A Chinchilla’s Life – By Dasha

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Toys are no substitute for hours and hours of your attention while I run around and do Olympian gymnastics, human.

Dasha’s Journal, First Entry:

I have managed to take over the small human’s laptop.  This is my first opportunity to communicate with the humans in a way they might (I hope) comprehend.  Humans, if you understand this entry, please take note:  My playtime yesterday was woefully insufficient.  Since you don’t seem to respond to my obvious behavioral communications of ignoring you, gruffing when you try to pet me, and staring pitifully out of the bars of my cage, I feel I need to make this point more clearly.  No, the toys and wheel in my cage are not a consolation.

To the small human:  I do not understand why you make high-pitched noises every time I bark to tell you and the big human to be quiet while I’m trying to rest.  I wish I could figure out the strange noises you and the big human make, because most of the time it sounds like gibberish.  The noise you address me with most often sounds like Noe, and seems to be your attempt to request that I ignore my instinct to chew on everything in sight.  I try to be polite and only chew when you aren’t looking, but you still make loud noises when you look in my direction afterward.  I feel that giving me a treat would be a more appropriate response.

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Of course I have plenty of my own things to chew on! But if I am kind enough to make sure your things are chewed on, too, you should thank me, not scold me.

Thank you for turning off your swing jazz music long enough for me to hear some AC/DC the other day – I hope you could tell by my intense expressions of acrobatic appreciation how pleased I was, particularly once the volume was up loud enough for my liking.  Bon Scott’s voice is a joy to hear, and I am sad to learn (through the boxes on your laptop, small human), that he is no more.

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I’ll just mourn Bon Scott by chewing on something for a while…life does go on… *sigh*

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Cage bars block the proper grooming of the scritchy-spot. For best results, give me an opportunity to escape and run around chewing on things!

To the big human:  The chin-scratch, as practiced by the small human, can only be accomplished with the appropriate cage door open.  Through the bars, you can’t possibly reach the scritchy-spot properly.  Also, you haven’t been producing enough music with that thing that makes the sounds of absolute joy and wonder whenever you’re chewing on it…I think I have heard the small human refer to it with the noises Harm-on-a-cow, which makes no sense because there are no cows harmed in the making of that beautiful music.  I like the music you’ve been playing on the Get-her, however.

The small human makes loud sounds at me if she sees me sitting on the laptop, and she may not understand what I’m doing if she finds me here.  So this is Dasha, signing off.  

(Sort of) Guest Post

For years now, my mom (Marian Allen) and I have been obsessing over Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and specifically over the cat Behemoth (our favorite character in the novel).  My mom is also obsessed with Hello Kitty.  So yesterday, I spontaneously decided to draw Hello Behemoth for Mom.  Today, she posted the picture on her blog for Caturday, and I’m counting that as a guest post because it means I don’t have to write a real post.  Ha!  (By the way, dear Readers, something about all this does relate to the sequel….)

yWriter 5, and Why I Might Become an Outliner

Thorough outlining is not generally my thing.  My attitude is usually more like, “Well, this is a cool storyline, and I know where I want it to end up.  Here’s a couple cool things that could happen in the middle.  Let’s connect the dots!!!”  But.  It’s very hard to pace an entire novel with the by-the-seat-of-your-pants method.  It can be done (though probably not in a first draft, unless you’re the Mozart of novelists), if you’re willing to tear the entire thing apart and put it back together a bunch of times.  But.  I’d like to make it a little easier on myself for the second Underworld novel, especially since there will be multiple points of view involved.  It was hard enough keeping things on track with just Erica, let alone the crazy-ass hooligans who’ll show up in Book II!

So I’m using yWriter 5, a free program by Spacejock Software for novel outlining.  What, good ol’ pen and paper isn’t good enough anymore? you ask.  Index cards were good enough when your mother started HER second novel, you sneer.  But, dear reader, it was my mother who told me about the yWriter Project, so…dear reader, kindly shut yer gob.  (J/K, you know I love y’all!)  Point being, yWriter is pretty sweet.  It seemed a little complex and overly-detailed to me when I first started playing around with it, but now that I’m really trying to get this novel laid out, I’m seeing the usefulness of all of the program’s tools and reports.

Example 1:  You can rate each scene’s relevance to the main plot, as well as its humor and tension level.  Then you can look at a chart of all your scenes and see how the flow of your plot builds, the build-up and release of tension, and the ebb and flow of humor throughout the course of the novel.  If there’s no forward movement of the plot in the entire middle section of the book, you’ll see it visually right away.  If you have no tension in the first section of the book, you’ll see it in the chart.  And if the first half of the book is funny and the second half is pure tension and anguish, you’ll know you need to fix that before you plunge into full-on writing.  Example 2:  Characters, locations, & items.  Especially for a series, this is great.  You add characters to the file and then add them to whatever scenes they appear in (and which scenes are from their viewpoint).  Since your character descriptions, biographies, goals, alternate names, etc. (you can even load a photo or drawing into their  file) are clickable from the outline, it’s easy to keep everyone’s stories straight (no pun intended) and everyone’s hair/eye color in mind (don’t you hate when you mix them up?)  You can also put in specific locations and items, each in their own separate files within your project – again, helping you keep your details straight, or reminding you of settings that your characters might need to return to, avoid, etc.  Nifty!  You can also pull up a report to see how many scenes each character appears in, which is a great early-warning signal that somebody might be trying to hijack the book to be All About Them when it isn’t.

Of course, nothing ever goes as outlined – I know once I get started, a billion things will shift around and run off in different directions and go at a different pace than I wanted…but that’s the fun part!  I like writing best when my stories surprise me with being more awesome than I could ever have planned on purpose!

10 Things I’ve Learned Overseas

I’ve written an actual summary about the academic side of my field school experience in Spain, but I’m waiting for a couple fact-checks before I send it to websites to be posted.  In the meantime, here is a silly/philosophical (sillosophical?) list of things I’ve learned while studying abroad in Russia and Spain over the last two summers:

1. How to nap in a wheelbarrow.  I’m serious.  It’s very comfortable, and I don’t even normally take naps.

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2. Don’t fear the metro.  It’s the trusty steed of the modern city, no matter what country you’re in.

3. How not to spill water on myself while drinking out of a botijo (see photo) unless it’s really hot and I want to spill water on myself.

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4. Russia is not cold in June/July.  Spain is cold in the morning and the evening in June.  Even weather defies stereotypes.

5. How to talk to people without knowing the right words.  Most of the time, knowing the most important words and doing your best with the rest of the sentence will get you through, especially if you gesture a lot (which I do).  I even managed to be funny a few times (usually on purpose in Spanish, not so intentionally in Russian)!

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6. On that note – just so you know – “tired” and “old” are not the same word in Russian, and “caliente” when applied to a person in Spanish does not mean “experiencing a high temperature.”

7. Singing and dancing are not about how good you are at them, they’re about how much fun you’re having.  If you’re around people who disagree with that philosophy, you’re probably in America – and you should find more fun Americans.

8. Working hard does not mean making your entire existence revolve around your job.

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9. You can, in fact, forget how to ride a bike.

10. There’s no point worrying about 90% of things that happen – either you’re wasting energy worrying when you could be working on the solution, or you’re wasting energy worrying when you can’t do a damn thing about it.

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