Seriously, what are you complaining about?

untitled gratObservation of my fellow humans is a hobby of mine. And maybe the teensiest bit of quiet judgment. But honestly, the endless variety in shape, size, color, language, mode of dress, experience, and expression fascinates and amazes me. Every day.

For context, at the moment I’m on a cruise ship with 400 of my fellow Americans and 1000 Australians. (Sadly, not one of them is Hugh Jackman) The other 500 passengers are from just about everywhere else. One thing we have in common though, in spite of our differences: We’re all on vacation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a big beautiful boat that will dock in Tahiti tomorrow. So, you know–life is good. Very good.

Nonetheless, it appears that some people can still find something to complain about.

  • One recent morning, after a particularly rough night of twenty-foot seas, I overheard a young man complaining at Guest Services. It seems his stateroom was creaking a lot, and that he (or his pretty young wife standing next to him) couldn’t sleep. Could the Captain do something about it?

Personally, I was grateful that the ship hadn’t capsized overnight and that the Captain was getting us past the storm as quickly and as safely as he could. I was also grateful I packed earplugs. And Dramamine.

  • A New Jersey gent noticed me eating a chocolate ice cream cone and commented that he was glad they finally had chocolate again. He really didn’t like strawberry.

I’m grateful for the self-serve, soft-serve available all day, every day, as well as the forty-seven other desserts to pick from. I’m also grateful for the freedom to not eat strawberry ice cream.

  • This morning, in the ship’s library, as I sat rereading and revising the beast I like to call my “novel,” a woman came in looking for the Sudoku puzzles that are placed there every day. She lamented that the previous day’s puzzles weren’t there. She’d gotten behind.

I’m grateful that the puzzles are placed there, just in case I run out of other things to occupy my time. I’m also grateful that there are entire books of Sudoku and crossword puzzles available (not to mention mobile apps) that one might carry along, say, on a long ocean voyage.

  • At the breakfast buffet, a woman poked at a huge pan of lovely poached eggs trying to determine which ones might be done to her liking.

I’m grateful that poached eggs are available without having to order them special. And that the toast and English muffins are already done and that someone has made Hollandaise. Those facts alone are enough to allow me to overlook the precise degree of doneness that I prefer. That and the fact I don’t have to do the dishes.

Yes, the Internet onboard is a little slow, but again, we’re in the middle of the ocean. And even though the breakfast buffet doesn’t open until seven, they do put out tea things every afternoon at three, including scones and cute little sandwiches. And there is always room service. And did I mention not doing dishes?

There’s plenty to be grateful for. Especially here.

 

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Learning to read Australian before breakfast

20170417_072828While the language is the same (mostly), my dearly beloved (db) and I were in for a few little surprises when we arrived in beautiful Sydney, Australia after a long flight on our way to a long cruise. I’m not complaining—who can complain about a chance to travel so far and see such beautiful places? No, I’m merely noticing.

The first thing we discovered was the electric tea kettle in our room instead of a coffee maker. Several varieties of tea and an Arrowroot Biscuit (!) were provided along with a couple of packets of instant coffee. Instant coffee.

Yes, I can–and did–drink instant, but you see, db and I are accustomed to early morning coffee before we attempt communication. Certainly we would survive, but seriously, how do people function and remain married without real coffee? We’ll celebrate our 44th anniversary this year and I know part of our marital longevity is due in no small part to the consumption of a couple of cups of coffee before we speak each morning.

At least they’d have real coffee at breakfast. Right?

Of course, a few of the menu choices at the hotel’s breakfast buffet also reminded me I was no longer in the USA. There were packets of Vegemite and Nutella to spread on toast, broiled tomatoes, muesli, baked beans, and boiled eggs in the shell–served hot! Still, I found enough creamy scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, and raisin toast to fill my plate.

Now to find the coffee before I sat down to eat. I looked around but found no giant urn, no thermal carafes… Oh, wait, there’s a machine. I read my choices. Espresso or long black. What about regular coffee?

Espresso is a shot, right? Not enough. But would a long black overfill the cup I held in my hand? I weighed the risk of going another moment without the requisite amount of caffeine I needed for basic social in interaction. I pressed the button for a long black and hoped for the best. Blessed hot black liquid poured forth from machine.

When I tasted it, it was stronger than an Americano, but definitely “real.” Later, with the help of google, I learned that “long black” is a term used in Australia and New Zealand for a double shot of espresso poured over hot water.

With that long black coursing through my veins and my jet-lagged brain now firing on most of its cylinders, I could face the puzzling items that would appear on the lunchtime menu: rocket salad and cos lettuce with capsicum.20170417_072638

Ties that Bind: Do I repeat myself?

WordItOut-word-cloud-2111782I discovered yet another layer of revision by making a “word cloud” from my manuscript. I simply pasted my entire manuscript into the tool at WordItOut. You can easily see my overuse of certain words.

I’ve spent the last two mornings removing about half of my uses of know. Only a little tedious. I found most of them were in dialogue that I thought sounded conversational, but was merely boring, you know? Now, maybe I’ll just do that with all the rest.

Thanks to Joan Dempsey over at Revise With Confidence for the link and the insights.

Have you tried this with your writing? What did you learn?

Ties that Bind: How friends challenged me to write a (better) novel

knot on fingerBless their hearts. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

My dear friend, Joan, challenged me to write a novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  While Joan was a NaNoWriMo veteran, I was a virgin. Why not? I was retired now and I’d had this story of love and friendship (inspired by a few real events) rolling around in my head for years. So I rolled up my sleeves, stocked up on coffee and chocolate, and spent the month of November tapping out 70K words. Sure, it was a little rough in spots and probably had a few gaps in the plot. Nevertheless, I believed I could get it into shape during the following year. 

That was in 2008.

Cue the deep, resonant voice of an omniscient narrator: “Little did she know…”

Soon afterward, I ran into another friend, the legendary Western Nevada College writing teacher, Marilee Swirzcek. She was enthusiastic about my accomplishment and invited me to join the local critique group that she had founded. Advice from Marilee and other writers? Sure. Sign me up!

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The founder of Lone Mountain Writers, Marilee Swirzcek

I attended a few meetings of the Lone Mountain Writers and critiqued pieces in a surprising variety of genres. Romance. Horror. Memoir. Fantasy. Christian Fiction. Sci-Fi. They all had one thing in common, though: excellent writing. I knew I needed to up my game.

Months went by as I continued to polish my first fifteen pages. I was sure the group would be awed by my as yet untapped literary genius.

Here’s what I heard instead:

  • Beautiful writing, but where’s the story?”
  • “What does your protagonist want and what are the stakes?”
  • “Where is the conflict, the drama?
  • “Who is the POV character? And why does it seem to switch in the middle of this paragraph?

Gulp. While I had read a literal ton of books and had written opinion pieces for the local newspaper for a decade, it appeared I knew nothing about writing fiction. Nothing. I could certainly recognize a compelling story, but did not know how to create it. Yet.

Fortunately, the group included several English professors who could offer both criticism and encouragement in equal measure. The group has been discerning and honest and, more importantly, patient.

They have now read most of my 111K manuscript—twice. Last week, I printed a hard copy of it (300+ pages, double-sided, spiral-bound, $40 at the UPS Store, BTW) with the intent of doing a whole read-through and edit while on a long ocean voyage (18 days, Sydney to Honolulu) this month. Yes, my highlighters, sticky notes, and flash drive are already packed.

What I hope to do here is to document the next few stages of the process. You know, recruiting a few beta readers and doing a final edit—if there is such a thing. I’ll also be choosing how to publish. Shall I try to find a traditional agent and publisher or self-publish? Only e-books or hard copies too? And with whom? If this is to be a DIY project, then the issues of learning to—or paying someone to—format it and design a cover arise. Then there is promotion and, well, you get the idea. There is still a long way to go.

In addition, I’ll finally have a place to point my dear non-writer friends who keep asking when it will be done. I try to reassure them (and myself) that I don’t want to be embarrassed by something that was put out into the world before it was ready. Unfortunately, the wait has also served to raise their expectations. It seems I can’t win.

So watch this space for news of my progress. And please, if you have personal experience with any part of this, I’d appreciate you leaving a comment or link.

Now, where’s my sunscreen?