Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Very Important Lesson about Writing. With Random Fartage. (#ThrowbackThursday)

Hey, I'm kind of digging this #ThrowbackThursday thing. Even if it involves plagiarizing some of my earlier posts. 

(Is self-plagiarism a thing? Oh, well. I'm fairly sure I won't be suing me. Not unless I get really desperate, that is.)

This week's edition of #TBT is from March 2010, and involves an actual lesson in writing. If you dig deeply enough, that is. 

If you're not a writer, please just sit back and enjoy the flight. :)

Epiphanies in the Air: Flying, Fartage, and Phobias

I hate flying.

Well, it's not really the flying I hate so much as the not being able to get off the airplane if--and precisely when--I want to. So it's really more like claustrophobia, plane-ophobia?

Maybe if I could wear a parachute, and be assured the flight attendant would open the door for me if I wanted off, maybe then I'd like it better.

Nah, that wouldn't work. There's that whole being terrified of jumping out of planes from thirty thousand feet up to consider.


So, what I do with it. The rare occasions when I must fly, I suck it up (along with a martini or two) and deal. It's worked for me so far. Sure, I get a few looks on morning flights, but that's a small price to pay for avoiding a major panic attack.

What I can't seem to avoid on planes is the person who is operating under some sort of divine imperative to Tell Me His Life Story. (And by "his" I mean, for the most part, "her," but I try not to impugn my own gender when speaking in generalities.)

It's my own fault. I exude a talk-to-me vibe. I realize this. There's just something about me that says "I am utterly fascinated by every aspect of your being--please share!" Maybe it's the glow from the martinis.

The last time this happened (on a looong flight to Seattle) the woman sitting next to me pounced before I could pull my book of crossword puzzles out of my over-sized, stuffed-to-the-gills handbag (hey, when I travel, I like to be prepared for any eventuality--you never know when you might need a tape measure, three Chinese take-out menus, or an industrial-sized bottle of Tums).

So, my new traveling companion--let's call her, oh, I don't know...does "Gabby" work for you?--caught my eye. I hadn't even scored a freakin' martini yet, so it couldn't have been the glow. Maybe she smelled the fear and, predator-like, struck while the opportunity was ripe.

I tried to look away, but it was too late. She smiled at me. I can't be rude to somebody who smiles at me, especially twinkly little gray-haired ladies who look like everyone's favorite grandma. It is physically impossible for me to cold-shoulder them.

An obvious pro at getting right down to the nitty-gritty before the possibility of being cut off, she started with her recent gall-bladder surgery, apologizing in advance for the emanations she feared might waft over from her general direction. Sadly, the operation had upset her system.

Oh, joy. So not only would my ears be assaulted, but if I was interpreting her delicate references correctly, my nose was in for quite a ride too.

I wanted to jam my hands together in the classic time-out signal and squeal "TMI! TMI!!" (that stands for "Too Much Information," for those of you not up on interwebz lingo), but courtesy forbade. Instead, I beckoned the flight attendant and tried to pre-order a martini using an elaborate system of hand and eyebrow gestures. She wasn't amused, and I'm sure she put me on a List.

From there Gabby segued directly to grandchildren (the visiting of whom was the reason for her own flight). Takes a while to get through every milestone of cuteness in the lives of three children. And then came the pets. Two cockapoos and an ancient pekenese, all with impacted "you-know-where" glands that required regular draining (she could warn me about impending fartage but couldn't bring herself to say "anal"?), and she was terribly worried her pet-sitter would neglect to do that while she was away.

Huh, I thought while smiling blandly (the first martini having been delivered somewhere around her granddaughter's first ballet recital...or was it her youngest grandson's honorable mention in the Junior Golf Championship?), you can bet your sweet bippy I'D be skipping that particular chore if I were pet sitting for you.

But of course, I only nodded sympathetically and chewed my olives.

THAT, dear blog reader, is when I had my Great Backstory Epiphany.

And here it is: Nobody cares.

Simple, huh? Nobody who doesn't know you gives a flip about the minutia of your life.

(Unless you're a celebrity, and really that's only because they feel like they know you. Or sometimes if you're really pretty, because they think listening attentively will get them laid.)

Here's the writing connection: it goes for your characters, too.

Early in your book, before the readers have learned who your characters currently are--right now, in the characters' "present"--they aren't interested in what happened to them before. It has no relevance until the reader knows enough about what's happening "now" to care about what happened "then." (Unless the "then" is a terribly sensational scandal of some sort, fascinating in its own right, in which case it should probably be part of your main story, not your backstory.)

[I KNOW. It's been said thousands of times before, highlighted in every book on writing you've ever read. But sometimes it takes a real life connection to make it sink in. It did for me, anyway. Maybe you're better about learning vicariously.]

So, when adding in your backstory (which is not entirely avoidable--your main story must have context), try to use a light hand. Reveal the past on a need-to-know basis. Retain a little mystery. Trust me, your traveling companion--*cough* I mean, your reader--will appreciate it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

#ThrowbackThursday: A Lesson in Juggling, AKA Knive and Wives and Girlfriends

Still digging through my archives and resuscitating posts that most of you might have missed. This one harkens back to September 2010, and recounts a tale that harkens back even further. 

(Sidenote: The word of the day appears to be "harkens.")

Knives and wives and girlfriends, oh my!

I'm so excited!!!

Why, you ask? What could possibly have Linda jumping up and down to the extent she wishes she'd invested in a heavy duty sports bra?

Well, I'll tell you. I just found out The Flying Karamazov Brothers are coming back to The Barns (the theater where TG is the reigning deity) next month, with their show entitled "4-Play."*

These guys are fan-effing-tastic! A comedy troupe that juggles. Yes, a juggling comedy troupe! Sooo funny, sooo talented, AND they sometimes wear KILTS!

Didja hear that, ladies? I said KILTS! And they all have really nice legs, which would be enough to make me watch them, but did I mention they also juggle while wearing kilts? What's not to love about that?

Aah, memories... *loses self in reverie*

You see, this is not the first time the troupe of kilted jugglers has been here. Many, many moons ago (as in, the '90s -- you know, the Dark Ages), The Flying Karamazov Brothers came to play at The Barns. The troupe has morphed since then--only one of the original members is left--but the spirit of F-U-N is the same.

On that memorable occasion, I actually got to be up close and personal with the guys. They were doing two shows--a matinee and an evening performance--so naturally TG, being the hospitable guy he is, invited the whole troupe and crew to our house for a meal in between. Even though we had two little kids at home, I don't really cook, and my elderly aunt from Sweden was visiting. Not that I'm holding a grudge or anything. I mean, I agreed and all. Still, I think he owes me for pulling it off.

Yeah, I know. Me, cooking. It is to laugh. But it's amazing what you can do with two frozen lasagnas (one with meat and one without, because there's always a vegetarian in an artsy crowd), bags o' salad, and baguettes from the bakery. If there's anyone who can throw together a passable meal without actually cooking, it's me.

The first thing you should know about jugglers is, duh, they juggle. All the time, apparently. Whatever they can get their hands on will go flying through the air. Yes, they're always honing those mad skillz.

Honing is what makes them professionals. *looks meaningfully at all writers reading this* Take from that what you will.

Part of The Karamazov Brothers' schtick is a trick called "The Gamble," in which one of them (designated "The Champ") juggles any three items provided by the audience (as long as the items weigh more than an ounce, less than 10 lbs, are no bigger than a breadbox, and are not live animals**). Said items are voted on by the audience members, so the guys don't know in advance what they will have to juggle.

TG says the most memorable thing an audience member brought to The Barns for this trick was a pig stomach stuffed with green jello. Eeew.

(I believe animal parts have since been added to the list of no-nos, at least at The Barns. So if you're planning to come to the show, don't bring any. Frankly, TG doesn't want to deal with it.)

They have another bit, called "The Terror Trick," wherein they juggle a salt shaker, a cleaver, a flaming torch, an egg, a block of dry ice, a fish, a ukelele, a bottle of champagne (with the safety wire removed), and a skillet. By the end of the trick, they're frying the fish and egg in the skillet, and drinking the champagne.

(Huh. Maybe I should've let them cook...)

At my house, they limited themselves to juggling a peanut, a bottle from the bar, a banana from the fruit basket, and a knife. Oh, and one of them was also juggling his girlfriend and his wife (who showed up *cough* unexpectedly to visit him on the tour). That was rather awkward.

What could a good hostess do? Other than seat them all at separate tables, smile brightly, and engage the wife in a halting Swedish-English conversation, with the help of a handy visiting aunt, while TG enlisted everyone else's aid in keeping the girlfriend from drinking too much wine and spilling the beans to the clueless wife over dessert.

Gotta love showbiz.

(No, I won't tell you which Karamazov brother it was. Contrary to the impression I may have left on loyal readers of this blog, I do have some discretion. Doesn't matter anyway--he's no longer with the troupe. I suspect the on-the-road "juggling" became too much of a challenge for his personal life to sustain.)

Anyway, I cannot wait to see their new show. TG hasn't said yet if he's invited them over for an encore meal. I suspect he's waiting to see if any of them have additional *cough-cough* baggage to deal with before making the commitment.

*Admit it. You were expecting me to make a crass foreplay joke here, weren't you? Well, some set-ups are just too easy. No challenge. Besides, you were already thinking it, so what's the point?

**TG tells me the items also cannot present a danger to the audience or the juggler, should a mishap occur. So you wouldn't be allowed to give them, say, a balloon full of sulfuric acid or a piece of dynamite. In case you were considering it.

[Back to 2015]

Yes, the Flying Karamozov Brothers still perform. If you ever get a chance to see them, do it! Though you might not want to sit in the front row. Just sayin'. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Huh. Smells a little fishy to me (a #ThrowbackThursday post)

Wow. It's already Thursday again. Seriously, Universe, stop it already with this warp speed stuff. It's messin' wit' my head!


Okay, so in honor (once again) of #ThrowbackThursday, I dug into my archives and am resuscitating a post from a while back. If it smells a little funny, bear in mind it's almost five years old, and we all know fish start to stink after a few days. ;)

Bam-Bam, the Fish, and the Universe

My dad died when I was twelve and my baby brother was three.

(Relax. This isn't going to be a maudlin post.)

My older brothers and I did our best to help Mom with, oh, let's call him "Bam-Bam." Because that's what we did call him. See, he had this little wooden hammer, and was not bashful about using it...but that's not really germane to this story.

One of my dad's favorite pastimes was fishing. We'd go to the lake in the summer, and stay for a few days or a week, depending on how much time off Dad could get. He would spend every spare second down on the dock, fishing. My older brothers spent their fair share of time there with him, proudly holding their rods. (Heh-heh.)

I'd join them sometimes, mainly to watch. And *cough* possibly to make a lot of noise, trying to scare the fish away before they were hooked. (Yeah, imagine how popular I was with the menfolk.) What can I say? I was a soft-hearted twerp. Besides, the worms were icky. I couldn't bear to squish them onto the hooks myself, and even when my dad did it for me, it still freaked me out. I mean, eew. Worm guts.

So I spent most of my time in the camp's rec room, playing ping-pong and drinking Delaware Punch (the only non-carbonated beverage in the soda machine. Oh, and reading, of course. Good times.

Bam-Bam wasn't old enough for any quality dock time before Dad died, but he'd heard stories. When he was about six, he got it into his head that he wanted to go fishing, just like his daddy. My other brothers were busy doing teenage boy things, and Mom didn't fish, so I figured it was up to me.

Trouble was, I still couldn't stand to, you know...

 Which was really fine, because I sure as heck didn't want to deal with... actual fish.

See, what I had in mind was a nice afternoon bonding with my baby brother while he dangled a worm-less hook in the water. Pretending to fish. After all, just holding the pole was the important part. (Honest to God, I tried to come up with a way to not make that sound like a double entendre, but I don't think there is one.) Anyway, no worm, no possibility I'd have to deal with a fish, right?

Ha. Hahahahahahaha. HA! (That would be hysterical hindsight laughter.)

So, what do you suppose happened the very first time Bam-Bam dropped that hook in the water, and jerked it back out in his sheer enthusiasm for the activity?

That's right. He hooked a fish. Through its back.

There, dangling from Bam-Bam's fishing line, was a four-inch, silver-gray fish who was suddenly having a very bad day.

Picture it: you are the Einstein of fishes, much too smart to snap at a worm on a hook. No, you'd rather starve than place your mouth on any strangely still, hook-shaped worms. Because you know better. And then out of nowhere comes a freakin' worm-free hook, speeding through the water above you, and before you can wiggle your tail and swim away you are suspended in front of a six-year-old human boy shrieking, "Can we eat it? Huh? Can we eat it?"

Like I said. Bad day for the fish. (And me--I had to *shudder* take the hook out.) But Best Day Ever for my baby brother, even though I had to explain to him that we had to throw the fish back because it was too small to keep. Didn't matter to him. He'd caught his fish.

There's a lesson in there somewhere. Something about never taking anything for granted. Or about how life can surprise you in the damnedest ways. Or how, even when the odds are against you, things sometimes work out. Or perhaps how point of view is everything (think of the fish). Take your pick. Me, I just look back on it and laugh.

How about you? Has life handed you any small surprises? How'd they work out for you?