Monday, November 09, 2009

NaNoWriMo inspiration

If you'd like to read the very first part of this year's novel, there is an excerpt here under Novel Info although the site is sometimes slow to respond during November.

A little over a year ago, I went with Scott to see author Brandon Sanderson speak at a bookstore nearby. For those who don't know him, Brandon Sanderson authored, among other things, Elantris and Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. So far, I have managed to read only the latter. Brandon Sanderson also has the amazing but daunting job of finishing the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. It is the work that will probably make his other works more famous.

Sanderson was not the only author in attendance that evening. David Farland also attended, read an excerpt, and spoke about his writing process. After both had spoken and people came up to get books signed, David Farland had spoken to the handful of people who were interested and was still sitting there as Brandon Sanderson continued shaking hands and signing books. Since there was no line, I decided to talk to David Farland.

November was approaching, so I asked if he had heard of National Novel Writing Month. He had. I asked him what he thought of it. He said he liked the idea. (One of the hardest thing about writing a full-length novel is getting going to do it. The plot gets a bit stuck, the inner critic gets started complaining about what a mess you've made already, and Chapter Two never quite gets written. NaNo makes it a race, so there is motivation to press on even if things are not going exactly according to plan.)

He asked if I was going to write that year (2008). I told him I had written in 2006. I got to 50,000 words. I don't think I'd spend another minute on it, and I don't think I'd print out the manuscript if I needed to prop up the too-short leg of a sofa. Brandon Sanderson also described writing five "practice" novels that he will never publish before even attempting to publish one.

David Farland smiled and said, "Yes, but you learned something, didn't you?"

He was exactly right. I wrote in 2008, and while the result was far from perfect, it is something I could envision revising and showing at least to friends. It was also a lot easier. I picked an easier premise, planned the plot a little bit better, and generally had more fun with it. This year, so far, has proved even easier in all those respects.

I may never publish a novel, but at least I will learn what it's like to write one, what is involved in the process, and several things to do differently next time.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Greeks and Leeks

I went to the farmer's market today, and as I was buying some plums, the vendor in the next booth was talking a blue streak about how expensive the war was and how much longer his leeks were than any you'd find in stores. He was brandishing one of these leeks at potential customers, and it was about two feet long.

He was proclaiming that he and his veggies were from "San Guan Bautista" and I was thinking that his couldn't possibly be a Spanish accent, or he'd know how to pronounce that, and it wasn't quite Italian, either, although he sort of looked like he might be.

I asked him where he was from, originally. Greece, he said. Did I know where that was? I was, in fact, aware of such a place. I could pick it out on a map, and I even recall visiting once, but he proceeded to explain it to me, anyway. And then the rant shifted to how England had taken all the valuable antiquities, but they might maybe give some of them back if Greece builds a big, new building for them. (Being vocal and opinionated is a favorite pastime of many older Greek men.)

I explained to him that I'm cooking for only myself and I really have no use for long leeks. By the time I cut up one of his enormous leeks, I'd have six days' worth of leftovers before I added a single other thing to the soup.

I was still standing there, clutching my bag of veggies, trying to stand aside of the fire hose of rants, halfway listening, and taking in the expressions on his neighbors' faces, when two women walked up and asked the price of broccoli. He told them, and they must have taken him for Italian, because they said "grazie" as they turned to retreat.

I corrected them, "ευχαριστώ". I'm sure they didn't get it, but he repeated, "yes, ευχαριστώ πολύ", and went right back to ranting in English without even bothering to ask if I knew any more Greek or how come I knew the word, or anything.

Perhaps if I can manage it, I'll try asking him the price of onions-or-something next week, in Greek, and see what language comes back with the answer. Something tells me, though, that if I convince him to start speaking Greek, convincing him to stop is going to be even harder.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A long bus trip to Salta

I did most of my trips within Argentina by air, simply because it is faster, but I arrived to Salta by bus. I think many people who live in Argentina do much of their traveling this way because it is cheaper than flying. In any case, it is very well planned.

The cama buses are designed for sleeping during long trips, and the trips themselves seem to be designed with sleeping in mind. The bus terminal is impressive. It has the feel of an airport inside, with lots of people coming and going, snack stands, shops, and so on. Instead of gates it has bus stalls lining one side of the loop outdoors. There are perhaps 80 or 100 stalls in the bus terminal in Buenos Aires. I suspect most of the smaller terminals have fewer stalls than this. The ticket doesn't say "Stall 32" but "Stall 30-35," meaning somewhere in this range, and that's generally close enough.

They had something set up that looked a bit security-ish, but they didn't appear to be checking much of anything. I showed the person there my ticket and he didn't seem too interested. He just shooed me through the door, out to the stalls, which are all connected. (Speaking excellent English is occasionally an advantage in convincing some officials that a conversation should be a short one.) Within about five stalls of the right bus turns out to be quite sufficient in finding the right bus.

Checking luggage consisted of handing the suitcase in question to the person standing by the back of the bus, who did take a look at the ticket and try to load the last stop's luggage first.

The bus is quite well-equipped. Quite a few bus companies compete for business, and I think it helps to have nice amenities. The cama buses cost a bit more, but the seats are larger (frankly too large for me) and recline further. The seat in front has a leg rest that folds out. It doesn't become a flat bed, but it's still fairly comfortable for sleeping, which is good because it's about a 20 hour trip from Buenos Aires to Salta.

There is also a bus attendant, who acts like a flight attendant. The next time you're on an expensive, domestic airline flight that refused to check your bag without an extra fee and didn't include more than sodas, consider this. The bus to Salta included meals. There's a lap tray with reliefs for the knees and raised edges so nothing goes sliding off.

They served a late-afternoon tea around five in the evening. Even once I convinced the bus attendant that perhaps Spanish would work, I couldn't convince him of, "nothing with caffeine," so he brought me a little bit of tea to go with my alfajor and the other cookie.

Around 9:30 or 10:00pm, just as I was starting to think that the tea was a little bit slim and beginning to ponder the granola bar I had tucked into my purse, the attendant came around with dinner. There was a salad of some sort, followed shortly by a foil tray full of pasta with tomato sauce and cheese, and some sort of little sweet. It was better than anything I've ever had on an airplane in the U.S.

There were a couple of movies along the way. I ignored one movie, in favor of my book. The one I watched (I've forgotten the title) was not a great one. I ended up following the subtitles in Spanish because the English audio was turned so low I couldn't really make out the words. The attendant made a point to explain to me (once he was convinced that I'd get it if he spoke slowly) that one of the other videos was Salteño music and dance. I watched parts of that one.

Bedtime was comfortable, and I managed to sleep most of the night, except that the stops woke me up. As I learned from another traveler later on, it's possible to get robbed without even leaving a bus. People did enter our bus selling magazines and other items. I'm a bit surprised the bus company tolerated it, but evidently they either tolerated it or turned their backs long enough. I'm glad I woke up at least a little at the several stops. They were usually signaled by the bus getting off the highway to lumber across town.

The morning meal consisted of a couple of packaged pastries and another drink, simple but good. And sometime shortly after noon, I arrived in the bus depot in Salta, collected my bag, found a restroom, and requested a taxi at the taxi stand.

The person behind the counter at the hostel had a paper map, a recommendation for a restaurant for lunch (a huge meal with more individual attention than I really needed for about $4; things are cheaper in Salta than Buenos Aires), and various suggestions of what to see around town. He explained it all in Spanish, and it all made sense.

It's a beautiful part of the country, and I'm very glad I went. I'm also glad I tried the bus, once.