Archive | Musings

Comparing Prose

I recently re-read Lonesome Dove. I wanted to read it more critically this time, to really consider why it captivated me so excruciatingly the first time I read it. At nearly 1000 pages, the worst thing about it is that it’s not longer. I feel like I could live in that book. If I had to choose one story to take to a deserted island, that would be it. And it held up on the second read, just as it had on the first.

So I got to thinking, what is it about McMurtry’s writing that is so effing awesome? Well, down at the good old Silver Lake Public Library I found myself a few other books by the man and set to reading. What I discovered was that I don’t actually love all of his writing. I couldn’t even finish Leaving Cheyenne. But I couldn’t quite say why. This seemed like a tremendous opportunity.

I pulled a passage from Leaving Cheyenne at random:

When we got to Molly’s she bandaged my hand and we sat up in the kitchen, eating all the stray food and talking over old times. We were all in high spirits and Johnny told us a lot of stories about life on the plains. Finally me and him slept awhile on her living room floor, and about sunup she came in in her nightgown and bathrobe and woke us up and cooked the best breakfast I ever ate.

Then I flipped to a page of Lonesome Dove:

By the time she got to her back porch the rain was slackening and the sun was already striking little rainbows through the sparkle of drops that still fell. Pea had walked on home, the water dripping more slowly from his hat. He never mentioned the incident to anyone, knowing it would mean unmerciful teasing if it ever got out. But he remembered it. When he lay on the porch half drunk and it floated up in his mind, things got mixed into the memory that he hadn’t even known he was noticing, such as the smell of Mary’s wet flesh. He hadn’t meant to smell her, and hadn’t made any effort to, and yet, the very night after it happened the first thing he remembered was that Mary had smelled different from any other wet thing he had ever smelled.

In looking at these two passages, as a writer, the first difference I see is in the detail. The first passage just sort of tells what they did. The second has the most wonderful details: little rainbows through the sparkle of drops, the smell of Mary’s wet flesh. And I love the phrase “different from any other wet thing he had ever smelled.” It made me giggle, and it evokes the smell of wet things. Wet things smell different than dry things.

The second thing I notice is the passing of time. Both passages cover the better part of a day, but the second has more context to the passing: the water dripping from his hat on the walk home, laying on the porch half drunk thinking of this woman. Compare that to “me and him slept a while on her living room floor.” I guess you could chalk that up to details as well. Maybe that’s why Lonesome Dove is so long. It’s all the details. But I’ll tell you, it’s those details that make it absolutely delicious.

The third is the narrator. Lonesome Dove is third person, jumping from character to character (to character – there are a lot of them), while Leaving Cheyenne is first person, which is inherently limiting. You just can’t tell as grand a story from first person. The main character in Leaving Cheyenne would never notice rainbows in raindrops. It just wouldn’t fit.

My novel is in first person, but I really feel like it needs to be. It’s a personal story. It’s subjective. It does limit perspective a bit, but I think the lesson here is to bring the details, make it visceral. My character is not above noting details, so I think there is reason to aspire to the heights of Lonesome Dove.  Not that I could ever write something as genius as that, but a girl can dream…

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Why I Love Instagram

notebookAs I mentioned in my last post, my one goal for 2015 is to start actively taking notes about the world around me. As writers, the one thing we must be is observant, and I think the practice of actively looking and (most importantly) taking notes is critical.

So I found myself a lovely little notebook that fits easily in my purse, and I’ve taken a note on SOMETHING almost everyday. Like everything else in life, I find that the more I do it, the easier it gets – the more I begin to notice things that I need to jot down. It reminds me of the reason I love Instagram.

I’m a social media dabbler. I have a Facebook page, and I sometimes tweet, but my favorite platform by far is Instagram. My love for it developed pretty quickly when I found myself looking for beauty, everywhere I went. I still take the obligatory head-on shots of the kiddos posing arm in arm, but I dig a little deeper when I start to think about how something might look with an interesting filter. I’ll try a different angle, wait patiently for an unusual shot, or set up something in the background to give it depth. And I’m a novice compared to a lot of Instagramers. Truth be told, the results are fun, but it’s the frame of mind that I love the most.

It’s like a much simpler form of my writer’s notebook, which works the same way, insofar as it pushes me to consider things, to look more closely, to try to find the story, but with Instagram, once I’m done, I tap a button and share the moment with my friends. Honestly, I wish all of my friends were on Instagram. It’s the best.

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Who’s A Tough Mudder?

I am – Oorah!

We did it. Alex and I ran (and walked) the whole damn thing and finished every obstacle. In terms of painful but gratifying things I’ve done in my life it ranks third after giving birth to my two kick-ass kiddos. Here’s our before and after shots. When Daniel saw that bottom one on the right he said: “I’ve never seen you look that out of it… while sober.”

Tough Mudder

It took us about 4 hours, which I’m pretty happy about, as I’ve never run 10 miles in my life. Of course, we didn’t run the whole thing because the course went up and down hills (and I do mean straight up and straight down), but we ran a lot of it.

There were some things that were as I thought they would be: the Arctic Enema was awful – full stop, running on the trails was tricky – people were dropping like flies from twisted ankles and horrific cramps, walking the plank was really fun, and trudging through a quarter mile of knee-deep mud at mile 9 was murder on already exhausted muscles.

Then there were the things I did not expect.

1. The first thing that surprised me was how well run the whole Tough Mudder event was. They had water stations every two miles (with snacks like bananas or cliff bars, which totally kept me going), and life guards at any obstacle with water. The lines at the obstacles were generally pretty short and moved quickly, and at the end, after you run through the live wires, they force water on you – over and over, as you stumble toward your free beer.

2. That leads me to that last obstacle – the Electroshock Therapy. This is their signature obstacle, and I wasn’t fool enough to think it would be easy, but it was fucking terrible. It might not have been so bad, except my shoe got caught in the mud and I fell hard, catching a live wire in my left ear as I went down. I don’t know how much voltage I took to the side of my head, but it hurt enough that for a few seconds there all I could do was press myself into the muck and think “just stay down.” I laid there, hoping nobody would fall on top of me, caught my breath, then very carefully stood up between the wires. I found my footing and charged through to the end – only another 30 feet really, and I think I took another hit of electricity, or two, to my legs, but I made it. They put that orange head band on me but I couldn’t stop walking. I think maybe I was in shock. They forced a few cups of water into my hands. I drank them, and asked Alex to make sure my head wasn’t bleeding. My ear was numb, but my whole head hurt so much I couldn’t tell if I was injured or not. It was the only time in the whole race that I fought tears. If it hadn’t been the last obstacle I might have been able to run it off and not think about it, but then again, if it hadn’t been the last obstacle, I might have quit and not finished. I pushed forward to find my beer.

3. Given the advertising of the event, I had been a little intimidated by all the testosterone, but I am very happy to report that there are actually lots of women who ran with us. I would guess 40%. And there was a wide age range too, I would peg the average around 35. And I only saw one or two folks go around an obstacle over the course of the entire race. People were in it for the challenge, which was cool.

4. The electric eel wasn’t so bad, but the monkey bars kicked my ass (I fell off after the third rung- it was greased I swear – and had to swim the rest of the way). Also, I thought the cage crawl would be easy, since I am totally comfortable in the water, but once I dunked and came up under the chain link I had to seriously fight back a panic response that came out of nowhere. All I could do was focus on moving my breath in and out while I climbed ahead. Way freakier than I expected.

5. It was a ton of fun. I mean, I wouldn’t have signed up for it if I didn’t think it would be at least kind of fun, but I think it was the challenge that attracted me. Now that I know how much fun it is, I will totally go back (though until my head stops hurting I reserve the right to go around the final obstacle – yes, my head still hurts 30 hours later).

So that’s that. If you’re thinking of doing one yourself, here’s what I learned:

1. Train on hills. Seriously. I was running five miles easy leading up to the event, but the hills killed me.

2. Start hydrating two days before.

3. Cotton socks are death around mile 8, they bunch up and just hold mud in clumps. Also, I wish I had worn some trail running shoes.

4. You will need help. Don’t be afraid to ask, it’s part of the fun. Be sure to return the favor when you can.

5. Don’t worry about carrying water. The hydration stands are well stocked.

Alex is already pushing to do another in February. I’m waiting for my head to stop hurting before I commit to a date. I’m thinking maybe a half marathon is next… I mean really, it’s only three more miles, and there’s no electricity involved. How hard could it be?

I’m giving myself one more day to sleep in and recoup, then it’s back to my regular schedule of getting up early to write. It’s been quite an adventure.

Ohhrah!

 

 

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Tough Mudder Tomorrow!

I gave myself a few mornings off this week. I’ve been training really hard for this race I’m doing tomorrow, and decided that I needed the extra rest to be at the top of my game.

In case you haven’t heard me yammer on about this race yet, let me tell you a little about it. It’s a 10-mile obstacle course with the tag line “quite possibly the toughest event on the planet.” Now, I have no frame of reference for the validity of that claim, but I do know there will be 12 different obstacles, some of which involve electricity, fire, dumpsters filled with ice water and barbed wire. I’ve been training for a long time.

My partner for the race (who also happens to be in my writing group – see how I always bring it back to the writing?) is my friend Alex. She and I just checked into our hotel. It’s a Ramada, so you know it’s pretty nice. It’s 11pm, and way past my bed time, but I’m too excited (nervous?) to sleep yet.

Our start time is 11am. 12 hours to go – yikes. We’re hoping to finish by 4, and I honestly don’t know if that’s optimistic or if we’ll finish way before that.

Daniel and my mom are meeting us back at the hotel with the kids. We decided it wasn’t worth the entrance fee to have to chase them through a crowd of adrenaline junkies. As much as I would have loved to have them at the finish line, I’ll settle for beer and a burger in beautiful downtown Temecula.

So wish me luck.
I’ll post some pictures as soon as I’m able.

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Office Break In

This is the scene that greeted me Friday morning when I arrived at work.

Breakin

At first I glanced in through the wrecked door and saw Daniel’s monitor on his desk, so I thought the door broke on its own some how, but upon closer inspection I realized my monitor (which is newer and frankly a lot fancier) was in deed missing.

The funny thing is that on the way to work that morning I was actually thinking to myself – why do I lug my laptop home with me every night? Sometimes I do it so I can write in the morning, but I knew I wasn’t going to be writing on Friday morning, so I felt kind of lame for bringing it home, until I saw this.

After calling 911 and being transferred to dispatch to call for the cops to come, I peered in again and saw that Daniel’s laptop was also missing. Then my hands started to shake a bit. He has been working SO hard on this screenplay, and he is notoriously bad about backing up. I called home and broke the news and was very happy when he asked if his backup drive was still there. I looked closely and reported it was and he exhaled. Turns out that last time his computer crashed and took all his files he started backing up daily.

So that’s the silver lining. My back up drive was also untouched (though it sits on my desk right next to the monitor and could easily fit into a pocket), so all our files are safe.

It took three hours, but the cops finally did show up and take a report. (Fun side note – they had no record of my 911 call at 7am – I had to call three times. Government shutdown in action or just the LAPD at work?) Their finger print guy will be in some time today to see if he can get anything and we are thinking pretty hard about what new security measures we’re going to take. I’m pushing for metal doors, but seeing as we don’t have any windows, that would make the space kind of cave-like. Bars are icky. Maybe one of those metal grate things you pull down over the glass at the end of the night. The landlord seems unconcerned, but I’m thinking, now that the thief knows it’s that easy to break the door and take our shit, why wouldn’t they come back? I worked at a restaurant once that was robbed two nights in a row by the same guys. It happens.

These things happen.

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I always pick the wrong technology

My husband and I bought our HD DVD player a couple months before Blu-Ray put HD to shame, I set up my first blog with the now defunct iWeb, and I’ve been using Shelfari to keep track of my books for years now. It’s a trend. I always seem to pick the wrong technology.

Thankfully, I manage to make the shift to the right technology eventually, but it’s so disheartening every time I realize I’ve done it again.

So anyway, I have now transferred my library over to Good Reads. I actually set up the account in 2010, but only because all my friends were doing it and I swear, as I was entering my info I was thinking “whatever, it’ll never catch on.”

(insert sheepish grin here)

Thankfully, Good Reads actually makes it really easy to import a library from Shelfari, or I might not have done it. And I have to admit, I do really like the widget they provide for showcasing my bookshelf (that’s it over there on the right). And it has the whole social thing going on, not that I really have time to write reviews of every book I read, but I enjoy seeing familiar faces as I browse.

If you’re on Good Reads, send me a friend request (or whatever the equivalent is). I’m just getting up to speed, but you know me – I love all this stuff. It shouldn’t take me long.

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Best Neighbors Ever

My neighbors moved out last weekend. They were the best neighbors ever and I miss them terribly already. It’s hard to say how this development will affect the dynamics of our block. You see – we have (had?) the coolest block in LA.

Celeste was six months old when we moved in and there were no other kids, but in the six years since then seven other kids have been born onto our tiny cul-de-sac. We call Celeste the Sheriff, as she makes sure the other kids stay in line. We meet up at the end of the street each night and the parents hang out while the kids ride scooters and bikes, or draw with chalk. It’s an awesome way to end the day. But now the number of kids has been reduced by two.

And since I always brings things back to the writing with this blog, it’s worth noting that the mom of that household is also my soon-to-be publisher. Elisa published a book about New Mexico a couple years ago. It’s not your usual travel guide, but instead outlines the cultural things you’ll see when you nmbookbuyvisit – things that you won’t find in a traditional where-to-eat-sleep-and-stuff-your-face guide. Like bolo ties and coyote fences. Well, as soon as she mentioned to me that she wanted to do California next, but in two books – north and south, I pretty much pestered her until she agreed to let me write Northern California, which she did, on the condition that Southern California would come out first.

Originally slated to come out late 2012, the Southern California edition was slightly delayed by the birth of their second child and the aforementioned moving, but I believe it’s at the printers and should be coming to a store near you soon.

And Northern California is close on its heels. We still have some photography that needs to be done, but the manuscript is complete. Frankly, I don’t care when it comes out. It was so much fun to write, and it’s not like Northern California is going anywhere. I sincerely hope there is a book tour for that one. It will be a great excuse to go spend some time with old friends.

In the meantime I will gaze wistfully from our kitchen window at the empty parking spot across the street. They will be missed.

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Beacon

A journalist friend of mine emailed me earlier this week to tell me about the launch of Beacon, a new publication platform she’s a part of. I opened and read her email immediately because 1) she’s a great writer and 2) she manages to get herself into some seriously sticky situations while investigating her stories so her material is usually pretty juicy.

Most writers complain about not getting paid enough, but Jean Guerrero (that’s her name) and her fellow investigative journalists win this one hands down. They are getting paid next to nothing for pieces that take weeks of perilous work to research.

Beacon, it turns out, is attempting to solve the problem with a subscription-based news service. Here’s what Jean had to say about it:

Beacon is this incredible new journalism platform by Dan Fletcher, the creator of Time Magazine’s NewsFeed and a former managing editor at Facebook, meant to change the fact that some of the best reporters today risk their lives in war zones just to make $70 for a single article — all thanks to the current failing business model of journalism.  I’m one of 30 journalists worldwide that you can directly subscribe to on Beacon.  By subscribing to me for $5 a month (with a free trial and easy cancellation any time), you instantly get access to ALL of the OTHER great writers on Beacon, as well.  I’ll be covering human rights issues in Latin America — the kind of really human-focused, heartbreaking stuff that I couldn’t cover for a news corp that relied on advertisers’ dollars.

Support quality investigative reporting for $5 a month?

Yes, thank you.

 

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Of Wine and Zoloft

I have a question.

I was at a doctor appointment (my GP) last week and happened to mention that I was feeling tense, stressed. I have a lot shit going on. I worked a 15-hour day yesterday, all in. Between family, and work, and writing, and exercise. Life is busy.

Well the doc whipped out her prescription pad and wrote me  a note for Zoloft. Just like that. I had no idea it was so easy.

The question is – should I take it?

Part of me is thinking why not? If I have the option to take the edge off life, to calm this buzzing that has me always a little tense, why would I not give myself that rest?

On the other hand, since when do I need medication just to get through the day? Isn’t that what alcohol is for? Just kidding. But seriously, if my life has me that stressed out, shouldn’t I try to make some changes that would help feel a little calmer without the meds?

I don’t know. I guess I worry it might crush my creative drive, or kill that basic artistic dissatisfaction that keeps me writing. I really don’t feel depressed, just stressed out.

So should I stick with wine and try to find myself good therapist?

Or should I take the drugs like its 1999?

Decisions, decisions…

 

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A Little Older, A Little Wider

It’s been almost a year since I took this full-time writing gig and I have to say, my ass is getting bigger.

I mean it, my pants are all much tighter than they used to be. Last August, while I was moaning and crying about finding enough freelance work to pay the bills, I was also taking an hour every morning to do the Insanity work out, which basically involves jumping around the bedroom like an injured crane on meth. I was great shape, and I felt it.

So now I have all the work I need, but I have to use my new found stable income to go buy some new jeans.

And it’s not like I don’t exercise. I’m running three miles, three times a week, which is more than I have ever run in my whole life, but I also have a serious cookie addiction, and it is finally catching up to me.

This is how it happens folks. A few pounds a year. A new pair of jeans, just one size bigger, every so often.

I keep telling myself it will get easier when the kids are a little older and can get themselves ready for school, but really, that could be another 5 years at least. I dread to think the kind of damage that can be done in that time frame.

I either need to find more time to exercise, or eat fewer cookies.

Neither option is terribly appealing.

Ug.

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