and I’ll delete the form after the giveaway closes. I’ll have the book on its way to you as soon as I hear back with a mailing address!

EDIT on Nov. 5: Congrats to Natanya, our randomly-selected winner! I’ve emailed you.

Breaking into Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award

I got quite the exciting call from my friend Gwyn this morning! Once again, it astounds me how little I can know about things that actually matter and how much I know about inconsequential, ridiculous things that will in no way further my career or help me achieve total financial independence (i.e., Jessica Alba’s daughter’s name is Honor Marie).

Apparently, Amazon is having holding a major contest right now — and giving out the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award this summer! I realize that this is partially a marketing tool to get writers to inadvertantly become exposed to their new program, CreateSpace, to self-publish, but hey — mission accomplished. I signed up and entered. The deadline looms — this Sunday, Feb. 8. They’re accepting up to 10,000 entries for evaluation! So I pumped myself up, tried to seem marketable, uploaded my manuscript and came up with a snappy pitch. I did the best a sleepy girl could do on a snowy morning in Maryland on a Wednesday. I was eager to get everything submitted — I didn’t want to obsess about it all day.

So now I just get to obsess until they announce the 500 quarterfinalists on March 16. Excerpts from those folks’ novels will be posted on Amazon to be rated and reviewed. And then they whittle down the entries by panel, etc., until the “grand prize winner” is announced May 22. Simultaneously frightening and exhilirating!

Regardless, I entered. And by 11 a.m. today, I’m already feeling quite accomplished! All of my writer friends, I encourage you to submit, too . . . I’m not selfish enough to want to keep the entry pool small for my own gain! Or am I? 🙂 No, I’m not. Check out the rules and enter on Amazon at this link!