The Figeater: Nature’s drunk

The figeater beetle, often heard before it is seen.  A deep hum followed by the occasional smack as it bumps into various objects.  Buildings, trucks, windows, people, pretty much anything standing.  I’ve never seen one fly straight, by all visual accounts, the beetles seem to fly intoxicated.  I often find them, in the summer, stunned and on their backs on the sidewalk.  Whenever I encounter one, I pick it up and carry it until it recovers and flies off to inevitably smack into something else.

Even as a larva it moves through its world with comical behavior.  It has legs but doesn’t use them, using the hairs on its back to propel itself instead.  Oh, nature.

Los Angeles has quite a few peculiar bugs, from wind scorpions to potato bugs but the figeater beetle has to be my favorite.  With its beautiful, metallic green carapace and endearing flight patterns, whenever I see (or hear) one, I smile.

My mom came to visit and while sitting out by the pool she thought she had been buzzed by a cockroach and was considerably disturbed.  I told her that that seemed highly unlikely.  While cockroaches do fly sometimes, they mainly seem to do so at night.  When the culprit returned, it revealed itself to be a figeater.  It landed on my mom and she released her characteristic whine of consternation.  I contributed to her chagrin with, “Hey pretty lady, can I buy you a drink?”

A week later, my senior Doberman basked in the gentle rays of the morning sun.  He snoozed on his bed next to the open patio door.  I heard the characteristic buzz of the figeater, followed by a loud smack.  The figeater had flown in, smacked into the wall and landed on my dog.  The poor old boy jolted awake and scrambled away from his bed, frightened by the bug.  Deeply perturbed, he stared at me from the hallway, waiting for me to remove the bug from his bed.  With a great deal of laughter, I did, I sent the figeater on its way and closed the screen door.  Peace restored, my dog eventually returned to his mid-morning slumber.

While people duck and dive out of the way of the figeater’s unpredictable course, I hold my hands up to greet them.  Sometimes it lands on my palm, sometimes it veers away.  Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy the comedy that invariably follows their unpredictable presence.

fig-eater-ii

A figeater on my kitchen window screen last week.  

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Meditation By Candlelight

I was stuck in traffic.  A ritual occurrence in Los Angeles and while staring blankly at the endless red glow of brake lights ahead, a poem popped into my head just last night.  I was thinking about where we are at as a society versus where we were two hundred years ago… How so much effort used to go into items, art, and food that we now vastly take for granted with our modern conveniences.  How materialism and consumerism have driven us into a vicious cycle of demand and discard.

Technology is by far a great thing, as I am able to type this from my office in one part of the world and you are able to read this in another.  It has connected the world.  It has saved lives.  It has redefined us.

Candlelight though, the incandescence, the way it plays in the air, the way it fades reminds me of a time before traffic and plastic and instant gratification.  A time before technology as it is today.  It makes me think of Beethoven composing a symphony.  It makes me think of Charlotte Bronte penning Jane Eyre.  The candle always makes me think of history.  How many candles illuminated the happenings of great events, ideas and people?  When I sit by a candle I share in that legacy.  And when I think about it, it makes me feel connected to a time before me.

 

Meditation by candlelight, 

To hone a craft. 

A stitch 

A stroke 

A note. 

How far have we come? 

How far will we go? 

Until we find purpose 

Again. 

meditation-by-candlelight

Peace

I was wandering around Jerusalem and was standing at the old city wall, near Jaffa Gate when I noticed this dove.  It was just sitting, by itself, up on the stones.  And it almost seemed to possess a look of great consternation.

jerusalem-dove

I thought how funny it would be if this dove was aware of its iconic status as harbinger of peace.  As a symbol of hope.  The bearer of the olive branch.  Then I thought about Tybalt Capulet’s line from Romeo + Juliet: 

“Peace? Peace?  I hate the word…”

And I thought it so fitting, that I had to alter the original photo.

peace

In all reality, this bird was probably just eyeing the old woman toting the bread.  But if not, it seemed to clearly shirk its role as peace bringer.  Possibly too disappointed in the actions of man to pick up the olive branch.  Just waiting and watching the world unravel around it.

What happens when our iconic symbols become ironic?

Web of Color

In my previous post, about the stretch of the Wildwood Trail leading up to the Pittock Mansion, I mentioned the colors caught in spiderwebs.  And I would like to expand on that a bit here.

The last time I was there, about a year ago, right at the beginning of the hike, I noticed these two perfect spider webs right next to each other.

Pittock - A beginning - two spiders II

So many people just walked by and I couldn’t believe it.  I stood there with my camera and tried to capture every flicker of color, from the golden glow of the spiders to the full spectrum caught in their webs.  Alas, I am nothing more than an amateur and failed to capture the full splendor.  My friends and family were ready to walk, eager to reach the mansion, so I had to give up, satisfied only with the memory and an attempt to capture what the eye perceives.  Regardless, I hope you enjoy my effort and find some beauty in the result.

Pittock - A beginning - two spiders - no  bright

The Result of Spontaneity

Every time I go back to visit friends and family in Portland, I go to one of my favorite places to walk.  An upward stretch of trail along the Wildwood Trail between NW Cornell Road and The Pittock Mansion.  If you have never been, I suggest it.  It is lush and green and spectacular.  There are hidden gems of color caught in the spider webs between the trees, mottled sunlight, ivy and ferns galore and at the end, a stunning mansion surrounded by lovely gardens.

Pittock VII - The Mansion

I remember this particular place so well because when I first discovered it, it was an unexpected adventure.  A little more than 14 years ago my brother and I were driving in my old, unreliable Ford Taurus, Norman.  Norman was a temperamental beast with a tendency  toward overheating.  We were driving along NW Cornell Road, the temperature gauge was starting to go up and it would soon be time to pull over.  Then I noticed a seemingly random trailhead and immediately pulled the car over and turned it off.  Norman could cool down and we could explore this new location.  My brother and I started walking.  And it started raining.  This is the Pacific Northwest, after all.  But this didn’t stop us, nor did the mud.  I wanted to know what was at the top and encouraged my brother onward.  And you can only imagine how amazed we were to emerge from the forest to find a parking lot?  It seemed strange and out of place.  It was empty.  We walked across it and for the first time caught a glimpse of the Pittock Mansion.  Had there not been some commonplace items of our era it would have been like stepping back in time.  Cautiously we got closer and examined the dark windows and grey terrace, almost certain we were trespassing.  No one came out and yelled at us.  So we stayed a little and walked around the garden before heading back to the trail to head down to Norman.

 

After some research, we learned that the Pittock Mansion was accessible to the public, open for tours and basically a museum.  It had belonged to a business tycoon and is supposedly haunted.  All very cool.  But for us, that wasn’t what made the place so incredible.  It was that moment of sheer delight.  A spontaneous adventure that led somewhere, we had discovered the mansion ourselves with no prior knowledge of its existence.  And each time I complete the little hike and emerge on the mansion grounds, I remember that feeling and I cherish it.

There was also that time when we hiked up to the mansion in the POURING rain to find a catered, formal event occurring on the grounds.  Our dog, a dopey red Doberman named Ember, began to run around, into the tents and proceeded to get men in suits and ladies in dresses muddy.  Cue Yakety Sax.  Once we wrangled her, we booked it.  Surely we would be yelled at that time.  Didn’t stick around long enough to find out.  We can only hope the people were dog lovers, as most Oregonians seem to be.

Ember chewing on Nylabone

 

(Ember chewing on her (Nyla)bone.  I cannot, for the life of me, find a picture of her looking at the camera!  She was a little cross-eyed, so cute.  Much sweet, less brains)

 

Old Regrets

When I was a kid, my parents got divorced.  I’m not unique here, this happens to many.  It happened when I was between 12 and 13 years old.  And my dog became my best friend more so than ever.

This isn’t to say I didn’t have friends but when the weather was bad or homework was their priority (I wasn’t the best student) my dog was my constant companion.

Tundra was his name and he was a Siberian Husky.  We had many adventures.  I used to put on my roller-blades, attach two leashes to his collar (for balance) and hang on.  I got pretty good at this, crouching down low when we took sharp corners or steep hills.  A couple times I had to bail when he went after some critter and one time I lost control and slammed into the back of a truck.  When my dad saw my bloody countenance, his first question was, “Is the truck okay?”  Then he asked if the dog was okay and finally if I was okay.

When I would run with him, he would pull me to no end.  I would hang onto the leash and leap from foot to foot, sailing through the air.  The trick was to try and maximize the time I spent in the air and not to slow him down.  This was my favorite.  It was the closest I could achieve to actually running with him.  This memory is one I cherish and use to describe the sensation a character in my novel feels when running with a pack of wolves. 

Then there was the forest.  I can’t remember how much acreage there was.  I could spend hours exploring it and it took me years to learn all my different routes.  I was an intrepid explorer.  I fell down many gullies, landed in flooded streams and stinging nettles.  A friend and I were swarmed by wasps that had made their nest underground, which we haplessly trod upon during the fall when it was concealed by leaf litter.  I followed deer and coyotes.  I learned my way and would use the forest to get to other neighborhoods and even to the main part of the nearest town, where a shopping center was located.

Tundra always went with me as did the family dog, Lucy, a Shetland Sheepdog.  As we slipped past the tree-line, I would let the dogs offleash.  While the loyal sheltie stayed with me, Tundra was off and we went our separate ways.  He always came when I called and generally stayed somewhat close.  As I said before, we had many adventures.

When my broken family moved from Oregon to Montana, everything changed.  The dogs had to live in a kennel because the yard either wasn’t fenced or Tundra escaped.  He became an escape artist.  I would always go after him but there was no catching him.  Huskies are born to run.  He got into all kinds of trouble.  He became a chicken killer, steak thief and livestock worrier.  On one occasion I had to stand between my dog and a furious shotgun wielding owner of dead chickens.  It was a very frightening and tense standoff.  My dog lived but I was warned that if he was ever seen around that property again, he would be shot on the spot.  Every time Tundra ran off, I wondered if I would see him again.

In the winters I could let him run.  He would pull me, alongside other huskies, on a sledge.  I would also put on my snowboard and let him pull me through town, though it was tricky to maintain my balance.  I often caught my edge and even broke my tailbone once when we hit ice.

The days of roller-blading were over, chipsealed roads were not friendly to roller-blades.  We would go hiking though but there was no letting him offleash, at least, not as often as he was accustomed to.  The wilderness was vast, a massive expanse of wild stretching between Montana and Idaho.  It was far more dangerous and not a place to let a husky roam.

As time progressed I began working and partaking in extracurricular activities.  I still tried to let him out to run and take him for walks as often as I could but it was a far cry from our adventures together in the forest of my childhood.

After I graduated high school, I left Montana and I left Tundra behind.  I got a job and my own place then got a Doberman puppy named Joe.  My biggest regret is that I didn’t take Tundra with me or go back and get him.  It would have been hard because my place and yard were small but I would have figured something out if I would have known what was to come.

My dad called me one morning and told me that he gave the huskies away (there was another named Shira, I’ll tell her story later).  I asked where they went and he told me to a place up in Northern Montana.  Where they got to run and pull sleds.  It sounded perfect.  Too perfect, like the proverbial farm.  I would ask my dad, nearly every time we spoke, if he knew how the huskies were doing.  They were always doing wonderful.  Even after a number of years had passed, making the huskies an impossible age, they were still doing well.

So I wonder, what really happened to my friend?  Where did he go?  Did he live to a ripe old age pulling sleds and live out his days as a husky should?  My dad’s story never changes.  I only hope it is the truth.  It haunts me to this day though and I suspect I will always carry this regret with me.

Tundra headshot in snow

The stunning escape artist himself.  

Find Tundra II

(not a great picture but this was our forest in Oregon, you can see him peaking through the foliage)  

Temperate rainforest

(another not so great picture but this was one of my favorite places.  Tundra’s not in this pic)

Find Tundra

(find the husky)

Tundra sitting nicely

(he was impossible to brush)            

Lucy come home

(Lucy, the sheltie.  Also an awesome dog. Much loyal, to the end.) 

A visit from a Muse

The query and rejection process is not for the faint of heart and while one does expect it, rejection after rejection, the effect takes its toll.

I take my time, I read about the agent, check her twitter feed, #MSWL, and see what she’s looking for, as well as what projects she is already working on… I probably should be submitting to more agents but I have only submitted to two agents a week for the past few weeks.  Six total.  Not many.

And while the number is small, the fact that I haven’t even gotten a nibble is what bothers me.  At least the form letters are nice and the time is taken to spell my name right (silver lining?) But no one seems even remotely interested.  The thought to shelve my project crossed my mind, to shelve a complete fantasy series because I can’t sell it with the first ten pages and query letter and synopsis.  Of those three things, where have I gone wrong?  The query, the first ten pages or the synopsis? Hmm…. What am I missing?

Here comes the interesting part:

At work, I’m sitting at the front desk and a client comes in.  I don’t know her that well and she knows even less about me, or so I thought.  I ask her how I might assist her, she tells me what she needs and I walk away to retrieve it from the back.  When I return she tells me that she gets vibes from people.  She always has and that the vibe she got from me gave her goose-bumps.  That’s how she can tell the vibe is real.  She told me that whatever I am doing, possibly something with school (reading, writing, lots of paper) I need to keep doing.  To give it my all because I am almost there.  She told me that I’m holding back and need to go forward and give it everything plus an extra ten percent.  That I’m ninety percent there….

I was floored.  If someone were looking into my life, it would be easy to misconceive my writing a novel as school.  It’s almost the same but there’s no teacher to give feedback.  Just rejection form letters.

So I won’t be shelving my manuscript after all.  I have to figure out where to apply the additional effort?  Everywhere makes sense.  I’ve decided to revise the first few chapters, rework my query letter and synopsis and resubmit.  Most important: to not give up and give my manuscript everything I’ve got.

It was such an incredible experience and came at the exact moment it should.

Jerusalem Syndrome Part VI: conclusion of a short fantasy story

Heather stared blankly at her computer screen in the darkness of her bedroom.  She couldn’t focus on her work; she hadn’t done anything with it in days.  Her cell phone rang.  She recognized the ringtone and answered immediately.  It was her husband calling to tell her that the police had turned up nothing about her brother’s disappearance.  There was nothing to give them any direction except from where he vanished, the front of the hospital.  Security cameras showed that Bradley had walked out the front door then everything went black.  There was no trace of him.  Why the equipment failed to raise alarm when he disconnected himself was still a mystery.

There was a long period of silence until her phone rang again, it was Taher.  He called to tell her that her brother had been found.

The old Mitsubishi Montero bounced and rattled as it traversed the desert footpath used mainly by ungulates.  Sheep and goats moved out of the way and camels grunted.  The dust settled as the vehicle came to a stop at the Bedouin camp.  Taher threw open the door and stepped out.  A wave of children ran to him, young boys shouting in such frenzy he couldn’t understand what they were saying.  A few men followed, telling him to come retrieve the man with the infernal mark.

Taher trailed them to the center of their camp and resting on a makeshift table was Bradley, bruised, scraped, scabbed and sunburned.  The men told Taher to get him out of the camp.  To get him far away.  Then the sheikh emerged from his tent and the men, his sons, grew quiet.

The sheikh explained to Taher that since they found Bradley, he had seen three markings appear on the red-haired man’s body.  The infernal mark had been over the heart but faded.  A second mark replaced it but also faded and a third mark emerged across the entire chest and has stayed.  The sheikh said that he could not say what it meant but the heart beats and when they found Bradley there was a great feather over his body so unlike his sons, he was not afraid.  The sheikh continued to explain that the nearest hospital was too great a distance by camel or horse for the red-haired man to endure.  And that his wives and daughters had kept Bradley alive.  It was best that the red-haired man be taken by car to the hospital right away.

The Montero sped across the desert, Taher sat in the back, holding Bradley while one of the Bedouin guides he had hired for the striped hyena expedition drove.  It was because of those guides that he even learned about Bradley’s miraculous discovery which was what led to his recovery.

 

Heather entered Bradley’s room at a hospital in Be’er Sheva.  The heart rate monitor was a familiar sound and again he was hooked up to an IV but this time he looked at her and smiled his usual half-smile.  She burst into tears and her husband wrapped an arm around her, kissed her on top of the head then walked with her to his bedside.

“How are you feeling?” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

“Like I was in an oven,” he answered in a hoarse voice.

A small laugh broke through then after a brief moment of silence, she asked, “How did you get to the middle of the Negev from Jerusalem?”

“I’m still trying to work that out,” he answered bleakly.

“Do you remember any of it?”

“Anything in particular?”

She shrugged, not really wanting to speak of what she witnessed.  She was just happy to see him awake, smiling and talking.

“Did you get any new pictures of Apollo and Delphi?” he asked.

Heather burst out into tears again and turned to her husband.  Bradley knew that he was obviously the cause of her crying and regretted this.  Uncertain as to how he could mend the crime of making his sister cry, he looked away.  His gaze landed on a sandy colored dog sitting right outside the doorway to his room.  He briefly wondered how it had gotten into the hospital but then it stood up on its long, slender legs and elegantly trotted away.  It had looked like a small saluki but with pointy ears.

“Apollo” and “Delphi” Striped Hyena photos by the amazing Photographer and Conservationist Ezra Hadad Ezra Hadad Facebook Page 

Synopsis: an affliction

Synopsis [si-nop-sis] noun: the atrophying of synapses, a common affliction found in the brain of a writer trying to get published.

I thought this somewhat clever while staring at my computer screen this morning at 1:28am.  With a little bit of drool hanging from my lower lip, my synapses certainly felt fried and I seemed to resemble a lobotomy patient.

lobotomy

When I finally did go to bed, I couldn’t sleep.  And what surprised me even more, when I woke up later this morning, after only a few hours of sleep, I felt great.  My brain seemed to be eager to get back to work, back to the synopsis.  Maybe today will be a break through or maybe I will just continue to stare at the computer screen like the victim of an ice-pick lobotomy…

Query letters and synopses present their challenges and there is an overwhelming supply of information and advice on the internet.  There are multiple books published on the topic.  What should an aspiring writer buy into and what should she not?  I’ve tried to save my pennies and do most of my research online but who can you trust?

While I am no expert, I will say that online, the greatest advice I could find about query letters came from Janet Reid the Query Shark.  When I first went to her blog, of course I didn’t want to read through the archives.  I wanted to submit my query.  Dammit.  But I found that after reading through a good majority (seriously, just do it) I was able to critique my own query letter fairly well.  Of course I was still plagued by uncertainty but that will always be part of the game.  Because of the query shark, I was able to compose a brief list of how to detail my query letter.

  1. Keep it main character focused
  2. Keep it around or under 350 words (including everything from the salutation to the sincerely)
  3. Who is the main character?
  4. What does she want?
  5. What is keeping her from getting what she wants?
  6. What must she sacrifice to get what she wants?

http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

I also found a great resource in Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency as she posts awesome PubRants.  Read them, they’re great.

Here are the essentials of what I took from her rants in regard to the query letter:

  1. Shorter queries get quicker results – Make every word count – No more than 5-7 sentences long
  2. Agents read pitch first (you have 30 seconds to sell yourself, go!)
  3. Clearly outline in query letter how story fits in the market – List other titles comparable to yours – Add a line that readers who enjoyed X, Y, Z will also enjoy yours – Clearly distinguish your novel’s correct genre type
  4. Have a good title
  5. Remember that a great pitch is the second most important aspect of writing after, of course, writing a great book.  So perfect your pitch!  A novel’s pitch will be used extensively in the beginning life of the novel.  The agent uses it to get the publisher excited, the publisher uses it to get sellers excited and the seller uses it to get the reader excited.

http://nelsonagency.com/pub-rants/

And lastly, for the synopsis, I have found the best help and advice from Chuck Sambuchino.  He has an amazing blog that I wish I had found earlier.  I feel that nearly every post I read offers some insight or detail into the publishing world.  He also introduces new agents so it is good to keep an eye on his list of literary agents.

What I’ve taken from his blog so far in relation to writing a synopsis:

  1. List no more than 5-6 characters
  2. When name of character first mentioned –> ALL CAPS
  3. Objective – convince agent to read book
  4. Focus on telling the story – think flash fiction – same tone and style
  5. Expand your query blurb
  6. Cover essential points of novel from beginning to end in the correct order
    1. main characters
    2. main plots
    3. ending

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents

Maybe you already knew this and I am late to the game.  If not, I hope I’ve helped, maybe even just a little.  And if you have any advice, please feel free to share 🙂

 

Random Stuffs Here

The world spins.  I feel like I am closer to being published than ever before.  This is all internal of course.  The reality is an unknown variable; solve for X.  I have the polished manuscript, the masterfully crafted query letter, the table to keep track of which agents reject me….  And yet something stops me from sending those queries.  Part of me is ready, part of me is not.  This is the struggle.  And while my fears and hopes grapple, I randomly click on things online (Reddit, Imgur, DeviantArt).  I stare at the ceiling at night.  I let insomnia take over.  I wonder and worry…. And while wondering and worrying, I know that to do so is pointless.  It achieves nothing.  But who am I…. Am I a writer?  Or am I just a hapless worrier?

And then my computer’s hard drive died.  Hmm…. The files are remotely backed up, for which I am thankful.  But dealing with a hard drive crash right on the brink of query letter submission makes one rethink everything.  Maybe I am just a hapless worrier….

Last night, instead of staring at the ceiling, I grabbed my phone and just started wayfaring from link to link and page to page.  I landed someplace that finally captivated my interest.  A curious comic called Cat Fox Wolf.  It is dry and witty and sentimental.  I love the art work and have found that the artist also writes great prose (found in replies to questions if not in the actual comic).  So cool.  Much neat.  Want more.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, check it out.  I think you will like it.

catfoxwolf_wolf crossing

http://catfoxwolf.tumblr.com/

Meanwhile I will continue summoning the courage to eventually submit my query letter…

Ho hum.