Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"We're All Mojados"

I don't usually discuss religion on my blog, but my parents forwarded me an email from our church in Michigan that I just have to share.

Rev. Jim Burklo is speaking at our church next Sunday. The following is an excerpt from his most recent book, BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS: Meditations, Prayers, and Songs for Progressive Christians.

Mojados in the Promised Land
by Jim Burklo and Lisa Atkinson

We are all mojados in the promised land
We’ll cross that bright river today
All our backs will be wet when we finally stand
At the throne of God someday

Nobody’s thirsty in the promised land
Coyote can’t steal your soul
Buzzards don’t glide over desert sands
There is no border patrol

There are no migra at the pearly gates
No fake ID’s to buy
They don’t take your money and leave you to fate
You can’t get caught in a lie

You won’t get deported from the promised land
You cross over there, you are home
It’s our place to build and our place to stand
Heaven to earth, kingdom come

He goes on to say:

"We’re all mojados. Wet on the back, wet behind the ears, just born, so to speak. If not from the physical womb, at least born again every time we cross that river and wash away our self-righteousness, our hubris, our sense of privilege and entitlement and superiority. We’re all ‘illegals’. We’ve broken the laws of Moses, the laws of nature, the unwritten laws of social and political correctness, and we’ve broken the law of love."

My parents sent this to me, I assume, because of the parallels with The Other Side, but I think the message here is something we can all appreciate, regardless of your religious beliefs. I have high hopes for the next year, and one of the first on the list is that the US will come up with a real resolution for the immigrants living there and hoping to become citizens.

Be safe, and have a happy New Year. Ibis and I are out of town for the next couple days - we finally made it to Huetamo - so I'll tell you all about the trip when I get back.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Goals for 2009

I've given up on making resolutions. I try to improve myself every day, so to suddenly try to change myself because of the date feels wrong. Instead I have written a list of writing goals that I have for the new year.*

Finish & Submit The Other Side
I'm in the middle of rewrites (or technically first-writes) and hope to get it to a respectable length the first week of January. I plan to send it to my next reader by January 8th and start of my query and synopsis while that person has it. Once I get those edits back, I hope to write a final draft and start submitting.

I originally hoped to start submitting in January, but I know it's more important to have your work at its very best; rushing doesn't help anyone. That said, if my next reader suggests things that require more rewrites, I'll push the submit date back further. BUT, my goal is to start sending queries by the end of February.

Finish My Second, Yet-To-Be-Named, Novel
I set it aside at 62,000 words, so I'm already further ahead than with my first novel, at least in terms of length. I'd say I'm about three-quarters of the way through and I already know a lot of reworking that needs to be done. I plan to tackle this while my queries sit on busy agents' desks.

Write & Submit More Short Stories
I sent my first short story off a couple weeks ago and I'm still waiting to hear back. I know better than to assume I'll be accepted on my first attempt, so I'll send it out again once I get that first rejection. I recently started a second story, and if I can write one per month, I'll be happy.

Write & Submit Non-Fiction Articles/Essays
This goal is a little more ambivalent. I have some general ideas for topics, but I'm floundering a bit when it comes to actually writing anything. This is more of a back-burner goal.

I also have goals for my personal life, but they are all out of my control. For the sake of this post, I'll list them like my wishing will have any effect on their outcome.

Get an Agent
Yes, I know this ties into writing, but because it concerns an actual person, I'm including it in personal goals. :)

Master Dreamweaver
I haven't mentioned this much lately, but I've been teaching myself Dreamweaver - or trying to - over the past several months. I hit a wall earlier this month and I'm now waiting for my dad's arrival because he's bringing a Dreamweaver book. Yay!

Move Back to Chicago
Again, completely out of my control, but that's my biggest wish. Obama & Biden have put together a website called and they have currently opened the site to questions. You can vote on questions that others have submitted, or post your own at

Assuming I Master Dreamweaver & Move Back to Chicago, Start My Own Freelance Business
Ideally I'd like to be able to use my skills as both a graphic designer and a writer. I know it's hard to make a living as a freelancer and I think doing both with expand my opportunities. Ibis and I talk a lot about what we'll do when we leave Mexico, especially in light of the US economy right now, and my only stipulation for him is that he finds a job with insurance. That will allow me to pursue my writing and designing without fearing for our health.

And that's about it. There are a couple little things I've left off, but they're the things I try to do every day: live a healthy life, love and appreciate my friends and family, and try to be a person that others can respect.

I know some of you have listed your goals and resolutions on your blogs, but is there anything you'd care to share here?

* Is anyone else in SHOCK that it's 2009? Ay carumba!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A New Beginning

I'm making progress with The Other Side. I've been writing 1000 words per day and I figured out that if I keep up this pace, I'll reach 60k a few days before my dad arrives. (I'm at 52k now.) That allows me to spend two days editing throughout, which I'm also doing as I write, then I can send it to my next reader when he arrives. I assume I won't get anything done his first couple days here so this way I won't feel guilty.

A third reader made an interesting comment to me. She felt I did the opposite of what most writers do, and started the book too late. The way it stood, it opens in a holding cell and how he was captured is only briefly mentioned. She suggested I open with the capture so the reader is more sympathetic towards him right at the start. She also suggested I injure him so he has another thing to worry about throughout the book.

For those of you who don't write, a common suggestion is to make everything bad that could happen, happen. If they need to be someplace at a certain time, have the car break down. The money in their pocket is all they have in the world, then they should get robbed. And probably kicked in the head for good measure. This creates a more sympathetic character that readers want to keep reading about.

I've done made her suggestions and I'm very pleased with the results. Today I plan to go through and insert places where he tends to his wound. Something tells me it will get infected. ;)

How about you? Have you taken someone's advice and found it drastically changed your writing for the better? Care to share that advice?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fellow Zihua Blogger

There's a man named Zihua Rob who is kind of a legend here. He runs a website with a very active message board, where you can ask or answer questions on pretty much anything in Zihua. Where to stay, good local restaurants, even upcoming events are all listed there.

I've never met Rob nor had any interaction with him until yesterday when he commented on my post. I followed the link to his blog and found a plethora of articles about the sad condition of Zihua and its troubles. He goes into great detail explaining a lot of the problems that I'm too hesitant to get into here. This post is especially interesting.

His site gives a different perspective on our town here. It's clear he loves Zihua but doesn't describe it as something it's not.

Happy Day After Christmas

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and for my Jewish friends, are still having a wonderful holiday. I talked with my family over the computer yesterday, including my sister who finally got Skype at her house, but other than that it was very low-key.

I've been plugging away at The Other Side, averaging about 1000 words per day. I also started a short story that came to me a few weeks ago. I was spending more time thinking about that story than the book I need to be working on, so I gave in and wrote down the bones for it. Now I can concentrate!

Ibis mentioned visiting his family in Huetamo, a small city in the mountains about four hours from here. He hasn't seen his grandmother since he was fifteen and would like to see them while we're still living here. He doesn't have any way to contact them before hand, so if we go we'll stay in a hotel and hope for the best. He wants to go BEFORE New Years, which would mean tomorrow, I believe.

*shakes head*

I'll keep you posted...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas celebration is in full swing here in Zihua. The music started last night around 8pm and hasn't stopped yet.

Last night we had dinner at Ibis's boss's house and I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera. The house is beautiful - the entire outside looks like a hotel. There's a two level pool - with a waterfall - that wraps around a full bar, a large seating area on one side and a covered patio on the other. There were candles all over the yard and combined with the sound of the falling water, it was a very relaxing setting.

We were told to be there at 9pm, but dinner wasn't served until almost 11pm. She has three children, and the oldest is studying communications in Guadalajara AND speaks some English. We had a great time chatting with her in the hours before dinner.

Five minutes before midnight the fireworks and gunshots started and we were trapped beneath the pavilion for almost half an hour. (Not really trapped, but we felt safer with a roof over us.) We left shortly after the gunslingers settled down and quickly passed out.

Today will be a quiet day for me as Ibis has to work. Merry Christmas to my Christian friends and Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends! Everyone else - happy Thursday!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I'm Guest Blogging Today, So Enjoy Some Pictures

I'm guest blogging over at Spyscribbler today, so please stop by and check it out. I wrote about all the things I'll miss once we leave Mexico. For all my griping here, I thought it'd be nice to say good things for the holidays.

Stop on by!


Yesterday Ibis and I went to Troncones, a small surfing town about half an hour up the coast from here. I'd gone a few weeks ago and discovered amazing rock formations, but yesterday we discovered a lot of wildlife living in those rocks. It was a very cool afternoon. The second picture is an "Ibis" bird.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Deceptive Advertising

Doesn't this chocolate milk look healthy? The word Balance implies there are lots of vitamins and nutrients, and the word Light means it's low in fat and/or calories. You can drink chocolate milk and be healthy!

This milk is so thick and rich that it for a minute I thought I was drinking Hershey's syrup right out of the bottle. Yummmm. I figure it's better than eating regular-fat chocolate ice cream, but probably not by much.

Is there anything you buy that looks deceptively good for you, even though deep down you know it's not?

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Importance of Betas

I started my editing yesterday, finally. I felt like forces were working against me since last Thursday but yesterday I was able to get started. I haven't begun the new writing - that's on deck for today - but I did fix one thing that I thought I'd share with you.

This is a passage from The Other Side:

"If I'm still in town when my stomach growls, I promise you'll see me in here." He pushed back his chair and stood. "It's been a pleasure."

She offered her cheek for his kiss. "Adios."

He walked towards the door and looked back as he pulled it open. She was still standing at the table, watching him, a wistful expression on her face.

My beta made the following comment (the caps are so the notes stand out; she's not yelling at me):


This is what I added yesterday:

She offered her cheek for his kiss. "Adios."

Mateo leaned forward and brushed his lips across her cheek. Her skin was warm, and a flush crept up his face. Tradition allowed for a light touching of cheeks instead of an actual kiss, but he wanted to take advantage of her closeness. He cleared his throat and smiled. "Adios."

He walked towards the door and looked back as he pulled it open. She was still standing at the table, watching him, a wistful expression on her face.

I'm so much happier with the new version. Cheek kissing is such a common thing here that it didn't occur to me to go into more detail. This is where I believe it's helpful to have others read your work; everyone looks at things differently and that fresh perspective can really expand your work.


On another, more gruesome note, there's been more violence in Mexico. A dozen decapitated bodies were strewn across a busy street yesterday in the capital of the state we live in (3-4 hours away). Most of the deceased were in the military. I've already forwarded the article to our lawyer in the hopes that it can help speed up our case.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Oh Right, My Blog

Sheesh. It's almost 1pm and I just realized I haven't posted today. I've been running non-stop since 8am and was reading other people's blogs when it occurred to me that I haven't shared today. My apologies. :)

I was about to write a little more on my editing, or that lack of editing that has happened in the past couple days (I wasn't home yesterday), when something in the parking lot set me off. When we first moved into our condo, the development company had an office on the first floor and there was always work going on. One of the workers does metal work (for bars on windows, etc) and is always welding, banging, and occasionally, spray painting. White bars don't just magically appear, and the steady hum of the air compressor was a constant for almost a year.

After the first week of painting, we realized there was a thin layer of white paint on our car. You can imagine how happy Ibis was when he discovered that. We had turpentine in the house from when we first moved in, and fortunately that removed most of it, but it became a never-ending battle. Ibis told the worker to please let us know if he'd be painting so we could move the car. He does the work at the same end as our unit so quite often we were the closet car. That solution seemed to work, but every now and then he'd forget and the car would be a touch whiter.

A few months ago, the work was finished and the developers left, taking all the junk from the parking lot with them. We rejoiced until we realized we no longer had a way to get out mail (the office used to accept it for us) and they never painted the yellow lines in the parking lot. Relatively minor things, but still important, especially since we haven't received mail in three months. I just bring an old bill to the phone company at the beginning of the month to pay, and the electric bill is attached to our meter. Who needs more than that?

In the past couple weeks, the metal guy has returned. I'm assuming more units have sold and therefore more people needs bars, etc, put on their units. The banging has been obnoxious but I'd gotten used to it before, so I can get used to it again. BUT - today, just as I was about to write this post, I heard the compressor. Meaning he's painting.

I bolted out the door and slammed it really loud so he'd hopefully hear and see me coming, but he never looked up. There is only one other car in the lot and he KNOWS which one is ours AND he saw me earlier and knew that I was home. But could he be bothered to yell up here so I could move the car? NO. He went ahead and started painting. I didn't notice he was painting until the fumes made it to the fourth floor (I tend to tune out the noise) so by then the car already had a nice coat over the layer of dust. Nice.

Here's a picture of him painting.

I already moved the car, but the X is where it was parked when he started. Some people...

Friday, December 19, 2008

From Excited to Nervous

Remember a couple days ago when I was trying to decide which novel to work on? Well I followed your advice (and my gut) and chose to work on The Other Side. So far I've gone through some minor edits - typos and such - but I haven't done much else. I really want to get this done but there's just one problem.

I'm scared.

I really like it right now and I'm worried that the new stuff I'll right won't be as good. Or won't have the same voice. Or will sound like it's forced because I need more pages.

I realize this is ridiculous, that it's the same doubts every writer has along the way. Heck, I've already had these concerns and I got through two drafts. I think I'm just worried about tarnishing my pretty draft. I've thought about writing the new pieces in a separate document so I can work on them apart from the main document, but really I think I just need to get over myself. There's no reason I can't edit and revise the new sections while they're nestled among the existing work.

Now that I got that off my chest. Have you suffered any roadblocks in your writing lately? I'm going to my friends in about an hour and won't be back until this afternoon, so I'll get to your comments then.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Scenes from My Balcony

I sometimes go out on the balcony and watch the goings-on in the neighborhood. There's always a couple women doing laundry and little kids running around, plus some type of vehicle selling newspapers, it's megaphones blaring. We also have a lot of stray cats that consider the roofs their personal parade grounds.* On occasion they notice me standing high above them and stare at me in wonderment. Or concern - a lot of people throw things at strays around here. But I just watch.

Yesterday I noticed something interesting. In one shadow is a white cat, in the other a pigeon. Does anyone else think it's a little strange they're hanging out so close to each other?

I try to peek outside when the sun is setting to see the beautiful colors that light up the sky. It's always a little different and this time there was one huge pink cloud filling the sky. It reminded me of a ship coming into the bay (or leaving, since that's the direction it's facing).

Finally, there was one other thing I noticed on the balcony. A little teeny snowman! Janna sent him to me so I could enjoy a little snow of my own. Isn't he adorable?

*I've seen a dog on the roof twice now but have yet to get a picture. I'll keep trying.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Little More on Writing

I kind of forgot to include the whole point of my post yesterday. If you recall, my goal for NaNo was 60,000 words, but I ended at just under 55K. Well, on Monday I finally reached my goal AND passed the 200-page mark. As of right now I'm at 62,500 at roughly 207 pages, but I have a lot of dialogue so I'm sure that's bumping up my page count.

I read through my beta's comments on The Other Side and there are some very good suggestions on how I can make things longer. She suggested expanding several scenes, adding a couple chapters, and getting more in-depth with a few other characters. My main concern there is I wrote it in 3rd person limited, meaning everything is told from the main character's perspective. It'll be a challenge for me to figure out how to tell more about them while staying inside Mateo's head. Regardless of the challenge, I'm excited to get back to work on it.

My next concern is whether I should set aside Nanonovel08 (lol, yes that's the title) or finish it and THEN work on TOS edits. I'm worried that if I stop writing the current wip now, I'll lose my flow and have a hard time getting back into it, but I really want to start querying by February and to do that I'll need to start the edits now. I know I could work on both at the same time, but then I'm concerned the voices will start to merge.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Writing Update

I've had a patchy week of writing. Thursday and Saturday I wrote a combined total of 3000 words, then yesterday I wrote 2500 in one sitting. But the days in between? Not so much. I'd prefer to write every day, but if taking every other day off means I have a higher output than I think I'll take it. Yesterday I actually wrote an entire chapter in that one sitting - something I've never done before.

I'm closing in on the ending with this wip (which STILL doesn't have a name). I'm at the beginning of Chapter 24 and my outline has 29 total. I'd like to round it off to 30, but I'll worry about that in the later drafts. There's A LOT I know I need to add or fix, little things like the fact that I mention that my teenage characters both play varsity soccer, but when they miss school for a week, I never address practices. And I don't feel like there's enough police presence for the magnitude of the attack that happened in the opening chapter. But like I said, these are all things I can deal with later.

On another note, I've received edits for The Other Side from my second beta. I haven't looked over them yet but I'm excited to hear what she has to say. Even though I've picked up momentum on my current wip, I'm anxious to start the next draft of The Other Side because I really want to keep pushing it forward. I'd like to start my agent search after the holidays, and while at the rate I'm going it'll be closer to February, I'm still looking forward to getting started.

How about you? Are you getting any writing done now that the holidays are in full swing?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Visiting Family

We had a nice day yesterday visiting Ibis' family in Lazaro Cardenas. It's about an hour and twenty minutes north of here but because we weren't sure how the car would handle, we drove more slowly. Most of his siblings who live in town came over for a large dinner around 2:30, then we all at around chatting. They were impressed by how much my Spanish has improved and I had a much easier time understanding everyone than I have in the past.

One brother had a baby last fall and the last time we saw her she wasn't even crawling. Now, at fourteen months, she's running and talking! Our nephew that we've spent the most time with was at the same stage she is, but an entire year later. They were both a lot of fun, and of course we took pictures.

Ibis tried to get a good picture with both kids, but every time our nephew put his hand around our niece's throat, she started screaming. He thought it was funny so he kept doing it. There's a whole series, but this is the cutest.

Here's me with our nephew. This is the same house where we lived for the first three months we were in Mexico. They've changed a few things around but for the most part, this is what it looked like.

Later in the afternoon we headed to a local park where the family plays volleyball Sunday evenings. There was a big Christmas party going on for the kids, but since the family are Jehova's Witnesses, we stuck to the playing courts. Sadly, I forgot to take pictures there.

One brother told us that they passed a horrible accident on the main road (we took a different way and didn't see it) but we had to go back that way when we left. Traffic was completely stopped and the family wanted a closer look.

The car that caused it:

The tree it took out in the median:

The bus it hit on the opposite side of the road:

I have never seen a more gruesome site. There was blood everywhere on the road, on the bus, and on debris from the car. By the time we arrived the ambulances had already taken the people to the hospital (which is on the same road about half a mile away) so we thankfully only saw the wreckage. As we were leaving we saw something on the side of the road that looked like a stomach, but I insisted we didn't take a picture of that.

Unfortunately, this type of accident is pretty common here. The car had to be going very fast to cause that kind of damage, and it's a busy street. We heard the driver was drunk and I don't know how many people died. We were very careful coming home and didn't see any more accidents, but scenes like that stay with you.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


We're not going on a trip anymore. Ibis called his brother this morning to confirm the times of the baptism tomorrow and apparently it's been rescheduled for February. The car started acting up again yesterday so we were already thinking we'd have to scrap the Mexico City part, so this all works out. I'm a little bummed we're not going anywhere, but I'll live.

Ibis is hoping to still get tomorrow off so we can go visit his family in Lazaro Cardenas, an hour north of here. We haven't been there since the summer so it'll be really nice to see everyone. If you're wondering why we haven't been when they're only an hour away, it's mainly because Ibis has hardly had any time off and the few days he does get are always during the week when his family is working. It won't be Mexico City, but it'll still be family and still be a nice break from the everyday.

I haven't mentioned writing much this week because I haven't done much writing. On Thursday I had my only real output (2000 words) thanks in large part to my blog (and Facebook and AW) friend Nadine. We chatted on FB while writing and pushed each other to reach our goals for the day. I was very happy with my output and reached a mini-climax in my story, but I haven't written more since then. I'm hoping today is the day.

It feels strange knowing it's the "holiday season" but not feeling it AT ALL. Everyone I know is in a mad rush to get everything done before Christmas and I've actually been a little bored. The internet has been quiet the past couple days and I assume it'll only get quieter between now and the New Year. If you're still around - Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 12, 2008

El Dia de Guadalupe

Today is el Dia de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Day), a day honoring the virgin saint, if I understand it correctly. How do I know this? Well, by the fireworks, music and singing that started at 5:30 this morning, of course!

December seems to be celebrated with fireworks and they will only become more frequent as we get closer to Christmas and New Years. Last year I pondered the relation between Christmas and fireworks, but never came to a conclusion. I understand New Years, just not la Navidad. As long as the ratio between fireworks and guns stays heavy on the fireworks side, I'll be happy.

Next up, Ibis and I are going to Mexico City! I mentioned this in passing earlier in the week, but thought I'd tell you a little more about it. He has family there that we haven't seen since we first arrived in Mexico and we've wanted to go visit them ever since. His boss has given him over a week off so we might stay for a full week (or however long his aunt will have us.)

Mexico is about eight hours from here, but only four from Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, the next state over and where Ibis is from. We're planning to attend his niece's baptism on Sunday (this may or may not be happening now) and since Morelia is four hours away, that'll break up the drive to Mexico.

The only thing we have planned so far is to visit the ruins that are about an hour outside the city. Neither of us have ever been to any ruins and we're really excited to check it out. I have a walking stick from when we hiked to the Monarch butterflies last winter, so I think I'll bring that along.

Other than that, we'll explore the city, hopefully go to a museum or two, and visit with family. Oh, and we will be seeking out Thai food! Mmmmm... I've already tested my Word document on his computer so I know I'll be able to write while we're gone. Yes, I have notebooks too, but if I can type, I will. Since I'm not sure which day we'll be leaving, I'll be sure to post a note here so you all don't miss me. :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Real Blogs, Real People

Janna has awarded me with the Real Blogs, Real People award.

The award is given to bloggers who write about real life, which has left me wondering what other people right about, but hey, I'll take it!

Recipients are supposed to pass the award on to seven others, and here are my choices:

1- Spyscribbler She has a way of talking about writing that really makes me think and consider things in a way I hadn't before. She's also very funny, even though she doesn't think she is.

2 - Erica Orloff Erica has a gift for tying everyday stories into lessons about writing. I love hearing about her family and her life in general, then watching as she weaves her anecdotes into writing theory.

3 - One Word, One Rung, One Day I think Janna also nominated Travis, but I love his blog. He has a no holds barred way of approaching life and his storytelling reflects that. It's nice to hear from someone who doesn't try to pretty things up. (not saying the others do, but you know what I mean...)

4 - Shrink Rap Robin cracks me up on a daily basis. She's thrown her family at our mercy and amuses readers with tales of her two sons, plus the occasional story of moronic people that stumble through her life. She also leaves hilarious comments on other people's blogs.

5 - Amy Nathan Amy focuses most of her posts on writing, but they always tie in to real life. Her blog is like a cozy corner near the fire and I always enjoy reading what she has to say.

6 - Nothing But Bonfires Holly doesn't read my blog but hers is one of my favorites. She's an English writer living in San Francisco and her stories are absolutely hilarious. Her posts cover everything from Bad Decision Tuesday to highlights from her on-location assignments. Definitely check it out.

7 - Something She Wrote I know I'm not supposed to nominate her back, but she belongs on my list! I love everything Janna has to say and she's usually the first blog I read in the morning. So there!

Thanks again to Janna for nominating me - I really appreciate it!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My First Quinciñera

Sunday morning I put on a nice dress and joined Ibis's boss and her family for a family quinciñera - a huge party to celebrate a girl's fifteenth birthday. This particular girl was a cousin of the boss's children and when I say she looked like a princess, I'm not exaggerating.

She wore a huge poofy floor-length dress, complete with a corset and glittering rhinestones. It was very much like a wedding gown except it was pepto bismol pink. She wore a tiara and looked beautiful. Tradition states that fifteen young men join her at the party and one of them will eventually be her husband. She only had five, one of whom wore a different color tie (I think he is her boyfriend) and they did several coordinated dances with lifts and everything.

The event was held in an outdoor pavilion at a restaurant that has gardens, a playground, and even a pool. When we arrived I was surprised to see chairs set up before an altar beneath some palm trees - again, like a wedding - as well as the tables and DJ beneath the covered area. There were flowers everywhere and pink clothes draping everything. (This is a fifteen year old girl we're talking about.)

When she arrived, they started with the ceremony at the altar. The boyfriend walked her down the aisle and a minister gave a ten-minute speech. Then they gave her gifts - a ring, a bible, and a fancy pillow for her to kneel upon for her blessing. The family is evangelical so I think there were more religious aspects than normal, but it was still nice. We all rose and clapped as she walked up the aisle to the pavilion.

Next a teacher of the girl's gave a passionate speech that I thought was about saving herself and being true to the girl her parents raised, but I found out afterwards it was actually a political speech. This woman belonged in a telenovela - she was punching her fist in the air and nearly screaming at us. Yes, I had to try hard not to laugh, but I wasn't the only one. When she finished I asked Ibis's boss if there was always that much shouting and she burst out laughing. Apparently not.

The food arrived in between these things. First a fish casserole served on tostadas, then a very good meal of carne asada, pasta, and roasted vegetables. Because the family is evangelical there was no alcohol (I guess there often is for the adults) so I had more than my share of orange soda.

There were more dances and a presentation where she opened a few gifts. A group of girls from their church played quite a few songs while people were eating. They were pretty good - I especially enjoyed the girl on the drums - and played mostly religious music. The guests were not invited to dance - another difference I'm told - but I was wearing tight shoes so that was fine with me.

I really enjoyed myself. It was fun seeing a new tradition and meeting new people who actually treated like a normal person. Typically Mexicans clam up around me and act uncomfortable, even though I understand what they're saying. But the people we sat with were friendly and acted like themselves, despite the gringa at the table.

All in all, a good day. :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Day of Firsts

Several things have happened today - or were planned today - that are firsts for me.

- I heard my first Christmas carols at the grocery store! We only have one radio station here so we aren't inundated with carols 24/7 the way people are in the States. We've had Christmas decorations since September, but this morning I heard my first carols. NOW it's Christmas.

- We're going to Mexico City this weekend! Ibis' brother's new baby is being christened in Morelia this Sunday, and we're going to make it a trip and visit his family in Mexico, as they call it here. (Same way we drop the City in New York). I've only been to the airport in our nation's capital and I'm really excited to get to know the city. You can bet there will be photos.

- Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was taken into custody early this morning. Now technically this is the second time this has happened to an Illinois governor in the past several years, but it's still so shocking I'm counting it as a first.

- Another first: on Sunday I went to my first Mexican quinciñera. It's the girl's fifteenth birthday party, similar to a sweet sixteen but SO over the top. I plan to write a full post about it tomorrow, so for now I'll just include that in my firsts.

- Finally, I submitted my first short story last night. This online publication says they take 3-8 weeks to get back to you, so I'm officially part of the waiting club. Can someone please show me the secret handshake?

ETA: I cannot believe I forgot this one - I squashed my first cockroach this morning! He was sleeping on his back in the cabinet when I opened it to make coffee this morning. He was little, but still.

Any firsts for you today?

Monday, December 8, 2008

More Fire

When I said I was looking for a spark of inspiration, I should have been more specific. Saturday after I posted here, a different neighbor went crazy burning things. These are the same people that caused me problems last spring. The biggest issue is they are between us and the bay so the breeze blows all the smoke inside. I ended up hanging out with Ibis at work to get away from it.

My writing was coming slowly after NaNo ended, but I'm getting back into it. I wouldn't say I'm tired of my story, I just got burned out (ha!) from writing every day. I know I need to get into that habit if I plan to make a career of this, but I put a lot of other things off that needed to be done (like my dad's website) and several things have come up in the past week (like freelance work).

I did write my first short story last week and I'd like to try to submit it this week. It's under 1000 words so considered flash fiction, and I've already researched quite a few places. I'm looking at paying markets, which may be a lofty goal as a beginner, but you've got to start someplace, right?

Word on the intrawebs is I'll have more edits on The Other Side in the next week or so. I cannot WAIT to hear what my betas have to say. I'll need to write another 15K words in the next draft, and I'm really looking forward to improving the story.

So that's where I'm at. How about you? Need a fire lit under your butt to get you going?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Where There's Smoke

I think I've mentioned before that our neighbors like to burn things. Since the rainy season ended last month, there seems to be an unspoken agreement that now is the time to burn anything you no longer want. Leaves, wood, garbage... they don't discriminate.

Quite a few times I've had to close the windows to keep the smoke out, but because of the way our condo is built, it still gets in. And usually by the time I realize it's bad enough to shut them, it's too late. Ibis has come home many nights and wondered why it smells like a campfire inside.

Yesterday, once again, I noticed smoke inside the living room, but when I went to the deck to look, there was nothing there. Then I peeked around the corner and saw huge clouds of white smoke billowing over the hillside. Fire trucks screamed in the distance and I realized this wasn't someone burning leaves. Or if it was, it got out of hand. Again, closing the windows didn't do much good, but fortunately the smoke passed within twenty minutes.

I had just sat back down when I smelled smoke again. I checked from the balcony and this time it was my neighbor (dirty b***ard!). I'm tempted to go talk to these people and beg them to stop, but I don't think it'll do much good. All I can do is pray for a shift in the wind.

Friday, December 5, 2008

When Life Hands You... Er, Oranges...

I'm one of those people who always tries to look at the bright side of things. Sure, I worry as much as the next person, but I try not to let those concerns weigh me down. With everything that's happened to us in the past two years, I think I have reason to be a little down in the dumps now and then, but for the most part I'm happy.

I appreciate all of your feedback yesterday. While I didn't get many suggestions, it seems you're all fairly content with the balance I've struck. One comment that did stand out was Stephen's - he asked for more posts on our immigration struggle. I replied in the comments that I haven't talked about it because there isn't anything going on, but that's not altogether true.

In October, which marked six months from the second immigration meeting in Ciudad Juarez, we contacted the Michigan Senator whose office is "helping" us. Because of the separation of powers, a Senator cannot tell the Department of Homeland Security to do anything, but they can send a letter "urging" them to hurry up. My lawyer said that at the six month mark she likes to stir everyone up again, so that's what we did.

Someone from that office contacted the DHS and found out that they are falling behind and our 8-10 month wait has become a 10-12 month wait. The Consulate in Ciudad Juarez also moved offices in November, which slowed things down even more. We've scrambled to come up with more reasons for them to review our case sooner, and we're in the middle of one such things right now. I'd rather not get into the particulars here, but one of my blogging buddies has played a large role (thanks blogging buddy!).

So where does this leave us? Assuming they don't change their timetables again, we should have an answer regarding his visa sometime between March and May. We plan to be out of here as soon as we can after that, either to Chicago or Canada.

Now about that fruit.

I've moved a lot in my life (14 cities so far, with several moves within each city - 6 just in Chicago) so I'm looking forward to our next transition. Sure, I could mope and whine about what a PITA it'll be, but I'm excited to start anew. The waiting is frustrating so we don't spend every day dwelling on it. We live our day-to-day lives and push it to the back burner.

Ibis has been on a juice kick and wants freshly squeezed orange juice every morning. I could grumble about it, but instead I add a couple extra orange to the pile and enjoy fresh juice with my breakfast. Not such a bad thing in my book.

How about you. Anything going on that you've twisted around to a positive lately?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

You Tell Me

I've been up for three hours but I have had the hardest time thinking of a blog topic today. Then I was reading Pink Ink's* blog and she asked, among other things, which posts have generated the most comments from readers.

I'd like to say my writing related posts inspire the most from my readers, but I have a lot of readers who are NOT writers, so I try to keep a balance. Sometimes my photo blogs garner a lot of response, and a couple times the stupidest things I've posted have had a ridiculous response (meaning a lot).

So I'm putting it to you: what do you like to see here? Is the writing vs. Mexico-living balance satisfying? Is there something you'd like to see more of? I'm always open to suggestions (like Janna's last week about the price of things.)

I'll be waiting... :)

* I would like to apologize to Jewel if my linking to her means she has even more comments to reply to.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"The Time of Day Immediately Following Sunset"

Yesterday was interesting. First my plans were canceled several hours after they were supposed to happen, which threw off most of my day. Then I went to the airport to pick up guests for Ibis' hotel. That in itself went fine, but as soon as they arrived at the hotel, they decided they'd rather go to Mazatlan. Come again? He made some calls, found a flight, and rushed them back to the airport. Total time in Zihua, one hour.

While I was waiting at the airport, I wandered to one of the gift shops. Our neighbor works there and I figured I'd pass the time chatting with her. She asked me if I ever looked at the books in her shop. The last time I was there, I discovered they have books in English and ended up buying A Thousand Splendid Suns in paperback. I had just been in the US and it was still only available in hardcover, so I snapped it up. With the exchange rate is was around $9 US, not bad considering we're in Mexico.

Our neighbor started telling me a few of the books they had, then asked if I've read Twilight. I told her I want to but I'll have to wait since they don't have it here. She smiled and hurried to the wall, where all four of Stephanie Meyers books were on display. Excited, I rushed to her side and cradled Twilight. It was the same price as the other book I bought, and this is about four times as thick. I was very tempted, but decided to wait. "La proxima vez," I told her. (next time.)

Then the fiasco with the guests happened. Since Ibis drove them back to the airport, I had to sit at the hotel and man the phones. I wandered around and stopped at the small bookshelf in the lobby. Guests often leave books and I've discovered I can borrow them without a problem.

Guess what was on the top shelf? Twilight! Guess what I'll be reading next?

I have to admit, I've never read a vampire book but so many of my friends have said good things about it that I'm curious. I'd also like to see the movie and hate seeing movies before reading the book. I'll let you know what I think.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Good, the Not-So-Bad, and the Ugly

Things have been going pretty well lately (knock on wood). The weather has cooled off considerably, it's almost Christmas, and I'm halfway through a manuscript. Ibis has been doing a lot of side work, so while I don't see him as often, it means he's making a little more money. All good things. And my dad will be here in a month, yay. :)

Here are a few photos to demonstrate...

The Good
From the bedroom

From the kitchen

The Not-So-Bad
It's my mini-Christmas tree! Yes, it's pathetic but I didn't have anything last year so I'm excited to have even this small decoration.

Notice how it looks bigger if I stand right next to it?

The Ugly

I should point out that this guy wasn't actually dead. I swept him out the front door and off the ledge, where he flew around, happy to be free. I didn't MEAN to set him free, that's just what happened. Then he clung to the wall in the stairwell all day, tormenting me.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's Finally December

November was a long month! I hit a snag last week with the migraine and didn't write for three days, so I didn't reach my goal of 60k words. I did write yesterday and my final total is 54,613. I really wanted to make it to 55k, but my brain stopped last night and there was nothing I could do to get more out of it. So there we go. I finished NaNo!

Right now I don't think I'll do it again. My main purpose was to figure out more about myself as a writer: how I work under pressure, how many words I can comfortably write in a day, and if a detailed outline helps me. I've discovered I do well under pressure (although I knew that), 2000 words a day is pretty easy for me if I know what I'm writing, which leads me to the outline. I know people are split on who uses them and who doesn't, and I think I'm an outliner. It doesn't need to be overly specific, but the guidance served indispensable.

I still have a lot more story to write. I'm on chapter 22 and my outline has 29 total. My chapters have been getting longer as I go - right now they're averaging 15-20 pages each, so that's potentially another 160 pages. I'm at 180 now, so that should be a good length book. I've discovered a lot of holes where I forgot to include things, and I think the whole thing will wrap up quicker than I intended. (In book time, not writing time.) I've been pretty detailed so far without many time jumps, so a final jump at the end might be jarring.

Anyway, this is probably boring since you don't know my specific story. Sorry. :)

Did everyone have a nice holiday weekend? Are you ready to dive back into things?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Almost Better

What day is it? I have a hard enough time keeping track as it is; throwing a long weekend in with a migraine (when time stands still) has really screwed me up. *checks calendar is corner of screen* Saturday. Got it.

It sounds like everyone had a fun Thanksgiving. I went to dinner with a friend, had spinach canneloni, and Ibis was able to join us for the last hour. Other than that, I've been laying down since Wednesday afternoon. These headaches tend to last about four days and since we've agreed it's Saturday, it's almost gone. I've already done a bit of cleaning this morning and since that only happesn when I'm feeling better, I know the end is near.

Another thing that hasn't happened since Wednesday? Writing. I squeaked out 200 words yesterday morning, then gave up and crashed on the couch. One of the American channels was having a Mel Gibson marathon and I caught Forever Young and Lethal Weapon 4. Add in a couple magazines and that's what I've been doing for the past couple days.

Last night Ibis and I talked to my mom and gramma via webcam (we use Skype) and my gramma was marveling over the technology. She does have email and she reads my blog (hi gramma!) but free online video conversations were a new one for her. She hadn't seen Ibis in over a year!

I plan to get more writing done today but I don't think I'm going to reach my 60k goal for November. I'm fine with that, especially since that wasn't going to be the end of the book anyway. Have a great rest of the weekend!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Migraine Day

I don't know how many people will be online today, but I hate to skip a day. My head has exploded again so I don't have much to share. My dinner last night was nice - if a little long - and I didn't get any writing done. I feel lazy since I wasn't as busy as I'm sure all of you were, but I was getting into the spirit of the holiday. ;) Hopefully I'll get to it today.

Happy Black Friday, lol.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I'd like to take a moment to thank all of you - my friends, family, and blogging buddies - for being in my life. You give me a reason to get up in the morning and do what I have to do, and it really means a lot to me. I've said many times how Ibis and I have struggled to make friends here so having you all in my life really does make a difference. Thank you.

I have many things to be thankful for - my health, my writing, my family - but there are plenty of things I'm hoping I can list next year. We should have a lot of answers in the next year and I'm hoping I'll have a much longer list in November '09.

I did manage to watch the Macy's parade this morning and I saw the JMU Marching Royal Dukes perform! Brought a year to my eye. :)

Ibis works until 8pm tonight but I am joining a friend for dinner this evening. Unless they serve turkey at the Italian restaurant, it will be a very untraditional Thanksgiving. ;)

Have a wonderful day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Price of Things

Fellow blogger and friend Janna asked me to do a post about the cost of things in Mexico. She said, "I'm curious, what with the economy issues here. And how do they convert to American dollars?"

I haven't done much research on this topic, but I can tell you what I know from living here. That's why you read my blog anyways, right? (Note: all of this is based on my observations.) In terms of the economy, while there are wealthy people, a larger percentage of people live in poverty. The difference is what that poverty means. In the US, if people don't make enough money, there are programs for food (food stamps), health care (medicade), education (public schools), etc. Here, poverty means no electricity or running water, and you're lucky to get milk or meat once a day.

The Mexican government does very little for it's people. There is no free school, and while it's not expensive, parents have to pay every month for their child's education. They also are required to buy uniforms.

I know people will argue with me about my statement about health care in the US, and I hear you, but here if you don't have money, you don't get help. Some things are cheaper - you can get many prescription medications for a lower price and my doctor's appointments have cost roughly the same as what I paid at home, but here I don't have insurance. So I'm actually paying less because there's no premium. The doctors also spend more time with you and take their time figuring out what's wrong. They don't rush you out, even if there are five people waiting outside.

In our town, tourism is a huge factor in people's lives. Fishing is the main industry, but after that it's foreigners spending their hard earned money. People clamor for the seasonal jobs at hotels and restaurants, hoping to make enough money to get them through the long, slow summer. Many, many people own their own businesses. I believe you don't need a permit to open one and if you have the space and the will, you can have your own shop. Vendors line the streets selling fruit, straw hats, model ships, you name it.

One thing I didn't mention is gas. Mexico has one gas company called PeMex. It's run by the state and is the only place to get fuel for your vehicle. Attendants pump your gas, and I only recently found out you should tip them because they make next to nothing. And here next to nothing means a couple dollars a day. I've had trouble figuring out the cost of gas because 1) it's in liters, and 2) it's in pesos. Our car has a 14 gallon tank and 200 pesos fills it halfway.

Right now the peso:dollar ratio is 13:1. I generally do an even 10% switch in my head, but for the past couple months the peso has been losing value (a sign of the economy, no doubt) so that math is a little off. But, if I were to follow the 10% rule, 200 pesos would equal $20US, which would mean it takes $40 to fill our tank. When I left the US in February '07 it was costing between $35 and $40 to fill the tank, so my guess is... we're about the same for gas, with Mexico possible being a little cheaper.

Now, food. Prices vary, but most things are cheaper, especially produce. But it all depends on where the food originated. Imported food is naturally more expensive, especially things that don't come from the US. Seafood and produce seem to be the cheapest items, but I'll do a basic rundown for you, based on our shopping this week. A quick refresher - one kilo equals 2.2 pounds.

At the Market

4 kilos oranges & 1 cantaloupe: 33 pesos
1/2 kilo of fresh shrimp: 50 pesos
3 sandwich buns: 6 pesos
3 gala apples & 2 pears: 33 pesos (those are always expensive)
3 pieces of marinated, flattened chicken: 20 pesos
1/2 kilo freshly ground coffee: 35 pesos
6 bananas: 7 pesos
1 papaya, 1 potato, 1 onion, 2 chiles, 2 avocados (also expensive): 30 pesos

The Grocery Store

1 liter skim milk: 12 pesos
drinkable yogurt: 4 pesos
1 liter cooking oil: 35 pesos
1 pkg US-brand granola: 33 pesos
loaf of American bread: 30 pesos
dozen eggs: 19 pesos
single can of soda: 5 pesos
jar of red pepper flakes: 16 pesos
4 heads of garlic: 7 pesos
large jar of mayo: 31 pesos
900ml container of sour cream: 16 pesos
fresh tortellini: 34 pesos
1 stick of butter: 8 pesos

I know this is kind of a random mix of things, but this should give you an idea of the price of things. One thing I didn't mention is electronics, which tend to be much more expensive than in the US. Household items (large and small) tend to be about the same, as do clothes. You find a lot more cheap clothes here, but I think that's just because of the economic reality of people living here. Larger metropolises have expensive stores, like anywhere else in the world.

Did I miss anything? Something else you'd like to know about? If you ever have a topic you'd like me to address, just let me know!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday Stuff and Things

I'm completely ripping off Janna's Tuesday post theme, but since she's on my mind, I figured it's ok. You see, yesterday Janna suggested a topic for my blog that I think is great, but it requires a little more research. That'll be tomorrow's post.

I only have one stuff/thing, but work with me here. Today I'd like to share the recipe for one of my all-time favorite snacks. Technically it's the type of thing you make for parties, especially small groups where you can all pack around the table. I should also point out that I can't have it here because we don't have an oven. Let me know if you decide to try this!

Baked Brie with Brown Sugar

What you need:
- a wheel of brie (whatever size you want)
- ample brown sugar (I don't know, I guess half a cup)
- crackers - I prefer plain (without seeds or flavors)

What you do:
- preheat oven to 400°
- cut top layer of rind off in one piece, roughly 1/2" thick or thinner
- press brown sugar onto cheese so fully covered, roughly 1/4" thick
- cover brown sugared cheese with rind that you cut off
- place into oven safe dish and bake for roughly 20 minutes

* keep an eye on it as the time is an estimate. When the cheese is soft & starting to bubble, it's done

Tricky part:
I've done this both with and without an oven safe dish. I have a dish that's the exact size of a small wheel, but for larger wheels you may have to improvise. I've used regular pans, but if you do this, you have to cook the cheese upside-down so you can flip it upright onto the serving plate. It's a little messier that way but still delicious.

Remove the top layer of rind and serve with crackers. I recommend having enough knives for everyone because your guests will devour it.


Monday, November 24, 2008

I Think This is What They Mean By "Feel the Burn"

As of 8am this morning, I'm 3287 words away from winning NaNo. *does a little dance* As most of you know, my goal is 60,000 words, so I'm actually 13,287 words away from winning. That works out to roughly 2000 per day for the rest of the month. That's been more or less what I've been doing, so it shouldn't be a problem. Except for one thing.

I am getting burned out.

I still like my story but I'm so sick of my story. I like my characters but I wish they would just get on with it. Yesterday I backtracked and wrote a chapter I'd accidentally skipped, so I feel like I'm moving backwards and my characters are regressing.

Regardless of my mixed feelings, I got up early this morning and wrote 600 words. I think this story will be longer than 60k, but I'd like to get as much done as I can by November 30th so I can tuck it away and work on the edits for The Other Side. I don't want to stop my current wip midway through, so the more I can get done now, the better.

On top of this, I've either been bitten by little bugs or I'm having an allergic reaction to something, because I am ITCHY! My left arm, my chest and my chin are driving me bonkers!

How's your writing coming along? Do you have any ailments you'd like to complain about?

ETA: I completely forgot to mention my lips have been swollen for a couple days and are also itchy. I'm trying to narrow down what foods I've eaten.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Five Things

Janna did this meme yesterday and I thought it was interesting and yet another way for you to get to know me. So without further adieu...

Five Things I Was Doing 5 Years Ago:
- working as a graphic designer at ad agency
- distancing myself from a group of friends that I decided were unhealthy for me
- salsa dancing
- living in a studio that I loved
- volunteering for annual fundraiser for a children's literacy program

Five Things on My To Do List:
(I've already done laundry, mopped & grocery shopped today - that was most of my list!)
- write
- work on my dad's website
- work out
- cook dinner
- finish laundry

Five Things I Like to Snack on:
- a wheel of brie baked with brown sugar
- pretzels dipped in ranch with hot sauce
- nutella, straight from the jar
- popcorn
- any type of chip as long as I can dip it in something (I don't actually eat this very often

Five Things I Would Do If I was a Millionaire:
- buy a house that's just big enough to live in until I'm old
- pay for my niece and nephews' college
- make sure my parents are taken care of
- allow Ibis' dad to retire
- buy lots and lots of books

Five Places I Have Lived:
- Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico
- Chicago, Illinois
- Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Vienna, Virginia
- Colora, Maryland

Five Jobs I Have Had:
- art director at an ad agency
- graphic designer at the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago
- designer/software trainer at computer company
- hostess & server at a steakhouse
- cashier/prep cook at cheesesteak restaurant

Five People I Am Tagging:
Anyone who would like to play along. :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Race Day!

Zihua doesn't do the best job advertising some of its events, and most of the time we end up finding out about something two days after the fast. Well yesterday was an 8k race - Ibis found out a whopping four days ahead of time. He's a runner (he's run three marathons) but took a break at some point over the summer. About two weeks ago, he started running again in the mornings, and that's when he found out about this race.

The runners started near the entrance to Playa Larga, then ran along the main highway into town, ending at the downtown plaza. I went down to the plaza to wait for him, not really sure what to expect.

First, I couldn't find the finish line. I asked several shop keepers and a woman standing near a cooker full of water, and they all said the "meta" was the finish line. (Notice I finally got a picture of the police with their machine guns.)

I was confused. Do they climb the stairs after running 8k in 90+ degree weather? "It's very disorganized," another woman told me. I guess.

While we waited for the runners to appear, traffic continued passing on the street. I kept waiting for the police to come through and block it off, but they never did. A few people even stopped to look at the spectators, and a couple cab drivers asked me if I was waiting for a ride. *shakes head* Here's one of the first runners (he's wearing black & is between the two cabs):

Here's the stage. I assumed there would be a ceremony there afterwards, but they started taking it down after the first couple runners came through. By the time Ibis got there, the sign was gone and the runners just kind of stopped running in the middle of the crowd of people.

Ibis was around the 17th person to cross the finish line. They only wrote down the top three of each category so they couldn't tell him exactly. We figured out that number by counting sweaty competitors in the crowd. We also don't know his time because 1)they started late, and 2)I forgot to check my watch when he crossed. Here he is:

And once he got some water. Notice the police are dismantling the stage:

There were doctors on hand, and third person to finish needed medical attention (he was fine). Shortly after the race ended, an ambulance cruised by:

They gave away trophies to the winners and running outfits to the second and third place people. He says he probably won't do it again because it was so disorganized, and especially because they didn't block traffic while they were running on the main roads. Scary!

Finally, here's a picture I took while I was waiting for him:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Name That Object!

This is something I see on a daily basis, but it was the first time it looked so... cavernous. It struck me so much I showed it to Ibis, who said to take a picture. And now here we are.

Any guesses what it is? I may have already given it away just by saying that much, but we'll see. I also realize that once one person guesses, the fun might be over, but work with me here. :)

So whatcha think?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's Offical, I'm a Writer

Leave it to my mom to decide this for me.

My college is putting together an alumni directory and for some reason you can only verify your information via telephone. I received an email telling me this, and my parents (who are my stateside mailing address) received a similar letter. My mother offered to call for me since it's a big fat pain in the butt to call internationally. Not to mention expensive.

She emailed me Monday evening to tell me the different options for the directories. I can buy a deluxe edition, a soft-bound edition, or the cheap-o version that includes my class and the one on either side. Very fancy. She also said they'll be emailing me in case I'd like to add a story or photo (oh the pressure!).

And then there was this little gem at the end of her email:

"By the way, you are now a "writer" rather than in advertising..."

So it's official. Or at least it will be as of February 9th.

Now that I'm a writer, I have a question I've been meaning to ask. What's the standard length for a short story? I know they vary and I should check the publication for their requirements, but as a rule of thumb, what's the median word count?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Complete Detachment from Reality

I have several friends who are going on long vacations over the next couple weeks and it struck me as strange that so many people are vacationing at the same time. Then I realized, "Oh, it's almost Thanksgiving." You know, that holiday when people tend to, oh, I don't know, travel.

You see, it's still summer here. It's sunny every day, people run around in shorts and tank tops, and it's hot. Granted, it's a little cooler than it was three months ago, but it most definitely is not fall. And it most certainly is not approaching winter.

Now, I swear I'm not saying all this to make you jealous or brag or whatever. I'm not. If you look next to my picture there on the right it says I'm a Midwest girl. As in, i need four seasons like my dad needs a new big-boy toy every three months. I just DO.

So aside from it being almost Thanksgiving and I somehow didn't realize it, I've been bombarded with reminders that winter is upon us. I spend a lot of time on Facebook and people can write a little blurb - called their status - that says how they are at any given moment. Right now I have friends with the following:

xxx thinks it's a terrible shame it's not still snowing
xxx is feeling the chill in the air. Brrrr..
xxx is watching the snow fly.
xxx is going to rake leaves tonight! BRRR!!!!
xxxis wishing for snow!!!
xxx it is officailly winter, the snow plows are out.

I GET it! It's fall/almost winter. You have crisp air and swirling leaves and get to cuddle in cozy sweaters. Stop teasing me!

So now I have a favor to ask. Since I can't frolic in my own pile of leaves or stick out my tongue and catch snowflakes, will you share a story with me? I'd be most grateful. :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Wish They Had More Than Just Yellow

I had planned to use a picture as the base of today's post, but Ibis already left and took the camera. The rest of my morning has gone steadily downhill. Not bad, but it's almost 11am and I don't feel like I've accomplished anything.

There seems to be a lot of blog chatter lately about outlining vs not, and if you do outline, what form that takes. Some swear by sloppy notebooks while others write such extensive outlines they can cross-check every minor detail in their characters lives. I fall somewhere between the two.

I handwrote my first novel so my notes were also handwritten. I left a couple pages at the front blank so I could keep track of characters and other things like that, but soon my thoughts spilled to stickies and the little yellow papers were plastered all over my notebook. The important ones were stuck to my monitor - especially after I changed everyone's name and couldn't keep track of them anymore. I felt a little disorganized but it worked.

This time around I'm doing all my work on the computer, so my outline is also electronic. I'm using word and I've put the "heading" style to work, tagging all my characters and chapters so I can quickly jump to whichever I need. So far it's working, but I kind of miss my stickies. Nothing says "I'm hard at work" than notes strewn about. When my desk is too clean I feel like I'm not busy enough.

Now back to that picture. I do have two stickies on my desk and that's what I'd hoped to take a picture of. Each is a rough sketch of my two families' living rooms. One has a hallway along the stairs leading to the kitchen, while in the other you walk through the living room to get to the kitchen. A minor detail, but I can picture it much easier this way and I don't have them house-hopping. ;) Oh, and there's one on the top of my monitor that's a general writing note. It says:

He felt
He thought
He knew
He wondered
He watched

It's really helped me catch those moments when I try to take the easy way out.

What about you? Do you have stickies on your monitor? What do they say?


For those of you who enjoyed my cockroach story the other day, I thought I'd let you know I had an EXACT reenactment last night. I opened a cupboard for a snack and fifteen minutes later the contents were on the counter and I was spraying like there was no tomorrow. After a futile attempt at escape, the thing flung itself to the ground FROM THE CUPBOARD ABOVE MY HEAD. I let out a blood-curdling scream as it landed on it's back, legs flailing. And you know what happened next? I grabbed the broom and made him my neighbor's problem.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Halfway There

Today is November 15th, the middle of the month. By NaNo standards I should hit 25k today BUT, overachiever that I am, I hit 30k last night. Yay! I feel a little silly being excited when I have friends who are already finished, but this is a huge accomplishment for me.

This has also been a learning experience for me because it's the first story I've written that has interactions between parents and their children. Not being a parent myself, I can only hope that I'm expressing things in a truthful manner. I'm relying on how I've seen friends and family behave with their offspring, little things they say, small touches that show they love them. I don't spend much time around eight and ten-year olds, so pinpointing their mannerisms is also challenging, but I'm enjoying it.

I still need to pick a title. As of now I have ZERO ideas, but, honestly, I haven't really thought much about it. I'm sure it'll come to me, some turn of phrase that leaps off the page and screams,"This is it!"

I started reading Atonement by Ian McEwan and so far I'm loving it. I've been reading chapters during my writing breaks. I debated which to read because I didn't want my reading material to influence my writing, and this was definitely a good choice. McEwan's style is very different from my and has little danger of influencing me.

And that's about it. Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 14, 2008

This Happens About Ten Times a Day

The following is based on a true story. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

What Lurks Beneath

Terror grips me as I look around the kitchen. The counter is clean. The dishes are drying in the rack. The only thing out of place is the cooling pasta on the stove.

I step closer and peer into the pot, then let out a shaky breath. There's still enough left for another meal, a small lunch tomorrow or a snack after work.

I step away from the counter and drop my gaze to the cabinets near the floor. I don't want to do it. My heartbeat quickens as I glance at my husband in the living room. He's unaware of the danger lurking in front of me. To him, women's work is simple, a daily chore he doesn't need to bother with.

I look back at the cabinet and take a deep breath. I can't let the food go to waste.

I curl my fingers around the knob and pull. Ever so slowly I lower into a crouch until I can peer into the murky depths of the cabinet. Plastic bowls are stacked neatly on the shelf. They're what I came for, but I can't help myself. I look deeper.

A light scratching noise draws my attention to the lower shelf. Did I imagine it? Is something back there, or is my husband just heeding mother nature?

I lean back on my heels, unsure what to do next, when suddenly I see it. A dark body flashes through the gloom, its legs flying as it scurries to another hiding place.

I scream, then leap to my feet. I wrench open another cabinet, with only a slight pause as my fear is already aroused, and grab the orange can left at the edge of the shelf. I aim it at the villain, then with an evil laugh, I spray.

The creature leaps to my feet. It lands on its back, legs flailing, taunting my soft side with its misery. It wants me to let him go. We've done this charade before, and it knows I'll cave it I think it's suffering.

I hold the can closer and let loose another spray.

It writhes on the floor, spinning in circles, a desperate dance that will only lead to death.

Calmer now, I reach for the broom and with a viscous swipe, fling it onto the patio.

Suddenly, it's back on its feet. It runs in circles, panic driving it into the wall where it falls once more to its back.

I give it another push and it plunges off the balcony. I set down the broom and return to the kitchen. While I'm sliding the leftovers into the tupperware, my husband calls from the other room.

"Everything okay in there?"

I smile to myself. "Yes, dear." I've won, for now.


Is anyone else terrified every time they have to open the cupboard?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Well That's a Relief

(This is post #333! As three is my lucky number, I expect big things.)

Last night I finished Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, and while it wasn't the most fascinating writing book I've read, it had some valuable insights. Most importantly, to me, it confirmed that the structure I'm using for my current novel is valid.

I writing with multiple POV (point of view) - the father, the daughter, and the widow - plus I'm including occasional articles from the local paper to provide facts about the case. Well, Ms. Kress includes this very structure as one way to do multiple POV.

*wipes forehead* Phew!

A couple friends who are participating in NaNo have included excerpts from their current projects, and while I've been tempted to share, I haven't been able to figure out which passage is best. It probably would've been easier if I selected one scene each day, but now I have 88 pages to choose from.

Let's see... *peruses Word document*

Here's something I wrote yesterday. It's a little long, but I hope you enjoy it.


Music drifted through a door on the opposite wall. The lonesome notes wrapped around Becca's heart and squeezed. She wished more than anything that she could be out there, sitting next to Justin. Soon the music faded and Reverend Kelly's voice filtered into the room. His words were hard to understand, so Becca let the cadence carry her.

Janet reached for Becca's hand and laced her fingers through hers.

They sat in silence until the music began again.

"We should go," Janet whispered.

They crept out the door and checked to make sure no one was watching. People were still seated in the chapel, their backs to them. Becca spotted Justin's dark head in the front row, and assumed the other dark heads were his uncle and grandfather. There were only about thirty people, much fewer than she assumed would be there, and the heaviness in her chest returned.

Janet tugged her arm. "Let's go, Becca."

They tip-toed down the stairs and hurried through the wind to the car. The weather had turned in the past couple days and fallen leaves swirled on the sidewalk. Janet turned up the heat and they waited for the air to warm them.

"We can go ahead to the cemetery. When the hearse arrives, we can get close enough to watch from the car." Janet peered at Becca. "Do you want to get some hot chocolate on the way?"

Becca nodded. She didn't really want anything sweet, but something to occupy her hands would be good. She knew her mom was just trying to keep her busy, to keep her mind off the funeral and everything that went with it, and she appreciated the effort. She was still a little surprised her mom agreed to take her in the first place. "Thanks, Mom."

"It's no problem. That coffee shop just before the bridge isn't too far out of the way."

"No, I mean for this." Becca waved her hands at the church. "For bringing me, for coming with me. I know it's not easy for you either."

Janet's eyes softened and her lips trembled. "No, it's not easy." She studied Becca for a moment, then wiped at her eyes and put the car in gear. "Let's get going before the service ends."

Neither spoke as Janet drove the short blocks to the coffee shop. She pulled into the parking lot and parked near the front door. "I'll just run inside. Is hot chocolate okay?"

Becca nodded.

Janet returned a few minutes later, a paper cup in each hand. She set them on the roof to open the door, then handed them to Becca. "They've already got the Christmas flavors in there. Can you believe it? It's not even Halloween."

Becca mumured a non-answer then sipped her drink. It burned her tongue, scorched its way down her throat. She set it in the cupholder between their seats and stared out the window.

Janet turned onto the road and headed back the way they came.

They drove through town in silence. Becca stared at the familiar sights as if seeing them for the first time. When they passed the church, people were walking out the front doors and heading towards their cars. Becca scanned the faces for Justin but didn't see him. An involuntary shudder passed through her. She hadn't left the house since the attack and suddenly the town she'd known since she was a kid looked darker, more menacing. The store where she used to buy candy, the park where all the neighbor kids would play, all of it was changed. The violence she thought would never touch her had forced it's way into her life and now nothing seemed the same.

The cemetery gates were open and Janet turned the car onto the single lane road. Gravel crunched beneath the tires.

Becca rolled her window down a crack and breathed in the smell of freshly cut grass. The cool air chilled her nose but she left the window open. Nearby, someone was burning leaves, and the sharp pungent smoke mingled with the bits of nature fighting for life in the grips of fall. Soon the frost would come and everything would turn brown, but for now the cemetary still resembled a summer park.

"That tent is probably where they'll bury him." Janet pointed at a blue tent stretched above the earth along the southermost boundary. "Let's wait on the other end until they arrive." The car rolled along the path through gleaming headstones with recent dates, then passed those that had long been forgotten, the names barely legible through weeds and decay. "They'll assume we're here visiting a relative."

Becca stared at the tent in the review mirror. So strange that in one short week – less than a week, really – Justin's dad was dead and would soon be buried. If she focused on it just being his dad, she could almost pretend she'd had nothing to do with his death.

Janet turned off the car. "Let me know if you get cold."

Becca felt numb, but she knew that wasn't what her mother meant. "Mmm-hmm." She took a sip of her hot chocolate and tried to concentrate on its warmth, its sweetness. Despite all that had happened, there were still little things that were good, small sparks of happiness that wouldn't let her sink lower than she already was.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I's Tired

I knew going into this month that it would be a challenge to write 50,000 words. What I forgot is how mentally draining it is. I am wiped out.

I started working out more regularly at the beginning of the month because I figured my body would need the release. It's been going well, and I keep waiting for the burst of energy I normally get, but so far, nothing.

Yesterday I sat down and did more complete character sketches for my main people, including everything that will happen to them for the rest of the story. Then I typed them up and merged them into a more complete outline. The result: an outline that should help me breeze through the rest of the story.


Well maybe not breeze, but at least I shouldn't get hung up on plot points. I was hoping to hit 24K last night, but after three hours of outlining I didn't have much left in me. I still wrote the minimum (1700) and I'm 5500 words ahead of schedule.

How's it going for you? Anyone reading anything good right now?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When Will I Learn My Lesson?

I try to keep a balance between posting about Mexico and posting about writing. With NaNo on the brain my posts have been heavy on the writing, so last night I was thinking I was due for another Mexico post. Problem is, nothing much has happened.

On Saturday, Ibis and I went to Ixtapa Island - a little island just offshore of Ixtapa, go figure - and had a lovely afternoon snorkeling (him), reading (me), and hitting the volleyball around (both). We even met an American man who works in the area, a man who we both said is the most normal ex-pat we've met. Yes, we got his number. ;)

That's all fine and dandy, but that doesn't make up an entire blog post. So last night I thought to myself, ah, something is bound to happen.

I really should know better than that.

While I was writing I smelled smoke, but didn't think much of it. People are always either cooking or burning things, and it usually goes away after ten minutes. But this persisted. I finally went to the window to see who's meal was out of control and saw smoke billowing from one of the homes below us. Thick, yellow smoke, with burning embers flying all over the place.

I had been so engrossed in my writing I didn't notice that the condo had filled with smoke, so I quickly turned to fans to point outside. Then I went back onto the deck to watch. It looked like they were burning something in their small courtyard, but one stiff wind and it would be out of control. Every now and then a flame would lick over the edge of the roof, taunting me. A nearby tree lost half its leaves and smoke covered the side of the hill.

I kept waiting for the fire department to arrive and put an end to their fun, but no such luck. Soon my freshly washed hair reeked of campfire and the house smelled like a bonfire, and after an hour the fire burned itself out.

From now on I'll stop myself before I wish for something to happen for the sake of my blog. ;)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Me As a Writer

I decided to do NaNo because, aside from wanting to write another novel and partake in the insanity, I wanted to learn a little more about myself as a writer. Until this month I haven't written with concrete deadlines, with someone to answer to if I don't meet my goals - at least not since college...

One of the things I told Ibis I hope to accomplish is see how much I can write in a given day, consistently. We've all had those times when the stars aligned and we knocked out an unbelievable word count, but could I do it every day? While writing The Other Side, a good day was 800 words. I occasionally broke 1000, but anything over 500 was acceptable. Now the minimum is 1667, but of course I can't settle for the minimum and have challenged myself to write 2000 per day. So far I've done pretty well and as of last night I was 5000 words ahead of schedule.

But can I keep it up? We're not quite to the halfway mark and since my goal is 60K, I'm one third of the way done. I think this story will actually be much longer, but for now I'll settle for the industry minimum.

Another thing I hoped to learn about myself is HOW I write best. Through trial and error over the past ten days, I've discovered I can write over 3000 words daily as long as I break up my writing sessions. I seem to be able to crank out 1000 words pretty easily, but then my attention wanes. The past few days, as soon as I catch myself drifting, I backup my work, step away from the computer and read a little. (Currently reading Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress - very good so far.) After a chapter or two, I go back to my wip and try for another 1000 words. These breaks are sometimes a little longer, but as long as I stay focused, it's been working.

In the past week I've also started doing a workout video that my friend brought last month, so that's been my second writing break. Nothing is better for me than to burn off steam and get my muscles energized. I can sit back down refreshed, as if I hadn't already written 2000 words earlier in the day.

So what I've learned is this: I can write much more than I thought, but I need to be realistic and do it in sessions. My outline has carried me through when I start to get stuck, so part of my writing time has been devoted to developing what comes next. Spending that extra half hour allows my creativity to flow unrestricted.

Ibis had Saturday off - his first day off in almost three weeks - so I didn't do any writing and we spent the afternoon at a small island near Ixtapa. That, too, helped rejuvenate my mind.

Thanks to everyone for your comments about your attachments to your characters. I'm thinking about making an iTunes soundtrack for my teenage lovebirds to keep me in the mood. ;)