Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Second Problem of Writing

A long, long time ago, in a post about my story now far removed by time and distance, I once mentioned the difficulties of creating a convincing sequence of events.

My goal then was to finish that story by the end of last year.

Through great negligence and lack of industry on my part, however, I’m still working on the same story, the first volume of my fantasy series. I’m not much further along than I was in November.

I've done some other writing and made progress in other areas in the meantime, including book reviews for this blog. I'll be posting more reviews in the next couple of weeks—two for newly released novels by Davis Bunn, and another for Implosion by Joel C. Rosenberg. Still, I haven't gotten much done on my own book.



Anna reached the end of her journey to Winallwy, arrived safe at the castle with the secret treasure, and then promptly froze because she didn’t know what to do with it or whom she should give it to. In fact, it seems that the story has gone backwards since then. I’ve had doubts about whether Anna actually reached Winallwy, or whether the secret treasure at the center of her journey is really the “secret treasure”—always hard to decide, considering I don’t claim even now to know what the “secret treasure” is.

Such is the writer’s life, especially when the writer starts into a novel without sufficient planning.

And such being the case, I’ve not posted much about my story in recent months. I’ve given it the silent treatment (metaphorically speaking), beaten my head against the wall a few times, and even tried to start one or two new drafts of the story.

I made a new attempt at that last night and wrote the first 400 words to a new opening scene. We’ll see if it lasts.

All this leads me back to the second major problem implicit in developing a convincing sequence of events (sometimes known as a story). I described the first in a February post about dead verbage. The second, namely, is that in order to write a story, it is necessary to know what the story is about.

Perhaps that should be known as the first major problem of writing?

It’s really easy to have an idea, a dream. It’s not so easy to turn that dream into reality. Sometimes it’s not fun even when the dream turns out to be the reality—Anna is finding that out for herself at the moment.

####

“The road grew clearer as they went along—in a few places, the old paving stones broke above the sandy crust—but twice before nightfall, the ravines cut across their track.

“Both times, when they scrambled down the steep sides, it took them nearly twenty minutes and a half-mile detour before they could clamber out. Then they came up again into the wind and straggled back to the road, picking their way over rutted trails. Once, Mitka started to fall behind, until they stopped and waited while Lug helped her up the last slope. The others were dragging as well, when Liegenor finally paused and told them they could make camp.”

####

I’ve set a new goal now—to finish this story by the end of the summer. I only need to redo the 20+ chapters I’ve written so far and finish up a dozen more.

It'll be easy once I figure out what the story is about.

So now, where were we headed again?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Out of Town


This afternoon, in a mad dash from the lodge to the hanger, I managed to catch a ride on the afternoon sight-seeing tour:


Jael, our cook, flew the kitchen, and she took me along in her Pacer for an out-of-town whirl. We didn't go too far, just up river to see the smaller lake south of Tanalian, on around the mountain and down Lake Clark a short distance.


Flying can give things a new perspective.


Still, we made it home again in time for an afternoon slice of cantaloupe. (That's another big treat around here.) Then it was back to work at the lodge. One month down, and a summer to go!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

In Hot Water


Water heaters are a wonderful invention—we have one here at the lodge.

“Okay,” you say. “So do we.”

We also have an emergency water heater system:


Last week, our hot water heater decided to go on strike. Three consecutive days it went on strike. (It seemed to think we were seriously overworking it.)

It was smart, too.

It waited just until everyone had finished breakfast and we were stacking dishes into the sink to wash. Then it quit. The first time, Jael reset it and it gave in.

The second time, about the time we finished dinner, it quit again. Jael reset it—and reset it another time. Finally, it cooperated.

The third time—

“Jael, do you want to go kick the water heater again?”

After a while, we discovered an effective threat, a threat strong enough to keep the water heater running—we filled two very large pots with water and put them on the stove to boil. Meanwhile, we began rinsing dishes in cold water and stacking them in one sink to wash so we could move them to another sink to rinse and sanitize. About the time the water in the pots started to boil, the water heater began working again.

We kept the pots on the stove for about two days…not simmering, just waiting. Threatening, you might say.

Now, we live in a place where water heaters do not grow on trees. If you want a new one, you need to call someone in town to pick it out and get it to the airfield so you can get it shipped out to you. (Freight always gets bumped in favor of passengers.) Fortunately for us, though, someone had a spare water heater sitting around that we could install. It just needed a different size of connectors.

They arrived this week, and we now have a water heater again.

As I said, water heaters are a wonderful invention.

Our new one is a trifle unstable. As one of those newfangled instant heaters, it can deliver hot water without needing to heat a huge tank. It doesn’t always deliver the water at a consistent heat. It also looks rather like an alien invention (more on those soon), but at least we have hot water again when we need it.

Now if the electricity only keeps running…

Friday, June 15, 2012

Otters and Rats


Otters, I’ve been told, are bigger than Beavers.

But when I saw an Otter yesterday, I immediately recognized it for what it was—a rat with an extremely long nose.


It might even have Ratty, since his friend in the corner looks so much like Mole.

They’re in the water again today—or rather, still. That’s hardly surprising, though. What, after all, is life without floats?

“Is it nice?” you ask.

“Nice? It’s the ONLY thing…believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING—absolutely nothing—half so worth doing as simply messing about with floats. Simply messing…messing—about—with—floats; messing—” (with apologies to Kenneth Grahame.)

Sadly, of course, I haven’t been messing about with planes recently—floats or otherwise. I have no amazing stories to pass on this week. Last week, it seemed almost that we were too busy to write about everything. This week, things are too slow to have anything to write about.

Three girls and one cook for three tables? A mad rush with hardly time to sit down and eat after taking the main course out. Three girls and one cook for one table? (Let’s just say that we have permission to sit out with the guests tonight—there’s only two, after all.) By July, the work should be steadier, and crazier.

In the meantime, the other girls and I are getting good practice on a new version of the honey-do list:

“Oh, you’ve finished the cabins already? That’s awesome! You know, we really need to get the boardwalks varnished today before more guests come in.”

“Oh, girls, could you maybe weed around the staircase today? Those horsetails grow so fast!”

“Oh, you know what we need to do? We should really check all the waders in the shed to see that they don’t leak when the guests are wearing them.”

It’s fun.

But we don’t wash the float planes. At least, not yet. The guys do that.

P.S. Did you know that used planes can have just as many vehicle issues as used cars? Plus, with planes, you have to get a flight review every two years. My knowledge of aviation trivia is growing by leaps and bounds. At this rate, I might be a whiz at it by the end of the summer!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Night Shot 14: Home

While some may believe that real stories never end, the time has come now for this story to end. The story started back in March as a random post about cameras. It continued through the surprise visit of Captain Nwin and Jerry's subsequent efforts to catch the mysterious Shadow. I hope you have enjoyed the chase! If you choose to wonder how it might continue, so be it. But now, for this blog, and for Jerry, this is the final episode of Night Shot, in which…

#####

In the east, a gold haze spread across the sky. The light gleamed along thin, bright wisps of cloud and shimmered on the dark silhouettes of the pines. Jerry sat and watched it for a long time—longer than he quite remembered.

At last, though, he shook himself and looked around.

Captain Nwin sat next to him, leaning against one of the platform posts of the old train station, watching the dawn. Silas slumped next to her, his head nodding forward.

Carefully, Jerry raised his camera and slid back until he could get a clear shot of Captain Nwin looking away from him, facing the sunrise. He held his breath as the camera clicked, and then sat back to look at the photo on the display panel.


The captain turned around. She raised an eyebrow when she saw him with the camera, but she only smiled. “Would you believe it?” she said. “I’ve never seen a meteor shower before. I’m glad Silas told us about this one.”

“No?” Jerry grinned sheepishly. Setting the camera down, he slid forward and sat beside her on the edge of the platform, his back resting against the wall. “I haven’t either, at least not since I was a kid.”

“Will you have a busy day today?”

Jerry considered. “Not really. Normal projects, that’s all. What about you?”

“It’ll be kind of busy,” Captain Nwin admitted. “I’ve been on assignment with the local force here, but that ended yesterday—a big raid on a smuggling ring. Or it was supposed to be, but things got a little mixed up.”

“Drugs?”

She shook her head. “Old furniture, actually. That's part of the mix-up. We’ll have lots of paperwork today to sort it out, and then I’ll have to fly out this afternoon. Minnesota—to follow some connections up there.”

“Oh.” Jerry didn't know what to say. “Isn’t it still snowing up there, or something?”

The captain laughed. “Not when I checked last. I grew up there, and we did get summer, you know.” She studied him. “So what do you do? Where you do you work?”

“I work long-distance for a tech company. Mostly writing patches for software, but sometimes I get to test security for their clients.” Jerry hesitated, before he added, “I’ve been trying to start my own photography business.”

“How’s it working?”

“Not very well,” Jerry admitted. “Though someone actually bought a couple prints yesterday, and asked about a photo shoot. First time, so—” he hesitated. “I wondered if you wouldn’t like to—if you would want to go out sometime. Celebrate, I guess?”

“I don’t know—” Captain Nwin seemed about to shake her head. Then she smiled. “Maybe when I get back?”

Jerry nodded. They were looking at each other, but Jerry glanced away quickly and stared out at the sunlight as it spreading across the dark trees. His fingers itched to hold his camera, to capture the pink flush of the clouds and the pale purple-blue above them. He leaned back, though, and left the camera where it was.

...

Beside them, Silas stirred and sat up with a grunt. “What time is it?” he asked.

Jerry pulled out his phone and checked. “Six-forty,” he said.

Captain Nwin scrambled to her feet. Jerry got up also and stretched, but the captain was already heading toward the road. “Phone call at seven,” she explained over her shoulder. “And at seven-thirty, and at eight. I’m going to need so much coffee this morning. Sorry! I’ll call you guys when I get home next week.”

Jerry helped pull Silas to his feet. As Silas shook himself, stretching stiffly, Jerry grabbed his camera bag and camera.

They were nearly to the road, about twenty feet behind the captain when Silas stopped abruptly and gave a curious, shrill whistle. Jerry looked around, surprised, but Silas was chuckling. “There she is—silly kitty,” he told Jerry. “I told you we would find her around here.”

Jerry looked and saw Silas’s gray cat sitting bolt upright, as cats would, in the grass by the ditch. Silas clucked to the cat, and she uncurled herself and came forward, picking her way over the damp grass.

Silas bent and picked her up, rubbing her chin. “Good kitty,” he crooned. “Let’s go find something to eat, shall we?”

Captain Nwin had heard Silas’s whistle and turned back briefly. When she saw the cat, she laughed and waved to them, before hurrying on.



About twenty minutes later, Jerry pulled up in front of his house just as his neighbor came down the front walk. They passed each other and nodded briefly. Jerry caught his neighbor’s curious glance, but neither of them spoke. Then the neighbor got in his own car and started the engine, while Jerry strolled up the walk and let himself into his side of the duplex.

As he closed the door behind himself and set his camera bag down on the counter, he realized suddenly that he wasn’t particularly tired—not yet, anyway.

He went into the kitchen and poked about for a minute before he washed off a plate and a coffee mug from the stack in the sink. He got the pancake mix down from its box on the top shelf above the stove, but he had to hunt about a few minutes longer before he found a skillet and set it on the stovetop to heat. Slowly, carefully, Jerry made himself breakfast, ate it, washed his dishes, and even wiped down the counters. Finally, he finished and pulled out his laptop to boot it.

As he sat down to work, though, he couldn’t shake the odd feeling that he was forgetting something.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Winning Balance: Book Review

"I was an interesting combination of nerd, tomboy, and girlie girl," Olympic Gold Medalist Shawn Johnson writes in Winning Balance. Shawn knows what it's like to be a girl who doesn't always fit in, who isn't part of the cliques, and who can't always figure out what life is supposed to mean.

She also knows what it's like to lose the gold medal everyone expected her to winand then to win again where she least expected it.


Winning Balance might best be categorized as an inspirational memoir. With co-author Nancy French, Shawn describes her struggles and successes in finding true balance in life. This is the story of Shawn's journey from her childhood in Des Moines, Iowa, to her introduction to gymnastics, her growing love for the sportand its competitiveness--and finally to international fame and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Along the way, though, Shawn tries to follow two competing desires"I wanted to win, and I wanted to be just like everyone else."

My biggest quibble with the book? Since much of its promo material focuses on Shawn's 2008 skiing accident, I expected the book to address this and her recovery process more in depth. It does highlight how Shawn struggled to find purpose and direction after her winand how the injury actually helped Shawn refocus on her prioritiesbut don't expect a lot of detail.

Still, I found Shawn's story to be encouraging and enjoyable. The book is an easy read, and each chapter ends with a short thought for reflection. Enthusiasm seems to win out over depth in places, but overall, I found Shawn to be an engaging role model. She talks openly about the pressures she faced and her family's attempts to keep her sane in the midst of an intense training schedule. I liked her sincerity and vision, and I would recommend this book to any teen girl to read.

For more information about Shawn's story, you can check out the site for Winning Balance, or watch the book trailer:

 
[My thanks to Tyndale for sending me a review copy of Winning Balance, in exchange for my honest opinion of this book.]

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

PTA's Believe It or Not 1.0

Did you ever think tractors were just for digging up fields?

Actually, they're not.

Not here, that is—at least when it's time to get those float planes back in the water.



Spring has come to Port Alsworth, the potatoes are planted, the trees are green on the mountains, and incredible things are appearing every day. A plane pulled by a tractor? Check. How about a boat out of water?


And that print on the runway—is it a bear?


Maybe, but more likely it's just a moose. (Though there might be bear tracks further on.)

More signs of spring—just yesterday, we walked through Dry Creek on dry rocks.


By evening, and the creek was rising...




...and this afternoon we had to wade across. I took a video of the water rising last night—what you might call “watching the watershed in action.” It's not exactly a flashflood, but you can definitely see the water movement in the rocks. I would post the video, but I’m afraid the file size is too large for the Internet connection at the lodge.

And yes, we have been working as well—working very hard, in fact.

Have you ever had to clean a room completely? Wash down all its walls, dust everything, wash the windows, and pull apart a queen-sized bed to clean the frame and vacuum under it? We did all that for ten cabins in the week after I got here.

Now spring cleaning is over, the lodge and all the cabins are ready, and we've even had a few guests through, with many more to come.(If you haven't done your own spring cleaning yet, now would be a good time!)

In the meanwhile, I'm planning to investigate some possible alien sightings. I'll post photos if I find out anything more.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Night Shot 13: Again at Night


In which—the penultimate episode of Night Shot—Jerry sees a shadow in front of him and hears sudden noises in the dark…

#####

“Hands up.”

Jerry froze. Then he recognized the voice. “Captain Nwin?”

A flashlight shone in his eyes, and he blinked. Next minute Captain Nwin lowered the beam. “You? What are you doing here?” she demanded.

“Come on,” Silas urged. His voice cracked with impatience, and he grabbed Jerry’s arm, dragging him toward the parking lot. “I saw it—there—no, there—no, where did it go?”


The captain swung around. For an instant, the long beam of her flashlight cut across the dark trees. Then it faded into the orange glow from the platform light. Jerry caught a brief glint of light near the platform, low against the ground.

“There,” he cried, pointing, but the light flickered and vanished.

They ran forward together. A gust of wind met them as they left the pines. Jerry stumbled on the gravel and the rocks slid underfoot, but he caught himself. He ran on, clutching his camera under his arm and trying to swing his camera bag across his shoulder, out of his way.

Jerry was yelling as he reached the platform. With a bound, he cleared the corner and rushed on into the shadows.

He was past the station and into the darkness beyond it before he came to himself and stopped. The wind blew against his face, and he shivered as he stared into the night around him, but he could see nothing. Impulsively, he raised his camera and fumbled to adjust its settings. For a moment, he stared through the viewfinder. And slowly he realized it was ridiculous. He couldn’t see, the camera couldn’t work in that darkness, and—just as Jerry was straightening up to look around—his battery warning began to flash at him. In disgust, he turned the camera off and slung the strap over his neck.

Taking a deep breath, Jerry stood and looked around at the darkness. He still could see nothing. He could hear nothing, only his own breath as he let it out again. “Don’t be silly,” he told himself. “There is nothing to hear. Of course.” He took a cautious step forward, trying to feel whether he was on the gravel or the grass.

Then Captain Nwin spoke beside him, and he almost jumped. “Along the tracks? Where did it go? Did you see it?” She turned and moved toward the railroad tracks, running her flashlight beam along the grassy bank beyond the station.

But Jerry stopped, shaking his head. “No,” he said out loud. “It’s probably gone. If it was anything. At least, it wouldn’t still be here if it was—we’ve scared it off by now.”

“Where’s Silas?” Captain Nwin asked.

Jerry hesitated and stared around. His skin prickled uneasily.

When he looked over his shoulder, he could see the outline of the train station, faint against the dim glow. Captain Nwin was already jogging toward it. Jerry sprinted after her, following the beam of her flashlight as it bobbed and wavered along the ground.

In another minute, they reached the platform and hurried back along it, calling to Silas, but the wind carried their voices away. At their feet, the beam of Captain Nwin’s flashlight blinked unsteadily.

They had just reached the far edge of the platform when Captain Nwin stopped. “Oh, drat,” she whispered, just loud enough for Jerry to hear her. She shook the flashlight and smacked it against her palm. “It’s dead. Where’s Silas—do you see him?”

Before he could answer, a blue spark snapped above the platform, and they stood together in the darkness.

( Read the final episode in Night Shot 14!)