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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.

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.

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.

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!

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.