Taking a Course

I’ll be taking an online writing course this winter.  Odyssey is probably best known for their intense six-week summer workshops on writing science fiction, fantasy and horror, but they also offer online courses that don’t require you to take so much time off from your day job. In January of 2015, I took Jeanne Cavelos’ Showing vs. Telling and found it immensely useful in polishing the manuscript for Avians, so I’m coming back for more.

This winter, I’m enrolled in Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel with Barbara Ashford. My goal for this course is to get a better handle on Bandits, the sequel to Avians. The first draft is complete, with a coherent plot, but I’d like the characters to feel truer and more consistent, and for the story’s developments to feel more integrated.

It happens to work out well that the course begins while I’m on holidays, so that will help with the required reading. To my delight, The Hunger Games is the principal course reference. I loved this book when it came out—partly for the wrong reasons*—and I’m looking forward to picking it up and reading it again, with a more studious eye.

*at the time that Hunger Games came out, I was working on Avians, and I was troubled by the need to kill off a young character, but I felt that it was essential to show how much danger the heroines were in, and that the flying they did was so important that the deaths of teenagers were an acceptable price. Then I read Games, in which children are killed off by the dozen for entertainment, and I was, like, “Oh well, then, permission granted.”

Let me tell you a little about what these courses are like, in case you’re interested. There are four online sessions, conducted using your computer and webcam, spaced out at two-week intervals. In between lessons, there is homework. A lot of homework. The course guide, I think, says to allow a minimum of five hours a week to do the assignments. A swift writer might manage it in that, but it took me more like three times as long. Naturally, there are writing assignments, but there is also the requirement to thoroughly and professionally critique the work of your classmates. You upload your assignments and critiques as you complete them, and you read your classmate’s critiques of your own work between classes, too. And that’s on top of the reading list.

Since many of the students are of the mature/returning to education variety, there is an atmosphere of “I’m here to work hard so I get my money’s worth.” Incidentally, students enroll from all over the world, and some rearrange their schedules to attend class in the middle of the day, or night. I’m lucky to be only one time-zone away from the school.

Part of the course takes place while I will be on vacation in Mexico. That’s okay, it’s only for a week, and it falls between two of the online sessions. I write well there; it gives me something to do in the hours before Caroline gets up. (I’m an insanely early riser, usually getting up before 4:00am.) Last year I wrote in a grand resort’s all-night coffee bar, where I was always the only customer for the first hour or two. Actually, sometimes even the staff weren’t around, so I taught myself how to use their fancy coffee brewer. I read and critiqued a novel manuscript for a friend there, and I have fond memories of laughing out loud at the funny parts.

This year, we’ll be at Villas San Sebastian, a tiny property in Zihuatanejo with just a handful of suites, and I plan to do my writing homework on a little patio overlooking the pool.

021 Our palapa

These pictures are from a visit in 2004. Note that my “office” will not look like this while I’m working, mainly because it will be dark at the time I’m writing. I’m pretty sure no-one will be tanning at five in the morning.

014 Caroline & Linda at our pool

Remind me to pack some ground coffee, in a sealed pack to go through customs, or I’ll have to go grocery shopping on day one.

The hardest part of the course for me will be later in January, when I’m back at work and not only doing my regular trips, but also fitting my annual flight training into my schedule. That involves at least twelve hours of ground school, plus two training flights that eat up most of a day each. Not looking forward to that workload so much, but I may be able to get some of the ground school or course homework done on the days when I’m sitting up north.

I’m excited to take a new approach to revising Bandits, and I’m really looking forward to meeting my classmates.

Misadventures in Mexico

We’re in Mexico, enjoying a relaxing vacation at an all-inclusive resort. I’ve been doing some writing, and it’s been very quiet. Perhaps too quiet: at breakfast today, Caroline remarked that we never did anything anymore.

C: You said you might go skin-diving.

T: I thought about it, but I remembered that time in Puerto Vallarta when I tried to shoot out of the water onto the boat like a porpoise. I could do it when I was a teenager. But I barely got my hips out of the water for a moment, and I cracked my ribs on the swim platform. Sank into the water before I started screaming, so at least no-one heard me. Except the dolphins, maybe. I think I heard them laughing.

C: Boogie-board?

T: Fun until that time I let a wave carry me up to the crest as it broke. Dropped four feet onto the sand. The board cushioned me a little, but I broke my glasses and almost my nose.

C: You rented that Honda trike in Mazatlan…

T: Yeah, I stalled it on a steep hill, and every time I restarted it, it would stall again when I put it in gear. I put my feet on the road, started it, then revved it and popped the clutch. It tried to climb my legs. Laid rubber all up my calves and halfway up my thighs.

T: Then there was the time I took sailboarding lessons in Spanish. I couldn’t understand half of what Miguel told me. I dropped the sail and fell forward onto it. I didn’t think it would hurt, but the boom got me right in the shins.

C: We rented cars…

T: Mmhmm. There was that VW we almost hit a cow with, back when Bucerias was just a pedestrian crossing with a fruit juice stand. I never knew drum brakes could fade out so fast. My foot was on the floorboards.

C: That was the end of renting VW’s.

T: Or the Nissan Tsuru with the cracked windshield and the hood that wouldn’t open. The rental guy only agreed to replace it when we showed him that the horn didn’t work. That’s when he substituted the one that got a flat tire and had no spare; remember how we borrowed a can of fix-a-flat from that restaurant guy in old PV?

C: Is that why we switched to big-name rental companies with newer vehicles?

T: Like the brand new Canadian-built jeep that stranded us in Tepic when the clutch gave out in the mountains halfway between Mazatlan and Vallarta? We found those shady mechanics that wanted to take us to Guadalajara for a new transmission…

C: We did get to spend the night in Tepic.

T: Which was lovely, except we didn’t sleep because I was afraid the mechanics would be back after dark to steal the jeep. In the morning, we found out the iron gates to the parking lot had been locked all night, so we’d been fine. I figured out how to ask for hydraulic fluid in Spanish (apparently) and walked to a truck stop to get some so we could top up the clutch reservoir and turn back. But the clutch would only last for about an hour at a time between top-ups, so we had to lurch through an agricultural checkpoint without stopping because I couldn’t get into neutral and I didn’t dare stall: “¡No Frutas! ¡No Vegetales!”

C: Well the bus trips were okay…

T: Remember when we took one of the old buses in Maz, and the driver had customized it with exhaust stacks at the back? They were so loud the vibration had shattered the rear windows, and he hadn’t got around to replacing the glass, so the bus’s backdraft drew in dizzying gusts of exhaust gases. We just had to hope the driver had breathable air at the front.

But that time we took “La Flecha” out of Zihuatanejo was cool. We got off at the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere and transferred to that one-ton truck with the canvas top to go down the side-road to the beach. I liked that until all those soldiers came in trucks.

C: They were just there for security.

T: Not our security! They were there for that politico on the yacht that moored off the beach. But all those machine guns made me nervous. The officer was nice though. I think he just wanted to practice his English.

C: So no adventuring today?

T: Let’s just go for a walk on the beach.

C: I’ll try not to step on a bee this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PVR 8.0

My post about the last day and trip home is overdue. Some highlights: Caroline had not booked a cabana for our last morning, but she was able to snag one of the two giant wicker couches at the poolside. Usually competition for these is at pretty much the level of Hunger Games, but it was cloudy and spitting the odd raindrop, so perhaps someone chickened out.

Comedy of elevator errors when I got back from my walk and Caroline was not at the terrace table where I left her. She had taken my hoodie and coffee mug to our room, but had not lingered there. As usual after one of my beach walks, I was wet and covered in sand. Really? I used to be on the beach patrol in Australia; I should be able to wade in the surf without getting drenched! After I showered and dressed in my fly-home-to-the-cold clothes, I tried the restaurant again, but could not find her. Returned to the room, assuming we had played hide and seek with the two elevators, only to find that I had neglected to put my keycard in my pants pocket. Locked out. Back to the pool, and found her on aforementioned sofa.

Things went really well after that. The Hilton PVR is only minutes from the airport, and we had a taxi to ourselves. No line-up for check in, and no line-up for security (I mean it: load the bins and walk on through) Our WestJet flight crew was motivated to get back to Winnipeg, and the plane was only two thirds full, so they had no trouble making a quick turnaround. Not only did we score a vacant seat in our row of three, we were the only people in the six front-row seats. This row is not everyone’s favourite, as the TVs are far away and you may get drafted for exit-row obligations, but the leg-room is extravagant.

As usual, the flight crew were unknown to me. Despite having more than a dozen former colleagues at WestJet, I never seem to fly with one of my old friends. Next best thing, though, we got a thumping tailwind and shaved half an hour off the return trip, landing in Winnipeg at 1600. It wasn’t even dark yet!

Breezed through immigration, despite having an uneaten Mexican pear in my carry-on. I declared it, in case it needed to be properly disposed of, but they let me keep it. Baggage took a few minutes, but Caroline’s “international orange” suitcase is easy to spot, and mine is also moderately distinctive. No line at customs, so we zipped through that, too. Claimed car, grabbed a Timmies dark, and hit the road home. This would have been great, except for two things: the temperature had dropped into the minus twenties, causing frost to form on the travel mug I left in the car, cooling my coffee instantly to barely warm, and we had to drive home without tunes because the valet had killed the car’s battery. A clue to how this happened was that the hatchback glass was not secure. I suspect that the valet had hit the wrong button on the key, causing the cargo light to stay on all week.They had boosted it, but the GPS was offline, the trip meter had reset to zero and the window wouldn’t auto-open. More first-world problems. How much can one man take?

Took a minute to gas up in Winnipeg and clean last week’s coating of frozen road-spray off the windows and headlights. I always think this is time well-spent for a night drive, but it sure was refreshing; Winnipeggers need to have a word with someone- the heat’s not working!

Easy drive home to Kenora. Stopped at Keewatin Place for bread, milk and orange juice, then went out for dinner with a friend.

PVR 7.1

Spent the rest of the day loafing quietly around the hotel. Finally managed to meet a guest who actually came from Britain. All the other ones I tried turned out to be British expats who now live in Canada or the USA. It takes twelve hours from Gatwick to here, apparently. That would be like us flying to Hawaii or something; I don’t think I’d find it worth that much trouble.

The coffee reverted to about a three on my new ten-point scale today. Out of desperation, I ordered an espresso and threw it into my half-empty travel mug. This brought it up to about a six. It was so good last year, I don’t know what happened. The travel mug was my best idea this year. Coffee gets cold fast on the outdoor restaurant terrace at 0700, and the hotel cups are accordingly small, which means you have to spend the whole morning flagging down waiters. So giant insulated cup with lid was great.

The Kobo was also a lifesaver, and the bluetooth earphones came in handy for drowning out people who are even more annoying than me.

We went up to the sushi bar / rooftop pool this afternoon, just for a change of scenery. This was also the first time I actually put on a bathing suit and got wet deliberately. We met some friendly and fun-loving people, so we did not stay long. (Forgot to bring my headphones!) Besides, it’s a smoking area.

We had heard reports of unusually late maid service here, and found them to be true. Once our room was done at around noon, but more usually in the middle of the afternoon. Today the maid didn’t knock on the door until five o’clock. We declined, as it wasn’t a convenient time to vacate the room. Besides, it’s our last night.

Not looking forward to the trip home much. We’ve had enough time here, I’m just not very excited at the prospect of the whole airport and flying thing. I realize this is ironic for a professional pilot, but do you enjoy doing stuff on vacation that reminds you of work? Also, I was anticipating being able to get to the car for winter coats and boots while we wait for our luggage in Winnipeg, and then I remembered that we’ll have to claim the bags first to go through Canada Customs. Oh well.

Looking forward to seeing the cats and being pointedly ignored.

PVR 7.0

Once a week or so, I get only half a night’s sleep. Last night was that night. I got up and went down to the deserted coffee shop to read on my Kobo. It was oddly quiet between 0300 and 0600.

I did manage to nap a little before breakfast, and then Caroline suggested busing out to the Marina for our morning walk. That went well, the very first bus we saw was the right one. We strolled through the peaceful residential area surrounding the golf course, away from the big hotels.

I reverted to my old habit of scoping out the licence plates on cars. American plates included California, New Mexico and Utah. Mexican plates, besides the obvious Jalisco and Nayarit, included the Federal District, Agua Caliente and Guerrero.

Twenty five minutes into our walk, we reached the highway again. Rather than retrace our steps, we walked back to the Hilton, hiking along the highway past the Marine hospital, the Harbour Master’s headquarters and Wal-Mart. That gave us about an hour, and since we didn’t get properly started until nearly 1000, it was getting warm by the time we finished.

Right now, I’m waiting to pre-select our seats for tomorrow’s flight home.

PVR 6.1

Okay then. We cabbed to the Cathedral and walked to our old haunts from there. Got completely lost for a few blocks; everything has changed so much! Then we found Daquiri Dick’s and things started to look more like we remembered. Andale’s is gone. I wasn’t sure I remembered it from last year; I guess not. Tres Huastecas is still there, and so is Cafe de Olla, although it was closed for Christmas. That let us off the hook in one way. We had hoped to change some money in order to eat there, but all the money exchanges were closed. Probably because the banks were.

So we just walked around for a while. Suites Claudia and the Villa Blanca are still there, and so is the manager from the VB that we remember from twenty five years ago. He manages both of those buildings now, and neither of them is a hotel any more. Both have become condos.

Another of our old hotels, the Las Glorias has taken the name of it’s sister property across the road, so it is now known as the Hotel Suites Emperador, and it seems to have expanded. Restaurant row on Basilio Badillo has seen some changes, but Fredy’s Tucan is still going and I see Roberto’s Puerto Nuevo hasn’t closed after all, it has simply moved across the street from where it used to be. We made no attempt to go inland far enough to see if La Hacienda or Los Arbolitos are still around. I could google them, I suppose, but that’s not the same as walking down memory lane.

Snagged another cab to come back to the hotel. We’ll eat here after all. Caroline’s not really in the mood for pasta, but she’ll just have to suck it up. That’s a spaghetti joke, son. Try not to take everything so seriously.