Not leaving it for the revision

I’m on a Facebook page where everyone’s focus—especially now with NANO—is to simply get the first draft out of the way so they can get to the revision. It’s like the first draft is so distasteful, it’s like, “Let’s just gulp this down and get it out of the way. Everything can be fixed on the revision.”

I used to think that, too.

And it’s like the hatred of the first draft feeds on that thinking. I remember working on the first draft of one particularly problematic book. At that point, my writing was starting to really clash with all the outlining advice that was out there. Little things like “Know your plot points” that are sternly recommended for pantsers were interfering with my story, and all I could think about as I was writing it was that I was looking forward to fixing it on the revision.

Then I got to the revision, and it was a terrible mess. It seemed like every decision I made in first draft affected events that followed. If I changed A, then B, C, D, and X also changed. But I wasn’t done! A changed P, S, and T, and changing P changed C, which changed other things. It just snowballed into a mass of revision that had me pulling out my hair.

But if you’d told me that it was how I was thinking about the first draft at the time, I wouldn’t have believed it. A lot of emphasis is put on that the first draft is always terrible and revision is where the story really comes out.

I saw this first hand when I took Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel. I had this tangled mess that looked like the cat had taken the ball of yarn outside and unrolled it out in the leaf pile and then dragged it around in the dirt and picked up the fox gloves. One of her lessons was to look through the entire story and simply identify what was wrong. I couldn’t believe the amount of problems that I had created by the magic words, “I’ll leave that for revision.”

It was horrifying when I realized what this was doing to the story. Each part of the story connects to other parts of the story, so if one decision isn’t made, it’s like a car hitting a pothole. The alignment gets thrown out of whack, and every decision that follows is based on that part that’s out of whack.

I ended up tossing out that entire story and redrafting it from scratch—essentially pretending like that mess didn’t exist and doing a new first draft. It was much easier than trying to fix what I left for revision!

Now, if I get stuck in the first draft, I stop and figure out why.  Sometimes this takes longer than I really want, but it’s far better than the old way of “leaving it for the revision.”

The Magic of First Experiences

We always get a day like today in Washington DC once fall sets in for a stay. The sky goes very blue, and the winds start up, scattering brown leaves all over the streets. I usually have to stop visiting any parks at this point because there are so many leaves on the ground that I can’t see tree roots or rocks that would cause my ankle to turn.

But streets are fine because they’re always nice and flat, even when it’s a hill. I’m not going to find a tree root poking up in the middle of the street.

So I picked this one street and followed it, looking at the houses and watching the squirrels dash around in search of nut prizes to bury. There was this one garden next to the sidewalk. Nothing spectacular, but it was bordered by white quartz.

It reminded me of when my family first moved into the house I grew up in, the Los Angeles suburbs. I had to be in kindergarten, so a lot of things I saw were still firsts and new experiences to me. At that point, I’d lived in an apartment, so a house was a new thing.

It was a slab house (concrete base; no basement), and stucco, which was common in Los Angeles. Painted Pepto Bismal pink, and still is. It might have been two bedrooms at one time and had an attached garage converted into a master bedroom. The master bedroom had that garage shape and a strange built in working surface that seemed more for tool tinkering than for a bedroom.

The backyard was huge. Not like the postage stamp-sized ones so small it’s hard to garden. This backyard was big enough that we could have put a swimming pool in if we’d wanted. At the time, behind the house was a gigantic vacant lot that stayed that way for quite a few years. Now it’s a bunch of condos.

Anyway, the yard consisted of a small hill in the back with a stand of paddle cactus, a century cactus, a stand of bamboo, and a whole lot of tall, yellow grass. Los Angeles is always in draught, so when it rains, the grass grows really fast, then goes yellow and dies. When I walked through, the grass would always leave little rocket ships of foxgloves in my socks, which are how it moves seeds around.

And, of course, this vast backyard, was something to be explored. So I’m on a mission into the unknown to find out what was out there, and I discovered treasure!

It was kind of a dirty yellow crystal, scattered all throughout the yard. In hindsight of experience, the crystal was probably a quartz used as part of a garden. I remember bits of concrete stuck to some of the pieces. But I’d never seen anything like it before, so it was part of the adventure of exploring and discovery.

As adults, I think we sometimes forget that there are things that still need to be discovered, even if it’s a new experience that we haven’t had that just shakes us up a little and gives us something new. There’s still room for a lot of firsts, even if it is just seeing a black squirrel for the first time or watching the leaf truck suck up leaves.

Veteran’s Day

I went to IHOP for Veteran’s Day—they were offering red, white, and blue pancakes to the vets. I wore my Desert Storm because well, I could. The reason I picked the IHOP is because I go there are the time, and the staff all knows me. I thought they’d have a blast, and they did –a lot of the specials offered that day are not really about someone getting something for free, but simply giving.

That was one of the wonderful thing during Desert Storm when we receive Any Soldier mail. People who didn’t know us took the time to send us mail. Every little bit counts.

Washington Wanderings: Planetside and Blanketside

Saturday morning I realized I needed to recharge the muse a little with a trip to see art. I started with picking the museum pretty much because I did want to do a transfer on Metro. If any of the lines are single-tracking due to maintenance, it becomes a big headache and a whole lot of people. So, when I saw that there looked to be a decent art exhibit by Kay Walkingstick at the National Museum of the American Indian, that was it. The exhibit actually opened that day.

Generally, I haven’t liked the NMAI. I went to the museum right after it opened its doors for the first time and found it visually noisy. Smithsonian had some criticisms for being politically correct, and the museum felt like they were trying to please everyone. They had tried to put in a section for all the of the tribes, and there were too many to do a decent job with it.

The second time I went, it was to see an exhibit by a Hawaiian artist that was a joint project with a local gallery. I was writing my Hawaii book Rogue God at the time, and I was intrigued in seeing contemporary Hawaiian art.

I got home tools like shovels and brooms.

So this was my third time at the museum. Fingers crossed!

It was raining out when I left. Not really hard, so I figured I could manage without the umbrella. The news made it sound like the rain would blow through. I hopped the Metro and got off at L’Enfant Plaza and back out into the rain. A short walk to the museum (thankfully!).

First stop inside was at the 4th Floor theater, mainly because there was a sign over the elevator that said something like “Start your visit in the theater.” The theater was kind of strange because it had three “screens.” The first was on an Indian blanket, and that was the primary screen. The second was on the “grandfather rock,” which was a polished globe in the floor. The third was on the ceiling, and it was sort of a planetarium screen.

I was sort of torn between planetside and blanketside, and ignored poor grandfather. Some aspects of the film reminded me of these Alaskan films that I saw in 5th or 5th grade. The films showed the Alaskans (who were also in the blanketside film) cutting freshly killed animals and eating the meat from the knife. The grade school films were actually quite bloody. We had a little bit of that here, but nothing like those school films.

Then the film wrapped and it was lunch time so I wandered off to the café to see what was there. This was, hands down, one of the best of the food restaurants in the Smithsonian (Air and Space is one of the worst—it’s a MacDonald’s so there are very few options; Natural History Museum is also pretty poor because they imply healthy food, and healthy means free range).

I picked Indian Tacos, which consisted of Buffalo Chili (beans and sauce, not buffalo meat); lettuce, tomatoes, bell pepper; cheddar cheese; and fry bread. I’d read about fry bread in the Ellah Clah books, so it was on my list to try it. The bread was round and kind of flat, but thicker than a tortilla and puffy. Inside it was pleasurably soft. The taco parts were spread on top of it, so I may have to make a trip back for fry bread by itself. But it was very good.

And I was amazed that the people in front of me just ordered hamburgers. Seriously? You can’t try something new out?

Up to the third floor for the Kay Walkingstick exhibit. The museum guard warned me that an alarm would sound if I got within two feet of the paintings. That’s probably in place because of the Gaughan incident a few years ago. There was a Gaughan exhibit at the National Art Gallery. It was his Tahiti paintings, so lots of nudes. A woman went nuts and tried to damage one of the paintings.

He also said the artist had been by the day before, and he was in awe of her. Pity! I wish I could have seen her. That would have been cool. I settled for a movie she filmed for the museum that was part of the exhibit.

The exhibit itself was very extensive (not like my previous experience with three pieces that consisted of tools). It covered 1970s all the way through today. I found the modern day landscapes just stunning. The colors and images were stunning. You can see the artworks on Walkingstick’s site. Each section has art that was in this exhibit. The section called “Works on Canvas & Wood” feature the landscapes that I really enjoyed.

After I finished wandering, it was time to go back outside. Yup! Still raining, and a bit harder. Really should have brought the umbrella!

A Call to Pens for Women Veterans

Someone on Twitter reported “How insulting” that I thought I was the only woman veteran writing, so I wanted to write about why I think that.

Especially with Veteran’s Day on Wednesday. There’s going to be a lot of people sending veteran photos over Facebook. Photos of men standing next to the Vietnam Memorial; men out on the battlefield; men holding rifles.

The default image of a soldier is a man. I’ll read a front page article on the Veteran’s Administration or something else on the military. The newspaper will have interviews with three soldiers, and it’s all men. Sure, they’ll be an article about women once in a while, and it’s like an afterthought. Oh yeah. We have to write about the women, too.

The books are like that, too.

There will be a book on women who served, like the one I found when I returned home from Desert Storm, and then a bunch of books about the men. There are women in those books, but it’s the wives writing them, or the daughters and granddaughters.

When I’ve been published in some of these collections, I’ve often been the only woman veteran. The exception was Red, White & True. That book was edited by a woman veteran who had previously published a book and had one other woman veteran besides me. Still not a whole lot.

It’s hard finding the stories of the women soldiers, about their experiences.

So much so that the women veterans on a Facebook page I’m on (all women; all services) complained that there was no representation for the women veterans.

Is there bias?

Yes. That’s pretty clear. But everyone tends to point fingers at only one party, and the women are also responsible.

Let’s start with the fact that writing well enough for publication is a darned hard skill to learn. It’s not a matter of just having what we think is a best selling story, putting the words on paper, and magic happens. Though most people think that.

Add to that a lot of the veteran’s calls are non-paying. In many cases, what gets into the non-paying is not going to be very good quality. Any veteran who is writing professionally is going to want to get paid for their time and effort so they steer clear.

The second problem is that there’s a high likelihood that the publisher of this book is going to be inexperienced. In one of the early non-paying books I was in, they accepted everyone who submitted and probably shouldn’t have (and I was still the only woman veteran writing in that!).

What’s wrong with that? First, if the pieces aren’t screened for a specific theme or quality, readers are probably not going to buy the book. There might be a few, and family will certainly buy it, but it’s not going to get a lot of visibility.

But also, if the publisher doesn’t know what they’re doing, they can tend to be people wanting to either help writers, or veterans. That sounds like a good thing, and it’s not because they’re focusing on helping the writers, not on giving the readers what they want to read. If the book makes it to publication, it’s probably not going to be read by very many.

Assuming the book doesn’t crash and burn before it gets to publication.

I was accepted for one book that was part of a fledgling small press. It was not a veteran’s call, but it had a topic that I could do a woman veteran story for. In this case the topic really lent itself to therapy. Meaning, everyone—including me—were writing these stories as therapy. I think the editor was doing it for that, too.

She got into a strange fight with the publisher over the title of the book versus what she had called a small business she started. The publisher thought the names were too similar. It was strange because no one would have thought of the business when seeing the title. In hindsight, I think the publisher suddenly realized they had a problem when they saw the book. They may have been imaging something different in the pitch; when they saw the book, they realized they were going to lose a lot of money on it.

Which goes to the third problem, and that has to do with the writer. I’m on a women’s writing board, and everyone seems to be doing a memoir. Writing about rape and abuse is a popular topic for a memoir (therapy, remember?). There’s a woman on the women’s veteran board who wants to write a book about her experiences with military sexual trauma.

We had front page news with the scandals about how the military was treating what happened to the women soldiers. How many publishers grabbed up stories about those personal experiences and rushed it to press to cash in on the publicity?

None. (Don’t believe me?  Google it.)

It’s a not a topic readers want to read about beyond a news story. It’s too difficult of a topic to spend an entire book on. Every book has to be entertaining in some way, even if it’s exposing a scandal. But the reality is that there are some topics where it’s just plain a hard sell to the average reader.

Add to that probably a lot of women veterans are doing what the average writer does: This book is The Event. They put all their effort into writing this one book, or this one story. If it doesn’t get accepted by an agent, they turn to the free publications. If it gets published, it disappears because few are reading the poorer quality non-paying publications. If the publication folds, it disappears, too.

And if only a few women veterans are even trying to write about their experiences, that makes it easy for them to never be seen.

The answer is one story is not The Event, and it’s probably not what people want to hear: Write a lot of stories.

Early on, I did a story twice about visiting a Vietnam memorial for the first time after the war. Both those were published (non-paying publication though). I also did a Christmas in Desert Storm piece that got into the Washington Post. After Starcon, I wrote a non-fiction article about meeting William Windom (Star Trek), because it was really about two vets, one of whom was an actor. That one was also submitted to a non-paying market that folded. Since we had a dog during Desert Storm, I tried one for Dog Fancy and got a personal rejection for that one (a shame. That one was professional payment!).

I also ventured into fiction and poetry. I have poetry still in submission to an anthology on death. They did pay, but not a lot, which was why I wrote the poem, since it was lousy pay for a short story but great pay for a poem. I’m also thinking of writing for a paying call for poetry on fear. That doesn’t pay a lot, but if it doesn’t get accepted (and if does), I can use it to fill a future book of war fiction and poetry. I’m also thinking about military science fiction stories.

The best chances for women veteran’s voices to be heard is get our stories—as in more than one—everywhere.

Desert Storm Reunion: Day 6 and 7 at sea

After we left Honduras, we were on our way back with two days at sea. We also got weather. The seas were heavier, so the ship would periodically lurch and sway. Nothing too bad mostly; every now and then, the ship would lurch in a way that made every one stop and go “Did you feel that?”

View of waves from the ship

The water was like this all the way back.

One of the passengers also reported in the elevator that there had been an accident on the rock climbing wall. The lurching had caused a climber to swing away from wall and then slammed her into it, breaking her arm. Ouch!

Rock climbing wall

That’s the rock climbing wall. It was on the highest point of the ship.

Friday was the Desert Storm Memorial ceremony. The ship did not allow it to be listed in the Cruise Compass, so it was just attended by veterans. We gathered in the ship’s conference room for the ceremony and watched each other lean from side to side in unison during the National Anthem.

Veterans holding flags from each of the services and the U.S. flag

Displaying the “colors.”

After that, volunteers from the services read the names of the fallen aloud.

(I’m seated to the left of the lectern).

One of the women had about a 10 second comment (edited out of the video) before reading the names. That caused quite a stir that apparently turned rather nasty. Some of the comments afterward fussed along the lines that she had gone off script—it was such a strange reaction that I was wondering initially what they were talking about. After the cruise, it turned into a bigger spat (the speed of the internet made me miss most of it), but it seemed like the same thing when the women’s memorial was added to the Vietnam Memorial where the veterans devalued another veteran’s experience.

My opinion: War leaves a deep imprint, and those experiences are larger than life. So much so that if someone has different experiences, but also ones that left that same deep imprint, that one vet will say, “That’s not as bad as mine, so you have no right to complain (or get honored).” We were in the rear during the war, such as the rear was. I had a friend who had one of those experiences that left such a deep imprint that it destroyed her. Yet, a front line vet might very well devalue that because his own experiences also left such a deep imprint.

And all of this might come from the problem is that none of the veterans from any of the wars from Vietnam forward did any kind of bonding or healing on the return home. We just came back on a plane and were expected to resume normal activities. (For World War II, the veterans were sent back on a ship that took about a month.)

There were other Desert Storm events, but I attended an art auction with a couple of the vets. There was an auction on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s feature Thomas Kincaid. I also attended a panel session on his art, which was very interesting. You’ll never see his paintings the same way once you know this:

If you have one of his pieces, look for the signature. Somewhere near it is a number. That is the number of Ns hidden in the painting. Every time he thought of his wife, he added the first letter of her name to the painting. Of course, after we heard that, we were up in the art gallery checking out his paintings and trying to find Ns. The auction employees confessed that those N’s are darned hard to find.

Lila (she’s the one carrying the Air Force flag in the video) bought a wonderful metal work painting of two wine glasses coming together. Black background, crimson wine. Spectacular. She got some Thomas Kincaids, and between what she purchased and won from the raffles, it was 14 paintings. 14!

Other artists auctioned off:

Autumn Deforest. She’s only 14! I was sitting too far back, so it was hard to see how magnificent her works were until I got up close.

Peter Max. Stunning color to these paintings and way out of my price range. I think one of the paintings was going for $70,000.

Friday also had my final towel animal, which I found hanging from the ceiling. Incredible amount of detail, even in the face.

Towel monkey hanging from ceiling

Coincidence that I went to the monkey park?  Enlarge and check out the face!

And the dog got dressed up in scuba gear …

Dog statue dressed up in face mask and snorkel.

And then in bright colors.

Dog sculpture with bright wig

Despite all the weather, we arrived right on time in Galveston on Sunday.  I was glad to finally get back. I’d done enough cruising. Though I might think of another one again.

Desert Storm Reunion – Day 5 – Honduras

One of the things I noticed is that the ship ALWAYS arrived on time at each of the ports. I woke up on Thursday, looked out my window and could see the port.

By the way, if you’re wondering how I could keep track of each day while I was on the ship, it wasn’t hard. Every day the crew replaced a plate in the elevator with new one with the day. For Honduras, we were cautioned to make sure we were following ship time because Honduras was an hour behind.

Floor plate with the word Thursday

These were changed daily in the elevators.

Today, I had a trip out to Gumbalimba Park. Rick, one of the veterans, kept asking me if the Belize Zoo from the day before had the “bridge”—it was actually this park in Honduras.

The tour started at 11:00, so I checked out the stores on the dock.

Stores on the dock.

The stores on the port. I was actually trying to catch shots of people going down a zipline to that green shore in the background.


I bought some chocolate and also a painting. The artist was selling the paintings at a stand, and most of the works were typical tourist stuff: Beaches, turtles, dolphins. I was looking through stacks of paintings for the right one, though I couldn’t have explained what I was looking for. I found one, which was of a Honduras woman carrying a basket on her head. Close … maybe.

There was a man helping the artist, and he said, “A hard working woman.” He helped me with the stacks, and it was kind of weird because he wasn’t trying to get me to buy any of them. I pulled out another one, also a Honduras woman, similar to the first but different backdrop. Not quite right.

Then I hit the one, and that was it. I had my painting, and I was done.

It was curious because this couple came by at the same time, bought a painting and left. But after I paid for mine, the artist wanted a picture of me with him.

Dropped my painting off in my stateroom, and then it was time for the short excursion. The tour guides piled us on a bunch of buses. I was a solo traveler, and I could see where the guides were suddenly going, “Wait, we have to put this one person somewhere.” So they had me get into the front seat of one of the buses. It turned out to be a terrifying experience. The driver got us to the park in record time, but I kept thinking we were going to hit someone!

The streets in Honduras

This was taken from the front seat of the tour bus.

The roads didn’t have any sidewalks, so people would be riding bikes in the street, or walking, and dogs would come out and watch the world, and everyone was so close to the bus. At once point, where there was a sidewalk, he drove on it. Interesting fact: They don’t have addresses in Honduras like we do. The houses are all painted bright colors to make the identifiable. So your mailing address might be “The blue house behind the rotting tree” in a particular city.

At the park, we gathered in our group. Then we were off to check out the park and get our safety briefing. For the macaws, we were warned not to have any ball caps with buttons. Apparently the liked to eat the buttons. For the monkeys, it was glasses. They really like glasses and will steal them off your face and try to put them on. Of course, the glasses won’t fit, so they’ll get mad and try to break them. If you try to take the glasses away from them, they’ll get aggressive and slap you.

Oh yeah.

First stop was The Bridge:

Rope Bridge

Sorry, but no way!

No, I didn’t cross it. I’m afraid of heights, and I knew I would have had problems with all the swaying. Only two other people opted for the “Chicken Bridge.”

At the other end was the Macaws. They are loud. There were two of them going at each other in case, just screaming.

We all posed with a green one that was a “military bird.” This one man had on a polo shirt with a button on a collar. The trainer set the bird on the opposite shoulder, and suddenly the bird snaked around behind his neck. Its beak went for the button and crunch!   It was gone!

Me with a macaw on my shoulder

No button eating here!

Then it was off to the monkeys. The park had a trainer out there to make sure things stayed under control, because the monkeys actually jumped right on us. I think the monkeys thought of us as things to play with like a tree. One tall, bald guy ended up with the monkeys on him a lot.

The monkey was very light, even lighter than a cat. Long fingers. I couldn’t see him once he jumped on me, but he used his long fingers to comb through my hair. Guess he found that interesting. For good behavior, he got a sunflower see from the trainer. I was picking the shells out of my hair later!

Me with a monkey on my head

The monkey was climbing all over my hair.

Then it was back to the ship.

Cruise ship docked at port

See that first gangplank? The porthole directly above it was my stateroom.  You might need to enlarge the photo to see it.