On The Road Again (not as Brett Battles)

Zoë Sharp

The more observant among you will have noticed, of course, that I am not Brett Battles. I realise that this may come as a huge disappointment to some of you. (After all, he’s a one-of-a-kind type of guy.)

And, being such, Brett has very kindly allowed me to trade places with him for this week’s ‘Rati blog. I leave for a mini-tour of the States on Monday morning, and will be all over the place for the next 11 days. Although posting a blog here wouldn’t be too difficult, getting to comments might prove more tricky. So, I’ll leave you in Brett’s more-than-capable hands while I’m away.


And this pic has nothing to do with Brett, just in case you were wondering. It’s just a lovely one of one of the more unusual fixtures in the Murder on The Beach bookstore in Delray Beach, which I took last time I was there.

Andy and I have always enjoyed travelling. Good job, too, because one way or another we do a lot of it. Packing and repacking for work trips is a common thing, to the point where we usually only start throwing stuff into bags the night before we go.

We see a lot of cool sights – mainly from aeroplanes, with a wing in the foreground. Like this shot of Mount Rainier, for instance.

We’ve packed for some weird trips, including one taken in March a few years ago that incorporated both the snowy heights of New Hampshire and the heat of Daytona Beach. It’s the only time I’ve ever taken a (fake) fur hat to Florida.

Travelling has definitely got harder these days, and one of the most important things we’ve had to do because we’re flying from the UK, is fill in our Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA), as well as the usual Customs and Immigration forms. The difference with the ESTA is that we have to do it on-line, well in advance of when we travel, just to make sure we’re going to be allowed in. I have no idea what would happen if we turned up at Arrivals in Houston without having completed it, but I foresee a long wait at the airport and then a somewhat miserable flight home.

This trip started out as a quick visit to Houston to see Busted Flush Press, who are bringing out all the early Charlie Fox books which have never been published in the States before. The very first of these, KILLER INSTINCT, is already out, and the others are planned at short intervals thereafter.

If you’ll forgive a quick itinerary:

I’ll also be calling in to sign stock at Partners & Crime in NYC, as well as flying south to New Orleans to meet up with fellow ‘Rati, Toni McGee Causey, and spend a couple of days mooching round that fascinating city. She’s also promised that she and Carl will take us out to shoot some cool stuff.

(When someone sends me an email that says, ‘Come stay,’ and then goes on immediately afterwards to list a selection of the firearms they have available, I know we’re going to get along brilliantly…)

I’m thrilled to little pieces about doing a signing with Lee in NYC, as he’s done a wonderful foreword for the Busted Flush edition of KILLER INSTINCT, for which I am HUGELY grateful. He also generously did an intro for me when I last signed in NYC, for the publication of SECOND SHOT, and here we are at Partners & Crime back then. (Damn, I’m probably going to wear the same jacket again this time – it’s my favourite.)

Besides the ESTA, the other thing we’ve had to do before we go is go out and buy shampoo, toothpaste, etc, in teeny-weeny containers. Our existing (UK) travel toothpaste is too big to pass current regulations, as is our shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, etc.

We’re intending to do all the internal legs of this trip entirely with carryon bags, which speeds up getting through airports and saves stuff getting lost or mis-routed. There are one or two drawbacks to this, however, of which the whole size-of-liquid-containers is one of them.

The other is that I will be unable to take my beloved Swiss Army knife with me. It’s not just that I happen to find it extremely useful to carry a knife at all times, but also that it has scissors, tweezers, a nail file, and tiny screwdriver that’s just right for repairing glasses. Still, it has to stay at home. <sigh>

Another must for this trip will be our Avon Skin So Soft. Not because we particularly want delicate, fragrant skin, but because it’s the most effective insect repellent we’ve ever tried – and particularly that it doesn’t say in small print somewhere on the container “avoid contact with exposed skin at all costs” I guess we’ll be decanting that into a smaller bottle for this trip…

Ear defenders are another travel essential for us, as they really cut down the drone on planes, and help make the dreadful sound systems bearable if you do want to watch the in-flight movie, by cutting out some of the more raucous higher frequencies.

As with previous trips, I’ll be typing out a detailed itinerary, with all the names, phone numbers, email contacts, times and addresses. I’ll also make a careful note of time zone changes, as I nearly got caught out last time around by unexpectedly losing an additional hour driving across Indiana, which meant I turned up for an event at Jim Huang’s The Mystery Company in Carmel with about three minutes to spare, instead of comfortably early!

Then I’ll be printing out two copies, which will be kept in different bags, just in case!

I like the irony of this pic, by the way, which shows a rainbow dropping down neatly onto the Golden Arches…

As soon as we land in the States, we’ll be stopping off at the nearest shopping mall to buy a  Pay-As-You-Go cellphone. Calling to or from a UK cellphone in the States is wildly expensive, so we’ve found previously that it’s much easier to just get a cheapie PAYG and dump it when we’re done. I’ll still be taking my phone, though, because it’s got navigation built in, and that saves lugging road maps for half a dozen different states with us.


On the luggage front, packing clever is our aim. We always take those roll-up vacuum bags, so we can squash all our laundry into them as we go, which not only keeps it separate from the clean stuff, but takes up much less room.

We usually stop off and do laundry halfway through a trip anyway, which means we can take much less clothing, but also means we have to take colourfast stuff that can quite happily be thrown into a washing machine all together. I seem to remember Andy once left a bottle of sun cream in his pocket before one trip to the laundrette, but fortunately the top stayed firmly attached, and it came out sparkling.

Oh, and pens. I’ll be taking LOTS of pens.


That’s about it, but if you have any travel tips for me, I’d LOVE to hear them. (In fact, I probably NEED to hear them.) And, of course, if you can make it to any of the events, please come along and say hi.

This week’s Word of the Week is gad, which not only is a minced form of God, as in gadzooks, but also means a miner’s wedge or chisel, a metal spike or pointed bar, a spear, an engraver’s stylus, a goad (which is a dialect word for the bar across a Scottish condemned cell, on which the iron ring ran to fasten the shackles, and also to wander about, often restlessly, idly, or in the pursuit of pleasure, to straggle or to rush here and there in a wayward uncontrolled manner. So, that last bit probably sums up nicely what we’ll be doing.

28 thoughts on “On The Road Again (not as Brett Battles)

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    Too bad you’re not coming to Montana … my husband would love to show you all the guns he has and to have an excuse to play with them with someone knowledgeable. No really, he has a lot, shoots competitively, and is an NRA certified instructor. I’d have to talk about books with somebody while you did that. šŸ™‚ Have a safe, easy, fun trip.

  2. Catherine

    It’s been about 8 years since I last travelled to the States. I’m due a trip soonish. Back then I found I could live well from what I could pack into carry on luggage for about 3 weeks. I also had a spare change of clothes rolled at the bottom of my handbag just in case.(I had some pretty wild just in case scenarios of how I would be without my carryon luggage….yet still felt good knowing I had a back up) I copied all documentation I needed and placed a copy in both my handbag and carry on luggage, and a smaller version of contact details on me. I tend to also pack the nasty lollies, ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ as they stop my ears from blocking on take off or landing.

    Maybe you can establish refill depots with friends such as Toni to refill your shampoo et al as you tour?

    You sound pretty well organised. It sounds like an undetermined ratio of fun and work. I love the freedom of framing your venture with a gadzooks attitude. Foreshadowing nicely there I imagine.

  3. Karen in Ohio

    Zoe, every hotel in America offers shampoo in tiny bottles, and you can usually also get toothpaste, as well at the front desk. Unless you have an absolute preference for a particular brand, you could save yourself that much shopping, at least.

    Also, I’m pretty sure Indiana’s time zone has changed, just in case you need to know that. It’s the next state over and the border is less than 20 miles from here. We’ve been invited to weddings that did not specify "Indiana time" or "Ohio time", and were either an hour early or an hour late. Now we are on the same time, if I remember correctly–all EST or EDS. At the moment, it’s EST.

    One tip: since they no longer allow you to bring your own water into the airport bottled water is crazy pricey. I have taken my own (steel) bottles empty through security and then filled them in the airport. And refilled them on long layovers or delays. It’s very handy, and I’ve had no trouble at all getting them through, especially if they are in my handbag.

    Be sure to have a quart-sized Ziplock bag for all your tiny liquids and gels. You might want to carry an extra one, in case you lose it, because buying them is a pain, especially at the airport.

    Have a fun, safe trip! Wish I could meet you at one of those cities, but none of them are near me. Good signings!

  4. Judy Wirzberger

    I’m tired after merely reading of your planned travels. Magnificient time on the tour, I hope! Love thinking of you and Toni shooting off your guns. My friend who travels takes her "older" underwear and tosses it and buys new as a souvenier- underwear from all over the world. But you have no time to shop. I’ll be shooting a gun for the first time at the Writers Police Academy (another piece of my virginity gone).
    Look forward to your next post Judyyyyyyy

  5. Zoƫ Sharp

    Hi PK

    Montana, hey? Well… no, not this trip. But soon. It’s our ambition to visit every state in the union, and we’re over halfway there, I think. And we can shoot first, and talk books later ;-]

  6. Zoƫ Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    The southern hemisphere is calling to us loudly as well. Maybe next year!

    I find a box of TicTac mints is good enough for ear-popping duties, and you get a lot per square inch! We also tend to take bags of toasted almonds with us for emergencies – mainly waking up at 3am ABSOLUTELY STARVING, because our stomachs are still working on UK time.

    Gad is a rather lovely word, isn’t it?

  7. Zoƫ Sharp

    Hi Karen

    Good idea about the steel bottle – and much better for you than reusing plastic. Our standard washbag is a clear airport ziplock, so that’s OK. And I know about the hotel shampoo, but they rarely give you conditioner, and if I don’t use that on my hair, I go very fluffy very quickly (not a pretty sight)

    Sorry I’m not coming near to you, but maybe next time!

  8. Zoƫ Sharp

    Hi Cornelia

    I know, I know, I keep saying "next time", but it’s true. We plan to come up into New England next time we’re over, and do a more comprehensive tour. I use that pic of a New England lake, which we took on our way down to the airport early one morning as my screensaver.

  9. Zoƫ Sharp

    Hi Judy

    I have this picture in my head now of a Customs man, wearing latex gloves, opening my case and poking through my oldest, most disreputable underwear. Can you just imagine the embarrassment? And supposing we were in an accident? Did your mother never warn you about preparing for occasions like that?!?

    Have great fun losing your virginity on the gun range – and be safe now!

  10. pari noskin taichert

    I can’t believe you’re going to be so close . . . Tucson! Shoot, darn!

    One of these days we’ll have to get you to New Mexico. I’m not sure you’d like to stay in a home with kids and two large, ill mannered dogs, but it might be worth looking into at some point <g>.

    Have a wonderful trip.

    Oh, and that picture of Mt. Rainier reminded me of a mental picture I’ve kept for more than thirty years — when I flew to Hong Kong. It was toward the end of a typhoon — massive blankets of thick gray-white clouds as far as anyone could see. The sun had just begun to come up, tipping the clouds with pink and there, right out the airplane window, was Mt. Fuji — deep blue and everything I’d ever imagined it to be.

  11. Alafair Burke

    I love all these pictures. Have a great trip! Unfortunately, we can’t make it on the 29th but I know you’ll have a wonderful event in NYC.

  12. Zoƫ Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Be very careful issuing such invitations to stay – we frequently have the bad manners to take people up on their rash offer! And your descriptions of New Mexico sound wonderful – we can’t wait to see the place.

    I envy you your glimpse of Mt Fuji. We rode the bullet train past it… at night, so didn’t see a thing. Bad timing or what?

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Travel tips for YOU? I am in awe and some terror of the efficiency and forethought of the planning laid out above.

    I also have to say I had a thrill when I saw "Glendale"… until I realized you meant Glendale, AZ. Bit of a drive, that would be. Across the Mojave Desert, too.

    Oh, well – you’ll be at B’Con, won’t you?

  14. Cathy

    Sounds like you have the packing all figured out.
    Since you plan to carry-on for the flights within the states, you do know about checking in on-line and printing boarding passes, right?
    Oh, and wash up after playing with Toni and Carl’s toys. For my trip to New Mexico a couple of weeks ago, my sweet husband carried my carry-on to the car — after he’d been out shooting skeet. Yeah, alarms everywhere, investigating contents of case down to opening the toothbrush holder, and the ever popular pat you everywhere search.
    Other than that, have a great trip!

  15. Catherine

    I love Gad as a word. My Nan used to use it a lot. We’d ask what she’d been up to and she’d reply.
    ‘ I’ve just been gadding about.’ It’s a great all encompassing word.

    I know what you mean about the lack of hotel conditioners. I find my hair and skin get scary enough through just flying…so I need something to rehab both. Thankfully I’ve either had the time to find something for myself, or a great hairdresser friend in the States who has good product on hand stat. Sometimes such a little thing but when you are truly busy, a bad hair day is the last thing you need.

    Also re:visiting Australia. Are you ok with heat? If you can manage New Orleans in summer you’ll be ok here. A lot of brits tend to prefer our winter though. The weather forecast today here is min 13 degrees Celsius 20 max…which I think is about 55 – 68 Fahrenheit so I’d say our winter, especially in Queensland, is pretty mild and way less humid than our summers.

    i don’t know anyone with much in the way of interesting weapons…but I think Australia has a lot of interesting lethal snakes….which for the most part don’t bother us unless we bother them.

  16. Zoƫ Sharp

    Hey Cathy

    Yes, we know about the printing out boarding cards – and boy are we grateful that most US hotels have a free business centre that allows you to browse and print whatever you need. Generally, UK hotels do not give you free internet, and certainly not a printer.

    And oh yeah, we’ll have a nailbrush with us and we’ll scrub up furiously before we try and go through an airport. The guy at the gun range we went to in Baltimore scared the bejeesus out of a couple of people with his tales of strip-searches for anyone flying out within a couple of days, but we had no problems.

    It was worse when we used to fly to Northern Ireland. They were taking the battery packs out of laptops and poking around in your stuff long before anyone else cottoned on ;-]

  17. Zoƫ Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    I feel the cold, so I think I’d be OK with heat – we were the silly Brits sitting at the OUTSIDE tables for lunch in Phoenix in July, in 117deg of heat, after all. The sensible Americans were staring out at us through the air-con chilled windows in something akin to horror. Still, the winter sounds nice!

    I find flying in particular seems to batter the hell out of my sinuses – too much recirculated air, I think.

    Hmm, not keen on snakes. I was doing a photoshoot in rural Georgia a few years ago, wandering about in the long grass to get a better shot, and only when I got back did they tell me about the possibility of snakes…


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