Roseate Spoonbill and a Milestone

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Well, this is one of my last wildlife videos from Florida. I hope to be able to gather some more soon! They probably won’t be from Florida though 🙂

Anyhow, this is a Roseate Spoonbill (and you should recognize his Wood Stork companion), feeding in a pond in the Everglades. You can see his spoon-shaped bill – you’ll never guess how it got its name. It uses the flattened part of its bill to sift through mud and muck to catch little aquatic invertebrates and hunts mostly by touch, like the Wood Stork. The bald head is something else they share, and although there are several theories, no one knows exactly why this is beneficial for them, although we suspect it has something to do with how it sticks its whole face underwater. The side-to-side movement is a very typical feeding behavior for this species. Like flamingos, the pink coloration is a by-product of carotinoid pigments (specifically canthaxanthin and astaxanthin, if you want to get all scientific) in its diet.

They’re beautiful birds, and I was really lucky to see a few!

I hoped to have excellent news this week on the writing front – and I do! I’ve finished my list of changes for the King’s Mark revision, and I’m on to the final polish. I plan to have it complete by the end of the week, so my dad can read it on the plane when he heads overseas next weekend. However, all this work means I haven’t been doing much thinking about other things, like blog topics… so here’s an alligator!

Distracted yet? No?

Now?

On Pressure and Story Scope

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This is a great blue heron, who happened to pose right next to us on Anhinga Trail.

Same heron, even closer. Isn’t he beautiful? And just a tad of a show-off?

And on to writing news!

I’ve had a couple days off work this past week, which has given me a chance to focus on writing. I’ve got two more days off, so I’m hoping to speed through my planned changes. If I can manage it, that will leave only the polish/line-edits. I got an actual deadline yesterday (instead of the fake ones I keep setting myself) of March 16, which is when I need to get it to my father for his comments before he leaves the country. I always work better with an externally set deadline, so I’m very hopeful.

I’ve also had some time to work on Thieves of Moirai, and I ran the first two chapters through critique group yesterday. I received some good feedback from the Wordslingers. So far, it’s pretty encouraging. Also, they gave me some stuff to work on – which is, of course, the point. Thieves is in first person present tense, which is completely opposite of King’s Mark. There are some limitations that come from this, one I’m still struggling with is fitting description in without screwing up the narrative.

In reality, the biggest challenge I’m facing right now is myself. For some reason, I’m feeling the pressure to write Thieves well. I never really felt this for King’s Mark, probably because I just wanted to make it all the way through the story.

I set out to keep King’s Mark small (although small is a relative term, and applying it to KM is somewhat debatable). I kept the history to a minimum, although it is there. Cultures and geography are simple, and rather than spend tons of time world-building I used existing cultures and places as a base. The magic system was contained. I wanted it to be a stand-alone book, with room for a second, and by the time I finish revising that’s what it will be. I’ll admit, having 4 POVs did not make for a “simple” book, although I started off with a very simple plan for each of my 3 main characters. That part grew beyond my expectations, but still. Overall, small.

Thieves is a much larger undertaking, although it only has one POV (which I haven’t worked with much before now) and takes place in one city. The world is completely my own, with predatory plants of my devising and a completely alien culture. The magic is common and widely used, and has complicated applications (although the rules are simple enough). My main character knows about things I don’t and has a personality vastly different than my own. By the second chapter, she’s already wrapped up in family problems, the criminal world, and politics. She’s lying to everyone, the very setting is hostile toward her, and she’s just discovered murder victims. And I’m pretty sure this is a trilogy, at least. So… bigger.

Thieves is my second attempt, and for some reason it seems important to do it right. Not to mention, I’m extremely excited about the story idea, and I’m a little afraid to screw it up. As silly as it is, I’m nervous that the general approval King’s Mark received was a fluke, or beginner’s luck. And for some reason, the positive feedback on the first couple chapters of Thieves intensified this feeling rather than diffused it.

So I have to keep reminding myself that I can’t write it perfectly. That’s what revisions are for. Plus, I’m a discovery writer, so if I don’t give myself leeway to play with the story, it will never grow into something I can shape. I have to have faith that I will make good decisions or be able to fix problems when the time comes. And I should remember all those other common writing gems – ideas are cheap! The story in your head is always idealized! Give yourself permission to suck!

Next week, I hope to have made significant progress on revisions AND Thieves, and I will definitely have a video of a Roseate Spoonbill foraging. In the meantime, here’s another pretty ocean shot.

Mockingbird Shenanegans

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Well, I’ve been typing my fingers to the bone this week, working on King’s Mark revisions, and also on the first draft of Thieves of Moirai. I’ve made a lot of progress, especially this weekend, but my brain is now mush.

So rather than leave you with no exciting blog update, I thought I’d do a short one. Below is a video from my recent trip to Florida. It’s a Northern Mockingbird doing some sort of display. It’s a little odd, because although it looks a little like she’s drawing our attention away from something (many birds do this to protect their babies or their nests), it is both too early in the season for her to have a nest, and not an entirely typical display. Anyway, you can judge for yourself!

Interesting, isn’t it? Here are some random pics for you, also:

And here is a green anole – they are native, unlike the brown anoles that were introduced to the state.

This is taken just after a bottlenose dolphin jumped beside our boat. It was amazing to see wild dolphins up close, but they were surprisingly camera shy, and we couldn’t get video or a pic.

And this is a green heron, which are normally very shy small herons. This particular bird was right out in the open beside a boardwalk. He’s in his hunting position, ready to strike, and he didn’t so much as blink when I took this picture.

And that’s it for today! Hope you have a great week!

Anhingas Galore!

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Anhingas are one of my favorite birds, and we saw plenty of them during our trip last month. The video above shows one we disturbed during one of our walks, and that awful croaking noise is his vocalization.

Like cormorants, anhingas lack the waterproofing that other waterbirds possess. When they dive underwater to hunt, their feathers become soaked through. This and their particularly dense bones (for birds) helps them remain submerged without effort, allowing them to hunt in shallow areas and to stalk their prey. When they surface, their bodies remain underwater with only their long necks sticking up – their sinuous movements make them look like snakes in the water, which earned them the name “Snake Bird.” Getting video of this is harder than I expected. We managed to get the video below, but you have to hang in there – the bird pops up twice, once around 20 seconds and once near the end.

Because they get so wet, their time underwater is limited by heat loss. They spend an inordinate amount of time drying off and sunning themselves – the main reason you won’t find these birds in Seattle! This female is drying off after a swim.

And last, here’s a video of an anhinga dealing with a fish slightly too big and alive for it to swallow:

8 Life Lessons from Music & Writing… and a Bittern

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This is an American Bittern, a secretive bird related to herons. The way it sways is a defensive behavior, in this case he’s responding to being spotted by my dad and I. With its beak stretched skyward, the vertical stripes on its neck and chest help it hide in the tall grasses. The swaying makes its camouflage more effective, mimicking the way the reeds move in the wind. This bittern either wasn’t completely sold on the danger we presented, or thought stretching its neck would be more dangerous than holding still. At the end of this post, I have a photo of another bittern we saw in a more typical defensive pose.

I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to be involved in so many extracurriculars in my life. From dance to pottery to softball, they all taught me something. But of the myriad things I’ve tried, writing and music have had the greatest impact. Surprisingly, the elements for success in music and writing are very similar – and helpful in real life, too!

1. No one else can do it for you

You play the instrument, you put your own words down on the page. Others can have an impact on what you’re doing, but in the end it’s all you. You get all the glory when things go well, but you also can’t blame other people for trouble. For good or ill, we alone are responsible for our stories, our performances, and our lives.

2. Enjoy your muse, but don’t trust her

Give yourself permission to go with it when you feel inspired. It can be tons of fun, a fulfilling, thrilling feeling. Besides, sometimes real creativity requires you to let go and try something just for the heck of it. But remember that having fun doesn’t always have the best results – after all, we all love belting out a song at the top of our lungs, but it usually isn’t something other people want to listen to!

3. The basics matter

Scales, arpeggios, grammar, vocabulary. If you don’t have the basics, you don’t have a foundation. Everything you try to build will just end up a mess. And you can’t stop practicing scales just because you’ve already learned them. Even when your muscles know the movements so well you don’t even have to think, you still have to practice them. These things are the heart of your craft, neglect them and your efforts will be inefficient and generally futile.

4. The first time is never the best time

Sight-reading can be fun, so can your first story or first draft. There is always a first time, you should go for it with gusto. My band teacher always said, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it worth it.” But it’s not the best you can do. Don’t settle.

5. Practice, practice, practice!

Write the words, play the music. Recognize and then focus on the things you don’t have down, over and over, even if it means driving your house-mates or critique group mad with the repetition. Try new approaches, new embouchures, new fingerings. Use the tuner, the metronome, and feedback from your beta readers to help figure out what to fix. Work hard – you get out of it what you put in. All the talent in the world can’t make up for laziness.

6. Listen to other people

The conductor makes sure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Your private teacher encourages you and makes sure you keep growing. Your trusted readers make sure you are communicating what you hoped to communicate. From your performance at work to relationships to your grand masterpiece, there is literally nothing in life that doesn’t benefit from wise counsel. The human mind is finite, and nobody can do it all themselves. Find other people to help you!

7. Recognize mistakes, but don’t dwell on them.

Only pay enough attention to your mistakes to learn from them. Otherwise, you paralyze yourself, and you can’t grow when you’re paralyzed. In writing, there’s always another draft and a new book. In music, there’s another piece of music and another performance. In life, time charges ahead.

8. The audience matters

You play to be heard, you write to be read. If neither of these things happen, you have not achieved your goal. Strive to give your audience something valuable, and they will give you their attention (note: valuable things don’t have to be what they ask for or what they’ve gotten before). If you want others to care about you, you have to care about them.

American bittern, in alarm stance

Herons Hunting and Novel Ransacking

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This post finds me back at my writing desk in the cold north. It is snowing, which is beautiful but not exactly welcome. As much as I love my little car, it is not up for blazing trails. I think the word that describes my short excursion this morning is “slushplaning.” I would say hydroplaning, but I think the liquid water molecules are outnumbered at this point. This does not bode well for work tomorrow.

Anyway. I’ll get to the writing in a moment, I do have some things to share in that arena. But I just got from a vacation, and I had the opportunity to observe and film some wildlife doing some interesting things. Ah, the wonders of the digital age. I’ve got a good number of them, and I’ll be breaking them out over the next few posts. So here’s number one!

This is a video of a little blue heron hunting. He got some insects and a few small brown anoles while we were watching him. The way he waves his head back and forth is mainly a “targeting system,” a behavior which allows the birds to account for distance and refraction of the water before striking (herons don’t have the same depth perception as we do, because their eyes are on the side of their heads). It also serves to distract prey while the bird lines up for the strike.

On to the writing news!

I spent a chunk of my vacation planning out revisions for King’s Mark with my dad, who is an excellent person to bounce ideas off of. I got my brain from him, so he usually gets what I’m trying to do, while at the same time maintaining more distance from my work than I can. We managed to solve several of my more vexing problems rather elegantly, in my opinion. My beta-reader feedback started trickling in last weekend, and so far there hasn’t been anything unexpected, so I haven’t had to completely reconsider the solutions I’ve already worked out.

I’m off work until Wednesday, so today and yesterday have been almost entirely spent in revision-land. I have not actually started rewriting yet, but I hope to be ready to start that by the end of today. I am reaching a point where the changes I’m looking at could be good or just as problematic as the text I already have. I don’t believe in changing something until I have something measurably better to replace it with, so we may be nearing the asymptote of this revision.

But, before I lose myself in the weeds again, here’s another pic from my vacation:

An Alligator!

Where the Wild Things Aren’t

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This weekend, I spent a little time outdoors. Birding.

Let’s just clarify something: although I work with wild animals, 75% of them birds, I am a terrible birder. I walk around the park watching for fluttering wings and listening for the tweets and whistles that herald the presence of my feathery friends.

After about 30 seconds I get distracted by a particularly mossy log that might be hiding a salamander. I turn the log over and usually don’t find my salamander, but then I see a rock, and I think bingo! There will be a salamander under there. So I put the log back, carefully preserving the hiding places of the salamanders that were actually out of the house shopping when I called.

I turn over the rock, and find nothing. But I see a puddle that could contain a frog.

And on and on it goes, until I remember I was supposed to be looking for birds. Then I hear the magical tweet of a bird and stare upwards for several long minutes trying to find the source of the noise. Usually, it flies away before I see it. When I do see it, it is either hiding behind a bunch of branches and I can’t make it out, or it is moving too quickly for me to find it with my enormous binoculars.

Then I trip over a mossy log. Salamanders!

My favorite place to go birding is the coast. Seabirds are big and pretty, they float in the middle of an empty stretch of water that has almost no branches or leaves, and all I have to do is scan the water with my enormous binoculars, and I will see some of them. When I am birding on the coast, I am usually on sand or rock, upon which salamanders do not generally live.

So now that I’ve explained, here’s what I saw this weekend: a song sparrow, a robin, and a squirrel. It was magical, as you can tell.

On somewhat related news, a boat sank and there was a minor contaminant spill in West Seattle this weekend. As far as we know, disaster was averted. No contaminated birds were brought to us, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any that need help.

So if you happen to be walking the beaches this week, keep an eye out for dark, sandy piles of feathers. They might be birds that need your help.