On the road to hockey romance and the chocolate chip metaphor.

There are few things I enjoy more in life than flying places by myself. Unadulterated time at the airport to buy maple chocolates and answer only to yourself, a 'choose-whatever-the-hell movie and beverage you want' attitude on the plane, wine, sleep, strangers who are close but who don't talk to you unless you encourage them to... The thrill of having this borrowed slice of time that exists in neither the first of your worlds (the one you're coming from) nor the second (the one you're flying to). The delicious limbo state which might as well be eternal, until it ends. Am I crazy?

So, a couple of years ago I was still working as an academic. I'd left the Netherlands, but would return every 3 months for a week of intense research, socializing, and bike-riding. Those trips were emotional. The first time I went back to Rotterdam, every time I'd hop on my bike, I'd cry, big giant tears. As if I was mourning the life we'd had there, though everyone was still thankfully alive. I must have worked 70 hours that week of my first trip back, to keep those thoughts at bay.

I'm digressing. What I meant to write about is that on one of these trips back to the Netherlands, while blissfully immersed in my stolen slice of time-space at Toronto Pearson Terminal 1, I was perusing the shelves of a bookstore, looking for a quick and painless read (I sometimes like my literature to be like my photography). I picked up a book called Dirty Rowdy Thing, by someone called Christina Lauren (actually two people), and bought it without hesitation.

I consumed it while on the plane, and that, my friends, was the beginning of my love affair with contemporary romance. Faster to read than a Jack Reacher novel, and even more formulaic, this genre is nevertheless astounding in its ability to keep me coming back. The summer after that trip, I binged on about 75 books. Football romance, cowboy romance, baseball romance, hockey romance. Oh, and a couple of Navy Seals romances. (Those were not my favourite, though. I can chat for hours why, and it has to do with my latent feminist streak, probably.) Not all of these books are created equal. I've come to have a great appreciation for the 'masters' in the genre, who can fulfil the formula artfully.

One such lady is Sarina Bowen. With eight of her novels devoured, I thought it would be only natural to meet her.

I traveled to Vermont - with my friend & photographer Liz Cooper - to meet Sarina, and to take her photograph. After our 6-hour drive in pouring rain, we neared the mountains. We'd picked the most beautiful time of year for this trip. The border guard was skeptical, but that's because he'd never been to Vermont.

We met Sarina in a little cafe in Woodstock. The rain was easing up, the sidewalks still wet with puddles and yellow leaves. She'd waited for us a while; our GPS-aided trip took longer than we'd hoped. She was truly wonderful. Soft-spoken, grounded, wise.

We chatted about life and decisions, and leaving careers, and making new ones. I talked about the art of writing, and she talked rather about the craft. Those words stuck with me. I've come to turn them into the 'chocolate chip cookie' metaphor. The chocolate chip cookie metaphor goes like this: there are many recipes for chocolate chip cookies. (My personal favourite has cornstarch in it.) Perhaps it's no great mystery how chocolate chip cookies are made, but you know - some people can make them really well, consistently. They invite you over to their house with the premise that they're making chocolate chip cookies, and? You're there, no questions asked. Other people might burn them once in a while, so once in a while you'll politely decline their offer. But not the great chocolate chip cookie makers.

So, Sarina makes a mean chocolate chip cookie, in my mind. The metaphorical kind, obviously. I actually have no idea whether she even eats cookies, but I'm hoping yes.

And I'm ever-so-grateful that she made the time to meet with us, show us the covered bridge of Woodstock, and impart some wisdom about crafting novels.

Until our paths cross again, I'll be keeping an eye out on my Kindle for her new stuff.

(Oh, and she brought us an audio-book set of CDs for Rookie Move (Brooklyn Bruisers #1), so that the trip home for Liz and I was quite enjoyable, despite the relentless rain.)

Below you'll find some photographs of Sarina in Woodstock, Vermont. For additional photographs of this trip, visit my other page.