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Monday, December 30, 2013

He Said, She Said!

Here are a few of my biggest dialogue gripes as a reader/writer.  This isn’t expert advice, it’s just me. 

Three Gripes:

1.       “Yeah, right,” he said sarcastically.

2.       “Sure,” he smiled.

3.       She took a big mouthful of food.  “What?” she splattered.

Why do I list the above phrases?  Because such dialogue markers drive me crazy when I read them, and not in a good way.  That’s why!

Gripe # 1:  Many writers’ conferences ago I heard from an editor who said she hated adverbs.  They aren’t necessary.  In fact, when used excessively (adverb J) they weaken your writing.  Her examples included several phrases similar to the first listed above.  Let me explain:  if a scene is set up the right way and I’m following the dialogue, do I really need to be told that the speaker is sarcastic?  Seriously?  I think not.   What about when a character speaks:  “heartily?”  Or: “seductively?”  How about: “boldly?”  Most of the time, the vast majority of the time, I don’t need that stupid “-ly” word.  Leave it out!  Readers aren’t’ stupid!  Of course there are exceptions, and a writer may use an adverb because he/she wants to emphasize something important about their character.  Adverbs aren’t evil.  Just don’t use them every other word, and PLEASE don’t use them non-stop with your dialogue markers!

Gripe #2:  This is simple.  It is physically impossible to smile a word.  You speak a word.  You might speak while smiling, but you don’t smile out a word, dang it!!  I’m actually okay with something like:  “Yeah,” he laughed.  I know.  Hypocritical of me, but I think it IS physically possible to laugh out a word.  Maybe it’s just the speech therapist in me, but I hate when characters in books “smile” their lines.  I’d prefer something like:  “Sure,” he said with a smile.  You get the picture. 

Gripe #3:  Oh, this one drives me insane!!!!  I’ve found online lists galore that provide writers with ways to avoid using the word “said” when writing dialogue.  Why???  I can’t find the source to quote here, but I’ve read more than once that we readers skip over the word: “said” because it’s not that important.  Our brains ignore it, because we already KNOW we’re reading dialogue and that the characters are having a conversation with each other.  Duh!  Of course, there are exceptions.  I use:  “he asked,” or “she replied,” or “she whispered,” or “he murmured,” on occasion, but NOT ALL THE TIME!  99.9% of the time, I prefer “he/she said.”  Period.  I don’t need writers to go all out and try to find creative ways to mark their dialogue.  In fact, when they do, they really bug me!  A few examples, from books I’ve read: 

“Yeah, about that,” he sniffed.  (See Gripe #2).

“Please,” he burbled.  Burbled?

“It was strong,” he stated.  Uh, yeah.  I know that’s a statement.  Thanks for clarifying.

Example #3 at the beginning of my post is actually kind of funny, I’ll admit.  However, it was in a book filled with many, many other creative words used in place of the word: “said.”  It got to the point where it was annoying, not clever or funny. 

In conclusion:  “Enough with the adverbs,” Rebecca said angrily.  “They don’t help you at all,” she sniffed.  “In fact,” she burbled, beginning to cry, “they make me want to weep.”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Famous Last Words


“Yaroo!” I shouted, and I didn’t give a beetle’s bottom who heard me.

“Yaroo!”

(Last words of the novel:  “I Am Half-Sick of Shadows” by Alan Bradley).

Oh, how I love that man, er, writer!

As it’s nearly the end of the year, I decided to look up a few of the last lines of some of my favorite books.  We always hear how important first lines can be, but I don’t often hear writers praised for how they end their books.  So, I did a little digging.  I learned one thing:  great writers care about every word.  I think they end their books perfectly.  Here are a few of my favorite last words:

·         “All was well.”

(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling)

 

·         “With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.”

(Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)

 

·         “But there are much worse games to play.”

(Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins)

 

·         “But they never learned what it was that Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which had to do, for there was a gust of wind, and they were gone.”

(A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle)

 

·         "I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

(Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.)            

 

·         "He drew a deep breath. 'Well, I'm back,' he said."  (Sam Gamgee speaking).

(The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein)

 

·         “He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”

(To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee)

 

·         “Oh my girls, however long you may live, I can never wish you greater happiness than this!”

(Little Women, by Louise May Alcott)

 

I’d love to hear some of your favorite last lines!  And, by the way, Merry Christmas!never can wish you a greater happiness than this!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Your Main Character is Sooooo Neurotic!!

“Wow, your main character is SO neurotic!!”

So that’s what the agent who was critiquing an excerpt from a book of mine said to me, with a grimace on her face.  An actual grimace.  I kid you not!  The expression on her face was that of a person who’s just stepped in something particularly nasty, or the look of a Prius owner as they ‘put put’ along while I roar by in my big, gas-hogging, planet destroying non-hybrid SUV.  That kind of expression.

I wasn’t angry.  I was hurt. 

Why, you might ask?  After all, she was a well-respected agent giving good, and I might add, paid-for advice to a wannabe writer who needs lots of help.  Here’s the deal.  She was talking about a character named Rosemary, and I realized that in a way, Rosemary is me.

No, I didn’t go to France as a teen, pretending to be someone I’m not and scheming for a way to convince my host family to keep me forever.  I don’t have a severe communication disorder that prevents me from talking clearly, like Rosemary does.  But as a teen, I did have a lot of the same hang-ups that Rosemary had.  I was shy.  Painfully so.  So shy, in fact, that life was torture for years.  If you’ve never been that shy, you probably won’t understand where I’m coming from.  Let me just say that jumping “head first into a swimming pool full of double-edged razor blades,” to quote Weird Al, was always preferable to walking into a room full of strangers, better than being called on in class,  and I prayed for illness or calamity to befall me if I ever had to give a speech.  It wasn’t simply a problem with public speaking, either.  I could hardly look other kids in the eye as I walked down the hall, and sometime didn’t respond when spoken to.  That went on for many, many years.  Neurotic?  Oh, yes. 

The excerpt this agent critiqued for me included scenes that demonstrated just how socially awkward Rosemary was.  She was alone with a boy for the first time EVER, attracted to him and desperately wanting to flirt, but fully aware of the fact that as soon as she opened her mouth, her words could very well come out wrong.   Also, keep in mind that Rosemary was fleeing a situation that I would describe at the very least as emotionally abusive.  She’d truly never been left alone before, even for a moment.  What would YOU do in such a situation?  You’d likely develop a few hang-ups and be, shall we say, a little NEUROTIC, wouldn’t you???

I guess I was hurt because I know what it’s like to be the freak.  I know what it’s like to hear other kids whisper while casting glances and smirks in your direction.  I know what it’s like when you so badly want to say something witty and clever and funny, but all you can manage is a vague smile while you turn away, mentally kicking yourself for not talking to the cute guy, the great girl that you wish would be your friend, or the awesome teacher who’s trying to reach out to you. 

So, back to Rosemary.  Agents have expressed interest, but not enough to represent me.  At least, not yet.  But I’m still trying.  And, I’m trying hard not to take things personally, to think that I’m the one being rejected on a personal level when it’s my writing, my characters, or maybe just the fact that agents don’t think there’s a market out there right now for what I’ve written.

And, I will continue to create characters who are neurotic.  That’s what I am, and it’s what I do.  J

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shades of Everything


In 2024 an alien ship crashes in the middle of Los Angeles, ironically crushing a theatre where a movie premiere about an alien invasion is in full swing.  Hundreds die and worldwide panic ensues.  Who are the aliens, where did they come from, and are there more of them on the way?

In 2026, a worldwide meeting is held.  The aliens are peaceful.  Calling themselves the Kindred, they have come to Earth seeking asylum.  Their planet is dying.  In exchange for a place to live on our world, the only other planet known to them to support life, they will share their technology with the human race, healing our toxic waters, soil and air and curing all known diseases.  They only ask to share the rule of the planet.

Nearly a century later, these massive, bug-like creatures (Ender’s Game, anyone?) have ruled peacefully alongside their human counterparts in the “WorldGov” council.  Enter Malek, our hero.

Malek is nearly thirteen, and about to take a very important test.  This test, a neural scan, will determine his role in life:  that of a Worker, forced to labor in whatever menial job assigned to him, an Assistant, who can receive additional education but also has his career selected for him, or one of the Chosen, allowed to pursue the path he chooses, receiving the best education possible to allow him to achieve his goals.  (A tinge of Divergent, perhaps?  Even a little bit like Matched.)

But Malek has a secret, and fears that during his scan it will be revealed.  Born with brain damage, he can only speak and move thanks to a special “Suit” that connects directly to his central nervous system via nanowire, invisible to the human eye.  He must hide his secret because those who have physical or mental disabilities of any kind are automatically forced to become Workers. 

So my story progresses.  Malek discovers that all is not well in Kindred-land.  A rebellion of sorts is in the works.  (Hunger Games, anyone?)  Add to that the fact that his father, Valerius, has been selected as one of the lucky few humans to receive a “Kindred Body,” grown in a lab from his own DNA and virtually indestructible.  Valerius has his brain removed and placed into his new Kindred Body.  However, when Daddy comes home, he isn’t quite himself.  (Wait for it….Invasion of the Body Snatchers!!!)

Honestly, my third round of NaNoWriMo was a good experience.  I easily met my word count goal, enjoyed the characters I created, and found myself thinking about types of plot, inciting incidents, the emotional growth of characters, etc. etc. etc.  However, somewhere in the middle of this whole deal, I realized what I’d already known:  I can’t do sci-fi.  At least, not unless I channel a whole bunch of writers who have already filled our libraries and theatres with well-known stories.  Oh my heavens, I even had rebels who lived in a home carved out of a massive rock formation in the middle of the Arizona desert (The Host, y’all.)  Okay, it was only two rebels, and their house was awesome, not cave-like at all, but still…

So, near the end, I got a little slap-stick.  My aliens (that whole “bug-like” thing was a government lie) had evolved from plant life on their world.  Hence, they were willowy (pun intended) tree-like, Little Green Men.  (Ta Daaaa!!!!)  Malek befriends one of them and has to help save him from the evil humans.  (E. T.!) 

Ah, well.  Lessons learned.  I only regret I wasn’t able to work in that classic line from Scooby Doo.  My evil antagonist, cornered and defeated, would snarl:  “It was only the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on humanity, and I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”  Maybe next time.  J

 

 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Thanksgiving Literary Top Ten:


I'm grateful for people who write.  I love many, many authors, but for this Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to share my "top ten" list in no particular order:
1.        J. K. Rowling:  HP fans don’t need an explanation!  The magical world Ms. Rowling created will last forever and continue to inspire kids all over the world to love books.  Besides, they’re just so much fun to read!

2.       Charles Dickens:  No one does Victorian angst like he does.  Who else but a man who worked in a factory as a child, gluing labels onto bottles of “boot blacking” for ten hours a day could have such compassion for the working poor?  Add to that his ability to create timeless stories about human nature, and you have books that will last forever.  ‘God bless us, everyone!’

3.       Barbara Mertz:  Ever heard of her?  Perhaps not, but you may have heard of Elizabeth Peters, or Barbara Michaels, her pen names.  Ms. Mertz, as herself, wrote a fantastic text book about ancient Egypt that reads like a novel.  As Elizabeth Peters, she wrote the Amelia Peabody series of detective novels that never disappoint.  As Barbara Michaels, she wrote a series of modern “Gothic” novels, tinged with a bit of paranormal.  In those books, she covered topics such as antique quilts and clothing, horticulture, architecture, jewelry and precious stones, etc., and made such possibly dry subjects fascinating.    She passed away earlier this year.  Rest in peace, Barbara.  I will miss you.

4.       Alan Bradley:  Author of the Flavia de Luce mysteries.  Flavia is witty, brilliant, naïve, and adorable at age eleven.  She solves mysteries that the adults around her cannot.  She raises my eyebrows, makes me laugh, and makes me want to care about chemistry.  This series will always, always be a favorite of mine. 

5.       Suzanne Collins:  Say what you want about books that feature kids forced to kill each other in an arena, but “The Hunger Games” series is well written and an obvious protest against oppressive government.  These books grab you and don’t let go until you’ve read the last word.  Besides, my daughter read all three books within just a few days, then picked up the first book and immediately started all over again.  That hasn’t happened before, nor has it happened since. 

6.       J. R. R. Tolkien:  Yes, I read him before the movies!  “The Hobbit” was a childhood favorite, and I’ll always remember dreaming that I was in Smaug’s lair, climbing over piles of gold.  Enough said.

7.       Edgar Allen Poe:  So what if he was a little crazy?  Aren’t we all?  I loved him when I read him in high school, and have always remained fascinated by his work and his life. 

8.       Stephen King:  Don’t judge me.  He’s a fantastic writer.  Though he has a “potty mouth” and I don’t actually like all of his works, I admire him.  His book:  “On Writing,” is one of the best books, ahem, “on writing,” that I’ve ever found. 

9.       Fyodor Dostoyevsky:  I loved “Crime and Punishment” for some bizarre reason.  I love that horrid book about horrid things, likely because the idea that we are all responsible for our actions and that no one man is above the law, resonates with me.  Also because when Dostoyevsky writes, I feel like I’m living in a dank, stinking attic of a room, or wandering the street of St. Petersburg in rags.  That guy was good.

10.   Jane Austen:  Nobody does it better!  She wrote brilliant books, all without the aid of a typewriter.  Every girl wants to be Lizzie Bennett, and to find her Mr. Darcy.  Full of biting social commentary, as well as old-fashioned language and manners that seem amusingly outdated, her books still sell today like crazy. 
Who would you include in your top ten?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Twue Wuv...What Makes the Speech Pathologist in Me Cringe!!!


The Princess Bride is a funny movie.  I laugh every time I see it.  You know a film is going to be good when you have character names like:  “Princess Buttercup, Wesley, Fezzick and Prince Humperdinck.”  I love the “Cliffs of Insanity” scene, the Dread Pirate Roberts, the Rodents of Unusual Size, and the Pit of Despair.  I love cute little Fred Savage’s face as he begs Grandpa for more of the story.  I adore Mandy Patinkin and the immortal line:  “My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”

Here’s what I hate:  The character Vizzini has a pronounced lisp.  His famous line, well 'word,' if you want to get technical, is:  “inconceivable.” It's pronounced:  “incontheevable!”   Here’s what I hate even more:  the Archbishop who is to perform the marriage of Buttercup to Prince Humperdinck speaks like Elmer Fudd after he’s had a little too much to drink.  During the famous church scene, we hear:  “Mawidge…mawidge is what bwings us togevuuuuh….”  Then there’s the famous:  “Wuv…twue wuv…”

I admit I laughed the first time I saw this.  Probably the second, the third, and the thirty-fourth times, too.  And then I became a speech/language pathologist.  And I began to see how people who have communication disorders are portrayed on TV and in movies.  It’s not always a pretty sight, people! 

So often, characters who stutter or have some kind of communication disorder are the bad guys.  Don’t believe me?  Looney Tunes, anyone?  Think Porky Pig (bumbling idiot) and Elmer Fudd (bumbling-er idiot).  Yes, ‘bumbling-er’ is a word, at least for today!  I grew up on these cartoons.  Elmer and Porky are always fooled by the wise-cracking, smooth-talking Bugs Bunny, and on the receiving end of many, many mocking references to how they speak.  How about Professor Quirrell in the Sorcerer’s Stone?  I love J.K. about as much as anyone, and always will, but Quirrell fakes a stutter to appear foolish and weak.  A quick online search revealed this:  at least fifteen movies produced within the last two decades portrayed communication disorders, in particular stuttering, as either something to mock, a weakness, or a fatal character flaw and evidence of evil or a psychosis.  Characters who stutter in “Pearl Harbor,” “My Cousin Vinny,” and “Die Hard With a Vengenace,” to give a few examples, are weak, incompetent, and mocked.

Whew.  Deep breath after rant.  I admit, the news isn’t always that bad.  I do remember a kid’s movie called: “Paulie,” about a talking bird (!!) who befriends a young girl who stutters, and eventually helps her overcome it.  The movie is cute and a relatively fair and accurate portrayal of stuttering, but not of…speech pathologists!   The speech therapist shows this girl a few picture cards and waits with a look of anxious anticipation on her face for the girl to say the word.  When the poor girl can’t, after maybe one or two tries, the therapist turns to the parents with a look of utter hopelessness and says:  “maybe you should take these home,” and hands them the cards.  What the…????????  No effort to teach one or two of the many, many compensatory strategies out there, such as easy onset, to help the girl learn how to deal with her stutter?  Did the writers do any of their research, at all???  I think not.

                Enter Colin Firth, aka Mr. Darcy, and Geoffrey Rusch, ‘that pirate guy.’  My heroes!  In “The King’s Speech” they portray King George V and a man named Lionel Logue.  This is the first movie I’ve ever seen that gives a true and painfully accurate portrayal of someone with a communication disorder.  It also demonstrates how a speech therapist can help someone with a stutter learn to communicate more effectively.  To be specific, Logue was an “elocution teacher,’ speech therapy being in its infancy at the time, but the portrayal was nevertheless true-to-life and utterly familiar to “speech therapist me.” 

Though the movie is R rated and not necessarily something to show the kids, I have my own edited DVD on hand so that if I choose I can show at least a few key scenes to speech therapy clients and to my own kids.  Why?  Because I want them to understand that having a communication disorder is not a weakness or a fatal character flaw.  I want them to demonstrate compassion and patience with those who cannot communicate easily. 

Maybe I just want them to admire Colin Firth as much as I do. 

What, you don’t think he was fantastic in "The King’s Speech?"  Or the best Mr. Darcy in, well, ever?

Inconceivable!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Geek Before Geek Was Cool...


Yes, I was.  Why?  See above.  This photo was snapped in the early '90's,  way before I'd ever heard of the term:  "cosplay."  :-)  I dressed up on occasion as a Sci Fi character, and I think I looked pretty good, if I do say so myself.  I even made it to two, yes, two, Star Trek conventions.  I gazed adoringly at Marina Sirtis, aka "Counselor Deanna Troy," and laughed a little too hard at her jokes.  I listened to John deLancie, the dreaded "Q," tell his own rather stiff stories and lecture us all about how horrible we were for wanting to hear his favorite backstage "bloopers."  Lighten up, dude! 

My best Star Trek memory?  The time my sister and I did the now sadly defunct "Star Trek Experience" in Las Vegas.  "Oh my stars and garters," as my Inner Marge would say:  Nerd Heaven!  First, we got to see a fantastic display of costumes from Star Trek, Star Trek the Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine, as well as all the movies that had been made thus far.  Wow.  Then...we entered an area where all went dark, and we were suddenly beamed aboard the deck of the Enterprise!  I kid you not, we were, and it was incredible.  My sister and I couldn't stop laughing.  The story was:  one of us was an ancestor of Captain Jean Luc Picard, and in order to stop him, Klingons/Romulans/The Borg (I forget which antagonists) were trying to go back in time to capture the ancestor, which was me, of course.  :-)  Craziness ensued, and we were finally led on board a small shuttle where we were first chased by the enemy, fired at, and finally crash-landed back on earth.  Loved it!!!!  I also loved the fact that we were then led to Quark's Bar.  Lunch was fantastic, and I had my picture taken with a Ferengi.

Back to the Cosplay.  Obviously, I'm not able to claim that I had a costume for an official Star Trek character. First of all, my costume was borrowed, thanks to my sister, Mary.  In addition, my look in this particular costume is pretty generic.  I can't claim to look much like Lieutenant Uhura, nor do I look like Nurse Chappel.  (Spelling??)  Also, notice the black bike shorts beneath that skirt.  Star Trek uniforms for women are waaaay too short!  Don't even get me started about the skimpy sci fi/fantasy costumes that abound today.  Ugh. 

Why this post?  Because I'm trying to prove to myself that I can "do" sci fi.  I'm halfway through my latest NaNoWriMo novel, loving my first attempt at science fiction, but I feel like one gigantic fraud.  I keep trying to remind myself that I have just as much a right as anyone else to attempt that kind of thing.    It's fiction, after all.  So what if my science is all bogus, and it's obvious to anyone who reads it that I don't even have a grasp of the basic laws of physics?  Cue random melodramatic William Shatner scream.  "Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!"

Well, I shall forge ahead, content in the knowledge that I may not be the next world-renowned science fiction author, but at one time I made a pretty fine-looking officer on the deck of the USS Enterprise.  Engage!

P.S.  If you've ever been into cosplay, I want to see the pictures!  Post a photo of yourself in costume in the comments and show me how awesome you are!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tea. Peppermint. Lukewarm. (Or, Why I Shouldn’t Attempt to Write Sci Fi)


NaNoWriMo is here again.  My brain is filled with “word counts” and whether or not I have “just-itis,” meaning I use the word “just” far too often in my written dialogue.  I’m afraid the answer there is yes.

It’s also filled with words like:  nanotechnology, neural scanners, and atomic goggles.  Oh the joy of trying to write sci-fi when you don’t have the knack for it!

I used to watch Star Trek, the Next Generation.  All fans know the line:  “Tea.  Earl Grey.  Hot.”  Ah, such a classic!  And the nifty replicator would produce a lovely “cuppa,” nice and steamy, every time.  Don’t forget the cool transporters, fashionably attractive and yet functional communicator pins, and the fact that you should never, ever wear a red shirt.  Those were the days.

Why am I trying to replicate such a world?  (Pun intended, by the way).  Because I love that stuff!  I love the idea of traveling through space, encountering worlds similar to or vastly different from our own.  I love the idea of many, many other planets teaming with intelligent life. 

Sadly, I am no sci-fi writer.  I try to imagine a different world, one that’s familiar because it’s ours, but a couple of centuries in the future and therefore quite altered at the same time, and…I’m stuck.  What do people drink?  Tea?  How boring and old-fashioned.  What do I call it?  What does it look like?  Smell like?  Taste like??? 

The Earth I’m trying to imagine has now been home to an alien race for a couple of centuries who joined with the human race, so cultures would have mingled, perhaps greatly altering how things are done.  What do people wear?  Do they have green skin or gold tattoos decorating their faces?  (Oh, wait.  That’s a “Hunger Games” thing.  Never mind.)  Do people still travel in cars or use some kind of vehicle that hovers over the ground, aka what Luke Skywalker “drives” on Tatooine?  Do they use a Star Trekian transporter and beam themselves somewhere else?  It goes on and on, and my head starts to spin.

I suppose I shouldn’t have bothered in the first place, but I’ve already reached 13,000 words and I want to keep going.  Even though my characters may be totally lame and unimaginative, I think they’re trying to tell me something.  What will Malek do about the disappearance of his mother, Chessa?  What will happen to Chessa upon arrival at World Headquarters, where she was taken against her will?  Will Valerius still be himself after receiving his new body, or will he actually be someone else?  Who is EnYus, what is his connection to Chessa, and why can’t I come up with a better sounding name?  Most of all, how can Ava be both an Assistant with a shaved head and neural implants, as well as a thirteen year-old student at the same time?  Why does she seem to know everything when I don’t?

Don’t expect to see them movie any time soon.  Or ever.

 

 

 

Friday, November 1, 2013

My Stories Are Convoluted, But So Is Marge. Uff Da!!

 
She’s funny, kind, and tells it like it is, speaking in a rather nasal voice that for some reason has a distinctive North Dakotan accent.  (Think “Fargo Lingo,” as in “uff da” and “you betcha.”)  Her name is Marge, and she’s the voice inside my head. 


Marge knows how hard I’ve been working to improve my writing.  She knows how hard it’s been to submit to literary agents, hoping that somehow my novel will catch someone’s attention and stand out from the other hundreds, if not thousands of competing manuscripts.  She knows how intimidated I am each time I read a fantastically written book and worry that I’ll never be that good. 

Being the quasi obsessive/compulsive figment of my imagination that she is, Marge helps me keep track of all my queries to agents.  She even divides the results into categories:

·         The dreaded “no response after 6-8 weeks”                                                                       6

·         Polite email “no”                                                                                                                       7

·         Partial manuscript requests (first 30-50 pages)                                                                   3

Regarding the first category, Marge is a pragmatist.  “Well, now,” she tells me, “at least you don’t have to hear anything negative they might say.  Count your blessings, sweetie, and hand me another piece of lefse.”

As for the second category, Marge inspires me to use anything the agents say to improve my work.  I’ve looked at pacing, worked to improve my main character, and looked over several other issues based on comments received from agents.  She celebrates with me when the agents say something good, like:  “your query was intriguing,” and “keep writing.”  Woo hoo! 

The last category is harder.  Marge knows how I get my hopes up.  An agent reads my query and asks for more!  It seems so promising…then, the letdown.  No thanks, again.  “Uff da,” Marge always huffs.  “Keep your chin up, girlfriend!  Have another piece of chocolate.”

Well, I received my latest rejection, only 4 days before the start of yet another Nanowrimo odyssey.  Talk about an ego-bruiser and motivation crusher!  I quote:  “Your story was a bit convoluted and we would have liked more of your main character’s back story in the first 50 pages.” 

Ouch.  Marge was wounded.  She also fumed.  “How dare they ask for more back story!  How many times do we hear not to do the dreaded “data dump” in the first few pages?!!  Let your character reveal her story slowly, bit by bit, to the reader.”  And that whole “convoluted” thing?  Uff da.

But Marge is a big girl, and so am I.  I’ve already spent some time looking over my first 50 pages, carefully considering whether or not I need to include more back story earlier in the novel.  I’m reviewing my major plot points once again, trying to decide whether or not my novel is too “twisty and turny” in all the wrong ways.  I’m plodding onward, urged forward by Marge, who, in her usual witty style, reminds me that I’m not a quitter, and neither is she.

P.S.  A final note for all of you not of Norwegian descent:  (Don’t worry, I’m not judging you.  I know how jealous you are).  The word “uff da” is an interjection that can have many layered meanings.  One way to use it is to express feeling full or overwhelmed, as in "Uff da!  I ate way too much lefse! "  My favorite is as an expression of boredom or tired resignation, as in:  “Yet another vampire/cyborg/alien/end of the world love story hits the big screen?  Uff da!!!”

P.P.S.  Lefse is a thin potato pancake of major deliciousness.    Look it up on Pinterest!

 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Emily Bronte, Mormon Women, Samurai Warriors, and the Vegan Black Metal Chef: It’s Nanowrimo Time!

November is “National Novel Writing Month,”  “Nanowrimo” for short.  You set a goal to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in thirty days.   You create a profile on the Nanowrimo website, and officially begin to write on November 1st.  Upload the words you write each day, and the site keeps track of how many more you need to write to reach your goal.  At the end of November, you have written a future bestseller. ..or something like that.  J  Easy, right?  Er…not really, but I was game.  Hey, I’m a wannabe writer, right?  So, a couple of years ago, I took the plunge.

Enter LaNelle, a young, attractive Mormon woman who speaks Swahili and hates her dead-end job.  Enter Dagger, a young metal music aficionado, gourmet chef and lover of Italian food who is trying to emulate his hero, the Vegan Black Metal Chef.  (The “VBMC” is a real guy; check out his website.  It’s hysterical!!  And, his recipes literally rock).  These first two characters are from our own time.  The next is not.  Enter Kenji, a seventeenth-century Samurai warrior about to commit ritual suicide.  How do the paths of these three characters cross?  More importantly, what does Emily Bronte have to do with all of this?

Here’s the deal.  I hate Wuthering Heights.  It’s not a love story, as so many movie and TV adaptations would have us believe.  In my mind, it’s a story of revenge among selfish, small-minded characters.  I decided to mock it.  Yes, I know, some people consider this to be one of the greatest nineteenth century books ever written.  And yes, I think the Bronte sisters are all brilliant.  I don’t care.  I hate Catherine and I hate Heathcliff.  I’m glad they both died in the book.  Negative, much?  Of course!  But when it’s Nanowrimo time, you can do whatever you want!

LaNelle, Dagger and Kenji are snatched from their own times and homes and plunged into the world of Wuthering Heights, where they interact with each other and the classic book’s characters in interesting ways.   My writing was terrible, my plot went nowhere.  I didn’t get to be a “Nanowrimo Winner,” by reaching 50,000 words, having only reached about 40,000 by November 30th.  But I had fun.  I even plan to finish the story.  Some day!

Here’s the website if you decide to take the plunge and write your own novel.  Come on, I dare you!  And, following is an excerpt from my own pathetic attempt at novel writing the first time I “did Nano.” 

www.nanowrimo.org

PS:  Please don’t think that my description of LaNelle is meant to mock Mormons.  First of all, I am one!  What I wrote was more my way of mocking myself and some less-than-positive attributes I sometimes see when I gaze into the psychic mirror.  Greatly exaggerated, of course.  :-)

 

HOUSE ON A WINDY HILL:

(NOT A LOVE STORY)

By:  Rebecca Bischoff

August 21st, 2011
7:15 p.m.
Allentown, Pennsylvania        

Dagger adjusted the flame and tossed another handful of sliced garlic into the pan.  The eerie yet head-splitting strains of “Haunted Mama” by Outer World, his favorite band, pounded in the background, beating in time to the winter storm that rattled the glass in the window frames and howled with a desperate cry.  Dagger could have sworn the storm sounded like a giant, starving animal trying to claw its way inside the cluttered kitchen.

Onion and garlic sizzled in extra virgin olive oil.  Dagger took a deep breath, savoring the pungent scent that filled his mouth and nose, whipped long, midnight black hair out of his eyes and screamed:

“NEXT, ADD THE BASIL AND TOMATOOOOOOOO…”

The words hurtled into the air as Dagger looked directly into the web cam, attached to its wobbly tripod.  His blog:  “Dagger:  Purveyor of Ancient Wisdom, Metal Music Maniac, Italian Gourmet Chef and Notary Public” was becoming more and more popular.  He had a total twenty-four followers now, not counting his mother, and he’d been dying to add another cooking demo video to his blog. 

“NEVER CHOP THE GARLIC FOR THIS DISH, ALWAYS SLIIIIIIIIIIICE!” Dagger sang.

His fresh tomato and basil pasta sauce was coming together nicely, and Dagger head-banged in time to the music, pausing once to pull a fallen hair out of the frying pan.  His mother kept telling him to wear a hair net while he cooked.  As if.  He checked out his reflection in the shining door of the microwave.  A hair net would completely ruin the look he had long ago perfected.  Long, straight, black-dyed hair framed a face that had been artfully painted white, with eyes and lips painted as black as his hair.  He smiled at himself.  The white makeup accentuated his long, hooked nose, which Dagger had always thought of as heroic-looking and masculine, and the eyeliner made his dull brown eyes seem mysterious and brooding.  He turned his smile into a snarl and swiveled his face back toward the camera.

“SERVE OVER YOUR CHOICE OF PASTAAAAAA,” he sang/screamed, “ALWAYS COOK YOUR PASTA AL DENTEEEEEEEEEE!  SERVE WITH FRESHLY GRATED PARMIGIANOOOOOOO!!!!”

He switched off the camera and turned his music up.  Another video to upload to his blog.  Another sure hit, maybe even more popular that his “mushroom gnocchi with sautéed spinach” video had been.  And soon, he’d have so many followers his blog would go viral.  He’d be famous.  So, fame wasn’t really what he was after.  He truly didn’t care how many other people on the planet were aware of his existence.  But the power that went with fame, well, that was another matter.  If he became famous, maybe someone would finally listen to him. 

Not bothering to wash his face, Dagger shoved aside old lesson plans and high school history textbooks to clear a place on his kitchen table, and sat down to eat his well-deserved meal.  He sighed as he bit into his first bite.  Ah, perfect.  Wind continued to howl, sounding vaguely like a chorus of voices singing his favorite medley of metal music hits from the eighties.  Well, howling, he had to admit.  His second bite was halfway between the plate and his waiting mouth, but the perfectly al dente pasta never touched his lips.  At that exact moment, the wind struck Dagger’s tiny box of a house with such force that all the eastern-facing windows exploded inward, sending minute, razor sharp bits of glass flying.  Shrieking in terror and ducking under the table, Dagger cowered and screamed. 

And in a second, it was over.  Silence fell suddenly, with a sense of finality, like the fall of an executioner’s ax.  Well, silence would have reigned, if it weren’t for the fact that Dagger was still screaming, a high-pitched, terrified sound, like that of a squeamish little girl fleeing from a worm.  Finally realizing that it was silent, Dagger allowed the screaming to trail off with no little amount of embarrassment.  It finally ended in a soft squeak. 

Glass crunched beneath him as Dagger slowly edged out from under the table and got to his feet.  There was no more wind.  It was still dark, but a strange, pale glow illuminated his ruined kitchen.  The smell of garlic cooked in oil, and of freshly torn basil leaves and sautéed tomatoes mingled with a pleasant, rich odor of wet plants and damp earth that wafted in through the empty window frames.

Dazed and more than a little confused, Dagger shuffled his way through broken glass and scattered cooking utensils and opened his front door.  And screamed, again. 

 

August 21st, 2011
7:15 p.m.
Three Pines, Washington

           LaNelle took a deep breath and stood.  It was time for her special Sunday fireside presentation to the local Young Women’s organization, and she was anxious to start.  Her lesson was carefully prepared and displayed on the screen of her new smart phone.  Her iPod was propped up on a little lace cloth-covered table, playing appropriate soft Church music for background atmosphere.  The quotations she’d printed out were already given to the somewhat reluctant girls who would read them when asked, her list of twenty-two scriptures was neatly printed on the board, and a little white basket holding a pile of googly-eyed wooden frogs covered in handmade lace stood proudly on the table, next to the iPod.  Each girl was to receive a frog at the end of the lesson as a reminder of what she had learned.  The tiny sign:  “Accountable Amphibians Never Frog-get to Choose the Right,” was attached to each amphibian’s backside.

Nine pairs of eyes, belonging to nine young girls, ranging in age from twelve to seventeen, stared up at LaNelle.  They’re so young, she thought.  LaNelle considered herself to be much more mature than any of the girls who sat before her.  After all, she was twenty-five.  At her age, she’d earned a college degree (liberal arts), had a career (checkout clerk at the local grocery store; liberal arts degrees don’t get you very far) and had even served as a missionary in Kenya, where she learned to speak passable Swahili.  (Learning Swahili was a bonus, but still didn’t help advance a career much when living in a small town in the United States). 

Only nine girls, LaNelle thought, as she double-checked her lesson on the screen of her phone.  This class is so small.  We used to have at least forty girls when I was in Young Women’s.  I’m sure more girls are supposed to be here, she concluded critically.  Well, she’d soon fix that.  This must be one of the reasons she had felt so sure her recent impulsive move from Utah to this tiny town in Washington was heaven-directed, and decidedly meant to be.  She was sent to help these girls.  After class she’d get a list from the Young Women’s president of all the girls and make sure every single one made it to class next week. 

LaNelle cleared her throat and attached her best “I’m so happy to be here” smile onto her face.  Some of the faces that looked back up at her appeared friendly, but most of the girls’ faces wore looks of impatience and boredom.  Well, LaNelle would change that as well, she thought, no doubt about it.  It was her job today to teach them the importance of making choices.  Well, of making the right choices.  And the “making of right choices” was apparently something that was completely foreign to these girls, thought LaNelle, as she critically surveyed the girls’ clothing, while attempting to keep her expression neutral.  Most girls wore outlandish outfits that were either too short, too tight, too revealing, or a combination of all three.  LaNelle was uncomfortably reminded of the contestants of a reality show she had glimpsed the other week.  She’d watched for about five horrified seconds before she’d turned off the TV.  The contestants of that show seemed to be trying to wear as little clothing as possible without getting arrested.  She’d instantly fired off a long email to the network, demanding they immediately remove that show from the airwaves.

  Help me, Heavenly Father, knock some sense into the girls’ heads,” LaNelle silently prayed.  And she began to speak, trying to ignore the vacant stares from the few girls who looked in her direction, the complete lack of interest from the remainder of the group, and the wild howling of the wind outside as it tore against the church building, rattling the windows, like a vengeful Satanic beast trying to claw its way inside.

“Who has quote number forty-five?” LaNelle asked, sweeping her auburn hair back from her perspiring forehead.  This group was a tough one, tougher than she’d anticipated.  She forged ahead, knowing how important her lesson was.  She finally thought she’d started to make some headway when one of the girls raised her hand, but the girl only asked to be excused to go to the bathroom.  When all twenty-eight of the other girls raised their hands in unison, LaNelle felt a dark, swelling sense of frustration and anger build inside her.  How could these girls not understand how important it was for each one of them to be here?  They were so obviously making some very, very wrong choices.  The wind increased in intensity outside, causing many of the girls throw worried glances toward the windows. 

“No, you may not all go to the bathroom.  You’re old enough to hold it for a few more minutes.  Now who has quote number sixty-seven?”  LaNelle shouted.   The girls rolled their eyes and settled back down into their seats.  LaNelle was about to go in search of the bishop, sure that he could talk some sense into these girls, when a window blew open and a strong gust of air tore into the room.  Girls screamed and popped out of their seats, tripping over each other as they raced for the door.  LaNelle gripped her phone and grabbed her iPod, stumbling against the little table as she did so.  Tiny lace-covered frogs bounced from the basket and were caught in the whirling air, flying all over the room.  The frogs pelted the still-shrieking girls who clawed each other out of the way as they tried to escape. 

“Wait, girls, at least take one of the frogs,” LaNelle shouted, “take an accountability frog!”  The wild wind whipped her hair around her face and roared in her ears, drowning out all other sounds.  And then, suddenly, the wind was gone.  Silence rang in LaNelle’s ears, a thick, complete, almost reverent silence.  LaNelle clutched her phone and iPod in one hand and reached up with her other, trembling hand, to unwind her hair from around her face.  Where were the girls?  Did they all leave?  Finally managing to pull a final, uncooperative strand of hair from over her eyes, LaNelle blinked, looked around her, and gasped. 

“Oh, my, HECK!”  she shouted.

 

August 21st, 1579
7:15 p.m.
Kobe, Japan

            Kenji sat cross-legged before his little writing table.  A breeze kicked up and shook the thin walls of his house, causing him to lose concentration and glance around in surprise with furrowed brow, as if he had forgotten where he was.  Exhaling slowly, he dipped his brush into the pot of ink and continued to write, forming the characters slowly and with precision.  Composing his final poem of death had been far easier than he had thought.  Finished, he set paper, pen and ink aside.  He felt calm, almost empty, as though all emotion and thought were draining from his body, drop by drop, like the crimson blood that would soon flow from his self-inflicted wound.  He was glad for the feeling of numbness that enfolded him, shielding his wounded heart as his armor had once shielded his body.  There was no more pain, even at the thought of his wife, fled to be with another.  There was no more pain, even at the thought of his son, whose black eyes glowed with mirth and whose smile…a sharp twinge, like the knick of a knife blade, stung Kenji’s heart, and he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply.  He knew he was lying to himself.  But that didn’t matter anymore.

            His tiny bird, Shiro, flittered about and chirped in his cage, possibly agitated by the still-rising wind, which now howled and moaned like an angry demon god, demanding blood as payment.

            Yet my death is just.

            I should never have faltered.

            The howling wind knows.

The wind will have its payment, Kenji mused.  The Samurai who dislikes battle does not have his heart in the right place.  He raised his short sword and turned it this way and that so that the blade caught the light of late morning.  A true warrior should never turn his back on his master’s commands.

He opened his robe and bared his chest and stomach.  Kenji did not fear death.  He knew that a samurai should never allow the moment of his glorious death to pass by, holding his own life too dear.  He was a warrior, born of a long line of great warriors.   He owed a great debt to his ancestors, and to his master.  His actions had dishonored them all.  He would reclaim that honor with this act of seppuku, the ritual taking of his own life.

            Shiro chirped wildly, now flinging its tiny winged body against the sides of its cage which hung from the ceiling, so that the cage wobbled and swung from side to side. 

            “Courage, my little friend.  A warrior knows when it is time to die.”  Kenji heard the soft chuckle in his own voice and vaguely wondered at it, but dismissed the questioning thought as soon as it entered his mind.  He whistled softly to his caged songbird, a few notes, low and sweet.  The tiny bird calmed enough to settle down at the bottom of his cage, but puffed its feathers and twittered anxiously as the wind increased in ferocity outside. 

            Kenji raised his short sword.  His death would not be quick.  He had no friend, no witness with him to deliver the decapitating blow that would mercifully hasten the end.  His lifeblood would drain away slowly, and he would likely die in agony.

            So be it, he thought, tensing his muscles in preparation for the mortal blow.  As he did so, the wind shrieked like a furious dragon.  Shiro frantically beat against the sides of his cage.  Kenji closed his eyes.  In one quick movement, his sword descended.  The sword descended, but he felt no pain.  He felt the muscles of his hands and arms move as he plunged the short blade into his stomach, but there was no other sensation except for the sudden buffeting of a cold, cold wind that whirled around his body, lifting him into the air.  Then, suddenly, the wind stopped.  In a death-like silence, Kenji was falling, falling, falling.  Into nothingness.  So this was death.  But then, in an instant, sensation returned.  Kenji felt cool, damp earth beneath his feet.   He clasped his hands, feeling for his sword.  His hands were empty.  He reached out before him and felt moss-covered rocks beneath his fingers.  Birds cawed noisily overhead.  He breathed in the scent of rain-dampened earth.  He opened his eyes, and gasped.