On Penguins and Writing


On a recent trip to South Georgia Island and Antarctica, the only camera I brought was my iPhone. Lucky for me, the photographic expert on board LOVED the iPhone camera. I learned (and you can be the judge of how well!) to balance light in stills, to frame panoramas, and to shoot video.

The video below is an early try, and it reminded me of writing. Why? Well, while I was gone to this remote and extreme paradise of the Southern Ocean, I got an email (via satellite, no less) from my wonderful agent, saying she’d like to talk to me about the last manuscript revision I’d sent her.

A phone call was out of the question (reserved for family emergencies) and even a return email (to explain how long it would be until I was home) got screwed up in its delivery. It seems one email response got through: Can we talk when I get back? And then, in the meantime, there were penguins, and video, and ruminations on the writing life.

The thought here was: Try something new! Rotate the camera! At which point you get a lone Adelie penguin, walking entirely uphill across a wilderness of white.

I tried some new things in the revision. The agent, I learned on my return, liked some. Others, not so much.

(Adelie penguins, are, by the way, truly walking uphill in Antarctica, their numbers decreasing and their nesting places being driven farther and farther south by climate change.)

OK, then. How about this one?

It was kind of cool to capture the vocalizations of these King penguins, and the sound of those katabatic winds (just like in the ms!)–but, alas, the agent decreed: Too much noise, not enough action.

(The ozone hole over central Antarctica is actually making the body of the continent colder, and the winds stronger, which can put penguin and other shore bird nests at risk.)

Some parts were a little too cute, the agent said…

Parts were cute

…and some parts, were, well, kind of boring:


(Elephant seals such as this one and a pup were once hunted aggressively for their oil, and their numbers were reduced to near extinction.)

All right then, I got up the nerve to ask my most-wonderful agent:  What about the big picture?

Watch out for the roadblocks, she said…


…and try to stay steady…

Panos gone bad...
Panos gone bad…

…but if you can just pick up the pace in those earlier pages…

..and do the work…

Adelie penguins build their nests rock by rock, sometimes climbing hundreds of feet with each stone
Adelie penguins build their nests rock by rock, sometimes climbing hundreds of feet with each stone

…it could be smooth kayaking ahead.


After all, fur seal populations were at one point in the DOUBLE DIGITS in the Southern Ocean. And just look at their numbers now:IMG_4593

Who wouldn’t be hopeful, after all of that?

Church at Grytviken whaling station, South Georgia
Church at Grytviken whaling station, South Georgia

Next week: Artist in residence opportunities in Antarctica! (No kidding.)



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