Essays, Misc

Once You Publish, NEVER Leave Home in Pajamas

You could say I learned a lesson today, one many of you will probably have a good laugh over but one which could also save you a ton of embarrassment. Trust me. Here’s how it all went down.

So, this is week 6 of my medical leave from work. You could say I have adapted to home life. I like comfort, pajamas, fuzzy socks and drinking coffee in the afternoon. And it’s Friday, the best day of the workweek, so I decided to take it easy. In my defense, I did do some chores in between watching the rest of Season Two of V (which is a great show, and how dare they end the series on a cliffhanger like that!?) Um…anyway, 3:30 comes around and I had to pick up the kids from school.

Like I said, I took it easy today. As in, staying in my Lazy-Ass-Comfy-Clothes, and the last thing I wanted was to change into Decent-Well-Fitting-Constricting Clothes for 20 minutes only to change back once I returned home. For the visual ones out there reading this,  today’s attire featured 15-year-old karate pants, a t-shirt and a sweater, all of it covered in cat and dog hair. Yeah, sexy, I know. But I figured, “I’ll drive to school, stay in the car and when the kids appear, I’ll wave. No one will see me, I won’t have to talk to anyone and I can make a clean getaway.”

From soundscapemusictherapy.com
From soundscapemusictherapy.com

Right.

15 minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot and found a great spot where I could see the door where the kids come out. All I had to do was wave and Voilà! The kids would see me and come running…

Until I remembered that the teacher who comes out with the kids doesn’t release them until she sees the parent. Which meant I would have to get out of the car. Which meant I would have to enter the circle of waiting parents all of whom were wearing appropriately Decent-Constricting-Clothing. Which meant I WOULD NOT escape being seen in my pet-hair-bedazzled glory.

So I bit the bullet and got out. I hung back, close to the car to wait.

 And then it happened.

“Hi, Dyane! How are you?” called the mother of my son’s classmate. Her voice rang out through the parking lot.

I shifted uncomfortably under the glare of the bright spring sun. “I’m great, how are you?”

“Doing alright. Hey, I just wanted to let you know that me and my husband read the article on you in the community paper. And that story about the cat! We bawled our eyes out.” (FYI that would be Shadow in the Sun)

Hearing this, I started to feel just a tad less pet-hair-hairy. “Really? Wow, thanks! I’m sorry it made you guys cry but I’m really happy you liked it.”

“But it was in a good way! We love cats and had to put down 3 in the last five years, so we really felt it.”

We chatted about it for a few more minutes before she left to pick up her son. I had a few seconds to breathe before another parent I know came along. Turned out, she’d parked right next to me.

“Hi! Congratulations on your book!” she said as she approached. Luckily, she didn’t seem to notice my way-too-baggy pants and its failing waist elastic.  

“Thanks!”

“You know, it’s great that you were able to achieve your dreams. So many people never do.”

Then she asked how she could support me, whether by buying the book at the local bookstore or on Amazon. I mean, how cool is that?

I’ve been writing a lot about the Writer’s Life and finding meaning in what we do, especially since for the most part most of us will never become famous or best-selling authors. The less time I spend worrying about what I’m NOT doing right to sell books online and focus more on the community and meeting flesh and blood people in regards to my book and writing, the more fun I have. Talking to real people, getting heartfelt feedback about how a story touched them or being encouraged because I managed to achieve my lifelong dream of publishing is so satisfying…even when I’m totally not prepared for it.

From glenwood.org
From glenwood.org

So, I guess I’m trying to advocate for authors to get involved in both online and community networking. Our friends and contacts can be great supporters and resources. We all know that word of mouth and personalized recommendations from one person to another are some of the best publicity we can get. And, as I’ve said many times before, nothing beats a firm handshake, a big smile, and hearing the words, “Great job on your book!”

Happy community networking!

Essays, Misc, Stories

Subtext: Writing a Story Within a Story

Writers write for different reasons, but usually it’s because, well, we have something to say. Sometimes, just what that might be isn’t known at the moment we sit down at the computer. Then there are times we know exactly what the message is and we set to writing it with purpose and effort. Then how come, even then, we end up with luke-warm responses or with something that isn’t as memorable as we’d thought?

I’d like to look at something I think is often missing in stories, particularly short stories and flash fiction: writing with subtext. Now, especially in flash fiction, there often isn’t a lot of room for ‘extras’ but that doesn’t mean we can’t take time to think about the elements we do use in order to craft a meaningful piece. Any story we write is meant to have impact, but if the reader forgets about it seconds after reading, well that’s bit of a disappointment, isn’t it?

A quick search on subtext revealed a lot of posts on dialog and setting and how to use them to imply what is not expressly written. For this post, I’m taking it a little larger in the sense of looking at meanings or ideas which underlie the ‘cover story’, which can be communicated through various devices like dialogue and setting. So why is subtext important? It’s because it’s the jewel buried under the obvious which adds depth to the story and characters while creating the emotional connection we all search for in a read. Without it, stories can come off feeling flat. Or worse, end up forgettable.

I’m not saying I have the magic solution to this, but I do think adding layers of subtext can help. To start, we have to begin thinking about our stories on more than one level. Decide on your ‘cover story’, the surface one the reader came to read. Then take time to consider what elements are driving and influencing that story. What motivates these characters—what do they fear or worry, what is their internal or external conflict really rooted in? How do these elements affect the stakes? Now, the key is not to bash the reader over the head with this information or it would no longer be subtext but part of the cover story. But by carefully planning when, where and how much information to include without interrupting the flow of the main story, you can take your story from 2D to 3D.

One example of this is a flash fiction piece I wrote a while back called Shadow in the Sun. (You can decide it’s worth but I use it because a reader specifically mentioned its subtext so I figured it responded to the purpose of this post. For the sake of space, I’ll only include the link but feel free to read it). On first glance, this is a story about a sad woman burying her dead cat, and some stories would stay on that level (and that’s fine). But as this story develops, it becomes clear that this cat represented much more to her than being a simple pet. The clues left for the reader infer a) what happened to her b) how she felt about it c) how she dealt with it, and leaves the reader to piece together the real story and to make the connection with the act of burying the cat. What’s important is that the reader comes to their own conclusions, and owning them, creates their own unique relationship to the story. And that, I think, is the true power of subtext.

Anyway, those are a few thoughts on subtext. Anyone have other thoughts or ideas to share on the subject? I’d love to hear them.