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.
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!
I’ve been scanning more old family photos, and they’ve brought memories surfacing from the depths of my mind, touching my heart. Especially now. December 15th was my dad’s birthday.
He was born in the early years of the 20th century and grew up through the Great Depression. He remembers walking the railroad tracks with his two brothers, Ben and Bill, scavenging for lost coal that fueled the trains. I’ve written before of how he and his brothers were often housed in orphanages after their mother deceased and their father was away on government ships.
The photo here was painful to see. In this depressing atmosphere, my dad worked to repair trucks at the General Electric division in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
I also mentioned the character of these young men who knew the value of home and family life they never had, how it bound them together for a lifetime, how their example was passed on to the children in the family. And despite their minor flaws and foibles, honesty, courage, camaraderie, and generosity, were their guiding values.
Each year, Dad played Santa Claus at the Christmas party for children of General Electric employees. In the photo below, he carefully descends the narrow stairs at the union hall as he greets the children. One year, my young cousin Gary piped up, “That ain’t Santa Claus!” When we asked why he thought that, Gary replied, “Because he’s wearing Uncle Walt’s shoes.” He was right. My dad’s big, old brogans, though always neatly polished, told the shape of his foot and many repairs.
And finally, below is my dad with wedding gifts presented by fellow employees…
Everything in that picture has a story to tell. My Mom used the iron in the laundry room where the clock kept perfect time until her decline and move into my sister Susan’s care. The sale of her house was traumatic for all of us. Dad, with help from his brothers, Ben and Bill, and friends, painstakingly built the house over time.
Look around you. Look through old photos. What stories do those people or objects tell?
Let it be a tale of the true values of life. Not greed and the lust for power, or the many evils mankind is capable of.
Let it be a tale of forgiveness, of honesty, love, and compassion for every fellow human being, as befits the true gift of Christmas, whatever your beliefs.
When I was a kid in Bridgeport, Connecticut, my dad and I were Brooklyn Dodger fans to the core. We bucked the tide of Yankee fans riding along with the winners. In retrospect, I wondered if their choice of hero worship reflected a need in themselves to bask in the glow of winners: The team I align myself with is a winner, ergo, I am a winner.
Well, what did that say about my dad, my mom, and me? Were we losers because our beloved Dodgers hadn’t won a series in our lifetimes?
Slap my face for even thinking that. After their mother died, my dad and his two brothers moved from orphanage to orphanage wherever Grandpa’s work on government ships took him. What they learned was Family First, self-sufficiency, and holding out against the odds. Tenacity.
My mom and her two sisters, the youngest of ten surviving children, left school at age sixteen to join the work force, as had their brothers before them. Savings accumulated by my maternal grandfather, a feed-and-grain businessman, dwindled, requiring every able hand to take on work to keep the family together. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence.
In 1955, I was in the driveway waiting for my dad to come home from work. We spied each other, and the hullabaloo began. Me, shouting at the top of my lungs, wearing my Dodgers’ cap, waving my Dodger pennants, and my dad endlessly honking the horn and shouting back. The Boys of Summer had finally won the World Series! Tenacity. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence. It all paid off.
After my beloved Dodgers dodged Brooklyn for less-green pastures in L.A., I lost interest. They abandoned their loyal fans and their heritage as trolley dodgers for monetary gain. From then on, I watched sports in general degrade into huge money-making machines with little loyalty to their family of fans
When I heard that Chicago-Cleveland Series tickets this year went for as high as $1,500 plus, I was struck by how pervasive GREED is in our society. It pollutes everything from sports, TV, movies, theater, politics, and some unscrupulous sects of religion. Money is god in our culture.
Still, I had no hesitation in rooting for the Chicago Cubs. No World Series win in 108 years? Bring it on! That’s my kind of team! Down three-to-one in the series and they WIN the @#$%& thing! Woo-hoo! My kind of guys! Tenacity, self-sacrifice, cooperation, persistence.
“Okay,” you ask, “so what has all this got to do with writing?”
Duh! Really? Do I have to spell it out for you? Stop reading this, START WRITING and DON’T GIVE UP!
…is a disease of the writer’s wandering mind. In August I started “Brushed Off and back in the Saddle…” with a short story called Off Day Off. I apologize to anyone stranded at his or her computer waiting for the end of the story promised for the next month. September 18th was my mom’s birthday. She would have been 96 this year had she not passed in 2014. I’d been scanning old photos and reliving memories that prompted the tribute and the tip I passed on about using these memories as memoir pieces, creative non-fiction, or short story starters given a what if… twist to the real event.
You can refer back to the August piece if you wish. The point of that blog was that a writer should NEVER toss out ideas, scenes, or a story that you can’t seem to finsh. Store it away like old-fashioned bread dough. Sooner or later it will rise and be ready to bake! For the impatient who prefer not to be amazed at my genius for writing… the short short story about the short story is: Off Day Off” finds a gal named Twyla taking a well-deserved day off from household demands. Let me take you back a bit to Delray Dolly’s Donuts & More shop where Twyla nestles into a booth to relax…
…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 part of the table as it splintered from its base. Darkness descended like a curtain at the end of Act One.
Act Two. The curtain rose on a blurred halo of bright red-orange surrounding an ashen oval punctuated by two fuzzy green lights. As Dolly’s face came into focus, I couldn’t help but hear her, even through the howling pain in my arm.
“Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. Oh, Twyla. Thank God. I called Tom. He’ll meet you at the hospital. Are you okay?”
“Sure. I’m lying on your floor trying not to scream with pain,” I growled through clenched teeth. “What the hell happened?”
Over Dolly’s nervous babble, I focused out a bit farther and realized an old Cadillac had attempted to eat half my table, and stopped within inches of consuming me as well. “Holy shit! Oh, Jesus…oh, oh, A-A-A-A-AH! Curtain down on Act Two
Act Three. Three handsome hunks are kneeling beside me. Part of my dance team. Genuflecting to the jungle goddess. Oh, hell, no! EMTs. I’m still on Dolly’s floor, but the pain isn’t as bad. Maybe my arm is numb. Maybe they shot me up with some happy juice. Curly Black Hair with sensitive blue eyes and a perfect smile is the first to speak.
Ma’am? The infatuation is over. He’s not that cute, anyway.
“We need to get your information.”
After they scribbled down my life history, and while they stabilized my arm and patched some nasty cuts, Dolly filled me in on what I’d missed.
“We couldn’t believe it! The Caddy just crashed through the window and you were gone! Out of sight! On the floor! I called 911, people ran out to check on the driver, and I checked on you. Oh, that poor old guy.” Dolly shook her head. “I think somebody said he was ninety-two or ninety-three years old. He hit the gas instead of the brake.”
“Jeez. I hope he has insurance.”
“Yeah. I hope he had life insurance, too.”
Dolly’s eyes shimmered. She shook her head again. “For his family’s sake. Poor old guy. He had a heart attack and died before the EMTs got here.”
“Poor old guy is right,” I said as Dolly trotted beside my stretcher to the emergency vehicle. “What a hell of a day for all of us.”
Dolly clutched my hand as they paused to load me into the rescue vehicle. “Yeah. But remember, we’re still here to gripe about our bad luck.” Before they closed the door she waved and added, “I’ll be checking up on you—a lot! Looks like between us, we’ll have quite a few ME-days off.”
Stay tuned. Same time, same station. You can catch me in November for another exciting ride on my train of thought!
As a writer, words are my breakfast, lunch, dinner; my air and water, my work, play, and joy. Words are my babies, my beloved. They are NOT ‘my significant other.’ They are a dear and valued part of my life.
I often wonder what, not who, coined the term ‘significant other.’ I picture some geek at a secret half-human, half-machine robot computer (you know, the secret one out in Area 51) saying to it, “You know, Half-bot, I’m living with this girl, just not sure I want to get married, but she’s a nice girl, and we’re learning to tolerate each other, and, well, maybe…”
“What is your point?”
“Uh, yeah. Well, she’s more than a friend, more than a roommate, more than just the girl I live with but…”
“What is your point?”
“Memo to self: Work on Half-bot’s sensitivity to human interaction.”
“Noted. What is your point?”
“I don’t know what to call her.”
That’s my guess how the ghastly term came about.
I have a favorite pair of shoes that are winners. I also have ‘place’ and ‘show’ shoes. These other two pair are my ‘significant others.’ Good enough for their specific purposes, but not good enough for a lifetime relationship. Good enough for a walkabout, not good enough to put under my bed. My clothes are categorized much the same way. So are my feelings for food, animals, music, movies, sports… You get the picture?
Significant Others are nice to have around, but less important to me. Is that what a relationship partner should be called? What ever happened to sweetie, my love, boyfriend, honey, girlfriend, partner, fiancé, roommate? Is Significant Other better than roommate? Doesn’t sound it to me. Sounds like a co-bill-payer with benefits. Sleazy.
And if you split, what do you call your Ex? Insignificant Other? Now there’s a good one! That I like.
I heard a guy say, “I live with Jane,” in response to an introduction. Well, that’s ambiguous too. Ruff the dog, Finny the Fish, Mac the Macaw, and Jane’s grandmother live with her, too! Where does the guy rate, I wonder. Sounds like a sleazy co-bill-payer-with-benefits Significant Other, if you ask me.