Prepare-to-Tow Checklist

There’s much to do when breaking camp, preparing the trailer to tow it to my next location. Since I’m doing this alone, there isn’t a second person who would notice a step in the preparation was missed. So, I created a checklist. If you’re still on the sidelines, you haven’t yet launched your Nomad lifestyle, don’t let the list intimidate you. There are dozens of steps, but all but a few go really fast, no more than the time it takes to open a cupboard door and peer inside. This is a good start; modify it for your needs.

Preparing for Travel the Day Before

  1. Fuel-up truck.
  2. Zero-out trip odometer.
  3. Buy beverages and snacks for road trip.
  4. Check trailer tire pressures according to number on sidewalls. Top-up with portable air compressor.

Preparing, That Morning, the Trailer Interior

  1. Make PBJs and place inside truck cab, along with beverages purchased day before.
  2. Start black water tank draining.
  3. Take down and stow wall hangings.
  4. Bathroom
    • Secure loose stuff in clothes cupboard.
    • Put soap dispenser in sink.
    • Close shower door.
    • Secure bathroom door.
  5. Entertainment Center
    • Stow DVD player and sound bar.
    • Unplug and stow power strip and attached charging cords.
  6. Take garbage bag from hanger and set by the door to toss in the dumpster on the way out of the park.
  7. Refrigerator
    • Secure stuff inside.
    • Make sure door is latched.
  8. Kitchen
    • Stow coffee maker.
    • Set in the sink the soap dispenser, cutting board, and clock.
    • Remove glass tray from inside microwave, set in bucket for washing dishes, and set bucket on the floor of the shower.
    • Make sure nothing will tumble out of overhead cupboard.
  9. Living Area
    • Stow LED lamp, dehumidifier, and space heater.
    • Take coats & bathrobe from wall hooks, and drape on the bed.
  10. Systems
    • Close black water tank valve.
    • Begin draining gray water tank.
    • Turn off refrigerator.
    • Make sure water heater is off.
    • Make sure roof vents are closed.
    • Pull in slide-out.
    • Take garbage sack to truck cab.
    • Shake-out door mat & set inside trailer.
    • Close door & lock it.
    • Stow outside step.
    • Fold-in handrail.

Preparing, That Morning, to Tow the Trailer

  1. Turn off propane tank valves.
  2. Unplug & stow shore power cord.
  3. Disconnect fresh water supply, & stow the hose.
  4. Disconnect and stow TV cable.
  5. Close valve on gray water tank.
  6. Drain and stow sewer hose.
  7. Fold camp chairs and stow inside truck bed, under tonneau cover.
  8. Crank-up stabilizer jacks.
  9. Install trailer ball in truck’s receiver hitch.
  10. Start truck engine to warm up.
  11. Unlock trailer hitch.
  12. Grease hitch socket on trailer.
  13. Back-up truck to near trailer hitch.
  14. Hook-up trailer to truck.
    • Extend trailer tongue jack.
    • Back-up truck to trailer.
    • Lower trailer tongue onto ball hitch.
    • Lock trailer hitch.
    • Connect safety chains & trailer lights.
  15. Remove and stow chocks from trailer wheels.
  16. Stow pads that were under tongue & stabilizer jacks.
  17. Lock outside compartments.
  18. Inside truck, connect trailer back-up camera.
  19. Type new location into truck’s GPS.
  20. Put truck transmission in Haul/Tow mode.
  21. Leave campsite.
  22. Toss garbage in dumpster on the way out of the park.

Writing 401—#2, Opening Lines

I came right out and asked her one day. I’m talking about the literary agent who landed me the contracts for Airwaves and Only His Kiss, and the question every writer wants to answer with such prowess and proficiency that failure is impossible.

What made my manuscript stand out from the others stacked on your desk?

I might have hoped for any number of replies—that the characterization was stellar, the plot kept her guessing, that the writing was superb. Nope; what she gave me was four words:

“The three-second test.”

What’s the three-second test? The amount of time she spent looking at each manuscript submitted, the amount of time it took her to read the opening line. (But no pressure, of course.) If it didn’t hook her, she tossed the bundle of pages to the “discard” pile, and moved on to the next one.

“It’s a girl, sir.”

That was the opening line that convinced her to keep reading, to give me another five seconds, the time it took her to read the next paragraph of the manuscript that became my second novel, Only His Kiss.

The hook has to accomplish one of two things.

1. It must ignite a question—What’s going on?

The opening line must make the reader curious enough to part with the money to buy your book and to part with the time to read it. (If you just mumbled to yourself that you don’t care if they read it, only that they buy it, please close the door behind you.)

2. It must promise rich beauty.

The writing must be poetic, lyric; experiential. If the words were scenery, they’d compel the reader to snap a photograph every thirty yards. If they were musical notes, their journey would make the reader’s chest ache and their throat close with emotion. As an assemblage of words, the opening lines make them nudge the nearest human being, and say, “Listen to this. Let me read you this line.”

Above all, opening lines must be so quotable, they are memorable.

This one sparks curiosity. “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” Such is the beginning of S.E. Hinton’s young adult novel, The Outsiders. She was all of sixteen when she penned it. Since the book’s publication in 1967, it’s sold more than fourteen-million copies.

The first two words in this opening line are the first and last name of the primary character, a great launch for an epic novel, don’t you think? “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were,” — Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell.

This one is lovely. “There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth,” — The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough.

And this one is just plain fun. “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him ‘Wild Thing’ . . .” — Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.

There’s no such thing as spending too much time on the opening line of your novel or short story. Remember to fuss over, nearly as much, the opening lines to each scene. Because the opening line sets the tone. The opening line leads the team. The opening line weighs the anchor. The opening line is a fanfare. The opening line turns the key.

Writing 401—#1a, Point-of-View (POV)

Before a writer can type—or pen—even the opening line of any work of fiction, they must first make a decision regarding the point-of-view (POV). That is, Who’s going to tell the story?

Generally, there are three options.

  1. Omniscient
  2. Third-person Limited
  3. First-person

1. Omniscient

  • Simple to manage.
  • An anonymous narrator tells the story.
  • The anonymous narrator reveals the thoughts and feelings of key—or even all—characters in each scene.

2. Third-person Limited

  • Challenging to manage.
  • One to three key characters in the book tell the story, each scene being limited to the POV of one character.
  • One key character in each scene conjectures the thoughts and feelings of the other characters based on what they say, do, or reveal through their body language or facial expressions.

3. First-person

  • Simple to manage.
  • The primary character tells their own story.
  • The primary character conjectures the thoughts and feelings of the other characters based on what they say, do, or reveal through their body language or facial expressions.

Readers of fiction invest their time in order to experience and to feel. Their hope is to discover a story so well crafted that they can engage with its characters. They want to step inside the characters’ heads with such abandon that it’s as if they become those characters.

In order for that to happen, the writer must make the story’s world—its characters, setting, and plot—so convincing, the reader can’t help but become immersed in it. It’s a sales job, and it involves two things—engaging the reader, and insulating the reader.

To engage the reader is to get them so emotionally involved in the experiences and feelings of the story that the real world around them fades away. Then, once you have them, insulate the reader from any intrusions or interruptions that could jar them back into reality. In other words, make the reader forget they’re reading.

I believe the omniscient POV gets inside the heads of too many characters. If a story is 300 pages long, and there are three points of view, that sifts down to 100 pages per character. If there are only two points of view, each character has 150 pages in which to engage. The fewer the points of view, the more easily—and the deeper—the reader connects.

On the other hand, the first-person POV has too few points of view. As the primary character tells their story, the constant reminder is that this is their story. Did you get that—their story. It may be more easy for the reader to engage emotionally, but I believe it’s more difficult for the reader to become the character, to disengage from the real world around them.

I write in third-person limited because it’s a challenge. Each scene is limited to one character’s POV. Since I write love stories, my novels contain only two viewpoints—the hero’s and the heroine’s.

The first challenge is in selecting the best POV for each particular scene. I usually write the scene through the eyes of the character whose life or emotions are going to take the biggest hit by what’s happening. But sometimes, after I finish the scene, something tells me—you know how that is—to start over and rewrite it through the other character’s eyes. I’m never disappointed; that second shot at it always ends up being the one with the emotional punch.

The second challenge is to not slip-up by revealing something a non-POV character is thinking. If it’s not their scene, I can’t take the reader inside their head; I’m limited to what the other character says, does, or expresses through body language or facial expressions.

But then, I don’t take the easy way when I write. I enjoy stretching myself, approaching a challenge and crafting my way through it. I prefer to push the limits—especially my own.

Relocating—Another Nomad Adventure

It’s an amazing experience, the thing all Nomad-wannabes are aiming for and that the spectators on the sidelines—friends, family, and naysayers—can only imagine; that is, the moving to a new location.

I have the breaking-camp procedure practiced down to about 90 minutes. Once I’ve emptied the waste tanks, disconnected the umbilicals, and secured all the loose stuff in the trailer, I hitch up, type in my destination on the truck’s GPS, and start down the road. I’m moving to a new home.

I enjoy the drive, even through big-city traffic. I take in the scenery. Every location, even if it’s only 200 miles away, has its own vegetation, climate, and culture. I make a reservation at the next RV park, so I can take my time. I mosey.

As for the traveling itself, I watch my gauges—engine temp, transmission temp, and tire pressures—and I touch the hubs on the trailer every time I stop, to make sure they’re not getting hot. That would indicate the bearings need packed with grease. When you see a rig broken down on the road, and the trailer caught fire, that’s usually why; the hubs got hot enough to start the tire burning. As for the traffic itself, I never change lanes for those merging onto the freeway; let them adjust their speed. That’s what they’re supposed to do anyway. And I usually prefer the freeway over the two-lanes; the pavement is in better condition, so I’m not beating up the trailer, bouncing over broken pavement and potholes.

The real challenge when rolling down the road is getting some lunch. People used to say that a good diner is one where the truck drivers eat. No, the truckers eat at diners that have ample parking. That’s the truth. During my most recent relocation, I found it easier to pull into a rest area and make myself a couple PBJs, with it in mind that I’d dine out once I reached my destination.

Which brings me to that moment when I get my first look at the spot on my GPS that’s marked with a checkered flag. This will be my community, my new home. I hope I’ll feel comfortable, safe, and welcome. Perhaps I have friends here, people whose names I’ll learn during the coming days.

Once I set-up camp, I go exploring. How big is this city? What stores and shops are here? What will be my options when I need to buy groceries or when I don’t want to cook?

I smiled as I cruised the little town I’m calling home right now; it’s charming. I loved it within minutes. I found a little burger stand in a building about the size of a coffee hut; a couple times a month, I join the cars already lined up there. And I’ve learned some of those names—my new friends. I’m adventuring. I’m happy and content. I’m having a blast.

Nomad Logistics

There’s much to manage when living on the road; it’s the stuff you took for granted when you lived in a sticks-n-bricks. I’ll tell you how I do it.

Camping

I never boondock except in my eldest son’s driveway when I’m in Idaho. I prefer to stay in RV parks, for the security, the amenities, and the camaraderie with other full-timers. I stay at least a month, to take advantage of the monthly rate. Electricity, which is metered, is usually additional.

Residency

Once my condo sold, I re-established my residency in my home state of Wyoming. The sales tax I paid when I licensed my truck and travel trailer pumped a little income into my hometown, and Wyoming is one of those few states that assesses no personal income tax. Though what I pay to license my equipment each year kinda balances it out.

Mail

A former classmate—my bestie—lets me borrow her address for my driver’s license and all my banking and insurance accounts. She receives my mail, bundles it into a manila envelope, and ships it to me every few weeks. In turn, I send her a check every December, a little compensation for her trouble.

Banking

I retained my account with my credit union in Salt Lake City, but I established a second account with a bank that has branches throughout the U.S. That saves me money in ATM fees.

Insurance

I have my travel trailer insured for replacement value, including the contents. This is my home, and it contains pretty much everything I own. My truck is insured under my Wyoming residency; if I were to get into an accident, it’s no different than if I were on vacation. It’s not like I’m commuting to work every day in a big city with lotsa traffic.

Medications

I had a primary care provider in Salt Lake City, and I made the effort to swing through for a wellness check every six months. Since I’ll be wintering where I am, I established a relationship with a local provider. I fill my Rx through Walgreen’s; if I’ve relocated since my last refill, I call the local branch and talk to a tech to order a new one.

Internet / WiFi

Most RV parks have WiFi available, but it’s usually a weak signal. I finally purchased a second phone and use it as a dedicated hotspot. The band width ain’t great, so it’s slow, but it’s mine and it’s affordable.

Movies

Without WiFi, I can no longer stream movies through my television. I’ve used Redbox to rent movies in the past, but the town I’m currently in is too small! I solved that by enrolling in Netflix DVD mail service, which allows me two DVDs at a time. The selection is pretty decent, and the mail service is pretty quick.

Here’s your take-away

Don’t get hung-up in the logistics. You’ll solve the issues as they come up. Just go adventure!

The Steps to Going Nomad

It’s kinda all the rage right now. The Net is teeming with groups and media centered around moving full-time into an RV, and hitting the road to adventure. Those who have yet to surrender the key to the front door and drive away into the sunset ask the same question of we who’ve pulled it off:

What do I need to do to go Nomad?

Can you believe this mess? This is what “downsizing” looks like. It took weeks to empty my condo. Some days, I took a break, sat down, and just cried, I was so weary.
After I sold my condo, I packed everything I was taking with me into my pickup truck and drove to Colorado to get my trailer. I measured the truck bed and “test-packed” in the living room.

1. Have a monthly income

Obviously, I’m still working, writing novels; I supplement with my retirement income.

The Covid upheaval has brought about a new acceptance of working remotely, but take into account that you’ll need to secure an internet connection for yourself. Many RV parks have WiFi available, but it’s sketchy at best. I have a dedicated phone for hotspot, but the bandwidth is narrow and the speed will have you gnashing your teeth in frustration. You can contract with a satellite provider, but it’s spendy.

Though it doesn’t cost as much to live in an RV as it does a “sticks-n-bricks,” it ain’t free. These little buggers are fragile—they aren’t made for the stresses of daily living—and you will have repair costs. I purchased my 21′ travel trailer brand new, but it came standard equipment with a broken pressure relief valve on the water heater, the connections on the bathroom plumbing had to be replaced, the slide stopped sliding when one of the four motors tore out of the wall it was mounted to, the DVD player failed after the first use, and I recently had to replace the regulator on the propane tanks.

Before I even cranked the stabilizer jacks into place at my first campsite, paying my way out of the local RV supply store cost hundreds of dollars. If the item has the letters “RV” in the description, it just costs more.

2. Downsize

This is like no moving project you’ve ever approached. When you relocate from one sticks-n-bricks to another, you simply load your stuff into empty boxes, close and label them, and stack them in the corner for moving day. Not when you’re going Nomad. Every single item in the place has to be dealt with; every single item requires you make a decision:

  • Take it on the road with you.
  • Put it into storage (photographs and keepsakes you can’t part with).
  • Sell it.
  • Give it away to a friend or family member.
  • Donate it to charity.
  • Throw it away.

3. Purchase the RV and tow vehicle

This is the easy—and fun—part, finding the RV that will suit your needs and the vehicle beefy enough to tow it. I’ll cover the selection process in a separate blog post.

It can be done. If you’re determined and resourceful, you’ll pull it off. It’s an amazing way to live, having the freedom to follow the weather, your heart—traveling around to see friends—and whimsy. Some of us are adventurers; we have a bit of a gypsy in us. Don’t fight it; make friends with it.

Writing About Men

A reader of Airwaves—a repeat reader, much to my delight—recently commented that I “do a wonderful job covering the guy side of things.”

I’m so pleased to hear that!

I have to credit my ex-husband for it. He was reading an early version of Airwaves and reached the scene (spoiler alert) in which Colin is asked to resign his position as the program director and morning-drive DJ at KDMD-FM. The scene had Colin arguing with Sterling Barclay, the general manager, in an effort to keep his job.

“No way,” said my Ex. “A guy wouldn’t do that.”

Okay. What would a guy do?

I rewrote the scene to have Colin simply hand over the key to the front door, leave Sterling’s office, and begin emptying his desk.

As my husband explained it, a man wouldn’t argue. As my research into masculine behavior has taught me since then, men are too stoic to admit such an injury as being fired. As well, they don’t engage in battles they can’t win. Colin isn’t going to talk Sterling out of this, so he protects his dignity, clams up, and accepts his fate. If Sterling doesn’t trust him, he doesn’t want to work there anyway. He was looking for a job when he found that one; he’ll find another.

Years ago, I started reading a Christian romance novel in which a young woman from the city has come to stay on a cattle ranch. She’ll eventually develop a relationship with the foreman, whom she meets when he rides up on his horse. The scene is in his point of view (POV), and he regards the woman with some derision because she has a fancy car and a name-brand designer purse.

Wait a minute! The ranch foreman—a super masculine guy—knows the brand of her purse, yet he only notes that she drives a fancy car? Nope! This guy wouldn’t even notice her purse, but he’d know the make, model, and year of that car. He’d know the size of the engine, and he’d have a pretty good idea of the horsepower.

My disappointment in what I’d hoped would be a good read served as a lesson to me. Since then, my apprenticeship in authoring has expanded beyond studying writing, to studying men, particularly how they typically react in given situations, and what motivates them. Their thinking is nothing like that of women. It isn’t superior, and it isn’t any less effective; it’s just different. I’ve come to admire their sense of duty and responsibility; in one way or another, they are all providers.

I wish I’d known this stuff when I was married; things might have turned out differently.

Men are amazing. I love writing about them. They make the world a better place. They deserve to be well represented, with accuracy and respect. I give it my best.

Seek Advice From Good Sources

The decision to go Nomad was the biggest of my life. If I did this, I’d be using the equity in my condo to buy a truck and a travel trailer, exchanging property that appreciates in value for stuff that depreciates. On paper, it was a dumb idea.

On the other hand, I couldn’t afford to retire and still keep my condo; the payment was too high.

I needed advice, but I chose carefully those I would consult about it.

Let’s back up to where this started. I’d changed jobs in early 2020, leaving my position at an area hospital to start a career in the financial industry. But the required licensing involved a series of tests, the most difficult of which had a failure rate of over 30% for those taking it the first time around. The pressure and relentless studying were grueling. I was hating life.

I phoned my girlfriend Peggy. We used to ride motorcycles together, before a cocky teenager rammed her Honda Goldwing 1800 out from under her, and I lost my BMW R1200RT in the divorce. She knows me well.

She let me cry on her shoulder. Then she told me, “You were never meant to work in an office, Sherrie. You need adventure. You need to go Nomad.”

She hides it well, her insanity, don’t you think? But I read the “Nomad” book she recommended and called my two adult sons to get their take on the idea.

Apparently it was a conspiracy. “Do it,” they both said. When I outlined my financial situation with them, they suggested I take early retirement.

Then a girlfriend I’d known for decades suggested I take a break and drive to Kingman, Arizona for a visit. She and her husband, Lynn, had been living for years in their Class-A motorhome. While I was there, I watched how JaRene managed the cooking, food storage, and general logistics. And because men are good problem-solvers, I asked Lynn’s opinion.

“I don’t know why you’re hesitating,” he told me.

Neither did I—not anymore. During the drive back to Salt Lake City, I phoned my realtor.

It took me three months to put it all together, but I moved into my travel trailer in December 2020. Since then, I’ve lived in Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon. I’m currently in Washington, about 45 minutes from the beach. I’m loving life, happy and content.

Here’s the Take-away

If you’re thinking about going Nomad, seek sound advice but choose wisely the people with whom you share your hopes and plans. I’d suggest:

  1. One or two family members you can trust with financial information.
  2. A friend who knows you well and has no personal agenda.
  3. Friends or acquaintances who’ve been living the Nomad lifestyle for several years.

Don’t listen to the others, especially not the naysayers. They’re speaking from their own fears—fears that hold them back from chasing a dream, trying something new, or testing their ability to pull it off.

Where Do My Book Characters Come From?

Who knows the moment book characters are born? I don’t. They’re not like a spark of thought I can trace back to a beginning, such as that moment when you drive past the park and see a woman laughing as she tries to train a Pug puppy to walk on a leash. You smile and you think to yourself, “That looks like fun. I think I’ll get a dog.” Or even that moment when you first met someone who became a lifelong friend. Part of the friendship is the memory of how you met, of that second in time when you learned their name. Book characters aren’t like that; you don’t invent them, and you’re not introduced to them. First, they’re not there, and then they are—not only in your head, but in your heart as well.

If my book characters have any beginning at all, it sounds like, “What if there was this guy, and he was ‘stunning, flawless, absolutely traffic-stopping gorgeous.’ (Colin Michaels in Airwaves.) And what if he was the morning-drive DJ at a radio station in . . . Missoula, Montana. And what if he was also the program director, and he hires this young woman—Emily—and he falls in love with her. But he’s a womanizer, and she’s a sweet young thing . . . and he wishes he were good enough for her.”

So why isn’t he good enough for her? That’s the Inner Conflict. I’m the one who comes up with their wound, the pain in their past that influences their Present and steers their Future. I’m the one who crafts the events that help them make peace with their injury. But the rest, all the stuff that makes the character three-dimensional, they—and here’s where it gets weird—actually tell those things to me.

It usually happens at about chapter three. Up to then, I’m struggling. I don’t know these people. I have a setting and a couple of opening scenes, I have a wound, and I have a name and a general description—and that’s it. I’m faking it, writing each scene for its purpose—to either advance the plot or develop the character—but I’m pretty much guessing what the character will say and how they’ll react as the scene moves along. But then—and it’s a monumental moment—it’s like they suddenly . . . inflate. They go from two-dimensional, like a photograph, to three-dimensional, and the little buggers take over. Now they’re telling me what they’re going to say and how they react. It’s the craziest thing, and I—a wordsmith, a professional—have no words to describe how it happens, much less what it feels like. I, the writer, become like the reader, getting to know the characters as they tell me their story. It’s a magical experience, and it’s mystical.

If the final paragraph in any piece of writing must answer the question asked in the first paragraph—Where do my book characters come from?—the answer must be, I haven’t a clue.