I drove across parts of four southern states on vacation right before Christmas. I wanted to sync my phone with my car for music listening purposes, but also wanted my battery to last the whole day, without the hassle of car charging. So, I diligently sought my kind of music via FM radio.

I soon discovered that my kind of music was not four different states’ kind of music. I love alternative. They love oldies, country, gospel, and talk radio. I eventuality found what appeared to be the only popular\alternative station in the entirety of the deep south. Fortunately, and oddly, it seemed to follow me along on my journey. Over the four days I traveled, I kept hearing two songs I fell in love with.

The first was. Lizzo’s Good As Hell . I loved everything about it. The sound, the lyrics, and the way it’s such a girl power anthem. I think a woman can be feminine and cool…and strong. Strong is always good. Especially when it comes with a giant dose of self-confidence. For me, that’s what the wonderful Lizzo is doing here. Encouraging us all to be, and stay, strong and confident, with a side of fun nails and hair tosses. At the moment that’s my favorite song. The version I’ve linked to above features Ariana Grande and is very cool.

The other is Dance Monkey by Tones and I . Such a fun song, which has become my second favorite for now. It’s really great to drive to. The beat and sound make me happy. That’s a major criteria for me about music. If it makes me happy just to listen to it, then it’s a valuable part of my day.

For music lovers there are songs we like, songs we love, and songs we can’t do without. Then there are the ones that are all of these, and also vital for long road trips. New music to lead us on our journies to new and exciting adventures.

This NPR Story gives insight into Edouard Manet’s art as his life was winding toward his death at 51. Even though he was in terrible pain, he still managed to rise above it to create gorgeous paintings of flowers, fruit, and people. Perhaps not as perfect as in his younger days, his final works were glorious still. Sometimes delicate, often bold, and occasionally scandalous, these paintings remain an important part of his legacy. The article includes images of several of them. They serve not only as reminders of his great talent, but also his strength, perseverance, and devotion to his art.

Florida is a place of beauty, abundant nature to observe and photograph, and unexpected experiences. When given the opportunity to go to Busch Gardens, I knew there were animals there. What I had not realized was how many and how close I could get to some of them. Add a zoom lens, and I was able to take photographs I had only dreamed of before I got my DSLR and traveled to The Sunshine State.

I love palm trees too, so they were high on my priority list. These tall, spindly ones are among my favorites.

Many of my animal photos were taken from the steam train ride. I didn’t always catch the guide’s descriptions in their entirety, which unfortunately means I don’t have a proper kind for this beauty. Just an antelope. I really like the way it stands out against the pop of green it grazes.

Though the head of this white rhino is nearly in silhouette, its distinctive horn is unmistakable. Rhinos are so tragically endangered that it makes me both incredibly happy and incredibly sad to see one. These creatures deserve to live on Earth as much as we do. Hopefully, some way, some how they will be given a renewed opportunity to thrive.

I read somewhere that modern DSLRs have something like 5,000 setting possibilities. Um, no. I’m learning how to use it and may continue to do so for as long as it’s mine. I concentrate on lighting and composition to get what I want. Or try to. I end up with a higher and higher percentage of shots I love, so I’m satisfied with how I’m doing so far. I still have some trouble with depth of field. Sometimes those mistakes turn out to be happy accidents. I was able to crop this giraffe one so that it looks like an intentional piece of pop art. I’ll take it!

Elephants have such timelessly beautiful faces. They look old and ageless at once, with wisdom gained and emotion endured etched into the lines around their eyes. Just like us. It’s my understanding that they are very similar to us in many ways. They bond with family and friends, love them, grieve them when they are gone. It would be a pretty wonderful thing to have an elephant for a friend.

Emus are so cool and fluffy. They seem sweet, but I’ve heard they can be cantankerous, kicking very hard among other things. Years ago I was at a wildlife park in New South Wales, Australia. I was enraptured, photographing koalas high in a eucalyptus tree (The koalas were high in the tree, not me!), when I felt a presence behind me. It didn’t touch me. I could just sense that something was close. I reluctantly removed my face from my viewfinder, and slowly pivoted. It did not take a full body turn to come face to face with an apparently curious emu. When I say face to face, I mean that it was really close. We gazed into each other’s eyes for a heart stopping moment. Then, I slowly backed away, until I realized it was still standing where I’d left it. At that point I beat a hasty retreat, glad to have had such a close encounter, and also glad to walk away emu kick free.

I’m glad this zebra was in the shade, so that its amazing markings were able to really be showcased. Bright sunlight could have caused too much contrast or glare, but this is perfect. Really studying the complex patterns of striping on its forehead and knees in particular, show what a wonder zebras are. Beautiful, almost but not quite comical looking, they’re a gift nature has bestowed upon us. Let’s enjoy every stripe.

This lion and lioness seem content in each other’s company. They’re both gorgeous. His mane surprised me by how rough it looked and how much actual red was in it. Nearby, a lioness had taken up residence in the fake bed of a fake truck that decorated the exhibit. By looking at her through the glass right over where she lay, I could see, count even, the individual hairs on her back. That is the closest I’ll ever be to a lion, I’m sure. I could have stood there, gazing upon such majesty for hours. It was an experience I’ll always treasure and never forget.

I’ll close this out with a pic I took with my phone. It’s not sharp like the ones from my camera, but it gives an idea of how beautiful the Christmas decorations were. I rode the Skyride and loved dangling, swinging, and swaying high above the gorgeous lights, but nothing quite compares to being close to them. it was a day filled with many of my favorite things, the top favorite being, as always, the magic that comes out of my camera.

Twitter has brought me musical magic again. This time actually from my favorite musical. Wicked has these Out of Oz Studio Sessions performances that I hadn’t really checked out. When “No Good Deed” sung by Jennifer Nettles was right there as I scrolled along, I clicked Play.

I’m not a country music fan, generally, but I’ve heard Jennifer Nettles belt out more traditional songs enough to know I was in for a treat. She has an amazing voice and wonderful control of it. Her rendition of “No Good Deed” is perfection. I keep going to YouTube to watch the video. That won’t stop anytime soon.

Jennifer Nettles — No Good Deed

I’ve come hard up against a writerly situation that I can’t quite figure out. This comes from the part of my life that’s as a published author, not the write, submit, rinse, repeat part. When one of my stories was published by a prominent magazine, reactions by reviewers and regular (as opposed to irregular?) readers were split right down the middle. The first review I read was negative, and to me seemed mean spirited. It basically accused the story of using dialogue to info dump, annoy, and offend the delicate sensibilities of discerning consumers of fine science fiction. The half that were positive reactions mean the world to me, as they were lovely and insightful. If only human nature would always skew toward the positive. Instead, while I treasure the wonderful reactions, the negative ones nag at the back of my mind.

The major nag is an almost subconscious stream of consciousness pondering of the process of short story writing and aftermath–ing. The way I see it, there are two ways to project story from the writer’s mind to the readers’. One is exposition. I’m of the less is more school on this one. The idea of subtlety allowing…forcing…a collaboration between the imaginations of writer and reader is so appealing to me. I’ve always loved that experience as a reader, though I enjoy the more wordy authors too. One of my favorites, Virginia Woolf, wrote prose of great beauty, using her particular kind of magic to still leave room for reader imagination participation in among gorgeous foot long sentences. But we can’t all be Virginia Woolf. In fact, none of us can. Which is as it should be. We can only be ourselves. Write our best. Leave the rest to collective imagination. And hope for the moments when one instance of meeting of the minds or a collective experience reaches near zeitgeist status…in a good way.

The other way of expelling story from one brain to another is through dialogue. I’m big on that one. Some readers love it, others apparently really don’t. The beauty of dialogue…is the opportunity to create beautiful dialogue. I’m far from claiming that my characters’ conversations are always like jewels dripping from their papery tongues. Or often. But sometimes…sometimes…. The things characters say to each other can do so much more than move story along. They tell their own stories of personality, hardship, joy, courage, and honor. You can either have characters express themselves as only they can or sometimes clumsily try to force your vision of their lives into a reader’s head. The reader may resist. The character may as well. Then nobody is happy, fictional or flesh and blood.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to just carry on, writing what I want and how I want, and trust that the readers who get it will enjoy what they’ve read so much that they think about it long after the last word has drifted across the bridge from my mind to theirs. The ones who don’t get it aren’t going to suddenly stop looking for things to dislike. They’ll be the way they are whether I try to change my weird, wonderful way of writing by instinct or write the way I love and keep loving it. So I’m who I am, they’re who they are, and that’s fine.

I think that maybe when you write fiction for long enough, you come to care about your characters as much as you care about the real people that pass through your life. You listen to them. You watch them. If you’re lucky they don’t judge too harshly. And if you’re really lucky they build their own bridge between minds. And hearts. Then you know you’ve done your job as a writer, and what critics say fades into the background. If, sometimes, it doesn’t, it makes you more determined to do the best you can. Better than you can. Being better than you think you can is like armor. Armor that creaks and sometimes rusts, but stands strong. Just be prepared to fall while wearing it. Getting back up is a nightmare, but the entire process of the writing life can be the stuff of dreams.

Very happy to announce that my 2019 Big Break Screenwriting Contest entry has made the cut to Semifinalist! I just realized I’m smiling as I type. Screenwriting is such a cool thing to do. Being recognized for it is even cooler.

Grateful.

I’m very happy to announce that my drama feature entry is a 2019 Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest Quarter-Finalist.

As I’ve written about in some previous posts, it’s difficult to deal with the years when nothing happens. In 2017 nothing happened, because I decided to sit out the screenwriting competitions to destress. It helped and this year I entered the Nicholl and Big Break. Not getting any positive reads in the Nicholl was disappointing and discouraging. So I seriously braced myself when the Big Break QF email came. It was such a wonderful feeling to get that reassuring, validating, thrilling moment of seeing my name and title as a Quarter-Finalist.

As the saying goes, I can dine on that for quite some time. I never stop believing in myself, but that belief gets shakey sometimes depending on how hard the winds of defeat try to blow me over. I really like this place where anything can happen and if I go right back into the doldrums that’s okay too. I’ve had the reminder that I know what I’m doing and love doing it. 

Now, I get to look forward to the upcoming Semifinals announcement. Whatever my result in that, I’m so proud to be a 2019 Big Break Quarter-Finalist.