Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hungry Hungry Geckos

I've heard that, in the southwestern U.S., many people think that it's good luck to have geckos in your house.

Well, don't say that to my Brazilian friend who lives here in Luxor. She recently killed a gecko. Her account of the killing was pretty gruesome.

She's obviously scared of them. She says that there are geckos in Brazil, and they're hungry and mean. They'll eat any food you leave lying around. They'll start gnawing on your arm, if you let them.

I have the impression that, in the Amazonian region, all the wildlife is nastier than wildlife anywhere else. Nevertheless, geckos are insectivores, not carnivores. So my Brazilian friend is safe. But she probably won't come to visit me anyway, knowing that I have geckos in my house.

My geckos stay away from me. I stay away from them. So we all stay happy.

The geckos eat flies and any other bugs that they find. (They even eat up dead flies. Geckos are more efficient than a vacuum cleaner.) So I have all-natural, chemical-free, pest control. At no cost to me except disposing of the occasional little dry dropping.

So we're all happy. But the geckos still give me the creeps.

I know why creepy aliens in science fiction are often reptiles. For one thing, they have no odor. This should be good, but it's weird. My dog doesn't react to them at all. For her, they don't exist.

My geckos are putty-colored, which is unpleasant, somehow. If they had any definite color--say, like the little green lizards you see around here--that would be slightly better.

But my geckos are remarkable. You'll find a congregation of them on the domed ceiling of my living room. I've spotted as many as 6 up there. But lately I think they've decimated the insects in my house to such an extent that many of them have gone elsewhere to forage. I'm left with a skeleton crew of 3, I think.

They walk around up there on the domed roof as if they're on a floor. They run around. They move incredibly fast. This speed, combined with a long tongue, helps them catch flies. But I think they also must have some way of actually attracting the flies. Although I can't imagine how they could attract flies, since geckos have no odor.

The most amazing thing is their communication. Geckos use clicking noises, a bit like dolphin noises only at a lower pitch. Sort of "tut-tut" noises. Sometimes it's just the gecko in the kitchen telling the one or two geckos in the living room, "I'm here, if you're looking for me." But sometimes they're milling around together on the domed ceiling and clicking away, and I wonder what they have to communicate to one another.

I suspect that Mr. Samuel Morse heard geckos communicating. And that this may have helped give him the inspiration for Morse Code. Even if he was unaware of the source of his inspiration.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writer's Occasional Diary--Cooking

Well, part of the impetus for the "Exposure" post (June 16, 2011) was the fact that I hadn't been revising. Or at least, not producing any written product. And this inactivity made me feel like a fraud, calling myself a writer.

But since last week, revision has been cooking nicely.

I've got a new chapter to replace my most problematic chapters. One chapter instead of three or four. What was a plodding narrative is now a brief tale of a friendship.

And today I woke up with a brand new chapter in mind. For the sliver of crescent moon, like a fingernail shaving, which I've been puzzling over for weeks. And now the crescent moon has its own little 230-word chapter.

So now I'm not a fraud. I'm a writer again. And all's right with the world. Even what's wrong with my world isn't so bad, really. Because I'm writing again.

A little green lizard—a baby—showed up this morning to help me with my chapter. A real live lizard, I mean. Really. In my living room.

This lizard wasn't a gecko. It was a dark green lizard with a pale green stripe. It's gone now. But it's a good segue to my next post, about geckos.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


*WOD=Writer's Occasional Diary

I was feeling so pleased yesterday. Into a new (revised) chapter—a brand new start in medies res. I'd done some research and made a decision. And I'd typed up a quick blog post.

And then it came. The crash. The rest of the day I was good for nothing and very grumpy.

Well, I'm used to this. It's just me living my life.

But, yesterday, I could identify a specific reason: Exposure.

What is exposure? You feel:
  1. Naked
  2. Stupid

Here I was blogging about my writing process as if anyone's really interested, when I'm not even published. And blogging about my new chapter, which might stay unfinished for too long.

And everyone will think I'm just a fraud.

Welcome to life as a writer!

Well-trained writers know that you can be a bona fide writer even if you've never been published. But you can't always make yourself feel like a real writer, especially if you're cut off from a writing community. [I'm sure there must be some writers here in Luxor. I'll find them, one of these days.]

And it's stressful putting yourself out there on public display. Unless you're Snookie or one of the Kardashians, I guess.

Helen, a college roommate of mine, did some research on a Russian poet called Tyutchev. He burned a vast number of his poems. Too revealing. And we all know that novels also expose the author's guts to the whole world.

Well, the blog is good exposure practice. Because, in theory, exposure is a good thing. We want exposure. We want to be published. And do author appearances, and interviews, and all that stuff.

It's all terrifying. It's all stressful. And it's all part of being a writer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Writer's Occasional Diary

Two days ago I wrote the first paragraph of a new chapter. And then broke it into two paragraphs. And then stopped.

This is a new old chapter. I'm doing revision, remember. This chapter should condense material found in several old chapters, making it much more palatable. It's a departure from chronology, which can start to plod. It's more in the style of reminiscence, which tells anecdotes of the most interesting points.

The paragraph begins with my protagonist and his new friend, Tesfaye, leaving the port. And we're going to backtrack to how they met, etc. Things have been coming together nicely in my mind.

And last night I realized I have to do research on Djibouti. And this morning I also researched Massawa. Because I have to decide which port it was. Specifically, Adulis (down the coast from modern Massawa) or Tadjoura (more sheltered than modern Djibouti port, and supplied by a prolific spring of fresh water.)

In the dim and distant past, I had pretty well decided on the Eritrean port, Adulis. But now my mind was assuming Tadjoura/Djibouti. This would be the port of ancient Punt. A commercial hub in ancient times as now, because of its geography. Controlling access to the Bab el Mandeb, the strait between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

Tesfaye comes from the Ethiopian highlands near Lake Tana. The source of the Blue Nile, the "small river", flows into Lake Tana, and the Blue Nile, the "big river", flows out of Lake Tana.

Tesfaye's journey to the coast is a grueling trek, whichever route he chooses. He must climb to the highest levels of the mountains. It is from here that the rivers start to flow down towards the coast.

Somehow I'd been thinking that the Eritrean coast was the easier destination. Now that I've had another look at the maps, I wonder why I thought this. Djibouti is a straight shot eastward. The Eritrean port is northeast.

I also seem to remember that there is a gap in the mountains on the eastward route. Not a depression, if I remember rightly, just a slightly lower elevation. (These are very high mountains—higher than the Rockies, I think, or at least as high.) On topographical maps, the mountains to the northeast look like more of a barrier on a route towards the coast.

What's more, some of the Afar people migrated from the region of Lake Tana to Djibouti in ancient times. An indication that it's a logical route.

I also studied the weather. My protagonist and Tesfaye are stuck in the port for months, waiting for the winds and currents to turn for the voyage north. They are stuck there in summer, when it's hot and humid and our old friend the khamsin wind blows strongly from the inland desert. It's good to set out to sea again after this, in spite of a grim outlook for each man.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Dark World

While I prepare my next awesome post, I just want to alert you all about an interesting discussion regarding "dark" elements in contemporary young-adult fiction.

It started with a Wall Street Journal article. On June 4, WSJ published a piece entitled "Darkness Too Visible" by Meghan Cox Gurdon.

This article generated a lot of interesting comments (which you can read by clicking on the "Comment" tab on the same page as the article.)

It also generated a lot of tweets.

And an article by Maureen Johnson in The Guardian (UK).

An article which includes a link to some of the tweets.

[And I have to thank Nathan Bransford's remarkable blog for all the above information.]

So what do you think? Should we burn/ban some of these books? Or do they serve a useful social function?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Rachelle's blog has become a sort of home-away-from-home for me. A virtual writers' community.

I just threw up a comment on her post:Are We Having Fun Yet?. And then I thought I'd like to copy it onto my blog. But I did things the hard way. I hadn't composed the comment in Word first. So now I had to type it, word for word, into a Word file for posting here. Here it is, warts & all, just raw data--but hopefully without typos.

Writing is the most rewarding thing I can do, and the most challenging. An activity that I'm gifted for, but the most difficult and frustrating and exasperating. And a huge learning curve.

The best part is when something reveals itself that you didn't know. Maybe from research, maybe just from the logic of the characters and their lives. It's fun living in this other world. It's an antidote for depression (not a cure)—having an interesting world to go to as a refuge when your own life seems so drab.

And the really best part is when it flows. And the worst part is when you're stuck—because your life is stuck, or because your story needs percolation time.

And the really worst part (as someone mentioned) is rereading a chapter and thinking that it's all a boring load of garbage. And then you have to ask yourself: Is this me having a bad day? Is this me being insecure? Or is this really not the best or most accurate piece of writing I've ever done.

Enough already. Thanks, Rachelle.

June 4, 2011  6:23 AM (U.S. Eastern Time, I think)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

When the going gets tough...

Here I am, recovering from the loss of my beloved Apple computer (hopefully only a temporary loss.) Now the owner of a reconditioned PC. Freed from slogging down to the internet cafe. Happy to be reunited with all my cyberspace friends, and happy to be reunited with my blog, which I've started to enjoy.

I thought I'd share a blog post from Rachelle today. It seems relevant to my current situation--and maybe to yours as well.