Archive | August, 2012

Love in the Time of Cholera

I’m taking some time to hang with the family today. So in lieu of my own witty words, I’ll share with you one of my favorite moments in fiction, originally written in Spanish in 1985 by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, for his novel “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else’s heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter.  He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indicators of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.

I think this is one of the most romantic passages I’ve ever read. I wish I could read it in Spanish. I bet it’s even better in Spanish.

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The inner workings of a 5-year-old mind

One of the things I like to note, when I’m out and about in my daily life, is the way people talk. Some people have little verbal ticks that you just can’t make up, so when I can I try to notice them and write them down for future use. Kids are especially fun, as they say all kinds of funny things. For instance, the other day, Daniel told our daughter that she was precious and she said “like a pol?” He thought she said pole, which he knew couldn’t be right so he asked her to say it again. “Pol.” When it was clear he wasn’t getting it, she clarified “you know, like the thing what’s inside an oyster.”

A pearl. And notice the use of “what.” Celeste spoke Spanish before she spoke English (due to her dad’s Ecuadorian heritage and our El Salvadorian nanny), and in Spanish the proper construction IS in fact “la cosa que es blanca” which translates literally to “the thing what is white.” For some reason, this little quirk in our girl’s speech remains, even though she retains only a few words of Spanish. This is the kind of language stuff I like to note for use in my stories. And our girl is a fountain of them lately. No, more like a fire hydrant.

She talks non stop. And I’m not really exaggerating. Her mouth is like a window to the inner workings of her brain these days. She narrates her own activities: “See when I hold the stick like this and throw it up like this it goes up, but then it turns a little and falls, and watch mommy, when I throw the stick in the air…” to the point that when it’s time to brush her teeth I have to remind her to stop talking, lest the toothpaste foam and go rolling down her face. I’m telling you, it’s non-stop.

And I know there are some adults like this, so I’ve been trying to take mental notes of how, exactly, she does it. I’m fascinated by it. To write someone like this, you would have to really understand what goes on in their head, how their brain takes certain turns, and loops back on itself. As an author it sounds exhausting. And how would one weave that endless chatter into a story that had any through line at all? I guess at some point you have to just write something like “her mouth kept moving, but my mind wandered back to the day…” Or else you’re retreading work done by Gurtrude Stein back in the 40s.

Still, I’m filing all this away under “character traits.” Maybe it will come in handy some day.

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Sifting Through the Feedback – Part 2

It didn’t take as long as I thought it would to go through the line notes.

I had a lull in my freelance work when one of the guys I’m working with had to step away from the projects we have going to deal with a family tragedy. (My condolences to my associate – I hope you’re doing well).

With more free time than I was expecting to have last week, I plowed right through the manuscripts I got back from my readers, and compiled all their notes into one master document. So now I have all my line notes, and all the larger story notes, and it’s time to get to the actual writing. Gulp.

The thing is, the next two weeks are crazy. We’re visiting with family, then Celeste starts kindergarten (which only goes until noon for the first week), then Daniel is trying to convince me that we NEED to go to the democratic national convention in early September. They’re screening his new film, Knife Fight, and being the big politics nerd that he is, he’s having trouble passing up the opportunity to hob-nob with the likes of the Clintons. But there are a lot of logistics to figure out in a short period of time for that to happen, so who knows.

Point is, with all this, and the work that needs to get done for other clients, I’m likely swamped for the rest of the month at least. I’m going to have to fight hard (read: forgo sleep) to keep moving forward on the novel. My goal was to finish it by the end of the year, which seems like a long way off right now, but it’ll be here before I know it.

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Sifting Through the Feedback

The fourth draft of the novel is off to a slow start. I did finally manage to read through the manuscript myself, which I always like to do after a break from it. I caught a few lines I want to change, but mostly what jumped out at me were the things that my trusted (wonderful, amazing) readers had already told me.

When I finished the third draft I sent it to 10 people. Two were swamped and opted to read the next draft as fresh eyes, and there were two couples who shared copies, so what came back were six versions of my story, each with a separate set of line notes as well as a collection of larger notes. Here’s a photo of them all lined up together. I love the subtle differences – the way one is all coffee stained and shuffled, and another looks just like it did when I sent it out, stacked perfectly with rubber-bands holding it. One came back out of order. Another without a title page. I think you could do a whole study on how people give feedback, but anyway, I digress.

This morning I sat down and compiled all the larger story notes into a bullet point list with 50 items on it. 50 items! These are the bigger questions I have to figure out, like how does Tallulah keep putting things in her truck and never take anything out? and is that guy really Latino? – he doesn’t seem Latino. I can’t believe there are 50 of them. Thankfully, a lot of them overlap. The cool thing is, they were all things I hadn’t noticed, which means I did my job well (that is, I made the story as good as I could make it, and fixed all the problems I was aware of, before sending it out for feedback).

The next step is to go through each manuscript and collect the line notes into one master document. This seems like a lot of work, but I don’t want to have to make six passes through for little things, and I don’t want to have to flip pages on six manuscripts while I’m editing, so my plan is to make one master and work from that.

So I definitely have my work cut out for me. Thankfully, I seem to have gotten a handle on my little “Breaking Bad” problem. We only watched one episode last week. Okay, two. But still, I had a lot more time for working on the novel, which felt really good.

Onward and upward!

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Why I Blog

When a classmate of mine in the MPW masters program at USC told me that I just HAD to start blogging, I thought he was crazy. Blogging’s not for everyone. That’s a fact. Some people just want to go about their lives, write in their free time and leave it at that. Personally, I had lumped myself into the “it’s not for me” category, without really thinking it through.

But then, I had professors and agents all tell me that the best thing I could do while finishing my novel was build my platform. Ug. What a distasteful thing to do. As a writer who considers this work an art form, starting a blog simply to promote myself felt icky. But, since I figured they knew more about it than I did, I set up a blog and started writing about the one thing I felt I could speak on with authority – writing. And here I am.

Since I haven’t yet finished my novel, I have no idea how this whole “building my platform” thing is going, but I do know one thing for sure: a large percentage of the freelance work I get comes directly from people who have seen this blog. It turns out I’m promoting myself in a way I never even realized.

Forget my platform. This little blog of mine is building my livelihood.

The truth is, as a freelance writer, you have to do a lot to reassure people that you can put words together in a coherent way before they’ll even pick up the phone to call you. So I have my business website, my LinkedIn profile, my Facebook page, blah, blah, blah. The number one thing new clients tell me over and over is “I read your blog.”

I tell you this, dear readers, because I know a lot of you are writers too. It’s hard finding clients, I’m here to testify. But it’s MUCH harder if you don’t represent yourself in some way.

So if you’re looking to start into this whole freelance thing – take my advice: start blogging. It doesn’t even matter what you blog about. You just need to put interesting (hopefully) words to your screen, again and again. And really, if you’re a writer worth a damn, that’s not such a hard thing to do.

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New Gig

One of the perks of living in LA (and I have to admit that there aren’t many) is that I get to meet famous people.

Okay, maybe meet is a strong word. I get to notice famous people, as they live their lives and our paths occasionally cross. And it’s the strangest thing, because you see someone, and you’re thinking “I know this person,” but then, after you’ve been staring at them for an uncomfortable period of time, you realize, no, you don’t actually know this person, you just recognize their face from your favorite TV show or something. Then you feel kind of like an idiot for staring. Then you tweet about the famous person standing next to you. Then you go on about your day.

But sometimes I actually do get to meet said famous people, either because my guy is working with them, or their kid plays on the same soccer team as ours. And sometimes you actually get to know them a bit. Which leads me to my latest news – I have my first celebrity ghost-blogging gig!

I just turned in my first post, and I actually enjoyed working with him(her?) quite a bit (can’t give you any hints as to who it is or I wouldn’t be a very good ghost blogger now would I?). I hope this turns into a long-term, reoccurring assignment, because it really was fun to write. No offense to the executives I ghost blog for (not that I think any of them actually read my blog), but writing for a celebrity is much more fun. They have pretty glamorous lives.

As much as I enjoy bashing LA, I have to admit, I never would have made the connection that landed me this project if I lived in, say, Portland. So I guess I’ll have to take that into consideration from now on (but I still miss the REAL stars).

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I Figured It Out

Okay, I figured it out. It actually wasn’t so hard. It just required me taking a good, honest look at how I’m spending my time.

I’m actually quite good at time management. I track my work hours to the minute using TaskTime4 (which is great), and I’m a planner by nature, so the problem was not in either of those arenas.

The truth is, I’m losing 3 to 4 hours a day to two new activities.

The first I’m actually quite proud of. I’m training for a seriously hard-core obstacle race called the Tough Mudder. My friend Alex, who is also in my writing group, convinced me to run it with her in February. It’s 10-12 miles, with a crazy obstacle ever mile or so. I’m a little scared, no wait – correction – I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. I’ve never run a race of any kind, let alone one designed by British Special Forces to kick your ass from here ’til Sunday.

So to avoid any serious embarrassment on the course, I decided to train using the Insanity workout program. It, too, is stupid hard. I mean ridiculous. But for the first five weeks it was a 35 minute workout, which (even with a shower after) fit nicely into a lunch break. Now that I’m into the second half of the program the workouts are closer to 50 minutes. Once you factor in shower and a snack after, it kind of starts to spill into the category of time suck. Still, I only have three weeks left. After that I should be in perfect shape, and will never have to work out again. Yep. Never again.

Okay, not really. But I am loving how I’m feeling, so while I may not keep up my workouts at this intensity after three more weeks, I will need to find some consistent method of keeping in shape.

The other 3 hours a day that I am pissing away, I am not so proud of. I’m ready to admit, here, on my blog, that I have a serious “Breaking Bad” problem. I can’t help myself. My guy and I watch an average of three episodes a night, all the while cursing Netflix for their convenient streaming form of distribution. We both have so much we could be doing with that time, but now that we’re in the fourth season it’s almost as if we’re pushing through to the end just so we can be done with it and go on with our lives. How appropriated that it’s a show about meth. We are junkies for it.

So mystery solved. If I want to have more time to work on my novel I need to put down the remote and step away from the TV.

Or, I could go for the cigarettes in the closet option and stay up all night tonight to watch all the remaining episodes straight through.

But that would be crazy. Right?

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Riding the Freelance Wave

I promised myself I would start the next draft of my novel on August 1.

It’s now the 8th, and I haven’t so much as looked at the thing.

The reason (I swear it’s a reason, not an excuse) is that I’ve had a lot of work coming in, which is great. My freelance business has been riding a bit of a wave, with some great new clients coming in, bringing lots of interesting work. Given that my guy and I both work independently, I feel like it’s important to take all the work I can, as I can, because we never know when one of us will hit a dry spell.

But dry spells are historically when I make progress on the novel, so I find myself conflicted. I don’t want the paid work to slow down, but I’m not working on my precious book. I feel like I have very little time lately (I’m writing this blog post as my girl gets ready for school, quick and dirty like – so please forgive me my typos this morning).

I need to figure out how to prioritize so that the novel keeps moving forward. Maybe I need to stay up later. Maybe I need to take the time I’ve set aside for exercise and use that. I can’t imagine turning down work, but maybe that time will come. I just don’t know. I’m feeling frazzled. Are there any other freelancers out there that have some wisdom on this?

I’m setting a goal of getting my head wrapped around this by the end of the week. I’ll post on Friday to let you know what I figure out.

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April Collier Was Here

Just over 8 years ago I changed my name to Dávila. By the time I notified the DMV, made the trip to city hall to get a new social security card, and figured out how to put the accent mark over that first “á,” I more or less became accustomed to my new name.

The funny thing is, my name change came at a unique time in the evolution of technology and the integration of it into my life. As April Collier I never had a Facebook account or a LinkedIn profile. April Collier had a yahoo email address with the password “iguessihaveto” because her boyfriend at the time insisted that she should have one and literally sat her down at his computer with a beer and walked her through the steps of registering. It rarely got used. That person named April Collier certainly never blogged about anything.

So I got to thinking yesterday, is there any online record of April Collier at all? I have a google alert set up for “April Dávila” so that I can be aware when people talk about me in the present tense (that may sound paranoid, but it actually happened quite a bit when I was doing the Monsanto project), but before this morning I never once googled “April Collier.”

Turns out there are quite a few April Collier’s out there, but only one link to the younger version of myself: check it out.

Just a baby April, that is. So young. So smiley. That little blurb was written in the fall of 1997. Fifteen years ago. Dang.

I sometimes wonder if any old friends have searched for my name and found nothing. How strange it is that when we take our husbands name (and I know not everyone does, but I wanted to) we kind of leave that old version of ourselves behind. I suppose we all leave our younger selves behind as grow older, but changing a name really delineates between “then” and “now.”

Well, hopefully, the next time an old friend tries to find me as April Collier, I will have used it enough times in this post that it will show up on a google search, and they’ll know I’m April Dávila now.

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