…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
Hello out there…Yes, YOU! Don’t try to hide. Have you noticed the streets and neighborhoods here in Florida are a bit quieter? Perhaps you’re not stumbling over Munchkins in the mall? Has “Marco Polo” left for home and you find your fifty-five plus community pool eerily quiet? Now that’s a worry. You might actually have no excuse now for avoiding pool exercises. Do you fear the sudden silence might be the neighborhood’s apprehension that Jason may be lurking on the corner of Elm Street? Fear not, Jason stops by in October.
You’re simply detoxing from Summeritis and entering the healing phase of Septemberitis, not to be confused with Arthur Itis, Burr Sitis, or any of their ilk. Let’s hope they fled along with the really nasty, freaky weather changes we’ve had this (I’ll spell it) S-U-M-M-E-R! Sh-h-h-h. Not out loud! Its cousin might whoop on back our way swinging a tomahawk well into the end of October.
Right about now you may be finding your house feels a bit roomier. That’s a normal phenomenon. Perhaps you’re jolted to find your refrigerator is still full of food at the end of the week? Not to worry. You’re not bulimic. And I’ll bet your bathroom door is minus the Take A Number file! Grab your favorite magazine and an extra roll of toilette tissue and enjoy a leisurely—um—meditation time. Ah, sweet September!
But, while sweet September sends the kiddies back to school, the Yankees back to work or to enjoy their upcoming changes of seasons…heh, heh, heh…YOU have to shape up, too. No, not just fighting the Battle of the Bulge (cliché, yes, but such a GOOD one). I’m talking the muscle above your eyes and under your hair…or where hair used to be.
It’s time to look into a new hobby, develop a new skill, check into your local colleges for continuing education courses, volunteer somewhere, and take advantage of community activities. And it is time for writers revitalized by summer experiences to get it all into a poem, short story, screenplay, article, or a best-seller novel.
…It’s as important to good fiction as it is to real estate! The setting of a story does as much to draw in the reader as do strong characters, plot, and dialogue. You’ll confuse and lose your reader if he can’t feel at home in this place, this setting. Not that you need to go into as much detail as some authors do, but you need to anchor your story in a comfortable, identifiable harbor.
The lack of setting, subtle or detailed, can be as confusing to your reader as it was to the characters in an old Twilight Zone episode. I seem to remember a clown, a sailor, a ballerina and several others trapped in four walls, calling for help, disoriented and unnerved trying to determine where they were and how to reach the light they saw above them, which appeared to be the only exit. At the end we learn that they were actually toys in an open toy chest. Don’t let this happen to your reader!
Whether plot or character driven, no matter the genre, setting is essential. A romance novelist may devote more attention to the wild and colorful flora and panoramic views in the Hawaiian Islands than would the writer of crime fiction. But each would be sure to establish exactly where in the islands his story is set.
Some say the setting should be clear in the first paragraph, others the first sentence, but I think that decision is sometimes left up to your POV character. In a short story I wrote recently, the first thing Mike Broadhurst wakes up thinking about is his hangover and his loss, not the city in which he’s feeling like crap:
Mike Broadhurst blinked as the sun streamed in through layers of sheers in sea colors that Margo had chosen. He sighed, shoved back the comforter and sat on the edge of the bed, head throbbing, mouth dry and stinking like an empty wine barrel somebody’d taken a piss in. He looked around. Everything reminded him of Margo. She’d decorated their entire Lincoln Square loft. Dishes, drapes, linens, works of art, contemporary furniture—including the bed he lay in—it all woke her scent, her taste, the wild beating of her heart against him when they climaxed together. She liked to wake slowly, lazily, like sipping the morning through a haze of blue the way she used to sip mint julep on her Granddaddy’s porch. She had always been the romantic. He’d always been practical. Now she was gone.
He made a mental note to hire a decorator and give him orders to start with the bedroom. Sheers in bright yellows and blinding white. Something to suit his Coke-bottle-in-the-shit-can style of wakeup calls. Manhattan sunshine blasting through the windows the way the city’s lights gave the night sky no peace. Maybe white flokati rugs, too. Or white shag leather. He’d seen it advertised somewhere. Vanity Fair, maybe. He padded to his bathroom and started the coffeemaker. That had been his one exception to Margo’s Rules. He said he’d be damned if he was going to hike to the kitchen to make morning coffee, and ordered a mini-kitchen installed in the bathroom: coffeemaker, mini-micro, tiny fridge.
Note that in the beginning two paragraphs of this short story we get a good view of the situation and the setting: Mike lives in a Lincoln Square loft in Manhattan, and his wife is no longer there. The setting and the impression of luxury are expressed in fewer words that one would use in a novel. This is just a quick look into the importance of establishing setting in your writing. Check Amazon for more books on the subject, and Write On!
GOLD IN YOUR SHORTS
Okay. Let’s get this straight. I am not suggesting something suggestive here. No off color (or full color) adult movies or photog sessions you’ll regret later in life — like when you’re the top box-office star, or you’re running for political office. Oh, wait. Rules apply only to real people. Let’s try again.
You’re a newbie at the Prim & Proper Inc. Under the influence of a couple of rum-laced eggnogs at the holiday party, you decide to Xerox your private parts. Word gets around, accompanied by the photos. Result? Because you are a real person, you find your holiday gift is the address of the local unemployment office. So, no; titillating temptations are not what I mean by Gold in Your Shorts.
While you are waiting for enough experience (and luck) to write the next blockbuster bestseller, think small. I know, I know. Everybody tries to sell you rose-colored glasses and THINK BIG slogans. Fine. Have goals. And if you didn’t have the lousy home life that drove so many successful people, pretend you did. Little Orphan Annie, and all that. Maybe you are dealing with misery in your life right now. Thank him or her. You’re already halfway to success. Meanwhile, Think Small. Write small.
You can write a short story or a small “How To” book for Kindle. You might have your doubts about putting out one more self-help article, but readers are often drawn to the experiences of people like themselves. Ever read something and think there’s a better way? Write about it. Check magazines for those who take short articles and lists called fillers. Things like “Ten Ways to keep your Man/Woman/Toddler/Teenager/Mom/Dad Happy.” Get the idea? Query submission procedures if not given. Google for a gaggle of ideas. Think small. Write small. There’s gold in your shorts!