Archive | February, 2013

Writing My Synopsis

I need to write a synopsis for my novel. Everyone always says that, as a writer, you should have a synopsis for your novel. I’ve been meaning to do it for months now. I have a great elevator pitch for the story. I can talk about it to anyone who asks without batting an eyelash, but actually writing out the synopsis? For some reason the task has me paralyzed.

I just don’t want to. I don’t want to so much that I am actually working on the novel to avoid writing the synopsis of the novel, which, ultimately, I guess, is pretty good procrastination. Still, it needs to be done.

I’ve dedicated a whole page of my website to these few paragraphs that have yet to be written. Up there at the left top: “The Feathered Tale.” I will admit – the statement on that page is a total lie. I’m not in the process of revising the synopsis. The damn thing doesn’t exist yet.

I think this all has to do with the intense anxiety I’m experiencing as I draw near to finishing the book. I’m anxious about not having enough time to work on it. I’m anxious that any day now, some other, more talented writer will publish a book about a down-on-her-luck ostrich farmer. I’m anxious that the story will never be done. I’m anxious that it will be done soon and then I’ll have to figure out how to get the damn thing out into the world. I’m anxious about all the stories I’m not writing while I’m struggling to finish this one. You name it – I’m tying myself in knots over it.

And all this anxiety just drives me to drink, which I’m okay with, really, but it doesn’t help me write my damn synopsis.

So anyway, yeah. Synopsis. One of these days.

If any writers out there have any words of wisdom on this one – I could use the help.

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Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I saw this little gem in my Facebook stream a while back and it’s been the cause of much rumination since then.

Is the idea that we (me, you, and your cousin Jim) need to earn a living really just a self-imposed prison? Should we all just go back to school and think about whatever it was we were thinking about before somebody came along and told us to earn a living?

I don’t know.

The way I interpret this is that we all have a true calling, and that our efforts in life should be in service to that, rather than a pay check. Some people are called to be heart surgeons, others are called to paint landscapes, and some would spend all day in the garden growing pumpkins if they could. If we all just follow our calling, we will all be happy, living in a world with excellent doctors, lovely art and lots of pumpkins to eat.

It’s a nice idea, but my mind keeps turning to our garbage man, my dental hygienist, and the administrative assistant at my kid’s preschool. All three of these people do important work, but I’ve never assumed their work is their calling. The truth is, in the world we live in, bills have to be paid, food needs to be bought, cars need to be repaired. These things cost money. We earn money by working jobs.

That’s not to say that jobs have to dominate our lives. In fact, in my experience, most people have a job they work for a pay check, and other pursuits they follow in their spare time. Hobbies, they’re called. My novel is what I do in my spare time. I’m reluctant to call it a hobby, as I genuinely hope to turn my novel writing into the thing that earns me my pay check, but I guess it would be an accurate label.

Until I have developed the skill to be a professional novelist, I will continue to work the day job. And that, I think, is the hole in Fuller’s argument. With all due respect, you don’t just get to declare yourself and artist and retire to a life of rumination. Not all artists are good. Not all gardeners have a green thumb. Some doctors have shaky hands and should never operate on anyone’s heart.

We all end up somewhere in our attempt to pay our bills. If we’re not happy with that, it’s in our power to change it, but it’s difficult. Like my mom always says: “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” The idea that we should all just sit around and ponder what interests us is flawed. What we should really do is study, apprentice, practice, train.

I have always said that a writer is someone who writes. Full stop. But as a writer I’m under no illusion that the bills will pay themselves. No matter what Mr. Fuller had to say about it.

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Writing Every Day, The Challenge Continues

On January 29th I declared that I was going to write every day for the rest of my life. In the name of being honest, I feel I need to share the fact that my resolution lasted about four days. Not that I’ve given up, mind you, but I’m realizing that the dedication and commitment it takes to actually make 15 minutes every day to write is no joke.

I missed that first day while on vacation with the family in Tahoe. There was so much going on that I just straight up forgot. I decided to pretend it didn’t happen and just carry on. No one need ever know, I figured, as long as I never forgot again. And then, five days later, I forgot again.

The thing is, I’ve incorporated the practice in to my morning routine. I get up at 5 and drink coffee for 15 minutes while I write, and then work on the novel until it’s time to get the kids ready for school. I do this about 4 days a week, usually Monday through Thursday because frankly, by Friday, I’m ef-ing tired and just want to sleep in.

But on those days that I don’t get up early to write on my novel, I find it challenging to make time to write for 15 minutes later in the day. For me, the logical second choice is to write just before bed, but I’m usually so frazzled by then that I often forget.

All in all, since I made my grand proclamation three weeks ago, I think I’ve missed five days.

Still, when I first decided to get up every morning to work on my novel, I only got my ass out of bed about two mornings a week. Over time I’ve gotten better at it. I still have hopes that I might actually manage 5 days a week before too long. I have to assume it will be the same with my goal to write everyday. I have no intention of giving up. If I’m anything, it’s stubborn.

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Ostrichland USA

Often, when I tell people in Los Angeles that I’m working on a novel set on a ostrich farm, they ask me if I have been to visit the ostriches up in Santa Barbara. Well, up until yesterday, I hadn’t.

April DavilaI had been wanting to go for a while and yesterday, it occurred to Daniel and me, that it was a rare free day – nothing on the calendar at all. So we decided, on a whim, to take the whole family on the fairly long drive up to Solvang, California to visit Ostrichland USA (I’m not kidding – that’s the actual name of the place).

It was really interesting to see a totally different kind of ostrich farming. If you follow along here, you know that I’ve done most of the research for my book at the OK Corral ostrich farm in Oro Grande, out in the Mojave. It’s is a working ostrich farm, where birds are raised for meat and eggs.

April DavilaOstrichland is a totally different type of place. It is much more a tourist attraction. Their birds live long happy lives roaming free across an enormous, verdant piece of land. For a few bucks you can feed them, up close and personal (see the video below), if they feel like coming to the fence for a snack. There was a line of people waiting to shell out money to spend a little time with the birds. It is so much a roadside attraction that Ostrichland doesn’t even slaughter its birds. In fact, I noticed in the gift shop that the ostrich jerky they sell comes from the OK Corral.

April DavilaIn terms of research, I drove away from the experience really glad that I had started (all those years ago) by visiting the OK Corral. Ostrichland is great (and if you get a chance, you should absolutely stop by for a visit and feed the birds), but I want to tell a more gritty story, one that is just better suited to the harsh desert farm.

Still, as I wrap up what is likely the last (or next to last) draft of the book, it’s nice to know that I’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s in the research department. Nobody can accuse me of not having done my homework.

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Getting The “Was” Out

I’m obsessed. And not with something normal, like Downton Abbey, or salted caramel ice cream. No, I have turned totally crazy over the word “was.”

It’s a silly little word. The kind of word you don’t even notice, until you read something that relies so heavily on those three beige letters that you just want to scream.

If you read really good fiction (or really good anything for that matter), you won’t see much of “was,” because the truth is, it’s a terribly dull word. Pick any sentence with the word “was.”

I was walking down the street.

BORING. “Was walking” doesn’t say much. I raced down the street. Or, maybe: I walked past a house with a cat sleeping in the window and thought of Samantha’s lazy plans for the afternoon. You get the point. “Was” has always been a signal to me that a sentence just isn’t done yet.

So as I’m editing my manuscript, I stop every few pages and do a word search for “was” and I am usually shocked to see how many are highlighted in yellow. When I started this round of edits, I had over 1200 instances of the word “was” in just 220 pages. Eee-gad. I had that many unfinished sentences.

The thing is, it can be really tricky getting rid of that stupid, dirty word. At times I have to completely re-conceive how it is I want to say what I’m saying. I sit and stare at sentences for minutes on end, thinking, “there’s no other way to say this.” But there’s always another way. In fact, there are countless ways to say just about anything. It’s my job as a writer to find the best way, and the best way almost never includes “was.”

So, yes, I’m obsessed. The very sight of the stupid word makes me angry, vindictive. Out out damn spot.

And I haven’t even gotten the “were”s yet, or the only slightly less offensive “had.”

This could take a while.

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Dirty Jobs, OK Corral Style

It occurred to me recently that I haven’t really shared much of my research for this novel that I’m working so hard on, and that is a crazy shame, because ostriches are awesome.

The place I learned most everything I know about ostriches was at the OK Corral Ostrich Farm. The proprietor, Doug Osborne, was super gracious. He walked me all around the farm, and told me about the birds, the business, and the farm. He really seemed to care about each and every one of those long-legged beasts. He also had chickens, and emu, and and three roosters, including one that was more aggressive than any dog I’ve ever come across – it chased me back into my car when I first arrived. I had to sit there like an idiot waiting for Doug to come rescue me.

A few months later, I took him to lunch and he let me pick his brain for all kinds of details. The OK Corral has been a remarkable resource to me over the past five years.

So I thought I’d share a segment from the show “Dirty Jobs,” in the episode that they spend a day on the farm with Doug. It’s great, and I feel like it gives a real sense of how intimidating the birds can be.


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I’m Not The Same Writer I Was In August

On Monday I posted about a panel I’m going to be on next week, about branding in the modern age. In that post I said that I’m “someone who does branding professionally.” This is true, but as I reread it, I can’t help but cringe.

As someone who works on branding and marketing professionally, all day every day, I have come to hate my website. It needs a lot of work.

Here’s the thing – when I set up this website, which is actually the third design iteration of – I was in a very different place as a writer. Back then, I was working as a freelance writer. I was looking for work anywhere and everywhere. I needed to showcase my feature articles, my travel writing, and my copyediting, not to mention my fiction.

But the day I took this full time gig, that all changed. I don’t have time for writing assignments. While there is a part of me that would love to write more features, the truth is, I don’t have time. And nothing makes a girl prioritize like a serious time crunch.

All I want to write (outside of work) is fiction. Fiction, fiction, fiction.

And all I want to blog about is my fiction. In fact, looking over my posts since September, when I started full time, almost all of my posts have been about fiction writing. So I need to do some serious re-branding.

So I’ve started to think about another website overhaul. (As a side note, I tell clients at work that websites need to be completely updated every two years. They never believe me, they want their sites to last a decade, but things just change too quickly for that. I last renovated my site in early 2011. So I’m totally practicing what I preach here.) I want the new one to still be centered around the blog, but I’m going to downplay all my writing that isn’t fiction.

Instead of pushing myself as a writer who can and will write anything (which you have to do when you’re living the freelance life), I’m going to change the site to reflect what I really am now – a full time working mom and wife who takes advantage of every free minute to try to finish her novel and get it published.

I’m still working on design ideas, so it may be a few months in the making still, but doubt not – it’s coming.

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Branding As A Way Of Life

A few weeks ago I received an email from a science fiction writer friend named Amy Sterling Casil. We are both alumnae of Scripps College and we met a couple years ago on a panel called “What do I do with a degree in… English.” It was kind of comical that I was invited to be on that panel, as I got my undergrad degree in biology, but the woman who runs these things is really great, and she assured me that my perspective would be valuable so I went and had a great time – it was a dynamic, interesting group of women and a good conversation.

Well, Amy and I kept in touch, and as it turns out, she is the Scripps Alumna-In-Residence this year. As such, she is responsible for putting together a panel for the students on a topic in her field. The title she decided on is “Branding as a Way of Life or – What Oscar Wilde would have done with Facebook and Twitter,” and she’s asked me to be a part of the group.

I’m excited and honored to be invited. As a writer I’m drawn to the Wilde reference, and as someone who does branding professionally, I feel like I have a fair amount I can bring to the discussion.

After a little internet stalking, I’ve learned that my fellow Scripps alumnae panel members include two marketing experts, a talent agent and someone who may or may not be a journalist (there were multiple returns on her name in google – so that’s my best guess).

If you happen to be near Claremont, CA, next Wednesday (Feb. 13), the panel is going on from 7:30 to 9. You can find more info here. If not, don’t worry about it, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about it after the fact.

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