Archive for March, 2017

In Praise of Editors

The launch date for Pitcher Plant is rapidly approaching, and the team at Filles Vertes Publishing has been hard at work behind the scenes. We’ll have a cover soon, and I can’t wait to show you all. We’re currently working on final edits, and it’s been a great experience. I truly believe the book will be stronger for having feedback from an editor and multiple proofreaders.

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As a writer, there comes a point in the process of writing and revision where you can no longer see your mistakes. You know the story inside and out, so you can’t see the plot holes or the need for more character development. You can’t even see when whole words are missing. You’ve read the material so much that your mind fills in the missing parts.

It’s so important to get a fresh perspective from someone who is not as familiar with the manuscript, who can spot errors. You can use spellcheck, of course, but it doesn’t catch everything. It’s easy to spell a word correctly and use the wrong word, like there versus their or your versus you’re. Editors help with other grammatical issues too, like lay versus lie. That’s one that trips me up. Whether I’m working as a writer or editor, I always have to look it up to make sure it’s correct.

You need an editor for the big issues too, like plot and the pace of the story. I know what I want to say, but am I communicating clearly? Editors can help develop a story, fleshing out the parts that seem thin, engaging readers emotionally. They can also help you with logic, consistency, and mapping out the physical movements of your characters. A great scene can be spoiled by a mistake that pulls the reader out of the story. An experienced editor looks at a story holistically and also has an eye for detail.

Essentially, an editor helps you make a story as bullet-proof as possible. I’m grateful to have that help with this new book. We release Pitcher Plant in May, and I’m so excited for you to read it. I learned a lot about the craft in the process of writing it, and I’d like to think it’s my best novel yet.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Literacy & Little Free Libraries

Last evening, I had the pleasure of attending a fundraiser to support a literacy program. The Libraries ROCC program is a partnership between three of our local libraries. It promotes reading outreach by providing every child in the county with a library card. As a writer, encouraging people to read is a cause near and dear to my heart, so I’m thrilled this program exists.

Libraries are so important to our communities. They foster literacy for beginning readers, give kids a safe place to hang out after school, host speakers on various educational topics, grant space for community groups to meet, and provide internet access for many patrons who don’t have it, like those with low income or who are seeking a job. One of my favorite librarians (and a beloved friend) works at the Seaside Public Library and does an outstanding job working with youth. My own children have benefitted from the wonderful summer reading program she has developed.

Beyond all that, libraries are simply sacred to me. They always have been, from the time I was old enough to have a library card. Stephen King has said that books are uniquely portable magic, and I believe this to be true. I remember visiting the library as a kid and browsing the stacks. I felt a sense of awe at the possibilities as I read the spine of each book, trying to choose just one or two to take home.  Nothing has made me prouder as a parent than seeing my children fall in love with books. Seems like we’re at the library every week, feeding our addiction. It’s a pretty great addiction to have, although my to-be-read pile at home suffers every time I get distracted by a shiny new book. My boys tell me I’m only allowed to check out one book at a time. Choosing is still hard.

All these reasons are why it’s an easy decision to pull out my wallet and support programs like Libraries ROCC. It’s even easier when there’s an auction for little free libraries created by local artists. My favorite was the nautical-themed library designed by the talented folks at Vintage Hardware. (Everything Becky Johnson and her staff create is amazing, and they are constantly involved in community projects.)

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The other libraries were gorgeous too. One was constructed of cedar and smelled just as wonderful as you think it would. Another was Oregon-themed, complete with a wood cut-out of the state. One had been painted with literary quotes.

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I got outbid and didn’t come home with a library, but it was great to see them going for as much as $450 and to know they’d be well-loved and curated by individuals and business owners. The most heart-warming part of the auction involved a barn-themed library. A pair of tween girls feel in love with it and started a bidding war with some of the older attendees. I was worried as the bidding got higher that they’d get in trouble for raising their bid, but the adult with them seemed okay with the amount they pledged. Finally, they got the highest bid, and were so joyful, everyone applauded and cheered. I can’t imagine the library going to a better home than that of two enthusiastic young readers.

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I did come home with a few things from the silent auction, one of them a gift certificate to Norma’s, a favorite local restaurant. Anybody want to join me for dinner?

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Diving with Sharks

This week I turned 42. To celebrate, my two thirteen-year-old boys and I seized the day and visited the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington to dive with sharks. I’m a certified diver, so the idea was not terrifying to me. The last time I was in the ocean with a shark, I was diving at Michaelmas Cay in the Great Barrier Reef. I got close to a four-foot black tip reef shark. I absolutely loved that, and couldn’t wait to get in the water with something a little bigger.

My kids weren’t sure about joining me at first. They’re great swimmers, not at all afraid of the water, but sharks? The idea gave them pause. So, I did what any good parent would do—I begged, pleaded, and manipulated them until they said yes. I’m kidding…sort of. We talked about the experience and risks, and I assured them they’d be okay.

When we got to the zoo, we checked out the aquarium so the boys could see the sharks before we got in. They were a little bigger than we expected. The sand tiger shark was over ten-feet-long, and with a mouth full of ragged teeth, he looked intimidating. The boys weren’t scared though. Due to my obsession with sharks and their own love of animals, they knew that sand tigers were docile—more puppies than monsters.

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The cage-diving experience at the aquarium is set up to accommodate those with little or no experience diving. We would wear our street clothes under dry suits, so just our heads, hands, and feet would get wet. We wouldn’t have to use tanks. Instead, air would come to us through long hoses. All we had to do was follow directions, kneel at the bottom of the cage, and breathe. We were given a presentation beforehand about what the experience would be like, and what kind of sharks we’d encounter. The aquarium has five species of sharks in their large tank: the sand tiger, nurse sharks, sand bar sharks, a black tip reef shark (just like my Australian friend), and a wobbegong, a kind of shark that lies on the bottom of the ocean. The zoo also has a zebra shark which will be introduced to the big tank in a few years, once she grows bigger. Zebra sharks really are sea puppies—seriously adorable and kinda goofy. They like belly rubs too.

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We were told that if we were comfortable, our safety diver would open the cage during our dive, so we could get even closer to the sharks. We were warned, however, that one of the sand bar sharks had a habit of swimming right up to the cage, like she was going to come inside. “She’ll veer off at the last second, though,” our dive instructor said.

We dressed up like aquanauts and donned our masks. After slipping regulators in our mouths, we sank to the bottom of the cage, wide-eyed and excited as we watched the sand tiger and black tip reef shark glide past. During the middle of the experience, the safety diver used hand gestures to ask if we wanted the doors open. We all gave her the okay signal right away. Heck yes, we wanted the cage door open. Let’s do this thing.

Then, across the tank, I saw that sand bar shark coming. My eyes were locked with hers as she swam right up to us, no fear. She got within a foot of one of my sons’ faces before switching directions. I looked over at him and used hand signals to see if he was okay. He nodded, grinning underwater.

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After the dive, I asked him if he’d been scared. “Not at all,” he said. He’d felt a rush of adrenaline, and actually wanted to get closer. He had to keep his hands on the bars of the cage to resist reaching out and touching the shark. You and me both, kid. You and me both.

I think we’ll be coming back to this zoo, for another round with the sharks. Maybe next time, all three of us will be certified, and we’ll be able to leave the cage to sit on the bottom of the tank as the sharks swim around our heads. In the meantime, I’m thrilled to know my boys have developed a love for sharks and a new appreciation for nature. This was the best birthday I’ve ever had.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Ghost Stories at the Library

Thank you to everyone who joined me last evening at the Astoria Library! I had a wonderful time talking about character-driven fiction with fellow writers, and it was fun to swap ghost stories during my presentation on Sunset Empire. I hope you enjoy reading about Burning Helen, the ghost in the tunnels under the Liberty Theater. Much appreciation to Ami for all your hard work facilitating this event.

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As promised, I sent a short story to everyone who signed up for my newsletter. If you’d like to be on my list and want a free story, comment below or send me an email at solasbeir at gmail dot com.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017