Archive for August, 2014

I am addicted to traveling. I admit it. I jump at the chance to take a road trip. I yearn to revisit old haunts or set off on new adventures. I love big cities, untamed wilderness, dry deserts and frozen tundra.  

Of course these days the act of traveling — of getting from point A to point B — is often an exercise in endurance and superhuman patience. And I have been known to sit in an airport and swear I’ll never travel again.

But I could never give up marveling as I watch men haggle over a squirming sheep —  “See the thick hair.” “Ah, but look at the poor teeth.” Acting out a scene that hasn’t changed in hundreds, maybe thousands of years, except for that cell phone the buyer is using to check in with his boss.

I have too much fun losing myself in the mazes of souks and bazaars. Where spicy aromas and brilliant colors mix with electrical supplies, dishwashing liquid and paper goods.

And I get such joy catching a glimpse of a Piggly Wiggly supermarket as I drive through the south (really how great a name is that).

Traveling reminds me just how enchanting what others consider mundane can be. And conversely how exciting my everyday life may seem to others.

And that helps me appreciate my life just a bit more, even when I’m not traveling.


Pushing to Finish

Writing my first novel has been and continues to be a great adventure. One that excites, frustrates and challenges me.

I am now on my fifth major re-write (adding and deleting story elements) and am hopeful I can move to the copy/line editing mode soon.

When I started this journey I had no idea what I was really getting into. Oh, I had read about the query process, the need to be willing to promote your book, etc. etc. But these seemed like minor issues compared to actually getting the book written.

Now I see how rose-colored my glasses were. But instead of finding this complex process of taking my work from finished manuscript (assuming I actually ever finish editing) to published book intimidating or onerous, I’m actually a bit psyched. Who would have thought.

I like to think one reason for my unexpected reaction is that my father was a salesman (a good one at that), so those paternal genes are kicking in. Or maybe finding a strategy for selling, marketing and getting my work out there has reignited my problem-solving engine.

In any case, I’m now immersed in developing my blog, learning about queries and synopses, and developing my pitch. I even participated in my first pitch session (utterly terrifying, but exhilarating, too).

Of course, I continue to write, and edit, and write, and edit. Hopefully soon I’ll take all I’ve learned about queries, synopses, etc and actually send the manuscript out. Now there’s a terrifying thought. Keep your fingers crossed.

The temperature is in the upper nineties here in Miami, the air thick with tropical humidity.
So today I dream of far off lands: Antarctica, the Lemaire Channel. P1000299

Excuse Me While I Estivate

Miami is having a very hot summer. I know, I know, we always have hot summers. But this year seems particularly brutal. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been focusing on walking my dogs at least two miles a day, outside, in the heat.
This got me thinking about the fact that if you can hibernate in winter to survive the worst of the cold, you should be able to do the something similar in summer to escape the heat.

This random thought must have triggered waves out into the universe because — swear this is true — not two days later I’m doing the NY Times crossword and the clue was “Stay inactive over the summer”. Bingo. Answer was “Estivate.”

Perfect, now I can respond to those mad dogs and Englishmen who want to bike, hike, swim, rollerblade, or simply run around in the summer sun.
“Excuse me but I’m estivating. Call me in the fall and we’ll see.” (By then I’ll come up with some new excuses.)
Lena 1Charlie 1
Now if I could only convince my dogs to do the same.

One reason I love travel is that it not only exposes me to the rich tapestry of different cultures and their unique approaches to life, beauty, time, etc., but it also reminds me of how much we share. And not all of what we share is the good stuff.

It is extremely embarrassing to me that despite all the time I spent living and working in Taiwan, traveling in Japan and mainland China, studying spoken Chinese, I still find it very difficult to distinguish between not only different individual Chinese (unless I know them well), but the various ethnic groups as well.

But during my tenure in Taiwan I learned that this failing is not, as I assumed, a simple reflection of my Euro-centricity, but that Chinese suffer from a similar issue when distinguishing between those of us of European origin.

My boss in Taiwan was married to a Swiss-American. She and I were similar in height and weight. But I at the time had dark auburn hair and a ruddy complexion with freckles. My boss’ wife had porcelain white skin and pale blond hair. To our Western colleagues we were very distinct. But after two years and multiple meetings — both official and social — the mayor of the city where I served could not tell the difference between us.

Towards the end of my stay, I commented on this fact to my assistant, someone whom I saw daily. “You’d think he’d at least notice we have different color hair.” I said.

Now here’s the kicker. “You do?” She answered.

That’s when I realized that Westerners filter certain characteristics when they look at someone. We automatically consider hair color, skin color, eye color. We then move on to type of hair — straight or curly, and other distinguishing features. Chinese use othere differences: shape of face, width of cheeks, and other facial structures. After all, there’s no point in noticing hair color — always black, eye color — always dark, type of hair — always straight. Similarly we generally won’t notice shape of face, width of cheeks, etc.

Not sure what the lesson in all this is, but I’ve learned to be less judgmental of myself (and others) in this regard and to humbly realize that I’m only as individual as the person looking at me notices.

Exactly a year ago I wrote a post Why I Don’t Write.

Today I’ve finished a novel that is in it’s fifth rewrite and which I am preparing to send out to agents. So what’s changed? That’s as much a mystery to me as why I wasn’t writing was a year ago. But I’m going to try to pinpoint some key changes that seemed to have made a difference.

First, I decided I wanted to be published. I’m a story teller. I don’t write for myself, never have. Before deciding to make being published my goal, my writing was simply too much of an abstract exercise. This simple shift in focus helped me go from having written the first forty pages of my novel in the beginning of August last year to a finished first draft of three hundred thirty odd pages by the middle of December. I’d been writing those first forty pages for over fifteen years.

Second, I told people I was writing a novel. I went to conferences and participated as someone with a work in progress, not someone considering writing. I had my first ten pages critiqued by an agent and by fellow writers.

Third, I joined a writer’s group. I’m lucky because there’s a fantastic writer’s group here in Miami, the Friday Night Writers, where thirty or more local writers of a wide range of works — novels, memoirs, poetry, short stories — gave me invaluable feedback on what was working and what wasn’t.

Fourth, I began looking at my writing as a business, not just an artistic endeavor. That included the less “creative” aspects such as what it would take to be published, how to get an agent, what I would need to do now and later to get my book into the hands of readers. In this endeavor I’ve been enormously helped by tapping into the resources of The Writers Digest. Most recently I attended their conference in New York City where I not only participated in a Pitch Slam (words cannot describe the terror) and a series of presentations on all the ways a writer can find an agent, be published and become their own best advocate.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, I now consider myself a writer. Not “someone who writes,” not “I’m trying to write,” and NOT “I hope to become a writer someday.” Difficult as it is for me to say out loud (that inner voice keeps crying “fraud, fraud, fraud”), now I’m a writer and I’m doing what writer’s do. I write.