Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Welcome 'Radiance' Friends!

Welcome to my personal blog to anyone I met during my recent tour of duty as Destination Lecturer aboard the Royal Caribbean vessel Radiance of the Seas! I met a lot of great people on this cruise and would like to thank everyone who took the time to attend my lectures, ask questions during them, and chat with me at other times during our voyage across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Sydney, Australia. I have started posting stories about the things I did and saw during and after the cruise and will post links to them here for anyone who is interested. 

The Rocks Ghost Tour: This tour departed from right next to where our ship was berthed and I bumped into three fellow voyagers on it. It explored the gruesome history of one of Sydney's oldest, most colorful, and most haunted neighborhoods. 

On the Trail of the Lord of the Rings: This piece looks at what we experienced on what was most assuredly one of the most popular tours available on the cruise. 

Cruise Log: I have been incrementally posting my log of the cruise, which mentions many of the people I spoke with and got to know, on my TravelBlogue. Only the first five days are up but more will follow directly! Comments pertinent to your own experiences on the cruise are welcome. 

Facebook: This is the best way to keep track of everything I am doing on a regular basis! I am there as "Michael O. Varhola," at https://www.facebook.com/michael.varhola, and will accept friend requests from any of you who send them. 

More to come, so keep your eye on this space! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

(Working) Vacation Reading List

For better or worse, I am not much up for vacations where I don't do anything but goof off, and at the very least like to be writing and publishing about the things I am seeing and enjoying when I am on the road. A good vacation for me is one in which I am energized and inspired to write, edit, create, and publish, and being able to work and read at least a couple of hours a day helps me to achieve that. With all that in mind, I have compiled an appropriate collection of things to read on my current trip, which includes four days in Hawaii, a cruise from Honolulu to French Polynesia, New Zealand, and Australia, and a week in Sydney and the historic coastal town of Port Macquarie. My reading list includes: 

* The Bounty, a non-fiction book by Caroline Alexander about the mutiny on HMS Bounty, which I am shooting to finish reading before we reach the island of Tahiti, where many of its events take place. 

* Noa Noa, a book by artist Paul Gaugin about his experiences in French Polynesia, which I have not yet started reading but also hope to have finished before reaching Tahiti. 

* "Chapter 13: Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec," from Promenades of an Impressionist, a 1910 book by art critic James Huneker (which, once again, I want to complete before we get to Tahiti!). 

* Rovings in the Pacific, an 1851 book by "a merchant long resident at Tahiti" (it is an interesting looking book but lowest on my priority list and if I have not had a chance to start it by the time we leave French Polynesia I will skip it, at least for the time being). 

* Twenty-five articles, nine on Polynesian history and culture; eight on the New Zealand film industry and the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film franchises; three on the history of crime in Sydney; one on the Sydney Opera House; and four tying in with Australian and New Zealand military history. 

* Gygax #1 and Gygax #2, the first two issues of a new gaming magazine featuring articles by friends and family of Gary Gygax, creator of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. I will likely begin delving into them during the long sea days after French Polynesia (and after I have cleared out the above-mentioned books). 

* Sagard the Barbarian #1, #2, #3, and #4, a series of "choose your own adventure" stories co-authored by my friend Ernie Gygax, his father Gary, and author Flint Dille. As with the magazines, I plan on enjoying these during the second week of the cruise. 

I have also discovered in my hotel room in Waikiki, co-equal in the drawer with the Gideon Bible, The Teachings of Buddha, that I have begun reading! There will also presumably be any number of brochures, travel guides, and other itinerary-pertinent materials over the coming weeks. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lectures for Radiance of the Seas (September 23 - October 11)

Following are the eight presentations I will be giving as the cruise lecturer aboard Royal Caribbean International's Radiance of the Seas sailing from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Sydney, Australia, September 23 - October 11! Requirements for my program were more exacting than for any previous cruise for which I had served as a member of the entertainment staff, and required me to explicitly tie presentations in with the ports of Papeete, Bora Bora, Moorea, Wellington, Picton, and Sydney, and to include one focusing on Maori culture. Fortunately, I have researched the history and culture of the region extensively over the years for any number of books, articles, and other projects and thus had a wealth of material to draw upon. 

"Going Off the Beaten Path in Hawaii": Join travel writer Michael O. Varhola in an exploration of the Hawaiian islands that takes visitors to hidden temples, palaces, and other beautiful and mysterious places. (This lecture is adapted from my award-winning travel article "Going Off the Beaten Path in Hawaii," which anyone interested can read on my TravelBlogue.)

"The Painter of Papeete": Join historian Michael O. Varhola as he explores the Papeete of French artist Paul Gaugin and how he was inspired in his painting by the people and geography of the islands of French Polynesia. 

"A History of Bora Bora": Join maritime historian Michael O. Varhola as he explores the history of the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora, from its earliest settlement 1,700 years ago, through its role in World War II, and up to the current era.

"Mysteries of Moorea": Join author Michael O. Varhola as he explores the myths, legends, and mysteries of beautiful Moorea, to include the strange, thousand-year-old pyramid-like sacrificial structures known as marae.

"Xena, Spartacus, and the Lord of the Rings": Author Michael O. Varhola looks at the fantasy film industry that has grown up in and around Wellington and other locations in New Zealand and how it takes advantage of the striking geography of the region. 

"The Maori Pa of Picton": Join author Michael O. Varhola as he examines the history and culture of the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand, with an emphasis on the centuries-old Maori settlement on the site of modern-day Picton. 

"The Golden Mile": Join true crime author Michael O. Varhola as he investigates the colorful history of crime in Sydney throughout the 20th century, from the gambling houses and brothels of the 1930s through the gangland wars and drug trade of the 1980s.

"ANZAC:" Military historian Michael O. Varhola looks at the role of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps and the roles played by the military forces of the respective nations in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gen Con Indy Paranormal Events

Following are the paranormal panels and seminars I am organizing for the Gen Con 2014 convention, being held August 15-18 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana! 

Ghosthunting Indiana (Thursday, August 15, 4-5 p.m., Crowne Plaza Hotel, Hay Market B Room)
Join local ghosthunters and Michael O. Varhola, author and series editor for the “America’s Haunted Road Trip” travel guides, for this seminar on some of the most interesting haunted sites in Indiana.

Ghosthunting 101: Introduction to Ghosthunting (Friday, August 16, 2-3 p.m., Crowne Plaza Hotel, Victoria Station Room)
Join author Michael O Varhola of “America’s Haunted Road Trip” and a panel of experts for an interactive introduction to ghosthunting. Learn the basics and have your questions answered by experts. 

Ghosthunting 102: Equipment and Investigative Techniques (Saturday, August 17, 3-4 p.m., Crowne Plaza Hotel, Victoria Station Room)
Join paranormal researcher and author Michael O. Varhola and other ghosthunting experts and lean about the equipment and methodology of effective ghosthunters. There are almost as many ways of ghosthunting as there are ghosthunters! This panel discussion with paranormal researcher Michael O. Varhola and other ghosthunting experts looks at everything from “naturalistic” means of ghosthunting, to those based on psychic ability, to ones heavily dependent on equipment like cameras, recorders, EMF meters, digital thermometers, laser grids, and night-vision devices. 

Be sure to also check out the other events being organized by Kettle of Fish Productions this year at Gen Con, including a number of live-action role-playing games using my Skirmisher Publishing LLC's Cthulhu Live rules system. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

My Failure as a Mentor

Recently, a friend of mine contacted me to let me know that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with me and that "any future emails, messages, or missives [from me] will be deleted without reading." I had known him about two-and-a-half years at that point, and the last time things collapsed that completely with a friend it was with one I had know for more than three decades, so I have obviously gotten more efficient in the way I manage my relationships. 

This unhappy event took place after I contacted my soon-to-be-former friend to express my concerns with the way he had managed a number of projects for my company, to include submitting reports to me under false pretenses. I concluded by expressing my assumption that we were still friends and that I was looking forward to seeing him when I was in his area the following month. His completely ending our relationship once he realized I had discovered his malfeasance, however -- along with things like him heavily poaching my friends list on Facebook and using my company and its projects as stepping stones for his own advancement in our industry-- suggest to me that his motives in befriending me were cynical from the start. 

During the relatively brief period of our friendship, this person regularly referred to me as his "boss" because of the opportunities I had given him in my company, something that made me a little uncomfortable, as I only ever wanted him to be a friend and a colleague. It eventually became apparent to me, however, that he did this for purposes of establishing a nonexistent class difference between us so as to help justify taking advantage of me. 

My friend also periodically indicated that he considered me to be a "mentor." That is very flattering but, sadly, in retrospect I don't believe it was ever really true. Not only do I not think he learned anything from me that I would have thought worthy of teaching, there was nothing in his demeanor over the last several months of our relationship, or in the way he ended our friendship, that would suggest he ever actually wanted to. 

I wish, however, that I could have been a true mentor and taught him something. It would be easy to say that those things might include not lying to friends, not using people, and the like, but those are a function of moral compass and ethics, and I don't think I ever could have effectively taught them to anyone but a child. But there are actually a few things I wish he would have learned from me and the way I try to conduct myself, and which would have made him a happier, better adjusted person and probably led to things turning out better between the two of us: 

* Be Good at Something

There is research that suggests it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a vocation and, if you want to be good at something, you need to be willing to commit that level of effort to it. My friend, unfortunately, thought that talking about the things other people had accomplished, trying to associate with those people, or pretending to be one of them, was on par with actually being good at something himself. Suffice it to say, it's not. 

* Be a Leader
I believe that the best leaders know how to follow when necessary, and that the best followers know how to lead; someone who can do only one of those things if only half as useful at either. My friend was never so proud of being my colleague as he was to become a self-proclaimed "minion" -- i.e., an underling -- with another company, something that made me very ashamed for him. When I put him in charge of things, however, he actually used his leadership position as a device for abandoning his post; to him, being the "boss" meant nothing more than a short-sighted chance to goof off. 

* Toughen Up
Never have I had a friend who was so inclined to give up on things, to suffer sickness or injury that prevented him from working but not from playing, or to otherwise succumb to mental and physical ailments rather than simply work through obstacles and complete the things required of him. A little more physical, mental, and emotional resilience would have served him well. 

* Don't Worry So Much About Having Fun
In the month before he unfriended me, my former buddy completely stopped contributing to a number of projects he had asked to be part of, even as several of his companions continued laboring away on them. Over the course of that same month -- and the week before it, during which he abandoned the afore-mentioned position of responsibility -- he made one post after another to Facebook about all the "fun" things he was doing in lieu the things he had obligated himself to do. That desire to have "fun" to the exclusion of all else is actually pretty common, but it does not ultimately fill whatever hole the person in question has within them. 

All those things are interconnected, of course. Being good at something and being recognized for it, stepping up to lead the way when it is necessary, and having the fortitude to follow through, can give one a sense of well being and help put them on the path to fulfillment, and there is a reason why people with those characteristics tend to need less contrived "fun" in their lives. In the best of all possible worlds, I would have taught my friend these things, and today he would be a bit better adjusted and we would still be friends. It brings me no pleasure to know those are things I failed to help make happen and that my own example was insufficient in this regard. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Colonial Beach Blues Festival 2013

For the last two years I have regretted not being able to make it out to the Colonial Beach Blues Festival and was excited to be able to attend in its third great year! This terrific event takes place on the banks of the Potomac River in historic Colonial Beach, about an hour south of Washington, D.C., at the High Tides bar and restaurant and the Black Pearl Tiki Bar(205 Taylor Street, Colonial Beach, VA 22443; (804) 224-8433), and was held this year Friday-Sunday, June 21-23. And it was not just a great time, it was a great cause, as all proceeds from the event went to benefit the Organization for Autism Research.

The Colonial Beach Blues Festival was organized by my close friends Dominick and Charlene Salemi, proprietors of hip book and memorabilia store Populuxe Fredericksburg, and I was glad to have finally been able to avail myself of their generous offer to come check out their big event of the year. They had some fantastic acts lined up for this year, and fans of the Blues or even just live music in general were not disappointed. There were also numerous vendors selling everything from food to hip clothing and jewelry.

MC for the festival was everyone's favorite Jay Jenc of Jumpin' Jupiter (who rumor has it once killed a man, possibly in Memphis or Kansas City, in true Blues fashion!). He is shown here with festival organizer Charlene Salemi.

Friday's lineup featured three great acts, the Andy Poxon Band, Moonshine Society, and Anthony "Swamp Dog" Clark (shown in that order, below). All of them had a lot of energy and their own unique styles and put on a great show for the crowd.

Saturday was even bigger and a full seven bands took the stage for the hundreds of Blues fans that started showing up and claiming tables from well before the first group came on sometime after noon. The lineup kicked off with the entertaining Big Money Band and continued with Retro Deluxe, Clarence "The Blues Man" Turner, Jumpin' Jupiter, the Night Kings (with their fans from the Karb Kings can club in the foreground), Cathy Ponton King, and former heavy metal shredder Bobby Messano, who was accompanied by special guest Deanna Bogart on saxophone. People in the audience also enjoyed illusions by magician Vick (shown below in Steampunk/Goth top hat while chatting with festival organizer Dominick Salemi).

Sunday stayed strong with five great music combos, including Blues Flash (not shown), Piedmont Blues Plus accompanied by Fiddlin' "Big Al" Chidester (who drove 2,500 from Moscow, Idaho, to play at the Colonial Beach Blues Festival), Scott Ramminger & his CrawStickers (accompanied by Andy Poxon), Michael Tash & Bad Influence, and the ever-popular Nighthawks, which brought a crowd of their own fans.

Sponsors for this year's great event included NSWC Federal Credit Union, Community Bank of Tri-County, Tides Inn & Tides Inn Market, Karb Kings Va Car Club, High Tides on the Potomac, Populuxe, Brutarian Music & Magazine, and the Colonial Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Nearly a thousand people turned out during the course of the three-day event and it would be fair to say that fun was had by all. Shown here in order are one of the Nighthawk's cutest fans; their self-proclaimed oldest fans; a couple of chicks who came down for the Blues festival; a couple more chicks who came down for it; Toby and Paul, two of the tireless volunteers who helped out throughout the weekend; and people dancing on the sand to one of the bands on Friday night.

For more information about the Colonial Beach Blues Festival and how you can attend or participate in it in 2014, contact the Colonial Beach Blues Society via phone at (804) 214-0312 or (804) 214-0883, or via email at cbbluessociety@gmail.com.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

'Texas Confidential' Travel Resources

Many of the subjects covered in my latest book, Texas Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in the Lone Star State have sites that can be visited and this can be a fun way to experience them in a deeper way. Some places have a P.O. Box listed rather than a physical address but in all such cases provide detailed directions on their websites. Some sites do not have an official website and in such cases the best available unofficial site has been provided. Be sure to also keep your eye on this site and Texas Confidential Online for more detailed writeups on many of these sites, related articles, additional photos, and information about events like festivals and annual gatherings associated with them.

The Alamo
300 Alamo Plaza
San Antonio, Texas 78205
(210) 225-1391

“People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against impossible odds — a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason, the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.”

Aurora Cemetery
Cemetery Road (about a half mile south of FM 114)
Aurora, TX 76078

“This site is also well known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash, was buried here.” (For more photos, see The Aurora UFO Incident on Michael O. Varhola's TravelBlogue.)

Eastland County Law Enforcement Museum
210 West White Street
Eastland, TX 76448
(254) 629-1774

“Built in 1897, the old Eastland County Jail, contains many artifacts and memorabilia of Eastland County and Law Enforcement history.”

Enron “Old” Headquarters Building
1400 Smith Street
Houston, TX 77002-7311

Enron “New” Headquarters Building
1500 Louisiana Street
Houston, TX 77002-7311

Neither of these buildings, which are connected by a skywalk, is currently owned by what remains of Enron, and the “new” 40-story headquarters was sold off before the company could move into it.

International UFO Museum and Research Center
114 North Main Street
Roswell, NM 88203

In the summer of 1947, a UFO crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, and its remains were subsequently packed up and flown to Fort Worth Army Air Field in Texas. A good first place for anyone interested in delving into this incident is the UFO Museum and Research Center in downtown Roswell; the museum is fun and enlightening and the associated research library is a bona fide public service to anyone interested in doing any sort of in-depth study into the subject.

Jean Lafitte Home
1417 Avenue A
Galveston, TX 77550

All that remains of Lafitte’s home, Maison Rouge, is the foundation, located near the Galveston wharf.

Johnson Space Center
Space Center Houston
1601 NASA Parkway
Houston, TX 77058
(281) 244-2105

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center is NASA's center for human spaceflight training, research, and flight control and is a complex of 100 buildings located on 1,620 acres in Houston, Texas. It is home to the United States astronaut corps and responsible for training both U.S. and foreign spacefarers. It is often popularly referred to during missions as "Mission Control".

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park
P.O. Box 329
Johnson City, TX 78636
(830) 868-7128

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of the 36th U.S. president, from his ancestors to his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch.

Marfa Ghost Lights "View Park"
For as long as anyone around the west Texas town of Marfa can remember, they have seen strange lights burning at night on the Mitchell Flat, an otherwise unexceptional stretch of desert that runs along U.S. Highway 90. Today, a convenient viewing area has been established nine miles east of town.

Miss Hatties Bordello Museum
18 ½ East Concho Avenue
San Angelo, TX 76903
(325) 653-0112

From 1902 until 1952, one of the best-known and most successful businesses in the Concho district of San Angelo, Texas, was Miss Hattie’s Bordello. Today, it has been reopened to visitors as a charming and informative historic museum.

National Border Patrol Museum
4315 Transmountain Drive
El Paso, TX 79924
(915) 759-6060

“One of our Nation's best kept secrets is the National Border Patrol Museum. Here you can journey through the history of the U.S. Border Patrol from the beginning in the Old West, through Prohibition, World War II, into the high-tech Patrol of today. The museum exhibits uniforms, equipment, photographs, guns, vehicles, airplanes, boats and documents depicting historical and current date sector operations throughout the United States.”

Robert E. Howard Museum
Junction of Highway 36 (Fourth St.) and Avenue J
Cross Plains, TX 76443

"The Robert E. Howard Museum, located in the home of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. Howard lived in this home from 1919 until his death in 1936. Howard's home, restored by Project Pride, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and attracts hundreds of visitors each year."

Texas Capitol Visitors Center
112 E. 11th Street
P.O. Box 13286
Austin, TX 78711
(512) 463-5495

The Capitol Visitors Center is located on the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds in the restored 1856-57 General Land Office building. The three-story castle-like structure reflects the mid-19th century mock-medieval revival architectural style and is the oldest state office building in Texas.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre House/“Junction House” Restaurant
1010 King Street (on the grounds of the Antlers Hotel)
Kingsland, TX 78639-5252
(325) 388-3800

“If the outside seems eerily familiar, then you've probably seen "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" because this 1900's Victorian house was featured prominently in the movie before it was moved to this location from Williamson County in the 1990's.”

Texas Prison Museum
491 Highway 75 North
Huntsville, TX 77320
(936) 295-2155

“The Texas Prison Museum offers an intriguing glimpse into the lives of the state's least-loved citizens. The museum features numerous exhibits detailing the history of the Texas prison system, both from the point of view of the inmates as well as the men and women who worked within the prison walls.”

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
100 Texas Ranger Trail (Interstate 35 Exit 335-B)
Waco, TX 76706
(254) 750-8631

Treue Der Union Monument
High Street (between 3rd and 4th Streets)
Comfort, TX 78013

After the conclusion of the Civil War, the remains of many of the Germans killed on the banks of the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers were relocated to the town of Comfort, where a monument to them was erected. It was dedicated on August 10, 1866, on the four-year anniversary of the Nueces Massacre, and is inscribed with the words TreĆ¼e der Union—“Loyalty to the Union.” It is the only German-language monument to the Union in the South where the remains of those killed in battle are buried and one of only a half-dozen burial sites where a U.S flag—an 1866 version with 36 stars—flies at half-staff in perpetuity. Contact information provided here is for the Comfort Heritage Foundation, which helped to restore the monument.

University of Texas Tower
Texas Union Hospitality Center
24th and Guadalupe (2247 Guadalupe)
P.O. Box 7338
Austin, TX 78713-7338
(512) 475-6633 or 1-877-475-6633

There is also a Tower Garden on the site “dedicated to the memory of all those who died and those whose lives were touched by the August 1, 1966 shooting.”

White Sands Missile Range Museum
Just inside the Las Cruces/Alamogordo Main Post Gate of White Sands Missile Range
Off U.S. Highway 70 between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, New Mexico
(575) 678-8824

“At the White Sands Missile Range museum you can trace the origin of America's missile and space activity, find out how the atomic age began and learn about the accomplishments of scientists like Dr. Wernher von Braun.”