Thursday, March 31, 2011

Evil Naughty Bad Synopsis!

In order to query certain agents, I have to have a 2–3 page synopsis of my novel. I tried writing one earlier, and I was up to 2 1/2 pages and had not even gotten past chapter three. I was doing something terribly wrong. It had started to read like I was rewriting the book, except this time it had no voice, no lyricism, and was concocted by a fifth-grade dullard. For example (not from my actual book):

Tom gets up. He turns the door handle. He opens the door. He goes outside. He is suddenly attacked by a meerkat!

So I tried again. This time better:

Tom is attacked by a meerkat!

But basically, this whole thing sucketh. I thought writing a query was tough, but this is horrendous. How can I possibly explain the intricacies involved in minor character C's small action which lead to very large revelations, which will play out about six chapters later? How can I include the various time travel sequences in my middle-grade novel, which are integral to the plot but in a synopsis would read as if I wrote it while riding on a tilt-o-whirl, drinking shots, and shouting "whee!"

After attempting this I have realized one nice thing: my novel does not lack in complexity. It has foreshadowing in Chapter One that only pays off at the very end. It is an intelligent person's novel. It defies easy observation. It is a clever tapestry in which, if I untie one thread, the whole might fall apart.

Damn it!

(That was kinda dumb of me to write a novel like that. Maybe I should have tried a debut book such as Billy and Boopsie's Trip to the Grocery Store, Little Cub Gets Lost, or How to Make A Sandwich?)

I would like to trot out this naughty synopsis in the public square and give it a good flogging, as it has been bad, and has treated me unkindly. Maybe a night in the stocks will serve it well. Yes. Yes. I will show it to the Time Out chair and let it know I mean business. It will gaze at me with red, angry eyes, however, and it will win. I will have to finish it.

Right now we are in a stand-off, and I do not like the rude looks it is giving me. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Putting the Query Horse Before the Novel Cart

For my next WIP (Work in Progress for those of you not cursed with the joys of being a writer), I decided I would try a different tack. I would write the query first, and then the book.

The query, or the short pitch that goes out to agents, causes writers much angst. It has to be a little work of art on all its own, a short-form beauty that gives just enough information about the story to entice (but not too much! A man in boxer shorts gazing off at the clouds is infinitely more sexy than a man eyeing his exposed privates with a dumb, simian gaze.) It must convey voice, a delectable suggestion of the plot, originality, and no grievous errors that might cause an agent to shout: "Fail! Delete!" Whole query-writing forums have sprung up to address the delicate issue of writing the perfect query. I cannot possibly address all the intelligence here. Many much wiser than I am have written much on the topic; Google it, and visit Query Tracker—an amazing resource.

Writers complain a lot about the query. And the truth is, it is tough to distill your chef d'oeuvre into a nugget of wonderfulness that will cause an agent's hair to spring into wild, excited curls. Or, if she/he is curly-headed by birth, to give him/her an instant Brazilian Blowout. Tough, but then you realize: It's another writing exercise. And I am a writer! How handy. I shall use my skills to turn this task into an excuse to dodge, parry, thrust with my keyboard. Ha! Take that!

But then I thought: why not try the opposite? I'll write a query for a really fun and ridiculous book—the query that I would love to send out if only I could. And then I will have to write it. Oops! It was different. I wasn't trying to distill a book. Instead, I was just having fun with my keyboard. It was like a miniature short story. When I saw what I had written I thought: "Well, how the hell will I achieve that? What on Earth did this character do to get where he is? Did I have to include murder? Who the 'hey is getting murdered? How do I get there, anyway?"

The challenge is set. I have set out to meet my query. 5,000+ words and growing. If my blog grows dark on occasion, you will understand. Huzzah!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rejection Hurts. Now There's Rejectozolaxil®.

Writers: Has the sting of rejection taken the spring out of your typing fingers? Maybe it's time to speak with your doctor about Rejectozolaxil®.

Rejectozolaxil® is a prescription medicine used to treat the unsettling symptoms of being rejected by agents, editors, and that kid who snubbed you at the eighth-grade dance—symptoms that include weeping, tearing at garments, hot flushes of shame, sticking one's head into a snowbank or a pot of hot stew, tics, agitation, sudden incontinence, and bitch-slapping.

The makers of Rejectozolaxil® know that no one can make you feel like crap, except yourself...and maybe also that weird neighbor who dresses like an Abu Ghraib prison guard, even when it's not Halloween, and keeps unleashing his dogs when you walk past. Rejectozolaxil® takes those unhappy feelings away and replaces them with sunshine and bunnies. Fat little bunnies wearing tutus, and holding royalty checks for your brilliant smash-hit book in their rabbity teeth. 

Have you just received word that an agent or an editor doesn't like your book—the very book that you spent ten years writing on tiny scraps of toilet tissue when you were in that prison camp? No worries! Rejectozolaxil® will cause you to laugh gaily in the face of rejection, and break into a tap-dance routine that will stun any passers-by. Rejectozolaxil® turns a "no" into a delusional "yes" faster than a date rapist!

Rejectozolaxil® is not for everyone. If you are a drunken old man with a shotgun collection, you should not take Rejectozolaxil®. Speak with your doctor about side effects, which may include megalomania, crowing like a sex-crazed rooster, leaping from buildings with those cardboard wings you made attached to your back with duct tape, writing your prose poems on the exposed flesh of strangers with permanent marker, passing out invisible and imaginary copies of your published book, and fecal urgency.

Severe but rare reactions include having the characters in your novel come to life and seek revenge on the person who was heartless enough to reject you. This can be particularly dangerous for writers of paranormal, dark fantasy, zombie/mutant stories, and cookbooks.

Warning: Rejectozolaxil® is intended for rejected writers only. It is not intended for use by spurned lovers, job applicants, and kids who aren't invited to play tag at the playground. If such individuals take Rejectozolaxil®, they will decide they are great writers, too, and they will ask you to read their horrible poetry at every opportunity.

Talk to your doctor today about Rejectozolaxil®, and become the greatest writer of all time.

Rejectozolaxil®: A sugar pill with the words "You're awesome!" stamped on it worked just as well in clinical trials so we thought that would make an interesting tagline.

Eat me, and you shall be the greatest writer of all time! Bigger even than G-d, who wrote that big bestselling doorstopper of a book! Your book will have shiny awards on it, and G-d's book does not.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I was a little worried about  Supermoon™, the extra large and fatty moon now hanging in the sky and staring at me with it blazing, Cyclopean eye. Would it be malevolent? Beneficient? Would it pull the spittle from my body, remorselessly, with its frightening gravitational pull? Would it perhaps pull the fur off cats and the feathers off chickens? Would it cause madness?

Supermoon™ eats a small city.

Although I thought about flinging the curtains aside in Youngest Son's room while he slumbered, revealing Supermoon™, I did not. I expected him to scream and shield his poor eyes from the thing. "It's a grotesque orb of omnipotent light!" he would have cried, in his babyish slur. "I say NO. Go 'way!"

To my immense pleasure, Supermoon™ has proven to be an aid in needful times. As soon as it rose with its megalomaniacal glow, it quickly tore the back of our house off, reduced it to rubble, and replaced it with a brand new kitchen. It chose Corian ® countertops and a really nice Wolf gas stove.

"Thanks, Supermoon™!" I cried, with happy heart, but it was not done. I noted that it had captivated the several teenagers whom, late last night, had attempted a "ding, dong, ditch" maneuver on our elderly neighbor. They were walking toward the sea, completely in the sway of Supermoon™, and will soon be swimming vainly toward distant Long Island. Ah, Supermoon™, ye are powerful.

Supermoon™ also has a habit of tearing up sidewalks and uprooting trees, which is rather naughty. But Supermoon™ cannot be blamed, for it has been 18 long years since it asserted such power. Supermoon™has been making a lot of political connections during that dormant period and is now ready to overtake the world. It will start by getting larger, larger, and larger and then eating your grandmother and all her china and underthings!

Supermoon™, I want you to know that I am thankful for my new kitchen and I did not slander you, even during the times when you were but a wee sliver. Please do not eat me. I think you are very grand and bright. You make me want to use ALL CAPS. youcause miusspellings and typofoggragfical eorors. Supermoon™, come back in 18 more years and I shall cook you a dinner on my fine new gas stove! By then, the sidewalk will have been repaired and I will most certainly need you to deliver a new Sub-Zero refrigerator.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Doctor, Lawyer, Winkie Manufacturer

My son's second grade class is doing a community project, in which they are tasked with interviewing local workers. They asked for parent volunteers to go into the classroom and be interviewed by the children, and I said I would do it. I went in this morning.

Thank goodness my many phobias do not include extemporaneous speaking; the children hammered with me with relentless questions that reminded me of bad job interviews, including:

How do the goods and services you provide impact the community in positive ways?
How do you see your career changing in the next ten years?
Do you like horror movies?

No sooner did I answer one question than 10 more hands shot up. Later, I asked my son what other careers different parents had.

"Well, this one dad makes fake winkies."

"What do you mean, 'fake winkies'?"

"He makes them for people whose real winkies have fallen off in an accident or something."

"Do you mean protection for winkies, like when kids play sports?"

"No, real fake winkies! It's a fake winkie company. They provide goods and services that help the community. Like, if you lose your winkie, you get a new one. The company is called Hot Shots."

Hot Shots? They named their prosthetic penis company hot shots?

Then he said: "We learned the Winkie Block. Hawww!" And he covered his privates with his hands in a sudden crossed-arm motion. "That protects you from losing your winkie to an unfortunate accident!"

"That's not such good business sense," I said. "For a company that makes money out of providing fake winkies?"

I stared at him really hard but he did not flinch. I still suspect that I have been duped.

And this completes my trifecta of posts about weenies and winkies! Thank you and good night, Mamaroneck!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stuffed Animals With the Heads of Men

Always alert to iconic ponies, especially pink ponies, I spotted this display in the window of the ISE Cultural Foundation in SoHo, whose mission on their web site reads: "In the generation of globalization, cross-national and regional activities have been splendid in the field of arts." Do we think they are fulfilling said mission? I vote YES. This is entirely splendid. I spent many fond moments examining the creatures while keeping an eye out for the Tribeca Taco Truck.

(Can anyone identify the men depicted in the below photos?)

Bald, malevolent, dangling, pink. Everything one wants in a pony. But not everything one wants in a man's weiner, not really. Why did I even write that previous sentence? Hey, lookit the cute pony! He is mad.

So many things are happening here. Those penile projections are releasing weird globular goofballs into the air, while things with fur and heads are dropping from above. The furred things are scared. What will happen when they reach the bottom? Maybe a furred shark with the head of Mr. T will rise up and devour them? These activities have been splendid!
I got a close-up of this one. His voice through the glass was tiny, yet audible. He said, among other things that were unprintable: "Good Lord! Is that a first-generation iPhone?"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Prodding and Poking With Naughty Intent

Esteemed second son (age 5) has gotten into trouble ever since he started kindergarten.

The child lives in his own imaginary video game. He doesn't walk—not anywhere, and not for any reason. When he moves he runs, bounces, leaps, twirls, and scuttles. When moving from room to room, he jumps from one edge of the carpet to another, and sidles along the wall. He's clearly thinking that the plain wood floor is made of boiling lava and alligators.

All the while, he keeps up a running patter of nonsensical singing (mostly half under his breath) and poop/fart talk.

"Fart! Fart! In my apple tart! Farty butt doo-dee! Farty butt doo-DEE!"

He repeats a phrase so often that he becomes breathless. When you try to catch his attention, it usually takes about six tries. His pockets are filled with "nature" and found objects. He often gives one crumpled bits of nothingness as gifts—like some lint stuck together with glue and popsicle sticks and some old cheese wax and wrapped up with ripped tin foil, then tied with a used ribbon. The Tiger Mother would have hurled such items into the garbage with a disparaging "pfah!", but I line them up on my desk until I can bury them under cover of night.

Anyway, Second Son's antics didn't serve him so well in school, where he has to sit still and pay attention at times. First, his teacher mentioned the "little noises and squeaks" he makes during circle time. Then there was the "inappropriate touching." He had "poor impulse control" and a tendency toward rude language.

(He's really a very bright and marvelous and whimsical child, although I realize that I have described him almost exactly as I would describe a fictional child with a curious collection of special needs.)

Photocopied apology notes started to show up at home:
"Sorry for the badness in gym."
"I am sorry I punched you. I am still your friend."
"Sorry for breaking the pencil."
"Sorry I pinched your butt."

Second Son and two other boys in the Kindergarten class started a gang of sorts. The gang's sole purpose was to bother other members of the gang. Poking, pushing, and kicking soon led them to be the first Kindergarten kids in memory to be referred for weekly Group Counseling Sessions with the school psychologist. There, they would forsake their naughty ways and learn not to prod and poke one another with evil intent.

It seemed to have worked, for Second Son recently announced that he had "given away his bad."

"Who'd you give it away to?" asked the teacher's assistant nervously. "Someone in the class? Can you give us a name?"

All was well for about a month until today, when I arrived to pick him up from school. The teacher pulled me over and said: "We had a little problem this week."

"More punching?"

"No, we had some penis touching."*

"His own? Or others'?"

"Ah, well...both. He thought I didn't see him, but I caught it out of the corner of my eye. Several times."

The teacher reached her hand out to demonstrate, and gave a very light and gentle "poke!" into the air.

"At least he was gentle about the whole thing!" I said.

"Very gentle!" she agreed. "Very gentle!"


*Note: The touching was to the penile "area." No actual winkies were touched.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

People pay good money for my anxiety symptoms

Lots of people would pay 50 dollars to have just a shred of the adrenalin that regularly courses through my bloodstream, rendering me dizzy, breathless, and fraught with the sensation that the world is a weird dream and I am seeing it all as if through a dirty shard of winter ice plucked from my driveway.

Why do I have such sensations? Well, because I am quite possibly an idiot. It may also be because I have a vivid imagination, which, if not occupied 24/7 with challenging and diversionary tactics, starts to eat itself. I try to think that nervous exhaustion will make me a better writer, and possibly give me colorful dreams in which bunnies give me candy. Unfortunately, it usually tends to limit my behavior, and it had started to limit it to such a degree that I suddenly found driving on the highway terribly frightening. The speed! The trucks! Without warning, my vision would get starry, my heart would race, and my hands would slip on the wheel.

The first time this happened, on the way to birthday party, I asked my seven-year-old to talk me in. "Talk me home, baby!" I shouted. "Talk about poop or farts if you wish, but keep talking, for God's sake! Mommy doesn't feel so good."

"Poop! Poop! In my soup!" he replied, helpfully.

Why am I so fearful? Is it because of the large tiger that I transport around? Maybe I should return the basket of spitting adders that usually ride in the passenger seat. They have become ornery, after all.

I decided I needed to arrest this nonsense in its tracks, so I recently signed up for an online course called The Linden Method. It cost 87 dollars. Yes, I am paying a lot of money I don't have, just to eliminate the unsettling sensations that others pay for when they eagerly decide to bungee jump, leap out of planes, see a horror movie, or ride a rollercoaster. (I hate rollercoasters. Horrible things.) Couldn't I bottle the stuff?

I like The Linden Method, so far.  I'll report more on it in future entries. Today, I decided I would try one of his tactics, called "diversion," during my MRI at White Plains Hospital. I had the MRI due to a strange little lump below my shoulderblade, which is most likely nothing whatsoever but needed to be "checked out."

The MRI is like being stuck in a tube while someone tries to create alternative music with a lawn mower nearby. The noise was tremendous and pounding: "Boom-boom-boom-boom! Mee-me-me-me-me! Wangh-wangh-wangh-wangh!" It goes on for numerous three-minute sessions and then you hear the tiny voice of the technician in your ear, under the giant headphones. "Everything OK?"

"Uh huh."

"Okay, three more minutes."

Then they take you out and stick a needle in your arm that injects something into your bloodstream and repeat the whole process again. And you can't move during the whole thing, not a bit! They told me that men don't do very well with the experience. Men cry and beat on the insides of the tube and are pulled out soaked in sweat.

"I can handle this," I said stoutly.

When they put me in I decided I needed a diversion. I recited the multiplication table in my head.
"4 x 4 is 16! 4 x 5 is 20! 4 x 6 is 24!" I got a little stuck late in the nines, and by the time I figured it out I realized I wasn't scared at all. I had forgotten to be scared. I was worried about the nines! I got so bored with the dumb multiplication table that I almost fell asleep. It was warm in that tube. No one was bothering me. My cell phone wouldn't ring here. I did get a little worried that the magnetic business involved would pull the fillings out of my teeth, but that was a passing agitation.

Of course, driving home I got a little nervous again, so when I started feeling jittery behind the wheel I impetuously tossed a cup of ice water all over myself. I had bought it at the hospital when they told me I needed to hydrate after the MRI. Linden had suggested that applying a cold cloth to one's neck was helpful, so I thought: "Why not take this theory to the next level?"

The ice cubes slipped down inside my shirt and fell all over my lap; some fell on the floor and crunched under the clutch. My shirt was soaked, but not from sweaty terrors. I felt like a dope but I didn't care. I glanced over to the car stopped next to me at the red light. Due to the tinted windows, I couldn't tell if the driver was looking at me with a puzzled expression. When the light changed I fired that little Jetta out of the gate.

"So long, suckas!" I said.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"All the good books have been written!"

My eldest son (age 7) put his head in his hands yesterday, without warning, and started to cry.

"What's wrong? " I asked.

"You wouldn't understand," he cried, sprinting from the room. "I am jealous of you!"

I chased after him and found him cowering by a bookshelf in the living room. I crouched down: "Why would you be jealous of ME?"

If anything, I am jealous of HIM. He is seven. He has energy. He has his whole life ahead of him. He can play the piano and compose his own songs. All I have left to my name is the fact that I now have decent hair, thanks to a treatment called "The Brazilian Blowout." That will fade in a couple of months, leaving me nothing but the after-effects of formaldehyde poisoning. He will go on to do great things.

He tucked his head under his arm like an angry little bird and cried inconsolably. Finally, I coaxed him to lift his head, and he glared sidelong at the shadowed wall over his bent arm. The skin under his eyes was pink and raw. He would not meet my eye.

"You are a better writer than I am," he finally confessed. And he burst into a fresh round of hot tears.

I was baffled. I spoke not.

Then he went on: "You wrote a book. I have written nothing, nothing!" He moaned like something hurt him.

I said: "My book is not yet published. And you are only seven. I have had lots of practice writing."

"Ah! It will be!" he accused. "I might have had an idea like that. To write that kind of book. But now I can't write it. You have already written it!" His entire tone suggested that he was ruined. He glared at me with such enmity that I was reminded of a long-ago continuing education course at Gotham Writer's Workshop, when the instructor had cast me a look of barely-concealed loathing for coming up with a short-story idea that he claimed he "had also had but hadn't had a chance to attend to yet." (That dumb story was never published, by the way. It sits on my hard drive somewhere, buried and unattended.)

"Oh gosh," said I. "You will write your own book if you want, and it will be great, and your own."

"All the good books have been written," he said mournfully, stompling up the stairs in his footie pajamas. "And my imagination was better when I was younger."

We reached his bedroom. Together, we cast a sad glance at the titles on his shelf. There were featured authors such as J.K. Rowling, Cornelia Funke, Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis. He's read them all. The kid is kind of a voracious reader.

"See all those?" I said. "Do I often wish that I had written them? Why yes, I do, for then we would be rich, and could afford a kitchen makeover, like the one advertised on the box of Crispix cereal. But we all have to write our own stories, eh?"

I pulled out a volume of The Hobbit and opened my mouth to speak about its virtues, but he cut me off.

"Oh no, not THAT one!" he shouted. "That author makes me most jealous of all! I can't even TALK about it!" He clambered up to his bunk bed with such alacrity that the floorboards shook.

"Oh, I know," I said, sadly. "I know."