July 15, 2019

Monster

What’s on my mind?
Monster.
When Himself and I recently stumbled across a grave on a windswept mountain, we also stumbled across a mystery. 
Monster. 
Like the loud, slow tick of a clock, I heard it in my head.
Monster. 
I wanted to know! I wanted to know! I wanted to know who or what this was! Mother-in-law? Pit bull? Hit man? Missing person? And then I looked closer, and stopped making jokes.
The words “R.I.P. MONSTER” were painted in blue on a heavy rock at the top of the grave.
I felt certain this was no pet’s grave. This was someone or something whose remains couldn’t be buried in a cemetery - someone deeply loved, despite being a ...
Monster.
It’s none of my business, but does it not seem unusual to find such a grave atop a mountain You’d probably need to know it was there, to find itRespect for the someone or something buried there prevents my naming its location.
Monster.
The small grave is newly cemented over. Cemented over! Heavy rocks ring it - not rocks from the area, but landscaper’s rocks carried to the site, as likely was Monster himself. The rocks are also cemented in. No one does that for a pets grave. Whatever or whoever this was (is!), I suspect the grave diggers didnt want it to leave, to be found, or to be dug up.
Monster.
Artificial flowers cover a portion of the grave. A heart made of cat’s-eye marbles set in concrete mark it, but the writing and symbols on the grave appear to have been done by one or more adults or teens. 
It’s unlikely an older person did this. An older person couldn’t have carried those heavy rocks up the slope. An older person wouldn’t have placed a plastic-wrapped sealed envelope (presumably containing a note) on the grave. 
The envelope reads: “To Monster.” It’s from Facebook Freinds of Monster.” An older person might not have misspelled the word as Freinds.” I’d never open that note. I hope no one does. If Monster’s hangin’ ’round, perhaps he’s already read it.
Monster.
Drawn on the envelope is a broken heart with a tear drop - the same image gold-painted on the cement, with the addition of  “4 EVER”.  
A part of me says: Report this! Another part says: Leave it alone!” And a small, niggling part is afraid of what lies beneath.
Monster.


© Nicole Parton, 2019

PS: Although my new book, The Butterfly Box, is finished, plenty of  “technical things remain for its submission, so Im not writing regularly yet. 

July 9, 2019

Finito!

Whats on my mind? This morning, I finished my new bookThe Butterfly Box. So now, on to writing the synopsis agents need to read before accepting or passing on a writer’s work
Strange as it sounds, this magical book entered my life in a dream. Bolting awake in the middle of the night, I found its plot, characters, and title suddenly in my head. 
Recording as much as I could remember, I began writing the next day and every day for more than 18 months (with time out for bad behavior). 
From the moment I possessed The Butterfly Box, it possessed me. And now - agents and publishers willing - I hope it will one day belong to you. 
PS: As fellow writers know, this next step can take a year or more. Writers are expected to pen their next book while they wait. I already have a title, setting, characters and plot for the next one. Curiously, it also came to me in a dream. If only Id dream about winning the lottery ...

© Nicole Parton, 2019

July 1, 2019

Pounding the Keyboard ...

Still working hard on a book-in-progress ...

I will return! (Is that a promise, or a threat?) 

- Nicole




Peanuts, © Charles M. Schulz 

June 28, 2019

On Golden Pond

Whats on my mind? Garden ponds. Ive always wanted one. I said the same in The Trickle-Down Effect (June 3), and one month later, Im still in love with this pond, and will forever be. It isnt an enormous pond: We don’t have an enormous plot of land. What it is, is a small patch of serenity in our busy lives.

Every morning - rain or sun - one of the first things I do is step outside to hear the gurgle of its waterfall. Some waterfalls crash.” Some trickle. Some wash over stones, polishing them. Our waterfall gurgles. 

The pond and its waterfall make their magic through a hidden pump and the occasional help of a garden hose - and magic, it is. In scarcely a month, the lilies have flourished; the water hyacinth has grown; the duckweed has spread. 

The man who created the pond left us two gifts - the pond itself, and a small painting of a section of our garden. Each of these will forever remind us of the small and gentle things that bring pleasure - the birds visiting our garden, the butterflies floating on the warm air, the bees pollinating whatever they find, wherever they find it. 

The pond is a paradox. Just as it is central to all this activity, it is a place of calm. Allow me to share it, and the artists painting, with you.







© Nicole Parton, 2019; painting © Bernie Schrott, 2019

June 25, 2019

Astral Projection: Part 2

This is the continuation of Astral Projection Part 1, in the post below. Writing a novel? This is the post for you. Google Russell Galen for more essays and publishing pointers - NP

                                                * * * 

“How do you create a strong plot?” That’s the question New York literary agent Russell Galen posited in his 1992 essay, Astral Projection. The answer’s no less relevant today than it was then:  The reader’s “identification” with one or more characters in a novel can put you into that orbit.

But let’s hear Galen’s own words about this:

“People read novels in the first place for what I call astral projection, the power to visit another world while staying safely in one’s armchair. Good fiction enables you to visit a reality different from your own. Even if you were to stay as close to home as possible - let’s say, a novel about you by your spouse - you’d be travelling far and wide, into the perspective of another human being. Would such a novel be any less exotic to you than the most bizarre science fiction?

“All the standard techniques of fiction go into enabling astral projection, but the most important is identification: causing you, the reader, to feel that what is happening to a character is happening to you. Without it you are an observer in the action; with it you are a participant.

“There are two aspects to creating identification.

“The first is viewpoint. Readers have a natural tendency to identify with the character in whose head you’ve put them. The associated danger is that taking them out of that character’s head interrupts the spell. Switching viewpoints can be a powerful technique in the hands of a master, but, done poorly, is one of the most common reasons first novels are rejected. Just as I’m beginning to identify with a character, the writer will yank me out of there and put me into someone else’s head, then repeat the process a few times before returning me to the first character. Readers can’t identify with several characters with the intensity they can with one, and the interruptions prevent us from identifying fully with any particular one.

“The second is to create a rooting interest. Imagine you’re watching a bout between two unknown boxers. Maybe winning is of life-or-death importance for them, but not you. Now imagine one of them is your brother or son, or better, has promised you the prize money which you need for a life-saving operation. Now you’re rooting madly for your guy to win. By sharing your fate with the fighter your two identities merge: you enter into his shoes and are affected by his triumphs and failures as deeply as he is. You’re no longer a spectactor, you’re a boxer. Astral projection.

“To create that effect in a book, we need to create that shared identity where the reader feels his own fate hangs on what happens to the character. To do that, we need a character capable of inspiring sympathy, and then put him into a conflict. Because he’s sympathetic, we’ll take his side in the conflict.

“To ignite that favoritism into a rooting interest, we give the character a powerful and meaningful desire to prevail in the conflict. The more he needs to prevail, the more the reader becomes caught up in the conflict. The conflict can be as tiny as saving a two-foot patch of garden, but if the character needs his garden so deeply that the consequences of failure are unacceptable, a strong story can be built around it. If the character would merely like to save his garden, but could live without it, we don’t have the stuff of a rooting interest. Desire is the muscle of strong plots, and the lack of it is the most common failing in weak ones: the reader says, “Who cares”?

“We now come to what I call engagement: the moment at which the reader buys into all of the above, that is, begins to root for the character and care about the outcome. Our true enjoyment of the book - the moment at which astral projection begins - begins at the point of engagement. If we become engaged on page 2, page 1 will be a little boring, but readers will give us that, and a bit more, but not that much more. Dozens of times a year I reject novels which postpone the point of engagement beyond my point of tolerance. Be sure to locate the moment of engagement in your story, the moment when the reader’s rooting interest begins, and make sure it doesn’t come too late; failure to do so is a prime reason for manuscripts being abandoned unfinished.

“After engagement comes the struggle, the character’s fight to prevail in whatever conflict you’ve set up. He faces obstacles, he defeats some, is defeated by others. If we’re rooting for him we will hang on every word.

“Finally, satisfaction: a resolution of the struggle which leaves the reader feeling content. Since we’ve been rooting for our character, we won’t feel satisfied unless he gets something out of the struggle. He might prevail. He might not, but get something of value anyway, such as experience, wisdom, maturity. If your aim is to write a strongly plotted book, be sure your ending resolves the struggle in a satisfying way.”

© Russell Galen, 1992 

June 23, 2019

Astral Projection: Part 1

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away called New York City, a Very Nice Man named Russell Galen wrote a clever essay about writing fiction. He titled this essay Astral Projection. While 1992 may seem a long time ago - especially to you younger earthlings - it barely moves the needle, in galactic terms. Russell Galen’s essay contains a universal truth, as big-bang-on today as it was in 1992.

Good writing interests me, which is why I find this piece of writing about writing so very interesting. 

Russell Galen is the founder of the estimable (look that up, if you must) Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency, Inc., of New York. I’ll publish this essay in a couple of days, and thank Mr. Galen for allowing me to do so. In the meanwhile, let me yada-yada-yada.

I have many reasons for wanting to share Astral Projection with you. First: I suspect some of you are developing or established writers. If so, you can probably tell me how to write faster and better: I wrestle with words every day, and don’t always win

Second: Galen’s #1 tip on writing a can’t-put-it-down novel has more to do with character identification and less to do with strong writing. There! That allows us weaselly writers to sigh with relief when we’ve waltzed with the wrong participle or neglected to use the subjunctive. 

And third: I hope you’ll enjoy Galen’s clean, direct prose as much as I did. Writing, agenting, and publishing have seen some dark days, but I have the strong feeling the industry is bouncing back. 

Reading opens you up to new worlds and new ideas. It helps develop critical thinking skills. It makes you smarter, and more understanding, and more empathetic, and more curious.

Friends unfamiliar with the process of book-writing (of which I’ve done a teensy bit, a millenium ago) always ask: “So when can I buy a copy of Blankety-Blank?” They’re always surprised to hear a writer’s job doesn’t end when the last page is done. Writers who seek a traditional publisher almost always need an agent. Finding that agent can be a long and tiring process. 

An agent who believes in the book (and in the writer) will try to match your manuscript with the best publisher for it. This challenging process can take a week, a month, a year - or longer. A good agent is like stardust. And for that agent, so’s a good writer.

The team of writer/agent/publisher/editor/artist works as hard as possible for just one person - you. Not only do we want you to love the book on which we’ve labored - we want you to spread the word!

                                                     * * *   
So that’s a self-serving, round-about way of introducing you to Russell Galen, whose reputation as a smart, caring agent precedes him. Galen says agents and editors generally read just 1% of developing writers novels from start to finish. Of those, he says, agents and editors prefer “strongly plotted manuscripts (that) force you to finish ... (over) better written manuscripts which lack a strong plot …” 

BING! Time’s up! I’ll plunge straight into the meat of Russell Galen’s essay in a couple of days - and into what he calls “astral projection.” Doesn’t every writer want to write a better book? The universal truths in this essay could put you in that orbit


© Nicole Parton, 2019

June 21, 2019

Let Us Prey

What’s on my mind?

AN ORANGE CAT IS STALKING BIRDS. 
PLEASE BELL HIM, OR KEEP HIM IN.

Life isn’t simple. It should be. Life should be rainbows and flowers and unicorns and kittens.  

There’s a new cat in town. A hep cat - a term so old, it’s new again. An orange hep cat - and no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. Our village (that pretends to be a town) is a Trump-Free Zone. 

Having made little posters to alert the neighbors and let the owners know what their cat was up to, I wanted to pin those words to trees and tape them to lamp posts.

No matter how well fed, cats always revert to type - fixating on birds and goldfish bowls. I don’t like asking for trouble, so our pond has no fish. Not only do we have fish-chomping raccoons,  but hungry mink and bears, too. And house cats - let’s not forget house cats.

House cats belong in houses. Not out on the street, extending claws, flexing muscles, licking lips, and hanging around with juvenile delinquent cats, asking for trouble. 

Rarely do we see cats around here. Responsible owners in this semi-rural area keep their cats indoors.

This orange cat must be new to the neighborhood. I’ve seen him twice this past week (Fast fact: 80% of orange tabbies are male). The first time, he was standing in the middle of a quiet street, sizing up the neighborhood, as trouble-makers do. 

The second, he was in our garden. Belly low to the ground, eyes locked on his prey, his clear intent was to play ping pong - his paw, the paddle; our birds, the ball. 

Racing outside, I clapped my hands to scare him off. His response? A cool, insouciant stare and a flick-flick of his tail. As if in slow motion, he easily vaulted our 6 ft. fence. 

He’ll be back. I know it. There’s tender birdies in these parts! 

So I penned a version of the note above - opening with “YOUR” ORANGE CAT … and closing with a snippety “THANK YOU!” Why post these notices widely instead of dropping one at the owner’s door? Why would I write “YOUR” and annoy the whole neighborhood? Because I dont know whose cat this is, that’s why. 

Why write “THANK YOU!” when the owner might not comply? I may as well have written “OR ELSE!” Where was my proof the cat had come over our fence? Foot-high cat … Six-foot fence … Hardly seems possible, though cats are acrobats. 

I originally wrote OUR birds. This sounded too proprietary - likely to get stuck in some birds craw. They are no one’s birds - or, more PC, they are their own birds, responsible for their own lives and decisions: #tweet-too. 

Where was my proof the orange cat was stalking birds? No lifeless, feathered bodies; no terrorized birds cowering in trees.

Who am I to order a pet owner to “PLEASE BELL HIM …”? Maybe the orange cat was a starving stray? Maybe I’d robbed him of breakfast. Which soul has greater moral equivalence - a bird’s or a cat’s? 

Life should be rainbows and flowers and unicorns and kittens. The orange cat was once a cute and fluffy kitten, innocent of the evils of the world. 

I’d maligned this cat. I’d wronged his owner. How dare I! Feeling guilty as hell, I ripped up my poster.

IMPORTANT PS! USA Today reports unbelled cats kill as many as 3.7 billion birds in the continental US every year. 


© Nicole Parton, 2019

June 19, 2019

The Naked Truth

What’s on my mind? Beach season! The umbrellas are out; the beach chairs are out; the bathing suits are on. Our little island is awash with tourists, some of whom wish those bathing suits were not. 

Our gender equality laws allow both sexes to walk around topless here (“Quick! Madge! Turn the RV around! Let’s vacation there!”), though almost no one does (“Forget it, Madge ...”). 

Some people here want to let it all hang out - as in no secrets. Why not? Most of the people on the island are seniors. They’d be a tourist attraction. They’d boost our gross domestic product. 

Our neighbors, Mr. Harris and Mrs. H, once went to one of those “free and breezy” places. Mrs. H had no idea they were in an “au naturel” resort. When Mr. H booked it, he told Mrs H to “Leave your glasses at home, honey! They’re only going to steam up in the hot weather!” Not to mention that it was always hot and steamy, where they were going. 

Mrs. H told me she’d ordered one of those fruit juice-rum-cognac specialities of the house, and because this was a vacation, said: “Make it a double.” God only knows what the bartender stirred it with.

Mr. Harris was keen to “see the sights,” as he put it, but Mrs H was content to loll and stroll and see where the day took her. Where the day took her was onto a nude beach, where everyone except Mrs H was starkers. 

She, of course, knew zip! about where she was and how she got there, having worked off only the fruit juice portion of her drink, with the rest still in her system. 

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she had to walk into that one. When in Rome …? She wasn’t in Rome. Without her glasses, Mrs H wasn’t sure where she was, except that she normally wore more to take a shower than these people did walking around in public.

Mrs H suffers from full-frontal prudity. She was wide-eyed, and everyone else was bushy-tailed. Nudes, nudes, everywhere, and nary a thought to blink. Hoping to “blend in,” she took her socks off.

Everyone’s dangly bits were blowing in the breeze. To distract herself, she said, she tried to visualize the sea of naked bodies wearing goggles, snorkels, and swim fins. It didn’t work. All she saw were lumps and rumps. When she asked a man on the beach to “show me the way to go home,” he pointed east - without using his finger. She made a run for it.

This particular nude beach wasn’t easy to access. On either side were long sweeps of sand. To the north was water. To the south, a cliff. She decided the cliff was her best chance of escape. Resisting a rest, she did. No nudes is good nudes - for Mrs. H.

Our little island really should allow nude sunbathing. Mr. Harris would enjoy it, Mrs. H might get used to it, and the gross domestic product - and other things - would probably rise.


© Nicole Parton, 2019


June 16, 2019

Coffee, Anyone?

What’s on my mind? Something called a “cortado.” God only knows what it is. 

To me, “cortado” sounds like a bullfight. I don’t know about you, but I’d be worried about bullspit. 

Ask Google what a cortado is and Google cutely answers: ¿Cuál es el café cortado?

I feel like I’m channeling Desi Arnaz in an I Love Lucy rerun.

Google then responds with “People also ask …”

• What size is a cortado? 
• What is a Costa cortado? 
• What is the difference between a cortado and a macchiato? 

True confession: For most of my adult life, I assumed “macchiato” was a type of S+M involving fur handcuffs.

What I want to know is who these anonymous “people” are, asking all those questions. They surely know a whole lot more than I do, since they know enough to ask. If they don’t know, they probably don’t need to know - unless they’re baristas and their livelihood depends on it, because (ta-dah!) a “cortado” is a cup of coffee. 

I can say that with confidence because I spent hours of research (5 min. on Wikipedia) finding out. Can you believe “cortado” has an entire page in Wikipedia?  TMI, folks … TMI.

I had another clue when a writer friend young enough to be a fetus tweeted: “On days like today, when I’m working from home and my coffee cupboard is empty, I wish I had an assistant to bring me a flat white.”

To which I innocently tweeted back: “I make lattes. But not flat whites.” 

He: “Flat whites are pretty common these days. I find they have the best proportion of cream to espresso. Lattes are a touch too milky for me, but cortados aren’t quite creamy enough ... I also love a good cappuccino. Now I want coffee.”

This made me nervous. The only reason I can make lattes is because I have a fancy-schmancy machine that knows how to read a bar code to do it. My machine does not make cortados. My machine does not even know how to spell cortados. 

Cortados are obviously w-a-a-y higher in status than plebeian lattes and cappuccinos, which are so “yesterday.” 

Cortados are probably trendy. Himself and I are not trendy. Give us Folgers instant crystals and some boiling water and we’ll be perfectly fine.

I wouldn’t mind ordering a cortado, if only to see the terror in a barista’s eyes. I pity baristas. Being one must be like staying up all night studying for the final exam, only to learn there are questions on it no one thought to teach.

Another Twitteree (who bills himself as a former stand-up comic and a former Supreme Court clerk) seems to write about nothing but coffee. 

Example: “They tell me it’s Monday morning again, but with the help of #coffee, I’ll still be a force to be reckoned with.” 

Another example: “Everyone has to believe in something. This morning, I believe Ill have #coffee.” 

#coffee is an actual hashtag - mostly coffee adverts and promos, but also some sleep-deprived fanatics. 

If Id had to guess, I would have defined “cortado” as an opera singer. Or a maybe a Mexican dish served with salsa. 

The former Supreme Court clerk/comic has 116,000 Twitter followers. My cordato-drinking pal has 635. I’m betting every one of their friends knows what a cortado is.

I have 31 Twitter followers. This explains a lot.

© Nicole Parton, 2019 

June 13, 2019

Merry Christmas. In 195 Days

Only 195 days to Christmas, 2019, tra-la-la! Ohhh, the horror! Perhaps we should leave town ... I hear Borneo is pleasant in December. Last Christmas is etched so deeply on my memory that it has left a scar.  

Christmas, 2018, was when I took it upon myself to drag our tallest artificial tree from the garage into the living room - something I’ve never done before and will never do again.

The tallest tree is 3 ft. taller than I am, and I could barely lift it. Still, I managed to pick it up. Staggering blindly into the living room, I tripped.

Without warning, the tree’s bottom segment separated from the rest like a booster rocket, tumbling and twirling away as the tree’s top two segments flew straight at the cuckoo clock, ripping off its roof and silencing the two nodding birds’ moronic “CUCK-KOO! CUCK-KOO!” sung above their open-mouthed babies’ perpetual begging.

Unable to see a damned thing, careening wildly, I felt the tree’s second segment separate seconds before it rammed the naked babies’ open beaks. The stupid little Junge und Mädchen who pop in and out their stupid little doorway to dance their stupid little dance froze, probably in shock.

Himself personally selected that very clock after spending about 100 hours in some stupid little clock shop in the Black Forest about 1,000 years ago. He paid to have it shipped home from Germany. He winds it. He cleans it. He loves it.

He’d been in another part of the house when I tripped. He hadn’t heard a thing. I thought I’d break the news gradually.

“Himself … I said, twiddling the curls on his semi-bald head, “How much do you love me?”

I may as well have said: “How well do you know me?” because his immediate response was: “WHAT DID YOU BREAK???” 

“Um … I said.

“MY CLOCK! MY CLOCK! MY CLOCK!” he screamed, running into the living room.

“Um …” I said again, secretly thinking: “If you're going to divorce me, I want the car.”

One hour later, he’d glued and clamped the clock.

Although Himself looked very red in the face, the clock looked as it always had: The parent birds fed the baby birds, the stupid little Junge und Mädchen entered and exited their stupid little doorway to dance their stupid little dance. The tree? Even though it’s now only 2-3/4 ft. taller than I am, it - and its booster rockets - survived.

The best part? Himself still loves me and we’ll continue to share the car. Merry Christmas. In 195 days.

© Nicole Parton, 2019

June 11, 2019

Himself Doesn’t Beat His Wife

What’s on my mind? Himself doesn’t beat his wife; has never beaten his wife; will never beat his wife. There! With that out in the open, let’s proceed.

Not being the tallest kid on the block, I sometimes improvise creative ways to reach the tantalizing Top Shelf Stuff from the kitchen cupboard when I can’t be bothered to fetch the step stool. Some people (I won’t name names) don’t even need a step stool because they’re ta-a-all.

Himself effortlessly skims whatever he wants from the top shelf while I scamper at his feet, hoping for crumbs. Although his height comes in handy, I tend to be the independent type who doesn’t like whinging “Hims-e-lf … Hims-e-lf  …” too often. I’m also lazy, knowing how to get what I want. But let’s not talk about sex, just now.

We have one of those fancy pod-coffee machines; you’ve probably seen them. A year or so ago, I bought about 2.3 million coffee pods because they were on sale (Want some? I have 2.1 million left). 

This coffee is a premium brand that would probably taste great to an Italian, but not to us. Too black. Too strong (Have I told you Himself doesn’t beat his wife? I’ll get to that part).

So happy was I to buy these pods that I kept no receipts. With the hoarded coffee tasting like BLECH! I entombed the pods in two airtight plastic boxes (Qua-lity plastic! Hea-vy plastic! Lid-ded plastic!). Out of sight, out of mind, as the old saying goes. 

I put the boxes on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard to RIP. Our house has a storage room containing still more dark Italian roast coffee pods. I pretended they weren't there; I never looked at them. BLECH! BLECH! BLECH!

I’m the waste-not, want-not type. The money I’d sunk into this coffee bothered me, so I resurrected the pods. I discovered that preparing a couple of pods in our fancy coffee maker and diluting the coffee with boiling water made a passable pot of coffee. Who knew?

You would have figured that out pretty fast. But as the dull-witted, short person I am, it took a year (BING!) before I realized I could water down this too-strong coffee. 

Cut to those plastic boxes loaded with strong Italian coffee pods on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard. Cut to the step stool. Cut to Himself, contentedly snoring as I crept around the house, trying not to disturb him. Hauling the step stool (DRA-A-A-G) from its (SQUE-E-E-EAK!) cupboard seemed too noisy and too much trouble.

To reach the pods laid out in their plastic tombs, I stood on my toes while trying to wiggle them from the cupboard with a metal cooking spoon. When gentle prying achieved nothing, I resorted to a forceful yank. 

Everything happened at once. Not only did the two coffee-stuffed plastic boxes tumble down, but so did two others containing metal bolts or hammers or whatever else needed to be out of sight, out of mind. All these boxes (and the cooking spoon) fell on my EYE-YI-EYE!

I now have a doozy of a shiner. And by the way, if you meet me on the street, Himself doesn’t beat his wife.

© Nicole Parton, 2019