31 March 2010

Lost in Translation

So, a couple of weeks ago I went down to Buford, this area with a ton of stores, restaurants, and the biggest mall in the state of Georgia. My friends and I were on the way to our favorite restaurant and saw this dude dancing on the sidewalk. At least, we think it was a guy. It was someone in a mascot suit.

Dressed in red and blue, the costume was easy to spot on the street corner. The poor guy (it was cold, so maybe he was just trying to warm up) did everything he could to attract attention.

There was only one problem--none of us had any clue what store he represented.

I scanned the marquee in the parking lot, trying to figure out which venue he "belonged" to. But none of them seemed to make sense. We drove by the dancing mascot curious, but not enough to make us stop and figure out the mystery.

This is definitely a branding issue, but it goes deeper than that--all the way to identity. In this case there was a disconnect between the mascot and his store. And his advertisement wasn't very effective (at least for those of us in the vehicle), because he couldn't compell us to stop and postpone our feast at the garden of olives (ha!). He knew who he was, obviously, but it was lost in translation.

Sometimes I feel that happens with me too. Do you ever feel that way? I know sometimes someone will say something to me, citing a certain part of my personality and demeanor, and I'm completely surprised. Not offended, just surprised. Because I'm so far inside my own head that I don't notice how others see me. It always surprises me when someone tells me their perception of me and it's 180 degrees from what I would say about me.

I have my own sense of identity. I know who I am. But it makes me laugh when it gets "lost in translation". Then we have to look for the link between the two.

Unless of course, you're a dancing mascot with no correlation. Then you just drive on by.

This goes even beyond our identities as writers. What about the identities of our characters, especially the primary ones? Do we see them differently than our readers will? Or even other characters in the novel? What kind of craziness does this create for you, if any? For me it usually means I need to sit down and chisel away, see what's left, and then add what's needed. Very time consuming. But it usually gives me a better perspective of the character when it's all over.

See y'all Friday!

29 March 2010

Sleeping Beauty the Day Before Spring

She stood before me in pink and white shoes, their velcro laces securely fastened, and black cotton leggings. Practical on one end, fairy princess on the other. Her elfin face perfectly framed by a pixie cut, a pink ribbon caught the light in her eyes. Running through the yard on a beautiful March afternoon, her only care was to how high the wind lifted her princess gown, tattered from wear, and slightly darker than the dogwood blossoms down the street.

Searching for a stick to make the perfect wand, she turned to me holding one about nine inches long. "This one is perfect. It's 14 tall," she declared.

I could only agree.

The four-year-old bent over and started measuring herself. "And I'm five tall."

"But the stick is 14 tall?" I repeated just to clarify how such a small stick could be taller than her.

"Yes." She picked up another stick, this one shaped like a wishbone and half as long as the first. "This one is four tall. How tall are you?"

"Oh, maybe 17 tall?" Seriously, how could I know?

She studied me carefully, innocently swishing her poofy skirt. "You are fifteen tall," she decided.

So, friends, I am "1" taller than a stick. :0)

* * *

The final day of my dark week I got a treat--working outside on a beautiful day. This little girl found me and came over to talk. "Are you Sleeping Beauty?" I asked, figuring I had a small chance of guessing the right princess, especially since I haven't seen a Disney movie in forever. She nodded seriously.

What struck me was her simple beauty, despite the wear in her dess (obviously well loved) and the smudge on her face. She didn't need to tell anyone who she was. She knew without being told. she was a princess.

After sprinkling me with little girl fairy-dust and giving me tiny flowers, she skipped off to eat some grapes, leaving me to work in the sun on the eve of Spring.

How wonderful it is to know exactly who you are. To have the unwavering confidence of a four-year-old princess.

What about us, Friends? Do we know who we are?

26 March 2010

Ways to Set a Scene

Hey, Friends!

So, this week we're talking about setting the scene. Instead of discussing it, I thought I'd show examples. They were written on the fly but I think they did their jobs. Of course, they were only snippets of a scene. No moment, decisions, conflict, etc. occurred in them.

How do you set your scenes?

There are so many different ways to do it--tone, word choice, description, setting, conversation, etc. We could talk forever about them. But I think there are some absolutely essential rules for writing scenes:

1. Make sure you do it! :0) Don't just leave the bones without any meat.

2. Change it up. Don't write every scene the same way, using your automatic tried-and-true pattern. Play with different techniques.

3. Find an anchor. Mark the movement in the scene, whether it's physically, in dialogue, a first person insight, etc.

4. Identify the conflict. Change up how you do it, but make sure it's there. A novel without conflict is like chicken curry without the spice--missing something really important!

I'm really trying to incorporate all of these in my novels. That was something I really had to work on last fall when I edited--creating more movement, enhancing conflict, especially. My tried-and-true is always in setting, so as I write fresh scenes now I'm trying to approach it differently. Right now it feels like I'm writing with my left hand (as a right-hander, it's feels "awkward", even with all the years of practice per that reoccurring New Year's Resolution), but I think it's creating more flavor and layers in the story. At least, I hope so!

What would you add to this list?

Have a great weekend! See y'all Monday!

24 March 2010

Expectation

It's been almost three years since I last saw Spring.

Last year, in India, it went straight from cold to sweltering in a matter of hours. The sky was blue for two days, but that was all the warning we got (and the first time I ever saw a clear sky in India!). When I returned to Georgia two months later, summer dressed the earth.

The year before, in Africa, it was high summer when I arrived and just starting to cool down when I left three months later. I was there for Spring in Africa in October of 2007. Africa wears purple that time of year. It was beautiful--but being from the Northern Hemisphere, I really missed Autumn!

So as I write this, I'm sitting outside watching the earth tremble with signs of Spring. The clues are everywhere: the perpetual breeze, warmer temperatures, and the puffy, lighter-than-air clouds. It's a perfect day. The ground is barren, brown and brittle from winter, and the trees shake empty limbs, but I feel hope. Expectation. Soon the earth will trill with life. Color will come again. We'll have our warm days, outdoor cook outs, and summer sunsets. It'll be as if winter never came.

Right now Nature is just setting the scene.

Do you have the patience to breed expectation in your readers?

See y'all Friday!


*Photo by Kristen Torres-Toro, July 2009*

22 March 2010

Parking Lot with a View

Hey, Friends! Thanks for your encouragement about Unplug Week. I accomplished a lot of mini-projects, which made me feel really good!

So...

Last Monday I went to work as usual, only it was not a usual day. You see, many of my close friends went to Africa for a week, so driving into work I was all too aware how much I missed them--and how much work I had to do, since I remained behind to "hold down the fort" in our program.

Lunch time came and I needed a pick-me-up. So I drove to Chic-fil-A, ran an errand, and drove back. But there was construction on one road, and I got stuck on a bridge.

Not fun, right?

Oh--wait. I didn't set the scene. Let's try this again.

Lunch time came and I needed a pick-me-up. My new hometown sits around a lake, so there are no "short errand runs". Driving to Chic-fil-A and back almost takes a full hour in itself. So with the windows down and the country music blaring, I drove across town. The sun was so warm (after months of winter, even 56 degrees feels warm!) it tricked me into eating outside, despite the gusting wind.

After a quick run into Walmart, I drove back to the office--only to meet construction on the way. With thirty cars at a stand still before me, I came to a stop on a bridge crossing the lake. The breeze lifted my hair, the cold water danced in the sunlight on either side of me, and my favorite song came on the radio.

Paradise up high in a "parking lot".

Sometimes all we need to do is set the scene. It'll change everything.

How do you set your scenes?

See y'all Wednesday!

15 March 2010

Time to Unplug!

Hey, Friends!

I'm unplugging this week. I have some stuff to do, one of them being a snail mail newsletter that will take me many hours--on top of my 40 hours at the office. Also, right now I'm just feeling empty. I'll probably be around blogdom some (maybe commenting, maybe not), but I won't post a new entry until March 22. See you then!

Happy writing!

12 March 2010

The View from Out Here

Hey, Friends!

So another thing about perspective is that sometimes we need the help of others. The stories I shared Wednesday all involved other people. In each of those cases, it took hearing another opinion to encourage me to look for a different way.

Maybe you change it up because you can't stand routine. Or maybe you find yourself in a rut because what you did before worked. Why risk failure when you already know what will succeed? Or maybe you just can't see another way out.

I feel that for the most part, I'm a very logical person. But I've learned the hard way that what is logical to me makes no sense to others. I'm creatively logical--which means that 2+2=triangle. When I explain my way of thinking, it makes perfect sense. But until then I'm just extremely odd. Which has its own perks. :0)

But I get stuck in the well worn groove of how I think. I don't know to think any other way. That's when an outside perspective can make all of the difference.

Some of my closest friends are very different from me. When I'm stuck seeing the individual tiles of a certain situation, they see the mosaic before them. It's the same subject, just a different way of looking at it. Both are valid. Both are vital. Outside perspectives give the situation dimension that we can't see on our own.

Sometimes it's really hard to hear or read critiques of our work. After all, we poured our souls into it. There's this secret hope that it's brilliant and a secret fear that it's an utter disaster. But if we're able to get over ourselves, our fear, and even our pride, we might see something we didn't know we needed. We might find an answer to a riddle we couldn't solve on our own, or find another way out of a difficult situation--one a reader wouldn't expect that would completely shatter the problem of cliche.

The key is being willing to listen and consider the other viewpoint. Even being willing to try something different--adopting a different perspective.

Have a great weekend! See y'all Monday!

10 March 2010

Just a Little Off Balance

Hey, Friends!

This week we're talking about perspective. I've learned a lot about this through my new hobby, photography. It started simply enough--just taking pictures. I have some favorites I took over the years with my film cameras and point-and-shoot digital cameras. Then January 2009, while in India, I took a photo I couldn't stop staring at. Something about it drew me but I didn't know why. There was a girl on my team who had a "serious" camera so I asked her.

This girl explained that the perspective grabbed my attention. It was a photo of a leper woman up close, in the first third of the shot. Despite the empty space on the right, somehow it worked. The lines in her face were so clear, while the colors behind her were just a blur. Sarah explained to me the "Rule of Thirds", which has to do with capturing a subject. She explained how our eyes naturally travel to certain places and if there's a void, we pass over it. But if there's detail instead of empty space, like this photo:



... we find that sweet spot.

Until that day, I tried to center my subjects in the view finder. I'm big on balance and on symmetry, especially in art. But Sarah's simple lesson changed everything for me. She gave me permission to be off-balance. And when I started doing that--allowing possible imperfections--I started taking shots like this with my rinky dink point-and-shoot:



This year I've learned to be a little off balance. When decorating my new room everytime I encountered a decision I tried to think out-of-the-box... or at least, out of the box for me. I have a tendency to do what I did before simply because it worked. I'm learning to be "off balance" in my schedule, meaning trying something during a certain time of day I wouldn't normally do that--like working out later instead of during the morning. You know what? It worked.

I've really tried it in writing as well. Whenever given a suggestion on how to strengthen my novel, I tried it. I figured that even if it didn't work, I wouldn't know unless I put on those lenses. And you know what? Each new thing I tried made the story better. More three dimensional. It provided more room for conflict, tension, and to play with my prose. Those problem areas I knew weren't right but wasn't sure how to fix? It took care of that too.

Sometimes all we need is to be willing to be a little off balance.

See y'all Friday!



**Photos by Kristen Torres-Toro 2009**

08 March 2010

Middle Perspective

So, I've been thinking about perspective lately.

It's funny how our experiences shape how we think and react to things. I've had a unique "problem" in that I've travelled short term (maximum of several months in one place) that I don't think very far out in terms of time. People invite me to their weddings and I tell them that I won't know until closer to time if I'll even be in the country. And while that's a fun problem to have--I'm not complaining, because I love it--I've noticed recently how much it affects my approach to life.


**Photo by Kristen Torres-Toro 2009**

It's not that I shy away from relationships or that I'm afraid of committment. I don't cling too much either. But when I make a friendship, it's for life. I don't have time to just be a surface friend. If you want to go deep and be in community with me, I'm all in. Because I know all too well the time will end. The trip will close, we'll go to opposite sides of the globe, and the physical sharing of our lives will be reduced to email, cell phones, and skype. Do you see the problem here?

So, six weeks ago I moved to a new place. But I'm still thinking short term. I don't know how to think long term. Which means I'm tempted to rush, rush, rush, stress, stress, stress, and pack as much in as I can because the trip will end... only it's not a trip. This is life. And life at a frenetic pace will only lead to me needing medication. So I'm working on adopting a long term perspective. Like someone accustomed to only being able to see up close, this is taking some time! I've become my own broken record. Everytime I automatically react to something I have to suppress that knee-jerk action of immediacy and alarm, of savoring every last second of life because you don't know when you'll get another chance here again. And while I'm all about enjoying life, it's the focus that's off... like I'm near-sighted with life (I always get near-sighted and far-sighted confused).

I think it's easy for us to get that way with writing too. At least, I do. I don't know what's coming in the future. I do hope to be published in book form. I can only imagine the demands on me then, the new things I have to learn, do, and add to my schedule. A few weeks ago I was so overwhelmed with the combination of that and the place I'm in now I couldn't move or write. Not a fun experience. Now I'm shrugging it off because when the time comes for me, I'll be able to figure it all out. Somehow. But I can't miss this time I'm in now by looking too far in the future--and I can't focus so much on life right now that I'm blind to what's coming. I need a middle perspective, kind of like the picture above.

Sometimes even the short term demands seem like too much. Can I just say how proud I am of the people who've recently cried "Sabbatical!" and gone dark? Good for them! I'll follow them when they get back... miss them while they are gone... and hope they are able to focus on what they need to. Maybe my day will come when I need to throw up my hands and focus on one thing at a time writing-wise. I hope I have the guts to do it, if the time ever comes.

It's all about perspective.

See y'all Wednesday!

05 March 2010

I Forgot and Pictures of Pink Dolphins (Part 3 of the Amazon)

I forgot:

-the roar of the jungle as you approach the bank, whether it's floating past or cutting the motor when entering a village.


-how fun hammocks are

**Photo by Connie Rock**

-the humidity of this land baking in the sun

-exactly how hot it is inside a mosquito net



**Photo by Connie Rock**

-the unique Peruvian dialect

-how mesmerizing the river is


**Photo by Kristen Torres-Toro 2007**

-the magical pink dolphins

**Photo found on Google Images**

-How to walk up a muddy bank in flip flops

-how fun it is to bathe outside

-the pain of flip flops running against bug bites

-the three dimensional quality of the jungle that cameras cannot capture no matter how hard you try


**Photo by Kristen Torres-Toro 2007**

-the way the river brings everyone together


**Photo by Kristen Torres-Toro 2007**


Well, that's it! Hopefully you feel like you were able to come with me to the jungle. It was an incredible trip. We accomplished our purpose in going--set up for the team-- and personally, it was such a gift. Hopefully God will send me back one day.

Needless to say, I left my heart in the Amazon Jungle.

Here are a few final photos. Enjoy!




-this is a really lucky shot... the dog walked into a frame at the last minute. Dogs in South America must be smarter than dogs in North America. :0)




*Photos by Kristen Torres-Toro 2010*



**Me with friends so dear they are sisters. Above photo by Crystal Reitsma. Bottom photo by Connie Rock.**


See y'all Monday!





**The pink dolphins pictured above look more like porpoises, which is what I saw this time. I've seen the other kind too, in the past. If you go to google images, you'll see more pictures of them**

03 March 2010

Life on the River (Part 2 of the Amazon)

It's simple and beautiful, difficult and different every day.

Two years ago, I lived in huts like this with lovely yellow plaid hammocks and mosquito nets:



And saw this:







We traveled on a very small boat (with all 20 of us, two pieces of luggage each, a carry-on each, our water, food, and kitchen supplies), staying in each village for days at a time.


**All above photos by Kristen Torres-Toro, 2007**

By the end of my time there, I could predict the weather two days out based on sky and river conditions, I didn't remember what it was like not to smell like the river, and I became an expert in securing a hammock (the secret is in the knot). I felt so free. And the pink dolphins were pretty cool too.

So when our host said we'd get to go out on the river our final day, I couldn't believe it.

Everything about the afternoon was perfect--how the clouds played in the sky, how the sun felt so good, the way our laughter carried in the wind. Such a beautiful day.




**Above two Photos by Connie Rock**





After an hour, we pulled into a little village called Amazonas.



**Photos by Kristen Torres-Toro 2010**

There we met a bunch of people, visited the church, saw the cutest puppies in the world, and went swimming fully clothed. On the way back, it started to rain. Two pink dolphins swam past us.

Magical, those pink dolphins.

Oh, how I have missed that river.


See y'all Friday!

01 March 2010

La Vida en la Selva del Amazon (Part 1)

How do I find words?

It's late at night and I'm struggling, trying to think of a way to describe my trip to the Amazon Jungle. Some of you read my missions blog at http://kristentorrestoro.myadventures.org, and have already heard some of the story and seen some pictures. I want my account here to be different for you, my friends. I want you to taste the South American heat, swelter under its mischevious sun and watch the river race past a jungle dancing to its own beat. How do I describe such a beautiful, wild, dense, diverse place? How do I take you there with me?

Hopefully in these next few posts, I will find a way. This week my blog is dedicated to telling y'all about the trip. My goal is to make you feel you just spent a week in the wild Amazon Jungle.

First of all, the trip was way too short. Second, I arrived exhausted out of my mind. We weren't jetlagged at all, but after 24 hours of travel and very little sleep, I was more than a little goofy. Actually, I felt stupid. At one point at 5am, a security guard in the Lima airport asked me if I spoke English or Spanish so she could explain something. All I could do was stare at her, unsure if she even said anything remotely coherent. It took me a while to figure out she was speaking English!

My Spanish was rusty at best, having learned it through immersion, and I wasn't used to the jungle dialect anymore. So I spent my time there my mind all a-swirl, trying to keep up and also be able to communicate myself in this beautiful language. By the time we left, I felt like I was finally getting my "sea-legs" back in Spanish. Such a disappointment to leave!

We arrived to a typical Amazonian downpour, which was highly ironic considering the clear skies around us as we flew into Iquitos. My friend and I raced across the tarmac and prayed our luggage wouldn't get too wet. Our hosts met us at the airport (always a plus!) and after a quick lunch in Iquitos, we took a 90 minute taxi to the village of Nauta, which sits on the edge of the Maranion river, a tributary of the mighty Amazon.

I spent some time in Iquitos and Nauta two years ago, so seeing places I remembered--places I honestly never thought I'd see again--was very disconcerting. Things definitely changed and a lot was the same too. When we pulled up at my host's house, I knew where we were in the village. That was a cool feeling! You'll notice that the buildings in the pictures below have walls. There are motorcycles, auto taxis (kind of like rickshaws, but not on bicycles), and other western conveniences. It's not as primitive as many of the other villages I lived in back then.




**The streets of Nauta--Photos by Kristen Torres-Toro**

Children flocked about us. Not long after I introduced myself, cries of "Kristina! Kristina!" followed me inside. Determined not to crash until evening, my friend and I went outside to play volleyball with some girls. The rain finally let up so we were in the mud--perfect! I kept hitting it out of bounds (it was a very small court and all this p90x is making me really strong--ha!), making it roll down the hill towards the river. But the little girls didn't seem to mind chasing it, and we had a lot of fun!


**Photo by Kristen Torres-Toro**

After a bucket bath, a dinner of mac'n'cheese (brought over from the States), and a lot of laughter, we went to sleep.

Over the next couple of days, the four of us met with several pastors, walked throughout Nauta, sweated gallons in the heat, established the set up for the trip this summer (the reason we came), attended a children's ministry, taught in a youth service, and took a day trip down river. You'll hear more about that Wednesday--so please come back! It was a very full trip and we were tired, but it rejunvenated me at the same time. I got less sleep there than I get here, but I had more energy during the day than I have here. I felt... honestly, I felt like I was home. For me, that was the best part.








**Photos by Kristen Torres-Toro**








**Photos by Connie Rock: http://donrock.myadventures.org**

I was completely unprepared for the onslaught of memories, caught off balance by the trip itself. It literally came from out of nowhere. I graduated college in 2007 and three weeks later woke up in the Amazon Jungle. For two months, I was an Amazon woman. And a part of me came alive that I never knew before that time. Maybe it was the newfound freedom of being a college graduate coupled with the knowledge that I was doing what I loved and was in one of the most remote places in the world. I'm also a huge nature lover. I hate being inside. So living for several months in huts without walls was a lot of fun for me! The trip itself was hard... physically very taxing, amongst other things. I left the jungle feeling like it got the best of me. Returning almost three years later, I have a completely different perspective. And the shadows cast by those hard memories only create a contrast for the light. This trip I was able to remember the good--oh, it was so good!-- and in a way, re-experience it. It was exactly what I needed. I had no idea how much I'd longed for the jungle until I was there, back in her embrace.


Photo by Kristen Torres-Toro, 2007

See you Wednesday!