About this blog...

Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Black rhino mother and calf

Here's two more reasons to contribute to Bowling for Rhinos. Contact your local zoo or go HERE.

If you can't go bowling, send a check to American Association of Zoo Keepers, Oregon Zoo, 4001 SW Canyon Road, Portland, OR 97221-9704 Tell 'em I sent you!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Black rhinocerous

Black rhino. One of my favorite pictures from our recent trip to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.

What it takes to keep rhinos alive in today's world: an army of armed guards to keep poachers away.

You can help out by supporting an annual zoo keeper event: Bowling for Rhinos. If you live in Oregon, click HERE. If you live elsewhere, contact your local zoo. I've seen the results--this is a cause to support.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mystery dinner game: Hyenas, Tuskers, Chaos

Shortly before we left on our huge-deal safari to Kenya, one of the trip organizers suggested I dash off one of those role-playing mystery dinner games for a group activity. "You write mysteries, right?" Yes, but I'd never seen, much less played, such a game, and I was trying to draft the first 100 pages of the next zoo mystery so it could steep while we were gone, and meanwhile pack, finish a bathroom remodel, get typhoid shots, and arrange dog and house care and ... So I said, "Sure!"

I resuscitated my corporate communications chops and welded them to mystery conventions and worked my aging ass off. I stole freely from a game I bought and customized it for a zoo keeper group in Kenya. The final package had invitations with a rhino logo, instructions, name tags, clues in envelopes, and player booklets. The setting was, of course, a safari camp. The game had a cunning murder, wacky characters, a false confession, gunshots, and plenty more. Naturally there was no time for a rehearsal before we left.

One night it was raining too hard for a red-light game drive, so instead of lurching around in an open van looking for leopards and hippos, we gave the game a try. I was a little trepidatious. Not nearly enough, it turned out.

On the plus side, we were all pretty well lubricated--Tusker beer for many, wine for some. The women were keen to do it and argued over who got which of the four female parts. On the other hand, the men were not so enthusiastic. My husband and two other men agreed to give it a try after some arm-twisting, but we were a guy short.

We were staging this at the dining area of the camp and several of the Kenyan staff were on duty to open beers and so on. They thought this game sounded great.

One of them was John (not his real name), a tall young Maasai warrior (apparently all Maasai men are warriors), draped in his red robe and beaded head covering. He's learning the safari business from the ground up, waiting tables on his way to become a driver/guide, for which he will also need three years at the university in Nairobi. (The drivers had extensive training and knew everything.)

Aside from being a sweet, wide-eyed heart-throb (I say that in a motherly way), John was fearless, and he stepped in to take the last role.

I whipped up name tags for people who wanted a role and didn't have one--the murdered woman's ghost (a brilliant idea, if I say so myself), hyena, leopard, lion, bushbaby, giraffe (a non-speaking part), tortoise (also non-speaking), and so on. Everyone who wanted to get in on it had a part, even if it was mostly to growl at random intervals.

And so we commenced. But, honestly, I had no way to know that the illumination at this eco-resort would be dimmer than candle light. Reading 12 point type meant standing right next to one of the scarce little light bulbs. So we had a few issues with the script.

John had a key role, a big part. He speaks at least three languages (his tribe's, Kiswahili, and English), but reading English was a tiny bit challenging. He got the words, but some of the flavor fell overboard. We applauded and kept the momentum. People loved hamming up their character. They vamped and whined and boasted and sneered and mostly forgot the player booklets.

And every time really crucial clues were about to be revealed, the two bartenders, hunched under a blanket together, ran through the middle of the group whooping like hyenas (exactly like hyenas). This aroused the leopard (in her spotted pajamas) to snarl and claw at them which set off the rest of the animals. I think the giraffe stampeded and the tortoise may have been trampled. It was hard to tell in the dark.

After extended chaos and considerable hysteria, the murderer threw her hands in the air and shouted a confession. We cheered.

So all you mystery writers, learn from my tail. Tale.

* Need I say "Tuskers"?
* Set up characters to be either gender.
* Be ready for audience participation.
* Don't expect anything complicated to work at all the way you intended.

And bring a flashlight.


Those crazy hyenas

Taking our bows

Pictures thanks to Liz Quinlan

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Plot Brain: Part 2

Arrrgh! The plot's all laid out in a summary, but those first chapters don't quite work in the first draft. Or do they? Is it too slow and dull? Is the build-up to the real action essential and interesting or merely labored? Will my editor like it? Will anybody?

Perhaps if the description were trimmed, the dialog crisped up, the verbs more vivid, then it would be fine. But a cliche is solidifying, the one about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Structure, not style, is the issue. Probably.

Clearly the root problem is lack of talent. The great reviews on the first two books were flukes of an irrational industry, of minds infantilized by television and bad movies, or of kind-hearted strangers who couldn't bear to speak their real opinions. There is no hope, none at all, of lightening striking three times. I should learn to knit. The world would be better for it, rather than throwing ink and pixels at what is sure to remain a hopeless mess.

Is the wallowing over yet? It better be. This is taking up valuable time. Shoulder to the wheel: what am I trying to accomplish here, the core passion for this tale? Get away from the keyboard and pace in circles until that comes into focus once again. That summary is a jigsaw puzzle where each piece can fit in several places, but some may be missing. Mess with the major scenes. Challenge each one--whether it's needed, where it belongs. Harder: what else could happen? Rearrange, reinvent.

Brain: do your thing. Think, dammit, think!

Is there something wrong with wallowing?