Saturday, April 30, 2011

Toppling off the edge of the world

Back to Revisions

Writing a historical fiction novel has been quite a journey. Just to figure out how to begin the book took two months of research. To begin writing it in earnest took two years of research. At about 150 pages, it needed so much work, I rewrote the entire thing from 3rd person to 1st person POV.

At about 250 pages, when I was just about to give up, declaring it a worthless piece of garbage, I won second prize in the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association's literary contest. That gave me hope, which came at the time it was most needed.

Like magic.

I finished the manuscript, but then I bought the book, "Manuscript Makeover" and spent three months editing it. Then another month of stressing out about the query letter, writing and revising it until I wanted to toss my computer into a funeral pyre.

To send out the first query letter took two hours of hovering over the "send" button, and two fingers of brandy.

Luckily, I got some very good feedback and rewrote the book again, changing the ending, changing some of the personalities of the characters, adding in a "ticking clock." A few months later, the revision was done and I found some Beta Readers. That led to a few more revisions and then back to the query process.

Again, some very helpful feedback, which means another entire revision. At first I thought, "Oh wow, that should actually be pretty easy."

Maybe it is just me, but is any revision easy? I've struggled for two days and have only written two scenes, which have each become their own chapters. Today, I forced my poor mother into sitting with me for two and a half hours, while I revised the first new 799 word scene.

Good thing she still has to love me.

Wish me luck. It is another major revision. If I squint, I can almost see the other side. I hope I'm not just going to fall off the edge of the world.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stocking up on Livestock

Today I saw something that made me question everything. It is true, I used to be a city girl, but really, I think in the last ten years I've gained a lot of knowledge about living in the hills. I've taken Wildlife Steward classes, and watched a few documentaries about farms animals. I've learned that eggs don't grow on trees, and the milk you see in the store does not come from the Milkyway.

My commute to and from work is filled with wonder, especially in the spring when babies animals dot the countryside. Little lambs frolic amid the flock, adorable foals graze in fields, a red calf trots along the fence-line, and fawns quiver in the woods, waiting for their mothers to call them into the meadow. It is something I don't take for granted. Every morning and evening is filled with breathless anticipation and expectation as I zoom out into the wilderness of the Northwest.

But when I rolled to a stop in the double left turn lanes that take me out of town and into the country this afternoon, this is what I saw.

Do you suppose everything I see on my commute is no more than plastic or mechanical animals? Is the Pacific Northwest really a huge theme park? Am I paying for a season pass disguised as property taxes? Am I a featured attraction in a heavily-visited amusement land?

Am I Goofy?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Suffering Through Spring Fever

I know this would never happen, but let's just say someone left their sunroof open on a hot, sunny, Oregon day in spring.

And let's just say they spent the night with family and when they woke in the morning, this was pouring rain.

And let's just say everyone in the family listens to Car Talk on NPR and knows that mildew is the worst enemy in a situation like that.

Here is what I would recommend:

1. Close sunroof and towel dry inside of car
2. Gather some quarters and use the vacuum at a car wash (with their permission) to see if that can vacuum up any moisture
3. Fill your tank with petrol
4. Start engine
5. Leave one rear window cracked open
6. Let engine run with heater going for five hours

Not that I know this for sure, since this is all hypothetical, but when you return to the car after five hours, everything will feel as dry as the Atacama Desert, including the carpeting and seats.

Will this prevent it from suffering mildew?

I'll let you know.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Worst Bird Picture Ever

Laughingbird Caye
Being aboard a 46 foot vessel with eight others for a week lends itself to a glimpse into the personalities of each shipmate, but it wasn't until this week I discovered a mean streak in all of them. They wanted me to put the worst bird picture ever on this blog--and claim it as my own--or they'd start leaving comments about it.

That is just vicious.

I like that in a person.

And perhaps I should mention my vision isn't as good as it should be. Without glasses, anything past the hood of my car has indefinite outlines and reading street signs is impossible, even with the most careful squint.

So, as I sat on the bow of the Bonac Witch II, swinging at anchor off Laughingbird Caye, I snapped pictures of birds in the distance on full zoom, and hoped when I brought the picture up on my computer, I could crop it into a decent picture. The above picture, with the help of cropping, became the picture below.

And the below picture, with some red, running rigging in the foreground,

was cropped into the below picture.

Then I saw a terrific shot, the kind my shipmates would find impressive. A whole group of pelicans bobbed in the water, just off shore, all grouped together. My hands fumbled to get the camera up. I squinted at the screen to center the shot, making sure it was at full zoom, all the while terrified they'd fly away before I could snap the picture. But they remained where they were. The rest of the crew nodded and smiled as I shoved the little camera screen in front of them later that day.

It wasn't until I cropped it on my computer I realized it was the worst bird picture ever.

Who would have thought a group of snorkelers would disguise themselves as pelicans?

It is a mistake anyone could have made.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wildlife is Abundant in Belize

Wildlife in Belize

I'm not all that good with wildlife. Normally wildlife picks on me. In fact, I spent most of my time in Belize trying to capture birds on film digital, but ended up with empty sky, just water, or a blurry wing in the lower, right-hand corner. By the time we got to Laughingbird Caye, my shipmates took pleasure in showing me all the bird pictures they were getting. Sheila said, "Oh, Melanie, look. I was trying to get a picture of all the different colors of the water and this bird flew into the picture."

It was a beautiful shot.

I really don't care for birds.

But, being a loyal blogger, I sat in Starbucks today with my trusty National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America and tried to pick out the types of birds in the following photos. (Yes. I know Belize is in Central America, but I don't have one of those books.) I do not pretend to be an expert and I'd welcome any corrections.

It is my guess that this is a juvenile Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
(and I liked him because he encouraged me to take his photo)

This guy loved being photographed. He is a Great-tailed Grackle and you can see he was singing.
The is the bird that first began playing cat and mouse with me. Everytime I lifted my camera, he'd disappear. I think he is a Great Kiskadee, but he could be a Bananaquit.

Two Brown Pelicans sitting in a tree on Laughingbird Caye


Now this appears to be a Great Blue Heron to me, but others say it is a Sandhill Crane. Normally Sandhill Cranes have a red head, however. I snagged several people in Starbucks and asked their opinions, but no one knew.

Gray Catbird

I'm pretty sure this and the picture below are Frigatebirds and I deleted over a hundred pictures that were not as good as these, trying to shoot them.

Great Egret

Adult male brewsteri Brown Booby

Bird of Paradise
Brown Pelican

The pelican on the rock is oblivious to the one coming in

He never moved. I think he must be a stuffed bird for the tourists.

But what a pretty sight

Mountain lion seen from my hotel door

Crab (yeah, okay, I don't have a crab book)
Another crab
Frog (don't have a frog book either)


Cabana Boys (I threw this in to see if you were still with me)

There are lizards and iguana all over the place,
but not in troublesome places.

This guy was along the path at the hotel

I call this "Wood Toucan," kind of like a wood duck. This should have been easy to photograph, but even this one moved.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mutiny on the Conga

Sailing to

Crow's Nest Cafe, Bar & Grill,

Placencia, Belize

When we’d finished the breakfast dishes, we raised the sails and glided away from Rauguana toward Placencia. Winnie, Sandra and Sheila all took a turn at the helm. While Sheila received her lesson, Bruce pointed off the starboard beam, “Dolphins,” he cried. We searched the waves but could see nothing. Just about the time we gave up looking, Bruce pointed and yelled out again. Still no one saw them. A third time Bruce yelled out and Dennis and Sheila nodded and smiled.

I asked Sheila, later, if she had really seen the dolphins and she shook her head. “I didn’t have my glasses on. I didn’t see anything, but I was trying to be polite.”

We decided the dolphins weren’t real and that Bruce was seeing things.

We had arranged with Maria Cabral at South Waters Resort to dock long enough to take on fresh water

and then use their showers before a fabulous private party at the Crow's Nest Cafe, Bar and Grill. After filling the water tanks, we dropped anchor a short distance from shore. A jaunty wind gave some relief from the tropic heat, but the shower felt great.

The nine of us strolled down to the Crow's Nest where Maria Cabral waited with William, the bartender. She got us settled with drinks (yes, I had a Panty Ripper) and we chatted until Bruce and Ryan looked out at the boats bobbing off shore.

"Bruce, wasn't the Witch further up shore?" Ryan asked.

Bruce squinted and his eyes drifted from our catamaran to the landmarks on shore. His chair scraped against the plank flooring as he rose. "Yes. We’re dragging anchor again.”

The two of them leaped down the stairs and sprinted toward the dinghy. The rest of us sat quietly, hoping they'd be able to get the two anchors to hold in the wind.

We waited.

And waited. And then, we decided we would play a joke by staging a bunch of pictures to make it look like we were having fun without them.

The band arrived and as the first notes of music floated into the muggy, hot air, we pretended to do the Chicken Dance.

We pushed a couple bar stools together and staged a party shot. We handed our cameras to William and staged a conga line. I asked William for a limbo stick, but had to describe one, as he had never heard of the limbo.

The band kicked into a lively tune. Instead of just posing, Dennis actually did the limbo under the stick.

Not to be outdone, the rest followed. The stick lowered and the group went under again.

Before we knew it, we really were having fun, even without our captain and firstmate, especially when Nelson made the video camera do the limbo.

Maria brought out fish balls, shrimp ceviche, conch ceviche, and bean dip that were perfect in the hot evening air. We started dancing; using the lessons we’d had on the boat. A local man by the name of Dillon showed up and joined in the dancing.

Bruce and Ryan returned, wearing scowls. We handed them a drink, paraded them over to the appetizer table and then coaxed them to dance. Bruce joined in and soon regained his usual happy mood, but Ryan kept gazing out into the twilight to see if the Witch had moved. Through it all, the band played and the food disappeared, and the dancing continued.

To get Ryan involved, we formed another conga line right out of the Crow’s Nest, turning to the left to conga over to the other entrance. Unfortunately, deep sand made it impossible to conga. Even walking through it took effort. The crew started talking mutiny. When we panted up onto the firm sand pathway in front of the other doorway, we immediately broke back into the conga steps like we’d done them the whole time.

However, Ryan had watched the whole thing from inside, as well as Maria and William. He knew there’d been talk of mutiny and he rushed to join the captain at the end of the line to provide support.

Soon Maria brought out dinner consisting of grooper, chicken, coconut rice, and rice and beans, followed by a scrumptious bread pudding with Bailey’s Irish Cream drizzle. It was a fabulous meal.

But after Maria cleared away the dishes, she got us all up and taught us the Belizean Punta rock.

She explained how to move the hips to the music, but it didn’t seem to come naturally.

Faron and Sheron Evans, from Houston, TX, were in Belize to learn to sail a friend’s boat. It was their poor luck to wander into the Crow’s Nest. It was only right that we captured them and made them walk the dance floor plank, like any good pirates would do.

About ten o’clock, a group of us trudged back to the dinghy. Ryan pushed it out into the water a little and I splashed my way to it and threw my leg over. Unfortunately I didn’t throw it high enough and I toppled over into two inches of water. What made it worse was that when I braced my hands to get up, they sank into the loose, coarse sand and I tumbled over. I tried to brace again, and once again, floundered in the water like a beached phantom dolphin. My biggest worry was that Nelson caught it all on video, but good fortune was with me. He had remained behind for the second dinghy trip.

When we returned to the Bonac Witch, I sat out in the cockpit, gawking at the black blanket of sky filled with millions of twinkling stars, while Nelson used his iPhone star-gazing app to read off the names of each.