Monthly Archives: November 2008

Thankful for new things

I am thankful for many things. Yes, all the usual suspects: family, friends, health, employment. But this year I discovered new things for which to give thanks, things I had never before considered part of the list:

That not making Thanksgiving dinner (for only the second time in 26 years) means I do not have a turkey carcass taking up space in my refrigerator the next day.

That my daughter and her boyfriend are taking turns, during their Epic Journey Through Patagonia, sending reassuring emails to their parents (yes, we threatened them) and that the one he sent yesterday morning covered all the important stuff: Hey families, made it safe and sound to Puerto Madryn. We’re going to go see some whales today. We’ll try to keep you updated.

That my son and his girlfriend spent the last two nights here, as well as a good part of each day, and I still really like her.

That Adam Sandler’s movies have improved somewhat since the last one I was forced to watch.

That my son knows how to make a fire in the fireplace, and did.

That after going to three different grocery stores on Thanksgiving Day, none of which had any frozen pumpkin pies left, it was no big deal to track down a can of Libby’s pumpkin goo, read the recipe on the label, label, label and make my own. It was delicious.

That Pillsbury makes the crust so I don’t have to. Hey, it was more than enough nonsense making the Oreo crust for the grasshopper pie.

That my son’s friends feel welcome in my home and don’t hesitate to drop in without notice for a piece of pie, or two (this is not new, the excess of pie is).

That, as much as I loved spending time with everyone while they were here, all those people are gone now and I can relax and enjoy the balance of what I had thought was going to be a very quiet holiday weekend spent writing.

Ahh, and as I finish typing this, here comes a new reason: That my daughter has inherited my tendency to go on and on and on, and does so even in email:

Hey there families! A and I have made it safely to Trelew. We went whale watching yesterday in Peninsula Valdes and it was absolutely incredible. We saw so many whales, and they were all really close to the boat, some even passed under the boat! They were Southern Right Whales, and some were up to 16 meters long, which is about 50 feet! We also got lucky enough to see a few of them jumping out of the water, which was probably the coolest thing ever. We have lots of pictures! Today we are visiting a dinosaur museum and hanging out in the city of Trelew, which was founded by the Welsh. Tomorrow we go to see the PENGUINS!!!!!! From there we will keep heading south until we get to Puerto Natales. Happy Thanksgiving (A is silly and forgot to say that yesterday)!! Love you and miss you!

Yes, many new things this year for which to give thanks.


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Pictures from on high

I really like the way the Mac handles pictures. Here are several my daughter took* last week during her three-day trek on Aconcagua (ref. previous post). I still can’t quite believe she was there, that she saw and experienced all this. But there she is, with Aconcagua looming in the background:
*Edit to correct photo credit:  Her BF took some of them. Notably, the ones of her.
She captioned the one below: “This photo is of Puente del Inca, which supposedly when the Incas couldn’t cross this river, they prayed to the gods and this rock bridge magically appeared the next day. Pretty cool looking.”

Standing in the glacier. Obviously, it’s the time of year when it melts a bit.

She said this is: “Our nifty little stove and pot!” And I thought, Oh good, she’s learning how to cook. Or at least, how to boil stuff.
More glacier:
Aconcagua. The highest peak outside of Asia:
My daughter, hiking across a glacier. She’s turning into a mountain goat:
More glacier:
Very pretty reflection in the lake:
Her host sister said this looked like meringue:
Daughter’s boyfriend, hiking across the glacier:

Obviously, I’ve been playing way too much and not writing enough. I’m having a very tough time concentrating so far this weekend.

I’ll go have a stern talk with myself now. Really.


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Climb every mountain . . .

My daughter has been climbing again. 

Here she is several weeks ago on “a mountain behind the Cerro Arco,” trying to scare me into an early grave.

And doing a damn fine job of it.

She called last night to tell me about the latest adventure. This time she and her boyfriend decided to do a three-day hike and climb Aconcagua (6962m/22,841ft), the highest mountain outside of Asia and one of the Seven Summits. For reference, Mt. Everest (8848m/29,029ft) is the highest mountain in the world.

No, they didn’t go all the way to the top.

They started in Mendoza (761m/2497ft), where they’ve been going to school. Along the way they hiked across a glacier . . .

“Really? You walked on a glacier?”

“Yeah, it was pretty amazing.  It comes down the mountain and across a valley and back up the mountain again. We didn’t walk across the river part of it, that would be stupid. Too slushy.”

“Did you have a guide?”

“No, you don’t need a guide. There’s a path.”

Oh, of course.  A path across a glacier. Silly me.

. . . to a base camp (3300m/10,827ft) and camped in their little tent . . .

“That little nylon tent I saw on your last blog post? Didn’t you freeze?”

“Our little tent is very cozy.”

. . . then hiked up to Plaza Francia (4200m/13,944ft) another base camp. And they saw an avalanche.

“At first, it looked like this huge white mist, billowing up and spreading out, like something out of a Stephen King book, coming to get us.”

“It was coming at you?!”

“No, mom, it was a mile away. You’d have to see a picture. We weren’t in the path of it or anything. And you could hear it. Like rumbling thunder. Wait until you see the video I took. So awesome.”

Uh huh. Awesome.

I remember she had problems with altitude sickness back in July on the hike to Machu Picchu (2400m/7875ft — and I thought that was a big climb), so I asked whether that had been a problem. She said, “Not really. Usually after a climb I’m starving, but when we got to Plaza Francia I could only eat half of my peanut butter sandwich, so that’s one sign. And I had a headache, of course. So it wasn’t too bad.”

Then she told me the trail just opened on November 15. Before that date it’s too cold and too dangerous. Gee, so glad they didn’t do anything dangerous.

Next Tuesday they leave for Chile and points south. Where they will see penguins. Oh, and did I mention the ten-day hike they have planned in Torres del Paine National Park? Sounds lovely, doesn’t it, camping and hiking in a national park? Innocuous even. 


Once I got off the phone, I decided to do some research. Because by comparison, writing more pages in a thriller seemed like such a tame activity. Here are some pictures of Torres del Paine I found on Wikipedia, that calming informative presence on the internet and a friend to mothers everywhere:

Looks benign, doesn’t it? And the flora looks so non-toxic and, um, highly edible:

I’m sure it will be perfectly safe. No worries.

Time to go write some soothing fiction about killers and conspiracies.


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Oh, something shiny!

I had a very interesting weekend, thanks for asking. There is a person in my life, let’s just call her my older sister, who has a tendency to be outrageously generous for no apparent reason. And I never know what might set her off. For instance, last weekend I casually mentioned how nice it was that my son had left his laptop at home when he went out of town for the weekend. And how nice it was to be able to use that to write on for change, sitting comfortably on the couch, rather than at my desk using my PC. Seemed like a perfectly innocent comment at the time. I had no idea I had just revealed an unacceptable deficit in my arsenal of writing tools she then felt compelled to correct.

So I was mightily surprised on Friday to receive a box from FedEx that contained a shiny new MacBook. Especially since I’ve never used a Mac. Once I had sufficiently recovered from my shock, I called to thank her and asked, “Why a Mac?”

She said, “Well, I have one and really like it, so I thought you would too. Consider it an early birthday present.”

And I said, quite reasonably, “But my birthday is still several weeks away. And we stopped giving each other birthday presents YEARS ago.” Seriously, we always call each other, but that’s the extent of it.

To which she replied, “Whatever.” Sometimes she acts like she’s still twelve. Regardless, she’s still older. Then she said, “You really needed a laptop. Besides, Macs never crash.”

Okay, just for the record: I have never crashed a computer.

So I spent the weekend trying to figure out how to use the darn thing. After ten minutes trying to find the power switch, and realizing that waving my hand commandingly over the keyboard wasn’t having the desired effect, I decided to read the manual. Things got easier. Lucky for me, there were also online tutorials. So I proceeded to conquer internet connections and email and MS Office 2008 for Mac. And Bubbleshooter. Yes, it works on a Mac. Damn it.

Then I remembered I had heard a bunch of writers talk about a fantastic writing program (compatible only with a Mac) called Scrivener. It had been touted as being a really good way to organize all the bits and pieces of a large ms. I figured I could use some help in that area. So after some research, and more tutorials, and because two shiny things are always better than just one, I decided to try the free 30-day trial version.

Oh. My. God.

I’m not even sure how to describe it. Except maybe to say that Scrivener might well be worth all the considerable aggravation of re-learning how to do EVERYTHING on a computer. I might even forgive the Mac’s pitiful substitution of a “backspace” key for a real “delete” key. WTH, Mac users never make mistakes worth deleting?

I digress. My ms is now broken down into not only chapters, but scenes within each chapter. And each scene has a notecard thingy with a brief synopsis of the scene (a synopsis I had to write, but let’s not quibble). And I can now view a corkboard with all these notecards on it or switch all that info into an outline. I haven’t even figured out yet how to input all the info this thing can assimilate. It can even do pictures. And if I want to move a scene, I just grab it and move it. And the notecard automatically moves with it.

It’s amazing. It’s also amazingly easy to see, looking at these notecards, when a scene works and is doing everything it’s supposed to do. And when it’s not. [sigh]

Yes, this all took a lot of time. Especially since my old version of Word is so old it’s not even compatible with Office 2008. I swear I saw the new program roll its eyes and heave a sigh of disgust before pronouncing my ms to be incomprehensible. I’m pretty sure that was a technical opinion, not an editorial one. So I had to improvise just a wee bit. But I entered all of the old pages, even the ending, and the updated page count thing over there reflects that and not any new pages. So, great progress, just no new pages.

Of course, this means I’m going to have to come up with a new reward for when I finish. Whatever it is, I’ll be sure not to mention it to my older sister.


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It’s all downhill from here

“The first draft of anything is shit.”
-Ernest Hemmingway

That makes me feel so much better.

Well, the great reconstruction — the reckless slash-and-burn, um, that is, the careful re-reading, editing, re-writing and general whipping into shape of the old ms and copying it into a new document — is at an end. There are several dozen pages that didn’t make the cut (my page count is significantly lower than when I started, which is disheartening), but they needed to go. There are also a few dozen pages I’ve written that go at the very end and that won’t get added until I actually reach the end. Yes, I’ve written the ending. And I like it. For now.

Going through this painstaking process of reconstruction has been an educational experience. I can see where there are great gaping holes in the plot and where things need clarification and expansion. The story needs more action and more suspense and more conflict — no, that’s not quite accurate. All of those things are there in the story, I just haven’t yet managed to put them on the page.

Interestingly, there is a lot more sexual tension than I remember writing. Oh well. Still, this is not a romance. I’ve never been all that interested in the fictional romantic Happily Ever After and there won’t be one in this book. I’m fascinated by the journey — if these characters survive that, they can go off and do whatever else they want with the rest of their lives. Really.

So. Now comes the hard part. The slow part. The agonizing process of pulling pure crap out of the murky depths and boldly exposing it, slapping the stinking fetid mess of it onto the blinding white scrutiny of the page. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any other way to write the rest of the story.

What the hell, if it worked for Hemmingway . . .


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