Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alpacas, Whales, and Falcons

What do alpacas, whales, and falcons have in common? Read on and you’ll find out.

When deciding my next book project a couple of years ago, I thought, “How can I visit Mom in Oregon and get a tax write off?”

Okay, I didn’t exactly approach it that way, but I’m a fiction writer. What do you expect? However, the answer to my fictional question was to propose a three-book series set in Southern Oregon:
God Gave the Song, released last October; Crossroads Bay, releasing the end of this month; and Fine, Feathered Friend, still in process. (Added note: These titles are now in eBook form and can be found on Amazon. Here is my page for easy access.)  

My octogenarian mother lives in Medford, a fairly large town near an intriguing hamlet called Ashland, where I set
God Gave the Song. Creative people live in Ashland. Weavers, glass blowers, jewelry makers—this charming little college town is the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and apparently where old hippies retired and birthed baby hippies.

And they have alpacas. Lots of them. They would have to in order to keep all those weavers in business.

God Gave the Song is about two people with abandonment issues who learn to forgive with the help of a melodious alpaca. And yes, alpacas hum. Usually when distressed, but often when contented. At least, that’s what several experts told me, so I’m sticking to that story.

My first up-close experience with an alpaca happened only a few miles from my Colorado home on Stargazer Ranch in Loveland. Okay, Colorado has alpacas, too, but Mom doesn’t live here. 

Before my trip to Oregon I continued my research online. Google became my friend as I virtually visited other ranches. But what I found most helpful were blogs by alpaca enthusiasts. Ranch owners who had funny, poignant, and real stories to tell became fodder for much of the alpaca action in my story. This is including my vignette about the cria who enjoyed a game of “Let’s Bounce Off Mommy.”

Once the story was contracted, I visited Mom. Yay! And God, who just had to show off, orchestrated my visit to coincide with an alpaca show practically in her backyard. How cool is He? We wandered around talking to tons of participants, getting ideas on everything from dyes to diet. Speaking of diet, in the afore mentioned blog article, I bring up the fascinating discussion of . . . um . . . alpaca excrement. I hadn’t learned yet what many in the biz call “beans.” Because it looks like . . . um . . . a pile of beans. Oh yeah, that had to make it in the book.

Then, with the help of my Oregon family, we visited all three locations of this series.

The second book is
Crossroads Bay where a beautiful charter boat captain searches for lost treasure while her real prize is the caterer trying to keep up with her. This book continues Paul’s story, a supporting character in God Gave the Song. Meranda, who gives whale watching tours, causes some consternation in Paul’s life as he is a severe landlubber. Oh, the things we writers do to our characters to make their lives miserable. Heh-heh . . .

Loosely based on a variety of coastal towns, our tour continued as we traveled from Coos Bay to Port Orford where we visited several lighthouses. Cape Blanco won my vote for favorite lighthouse in a setting, largely because of its red brick interior. My characters chisel at that brick to find the treasure. Are they successful? Read the book to find out!

And finally, on to the setting of the third book,
Fine, Feathered Friend. An actress and a falcon handler find love with the help of a tattletale parrot named Cyrano. I took two stabs at researching the setting for this book. It takes place in Shady Cove, about fifty miles from Crater Lake, but the raptor sanctuary I wanted to use was in Eugene. So I moved it. Sometimes I think writers have more power than they deserve.

At the Cascades Raptor Center, I met Brian, a handler with every bit of passion that Tim, my character, possesses. He introduced me to several predatory birds, among them a red-tailed hawk, two vultures who sized me up for a snack, and an eagle re-learning how to fly. His most interesting story was of a dead mouse he’d forgotten in his sweatshirt pocket. Dead mice are used as Scooby Snacks for enticement and kept in a refrigerator on the premises. While looking for spare change at the grocery story, he pulled the mouse out of his sweatshirt pocket. Apparently the clerk was not amused. (Note the picture above and the lifeless fuzzy thing in his right hand—ew.)

Watch my blog,, for updates or find me on Facebook.

This article was originally posted at the Edit Cafe blog on March 22, 2010:
(Blog With A Giggle article was edited on August 14, 2014)

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Checklist for Chocolate-Induced Content Edits

The following was posted on the ACFW Colorado blog today.

Ironic that I should kick off this month's topic, Editing and Revisions. I just finished an eleven page content edit for the third book in my contemporary Oregon series entitled Fine Feathered Friend (Barbour Heartsong Presents.) I rejoiced when I got that. At least it wasn't fifteen pages like the first book's edits.

I have a system when tackling edits of this nature. See if yours is similar.
  1. I open the large, thick attachment with fear and trembling.

  2. I peruse it, looking for key words and phrases. (Great job! Made me smile! You are the best, funniest, most talented author I have ever worked with!)

  3. When I don't find those key words and phrases, I minimize the window and tear my kitchen apart for chocolate. I know I'm going to need it.

  4. After a quick trip to the mini-market on the corner for chocolate, I open the window again and look at the comments with a more professional eye.

  5. My particular editor goes chapter by chapter. Generally, I skim through it the first time, changing the easy stuff first rather than getting bogged down on something that requires major thread surgery. This bouys my confidence when I see that much of it is easy to fix. (In God Gave the Song, for instance, she suggested I change a rock to a boulder. Whatever. I did it.)

  6. Then, I hit the things that require more thought, making sure my bowl of Hershey's Almond Toffee Milk Chocolate Nuggets is within reach. (In Fine Feathered Friend, she worried about the hero's grandfather and if he'd ever had the doctor's appointment that I had mentioned, and what was the outcome?, I totally forgot about it. And in the course of the story, I had to redo some things to show that he missed his appointment. And once you mess with a thread, you have to make sure that you haven't snipped it somewhere else along the line.)

  7. I go item by item, checking off each one or making a notation. (Ask raptor center about this, talk to crit group about how to approach this, and my favorite, IGNORE!)

  8. I try to leave enough time to read the entire story over again with all of my changes. This will, of course, prompt a little more tweaking, but is well worth it. (NOTE: If the editor has sent your manuscript for you to make track changes, DO NOT accept all of the changes unless instructed to do so. If you want to read a clean manuscript, save to a new document, then hit accept all.)

  9. Satisfied with my changes, I send them back to my editor and finish off the bowl of chocolate as my reward.

  10. I step up my Curves program to five days a week instead of three to get rid of the chocolate-generated fat on my thighs.

That's how I approach edits that come back from my publisher, but I utilize the principle in a similar way before sending it out in the first place. Attack the small stuff, assault the larger picture, annihalate the bowl of chocolate. Regroup at Curves.