Tag Archives: questions

A Darker Shade of Pale

10 Aug

Isla Verde Beach, San JuanWho knew that slathering on the sunscreen (well, if we want to be technical, I sprayed it, rather liberally) could result in lobster-colored flesh?  Three days in a row, for that matter?  

The beach was great, but it feels good to be back.  Especially since my lobster-skin is fading into something tan-like and it is no longer painful to put on clothes.  

Our vacation turned out to be wonderful and relaxing, though it took a little while to get that way.  

We do vacations the laid-back way: take a laptop and figure out what to do as we go along.  Give us one main fall-back plan (the beach, in this instance) and we’re good to go.  No plans typically equal a nice balance of rest and fun, rather than crazed dashing from attraction to attraction.

This time, it led to one crazy day.  Let’s just say it was…a culturally enriched day.  A day to experience what locals do, daily, even though we are pasty white, very obvious, non-locals.

Question: why do Google maps always give the impression that whichever city you are in is wide and open, with well-maintained infrastructure and happily organized city blocks?  You look at a map of the city, and the street-lines are all the same width, careening merrily across the page.  Except, in real-life, it’s not exactly like that at all.  The streets are crooked and about as wide as a toothpick, crammed with cars, and surrounded not by pretty views of beaches and palm trees, but by graffitied cement walls.

Another question: when you have the dilemma of paying $40, round-trip, to drive twenty minutes away versus paying a grand total of $3, which would you pick?  Probably the same one we picked: the cheap one.  

The bus.  The bus, which arrived promptly forty-five minutes after we sat down at the bus stop.  The bus, whose kind (kind of hostile, rather) driver turned us away when we had no quarters (Note to Bus Website: it would be nice if you had mentioned this), but honked us back on board when a nice elderly woman offered her last set of change.  The bus, which I can only liken unto riding an elevator to the hundredth floor after a button-happy child has slammed his greasy fist onto every single button between 1 and 91.  Oh, yeah, and throw in the fact that we were the only pasty-white pre-sunburn tourists who were headed to the Hard Rock Café?  Not a comfortable experience.  Needless to say, we opted for the fast, expensive way home*.  

Back in the paradise of our hotel, we decided to try not to leave again unless we had a good reason.  We came here to relax, dang it, not hide our rings and watches while riding a stuffy elevator bus through toothpick graffiti streets, only to get slow and wrong service at the Hard Rock Café!

After a good long talk (which may or may not have involved me crying out my stress on my husband’s comfy shoulder), we slept and awoke to a much more lovely rest-of-the-trip.

We beached, we read books, we baked and burned under the sun.  We ate delicious omelets served to us by the most adorable little waitress, Giovanna.  We played Canasta, we swam in the pool.  I refrained from writing a blog, even though I really wanted to.  

On our last day, we ventured back out of our paradise cocoon.  This time, we booked a tour (transportation included) to the Bacardi Rum Factory and the Castillo de San Cristobal (an old, very pretty, fort/castle thing).  We had the cutest little tour guide, Roberto de Jesus, who reminded me of a Puerto Rican Bob Balaban**.  Verdict: a much more relaxy-vacationy trip to the city.San Juan, Castillo de San Cristobal

And now? 

Home, again.  I felt like I was ten again, looking over the lights of Dallas-Fort Worth as we came in for our landing.  We had a wonderful vacation, but both of us felt ready to be back home in Texas.  Hopefully, I’ll remember this feeling next time I get sick of all the same-old stuff around here that makes me feel smothered.  

We came home to a slightly-shellshocked, extremely meowy kitty. (Our friends checked in on him while we were away, but still.  Time to re-establish the routine.)  

After one day of recovery, here it is: Monday again.  I feel refreshed, and so ready to write again.  I’ve hardly thought of my novel, but I guess that’s what vacation’s for, right?  To take a break, so that burn-out applies only to your tender lobster skin and not to your work.  To spend amazing amounts of free time with someone you love deeply.  To take time out of life to enjoy discovering a new place, all its quirks and unpleasantries included.  To pause and remember that the world is bigger than you, and you don’t know everything about everything.  

It was a good trip.  And now, it’s good to be home. 



*Though not much more comfortable – for some reason, we always got the feeling the thuggy drivers of the white van taxis were going to drop us off two hours away and try to sell us drugs.  This is probably because they acted all shady and didn’t ask where we wanted to go until halfway through the trip home.  Plus, on our first night, the only conversation our driver had with us was a very insistent, “If you want to go to the rain forest, call my friend Alberto.  He’ll hook you up.”

**One of the guys in Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show.

You Really Want to Know? Really?

2 Aug

Do you ever get questions that are impossible to answer?  Questions that make you wonder, um, can you think for yourself?  Questions like these, for example:

“Where’s the bathroom?”  Do I look like I know my way around the Shanghai airport?  Being here once before does not make me an expert of this airport’s layout.  I know ‘bathroom’ is difficult to say in Chinese, but come on – that’s, like, the first thing we learned here.  And you’ve been here once before, too, just like me.  Seriously.  There is a sign two feet away from you that shows you where to go.  

Can I switch to an aisle seat?  I feel sick and don’t want to sit in the middle.”  Do I look like the flight attendant you just spoke with five minutes ago?  She printed your ticket five minutes ago, I’m sure you could go back up there and ask her.  Do I look like I have the necessary authority to switch your seat? 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a little about other such questions and the people who ask them.  I’m a few years beyond the dreaded, “What are you doing after college graduation?” question* but others have risen in its wake, especially since I started writing my novel.

Now, don’t get me wrong – these questions are not ignorant ones, like the ones above.  It’s just that they are the ones everybody asks.

What is your book about?

When will you be finished?

Have you sent it to a publisher yet?

Legitimate questions – difficult to answer.  I’m finding the responses I give depend entirely on who’s asking.  

Some people want to hear nice, quick answers – how you wrote your fantastic breakout novel in one month and scored a publishing deal (and got paid some major big bucks, oh, and they want to make it into a movie) with the first person you showed it to.  Things like that.

 These are the questions that are the hardest to answer, because most people who ask them don’t expect to hear a five- or ten-minute long explanation**.

They’re even less thrilled when you explain, “Well, actually, writing a book takes a good deal of time…Yes, I was still working on this same book months ago…Yes, I’ll probably be working on it for several more months…”

It kinda reminds me of the whole “How are you?” thing where people have time and energy to handle your “I’m great!” but not your “Well, my week was pretty lame, actually, and here’s [thirty minutes explaining] why…”

Sometimes, though, the rare gem of a human being makes your day and wants to hear the truth.

Like the whole “How are you?” thing, these questions feel wonderful to discuss with people who care to hear the real, not-always-neatly-packaged answers.  Some people expect a five-second answer, but are pleased when you tell them more than that.

Thank goodness for people who understand that writing a novel is not a project where you snap your fingers and a finished book appears.  Thank goodness for people who understand the desire to produce my very best possible work, and not just fly through it for the sake of seeing lots and lots of ink-covered pages.  Thank goodness there are people who know, and care, that writing is not just about the finished product but how you got there.  Kinda like life.  


*Fortunately.  Being an International Studies major who does not want to work in politics or move overseas does not lend itself to a wealth of job opportunities.

**To clarify: I’m not talking about instances where you are supposed to be succinct, like when pitching your novel.  That’s totally fine with me.  It’s more the I’m asking because I’m being polite and don’t reeeeally care thing that bothers me.

Quirky Side-Effects of Editing

24 Jul

The editing process has officially seeped into every crack of my life.  Odd things keep catching my attention in day-to-day things like music and movies, sermons and conversations.  What makes this odd is that it’s not just the presence of things I’m noticing – it’s also their absence.

Weeks’ worth of work on my novel has made me start noticing the choices made by other people in their work.  No surprise, really – what is editing, if it’s not a constant series of choices?  

Editing presents seemingly limitless options: what to convey?  What’s the best way to show it – Action?  Dialogue?  Exposition?  Summary?  What do you leave out, so your focus shines?  

As I deal with these questions, I have begun to appreciate everything more.  While watching Harry Potter, I found myself analyzing the scenes, thinking, “What are they trying to accomplish here, and why did they choose to include that word/image?  How would I communicate this idea, if it was my choice?”  I noticed more details – Who decided they should sit on the floor while they talked, and why?  What changes were made to the soundtrack that made this entire film feel darker than the previous ones?  Things like that.    

Even on reality shows like Survivor, the editors’ choices make a big difference in our perception of the cast.  They take a load of film, sift through it, and choose a focus for each week’s episode.  There could probably be several different seasons made out of the same film, depending on who and what they choose to highlight.

Editing has even seeped into my thoughts while at church.  Last Sunday, it occurred to me that one of the songs might be more powerful if its lyrics touched on not only Jesus’ sacrifice of death on the cross, but the resurrection which completes it.  While I liked the song, a better edit might have conveyed a more complete message.  

Crafting my novel has made me so much more aware of these things.  I’m learning how not to settle for the mediocre, but dig in and try to make it the very best it can be.

Instead of taking things at face-value, I’ve started thinking more about the behind-the-scenes.  Of all the stories in the world, why did they choose this one, and what compelled them to tell it in this way?  I love being more observant, and I can feel my work sharpening because of it.  

In what ways has your work as a writer affected your everyday thought life?  Do you feel more critical of everyone’s work since you’re so used to finding ways to make your own work better?  Or, maybe, are you more appreciative of everyone’s work since you know how much time, thought, and effort went in to craft even the smallest things?  Maybe a little of both?

Focus & Wayward Scenes

20 Jul

Remy the Cat

Today begins Week Three of the second draft project, and I must say, I am ready to get down to business.  It is dark and stormy here, I’ve had my latte, and my ideas have exploded over the past week.  (Guess I should probably add, they’ve exploded in a good way.  Not exploded, as in, Oh no, now I have a load of worthless junk all over me.)

Last week, I faced – and duly overcame – a dilemma.  During week one, I was focused on getting words on the paper.  I started fresh, and was productive.  Then, somewhere around chapter three, I started thinking, Hmmm…This looks suspiciously like my first draft, except for the first scene.

I love seeing how this writing process unfolds.  The first draft, I wrote straight through, with no outline and no backward glances as I went.  When I finished, it felt fresh and like a good foundation, but it lacked depth and solid roots.  Letting my mind empty on the page provided a wealth of characters and ideas.  

The second draft, though, is not (only) about new ideas – it’s about sifting through the first draft, making sense of themes and adding dimension to characters, which then add credibility to the plot and actions therein.  While my first draft was highly unplanned and free, I fear my novel will never see cohesive, powerful completion if I do not pay meticulous attention to detail.  Hence the second draft process: clearing clutter, narrowing in on the important stuff, and loads of charts, lists, and outlines in place so I can write a focused draft.

So, I pushed pause.  Being a numbers-driven individual, it was hard to step aside from my nifty (and beautiful) word-count-tracking-spreadsheet-extraordinaire.  I focused instead on the character arcs I’ve developed over the past few months, which are much more rich than they were in the first draft.  I crafted a scene chart, which is basically a bunch of color-coded blocks on a spreadsheet, linked by arrows, and functions as a less-wordy outline of sorts (obviously, I’m feeling a bit more loquacious this week due to my charty, non-wordiness last week…).  I worked my way through my notes, section by section, laying out the scenes I definitely need to make those delicious character transformations happen.  Right on schedule, Friday afternoon, I finished it.

It was torturous to wait all weekend to move forward, but I told myself the rest would be a good catalyst to a week of great work.  Now, here I am, Monday morning – so ready to expand those scene-blurbs into full chapters.  I think I have a good structure in place so I can write freely through the scenes, and not waste time on the unnecessary.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, writers, on your experiences.  Do you like outlines?  Do they hold you back or free you up?  


PS: Finally saw Harry Potter.  Loved it, though there were some liberties they took with the story.  Those don’t bother me enough to think the whole movie was ruined.  It was visually exciting and the plot was mainly kept in tact.

PPS: Yes, that is Remy the Cat, at the desk where all my creativity happens.  I kicked him out of my chair, and now he’s snoring on the bed behind me.

The World’s Most Under-Appreciated Utensil?

18 Jun

Though this will (probably) not impact the world in any way…I have to ask.

Do any of you use a butter knife on a regular basis?  For as long as I can remember, I’ve used a regular old knife for all my buttering needs.  Lately, though, when I reach in my drawer, the butter knife just stares at me like, “Hey!  This is my only purpose – please use me!”  So I do.  It made me wonder, am I the only one who uses a butter knife these days?  Or, am I the only one who hasn’t used one until lately?  

Like I said, not the most life-changing post in the world, but if the butter knife had a voice it would probably thank me.