Sunday Journal – Sicky Sicky Boo Boo

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I hate being sick.  It steals my motivation to do anything.

I have, though, managed to keep up with the laundry.

Yippee.

So, rather than leave you with nothing, I share this shot I took at our annual writers retreat in Utah, USA, this past September.  The vistas were truly stunning.

What about you, Dear Reader?  What are you doing this weekend?

Sunday Journal – Cats, Cats, and More Cats or, Five Tips for Zoo Photography

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It’s not that I don’t like canids.  I adore them.  But I write a lot about cats because we decided our first series featured Siberian tiger shifters, so I’ve spent the last five and a half years researching big cats.  That, and the zoo has a world-class wolf habitat that is large and allows the wolves to roam.

And, well, hide.

We live with three cats and a dog, but what the dog lacks in numbers she makes up for in size and personality.  That leaves the zoo for me to study large cats.

Take It Off Auto-Focus

This lovely boy is the Amur leopard.  I must have stood there for ten minutes as he paced back and forth, always missing him when he was coming straight at me and getting his side or his back.

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Lovely pelt, nu?

The shot at the top is when he paused suddenly, turned, and looked right at my husband.  I only had time to snap the one shot; when I backed up to get both of them, the leopard moved again.

So here’s what I’ve learned in trying to photograph a shy Amur leopard:

  1. Like I said above, take it off auto-focus.  While I stood there, frantically pushing down on the shutter, the camera stuttered back and forth as it tried to focus.  He was only four feet from me!
  2. Look at the settings available to you.  If you’re photographing a moving animal, try “action shot” setting or whatever your camera calls it.  If you’re inside, try “night scene.”
  3. Never use a flash.  It’s rude.  How would you feel if some jackass came up and flashed lights at you?  It also won’t work if you’re in front of glass.  You’ll just get a very good picture of the jackass taking the shot in the reflection created on the glass.  And you’ll annoy the animals – and the people around you.
  4. Talk to the subject.  Be friendly.  You’re more likely to get some interaction, even if they don’t look right at you – and a lot of times, they won’t, because it’s seen as a challenge.
  5. Hold your body steady and exhale.  Squeeze the shutter at the end of your exhale so you have the steadiest shot you can.

What about you, Dear Reader?  What are your favorite zoo photograph techniques?

Here are a few more of the leopard:

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I was so close!  I just couldn’t get him coming straight at me; my camera went into conniptions. But it felt like he was close enough to touch.

Of course, the glass is like five inches thick.  And there’s mesh over the TOP of his enclosure.

Yeah.  Here, Kitty, Kitty.  NOT.

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Look at that muzzle.  This is a big son of a buck.

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He heard something; we weren’t sure if it was my husband or a passerby, but he paused and looked right out the glass.  I love how his closest ear is pointing right at me.

He’s looking at me, Ray.

Sunday Journal

Sundays evoke the image of a relaxed day, perhaps with family around the table and a nice meal, or maybe watching the television.  We’re doing the latter; farting around on Netflix after a large brunch of eggs and bacon.  We’ve got lobster tails for dinner for the man of the house and burgers with bleu cheese for me, and ribs for The Boy.  It’s a nice day.

As I write the draft for the third book in our popular Sealed series, which is called Sealed by Duty, I’m reminded yet again of how tenacious our inner critic can be.  As I look at the story, my words are strangled and silent and it took nearly an hour just to get 300 on the page.  Still, it’s 300 more than I had yesterday and I’m reminded, yet again, that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Here’s some more thoughts about how that process works for me, in case it sparks something for you in your creative endeavors.

I open the draft and sit with the blank page for a while.  Sometimes, if I’m really not seeing Story, then I’ll reread the part prior to where I need to add more to the page.  That will help me figure out what happens next.

Sometimes, that doesn’t work.  But I have to give it long enough, and listen hard enough, and then write down what I hear without judgment.

That’s the hardest part, actually; writing down what I hear without judgment.  Trust the story to tell itself.  See it, like a movie in your mind, and report what you see.  They say the second book is the hardest, because after the exuberance of the first book, you know what’s coming and how much work it’ll be.  I find that’s true for the seventh book, and the twenty-seventh book, too.  My inner critic goes for my jugular each time.

On occasion, listening doesn’t work because the critic is too loud to hear Story.  No amount of coaxing helps.  These times are incredibly frustrating and they typically hit, for me at least, in two key points:  the first is after the first 25,000 or 30,000 of the book is on the page and I can start to see the full scope of it; and at the end, when I’m about 3,000 or 4,000 words from the end.  In both cases, the end is near and that’s what stops me.  I have a fear of endings.

No, I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet or I wouldn’t be writing this post.

One of the things that works at this point is to draw a grid of squares on a blank piece of paper.  Yes, by hand.  For me, this process is kinesthetic.  Doing it on the computer doesn’t work; I’ve tried.  Cherry Adair teaches her Plotting Board, and this is a modified version of it.  I write in the grids what parts of the story I already have; this allows me to see where the gaps are.  It’s normal that I have the beginning, some parts of the middle, and the end.  It’s the dreaded middle that’s the problem – which is the title of an essay I read but can’t now put my hands on, so I’m afraid I can’t give the author due credit.  They’re right, though, this author; I do dread the middle because I need to get through it to get to the end.  As much as I have trouble with the end, it’s the middle that has to be done to even have that problem.

And then there are those times where none of that works – not listening, not drawing grids, not banging my head against the keyboard, nothing.

At those times, one needs to step away.  Now I don’t mean give up easily – give it a real, honest try.  But if you’re still stuck after an hour, walk away.  Get your head clear.  This is one of the many reasons I knit – because even if I’m blocked on words, I can still make something.  Let the knitting tell you a story.  Sometimes it’s your missing story; other times, it’s a bedtime story that soothes your inner artist and lulls the inner critic into a nap so that you can sneak onto the page.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about: get onto the page.

By any means necessary.

Write on.

Sunday Journal

For much of the U.S., it’s getting very cold this weekend and anticipated to get colder this coming week.

Good nap weather.

I got asked the other day, is it hard to write with someone else?

“Hard” isn’t a word I’d use.  While it is a challenge to communicate, writing together is deeply satisfying and a lot of fun.  It’s like any relationship, though, and it takes work and an investment of time and energy – and yes, frankly, money.  I’m flying out to Nevada this coming week, for example.  But the rewards are worth it.

I never know how to answer the question, what’s it like to write with a coauthor.  Not because I don’t know, but because the answer wouldn’t make sense to anyone else.  It’s like trying to answer the question, what’s it like to be married to so-and-so?  Being married is unique to each couple, and even within the couple, two different people are likely to give two entirely different answers.  It depends on context and individual personality.

I also, less frequently, get the ruder question, why don’t you write by yourself?  Somehow it’s seen as bad to write with someone else, as though I’m compensating for someone.  I always feel sorry for the person who asks me that question, because it misses the point so widely.  Of course I can write, and I do write, on my own frequently.  But I enjoy writing with a partner, and that’s why I do it.

Because at the end of the day, it’s a lot of fun.

Now, back to the subject of naps.  I wonder if my laundry is done and my blanket is dry and warm and fluffy?  Hmm….