Of Possibilities And Probabilities

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I had another birthday on October 1st. It seems it comes every year about this time and, once again,  I’m feeling like I have a year of possibilities ahead of me. By next year I will have completed, maybe sold, projects, lost weight, trained my dog, baked a perfect pie crust, read every book in the universe and turned back time to my forties.

That’s what I thought last year, too. And I wrote down my ambitious plans. In this blog. Posted them. Like a clueless fool. I thought of them as Probabilities instead of Possibilities.

I aimed to do a last edit and a final round of queries on Alex Bullied. I did do that. I said I would use the month of November, with NaNoWriMo to inspire me, to write the first draft of my next book, My Identical Cousin. I did that, too. So at the end of last November, I was still on track. I had to finish Cousin, turn Morning of the Mermaid into a graphic novel, and edit the sequel to my first book, Outlaws, which is the second in my series about an 1860’s girl, Carrie Sutton, and self-publish it as I had the first, Riding On The Wind. And I added a new nonfiction adult project, that I thought would be easy peesy and just plain fun to do. I could do all of this in ten months, right?

Not likely.

The adult project turned out to be tougher than I’d thought it would. I knew My Identical  Cousin needed to be deeper, needed another level and I wasn’t quite sure how to reach that level.

Then my much loved mother-in-law passed away in December. In January we traveled to Texas for her memorial. This did not contribute to a sense of  creativity.

I decided to focus on the nonfiction project in February. It required an artist, so finding one and communicating the book’s needs took time. And was distracting.

In April I was pacing and moaning to Husband how difficult  the nonfiction was proving to be and how I’d never make my November deadline. He said, “It doesn’t have to come out for Christmas.” I said, “Yes, it does.” He replied, “Not this Christmas.” Hallelujah! He was right. I put the deadline off a year to my, and my artist’s, relief.

In May I heard about the Big Sur in Cape Cod Writers Workshop for children’s writers, taking place in September. This seemed an ideal way to end my year. I hadn’t finished Cousin as I’d hoped, hadn’t made the progress on the nonfiction book I’d hoped, hadn’t turned Mermaid into a graphic novel nor edited Outlaws. But Husband was leaving for six weeks in Asia and during that time I would focus on and get Cousin into shape. There would be no more distractions.

And then the After happened …

July 22, the night before Husband was leaving for Asia, we went to a BBQ and I may have had a little too much, um, fun. Later, at home, when I brought my chiweenie out for a last potty trip in the backyard, I lost my balance, pitched forward and smashed my face onto a two-foot concrete retaining wall. I was instantly covered in blood. My face felt like mush. I felt like an idiot. I managed to get into the house, and to the bathroom where the mirror revealed a chunk of my forehead hanging loose. Husband says he will forever have the image burned on his brain of me, standing at the bedroom door, drenched in blood, saying “I think I need to go to the hospital.”

Oh, I just got that — “last potty trip.”

A night in the ER, forty-three stitches and possible fractures in my nose and cheek later, we were home and Husband was preparing to go to Asia. He couldn’t not go, as people there were depending on him and he was bringing equipment and products for a trade show. Best Friend stayed with me the first night. I knew I was okay, as far as concussions went, and I would be fine alone after that.

However, I sure didn’t feel like writing. Talk about a distraction. This pretty much finished me off. Recovery took predominance over everything else. I could sit in front of an ever streaming Netflix, but I didn’t have any desire to write or read. The stitches crossed my forehead and clustered around both eyes. I didn’t have pain, but it still felt awful, I thought it must be similar to botox, tight and unmoving.

So this is the After. I will have scars. I don’t know if my eyes will look normal. As I write this, the bridge of my nose and right eyelid and part of my forehead are still swollen. The right side of my head and forehead are numb due to the severed vein that runs up above the right eyebrow. How much feeling will return to these areas remains to be seen. But I am recovering.  I did make it to the Big Sur at Cape Cod Writers Workshop (more on that later) and I am back at my critique groups. I’m self conscious in public but a cap and dark glasses covers most of the evidence of the injury. I am back to writing.

The Birthday Year has passed and another has begun. I am once again excited and hopeful for the year ahead. I’ve made a list – but I’m not posting it and I’m letting it be more fluid this time. I know I have a year of possibilities ahead. Possibilities, not necessarily probabilities. Nothing is certain. We do the best we can.

Stayed tuned.

 

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Writing Humor is No Joke

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I’m taking my attempt seriously at making my middle grade novel, Alex Bullied, funnier. I need readers to understand immediately that this is a humorous take on bullying. It’s Revenge of the Nerds for the new millennium. No one thought that movie was pro-bully and neither is my book. So I have to make readers see that from the first line.

Could I teach myself to write funnier? Are there rules? Guidelines? It could be, as it is said with novel writing, that there are three rules – but no one knows what they are.
In the introduction to the book Comedy Writing Secrets by Mil Helitzer, we are told that the truth is anyone can learn to write humor. Humor writing can be taught and the skills can be acquired. This three-hundred page book with loads of overwhelming advice, gives a recipe for humor. The ingredients are Target, Hostility, Realism, Exaggeration, Emotion, and Surprise. It all starts with one cardinal rule: Don’t be inhibited. Its better to take a nihilistic attitude toward sensitive subjects than to pussyfoot around taboos. Nihilistic humor is based on the theory that there is no person or thing so sacred as to be beyond ridicule. That should include bullying, right? I mean, bullying is not a laughfest and I don’t mean it to be, but we can look at it with some humor, can’t we?
Gene Perret agrees in his book Damn! That’s Funny! Writing Humor You Can Sell. He says a quality that’s helpful to a humor writer is a sense of irreverence. By being irreverent, we purposely look for the fun rather than the gravity in everything. Mr. Perret encourages humor writers to “see the unusual, the bizarre, the zany, the wacky, the funny in whatever we observe. Don’t allow reality and pomposity to obscure your humorous point of view.”
One component for writing humor is realism. There has to be some fundamental basis of truth, something with which the reader can associate. The challenge is to take that truth and use another of those ingredients, exaggeration. Alex Bullied has that. A thirteen-year-old starting eighth grade in a new school, and the trepidation he feels, is reality based. The way The Mathia go after Alex is exaggerated almost to silliness. But maybe I need to up the silliness, the nonsensical. That’s what humor is, turning sense into nonsense. Stretch the truth to its limit.
Getting back to the recipe, three more ingredients are Hostility, Emotion and Surprise. I can think of few things more hostile than bullying. Emotion seems self- explanatory. How could you have humor without emotion? It’s no surprise that surprise is a major element of humor. Damn That’s Funny says it’s the essential element to humor. The funniest jokes are those with punch lines that surprise and, sometimes, shock us into laughter.
Finally that first ingredient in the recipe for writing humor – Target, which is the reader, our audience. The humorist expresses what the reader is thinking. I have to express what is going on in the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy. Whatever made me think I could do that? But then, why not?
There’s the voice, Alex’s voice, since it’s in first person POV. He should have a wry voice. His observations and thoughts should be twisted a bit. How do I do that? I think wry must come naturally, either you have it, or you don’t. The closest I may get is wry adjacent.
“Funny” is basically an attitude. It’s a whimsical, irreverent (that word, again), tongue-in-cheek look at practically everything. Humor is also subjective, so I know I won’t get everyone to laugh or even smile. Some readers are not going to like this book. Some are going to be offended by any humor associated with bullying. So be it. But this book also has an anti-bullying message, and may give a giggle to the bullied out there, to see Alex get what he’s given.
Which brings me back to the beginning of this blog post and the challenge of telegraphing to the reader that this is a comedy. I need to hint in the first line that this will be a humorous book. Even with bullying, laughter may be the best medicine.
I think I’m going to start with a fart. Stayed tuned.