What I Did(n’t Do) on My Summer Vacation

Dying on the Vine by Marla CooperOne of the reasons I love writing the Destination Wedding Planner Mysteries is that each book lets me spend time in a new location. I don’t just mean literally, like during research trips, but also mentally, like a mini-vacation every time I sit down to write. I can spend the day pretending I’m in a beautiful Mexican village or having a picnic in the wine country, and later the memories seem so real that sometimes I feel like I actually went.

This summer, my imaginary travels got an unexpected boost with a freelance travel-writing assignment. One of my editors at Lonely Planet asked me if I wanted to write seven travel pieces for a coffee table book that comes out next spring. They sent me a list of topics I was to cover, and boy was it a fun mishmash of ideas. Witchcraft in Salem! Salsa dancing in Southern Florida! Drag Queens in San Francisco!

I had so much fun digging into the topics they assigned me, learning about new things and living vicariously through my imaginary travels. And because I have a vivid imagination, I feel like my summer was packed with adventures! Here are some of my favorites:

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 9.23.10 PM.pngSalsa dancing in South Florida. Nearly ten years ago, I traveled all over Florida doing research when I worked on my very first Lonely Planet guide. But one thing I did not do there — or anywhere else for that matter — was go salsa dancing. Writing this article, it was fun imagining some parallel life where I actually put on high heels to take dance lessons so I could merengue the night away instead of binge watching Netflix in my pajamas. (I’m going to go ahead and take credit for all the imaginary exercise I got.)

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 9.15.26 PM

Storm Chasing in Tornado Alley. I actually grew up in Oklahoma, so I have some firsthand experience with this topic. Not the actual storm chasing; more like hiding in a closet during tornado warnings. But I have experienced that spooky moment when everything gets really still and the sky turns an ominous green color; that’s when it’s time to take cover. Funny, I wasn’t that scared of them when I lived in Oklahoma, but I am now!

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 9.30.07 PMWitchcraft in Salem. I was particularly excited about this article because I happened to have a road trip planned to Salem during the write-up period. It gave me an excuse to really dig into the history of the witch trials, which made my visit to Salem all the richer. One thing I was struck by was the interesting balance the town strikes between solemn reverence for the victims and the over-the-top celebration of stereotypical, Halloween-style witches. The perfect example: the water tower on Gallows Hill features the silhouette of a pointy-hatted hag on a broomstick — overlooking the site where they just recently built a memorial on the spot where the falsely accused were hung.

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 9.34.19 PMDrag Queens in San Francisco. Researching where to go see a drag show in San Francisco, it suddenly struck me: Why have I never done this?!? I live in the Bay Area; honestly, I have no excuse. There are dive-bar drag queens, a fancy drag brunch, drag nuns… (okay, I’ve actually seen the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence out and about, but it wasn’t a show per se). Anyway, I now have a new goal in life.


Colossal shopping experiences. This article listed some of the most unique shopping experiences in the United States. My favorite thing to learn about? The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, AL. If an airline can’t find the owner of a bag after 90 days, it goes here to be sold. In addition to everyone’s favorite vacation outfits, they get tons of weird stuff, too, like the time they found a bag with fifty vacuum-packed frogs. Just a thought here: this would be a great setting for a cozy mystery!

Readers, what interesting places did you visit this summer — either in real life, in your imagination, or via a good book? 

31 thoughts on “What I Did(n’t Do) on My Summer Vacation

  1. Marla, I want that book. I had a couple of interesting weekends with the grandkids. One Saturday, we took the glass-domed train down to Seward Alaska (from Anchorage) and went on a whale watching boat ride. Saw one gray whale, lots of orcas, sea lions, and birds. Another weekend, we drove back down to Seward to see the rescued baby walrus at the Sealife Center. It was an Alaskany summer.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Norway! Shetland Islands! Orkneys! My characters are now planning time in Tromso Norway, 250 (or is it 350?) miles above the Arctic Circle, for a conference on Online Learning. Magical things in store for them there. Loved your post, Marla!!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Marla, there was a Salsa dancing exhibition/workshops at our hotel in Vegas this summer. Watching the couples warm up in the lounge area made me want to sign up for lessons — looked like fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. All these sound like so much fun! And I’m so with that unclaimed baggage store as a mystery setting. Perfect for your destination wedding mysteries! A wedding dress goes missing and Kelsey tracks it down to the Unclaimed Baggage store, where she finds…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! Thanks, Cynthia. I love it when work throws serendipity my way!
      Unclaimed baggage was the surprise hit of the post. I think we should plan a road trip!


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