It’s raining on the Treasure Coast in Florida! If you live in Seattle, you can’t imagine why that’s news. It would be just another ho-hum day for you. I get it. But, down here in Too-Sunny Florida, too often we don’t get it—rain, I mean. There are other things we don’t get, either, like the fact that your rights end where my nose begins, but right now, it’s rain.
In our PUD (Planned Urban Development), we have what are given the grandiose designation of lakes, but are, in fact, piddling, pint-sized preservation ponds. We do have some bragging rights though: ours is the largest of the PPPPs. The pond that usually snuggles up to within twelve feet of my patio, now has me overlooking a Saharan scene with an oasis at the far end, unless it’s a mirage. I suppose if we wanted to sell, this would be the opportune time. The property would easily pass for beachfront rather than mere waterfront property. In fact, I have room to set up a concession stand where my lawn ends and the seared savanna begins. My neighbors, a bit closer to the water, could rent out floats and paddle boats.
Watching the water wane, I’ve lost count of how many months it’s been since we’ve had a truly satisfying, sigh-worthy downpour. We endured Old Man Sky’s grumbling and rumbling about his problem, and tolerated a few and dribbles and drops here and there, but he passed nothing substantial in that time. I think it’s been a celestial prostate problem that Dr. Luke has remedied with either a hefty dose of diuretic or that new PAE (Prostate Artery Embolization) procedure. I’m also grateful the Mr. Sky didn’t have difficulty passing solids. Had he excreted hailstones, I’d have been forced to pose an even less pleasant personification picture. I’m sure some scientist somewhere has a perfectly plausible explanation for the drought. I really don’t care. It’s raining!
And that got me to thinking how physically relieving oneself is like writing. (A silly simile to evoke a smile.) But think about it. What have you learned? Good point. But other than my overly-fond use of alliteration, what have you learned?
Here’s what I learned from me. (I learn a lot by talking to myself.) You can stand at (or sit on) the bowl all day waiting for inspiration without results. You can avoid the computer with other chores. Neither inaction will squeeze out a drop or scribe a word.
To prime the former, drink lots of water. To prime the latter, tie yourself to the chair at the computer. (One arm, or you won’t reach the keys.) Type something. Anything. A word or two. Let your imagination go. What rhymes with it or begins like it? What are its synonyms or antonyms? What images does it bring to mind? This exercise can act like a mental diuretic, and. . .down it comes! Sure, this drizzily draft will require some mopping up, but soon you’ll have manna to the eye and ear just like rain is drink to the earth!
Enthused? Inspired? Go for it! Empty your genius on us.
Well, this is a bit awkward. If you’re looking for my September post, there isn’t one. It’s not my fault. Irma did it.
When we heard the cranky old crone was heading our way, we did what normal Floridians do—we panicked! Well, not exactly, but we were very, very worried. Tremendously worried. Trust me. Hugely worried. And we prepared earlier and more sensibly because Irma was aiming at us with a Cat-5 left hook that would flatten everything.
I thought last November brought the worst disaster that could hit our country. I was spot on target then, but as we watched Texas get flattened and flooded by Hurricane Harvey we humbly bumped November down a notch. We had a minute to breathe, then Irma bullied and bruised her way through Florida. This crazy Cousin of Harvey’s was predicted to pulverize what we might loosely call the normal way of life in Florida. Fortunately, she danced her way out of the state leaving less wreckage than Harvey. But she left us with hearts hurting for the suffering of others, and an urgent need to offer aid and comfort.
What happened next was like some nutty weatherman saying, “But wait! That’s not all! Along with Harvey and Irma, we’ll send Maria free of charge to Puerto Rico!” And since Satan apparently thought we weren’t getting to his place fast enough in a handbasket, he took matters in his own hands. Literal Insanity blasted its way through Las Vegas, and Hell came to the U.S.A. with the sight of California going up in flames like a wickedly bad horror movie.
And still good people give—even their lives—to help others. And I say a big heartfelt thanks, and blessing in abundance to all of those good people. Now, despite whatever continued cyberstalking could strip from us—besides what’s left of our dignity—for now, manmade disasters lie stuck in the sludge at the swampy bottom of the Pool of Tragic Events. But sooner or later, perpetrators will get their comeuppances! As of this writing, hope springs eternal that common decency will prevail.
Okay. If you got this far, you’ve made it through satire, sarcasm, a trenchant view of current conditions, and perhaps dramatic (tragic) irony. Merriam-Webster defines this form of irony as “…what happens when the audience realizes that Romeo and Juliet’s plans will go awry.” And, early on, many of us were alert to signs that plans were about to go drastically awry!
I use this form of writing when my first response is anger about conditions that bring horrible situations piling up one behind the other like a debacle on I-95. That’s when, like today, the spirit of Andy Rooney drifts into the room, puts a hand on my shoulder, and says, “Steady, girl. No nastiness. Teach, don’t tweet the first thing that comes into your mind. Leave that to those who know no better. Smooth and subtle…no matter what ruffles.”
(So, Andy, how did I do?)
1.) I had to enter that sales-pitch drawing; you know, the one that says I’m about to win $15,000,000?
2.) My eyes hurt. I’ve been staring at Facebook for two hours straight. But that’s important. It’s today’s link to the outside world, right? When it works.
3.) I was filling out marketing postcards for my next book, which will come out…soon…I hope.
4.) I checked into Dictionary.com and got distracted. I love etymology! It’s like word DNA.
5.) I had to file reports for my writers’ organization and that took too much time.
6.) Then I needed a break to read the comics. Everybody needs to laugh, right? Don’t bug me.
7.) I get aggravated and can’t write when I’m under pressure.
8.) I need to follow the news so I can scribble a bunch of snarky slogans.
9.) I had to clean out my desk, and that filled up the trash can, so…
10.) I had to empty the trash. I can’t concentrate with a full trash can staring me in the face.
11.) The mail came. A catalog had 20% off a blouse I really want. And shoes. Maybe I’d better look a little closer. I may have missed something.
12.) I don’t write well in the morning. Just slogans. After I watch the news. I need coffee. And half a bagel.
13.) It’s too noisy outside. What are my neighbors doing now?
14.) It’s too quiet inside. I wonder what the dog’s doing now?
15.) I can’t forget to use my Dunkin’ Donuts coupon. It expires today.
16.) I need to drop stuff off at Goodwill. And maybe I’ll check out Publix for BOGOs.
17.) I must check the newspaper before I recycle it. Maybe there’s another BOGO I missed.
18.) Found a list of upcoming events at Sunrise Theater. Oh, I need to sign up for some of these! Where’s the phone? Where are my credit cards? In my purse. Where’s my purse?
19.) Emptied the coffee pot. Ran the clean cycle.
20.) Reheated last cup of coffee. Decided “What the heck,” and had the last half-bagel.
21.) I can’t write while eating and drinking.
22.) I can’t stand having a dirty cup and plate on my desk.
23.) Had to empty clean dishes from the washer so I could put the dirty ones in.
24.) Can’t stand clutter. Had to put the clean tableware where it belonged.
25.) Now I’ve had too much caffeine. I can’t sit still at the computer.
And, dear Muse, if that’s not enough reasons, TRUST ME…. Oh, now there’s a good one for a snarky slogan. BELIEVE ME… that’s another. Boy, I’m on a roll now. Hey, Six-, ten-, twelve-word slogans–that counts as writing, no? How about that? I was writing all the time!
If you have written a novel that you intend to pitch to a traditional publisher, then you are experienced enough to know that in your approach, you must include a synopsis. One of the best of the How-To articles on writing a synopsis is “How to Write a Novel Synopsis” by Jane Friedman. Her 20+ years of experience in the publishing world has produced impressive credits: co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet newsletter, columnist for Publisher’s Weekly, professor with The Great Courses, and…well…you can google her info and articles.
So, what you are about to read here is NOT a synopsis, rather a semi-synopsis of the kind you read on Amazon – a summary, a detailed book review if you will. The purpose of writing for Amazon differs from a true synopsis which requires you reveal the ending, but don’t ask rhetorical or unanswered questions. Amazon wants to sell your book as much as you do. The purpose is to entice the reader. A traditional publisher wants to know everything about the story to decide if it will sell as is, with changes, or not at all.
HEADS UP! This is the description you will find when my novella MISSING goes up on Amazon.
MISSING a novella by Virginia Nygard
Five-year-old Teddy Hanson runs to his parents’ bedroom because of a nightmare, only to find a real-life nightmare: his mother and father are missing. He runs next door to his Aunt Melanie, who calls the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
At the DeBary, Florida home of Mayor Zachary Hanson and his wife, Detective Carmella Callenda senses that the scene doesn’t yet add up to abduction. The sparkle of a barely noticeable substance catches her eye. She rebukes the technician and sends him packing. Carmella feels guided by intuition she calls “Angelo, my guardian angel,” to avoid the possible contamination or loss of the glittery material. She ignores normal evidence procedures and takes the material to Will Mears, her trusted friend and recently-retired top forensic expert.
Unbeknownst to Carmella, Will is working on an environmental issue that brought federal agent Michael Paradiso to Volusia County. Assisting the Sheriff’s Department with their confidential investigation, Michael is working undercover at DeBary Chemicals as Tony DeCarlo.
Carmella’s life hasn’t been an easy one. A survivor of childhood abuse, she is determined to right wrongs, give a voice to the voiceless, and help turn lives around. Several years ago, overwhelmed by the ambush killing of her fiancé, a fellow Pittsburgh police officer, she moved to this small Florida town where she sees her efforts bear fruit.
Michael’s path has been quite different from Carmella’s, but just as challenging. Not until the end of the case do they see how intertwined their lives are.
In addition to the missing Mayor and his wife the characters in this story share the undercurrent of something missing in their lives. Other than Carmella and Michael, the plot connects many of the characters, including Will’s friend Jane, and his errant son, Casey, in ways that eventually help them release their issues and have the confidence to forge ahead with positive changes in their lives.
The mysterious substance? Follow along with the characters as divergent paths merge and lead to that missing link.
So now you know how NOT to write a synopsis if you are going the traditional route. Good luck!
…or maybe not. You know me, right? The title was a clever way (if I do say so myself) of warning you as to what I am about to expound on. Short Fiction.
A woman once waved me off, saying, “I never read short stories. I like to get lost in a novel.” So I told her to get lost. Had she given my work a moment’s consideration, she might have reconsidered. Or, I could have sold her a first draft edition of my short stories with a guarantee she’d get lost in them. I often do. But that’s why first drafts are followed by second, third, and as many drafts as necessary to cut and polish a rough stone into a sparkling gem.
Another thing. There are times and places that make it nearly impossible to get lost in a novel. The bathroom, for instance. Enough said about that. Offices of doctors, dentists, lawyers—bank and supermarket lines all are examples of great short story reading areas. You can’t get lost in the novel because you’re always wondering if you’re going to be called next and if you’ll have enough time to get your stuff together without looking like a klutz. I’ve tried that. I fumble my book or glasses or pens or everything, and end up (literally) picking them off the floor. Later, under no pressure, I reread the chapter. Carrying a short story anthology with you is more efficient, beneficial and potentially less embarrassing. Sure, carrying a Kindle is cool, but real readers know that an old-fashioned book won’t run out of battery power at the height of passion, leaving you—uh—let down.
Short Fiction is fun. It’s sort of like religion. Every time you turn around, there’s a new one. Or a freakier, funnier, or more intriguing spinoff than the last. For example, you can neither pin down the exact nature and number of angels, nor get a solid word count for what a short story is. The genre’s arguably-accepted word count ranges from 1,000 to 20,000. Always check the guidelines for the contest or periodical you intend to enter or query. Their number of angels on the head of a pin may differ from yours.
Fewer than 1,000 words is called short short story or flash fiction. “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn,” created a wrenching story image attributed to Ernest Hemingway. However, in 1921, a columnist wrote that a classified ad, “Baby Carriage for sale, never used,” exemplified the plot of a story, and his example, it is believed, may have given rise to the Hemingway tale.
Sometimes the challenge comes in a number of sentences or lines. Here’s an old five-sentence story I entered in an online challenge:
(Five Sentence Fiction) Virginia Nygard 6/23/15
I sit in the dust outside Mabel’s Beauty Parlor while Mama sits inside getting a Marcel wave.
She come out so beautiful I bet the stars will hide in shame tonight…just like me.
Picking her way ‘cross the wooden sidewalk, she pats my head, kisses my cheek and then sashays to the shiny Ford Model A, just panting at the curb for her.
Mr. James Windsor Whitehorn don’t never come ‘cross the tracks unless he come to pick up Mama for doing the town like he say.
I know what you be doing, my eyes say whilst I wave them away into the night.
So, writers, stretch your mental muscle and play with various kinds of short fiction while you’re working on The Great American Novel. It could be your bread-and-butter while you’re waiting for the Great Ka-ching!
And you out there afflicted with Short-Attention Span Syndrome, Short Fiction might be the short fix you’re seeking!
The comics section is my favorite part of any newspaper. Oh, yes, I keep up with local, national, and world reports in other media. By the time the newspaper covers a story, I’ve already been there, done that. But the comics is where I go to detox from the sad state of reality. Or swallow it with a bit of satire and strong coffee.
When the alarm clock rings, I tumble out of bed, into the “Jumble.” No, that’s not a Tai-Chi routine to force my limbs into some semblance of proper functioning. “Jumble” is Hoyt’s and Knurek’s word scramble that yields clues to solve the incomplete sentence posed by the cartoon.
Since playing with words is my business, I usually sail through the first clues in a few seconds then focus on unscrambling the answer to the picture clues. There, thanks to my punny sense of humor being on par with that of the strip’s creators, the answer is often immediately apparent. However, if the final clue involves sports, forget it. I don’t speak “sports.” Not since the Dodgers left Brooklyn and “sports” management became as morally suspect as Machiavelli’s The Prince, or The Art of Certain Deals.
On Sundays, from the “Jumble” I flip to the visual acuity tests. In one, you must find the six differences between two seemingly different scenes. In another, you pick the one scene that differs from the other two, and move on to help Slylock Fox solve a woodlands crime. Yes, these are ostensibly for kids, but since I am in my second childhood (never really left it) I feel a retrospective sense of peace. It’s 1950-something, Mom and Dad are downstairs in the kitchen, and all’s right with the world.
And, while fun, such acuity tests are a reminder that things are not always what they seem. You cannot look at anything with someone else’s eyes. You MUST dig for the truth yourself, or the world will fall into a sorry state. Oh, wait. Right. We’re already there, but it’s not too late to redeem ourselves!
“Aren’t many comic strips often vehicles for political satire?” Sure, and done with a little humor (okay, sarcasm, maybe) they bring a chuckle or a groan. They make you think. Or they should. But at least comics aren’t as acerbic or poisonous as what comes from a political campaign. Except for a certain ugly duck ‘toon character I’d gladly roast and serve a l’orange, along with his ham of a creator.
“There are other programs to improve mental functioning, yes?” Of course, there are many sophisticated mental gymnastics to which one can subscribe. I’m not saying that moving up a notch is meritless, but why not make it a morning routine to digest brain food with ham and eggs?
You’re about to ask what this has to do with writing! (Gotcha!) Consider how you solved visual puzzles. Metaphorically speaking, turn your work upside down or on its sides to reveal another perspective. Put it aside and return with a clearer point of view. Read it aloud to others. Are they hearing what you intended? Do you need to rewrite for clarity?
What about word jumble puzzles? When they don’t work at first glance, I write the letters on scrap paper, tear them apart and put all the vowels in the middle, surrounded by consonants. Then I work from outside in and inside out until the A-ha! moment strikes. You can do this with sentences, paragraphs, and whole scenes in your writing.
A scene that’s going nowhere? Maybe the sequence of events is fine, but it needs a twist. Turn it upside down, left-to-right, backward. Use “What if. . .” scenarios. What if Jane marries Frank? What if she just lives with him? What if she cheats on him, or he cheats on her? Where does your story go from there? Remember choose-your-own-ending stories so popular with kids before the electronics boom? Those stories taught children there was more than one way a problem might work out. (Congress, are you listening?)
Still stuck? Bring your baby to your critique group for a different perspective. (You DO belong to one, yes?) Listen to their often Solomon-like wisdom. They’ll be happy to help you to “. . .train up your child in the way (s)he should grow. . . ” and get you to your A-ha! moment.
And dig into the comics. It’s fun.