…which won’t mean much unless you read the previous post. See? You never know when I’m going to spring a pop quiz. Once a teacher, always a teacher.
If you sneaked back just now to catch up, you’re probably wondering (or not, that’s OK) what I did while I was recuperating. How’s eleven poems toward my next collection grab you? It’s easy when you’ve wrapped them around a great character. She keeps yakking in my ear, chattering about her life experiences and what life lessons she’s learned.
But, I also went back and finished up a short story I started a long time ago, lost focus, and filed it. It’s a fairly light piece called OFF DAY OFF, and it seemed appropriate to share it with you, considering how my summer vacation went. So, here y’go:
OFF DAY OFF by Virginia Nygard
Friday. My day off. In a manner of speaking.
The wheels began spinning. Groceries. Cleaners. Bank—check on second mortgage. Ask Miss Debbie at Toe-To-Toe if she could use some clerical help toward Dinah’s tap and ballet lessons. Ask Mrs. Grundlee if she’ll trade piano lessons for Chaz for my computer skills. I hate to cut back even more on the kids’ activities while Tom’s job hunting. Speaking of which, check Employment Opportunities ads for computer savvy help wanted. Then battle the college kids for what’s available. Remember to hunt for Dinah’s missing pink dinosaur T-shirt. Don’t forget to make Tom’s favorite meatloaf with hot peppers. Remind mothers to provide goodies for the third grade party on Monday…
Wait a minute, Twyla. You’re a hamster spinning on the wheel of infinity. I didn’t see one word in that list about something for you on your day off!
Me? I don’t remember me being on my list of priorities.
Bingo. My point exactly. Have you ever considered taking a day for yourself?
A Me-Day? Did I ever have one before Tom whisked me away from Off-Broadway to suburbia?
No, but suburban life is just as grueling. Will the world come to an end if you take a day off from endless days that are devoted to everyone else?
Gee, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to start the day down at Delray Dolly’s Donuts & More for a change. Breakfast somebody else makes, serves, and then cleans up? Read the newspaper front to back? I’ll do it!
Don’t rush me. I’ll think of something.
Fresh donuts. Coffee. Bacon. They all waved a welcome under my nose as I pushed open the door to Dolly’s place. I sat at a table by the window where a few scraggly hibiscus plants failed to obscure the parking lot or the traffic inching along Federal Highway. Still, the view beat that of my laundry room—cubicle, actually—and dirty laundry growing up from the root. At the counter, Dolly did a wide-eyed double take, grabbed a menu and sauntered in my direction.
“Are you lost, lady?” she asked with a rumbling laugh that shook her like a mild earthquake. “The counter’s over there,” she said with a sweep of her arm.
I grinned. “No, Dolly. Hard to believe I’m not grabbing and running off with something as usual?”
“Got that right!”
“Well, I decided there are days for everything under the sun except a ME Day. I proclaim today to be the first official ME Day. Furthermore, every woman on the planet may proclaim the ME Day of her choice.”
She glared at me over her chartreuse-colored glasses, knitting her eyebrows into a single black rope. “Twyla, the only ME day I’m gonna get is when I retire, sell this place, or die—whichever comes first. And between you and me, it’ll probably the last one.” She gestured to my menu. “What can I get ya’?”
“How about the two-egg special and coffee?”
“Eggs, yes, Coffee, no. I like it neat.”
She shook her head. “If this is what taking a day off does to ya’, do me a favor and take it somewhere else. Your toast?”
“You’re toast,” I growled like a mobster. “Was my joke that bad?”
With a pregnant pause and a drop-dead glare over the glasses she said, “Go ahead, make my day.”
I grinned. “English muffin, forked open, not sliced. I want all the nooks and crannies. Make it lightly toasted, dripping with butter and cinnamon sugar.”
She gave me one of her faux grimaces. “I ain’t saying nothin’ more to you,” she said, dipping her head conspiratorially and grumbling, “except arsenic and cinnamon looks a lot like cinnamon sugar, ya’ know.”
Dismissing Dolly with a wave, I plugged in my earphones, tuned my iPod to easy listening music, and shook open my newspaper. Skipped over the obits. My name wasn’t there. Skipped sports, too. Motherhood, Wifehood, and Househood was enough of a workout. I also skipped the theater section. My name would never be there. I whisked away a wisp of regret with a feather duster of gratitude for everything I was blessed with. I plucked out the comics and smiled. They always started my day with a chuckle.
In moments, despite the earphones, searing screams at the counter drew my attention from the window beside me as it exploded, sending shards of glass flying. My left arm snapped beneath half the table as it splintered from its base. Darkness descended like a curtain at the end of Act One.
(End Scene One)
Now that’s what is known in the writing business as a hook. It’s the way you want to end a chapter so readers keep reading…whether they want to or not. As someone who read my first novel, Déjà Vu Dream, said, “You stinker! I couldn’t get to sleep until I finished the book!” Nicest compliment I’ve ever had.
Another tip: Never throw away a story you can’t finish. File it. Come back later. Months or years later. Life experiences may help you refocus.
See you in September? Twyla awaits your sympathetic ear!
…And I must, because otherwise I will be flattened like a pancake—make that a crepe—by that steamroller of wood pulp and ink on my tail that demands attention.
The Florida Writers Association just notified me of the judging results for its 8th annual short story and poetry collection. This year, the theme and title are Hide and Seek.
Authors and writers were allowed to enter two items: two stories, two poems, or one of each. A fan of diversity, I chose one of each. I am delighted that both made the cut, but because the rule is that only one entry per writer will be published, they chose the story over the poem. Perhaps that’s because the moral of the story is about doing the right thing in a difficult situation, something not very popular these days.
The short story, “Breaking News,” unlike Breaking Bad, begins with a character struggling against odds, who chooses up instead of down as her path after a battle with her conscience.
I’ve given Malika many mental hugs as I wrote her story. Were she real, I’d hug her twice as much. She chooses the right path, not the profitable, expedient, devious, hypocritical, self-serving, dissembling path of an opportunist. Okay, so that was a lot of adjectives. Deal with it. I had a dozen more. Trust me, Malika wouldn’t make a good politician. Nor would she come close to ever, ever becoming a presidential candidate in today’s world. Although…stranger things have happened.
The Florida Writers Association Collection, Volume 8: Hide and Seek, will be published in time for its debut at this year’s 15th Annual Florida Writers Conference entitled “CARPE Diem: Conquer the World, One Book at a Time.” Keynote speaker at the conference will be New York Times Best selling Author John Gilstrap, who will tell us what his ten favorite Volume 8 tales are. Stay tuned for how to get your copy!
If you are a tenderfoot writer, or need help networking and learning more about the craft, the Florida Writers Association, with critique groups located throughout the state, is the place to go.
Check it out at: https://floridawriters.net
You better watch out
You better not cry
If your editor rejects you
And I’m telling you why… sooner or later down this message.
Right now, I’m saying rule-breaking does NOT work with Santa, okay? You put your playthings back where they belong, do your chores, eat your meals without complaint, put your clothes away, and MAYBE Santa will bring you that Super Hi-Def sixty-five inch TV you keep hounding Mommy for! (Note: that was an upper-case MAYBE!)
In a short story contest recently, in addition to eliminating unnecessary attributions, I used a tag other than said twice in the piece. The story came away shy of first prize and ended up second. With the other scores so positive, I wondered if it missed because, in the words of the deciding judge, “…the author seems determined to avoid said.”
When somebody says, “Oh, man,” in a story, I sometimes want to know if (s)he grumbled, shouted, screamed or whispered it. For example:
“I can tell you didn’t study for this test.” Miss Smith dropped the paper with the red D on Harry’s desk.
“Oh, man,” Harry mumbled. He feared another beating from his father.
The tone of the attribution mumbled foreshadows Harry’s fear and moves the story forward. I don’t need to see Harry run his hands through his hair, shrink down in his chair, grow eyes as big as saucers…to know this kid’s in trouble. Just let the poor kid mumble. We get it.
As for my story, did I know it would end up in front of this particular judge’s spectacles? No. Had I known, would I have written the story to suit that judge? No. So, go ahead, break a rule when it seems right, but know why you did it, and above all, keep true to your character.
Don’t use unnecessary descriptive actions to get an emotion across if a simple mumbled will get the idea across and move the plot along. I don’t want to read through 300 pages of the wringing of hands, clutching of sleeves, raising and knitting of eyebrows, slouching of shoulders, heaving of sighs….yada…,yada…yada.
In closing, I must say my eyes twinkled and my lips curled in a smug smile of satisfaction to discover the judge used a word intended to impress me. It did. (S)he used it incorrectly.
Rules. Sometimes y’gotta break ‘em. Like eggs. You’ve heard the old saw about not being able to make an omelet without breaking eggs, right? Well, sometimes you can’t write a great story without breaking a few rules.
So (never begin a sentence with so) here’s what got me thinking about breaking rules. Rules are like a bad box of chocolates. All caramel. All fudge. All maple. All strawberry. How on earth could Forrest Gump ever have made a hit by saying “Life is like a bad box of chocolates. All the same. Every day alike. Nothing ever happens. Boring.” No! A good box of chocolates is a mixed box of chocolates. Because (never begin with because) it does teach you about life—and writing! Chew it. Swallow it. Get over it.
Anyway… I’ve read recently where quite a few writers are coming around to “Hey, yeah, that works. You can get away with it.” Call it Writers’ license. Which is NOT an excuse for sloppy writing. You need basic rules. You need to master the alphabet and be able to whip them into a delicious mousse tasty enough to tickle the mind and hook the eater—uh—reader. Something new comes out of any daring attempt to do a thing in a different or previously taboo way.
Take Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, a meandering set of tales whose protagonist, a married nurse named Claire, goes back in time from the 1940s to the Scottish highlands in the 1740s where she meets Jamie and… cue the violins, fade to the bedroom door, so to speak. The epic work not only overlaps genres, it ties them in knots. The series should have its own shelf in stores and libraries: Science Fiction-Fantasy-Historical Fiction-Romance-Adventure. And I thought I ran into trouble by describing my two novels Déjà Vu Dream and Beyond Déjà Vu as Romantic Suspense novels!
It stuck with me that someone described the Outlander series as Game of Thrones meets Downton Abbey. And if anyone is sour-grape-ing on the success of Gabaldon’s mammoth undertaking, let me throw in another old saw—she’s laughing all the way to the bank! So are the movie-maker moguls. And (never begin with and) how did she skyrocket next door to J.K. Rowling’s castle in the air? Chutzpah! Rule-breaking! Gabaldon will tell you she decided to write a novel just for practice, to learn by doing, to see if that was the craft she wanted to focus on (oops-preposition!) Note: with a BS in Zoology, MS in Marine Biology, PhD in Behavioral Science, and as founding editor of Science Software Quarterly, she did have an edge in literary mousse-making. However, as all writers know, the shift from nonfiction to fiction is not easy for many. It appears Ms. Gabaldon has done it successfully!
I think the advent of self-publishing loosed the chains traditional publishers clamped on writers’ works. While self publishing gets a bad rap for all the slush out there, it allows some unsung good writers a chance to be heard—or read—or both. And have a shot at a movie deal. So! Write On!
And stay tuned for RWMTBB … Part 2
Last time we covered the sensory prompts that could stimulate ideas for writing. So what else is there? Well, a lot of ideas come by using those senses in creative ways.
Here are a few:
1) Close your eyes. Flip through the dictionary, or any printed material. (It would help to have the printed matter first. On the other hand, feeling your way to some source of printed matter might give you a better idea for a story!) Next, let your finger land on a word. No matter how implausible it may seem, use that word to create a sentence. Bioluminescence? No problem: “Eureka!” the mad scientist exclaimed, “bioluminescence demands such amounts of energy that creating it in humans has just solved the problem of obesity!” Great. Write a sci-fi story! (Not this one, though. This one is mine.)
2) Choose one cartoon from the scads your friends forward in emails. Use the situation to write either a hilarious story or the reverse—a tale with a chilling twist. Someone sent me this one today: Wife is looking in the mirror reciting her flaws. She says to husband, “Say something to cheer me up.” He says, “Your eyesight is perfect.” Oo-o-oh, have I got an ending for that one!
3) Whether on America’s Funniest Videos, nature shows, or You Tube, you’ll see animals doing funny, freaky, or adorable things. Pick one and write a story from the animal’s point of view.
4) I just discovered a new reason to go to the refrigerator. Reason? Well, more like an excuse when my husband asks what I’m doing there. “Oh. I just had a great idea for a story. What if someone opened a refrigerator to find nothing but a scrumptious hunk of leftover cake like this one, and it was labeled, ‘The right person may eat me, but the wrong person will…die.’” (Works for whatever in the fridge tickles your taste buds or tingles your brain cells!)
5) If you had a 3-D printer that could copy anything—animate or inanimate—what would you copy? What would you do with it? What would be the consequences?
6) Do you keep a journal? In Beyond Déjà Vu, my sequel to Déjà Vu Dream, Jennifer journals her frightening dreams as C.J. weaves through the plot; and she records her conflicting emotions as her relationship with Chad changes. Pick something from your journal that might be viewed from a different perspective with the passage of time. Give it to a character to rewrite!
7) This idea has been done, redone, and done again, but like a good, fiery-hot ethnic meal… it bears repeating! (Burp. Yum. Sorry.) Google master plots. You’ll find sources for summations of plots and master plot exercises. You may even have read a book and thought, “If I had written this book, I would have…” Well? Do it! Use the idea and reverse it.
That’s enough for now. I’m thinking about that refrigerator tip because my stomach is grumbling like ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s puppet named Walter, a grumpy old man. (Listen, Walter, there is no cake in the refrigerator. That was purely a writing suggestion. Okay, okay. I’ll go check again. No need to call me a dumb a**)
Okay, so I’ve been puttering around this morning—emptying the dishwasher, making beds, tossing out garbage, putting away laundry—the usual things a woman writer sans a staff of ten or twenty must deal with.
I hate ants. I hate roaches. I hate mice. In my house, I mean. Anyplace else, they’re okay. They are God’s creatures, and must serve a purpose other than to invade an unkempt house and breed. So, yes, I put off writing until my house is clean. However, once I sit in my writing chair, I need something to get the juices flowing, or I could fall asleep over the keyboard. That’s when I turn to my thumbtacks.
Can you remember the innocent pranks of yesteryear? Think back to cartoons where Joe puts a tack on Jim’s chair and watches the result, which is…? Right! Jim sits on the tack and leaps into action. My thumbtacks are prompts that jolt my mind into gear.
Prompts can come from your senses. At this moment, through the screen door, I hear a dog with a sad, whining bark somewhere down the block. Is he lost? Has his owner left him for the day, or perhaps fallen while walking him? Pardon me while I go check. I’m serious. … I’m back. It’s okay. A bunch of cars are parked at his house, and apparently he’s not getting enough attention. What I heard and saw can start a story. A lot of sensory perception went into the writing of Deja Vu Dream and Beyond Deja Vu.
I’m primarily a visual learner, with a chunk of tactile and a mere whisp of auditory processing. Ask my husband. He tries to teach me technology, which usually ends with me yelling, “Wait, wait, wait. I’ve got to write that down in terms I can relate to.” Or, “Wait, wait, wait! I’ve got to draw a picture of that.” And finally, “Wait, wait, wait. Let me do it myself.” It’s extremely stressful. On him. So, visual prompts area great thumbtack for the brain.
Test your other senses for story starters. I bought a pomegranate recently. The juice, tasting of cranberry, winged me back to childhood, to the corner store beside the barber shop where I first bought an Indian Apple, a pomegranate, for a nickel. I remember the chubby-cheeked grocer, complete with bib apron, chuckling as he taught me how to tackle the odd fruit. I was to peel the rind, chew gently on the seeds to release and swallow the juice, followed by expelling the seeds in machine-gun fashion. That was probably the most fun, because the procedure was a ridiculous way to get a drink of juice.
An odor can act as a prompt. Skunk in the back yard? Remember when you were a kid and had to wash your dog in tomato juice? Or were you camping and skunk spray sent a bear charging into your campsite? The touch of a straw basket can revive memories of a vacation in Jamaica; digging your hands in soil while potting a plant can send you back to the gardens of your childhood and the taste of a ripe tomato plucked from the vine. Your senses are great thumbtacks. So, do it! Go to it! Go sit on a tack!
(I’ve wanted to say that since I was eight years old!)