Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Held Captive

Ibis doesn't want to leave Mexico City. As of right now, we should be returning to Zihua tonight (overnight again) on the bus, but if he has his way we'll leave tomorrow night. I actually have things to do -- a little thing called freelance work -- so my guess is we'll be leaving tonight.

We've had a wonderful trip so far -- we've been ice skating, saw Transformers, visited the ruins, ate lots and lots and lots of food, took a double-decker bus tour of downtown, and used a unisex bathroom that had NO lights. I mean NONE. Yeah, that was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.

I hope everyone is doing well. I probably won't post tomorrow since we'll arrive in Zihua around 8 or 9am, but things will be back to normal on Thursday. Hopefully I'll catch up with my blog reading by the weekend. :)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here before, but beverage packaging is quite different here. Cleaning products tend to look like soft drinks (something I have a HUGE issue with for safety reasons) and drinks come in boxes.

What's interesting to me is each of these holds one liter, yet they fit very nicely into the fridge. Much better than awkward round bottles. They also take up less space, both at home and in the store. All in all, smart thinking.

As a designer we always joked about "thinking outside the box". It's such a cliched phrase that we scoffed at the implication that our thoughts were ever inside the box. Who would do that? We took pride in being creative and looking at things from a new perspective. (I admit that got a little tough sometimes -- there are only so many ways to advertise zero percent financing on every '06 in stock.)

The same thing can be applied to writing. Sure, formulaic books sell, but it's the new ideas and the fresh concepts that catch the eyes of publishers and agents. (At least I hope they are!) I'm still rolling my eyes a bit about someone who told me last week that I should downplay the immigration aspect of my novel in my query because it might alienate people (my words). This person said I should emphasize that my MC is searching for a better life, blah blah, and leave the whole sneaking over the Mexican border stuff for later.

Then what's the point? Why write a book I'm passionate about if I'm not going to stand up and proudly show it off? Whoops, I just rolled my eyes again. If I followed this person's advice, I'd be marketing my book to sound exactly like every other book out there, when it's not.

Even though my ultimate goal is to have my story take the shape of one of those boxes -- and hopefully see it sitting nicely with it's friends on a shelf -- for now I'm happy to hang out beyond the perimeter.

(We should be getting home this evening so I'll catch up on comments tonight or tomorrow.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Will She Stay or Will She Go?

Well crap. I had a post written for today about my friend (formerly field hockey coach and dorm parent) who is supposed to be arriving in Zihua today, but I just got an email from her that she might not be able to come. (I'm writing this Wednesday afternoon.)

True, we're in DF right now so it's not like I'd be there to great her at the airport anyway, but I've really been looking forward to seeing her. Also, my mom should be halfway through proofreading my MS right now, and that means I'll have a little time to play next week.

What makes this even sadder is Erica Orloff's Freudian Slip -- the book I won a couple weeks ago -- just arrived at my friend's house. She planned to play courier to avoid high shipping costs, and now it might not get here. (Also sad is a certain movie she bought for me, but I suppose I'll live without it... even though I've really been looking to it. Drooling, in fact.)

There's a chance she'll still come but I may not know until I return to Zihua Monday night. Cross your fingers for me!

(I may not get to the comments until Monday night or Tuesday morning, but feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

An Update on Owen

A couple months ago I told you about my college friend's Autistic son and the battle they were fighting against their local school district. Well the verdict came in and they WON!!

Here's their blog post from June 24:

Owen wins!!! 

This afternoon we received the judge’s decision. It was great news as she ruled in our favor on all counts.

In short, she ruled that Owen was denied a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) by the Orange County School District here in NC and that the private placement that we provided, including the private special education services, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy were appropriate. And as such that we are entitled to reimbursement for providing that which the schools denied Owen.

As for what this all means for Owen. Well, since we provided him with the education that he needed this past year, it means that he is right where he should be, that he made progress all year long and that he is doing wonderfully. What it means for us is that we should be getting some relief in the way of compensation for the expenses we have incurred, including the expenses of the trial (but this decision has to come from a federal judge and it is not clear yet of that ruling). And hopefully, for others, this means that they won’t have to endure the hell that we have gone through over the past year and that children like Owen will be given the services that they need and deserve (by law) to succeed and progress.

This is not yet completely over as the school’s can still appeal the decision (they have 30 days) and there is some clarification needed on some of the expenses that can be reimbursed, etc. But today is a huge victory for all of us who have been involved in this case.

AND of course, we have to then meet with the school’s personnel to discuss Owen’s IEP for the upcoming year, etc. Hopefully this time it will be a more transparent process and a whole lot more fair…we shall see. But for some reason, though, I think we may have some leverage.

It's nice to know good things DO happen to deserving people. Congratulations!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Sad Day

I have posts scheduled for while we're gone but I couldn't let today pass without recognizing both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.


A Lofty Goal

We leave for Mexico City tonight -- via bus -- and should arrive at 8am Friday morning. Yeah, I know, you're all jealous of my travel arrangements. It's roughly $45 per person (each way) and since we aren't exactly raking in the dough, this is the way we roll.

As long time readers know, our car has been threatening to die for about a year and a half, so that's another benefit to the bus. Mexico City (or Mexico as they call it here -- the same way we call New York City New York) is roughly six hours away and I've heard it takes eight hours by bus. I'm being optimistic that I won't get carsick while reading in a bus and have decided this is the PERFECT time for a second attempt at the one book that has taunted me since early 1998:

Anna Karenina.

I made it a quarter of the way through that first year out of college and have always promised myself that I would finish it someday. I have my mom's copy, which has MUCH bigger type and is generally more pleasing to the eye, but that also means it's fricking huge. His family already thinks I'm a bookworm so I guess I don't need to worry about changing their opinion.

And if it turns out I get carsick, I'll use the book as a footrest.

Because it's so last minute we probably won't get to see the ruins, but hopefully we'll still be able to see a lot of the city. Especially a shoe store -- my sneakers are falling apart! (And if there happens to be other shoes in said store, I might have a little looksie.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

That Was a Helluva Push

I was productive yesterday! I'm nowhere near being done, but I made it through thirteen chapters and I'm actually happy with my first page.

Now for the fun part -- we're going to Mexico City tomorrow. Have I mentioned how much I love last minute trips? We found out last week that Ibis' family is having a party of some sort on Saturday but we didn't decide until Tuesday that we were actually going.

The part I'm just thrilled about is I really want to have my edits done and sent to my proofreader (my mom) before we go. If you're keeping track, that means I need to finish the rest of the edits in one more day. Fortunately we're leaving in the evening.

Technically I can still make changes after she looks at it -- it's not like I have to seal it and mark it complete just because she gives me the go-ahead -- but I'd really, really like to be done with it. Several people have given me the wise advice to give myself some distance from it, blah blah, but I have given it distance. This is mainly copy edits, with a few swappings of telling for showing. (Does that make sense? I hope so -- my brain is full right now.)

I'm sorry if this post is a bit rambling. I'm writing it Tuesday night after ten hours of editing and I think I'm a bit loopy right now. So, any funny editing stories you'd like to share?

Oh, and in case you heard about it -- Tropical Storm Andrés has come and gone. It rained and blew all day Monday, then things were back to normal by Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Final Push

Do you hear that grinding sound?

Listen closer.

Yeah, that.

That's my brain.

I got the rest my beta comments back yesterday and I have some work ahead of me. Nothing too terrible, but it will require more thinking on my part. I know, I know, thinking is kind of a major part of writing...

My instinct is to whine about the extra work but I'm too excited to finish this thing, so while I'd really rather not spend the rest of this week reworking my wip yet again, I will.

Now why is the song We Shall Overcome in my head?

Monday, June 22, 2009

And Justice for All!

Yesterday I started what I'm hoping are the final rounds of edits. I had three readers go through this latest draft and while their edits were minor, they all caught details that will help make my manuscript shine.

I don't know if you read the editing article that I linked on Thursday, but one of the points said to do a search for crutch words, or words that you use too often. Especially adverbs. Yeah, those dreaded -ly words. I was very conscious of my adverb usage while writing -- in fact, there were so few that I added a lot during subsequent drafts -- so I wasn't too concerned with purple prose, but there are a couple words that I know I use a lot.

Especially, finally, actually, only, and just.

I used the handy Find tool to search for each word, and highlighted them a certain color so they'd stand out. Then I scrolled through and counted. Yes, it was very time consuming.

I started with actually -- only 20. Not bad.

Next up, especially -- too few to even count.

Next, finally -- 15. Huh. Not even even one per chapter. Maybe it's not as bad as I thought.

Only -- 125. Hmm... not terrible, but I'm sure I can remove a few of those.

Finally (*snort), just -- 218. Excuse me? *double checks* Yes, 218. As in, almost 20 per chapter. But there are several chapters with only one or two instances, which means I used just way more than ten times in the other chapters. I was scared at how many times I'd written it two or three times in one paragraph, but the worst offender is page 97: just appears six time. SIX. After a quick reread, there's only one instance that I can delete without rewriting (or at the very least finding a new word), so I've got some work ahead of me. Ugh.

Do you have any words you overuse? Do you know of an easier way to count how many times a word occurs without doing it manually?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lessons From Sudoku

The Christmas before I moved to Mexico (and one week before he moved), Ibis and I went home to my parents' house for Christmas and a life-changing event happened: my mom showed me how to play Sudoku. She explained the rules, handed me the book, and I was hooked.

Three months later when I found myself in a houseful of my in-laws, none of whom spoke English, that Sudoku book became my lifeline. Sure, I tried to remember the Spanish I learned in college (it was my minor after all) but for those times when I didn't feel like reading a book but didn't want to stare blankly at my new family, the number game kept me occupied. What's ironic is they all assumed I'm a quiet girl who didn't talk much and really likes numbers. If you know me, you should be laughing right now. Or at the very least, chuckling.

My Spanish eventually improved, then we moved into our own place, but the Sudoku stuck. During one of my trips home I bought an "advanced" book, but only allowed myself to play a couple games per day because I didn't want to finish the book too quickly. As my writing increased, it was shoved onto a shelf.

I pulled it down about a month ago and have started playing a puzzle or two when I'm trying to get my brain to solve something else. During this latest round of edits I had to find answers to questions that previous drafts left unanswered, and I'm a firm believer that when you make your brain focus on something else, your subconscious will present the answer. I was a little nervous I'd have trouble solving the puzzles -- it'd been months since I'd worked on them, after all -- but I jumped right back in.

In the past two days, the puzzles have suddenly gotten more difficult. Where before I could whip through one in less than five minutes, now it's taking me several attempts to finish. They shouldn't be getting harder -- it's an Advanced book and says nothing about harder puzzles towards the end -- but that's what's happening.

The first time I got stumped I was a little dejected. There were still 100 puzzles left (out of about 450) and it upset me to think my fun might be over. But, I forced myself back to it, looked at them from a different angle, and eventually I was able to solve it.

Do you see the lesson yet?

I realized that while the puzzles might be getting more difficult, they weren't beyond my abilities to solve, I just had to rearrange my thinking. If I gave up when things got difficult, I wouldn't finish. I wouldn't reach my goal. But looking at them from a fresh perspective made things so obvious that I couldn't believe I'd had a moment (or twelve) of doubt.

Kind of like with writing. (Or really, any life goal).

If you give up the minute things start to get difficult, you're left with an unfinished book, an unfulfilled dream, a bunch of empty squares. Personally, I love that feeling of accomplishment when I write down the final number. If I can feel that with other goals in my life, I'll do my best to get there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday [Foto]

(I'm stealing this title from Janna because she is on a hiatus from blogging.)

Yesterday I spent a good chunk of the afternoon working on my website. I took several pictures for the different pages, then prettied them up and put the pages together. Despite how boring I'm making this sound, it was a lot of fun. (I'm sleepy, forgive me.)

Among the photos is the first page of my first draft of The Other Side. It's too small to tell here, but I started it on February 21, 2008. Aside from the fact that it's no longer the opening chapter, but instead the beginning of chapter two, not a whole lot has changed here. This is one of the first "flashes" that I had about this story and I'm glad it's stuck.

It was surprising flipping through the notebook and seeing how much has remained intact. Of course I edited, but the bulk of my edits consisted of adding more, not fixing what was there. For those of you who are newer to my blog, my first draft came in at around 45,000 words -- about half of my current total. So while the version in my notebook is shorter, the heart is still there.

Do you ever write by hand? Do you like your handwriting? Is it weird that I like to look at pictures of my handwriting?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

[Insert Title Here]

Funny thing happens when you're knee-deep in query edits and synopsis rewrites. Well that's not entirely true. Thing is, nothing funny happens. Nor anything exciting or worthy of a blog post. I've discovered some wonderful blogs in the past few days, but that doesn't seem like enough to fill an entire post.

One blog you MUST check out (if you're a writer) is The Intern. Editorial Anonymous linked to her the other day and she's quickly becoming one of my favorites.

I've known about QueryTracker for quite some time but have never explored the site. I can't remember who led me there, but yesterday they reprinted a post called Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do). You know that editing thing I'm in the middle of? Yeah, I need to do at least five things from this list (and I thought I was almost done, hah!) The ten things are: crutch words, flat writing, empty adverbs, phony dialogue, no-good suffixes, the "to be" words, lists, show don't tell, awkward phrasing, and (you guessed it) commas. Definitely worth the time.

Aside from reading even more blogs and working on my query/synopsis stuff, I have another freelance design project and I've started messing around with a new version of my own personal website. I haven't moved on the domain name because I have a source that's looking into it for me. Besides, the design end of things takes much longer than buying a name.

And that's all folks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Working It

Did I tell you that I joined a gym? Ibis found one a couple weeks ago, and last week I decided to start going too. I've been doing pretty well with my workout video (Jillian Michael's 30-Day Shred) but the jumping is killing my joints. The gym only has bicycles for cardio, but I can read a book while exercising which means I'm even more likely to do it.

And... I got to break out my fancy exercise gloves. I bought them years ago when I was a regular at Ballys and how can you not take exercise seriously when you look like a bad@ss?

I was really sore after the first day -- of course I had to try every single machine -- but I think my body is slowly remembering how to do this. I'm still doing the video in between but I'm very happy to be able to change things up.

I'm seeing results and my clothes are fitting like they should. I even have a two-pack. But, I think I'm getting old. Every morning I wake up and my body is tired. Is that normal?

Do you work out?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Q is for...

There's a reason people dread writing query letters, and over the past couple days I've become well acquainted with that reason. I don't plan to share every detail about the query process here on my blog, but man, by the end of the past two nights my brain has been completely fried.

I wrote a version a couple months ago so really all I'm doing now is fine-tuning the details and working on personalized versions for the various agents whose blogs I read. I posted it on Absolute Write's Share Your Work forum and got a ton of great advice from people there, then yesterday I had some one-on-one help from my favorite author. It's almost there -- hopefully just a few more tweaks -- so it'll be ready when I'm done with the last of my edits.

My wip is still out with one reader (no pressure, I'm just giving a status update :P ) and once I make those changes, I'll send it to my proofreader and THEN I hope to be done. Done. Oh, except I also need to go over my synopsis. That will be tomorrow.


I think my brain is still fried.

So how's your writing coming along?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Just Another Saturday Evening

This past Saturday I was taking our clothes off the line on the balcony when a military truck rolled by on the street below. It's not uncommon to see armed officers patrolling our neighborhood -- especially on a Saturday night -- but a troop transport truck with 20 men stands out. I called Ibis to the window and we watched as they circled the block, then stopped on the next street over -- the one beneath our window. We're on a hill so while the entrance to our development is on one level, the next street over is considerably lower AND we're on the fourth floor.

A truck stopped at one corner, an armed Jeep/tank thing stopped at the opposite corner, and the troop truck stopped beneath us. Quite a few military personnel poured out of the trucks, including several that ran around to the back of the building and hid in the trees. Yes, just like in the movies. I'm assuming the rest of the trucks were further down the street, blocking traffic.

So what did we do? Took pictures, of course.

Ibis was getting irritated with me because I kept commenting that I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to be near the windows (there are two on one wall so we each had our own -- he was filming it), but I didn't move. I did stay to the side so my body was behind the concrete -- I'm not completely stupid -- but it quickly became apparent that whoever they were looking for wasn't there.

They searched the building, gave the owner some papers, and eventually left. We counted roughly 50 soldiers and while they spent a lot of time running around and searching the building, nothing much seemed to happen. Just the way I like it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

At Least I Had a Nice View

Boo. The Red Wings lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. It was a great series, a great playoffs, and now I'm looking forward to a summer full of fĂștbol.


I supposed I should congratulate the Penguins since I have a lot of friends who are fans... consider this your congratulations. :P

Friday, June 12, 2009


How do I follow up yesterday's post when I did nothing all day Thursday?

I know!! I need suggestions for name for my personal website.

The obvious -- melanieavila.com -- is taken, but I'd like something close to that. I plan to use the site for both writing and graphic design, so I don't really want to include the word "writer" in there. I toyed with the idea of coming up with a business name for myself, or basing it off my username melaniehoo, but "they" say you should have something that's close to your name so "fans" can find you.

Yes, yes, I'm getting ahead of myself. I know. But I'd really rather not do this twice, so I'm sticking with my name for now.

I also have several middle initials I could use -- A, W, or H. Yes, Wahoo has been discussed. :P

So, any thoughts?

Thursday, June 11, 2009


(with this draft anyway.)

276 pages.

82,196 words -- two of which are "The" and "End".

Bring on the query letter.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Moment With My Internal Editor

I'm still line editing -- less than four chapters to go -- and my attention span has gone from that of a golden retriever puppy to that of a goldfish. Lurker Monkey has a wonderful post about his writing habits that are also very true for me. Going to the bathroom, checking email, excessive sweating... all are problems he and I both face.

Another is my internal editor (IE).

Sure, my IE is an important part of the editing process. He's been patient. He waited quietly during my first hand-written draft, kept his mouth mostly shut during the second/typing-everything-into-the-computer draft, and has taken his time getting comfortable in my story. But now it's getting out of hand.

Here's a typical exchange during line edits:

Me: *reads a line*

IE: I wonder if this will be the line that makes an agent reject you.

Me: An agent won't reject me for ONE line.

IE: Okay, well this could be the one line that makes an editor reject you.

Me: But an agent will help me go through and catch all the bad lines. We'll make it perfect.

IE: But what if the agent has the same weird sense of what's "good" as you and you both skip this line, only to have an editor spew her coffee over your ineptitude?

Me: An editor won't reject me for ONE line.

IE: *gives me a look*

Me: *thinks about how to rephrase line*

IE: *waits*

Me: *makes a change*

IE: I still think this could be the line that makes an agent reject you.

Me: *changes it back*

IE: That's not any better. Are you sure you really want this? I don't think you're trying very hard.

Me: *tries again, digs deep, comes up with pure genius*

IE: Hmm, nice.

Me: *moves on to next line*

IE: I wonder if this will be the line that makes an agent reject you.

And I wonder why I'm only getting through two chapters per day... but I'm almost there.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Good Morning

I haven't been sleeping well with the heat (101 yesterday with the heat index) and my brain is fried from all this editing, so I took some pictures for you instead.

First we have our neighbor's tree. I believe it's a mango tree, and it's gotten much greener in the past couple weeks (even though it's only rained twice).

Next are a few of the neighborhood dogs. They hang out at this house (if you look closely you can see a pile of garbage on the patio -- I'm assuming that's their food) and I often see them walking on the wall along the side. From our viewpoint it looks like they're walking on the roof of the next house.

Another neighbor has come up with an ingenious solution to sleeping comfortably -- they've put their bed outside. We're not sure how long it will last once the rains come, but for now it must be much cooler than inside their house. A hammock is also set up next to the bed.

And finally, sunrise.

I assume you know this, but these are all taken from my balcony. :)

Monday, June 8, 2009

"What's that?" she whispered wearily.

My name is Melanie, and I adore alliteration. If there's a way to work a word into a sentence that sounds similar to the one before, I'll do it. When I worked in advertising, my boss berated me (jokingly) for always asserting my ingenious ideas into our brainstorming sessions, but I can't help myself. It's like a gift.

Over the weekend I came upon a passage that I'd passed over once before, a simple scene in a strip club parking lot. I was trying to describe the sound of several SUV engines starting all at once. "Mechanical melody" had been burrowed into my head from the beginning, but I knew I should avoid alliteration at all costs. I tested thesaraus.com (my go-to guy for all things word related) and it hinted at harmony as another possibility. I still wasn't sure, so I went to facebook.

My writing friends all (mostly) agreed that a little alliteration* is fine -- it's when it disrupts the reader that you should stop. After some back and forth, in which Spy explained that "harmony" is more musically accurate than "melody", my friend Jen suggested "symphony." I settled on that, and moved on.

But then I noticed more alliteration. Seems it's snuck into every scene. On the very next page I'd written "...he felt a connection with the fleeing coyote and sensed a warning in its wake." I think that falls into the category of not pulling the reader from the story, but I'm worried my words have gotten away from me!

I'm keeping my eye out for more. Any odd writing devices that you can't help but include?

*That one just made my day, and I swear it rolled off my tongue that way.

Bonus Track: another weakness of mine is looking up words on dictionary.com and clicking the button to hear the pronunciation. I think I need to get out more.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Food Photos

Yes, I've gone all out today, but this really is an exciting development in our lives. We love grilling, but our teeny Weber grill didn't fit in the car when I moved here, so we've gone without for two years. I know you're probably thinking that we could've just bought another one, but we've tried really hard not to buy duplicates of things that we already have in storage. Money isn't exactly plentiful down here.

Well, Ibis broke down a couple days ago and now we're the proud new owners of a Mexican-style grill.

Isn't it cute? So far we've had carne asada (flank steak) and marinated chicken breasts. Yum. The best part -- for me -- is that he does the cooking.

Another photo I want to share with you is of a mango that Ibis prepared for our nephew last week. It's quite common to see vendors at the beach (or any other event with a lot of people) selling mangoes that are sliced up to look like a flower. The cuts make it easier to eat without making a mess of yourself, and the slices also make it easy to douse it with salsa. Yum!

Robin and I had discussed these on her blog after she returned from Mexico several months ago, so Robin, this is what I was talking about. Except they serve theirs on a wooden stick, not a knife from the silverware drawer. The "petals" on the vendors' mangoes are usually a little prettier, but you get the idea.

Any grilling favorites you'd care to share?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Trash Talk

I love sports -- playing, watching, discussing -- but I've never been much of a trash talker. It seems like anytime I get a little cocky, karma decides I need to be knocked down a peg and my team always loses. Even with pool (billiards). I learned to play in high school (side effect of a boarding school with little to do on the weekends) but I don't usually tell people that I know how to play. I don't say I'm bad, I just don't say anything and let my behind the back double rail combos speak for themselves. (I'm exaggerating a bit.)(sort of.) I always figure that if I start gloating, I'll immediately lose.

This doesn't mean I sit quietly if someone else trash talks me. Oh no. I'm quick to defend myself then. I remember walking around during the intermission of a Blackhawk v Red Wings game in Chicago, proudly wearing my Detroit jersey, and various people yelled at me as I walked through the concourse. Detroit had won the Stanley Cup the previous year (so this much have been '03) and I answered them all with a quick "whose got the Cup?" They all shut up after that.

I swear I'm going somewhere with all this.

The Red Wings just lost their second game in a row and now the Finals series is tied 2-2. (I'm writing this Thursday night.) I always post something about the games on Facebook, but I avoid any real back and forth. I'm just not that kind of person. I suppose it helps that my team has kicked some serious butt over the past eleven years, but I just don't get the people who feel the need to belittle their opponent to make themselves feel better. What's the point?

Well, I've discovered a need for trash talk.

My edits are moving along slower than I'd like. I'm averaging a chapter a day, and at this rate it'll take me an entire month to get through this draft. Unacceptable. I've bumped it to two chapters a day and now I'm past the halfway mark, which I'm happier with, but I can't tell you how many times I catch myself slacking off, checking things online and what not. Quitting Messenger seems to help (then I don't get email notifications) but I still check things too often.

Another thing I keep bumping up against is the writer mantra to let yourself write crap. I'm a firm believer in not editing yourself during the first draft, and I've even allowed myself to skip over sections on subsequent drafts. The problem is I'm at the end of the line -- it's finally time to fix those things that are only halfway there: finding the perfect word, capturing the mood in the exact same way I envision it, cutting out nonessential scenes. And this is where the trash talking comes in.

I can't tell you how many times I've had to berate myself to sit back down and not move until I figure out exactly what I'm trying to say. "It's now or never," I tell myself. "No one else is going to do this for you. If you have any hope of getting published you need to put in the work NOW." I'm not much of a trash talker, I know, but it seems to be effective. I'm not cutting myself any slack, and I can see a difference. I'm getting results. Seems trash talk might have it's place.

But I still won't tell you your team sucks.

(Even if they really do.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Status Check

I was planning an Odds & Ends post today, but I thought I'd try a different format. Many of you are on Facebook and have the indescribable joy of reading my status updates as soon as they fly out of my fingers, but the rest of you miss out on the goings on in my everyday life. I realize that you are probably thinking to yourself that you're really okay with not knowing the particulars, but I'm going to share anyway.

I hope this isn't too boring. Maybe you should grab a cup of coffee before reading on.

*waits patiently*

Okay, are you ready? For the non-Facebook users, status updates start with your name -- in this case Melanie Avila -- and then you type in whatever's on your mind. Here's what's been happening since Monday (in order)(and I didn't skip any -- you know, so it's all authentic and what not):

Melanie edit, edit, bo bedit, banana fana fo fedit, fe fi fo fedit. Edit!

Melanie hates when the internet dies.

Melanie is in cleaning and editing mode. Well, at least cleaning...

Melanie just discovered that the loud booms outside are pigeons sitting on the transformer. Apparently there are now headless pigeons beneath said transformer.

Melanie Woot! Demon baby picked me!!

Melanie Sweet. 80% humidity.

Melanie almost drank an ant. It was in my glass of water. I think it got confused and thought he was still wandering around, breathing air. (that's a humidity joke)

Melanie is going to try again at this shower thing. We ran out of water during my last attempt, but this time I have a bucketful courtesy of my neighbor.

Melanie has had enough of today. Good night.

Melanie the day is off to a good start -- we have running water again.

Melanie is no longer allowed to answer the phone in case it's an extortioner. They actually have warnings about this on the radio. *sigh*

Melanie editing.

Melanie How did I forget? *smacks head* I'm published!! http://www.flashquake.org/fiction/shipwreck.html

Melanie weather.com says it's 88 degrees here, but feels like 100. I'm a little worried about Saturday -- they're saying the temp will be 100.

Melanie is contemplating tasks for Paul Walker if she were to bring him to the island. Fan waver seems good, but I'm sure something better will come to mind.

Melanie *hops in the hammock* Let's Go Red Wings!!

Melanie eh, we're still up 2-1.

Melanie slept well. Thanks AC.

Melanie is melting inside.

Melanie is back to editing. I'm roughly halfway through line edits. Ugh.

Melanie note to self: LAMO does not mean the same thing as LMAO. Must stop typing LAMO in response to funny comments.

Melanie Messenger is off. Must. Edit.

Melanie Did you know that Mexican driver's licenses are only valid for two years? Yeah, neither did we. *computes how long we've lived here* Woops.

Melanie is glad the two-days of construction in the unit next to us has finally ended. Drill + concrete wall = VERY LOUD NOISE. Next up: hammering when the new neighbors move in.

Are you still awake? Hey!

*shakes monitor*

Wake up!

As always, I'll respond to questions in the comments.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Freudian Slip, by Erica Orloff

Continuing my theme from yesterday about how authors rock (you didn't see that theme? Well it was there) I'd like to tell you about Erica Orloff's newest release, Freudian Slip. Yes, Erica had another book released at the beginning of May -- what can I say, she's prolific.

Here's the back cover blurb for Freudian Slip:

Everyone loves shock jock Julian Shaw…except the guy who shot him.

The raunchy radio DJ expects the dark tunnel, white lights—even his late grandmother greeting him at the pearly gates. Instead, he gets a coma, a spirit guide named Gus and a pushy demon with a deal. His assignment: Katie Darby.

Katie Darby's best friend just stole her guy! Now she's losing her mind.

All she really wants to do is stay in mope mode, but it feels as if someone is watching her, whispering strange thoughts into her head, making her say and do things she would never normally consider. And it's actually making her life better!

Now Julian wants another chance to prove he's a good guy. But he just might have to sell his soul to the devil to get it….

Over the weekend, Erica held a contest on her blog, asking what we would like to hear God say when we arrived at the Pearly Gates. The winner receives a signed copy of her book. She pointed out that her four-year old son would be choosing the winner based on our avatar (picture), so our answers were really just for fun. Well, he picked me! Fortunately my high school teacher/friend is coming here at the end of the month, so she'll play courier to keep shipping costs reasonable. (Thanks Liz!)

Needless to say, I can't WAIT to read it. My friend Amy wrote a good review on her blog if you'd like a little more explanation.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Last Dragon, by J.M. McDermott

About three weeks ago I was perusing the new posts on Absolute Write when I stumbled across a thread that said the first fifteen people to email the poster would win a copy of J.M. McDermott's Last Dragon. Always a fan of contests, I quickly emailed the author. Five minutes later I discovered that someone else has "bumped" the thread (meaning they posted on an older, outdated thread) and the contest was now over.

Color me embarrassed, especially when the author -- Mr. McDermott, who I don't know -- emailed me back, also feeling embarrassed. We emailed a few times, and during the course of the conversation I told him how I don't have access to a bookstore or library, and he sent me a pdf of his book. A PDF! Just like that!

He told me I didn't have to write a review -- what if I didn't like it? Not to fear. While I've never read a fantasy novel (unless you count the Twilight series, which, for the sake of argument, we will not) I truly enjoyed Last Dragon.

Now, I don't consider myself much of a reviewer, so please bear with me.

Here's the blurb:

An intricate web of stories weave together to tell a tale of revenge, justice, ambition, and power. Zhan has been sent to find her grandfather, a man accused of killing not only Zhan's family, but every man, woman, and child in their village. What she finds is a shell of a man, and a web of deceit that will test the very foundations of a world she thought she understood.

A tale of revenge that grows into something more, Last Dragon is a literary fantasy novel in the tradition of Gene Wolfe and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. J.M. McDermott brings the fantasy genre to new literary heights with a remarkable first novel that will leave critics and readers alike in stunned awe.

Here's what I think:

McDermott's world feels familiar enough that me, a novice fantasy reader, didn't feel lost. Zahn's country, Alameda, seems a lot like Michigan or Canada, albeit more extreme. The traditions and beliefs of Zahn's people revolve around Alastair, their goddess, and Zahn must learn to follow people with differing beliefs if she wants their help.

Adel and Fest, the man and woman who help her find her grandfather, are from two vastly different parts of the world and each open Zahn's eyes to a part of humanity that she never knew existed. Namely, that of the dragon, the dragonslayers, and the paladins -- those who've vowed to give their lives defending the dragon. Throughout the story, Zahn encounters gypsies, fire-breathing shamans, steel-toothed mercenaries, and an army of second-born children whose lives are devoted to defending their country.

The story itself is written as a series of letters from Zahn to Esumi. The sequence of events jumps around a lot, and I read a couple reviews that criticized this structure, but I think McDermott handles the technique wonderfully. I admit I did re-read a couple times, but it didn't take long for me to fall into the rhythm of his storytelling. The details unfold in such a way that even when he jumps ahead, you know the nugget that explains what's going on is just ahead, waiting for you to uncover it.

As a writer, I can't imagine how intricate the outline must have been for this novel. World-building is something I've never spent much time considering, but McDermott clearly knows what he's doing.

I'm sorry if this review is all over the place, but these were the things that most struck me. If you've never read fantasy, this is a good book to test the waters with, and if you're already a fan, go out and add this to your collection!

And in an effort to prevent future dilemmas like mine, an ebook will be available next week here.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Let's see what dictionary.com says about the word project (emphasis on the second syllable -- I'm not talking about a science fair):

Project – verb (used without object)
1. to use one's voice forcefully enough to be heard at a distance, as in a theater.
2. to produce a clear impression of one's thoughts, personality, role, etc., in an audience; communicate clearly and forcefully.
3. Psychology. to ascribe one's own feelings, thoughts, or attitudes to others.
4. to extend or protrude beyond something else.

Any one of these definitions can come into play during a normal day.

Number one can be important when you really need someone to hear you, say, for instance, when speaking to a large crowd or giving a presentation.

Number two is vitally important to writers, for who are we if we can't put our thoughts, personality, etc, into our characters?

Number three is a little more abstract, yet still common. Who hasn't refused to look in the mirror when things are falling apart, and instead chosen to blame everyone else for their misfortune? I like to think I'm pretty good about not doing that, but it doesn't mean I don't slip every now and then.

Now, number two seems like the most appropriate entry for a post about writing, but that's not what I'd like to talk about today. No, I'm going to discuss number four. As I mentioned the other day, we had my four-year old nephew for the weekend and yesterday I was introduced to definition number four by the way of projectile vomit.

That's right.

I was very very fortunate in that he refused to eat anything the night before, then downed two glasses of water as soon as he got up so the said projection only contained water. Lots and lots of water. For a minute I thought we'd actually gone ahead with the installation of a kiddie pool in our living room and it'd sprung a leak.

Wow. I've heard all my friends with kids talk about projectile vomit and how truly impressive it is, especially coming from such a small child, but I didn't understand until he was walking through the house, spreading his joy.

We delayed our return trip by a couple hours -- we weren't looking forward to an hour and a half long drive in a hot car with a sick child -- but he made it just fine and seemed to be back to normal once we got to his house. Other than that it was a fun visit and he said he'd like to come back again next month.

How was your weekend? Any projects you'd like to talk about?