I will be attending my first virtual writer’s conference this week. I’ve been to a few in-person conferences so I’m looking forward to evaluating the pros and cons. Look for a post one week from today.
I will be attending my first virtual writer’s conference this week. I’ve been to a few in-person conferences so I’m looking forward to evaluating the pros and cons. Look for a post one week from today.
I commute to my day job over an hour. When I first took this job, I thought I would invest in a Rosetta Stone program and learn a new language with all that drive time. Wouldn’t that be great? Linguistics always captured my attention. The opportunity made me giddy with hope.
“Oh, the things you will do.”Dr. Seuss
I’m going on three years. I speak English, bits of German, and childish Spanish, none of which I learned while driving twelve hours a week. I have listened to audio books as varied as the “Little House on the Prairie” (serious wisdom in those books) to a biography of Hamilton. I’ve tuned into anything to fill the time, and allow my brain to detach from the trials of the workday and transition to the sanctuary of home. Learn a language after the daily toil of a new job. What was I thinking?
I bring this up because my aspirations remind me of how sometimes characters in books can do amazing things. They can diffuse atomic bombs with two broken hands. They have convenient gifts that allow them to see through walls (I once thought I had this gift. Okay, people be nice I was six). I’ve known some amazing, productive people and I applaud the ideal that they represent. But I find it tiresome that so much fiction is based on superpowers or feats of learning and physical stamina that leave no hope for us normal mortals to see ourselves in them.
Regular people can be truly inspiring without being the strongest, most adept or the top of their game. My point is, let’s try to keep it real, or at least not resort to the ‘special powers’ or ‘super skills’ every time our characters get in a bind. Write on! The world awaits your voice.
In the speculative Sci-Fi arena there are at times, stretches of humanity’s traits. Two of the four projects I’m working on involve people with abilities that we don’t (currently) have, but they are plausible, and some might say probable.
Paul was one of my older sister’s friends, but he was a gregarious type and didn’t mind hanging around teenage girls a couple of years younger than him. He was preppy when preppy was a thing. He had a real boyish charm, at ease, open. I remember him not because I had a crush on him, that would be wasted puppy love. He was graduating in a few months, and going off to Georgetown university. No, he is part of my story because he shared a writing tip with me on the evening before I would take the SATs (aka college entrance exams).
He said just before I needed to write well, I should read from a good book. Good writing prompts the brain to produce good writing. I took his advice. I did very well on the Verbal part of the exams. (We won’t talk about the math portion. Paul had no tricks for that). I continued to use that advice through college, work and now as a writer of fiction. I remember Paul, his smile, his willingness to share his knowledge. I would vote for Paul if he ran for president. I always expected to see him on the ticket one day. (Now would be a good time Paul!) I pass this tip on to you. If you’re stuck in a jam, and nothing seems to flow, stop writing and read, read, read. Then see what happens next time you sit down at your keyboard. You may find your best words ever pouring out with ease. Write on!
You don’t look for trouble. You work behind the scenes, unseen. Not everyone’s favorite, depending on who you ask. Though some say, ‘super nice’; others say, slow, aka dumb, weird, too quiet. When people talk about the road to success, you’re never on it, as far as they see. No one expects you to do well, it doesn’t even cross their mind. They step right over you or worse on you because after-all, you won’t say a word but just go on. Every day. You wake in the morning, get up and get back out there doing what is right with not one pat on the back. Silently, almost invisibly, doing unto others as you would want them to do unto you, just because. You are the hero of the story and someone is reading you.
The big house became our home five years ago when our son and daughter were old enough to ask why we made them move away from their friends. We were wise enough not to answer since really, how could we explain that success meant a bigger house and what was life without success? When the stay at home order came, we were thankful for the space but terrorized by the mortgage payment.
I was laid off from my job as manager of sales for a high-end kitchen and bath designer. My husband Sam kept working. He was in finance trying to keep his biggest and smallest clients afloat.
We had to make some changes, so we dropped the non-essentials. Gym membership went first. Easy, they were closed, and we had a treadmill in the basement anyway. It was where Haley spent a ridiculous amount of time working out. I wanted to restrict her access down there like I used to for phone and internet use, but she was sixteen and stuck. How could I tell her staying fit was not the be all and end all of existence when right then it was?
She could be like her brother Joe, sitting in his rocker game chair in front of a thirty-two-inch tv playing video games. Correction, competing in tournaments which was his future career. I told him when he started winning money, then he could call it a job. What was a parent to do with high schoolers in lock down for an entire spring?
As for me, I tried to make the best of it by keeping busy cleaning my house like I always wanted to. Every day a different task; washing floors, vacuuming, dusting; a forgotten art for sure. Laundry on Tuesdays, and Thursdays; Saturday too if needed. Who would believe that people who don’t go anywhere could generate so many dirty clothes? Mostly towels though from Haley’s three showers a day.
I found out in just over two weeks that my dream of being a happy housewife was based on Facebook posts and not real life. There was no joy in having a schedule of chores, no satisfaction, no feeling of self-worth. Pretty quick I ended up cleaning only the obvious messes, dusting when bunnies started falling off the ceiling fans and laundry, well laundry was always happening.
One thing I did have time for that brought me great enjoyment was starting a garden. I would put on my pedal pushers, pull my hair up in a kerchief and don flowery gloves to dig in the dirt. This stereotype I could embrace. Okay so half the time my hair was pulled back with an elastic band that came with the free town paper and I forgot the gloves so my nails were a “Le Garden” manicure, black rims instead of white tips. But I did enjoy planting, watering, even pulling weeds.
The best place for my flowers and a few tomato plants was along my neighbor’s weathered privacy fence at back. The old fence stood in stark contrast to the impenetrable pristine white plastic ones on either side. Those bastions of PVC glory did not have a crack or space in them for even a flea to cross. Good thing too because on one side a pack of Dalmatians lived. Truly I think their owners had a Disney complex. There were at least a hundred and one of them yapping and scratching up against the fence all the time. Of course, I could only see them if I climbed up a ladder to check the condition of our shed roof; something I needed to do from time to time. Every modern woman stays aware of the maintenance needs of her house and her shed, right?
On the other side was a dog whose actual description was only known by its low rumbling growl. I imagined it was huge, with double rows of teeth like a shark and a tail with a rock on the end like that dinosaur, Ankylosaurus. That dog surely had that kind of tail whipping back and forth wreaking havoc on birds, cats, bees, any living thing. It’s possible I had too much time to put a picture to the strange crashing sounds I heard from that yard, but I have yet to be proven wrong.
One day as I was adding mulch around my prized pink and orange geraniums, thinking about how all the dogs were quiet which made me just a little nervous, I felt the sensation that I was being watched. I looked up. Sure enough, I discovered two big blue eyes staring at me from a small face pressed against a hole in the fence.
“Hello,” I said. I didn’t recall ever seeing a child before. But then I never used to be outside this much. The yard didn’t have toys or a swing set and the brown, weedy grass ended at a cement patio. It was hard to keep a green lawn without a service spraying and doing whatever magic it was that they did. We cancelled that service too, so by the end of summer, our lawn would be in the same shape. Did it really matter? Things that were so important just didn’t demand attention anymore.
“What’s your name?” I asked my curious friend.
“Petie go out,” the little tyke said.
“Is your name Petie?”
“Petie go out.”
Gosh, he had to be barely two if that. I got up and looked through the fence. A little dog came running up alongside the boy. He pushed his feet against the fence and barked a yappy, ‘will you play with me’ bark.
“Petie,” the boy giggled.
I noticed then that the door to the patio was cracked open. The little boy ran away from the fence and wandered around the yard. The gate was open too. Maybe his mama was up front? He ran around, barefoot, diaper hanging low, a little t-shirt showing his tummy. Petie jumped around him.
Something about all this didn’t look right. But I couldn’t scale the fence. I would have to go around the block to get to the other side.
“Hello?” I called out. “Hello? Your baby is in the yard.” No answer. “Your baby is outside. Hello neighbor, your child is running around outside.”
That open gate gaped at me like the mouth of a whale ready to swallow a child. Any moment he could wander through and into a myriad of dangers. I had no choice. I ran as fast I could wishing I had spent some time on that thousand dollar treadmill that I purchased two years ago. I had the dream of returning to my bride weight for our twentieth anniversary. Who makes vows like that? It was harder than twenty years of marriage and that’s saying a lot considering how Sam snores like a locomotive and still thinks a wife should do all the laundry. Laundry! The bane of my existence.
I made it to the house, sweat dripping down my nose; convinced that there was a person in every house I passed staring out the window pointing at me. I found the baby on his back with the dog licking his face.
“Let’s take Petie in. Let’s go to mommy.”
“Mommy has a boo-boo.”
Now all I could think is that there was a mother inside with a mortal wound and I’ve been chatting with a two-year-old while she bleeds out on the floor.
“Come with me,” I said. I held out my hand. Petie licked it which grossed me out because really, I’m not a dog slobber person.
Finally, the baby’s little chubby hand was in mine. We walked to the patio door. I pushed it open.
“Hello?” I listened. No response. “Is anyone home?” Of course, there was someone home. No one leaves a small child alone. I remembered the bleeding scene my imagination conjured up. This was not the time to be timid or polite. A life could be at stake! I picked the baby up and carried him into the kitchen.
“Hello? I saw your little guy headed out of the gate and…” I heard crying. I followed the sobs and found her in the master bedroom on the floor, a cell phone in pieces at the base of the wall, and a mound of tissues at her feet.
I stopped in the doorway. The baby reached out toward his mother.
“He was out in the yard,” I said. “But he’s fine.” I put him down and he toddled over to her. She hugged him tightly.
“I’m so sorry.” She hid her face against his neck. “How did you get outside?” she said to him, tears streaming down her face. “We were napping. Right here, on the bed but then I got the call. My husband.” She looked up at me with red eyes. “He left us just like that with nothing but a phone call and now, the way things are.” She put her hand over her eyes and cried, “I can’t do this alone.”
I sat down next to her and put my arm across her shoulder. “It will be okay Sweetie. You’re not alone.”
There are lots of things counted by one hundred. There are hundred-year storms, hundred-year floods, one hundred pennies in a dollar, one hundred “bottles of beer on the wall” according to the song and then there’s the one-hundred-word story. Not a child’s book, an actual story. I want to thank a recent visitor to my blog for introducing me to this amazing form of storytelling (check out her website at ladyjabberwocky.com).
My first thought was, “How can a story be told in just a hundred words?” How indeed. The same way any story is told, one careful word at a time. The challenge is energizing. I couldn’t resist. So, here’s my foray into the hundred-word story realm:
Isabella claimed the honor of ninety -seven years old although many heard her say over the last ten, she was ready. She said it with a smile and meant it to be a happy passing on. There were not too many flowers, not too many tears, just quiet reflection of the days with her in them. Goodbye came from those that knew her as auntie, as nana, as friend who always had a kind word, a prayer, a warm squeeze of the hand. The day ended. Pumpkin purred, sleeping on her bed with her picture turned toward his whiskered face.
Think you have a good super short story? Coming soon, a 100 word story contest.
There are many milestones to reach on the way to publication. First one of course, is having a story to write. Most of what I write starts with an idea and not a story. The idea gives birth to the story. I’m a ‘Panster’, plotting as I go. More on the Pros and Cons of that in another post. However it begins, eventually a novel is created. Next step, write a query, with the ultimate goal of convincing an agent to represent your precious project that you have lived and breathed for months, sometimes years.
That was the course I was on this time around. I edited a summary of my novel a hundred times until finally satisfied (more like exhausted from editing), I sent out four queries to agents. I was rejected by every single one. But alas, there were no tears or sulking from the replies. In fact, it was an enlightening experiment. The results? I learned agents seem to be first interested in the story. The sales pitch has to be the story. How well the pitch is written is less important than how engaging and how well explained the story. Some of you are probably saying ‘duh’. Hey, I never claimed to be brilliant.
But I looked a little closer at that discovery. I reviewed my summary and realized though I used catchy phrases and active sentence structure, I wasn’t even sure what my story was really all about. I had 103,000 words and I couldn’t quite say what it all meant. A huge storm cloud began to form over my head. What was my story in its simplest essence? Scenes came back to me that in my heart I knew had no purpose. Characters, a wife even, seemed pointless to the story. The storm kept building until finally the deluge let loose and poured down, “Revise, revise, revise!” So began the “major revision version” resulting in around 30,000 words cut. It was hard but, it felt good because the story boiled down until it is now the pure, sweet syrup of what I meant to say.
So, what am I saying in this post? Don’t craft your query letter at the end or even the middle of writing your novel. Craft it in the beginning. Getting the summary concise and meaningful will keep you on track and not let characters step in that distract and eat up time. It will guard against perfect but pointless scenes that dilute the power of your message. Try it!
Have you ever had veggie bacon? Truth be told, vegetables and bacon really don’t belong together in the same sentence and it ain’t cheap. Just saying. It is lower fat though and well, it isn’t meat. We have recently discovered the joys of low fat eating. We went from using a stick of butter every three days or so to every three weeks or so. We cut all kinds of high fats foods from our diet. It wasn’t that hard. However, cutting out full Sunday breakfast with bacon, eggs, fried potatoes and toast slathered in butter, did not go down without a fight. We’ve been hunting for new breakfast friends ever since. That’s why this past weekend we tried veggie bacon.
Within a minute of heating, a bacon-like aroma filled the kitchen. I say ‘bacon-like’ because imagination was needed to turn a kind of vitamin-ish smell into hickory smoke. I have an active imagination so I went with it. The strips didn’t crinkle, but they did crackle, like dried cardboard. My husband took one look and wouldn’t even take a bite. I’m stubborn and was not going to give up on the idea so easy. I crumbled some in my turmeric yellow scrambled egg whites and declared it bacon flavored.
That was as close to success as veggie bacon came.
Pulling this experience apart it occurred to me, I could feel cheated or foolish for trying. I could bemoan the loss of the Sunday breakfast extravaganza I dreamt about or I could congratulate myself for delving into an unknown territory and count myself among those brave souls that eat veggie bacon. It’s the difference of wallowing in short term disappointment or packing the experience up as a long term tool.
It’s the same with writing projects. They usually start with a burst of creative joy, all kinds of excitement at bringing new characters to life. Thoughts like, ‘this is the big one’ or ‘my writing is super hot this time’ and the confident assertion ‘I’ve got this’ roll through the mind like the beat of a victory march. But the story hits a snag. A read to someone yields a confused look and tentative smile. Your own perusal causes you to curse about how terrible it sounds. It is veggie bacon, no worse it’s burnt veggie bacon.( I might know a little bit about this too).
So what to do? Ask yourself if you are in it for the short term satisfaction or are you ready for the long road that will require the carrying of tools crafted by disappointment. Totally up to you. As for me, I’m going to try the veggie breakfast sausage. I have high hopes.
There’s an urban myth that if something falls on the floor and it is picked up within ten seconds, it’s as good as if it never dropped, perfectly safe. Microbes have not had time to contaminate.
Our kitchen floor is particularly good for this rule because the floor is a soft linoleum. When a chunk of buttered Italian bread hits the floor, it bounces. Catch it on the first bounce and all is well.
The truth is microbes are fast little buggers. They don’t play by the arbitrary rules humans set up to make tough choices easier or better yet help busy moms save that lollipop to avoid ear splitting screams. With the said rule declared, we save otherwise lost causes. Why? Ultimately, the human body is built to combat invaders, and being germophobic is a luxury most of the world can’t live by, even in a COVID-19 world. Adjustments are made in expectations; risks are accepted, and life goes on. The rule provides an escape hatch to practical sensibility.
Give yourself the same break. If your story falls flat (or any endeavor), if rejections pour in and critiques feel overwhelmingly critical, don’t abandon it as a lost cause. Brush it off, pick out the dirt, slice off the bad part. You’ll avoid calling your less than perfect creative work, ‘trash’ and maybe quell some ear-splitting screams from your heart. Look at it again. Did you see that bounce? It’s coming back up to you. Catch it!
I owe it all to Rose and her curiosity.
September 2019 summer vacation at the Jersey Shore. Twelve hours of drive, drive, drive spurred on by visions of lazy days reading a Hugh Howey novel, starting a puzzle and of course, always, working on my latest writing project. My I-pad waited like a faithful friend tucked into a travel bag that usually held a laptop.
When we arrived, we breathed in the salty ocean air, stretched our legs, and piled the contents of the car onto a cart. As usual my husband constructed a perfect tower of luggage, grocery bags, extra pillows, and what must have been fifty assorted loose items. The last thing to go on top was the I-pad bag. Too late I saw the bag slip to the ground and the I-Pad slide out. To my great relief no harm was done. Neither one of us noticed the red and black flash drive skitter to freedom. I would never miss it since I didn’t intend to bring it and had no PC to install it on.
Days later, mission accomplished, I relaxed with my paperback book open, cold lemonade in my Contigo cup and a bag of barbecue chips strategically hidden from seagulls, though there was one standing on one leg looking straight at me. My phone rang. It was the hotel front desk. A guest had called to say she found something that might be mine, but she was checked out. Could I call her?
I wondered if it was a scam.
When Rose answered and we started to talk, we may have well been classmates at school. My husband looked on with a bewildered face. I just smiled at him as Rose explained that she had pulled in next to our car and found a red flash drive. She apologized for taking it with her thinking it belonged to her friend that had been in the parking space last. Later she opened the drive.
“Are you an author?” she asked.
“Aspiring,” I said.
“Well I spent the past few hours reading your story, I couldn’t put it down. I need to know what happens to Darrell.”
I laughed. I wasn’t even sure she had the latest draft for the story that I had abandoned two years ago.
She shared with me what she liked about it. How it reminded her of the show “The Walking Dead”, and did I model the protagonist after one of the actors on the show? I did not. She gave me some pointers, parts of the story that weren’t working and then promised to return the drive.
It was the single most igniting interaction with a stranger I’ve ever had. I immediately started working on the novel again. Rose volunteered to be a reader and wanted to know how the story would end. So began the quest to stop abandoning characters to digital dungeons, and do what it takes to bring them to life not only in my mind but in as many others that would let them in.
If you know a writer, the greatest gift you can give is to read their drafts and give words of affirmation sprinkled with suggestions. I am in debt to Rose. I need to repay her with a free copy of the published book. Would you join me as I keep my promise to Rose?
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