Monday, November 22, 2010
Good Evening, Bloggers. The season of thanks is upon us, so let me say I’m thankful for my family, especially when they make me laugh:
1. Best mispronunciation from a three-year-old telling her older sister she may not have any of the towels on the floor: “No! You can’t! I’m shitting on them!”
2. Best show of empathy from a three-year-old:
Mommy to Little Bear: “You are so charming! It’s alarming how charming you are!”
Daddy to Mommy: “What about me?”
Disgusted Mommy to man who needs way too much attention: “Eh.”
Little Bear running to hug Daddy: “You’re charming too!”
1. First word: “Blog.” (Prophetic?)
2. Best toddler approximation: ‘bobo-lizard’ for bulldozer
3. Best deflection of Tickle Monster:
Daddy as Tickle Monster: “I’m hungry for . . . belly-button!”
Big Bear: “No, no! Get hers (Little Bears)! It’s juicier!”
4. Best drill-sergeant-in-training-line from two-year-old:
Daddy in deep—obviously fake—voice as he enters darkened two-year-old’s bedroom for good night kiss: “Hello there, it’s me, Papa.”
Little Bear: “You’re not Papa, you’re Daddy, now get your butt over here!”
5. Best correction of pronunciation by a three-year-old to Grandma:
Grandma looking a DVD box of Disney’s Lilo and Stitch: “What it this? Lie-low and Stitch?”
Big Bear: “No Grandma, it’s luh-luh, Lee-low and Stitch.”
The Good Husband
1. Best unintentional come-on line by woman who stayed at same hotel as husband—a hotel where using their semi-catered gym came at a price: “Is that your eight dollar banana?”
2. Best unintentional come-on line by female coworker (at a dance) whose grasp of English had not fully matured: “Do you swing?”
3. Best come back by husband in Lowe’s parking lot to attendant running after him with a pair of scissors as husband realizes there is a hell of a long length of twine running from his bundle of lumber across the lot and back into the store: “Glad you caught me before I drove home!”
4. Best Freudian slip by husband-to-be when he inquired about the style of wedding dress I’d chosen: “Is it topless?”
5. Best Freudian slip by his high school English teacher about upcoming paper: “On Monday, bring me a fully-fleshed out virgin. I mean version!”
Happy Thanksgiving! May your holiday come with extra giggles.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Good Afternoon Writers! I have a treat for you today. It’s called Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, a fantastic treasure trove of tips and techniques you might not even know you need. Plus, it’s fun to read. How did I come by this book? An agent recommended it to improve my manuscript. Here’s some things it did for me:
1. Don’t use dialogue for exposition. Here’s an example:
Eddie looked at his friend. “You ever been involved in a kidnapping investigation?”
“No,” said Luke.
Eddie pulled the car into the street. “A lot is going to happen in the next couple of hours. We have to establish that Melody is missing . . .”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I know how it sounds, but that kid could be hiding in the attic for all we know. Tess’s house gets a thorough search. Don’t forget the ‘balloon boy’ case.”
Luke grunted. He could only hope for such an innocuous ending.
“As a first-responder, you’ll be interviewed as well.”
Even though I’ve taken pains to hide it, I’ve got one cop explaining procedure to a second in order to pass this information to the reader. This kind of information belongs in the narrative:
Luke had never worked a kidnapping case, but he knew the basics. First, they had to establish Melody was missing. For all they knew, the little girl could be playing hide-and-seek in the attic. Luke could only hope for such an innocuous ending. Horrendous alternatives were all too possible. The area’s sex offenders would be getting unannounced visits today. As a first responder, Luke would be on the hot seat as well.
2. Handle flashbacks with care.
My first draft was written without a blueprint—an “out of the mist” experience. There’s nothing wrong with this style of writing as long as you have the know-how and stamina to iron out all the wrinkles in the editing phase.
As a byproduct of “out of the mist” writing, my manuscript included two long, detailed flashback sequences. Having them take up pages 50 – 100 didn’t work. It created a convoluted storyline and some bad information dumps. I had to reorder the chapters chronologically and parse out the story. This was no simple cut-and-paste, but in the rewrite I found opportunities to increase the suspense and add depth to the characters.
In the old draft, each chapter began with a newspaper article, TV interview, or email as a way to develop a background story. With over 40 chapters, these introductory bits added another level of complexity and wrecked the flow. They had to go, leaving me with a huge chunk (10K) of stuff to either kiss goodbye or weave into the storyline. A few became flashbacks.
I love Stein’s advice on transitioning into a flashback: lead with an “arresting” sentence. Here's one of mine:
It was an obsessive compulsive’s nightmare come true.
Hopefully that line makes you curious. What nightmare? What would terrify an obsessive compulsive person?
I took a hiatus from blog world for six weeks to address these issues. It was well worth it. Thank you, Agent A.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
At first, she didn’t recognize him. Sitting in the waiting room, he looked different, but when she opened the door, her neighbor turned to his wife. “Look who’s here!”
After she checked in, she sat near the couple and chatted about the weather and the phone calls her first grade daughter had received from a classmate—a boy. They all shook their heads. What was the world coming to?
Then it was her turn. The nurse took her back to a warren of curtained cubicles and instructed her to remove all clothing from the waist up.
She changed quickly and put on the blue apron, opened at the front. Her mother had warned her it would hurt a little. The ’ole squish and squash, she’d said.
After it was over, the nurse said they call tomorrow if they needed more pictures.
When the call came the next day, she kept her voice calm and made another appointment. In the changing room, there was a sign advising her not to panic. People were called back for all sorts of reasons. Interference was common. Her husband said it was probably nothing. Her mother-in-law had gone through the same thing. No big deal.
Still, her heart was thumping away—bam, bam, bam. She tried to look at the magazine sitting on the bench next to her, but it was impossible. Then the nurse came. They only wanted pictures of the left breast this time. The specificity was unnerving. This time she knew how to hold her arms, how to freeze for a good shot. After six different pictures, the nurse sat her on a chair. There was a fountain behind her, one of the little desktop ones, and a bamboo shoot in a glass container. It was supposed to be relaxing, spa-like.
The image on the computer’s widescreen monitor wrecked her chances for serenity. The x-ray of her breast showed three bright white blotches of various sizes. She didn’t know squat about radiology except for one thing. Bright white was bad. She stared at the blistering-white amoeba shapes and wondered why the nurse had let her sit where she could see them. On the way back to her cubicle, she passed three women—Doctors? Nurses?—whose eyes skipped to her face and then to the floor. Was that pity? What did they know?
Now her heart was beating in her ears and she had to face it. She might have cancer. Her brain immediately assumed the worst—death, her two daughters growing up without her. They were still so young—four and six. Then she thought of the three women she knew who had beat it. She could do this. Chemo and vomiting? Not a happy thought, but she’d ralphed daily through her second pregnancy. Loss of hair from radiation? That would suck, but the wigs they made these days looked real.
Another nurse came in. They wanted to do an ultra sound. She didn’t say a word during the procedure. The nurse kept saying she didn’t see anything. She thought about the bright white spots on the mammogram. What did this mean?
They put her back in the cubicle and a doctor came by. The mammogram showed calcifications, he said, but no tumors showed up on the ultrasound. She had two choices: needle biopsy or another mammogram in six months.
She thought the needle would hurt more than it did.
They had her face down on a table with a cut-out at her chest. Her left breast hung down, pinched tight between two metal plates, making the mammogram seemed like a lover’s caress. She was warned not to move for the next thirty minutes.
There was nothing to look at except a set of white blinds and white walls. As the local anesthetic was injected, she stared at the silver bulb of the blind pull and willed her body still. Compared to the hell of breastfeeding, the pain was anticlimactic and then she felt nothing.
The procedure was quick. Once it was done, she couldn’t hold back and let the coughing fit fly. The pull on her anchored breast was agony. The doctor couldn’t get the titanium marker in until the third try. At home that evening, she carried a load of laundry up the stairs and opened the wound. With her daughters scrambling for gauze and Band-aids, she pretended it was no big deal.
Since the biopsy happened on Thursday, there was a good chance the result wouldn’t be in until after the weekend, but she found a message from the doctor Friday afternoon on the machine. The children were decorating the kitchen with Play Doh. She called back with her finger jammed in her left ear.
It was negative for cancer, but they would schedule a six-month mammogram to be safe.
To paraphrase Lennon, I am she and she is me and we are all together . . . Hey ladies, if you or someone you know is turning forty, encourage them to schedule a mammogram. Here's more information on a needle biopsy.