cast of characters, part II

And now for a few more of our friends. (Part one is here.)

Dinah: A senior keeper’s aide who’s been at the zoo for 30 years, seen and heard it all, and hates everything from the D.C. weather to the new Femi/Eliza leadership team.

Walter Clayton: the zoo’s head custodian and Dinah’s pal and sidekick in fed-up-ness. He thinks “I’m too old for this” at least a thousand times a day. But Walter and Dinah are good with…

… the younger staff members, including keepers’ aides Jenny (a high-strung, skinny African-American girl) and Drew (a calm, hemp-wearing hippie).

Henry Forsythe: Eliza’s favorite professor from vet school, now a retired gentleman farmer living in Virginia. He comes in as a consultant whenever she calls him and may or may not have a drinking problem.

The cast also includes police detectives, zoo keepers, keepers’ aides, custodians, concessions vendors, security guards, an overeager newspaper reporter, and a few tourists for good measure.

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cast of characters, part I

By popular demand from last week’s post asking which animals you’d like to know more about, I’ll leak a little more information about the staff.

I’ll start with the three main characters. (Well, Eliza is the main main character, but the other two are close seconds.)

Eliza Lindeman: The zoo’s head veterinarian. She’s a smartypants, a late-30s/early-40s former 4.0 student at a prestigious vet school. She’s little vain and a little insecure, but she has the proverbial heart of gold. She lives alone, she truly cares for animals, and she’s sleeping with not one but two men at work, including…

Sy Dunlop, a quintessential middle manager in charge of personnel, although he has trouble remembering his job title. He is a schlub and a putz whose wife suspects he’s fooling around, and he’s always rumpled and disgruntled. He eats fluorescent microwave rice for lunch every day and feels a constant, nagging resentment toward…

Femi Okoro, Eliza’s other paramour and the zoo’s charismatic director, who is looking to bust out of this second-rate zoo and move on to something a little more prestigious. Also a veterinarian, he’s from Nigeria and speaks with an accent that Eliza loves.

Coming up tomorrow: the supporting players!

breaking blog news

Buddy and Pedro will be reunited by spring!

The Toronto Zoo will reunite its two gay penguins in the spring, and ironically, it could be even sooner if they get with the female penguins quickly. Poor little guys… but at least it’s being done in the name of the survival of their species, and hopefully their separation will be short-lived.

THE CAPITAL ZOO’s gay penguins are separated for a time, too. Here’s a little teaser from the first chapter:

Jenny gazed pityingly at the lone penguin in the corner and began to make her way toward it. Sy followed.

“That’s Churchill,” she said. “He and Kissinger have a chick together.”

“I didn’t realize we had those gay penguins here,” Dunlop said, surprised. Jenny looked at him, and he caught something like hostility in her expression.

“Uh, yeah. Something like 12 percent of penguins are gay. Kissinger and Churchill are bonded for life.”

Jenny’s voice went shaky, and Dunlop realized she was about to cry. Oh, come on, he thought, wishing someone else were here to pat her arm and say comforting things.

‘writing is about outlasting your doubt’

The very, very funny and self-deprecating Steve Almond (an author I hadn’t been familiar with but whose work I certainly be looking up now) said those words during the keynote address at the Baltimore Writers’ Conference on Saturday.

Here’s his sentiment in its entirety:

People quit writing because it’s too hard — too full of disappointment, rejection, self-doubt. But writing is about outlasting your doubt… about judging your decisions without judging yourself.

Nice, right?

I went to several sessions on Saturday: a technical workshop about plot, a chatty talk about social media for writers, an extended Q&A with an agent, and a quick critique session. I liked them all, for different reasons, and I just did my first-ever submission of a short story thanks to meeting someone at the quick critique.

I’m really glad I went, and that my wonderful English teaching friend H. came too. It was wonderful to see it through her eyes too. And I felt like there were a lot of people there who got it, who understood what’s both really hard and really important about writing.

Now, back to real life and back to querying…

good morning, Baltimore

I’m still south of the Mason-Dixon line and still having a wonderful time – lots of friends & babies (& not-so-little-anymore babies) & late nights & good talks.

The conference yesterday was great & I will post more musings about it later this week, but I’ve been thinking all day about one of the most interesting & useful things I heard there. It was during the quick critique session, which was hands-down the most practical workshop of the day for me; two published writers reviewed my query letter & first few pages & gave immediate feedback.

The second woman I spoke with, who was really nice & encouraging, listened to my book’s trajectory, & wondered if maybe there was some kind if surprise that made the three agents who’ve asked to see the whole thing pass without giving any feedback.

I think there is, and now I’m thinking about doing some fairly serious revision to the first chapter to change it.

I’d really thought this novel was as good as I could possibly make it, completely ready to send it out… but now I’ve been bitten by the editing bug again and my fingers are itching to play around with that first chapter again. We shall see.

tools of the trade

During NaNoWriMo, the Internet became my worst enemy.

Twitter and Google Reader were my particular vices; I have trouble having a computer in front of me without near-constant checking of both of them. Normally, I’m a good multitasker, and both of those vices actually help me with my job — they keep up-to-date in quick and efficient ways, and they just generally make me feel on top of things.

When you’re trying to write 2,500 words of fiction starting at 9 p.m., after you’d already worked a full day and eaten dinner and should be settling down to knitting and chatting and movie-watching? Not so much.

Until another NaNoWriMo-er pointed me toward WriteRoom, a clever little program that essentially blacks out your screen so that all you see is this:

Brilliant, right? It worked like a charm.

A friend recently told me about OmmWriter, which I think I like even better but haven’t ponied up the $5 to buy yet. I’m a little concerned the yoga-ish music will put me to sleep, but I’m willing to risk it. Maybe it’ll be a present for NaNoWriMo 2012…

words of willpower

Blogging from ye olde iPhone right now, via the WordPress app, which is quite simple and elegant. It’s amazing how much of a mixed blessing this phone has turned out to be… on one hand, I love the feeling of connection that the Internet brings; I have always been an unapologetic fan of being connected in whatever way feels right to any individual, and I always will be.

On the other hand, I find that this phone requires me go have so much more willpower than most other things in my life.

I just spent six hours in the car, alone, driving from Ithaca to Baltimore. It rained almost every second of the entire drive, and, god bless the greater DC metro area, traffic was at a standstill the moment I hit the Baltimore beltway. Red taillights and gray skies stretching for miles.

It took pretty much every ounce of willpower I possess NOT to check Twitter, my email, my text messages, etc. etc. For the half-hour I was crawling along. Fortunately, my overwhelming fear of police officers & breaking rules prevailed & I didn’t touch the phone, but it was definitely an exercise of will.

I read an article recently that claimed self-control is a finite resource, and that if you use it all up on foolish things, you’re left with nothing for the important decisions, so here’s hoping that I’m not asked to choose between vanilla and chocolate tonight.

Back to regularly scheduled musings on tomorrow! This is a hot chocolate (vanilla?) night if ever there was one.

Baltimore bound

I’m headed down south tomorrow, bound for an annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner tradition with old friends. I’ll also be attending the Baltimore Writers’ Conference on Saturday, which I’m really looking forward to — I’ve gone to plenty of professional conferences, but I’ve never been to one dedicated to writing before.

I’m particularly looking forward to the quick critiques, where you show a little snippet of your work to a professional author, all speed-dating-like. I’m thinking I might take my query letter, actually… I feel less confident in that than in the first 10 pages or so of the book.

Never fear, blog friends, I’ll stay in good NaAgFiMo stead and a new post will be forthcoming every day.

Baltimore, here I come!

Bunk!

Bunk says, "You liked The Wire? You'll LOVE this conference?"

real-life penguin problems

Poor Buddy and Pedro!

Image courtesy ABC News/The Toronto Zoo

My wonderful writing friend/teacher/guru Zee sent me a news story last night about two gay penguins at the Toronto Zoo who are being separated and forced to breed with female penguins.

[S]adly, even though the pair frequently engage in ‘courtship and mating behaviors that females and males would do,’ according to one keeper, zoo officials say they intend to separate the birds from each other and pair them with females for breeding, as African penguins are an endangered species.

But never fear, penguin fans — in THE (admittedly fictional) CAPITAL ZOO  gay penguins stay together.

Which Capital Zoo animal would you like to hear about next? Wallabies? Meerkats? Sparrows? Sloths? Let me know in the comments!