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Warm air, jet fuel, cigarette smoke and plumerias.

I didn’t post on Monday. I was busy drinking maitais by the pool in Hawaii. Okay, well, in truth, I was busy chasing the kiddos around the pool, which was even more fun, and I did sneak in a maitai or two.

I was ready for a little vacation. We went to a resort just outside Honolulu with my husband’s mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, cousin, and my mom. Here are a few photos (which you have already seen if you follow my Instagram feed).

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It was perfect, but I didn’t blog about it while we were there because I always feel like blogging about being on vacation is like inviting people to rob you.

But now that we’re back I can say – it was lovely.

More than that, it got the juices of my deep deep memory flowing, and as a good little writer nerd,  I’m proud to say, I did my fifteen minutes of writing every day and then some. I wrote almost exclusively about memories of other places, of the times in my life that I have lived on other, much less resort-like, islands. The smell of that thick warm air, jet fuel, cigarette smoke and plumerias kept transporting me, even as I loaded car seats in and out of rentals, to times I almost never think of anymore.

For two summers, when I was thirteen and then again when I was fourteen, my sister and I went to live with my dad on a small island in the south pacific called Kwajalein (here’s a map of roughly where our home wa

s – if it had an address I don’t remember it). My dad, a retired Marine captain, was managing the airport there at the time. In my memory it is such a magical place. We went SCUBA diving every day. There were no cars on the island except for official military vehicles. The place was overrun with kids – military brats whose parents worked all day. We had such a blast. The air was hot and sticky, and our double wide had a plumeria tree growing over the top of it, and there was no air conditioning so the smell of plumeria wafted through the windows all day. I think I did keep a journal back then, but even if I could find it, it would probably just be full of gushing about Brad, the lifegaurd at the pool. Brad.

Then there were the four months I lived on the much drier, even even less populated, South Caicos

, at the School for Field Studies. I studied fishery management and went SCUBA diving every day. I went on a date with a very large, local man named Ganger. He took me to the only restaurant in town – Aunt May’s – the carrots were delicious. My classmates and I took our tests under water with pencils on slates. We drank a lot of rum. We stopped whatever we were doing at sunset and gathered to watch the spectacular show.

These are the memories that came up for me in Hawaii. It’s amazing how scents take us back. I wonder if I’ll ever actually go back to those places. They are so remote, it’s hard to imagine. The whole thing has me feeling pretty nostalgic. I suppose there are stories in these memories, but for now they are just notes in my journal, to be mined at some future date.

 

Google Maps Street View:
An Awesome Writing Tool

I‘ve crossed the two-thirds mark on the final edit of the novel! Woo hooo.

I was actually starting to feel really discouraged, because the work was plugging along so slowly, but a fun thing happened last week. I hit a section that used to be right up in the beginning of the story. Before I did some reorganization of the plot line, these pages made up a good chunk of the first 50 pages and as such – they have been workshopped and fine-tuned to the point that they need very little work. Yes, I had to tweak them up a bit to make them fit in around page 140, but that was easy enough. It was nice to 1. breeze through so many pages, and 2. to realize that as I’m editing I actually am making a difference in my prose, enough so that I could recognize the pages that had already been worked on.

So yeah. Encouraging.

While I have your attention, I want to share a brilliant new writing tool I’ve discovered: Google Maps Street View. Around page 98, my main character, Tallulah Jones, stops in a small town outside of Barstow. In editing, I realized that I didn’t really illustrate the scene very well. I couldn’t, because I had never been there, and therefore had no concrete details to share about it. Then it occurred to me – I don’t have to go there.

Desert road - Tallulah JonesI pulled up the town on Google Maps, chose a corner that made sense for this scene to take place on and dragged the little yellow man into place to get the street view. So awesome. It was all squat buildings in dusty shades. I “rolled” down the street a bit to see how the road slowly transitioned from sun-bleached town to lonely desert. There were two traffic signals.

True, I couldn’t smell the air, or notice how the people interact. I couldn’t feel the heat of the day on my face. I couldn’t hear the whistle of a train in the distance. There’s a lot you can’t get from “walking” down a street virtually, but if you’re just looking for a detail or two to set a scene, it’s amazing.

I will always opt to hit the road if given the choice, but it’s nice to know this resource is available.

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.

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.

Enjoy…

What My Characters Drive

I spent the wee hours this morning figuring out what cars my characters all drive. It seems like a silly thing. I almost felt like I was wasting precious writing time, browsing the internet for images of various cars, but the truth is, these little details matter.

This bit of research was prompted by the realization that every time a vehicle comes up in my story I write either “car” or “truck” and leave it at that. The truth is, I don’t care about cars (or trucks) and so any details beyond that seem unnecessary, but really, for most of my characters, what they drive actually says a fair amount about them.

My main character, for example. She lives on a farm. She drives a truck. As of this morning, I know that it’s a white, 1998 Toyota Tacoma truck. It’s a real work horse, but it’s getting older. It’s white because it sits in the desert sun all day – if it were black or blue it would get so hot she would burn herself on it. It’s old because she can’t afford a new one.

Her boyfriend, on the other hand, lives in town. He thinks he’s a tough guy, but really he’s the kind of guy who buys an SUV and then never washes it so that it appears that he takes it off road, but he never does. Ford Escape for him.

My villain gets a red Dodge Ram. A big old thing that looks like it wants to eat other trucks.

I made a word doc and pulled an image off Google for each of my character’s vehicles. I may likely never need to refer to it. Really, it’s not like I’m going to go into all that much detail about the cars, even now that I know what they all look like, but it definitely helps me visualize a scene if the pieces in it are specific and real.

Phone Phreak

Have you ever had the experience of talking with someone on the phone, and you both try to talk at once, and then you both stop to let the other one talk, and then there’s a weird pause before you both say “sorry, you go,” and things continue on like this for the duration of the call, to the point that you never feel like you hit a groove talking with that person, and after hanging up, you feel kind of wrong?

You were probably talking to me.

I hate the phone. Something about not being able to see a person’s face causes me to miss ever single stupid little cue as to when I’m supposed to talk, and when I’m supposed to shut up. My girlfriends all keep in touch with each other via phone, having long phone conversations about their lives, but the ones who have known me the longest don’t call – they know I’m a total spaz on the phone and that if they want to keep in touch they really have to either come visit or write me an email (surprise, I’m best at written correspondence).

So when I have freelance assignments that require me to do a lot of phone interviews I tend to procrastinate. I have a job right now that is actually really interesting. I get to talk to a bunch of city officials about their work and compile it all into a narrative article, but getting over my aversion to phone actually took some serious emotional bolstering. Picture me chanting “you are not a spaz,” a few times before dialing.

Of course, this is not the first project I’ve ever had to do interviews for, so I am getting better. I’ve learned to state my questions clearly, then just shut up and wait for an answer. I squash the urge to jump in and explain myself further if they haven’t answered in two seconds, and to just be patient, and let them speak. I am friendly and don’t waste their time with a lot of chatter, and ultimately, the feedback I’ve gotten from clients has been good, but it’s a battle every time.

Why on Earth has the transporter not been invented yet? Seriously, it’s the 21st century. I would gladly change out of my pajamas and do my makeup to pop on up to San Francisco for an interview, if it could be done Star Trek style: Beam Me Up. Sure, there’s a lot of potential for disaster–my molecules being scattered to the atmosphere, or whatnot–but at least I wouldn’t have to talk on the damn phone.