…AND OTHER ROADBLOCKS IN WRITING!

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An elderly lady at a recent dinner meeting I attended, spoke of Christmas traditions in her family, and her voice wavered with still-fresh sadness when she recalled, as a nine-year-old girl, experiencing the death of her dear mother on Christmas day.

Around this time of year, no matter what you celebrate, the end of a year is a time for reflection on how we have spent a precious portion of our lives. We look back on events and holidays past, some happy, some sad.

And then we look ahead to a new year, a new beginning, a chance to set things on the right track again. We’ll work on better eating habits, exercising as we should, spending more quality time with the kids instead of binge-watching TV; reading and learning something from that great book we saw advertised, and we’ll resolve to cut back on giving our opinion on every media forum. (I’m working on that, but blogs don’t count—like calorie-free broken crackers and potato chips.)

Oh, the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? How’s my spiritual self? Do I sit in my place of worship one day a week and forget what those values command of me the rest of the week? Am I mending relationships or building walls—bigger, higher, uglier walls. It’s a struggle, this life, and we’re all in it together.

So, let’s try to make life a little brighter and sweeter—like the new silver dollar beneath the juicy, bright Florida orange and the chocolate-covered cherries in the toe of my Christmas stockings year after year, even when Mr. and Mrs. Santa had little to exchange with each other.

So, a very merry wish that you may experience the real meaning of Christmas, and perhaps write up a memoir or two from your childhood.

CHRISTMAS 2017

 

 

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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!


John Milton wrote his blank verse on the fall of man, Paradise Lost, in ten books from about 1658 to 1663. Some scholars believe that earlier passages were written in his youth, and the remainder interrupted by the English Civil War. Why? Was it a change in style from early years to a more mature perspective? I can relate to that.

In retrospect, my youthful attempts at writing made me wince. But I forgave myself for being young and unschooled in a thing that came naturally. The ability of my mother and aunts to relate detailed family lore convinced me that I, too, must be the reincarnation of our ancient Irish sennachies, ready with the Merlin of my time—the computer— to record each precious nugget of knowledge and creativity. However, I soon learned that being reborn into a new time meant, “Get with it, kid. Nobody accepts poetry or prose in ten rambling books anymore!”

With this cold water showered on my literary efforts, I knew enough to know I didn’t know enough. So, I read about writing, took creative writing classes, joined writers’ groups and associations.  What did I learn? That I still had, and have, more to learn. Albert Einstein was right: “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

So, it falls to those who can learn, to find ways for the less fortunate develop to the best of their abilities. In Luke, the Bible tells us that Jesus said, “Those to whom much is given, much will be required.” This is where my soapbox on writing merges with my pulpit on social conscience.

I think back to the 1960s when an imperfect man, John F. Kennedy, made a perfectly altruistic statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It was a time of bright hopes for the future, and those words guided my teaching career.

Where is that bright hope today? Are we at the brink of losing paradise again? As did Charles Dickens in his time, I cannot help thinking of our time:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.   (~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Book the First, Chapter 1)

Back on the soapbox: Is this not an intriguing hook to reel in the reader? It’s one of my favorites. It made me hang on for the ride like Captain Ahab tangled in his own harpoon line. Why did Dickens speak of his time as both wise and foolish, as one of enlightenment and mental darkness, of hope and despair? His words foreshadow how the conditions of the period affected society as revealed in his novel.

You might like to read or reread this Dickens tale. Spoiler Alert: the best of times and worst of times refers to the fact that the ruling classes of both England and France then were woefully out of touch with the common people and very mistakenly believed the status quo would glide on forever. Sound familiar?

We need to think with less selfishness and more selflessness. Not only does charity begin at home—so does a change in society’s priorities. Start with your own social interactions. Lead by example, then demand the same of all public servants from the smallest mayoralty in the nation all the way up the chain to the United States Congress and the White House.

Let us not lose Paradise again. Vigilance is the price of our freedoms, our paradise.

Keep learning. Keep writing. Make your words count for the better. Be able to say of your actions and your writing, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…” as did Sydney Carton in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.


…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:

WAVES  

(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!