Samantha Arthurs

author, reviewer, here for a good time

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Life List Item 16: Climb A Waterfall

I don’t know that anybody really sets out in life with the absolute intention of climbing a waterfall. I mean those people might exist in the world, but I can honestly say that I was never one of them. For one it is a very odd thing to think about, so it had never really crossed my mind. For another it sounds a little bit crazy when you say it out loud.

Say it out loud now:

I am going to climb a waterfall.

See what I mean?

I first knew that this was destined to be a Life List item was when I was planning out a cruise with my travel partner a few years ago. I had never been to Jamaica, and there is so much to do there it was almost overwhelming to decide how to spend our time. One thing people kept raving about, however, was Dunn’s River Falls. They declared this place a must-see destination, so I looked into it a little deeper.

Dunn’s River Falls is a waterfall in Ocho Rios, and is about 180 feet tall at its highest point. At the bottom the water flows into the ocean on a pristine white beach, making for a very picturesque setting. I read a lot of reviews before our trip, trying to work out just how this all might go. Some folks said it was an easy activity, some said it was scary, and others said it was very strenuous. Being fairly young and in relatively good health it seemed like a task that could be conquered, and so we went for it.

It was basically everything that everyone had proclaimed it to be, all rolled up into one.

We took an air conditioned bus from the cruise port out to Dunn’s River Falls, where our guide handed us over to the guys who lead you up the falls. One actually helps you navigate the terrain, while the other films your journey. Beware: they will make you scream ‘yes mon’ more times than you could ever imagine. At first you’re enthusiastic, but later on that enthusiasm turns to something else entirely. A battle cry, perhaps, that you can and will best this never ending flow of water, rocks, and burning lungs.

For me it was mildly terrifying climbing this thing. It isn’t that you’re high in the air or anything like that, you aren’t, but they very much drill it into you that you have to step where they show you to step and that you must be super careful with your footing. One wrong step could result in injury, because you are climbing very slippery rocks while rushing water tries it’s best to knock your feet out from under you. That, I think, was something I hadn’t anticipated or even thought about. Rushing water is a force to be reckoned with, and that adds a level of fear to the experience.

The waterfall is interspersed with lagoons where you can take a break, snap photos, and catch your breath. I personally made it about half way up before I decided that I’d rather enjoy myself by just lazing in some warm water rather than continue to climb. My knees ached, my chest heaved, and I had come to the realization that I am very much out of shape. That and, well, the constant feeling of maybe falling and breaking a leg was just not what I was about that day.

So while the rest of the group (well, the few who kept going) continued to climb, I was happy lying in the water, taking in the jungle setting, and enjoying myself. I had climbed enough to be satisfied, and that was enough for me.

If you’re going on a cruise that stops in Jamaica this might be a good excursion to book through your cruise line. There were other stops, and I must say that even if you aren’t into the idea of the climb the scenery alone is worth a look.

If you visit Jamaica and aren’t on a cruise, there are lots of options for seeing Dunn’s River Falls! You can book a private excursion, or drive yourself and pay to join a group. There’s no worry about heights here, it’s not astoundingly tall, though you may want to reconsider if you’re not in the best shape.

Life List Item: Complete

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The Life List Item 4: White Water Rafting

It was a bit out of the blue when my cousins invited my sister and I go to white water rafting several years ago. It was something I had always found interesting, but nothing I would have gone out of my way to plan on my own. I had always, however, secretly wanted to give it a try since my mom forbade me from going with my Girl Scout troop way back in the 90s. The invitation felt a bit like redemption, I would finally get my chance, and so we signed up to go.

The New River Gorge National River in West Virginia is a white water lover’s dream. They say it is some of the best rafting in the country, and while I can’t personally attest to that (having only been once) I can say that it is quite an experience. We left home in a caravan of people and gear in the very early hours of morning, heading for southern West Virginia and the put-in we would depart from. The morning seemed rather endless, given the three hour or so drive to our destination and then the task of inflating and loading all the rafts. It was hot and muggy by the time we were ready to go, but finally we were on the water.

It was still hot and muggy, but at least we were moving!

The New River Gorge is a beautiful place, and the banks of the river would be our home for the next two nights. We would spend three days traversing the rapids, stopping in late afternoon to set up camp and breaking it down again in the morning to move on. We were a large group, full of both experienced and inexperienced rafters, and it took a few hours to acclimate and learn the ropes. The main thing we were up against on this trip was not the rapids themselves, but the swollen river. It had rained a lot in the days and weeks leading up to our outing, and that meant the water was unseasonably high. This meant that some of the rapids were not as rough or fun as they might have been otherwise, and it also meant we spent a lot of time paddling with our oars to keep the fast moving water from shoving us headlong into the banks.

Along the way we picked up a goose we named Lucy, who followed our boats diligently and slept in our camp. Eventually we saw Lucy one last time, bobbing along with a group of Boy Scouts. She had to be somebodies pet, she was to used to people, though she was fearless and not the least bit afraid of the rushing water. What a goose!

We all faired pretty well until our last day, when it began to pour the rain. We were heading into one of the roughest sections of white water rapids we would have to pass through, all of us in our life vests and ready for action. There were huge swells of water here, and one of the rafts (not the one I was in, thankfully) ended up flipping. Everyone was able to hold onto the raft and eventually get back inside, but it was definitely a scary moment!

White water rafting and camping on the banks of the river is certainly nothing I will ever forget. I had a great time with a lot of people I love spending time with, and I made some long lasting memories.

If you’re interested in going rafting, I recommend finding a good outfitter with all the gear, equipment, and training to make it a safe and enjoyable experience. I’d also recommend starting out with a one day trip, just a few hours, to see how you might like the experience. Three days was a lot, almost too much, and while I had a great time I don’t think it’s an experience I’m looking to personally repeat.

Life List Item: Complete.

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The Life List Item 2: Rock Climbing

I am a person who is 100% afraid of heights, full stop. I’m not sure when this phobia developed, because I can remember a time when I wasn’t nearly so afraid, but the fear is real and it is always there. I don’t like Ferris wheels, sky trams, airplanes, none of it. Sometimes I do force myself to come to terms with it (like with flying) but other times I just back out of a situation because of it.

Then I decided I wanted to go rock climbing.

What was I thinking?

Actually, I know exactly what I was thinking. I was thinking about what a cool experience it would be, and that it might just be a way to get over a bit of my fear. It would be a controlled situation with professionals there for guidance, and the worst case scenario was that I’d get there and figure out it wasn’t for me.

I had thought about rock climbing as a someday thing, but never really sought out a place or time in which to do it. Then Winter Adventure Weekend came to town and the opportunity presented itself.

Winter Adventure Weekend is hosted every January at Carter Caves State Resort Park in Kentucky near where I live. They have all sorts of activities to choose from over the course of a long weekend, ranging from caving to kayaking to bird watching. My sister and I had never been and had decided it would be a fun break from the winter blues and thus signed up to participate. We began to browse over the list of activities, trying to figure out what we might like to do together and individually, and then there it was. New to the park and to the weekend of adventuring was the option to learn to rock climb, and so I went for it.

Life is short, right? May as well spend part of it dangling on the side of a rock face with a rope and a harness.

The outfitters who come to Winter Adventure Weekend are wonderful professionals who are there to help you learn, and to make the event go as smoothly as possible. We ended up going on a Friday for this, and it was our very first activity of the long weekend. It required a bit of hiking down into the new area that would be used for climbing, and those who would be going on the wall were issued a harness and a helmet. After figuring out how to put on the gear they went over the basics, such as how to belay and all the essential terms (climbing on!) that a person needs to be aware of. After that it was a matter of who would go first and a show of who had been climbing before and who had not.

Most folks there had at least done an indoor climb, but myself and a few others had never done any sort of climbing outside of childhood scrambling which doesn’t really count. For a while I was content to stand back and watch, and I belayed for a fellow climber, but eventually some of the group moved down to a second climb and there wasn’t nearly as much of an audience. I figured this was my now or never moment.

Sidebar: I have a bad left knee. Sometimes it acts up, sometimes it is fine. In the days leading up to this event I’d been struggling with knee pain, which was unfortunate because my left knee is the knee I tend to put the most weight on or take the first step with. So when it was time to climb I was relying on my right leg to do the brunt of the work.

Needless to say I did not get far, but I made it onto the wall! I managed to do a few footholds and handholds, and while I was never high off the ground I feel like I really did conquer something! It was both easier and harder than I had imagined, for so many reasons. You’re trying to contort your body in knew ways, using the smallest cracks and edges to hold yourself up. While that is hard, it is also so easy to feel so rewarded by these small measures. It was so cool, and so wonderful.

Also it snowed hard that night, and we did not make it back to any more events at Winter Adventure. That part wasn’t so great, because we had already paid, but trying to make the drive back out wasn’t worth the risk and so we counted our losses. I especially felt bad for my sister though, who was looking forward to rappelling!

Rock climbing is something I would certainly love to try again. There’s a great indoor gym not too far out, and I’m planning to visit at least once in the near future. I will never get over my fear of heights, it’s just ingrained deep in my psyche, but I have learned that I can test my own limits when it comes to going for something that I really want to do.

Life List Item: Complete

Learn more about Winter Adventure Weekend here! Also check out the LEF rock climbing gym in Lexington here!

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Book Release Day!

I made bookmarks!

I feel like I’ve been working towards this day for a long, long time. In reality I wrote this book in November of 2017, but it seems so much longer ago than that!

Immediately after finishing the first draft I put it aside, which I always do after I finish a book, and then let myself having breathing room. I picked it up again in January and printed it out totally to do the first round of editing. I worked on that off and on for weeks (I hate self-editing) and then, eventually, started thinking about what came next. I was two drafts in and seeking some help, and so I went to my friends. Jess and Mandi proved to be immeasurable to me, they were my fearless team members who pointed out my mistakes, told me what they did and did not like, and made me truly believe in the story that I had written.

Three drafts later I started querying agents and publishers, and the book sat in limbo for MONTHS with a publisher who wasn’t quite sure. Eventually they decided on a conditional no, willing to accept me and my story if I made some pretty big changes. I wasn’t willing to compromise what I believed in for my characters and made the choice that very next day to self publish.

From there it was a whirlwind of editing, cover design (again kudos to Mandi!), more editing, more designing, and a learning curve like no other. The end result is this beautifully bound 215 page novel that I hope people love as much as I do.

The first trip to Rust, Montana is finished but the story honestly isn’t. The sequel should be arriving sometime this year, and then the third story in the trilogy sometime after that. I have one novella in the works for this world I’ve created, as well as a possible fourth novel. I also have some other finished works to work through in the mean time, as well as a lot of other things on my plate. For now though I want to just enjoy this moment!

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A Crooked Mile

The culmination of two years of work.

I’m about 2.5 hours away from April 1st, the release date for my new book. My last novel was published several years ago now, and this was my very first experience with self publishing. What started out as my 2017 NaNoWriMo novel evolved into something more, something therapeutic, and now on this eve of the release I want to talk a little bit about that.

On August 19th, 2017, over two months before I would write the first draft of this story, my family suffered a devastating blow. We lost someone much too young, Chris was still a teenager, that changed our lives irreversibly. There are some losses in live that you can prepare for, hard as they are to stomach, but this was not something any of us could have ever imagined. We had lost his father, my uncle, suddenly a few years previous which made this even more difficult to comprehend.

When someone so young is gone from your life, it’s like a rip in the matrix. It’s like you blinked and suddenly they were just gone. In my struggle to understand this loss, to grieve it, I started to imagine ways with which to cope. I’m not much for talking through these things, I internalize which is not necessarily the best method, and I kept trying to just push through with hopes it would end all on it’s own.

That obviously didn’t work.

As NaNoWriMo fast approached that November I decided I wanted to participate as I had done many times before. I had struggled for awhile to find my written voice again, and I struggled then to come up with a premise or idea. The idea for the town of Rust, Montana came to me first and then the characters. I pieced them together one by one, stitching the things that would make them whole together quickly as November 1st drew nearer and nearer.

I started writing at midnight on November 1st, and finished the entire first draft about ten days later. In the town of Rust, in the characters of Ramona Sanders and Alec Davis, I found a way to grieve my loss. I put onto paper (or, well, onto Word document) all that I was feeling in a way that I could finally deal with. It didn’t ebb the flow of pain and sorrow totally, but it did help me. I was able to start the process of what comes next, after so many weeks of feeling so lost.

This book means a lot to me, more than it will really mean to anyone else who reads it I suppose, but that is okay. I just hope that people read it, and at least give it a chance. I hope that they see what I see when I read about Rust, about those characters, about that point in time. I hope that they love it enough to return to it a few times with me in the rest of the series, and I hope that if you’re grieving that you find your own way through the darkness.

It does end. You just have to be patient and let yourself feel what you need to feel.

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Self-Publishing: An Odyssey

So after the last rejection letter I received, after literal months of run around, I decided to take things in an entirely new direction. I had been traditionally published before, but something I had never even fully considered was self-publishing. I know a lot of authors that have done it, but I just never felt brave enough. That last letter though pushed me over an edge, and I decided that I want to be in charge of my own fate. I want to tell my stories, I want to do this as best I can, and so I decided to give it a try.

Here is the skinny: I, like a lot of other writers, don’t make a lot of money. I have my day job and it pays the bills, but I don’ t exactly have cash laying around in droves to spend on a whim. I’m lucky because I have two great friends who not only offered to read some of my drafts but to edit them as well. Is this the same as true, professional editing? Obviously not. Do I believe this caught most of the glaring errors and missteps in my novels while keeping me on my budget? Yes, I do. I’m paying them with love, adoration, and free books and we all seem to like this arrangement.

I have several friends who are great at design and digital art, so I had someone to help me work on the cover. That is another enormous cost that I would love to be able to afford, but at this present time just can’t. I know I’m cutting corners that some people say you can’t cut, but I’m willing to do that because I truly believe in what I’m writing. Perhaps a cover can push more copies sold, but having a good story means more to me right now so here we are!

One thing I’m sparing some money for is advertising. I want to at least make sure people know my book exists. I won’t be able to spend a ton of money, but I have a budget and I think I can make it work somewhat.

Do I think that my book will sell thousands of copies? While I wish that were so, I know it isn’t true. That’s a fact I’m okay with though, because it isn’t about copies sold necessarily. It’s just about knowing that my words deserved to be read, and that I made that happen.

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The Rejection Letter (and how to cope)

Suffice to say that over the years I have gotten many, many rejection letters from publishers and agents. It started with my first book that was finally published in 2014, and it has been going on continuously since I started querying my latest one back in September. Most of the time I just let the rejections roll off my back and think nothing more of it. As a writer you’ll get far more rejections than you will interest, and that’s okay. It’s just part of the process, practically a right of passage!

Back in December one of the publishers wrote to me to say they wanted more time for consideration. I very enthusiastically said of course, and then continued to wait. Sometime in January I got back with them, and was told they were still deciding. Then, about a week ago (into February now) I sent another email and was told they would have a decision too.

Well, that decision came today. While I was on my way to a family dinner at a local state park for a relatives birthday. It was yet another rejection, nicely written and pointing out what they liked about the story but what they also believe I could do to improve it. For some reason this rejection felt a little harder to swallow than the others, I guess because I had been waiting for so long to hear back from them.

It was disheartening, and I hate that I do feel down about it. I try to be positive, to keep searching, but sometimes it’s very hard to do that. I think it’s because I go into queries with little expectation, but this one gave me hope. I felt like this could be it, that I could have found someone who believed in my story as much as I do and then got my legs kicked out from under me.

The lesson here is don’t let your guard down, always keep that level of doubt. Things feel less disappointing that way, I think. Or maybe that’s just me feeling sorry for myself. It’s hard to say at this point.

For now I’m waiting on a few more queries to see if anything happens while I start delving more into the realm of self-publishing. This book is the first in a trilogy, with possibly some other material to come too. I know I don’t have to hold on forever, that other options exist now, and it might be time to consider that avenue instead.

Whatever happens next, I know I’ll get over feeling sorry for myself. This was just a rough one.

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Querying Is Bad For My Anxiety (and other tales)

My weekend was lit(ish)!

I spent Sunday, my only full day off a week from my job, diligently writing and working on a project that’s nearly done. By nearly done I merely mean the first draft is almost complete, which would mean my second completed draft since the first of the year. I want to slow it down a little soon to work on editing some other stuff, mostly the two books in the series that come behind the one I’m currently querying.

Querying. Is there a worse word for a writer? I can handle rejection all day long, but waiting flares up my anxiety and just really gets to me. If you want to reject me that’s absolutely fine, I can deal and move on pretty easily. I mean nobody likes being rejected, but as a writer you learn that you will get many more rejections than you will requests for fulls or offers put on the table.

Let us now talk briefly about my current novel that is being queried, and more specifically my current feelings of total agony.

The horror!

I started querying for A Crooked Mile back in September, so more or less about six months ago give or take. I got lots of rejections, and plenty of just flat out nothings. The rule sort of seems to go that if you don’t hear back at all in about twelve weeks or so that they just aren’t interested, which is fine. I had figured that everyone I had queried was hitting the time limit, and then a pretty well known publisher (independent but big) emailed me to let them know their editors wanted more time to consider it. I said sure.

It’s February and there has still been no decision. We’ve been in touch, they’re still considering, but it’s driving my anxiety through the roof. This is not their fault at all, they’re doing what they need to do and I’m glad they’re taking their time and not rushing one way or another, but oh man. The waiting is so awful! I was in contact again today and they assured me there will be a decision soon.

I hope they’re right!

I have serial killer handwriting, sorry!

I have already written three books in the Rust trilogy, and I said that I was done with that world and those characters. Then, out of nowhere, the idea for two new stories hit me today. One has the potential to be a spin-off from the original series as a full fledged novel, the other is more of a…novella maybe? Something shorter/smaller. I’m not sure how I feel about series that do things like have books 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 3.5 and so on. I don’t know really, but these projects would be a little further down the pipeline so I’m not overthinking it too much right now. I’d like to get the first one out there first and see how it goes.

This post mainly exists to share my anxiety riddled feelings toward querying. Carry on!

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January Goals Update!

The most satisfying feeling in the world!

I had set a lot of goals for January, but most of them were rather small. What I wanted to accomplish was to write a few chapters on all my current works-in-progress and to edit a sizable chunk of my last completed story. What ended up happening was that I did all those things, and then became hyper-focused on one particular piece of work.

That novel is the third, and last, in my Rust trilogy titled Before That Winter. I think I just felt a sudden urgency to complete that last bit of the puzzle, to get it all out of system so I could free up my brain for other things.

It’s not a long first draft, it’s just over 50,000 words long, but I wrote a total of about 78,000 words across the board for the month of January so I’ll take it. It was just nice to finish something else, move it to the side, and press on.

Of course now I have more editing to add to the plate. Does anyone in the world actually like editing? Asking for a friend!

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Book Review: The Troop

I finished this book last night, but I needed some time to ruminate on how I wanted to go about reviewing it. Let me start with this first and foremost: I was very, very disappointed. I don’t dole out low star ratings lightly, normally I can glean enough from a book to justify a pretty good start rating. However this gets, at best, a 2.5 from me. I just can’t give it anything more. 

First of all this book was way too over hyped, and I was super psyched up about it. Generally I know better than to set the bar too high, but I did anyway and that was part of the problem. Another issue I guess was that I thought the book was going to be entirely different. I’m not sure what I thought, but it wasn’t…this. Not that the premise was bad once I got into it, it just didn’t do it for me.

I like to get spooked by “horror” novels, I love that sense of being creeped out and getting the chills. This book gave me none of that. I know a lot of people talked about the gore factor and how this book really grossed them out, and while I can see how that would work for some people….I never found myself particularly disgusted. Gore doesn’t do anything for me, and it never has. I became very, very desensitized to it after working on my college degree in criminology, where I saw every type of gore imaginable. Some of it just mostly felt unnecessary, like it was there for shock value and nothing more.

The most intriguing parts of the book had little to do with the main plot and the biological issues at hand, and for me Shel was probably the most intriguing thing. I mean the odds of a little psychopathic teenager being stuck on the island with everyone while they’re also fighting off a contagion of some sort are pretty slim, but hey, it lent something new to the plot that I sort of liked. People like Shelley do exist in the world, and they are opportunist for sure. So those parts were the ones that held my interest for awhile, though even that faltered after a little while.

I just….really didn’t care for this. The writing was good, the plot wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Especially not when I went in expecting to be deliciously creeped out and instead found out I was reading about glorified super tape worms.

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