Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Slimming Down the Synopsis

It's another new year, and while everyone else is at the gym whipping themselves into shape, I've long since given up on ever recovering my pre-motherhood sylph, and have been concentrating on whipping, beating, and pounding book proposals into shape.

This includes the heavy, misshapen lump better known as The Dreaded--and sometimes, I fear, Dreadful--Synopsis.

I notice from many of the agents' guidelines out there that a synopsis of no more than 5 double-spaced pages seems to be all the rage these days. My synopses tend to run twice that length, and could easily go on even longer till they're nearly the length of the book itself. And since I write according to what I call The Indiana Jones School of Plotting ("I don't know, I'm making this up as I go"), I tend to write the story first, then go bald, ulcer-plagued and insane over the synopsis.

Before TRUE PRETENSES was published, I entered it in an RWA contest where the rules asked for a 5 page synopsis. I took the 10 page synopsis and whittled it down to half. I didn't care for the result. It was basically the set up and the resolution: Instead of "from Point A to Point B" it was "Point A and Point B."

After the contest was over and I got the entry back, I found the synopsis covered in penciled questions from the judge: "Why this? How's that? Was he [the hero] drunk? You don't say if--" AARGH! If only I'd been allowed to submit the full length, 10 page version, those questions would've been answered.

Then two years ago, my RWA chapter, TARA, did what we call a "Birds of a Feather" or BOF workshop. We divided into groups according to the genre we wrote--chick lit, romantic suspense, or in my case, historical--and we had to write a query letter and synopsis and submit it to the others in our BOF group for critique.

Since I'd never written a synopsis for an unwritten book before, I thought I would try again to pare down an already completed 10 page synopsis for a Regency historical I call Confessions of a Lady Ruined.

I couldn't do it. I felt I needed everything that was in that synopsis. Cutting one paragraph would be tantamount to pulling a loose thread from a sweater and unraveling the whole story. Additionally, my writing "voice" was evident in that synopsis. Whittling it down would mean diluting my voice.

I ended up writing a synopsis from scratch. I don't know how I did it. But it took me one day, and when I went on to write the book (another Regency historical with the working title of Malcolm in the Midden--I said WORKING title!), I was surprised to find that up until the resolution (which I can never figure out until I get to it), the story followed the synopsis rather closely. There were things I wrote that showed up nowhere in the synopsis, yet they didn't throw it off, and I realize now that had I waited till after the book was written to agonize over writing the synopsis, I would've felt compelled to throw those in for fear the synopsis would make no sense without them. (I wonder if I'm making sense right now.)

In the two years since then, I've been working on contemporary stories, but now that the pendulum is swinging back toward historical romances, so am I. A Lady Ruined was summoned from exile beneath the bed, and this last week I set about trying one more time to write a 5 page synopsis.

I don't know what happened to me since I wrote MITM (one of the writers who critiqued it in the BOF workshop suggested Malcolm in a Muddle), but when I looked at the old 10 page synopsis for A Lady Ruined, I saw all the extraneous gobbledygook that didn't really need to be there. Sure it was nice to know these little extra details, certainly they were braided in with the plot, but the whole thing would not implode if I chopped them out. So I did. I submitted the 5-page result to my critique partner, who said that aside from a couple of "Huh?" moments that were easily fixed, I did a good job explaining what she called all the twists and turns to my hero and heroine's Happily Ever After.

Then I took a 10-page synopsis from another book and somehow carved that one into 5 pages. I'm feeling rather pleased with myself, but not only that--I'm starting to think from now on, I will write the synopsis before I write the book. It really does seem to be easier that way.

So long, Indy!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Half a Dozen Handy Household Hints the Experts Won't Tell You!

But heaven knows I'm no expert on household management--so I will.

1. If you have children or pets, you don't need pretty decals or other peel-and-stick stuff on your glass sliders. Just stop cleaning them!

Glass cleaner is expensive, and diverts household funds from more important things, like my secret chocolate stash. Decals are messy when you try to apply them, and it's really annoying when they curl up and stick on your fingertip; then you can't uncurl them without destroying them. Argh!

While visiting the home of a friend with neither children nor pets, twice Mr. Lucky walked into the host's sliding glass door. He said he had no way of knowing it was there. The problem wasn't poor vision; he wears glasses.

"The doors were simply too clean!" Mr. Lucky exclaimed. "And there were no decals to warn anyone."

But I have found that fingerprints, paw prints, lip prints, unidentifiable smears and splatters on our own sliders serve as a constant, not to mention economical warning to inattentive husbands and guests alike that there's a sheet of glass standing between the family room and the patio. I save money on glass cleaner, and frustration from the peely, sticky mess of decals.

Best of all, I get more chocolate.

2. If you are folding clean laundry, don't let the dogs in from the rain until you put the clothes away.

Not only will you conserve electricity and water on an extra wash and dry cycle, but you will save major strain on your vocal chords, which you will need for screaming at Items 5 and 6 below.

Try as I might, I just can't react with the same delight as the woman you see on any commercial for laundry detergent. Whether the dogs jump up and track mud over her recently folded towels; or the husband spills grape juice down his freshly starched white dress shirt; or the kids get into her own secret chocolate stash and smear it across her newly restored wedding gown, her reaction is always the same: She just tilts her head to one side, shaking it with that "my-family-gotta-love-'em" grin, as she snatches up the jug of detergent, eager to do the same load of laundry all over again. ("Oh, goody! I get to use this wonderful detergent again!")

That's what the experts would have you believe.

3. Want some time to yourself? Put the oven on "Self-Clean."

Despite the fumes and increased heating up of the residence, this is the ONLY proven method to get husbands, children and pets out of the house for at least four hours so you can (a) work on writing your book without interruption; and (b) go to the bathroom without interruption.

4. Children's Race Car Beds Also Make Handy-Dandy Ant Farms!

Those race car beds look so cool, and are built to withstand anything--including my ten year old son. But if there's a downside to them, it's all the little nooks and crannies on their interiors. What marvelous little traps they are for all manner of gunk! But alas, no vacuum cleaner manufacturer makes an attachment that will fit into them.

While the mattress fits snugly inside the race car frame--thus making it more difficult for Baby Bear to disassemble the bed (subject for another post)--I am forever amazed and appalled at the objects I've found crammed between mattress and frame: Cups with sour milk or water still in them. Bowls with cereal still in them. Plastic bags half-filled with gloppy (meaning it's been there more than a day) cheese snacks. I pull up the mattress to find even more horrors lurking beneath: Cereal that doesn't match the cereal found still in the bowl, blobs of dried out cheese, and suspicious puddles galore.

Of course he's not allowed to take food into his room. The problem (besides that bed) is that I gave birth to a self-taught smuggling prodigy.

5. If you have children and/or pets in the house, and you hear a loud crash, investigate immediately.

And have the following handy: Broom with extra large dustpan, old towels, garbage bags, wet-dry vac, name and number of your insurance agent.

6. If you have children and/or pets in the house, and you hear nothing but dead silence for more than five minutes (or even less), investigate immediately.

And have the following handy: Broom with extra large dustpan, old towels, garbage bags, wet-dry vac, name and number of your insurance agent.

These are only suggestions. I will not be held responsible for your mother-in-law's comments about the fingerprints on your glass sliders.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Story of My Bad Hair Life

The other day I slipped into one of those "no appointment necessary" hair salons to get my bangs trimmed as depicted in the photo on the right, so I could see my eyebrows again while camouflaging my extra big, space-alienish forehead.

"Would you like it shampooed first?" the lady asked.

I'd just washed it. Did it look that bad already? (Duh! This is me we're talking about!) "No, I just need the bangs trimmed," I said lamely.

"Would you like the rest of it trimmed? Get rid of those split ends?"

I had to admit the rest of it could benefit from a trim, so I agreed.

To which she replied, "Then shall we shampoo it? It's just that it makes it easier for me to work with it."

Translation: "Your hair looks as if it needs a good shampoo." This is what I get for trying to be Ms. Thrifty Housewife by using Dreck instead of Breck.

I relented, and afterward she led me to her station, where she pressed a pedal and pulled a lever to make the chair drop with a thunk. I kept waiting for steel manacles to snap out of the chair and clamp over my wrists and ankles to prevent my fleeing for my life, as she plied the shears and bombarded me with more suggestions to completely transform my appearance and render me totally unrecognizable to anyone who knows me.

You'd think I'd walked into this place with a referral from the Federal Witness Protection Program.

"Have you ever thought of getting your hair highlighted?" she chirped. "It'd look really pretty, and cover up that gray. Surely you've noticed these silver threads here and there?"

I was utterly aghast. I thought it was leftover Christmas tinsel! The stuff gets caught in my hair every year. No wonder I couldn't seem to brush it out anymore.

She thrust under my nose a huge board full of little snips of hair in assorted colors, to show me the various shades of highlighting available. "This one would look pretty with your hair color," she pointed out. "And so would this one . . . and this one . . . isn't that pretty?"

Something in a reddish-gold tint catches my eye, but I remain ambivalent about the whole idea. Besides the expense, I'm worried about what it will look like (as if my hair could look any scarier than it does now). I've seen women my age with hair in weird shades of purple and magenta, and others striped in a crazy yellowish-white. They look like jaundiced zebras.

I do not want to look like that.

Years ago, when I was in my late teens and had just left home and the long arm of the Ma, I did all the things I was never allowed to do under her rule. Like wearing bikini underwear, necklines that flaunted my collarbone . . . and dyeing my hair, which I always did myself.

The first time I did it, I chose a nice reddish-gold tint. Both my mother and grandmother had to agree there was nothing objectionable about it; still my grandmother wanted to know why I insisted on doing it in the first place: "What's wrong with your own hair color? It's such a lovely shade of chestnut."

That was the first (and last) time she ever referred to my hair as anything other than plain old, unexciting, "dark brown." Now that I'd jazzed it up, she decided my original God-given hair color had always been a more glamourous "chestnut."

When my roots started showing, I used hair color removal with the idea that it would restore my original "chestnut." Wrong! It turned my hair a bright, hideous pale orange that would only go away if I dyed it again--which I did, though it took something like six months before I finally figured out that's what I had to do. But I never used that hair color removal stuff again. Instead I dyed one color on top of another. Once I used coal black, which looked horrible, and people even said so. I put another color on top of it, and by that time I was having to use detangler every time I shampooed, because my dyeing-binge had wrecked my hair. On my twentieth birthday--at which point my hair was about the same length seen in the photo at right--I went to the hair salon and had it cut short.

The lady who cut it told me never to dye it again, or I'd be bald by the next birthday.

That was--well, never mind how many years ago it was, but I took her words to heart and it's been my own color ever since.

And now all this talk of "highlighting." The lady who did my hair this week assured me it was nothing like the bottle jobs of my foolish youth. She seemed quite keen to do the deed, while I was starting to wonder if she'd even let me leave without having it done. Since she hadn't put the iron clamps over my wrists, I ventured to tell her I'd have to think about it and most importantly, discuss it with Mr. Lucky.

Which I did--and by the way, he didn't even notice I'd had my hair done until I mentioned it. But he was clearly askance about the whole highlighting idea, suggesting I use "Just for Men" instead.

Only it's "Just for Men" for a reason, isn't it? What if I use it and start growing whiskers?

And don't tell me to get a job with the circus--I already live in one!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Christmas Break, New Year's Snap

ANOTHER LADYBUG SIGHTING: On Mr. Lucky's computer keyboard Wednesday night (he has a desktop, I have a laptop).

I haven't blogged in over a week because it's still Christmas break and the Bear has been zooming and zinging all over the house, bouncing off every wall and ceiling, waking up at four in the morning to rearrange his bedroom furniture.

We live in Florida, where I can't buy new clothes this time of year because it seems all they have for sale are sweaters, mufflers, mittens, yea, even parkas--everything you need for an expedition to the Pole of your choice. I can't see buying that stuff for only two or three days a year, so I've always made do with the same old sweaters I had when I was living in Germany over twenty years ago.

As a native of the North, it seems I can never stay cool enough. Around the house, my standard outfit is a sleeveless top and shorts, while it's an ongoing battle just to keep any clothes on Baby Bear.

From Wednesday evening until early Friday, I had to wear a little more than usual. Make that a lot more--as in the old sweaters, long pants and thick slipper socks. Temperatures plunged into the very lower thirties--almost too cold even for me, but not for Bear, who continued to run around shirtless.

That alone is one reason I'm glad we don't live up North, where I'd have to spend an hour every morning wrapping up that kid in jacket, hood, muffler, mittens and boots, only to have him tear everything off the minute he gets outdoors before plunging into the nearest snowbank as if he just burst out of a sauna.

On Wednesday evening, for the first time ever, I switched on the heat on my Charmglow electric fireplace in the living room. Usually I only turn on the artificial flames for that cozy parlor look.

And Mr. Lucky actually allowed the central heat to be turned on. I only wish someone could explain to me why, when the air conditioner is set to 75 degrees in the summer, I'm still not cool enough, but when the weather turns cold and the heat is set to that same temp, I'm not warm enough?

After dinner Wednesday night, I had to cover some of the outdoor plants to protect them from the bitter cold, using Bear's top sheets. That kid will not take a top sheet on his bed--he just rips it out and crumples it into the nearest corner.

A sheet printed with pictures of Sponge Bob Square Pants and friends covered the hibiscus tree, next to our front walk. Mr. Lucky planted it last summer, and after a long period of adjustment, it finally started blooming recently, with frilly hybrid blossoms in multiple shades of pinky-peach.

Pokemon creatures covered the purple Mexican petunias, while Teletubbies protected the allamanda.

I used a sheet with pictures of Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story to cover the hibiscus bush at the corner of the house. Lately this bush has exploded with more than a dozen huge, bright yellow blossoms as big as my hands.

At 11 pm, the local news posted the temperature at 36 degrees. I peered out the living room window to check the sheets, and to my dismay noticed that Buzz and Woody had blown off the yellow hibiscus at the corner.

I ran outside to cover it back up, taking care to ensure the entire bush was covered on all sides. Yet the next morning, it was off again--yet all the other sheets remained in place.

The good news is that two days later, the yellow hibiscus seems none the worse for wear. The bad news is that even though Sponge Bob stayed put all that night, the frilly, peachy-pink hibiscus tree did not fare so well. The leaves were a limp, dark brownish-green, now turning yellow; the blossoms shriveled and drooping. I fear it's done for.

The ladybug was still hanging around Mr. Lucky's keyboard on Thursday afternoon. Knowing he'd never hear the end of it from me if the ladybug had an accident in his office, he coaxed it onto a sheet of paper and set it free on the dying hibiscus tree, as if its magic touch might help bring the tree back to life.

Alas, that ladybug must have other plans for us. I hope they're good.

Number of times I got up while writing this post: 9 (Who's surprised?)