Saturday, November 29, 2014

I'M NOT CUT OUT TO WRITE THRILLERS


 
It has taken me nine months and over a dozen rewrites, but my novel, “Heed the Predictor,” a thriller, finally is finished…I think.

Looking back, I don’t know what ever possessed me, a humor writer, to attempt to write a thriller.  I mean, I had no clue whatsoever how to go about writing one. I had a plot idea in my head, but putting that idea into words that actually made sense and perfectly flowed turned out to be as challenging as trying to teach my dogs how to ballet dance.

About three months ago, I finished the book, sent it to the publisher and then waited for my proof copy. When the proof finally arrived, I thought it looked great, especially the eerie cover of a woman’s face in the shadows. Smiling, I grabbed a cup of tea and sat down to read my masterpiece. I didn’t think I’d find any mistakes or typos in it because I had so carefully checked and rechecked every page before I’d sent the manuscript to the publisher.

To my shock, there were so many mistakes, I began to suspect they were breeding and multiplying as I read, just to irritate me.

For example, on one page I’d written, “He walked over to the table and took a seat facing her.”

On the very next page I wrote, “Don’t just stand there,” she said, “Have a seat.”

And then, I wrote, “Meg’s green eyes locked with his blue ones.”  But a few pages later, “His hazel eyes narrowed.”

The guy must have been part chameleon.

I also wasn’t pleased with the deaths in my book. As much as I tried, I couldn’t make them scary.  For one thing, I had my characters die in very weird and unusual, even comical, ways.  I couldn’t help it, my sense of humor kept bullying me and taking control, no matter how much I wanted the deaths to be worthy of the best Stephen King novel.

Finally, I made it through the proof copy and submitted the corrected version of my manuscript to the publisher. Then I waited for another proof. When it arrived, I decided not to read it myself. Instead, I gave it to my friend Nancy to proofread.

She read it rapidly and got right back to me.

“So what did you think of my thriller?” I asked her.

“Well, for one thing, it’s not really thrilling,” she said. “Your sense of humor kept popping up and ruining things. And the first two chapters seemed a little too rushed.”

Her husband, who also read the book, said, “I loved the surprise ending!  I didn’t even guess how the story was going to end until the fourth to the last page!”

The fourth to the last page? My surprise ending was supposed to remain a surprise until the very last sentence!

So once again, I sat down to rewrite the book. I made my first two chapters move more slowly by adding more descriptions, explanations and dialogue. Then I attempted to make the deaths in the book seem more tense and frightening. I added racing hearts, beads of perspiration and shortness of breath, which actually made my murder victims sound more like victims of cardiac arrest than homicide. And I changed the pages leading up to my surprise ending to make certain no one would be able to guess it until the book’s final paragraph.

By the time I was through, I’d unintentionally increased my manuscript by 10,000 words.  I had no idea if that was a good thing or a big mistake. I mean, I was afraid that by adding so much to the plot, I’d turned the book into the equivalent of a giant sleeping pill.

I also decided, after doing some serious thinking, to add a few mild curse words to the dialogue. It just didn’t sound right for a maniacal killer to be saying things like, “Oh shucks!” and “gosh darn it!” in the heat of anger.

Again, I waited for another proof copy to arrive. By then, I’d accumulated enough proof books to fuel a fire in a woodstove all winter. And once again, I started reading the book, even though I was so sick of it, I’d have preferred to be doing anything else, like getting my underarms waxed.

The more I read, the more I hated everything about the book. There was something I wanted to change on every page. So I did. That’s when I realized I couldn’t be objective any more – that even if I read my book another hundred times, I’d still change it a hundred times and not be satisfied with it.

So the book finally has been published the way it is – good, bad or otherwise. And I didn’t remove the humor from it, so I suppose it can be called a “campy thriller.”

But I’ve decided never to read it again…because I know if I do, I’ll be tempted to kill off every single character in the book…purely out of spite.

 
BOOKS TO BENEFIT THE SPCA

I have been asked if my humor book, “There’s a Tick in my Underwear!” is still available for purchase. I also have been asked about my latest book, “Heed the Predictor.” Both books currently are available at Barnes and Noble and through Amazon.com or Smashwords.com. But if you would like a personally autographed copy of either book, they can be purchased directly from me. I, as I did last year, will donate a portion of the proceeds to the SPCA, so the animals also can have a happy Christmas.  Send $10 for each book ordered, which includes shipping (USA only. If you order more than one book at the same time, each additional book is only $8.50), to me at: PO Box 585, Suncook, NH 03275-0585.  Or you can send payment to me through Paypal,, where I am registered as sillysally@att.net. When specifying a name for the personal autograph, please be sure to print clearly. Thank you!

 

 

Friday, November 21, 2014

STARLIGHT, THE STAR'S NOT RIGHT!


Last December, I came up with the idea of having a giant lighted star erected behind my house, not only because it would be a Christmas decoration that probably could be seen in three counties, but also because I wanted it to be a tribute to my late husband.

A contractor and his crew arrived with what looked like a pile of lumber in the back of the truck, and within an hour, transformed it into the star of my dreams…over 20 feet tall. They assured me it would withstand gale-force winds without falling over.

The star stood tall and illuminated the night sky, much to my delight. Sometimes I even drove down to the main road, from where it was the most visible, just to stare at it.

Then, one morning, after a particularly windy night, I woke up to find my precious star lying in a heap on the ground. I ran out in my pajamas to assess the damage. The star looked as if it had been attacked by a pack of crazed beavers. Splintered wood and broken bulbs were strewn everywhere. I was devastated.

So the remnants of the star ended up stored in my garage. And that’s where I figured they would remain, because I couldn’t afford to hire someone to come piece them back together again. I had to accept the fact I suddenly owned the Humpty Dumpty of Christmas stars.

But a couple weeks ago, all of that changed, thanks to my friends Leo, Paul and Nancy.

Leo, a retired handyman, offered to repair the star, while Paul and Nancy volunteered to help me erect it again.

I jumped at the offer. Leo set to work patching and reassembling the star, which he spread out in my driveway.  When it was all in one piece again, I, with a bag of bulbs, set to work replacing all of the broken ones.  I also used a handful of twist ties to hold the bulbs in place on the star’s frame, so they would line up in perfect symmetry.

The morning we decided to erect the star was cold and misty. My three friends promptly showed up for the star-raising. I, however, delayed the event because I saw a couple bulbs that weren’t in precise alignment.

“No one is going to be able to tell if one bulb is out of line when they’re looking at it from a mile away!” Leo, growing impatient – and damp – said, rolling his eyes. “You’re too darned fussy!”

“I have to make certain everything is perfect before we put it up,” I said. “Because once the star is erected, it will over 20 feet high, and I won’t be able to reach the bulbs!”

“Knowing you, you’ll probably rent a cherry picker!” Leo said.

Finally, the four of us decided the star was ready to be carried back to its original spot behind the house.  That’s when we realized just how heavy it was.

Nancy and I were on one side, and we barely could lift it off the ground.

“My hip is killing me,” Nancy groaned.

“My back was hurting,” I said, “but now I think it’s gone completely numb!”

As we carried the star from the driveway, we realized it was too big to fit through the narrow passageway the led to the back of the house. As a result, poor Paul had to walk through the Outback – bushes, thorns, poison ivy – with his end of the star, while Nancy and I nearly wiped out the motion-sensor light on the garage with our end. Leo (a.k.a. “Hercules”), however, handled an entire side by himself, without any problem. Finally, we reached our destination.

We set down the star on the ground and stood staring at each other.

“Did anyone mark the exact spot where the star used to be?” Paul, picking an assortment of leaves and twigs off his jacket, asked, directing the question at me. 

“Um, no,” I said. “I only know the general vicinity.”

Thus began a lengthy discussion about the best spot to erect the star for maximum visibility. 

“How about right there?” Leo suggested, pointing.

“No, there’s a big tree in the way,” I answered.

 “Well, let’s cut it down, then!” he said.

“It’s not on my land,” I answered.

Finally, we all agreed on the perfect spot, and with a lot of grunting and shoving, managed to get the huge star standing upright.

“Good!” Leo said, grabbing some stakes and a hammer. “Now, help me anchor this thing to the ground so even if a tornado comes by, it won’t fall over! I don’t ever want to have to go through this again!”

The finished product was a marvel to behold, towering high above us…and sturdy enough to use as a jungle gym.  I couldn’t wait until dark to light it and check it out from the road below.

That night, I drove down to Deerfield Road to admire our efforts.

Several trees were blocking the star, making it look more like only half a star. And even that portion could be seen only when I was heading up the road, not down.  It was obvious we’d erected the star in the wrong spot. I was crushed. I also dreaded having to break the news to Paul and Nancy…and most of all, to Leo.

“You think we can move the star by ourselves?” I asked Paul and Nancy.

“No…we really need four people,” they said. 

I was afraid they’d say that.

Unfortunately, Leo called the next day to ask how the star looked after dark.

“Um…” I hesitated, trying to gather my courage, “it has to be moved about five feet over. It’s not visible from the road.”

I then held the phone away from my ear as I braced myself for his reaction.

“Well, let me know when Paul and Nancy want to move it and we’ll do it,” he said calmly. 

So a few days later, once again in the rain, we moved the star, which wasn’t easy, considering Leo had staked it to the ground so solidly, it could have withstood a major earthquake. I actually was scared to drive down to look at it that night.  I figured if it still couldn’t be seen, I’d just leave it right where it was and give up. But to my relief, the star was perfect – clearly visible from all angles.

I plan to light it the day after Thanksgiving for the Christmas season. So if you are driving up Deerfield Road in Allenstown, go 1.6 miles past the Bear Brook State Park tollbooth and then start looking to your left.  You’ll see the product of all of our hard work.

But if something is blocking it or you have any problem seeing it…I don’t think I want to know about it.


Friday, November 14, 2014

I WON'T GET RICH MAKING CRAFTS!



I was thinking about participating in a craft fair or two this holiday season.

My mom and I used to have a great time making craft items for fairs during every season. We’d spend countless hours creating Easter bunnies and eggs, Valentine bears, Halloween witches, Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas angels. I think we even made something for Saint Swithin’s Day. You name the holiday and we had it covered.

We always tried to come up with innovative, original ideas so our crafts would stand out from all of the others at the fairs. Some of our creations were big successes, while others were…well, pretty dismal failures.

Among my successes were reindeer made of clothespins; plaques decorated with dried beans, corn and spices; ceramic-tile magnets with people’s names written in calligraphy on them; cats made from the little wooden spoons that come with ice-cream cups; and lollipop holders that said, “Thank you for not smoking.”

My failures included plastic lids with scenes painted on them; jewelry made of soda-can pop-top rings; potholders decorated with puff paint; clay turkeys, and wooden frogs with glittery peace symbols on their bellies.

But if there was one thing I learned, it was that being a craftswoman wasn’t going to make me rich. If I had to charge for every hour I spent working on my craft items, the clothespin reindeer would have been $175 each.

Boxes I hand-beaded, one bead at a time!
Even worse, sometimes spending hours on a craft resulted in not making any money at all. I remember the time my mom and I bought this craft glue on sale that turned out to be about as sticky as plain water. I used it when decorating a wooden box with tiny colored beads, sticking on one bead at a time with a toothpick to create an intricate pattern. When I finally finished, about 12 hours and 2000 beads later, I picked up the box to admire it, and all of the beads fell off. To this day, I’m still finding them in the cracks in the floor.

My mom also had problems. She once made some Christmas decorations using dog biscuits. Her dog got into the first batch and ate all of the biscuits, including the glitter and ribbons. So Mom hid the next batch out in the garage. When she opened the box at the craft fair, the biscuits were nothing but piles of powder. Some kind of grain-eating beetles had made a feast of them.  

Bugs seemed to love my mom’s crafts, for some reason. She made these cute little cats from woolen yarn, only to have moths attack them. The poor cats ended up looking as if they’d been blasted with buckshot.

There were times I thought my mom purposely came up with craft ideas that inevitably would send us out on excursions that involved machetes and pith helmets. There was the time she had an idea to make turkeys from pinecones. So off we went into the woods to search for pinecones – of three different sizes. Until then, I’d never realized just how many different varieties of thorn bushes grew in New Hampshire.

Then she wanted to make candleholders out of birch logs, so back into the woods we went, looking for fallen birch-tree limbs. That’s when I discovered that fallen limbs usually have surprises living underneath them. I became intimately acquainted with everything from centipedes to grub worms. I spent more time flinging the wood and screaming than I did collecting it.

But the worst excursion of all was when Mom wanted cat-o-nine tails for yet another craft project. The next thing I knew, we were wading through a swampy area that was so dark and creepy looking, I expected the Creature from the Black Lagoon to pop out at any minute.

After my mom passed away and I was cleaning her things out of her house, I found several big boxes of her crafts. So I brought them home and stored them next to my craft items in the basement.

A couple weeks ago, after I started thinking about selling some of our crafts at a Christmas fair, I ventured down into the basement to search through our masterpieces.

I knew my basement was damp, even with two dehumidifiers down there, but obviously the dampness turned out to be a bigger problem than I’d expected. The dried beans on my plaques were swollen and soggy. The red felt on my mom’s Santas had bled into their white beards and turned them pink. And the sealed candy canes they were holding looked like taffy. The alphabet-noodle pasta I’d used to spell out words on some of my plaques had become “al dente” enough to be served with marinara sauce. The cat-o-nine tails had puffed up and split open, and the stenciled cards I’d made were permanently stuck to their envelopes.

So I’ve decided to forget about any craft fairs this year, mainly because I don’t have 2,000 extra hours to make all new stuff to sell.

Fish I made from dimes and pennies
But on the bright side, if there ever is a famine, I know where I can find a stash of pasta, beans, liquefied candy canes and powdered dog cookies.

 


 

Friday, November 7, 2014

THERE'S NO MORE DENYING IT...I'M OFFICIALLY OLD!


Well, it finally happened this Halloween – I officially became a senior citizen.

I realize there are differences of opinion when it comes to defining the true age of a “senior.” Some stores and organizations consider it to be 55.  Others offer a discount when you’re 62. And the worst is AARP. I remember when I turned 50 and they sent me a membership card.  Just looking at it gave me a panic attack.

But 65 is the no-doubt-about-it “you’re definitely a senior citizen now” age.  I guess it’s because it has something to do with getting that golden ticket – the Medicare card.

I received a lot of reminders of my advancing age on my birthday this year. There were the cards that said things like, “You know you’re old when the candles cost more than your birthday cake” or “You know you’re old when you and your teeth no longer sleep together.”

And there were the usual jokes about the only men in my life being Ben Gay, Arthur-itis and Charlie Horse

I also received a few gag gifts. One was a statue of an elderly woman with everything on her body pointing south. She had one hand on her hip and her body wiggled back and forth (kind of like those old-fashioned hula-dancer statues people used to put on their car dashboards). On the base, it said, “I’m still hot!  But now it comes in flashes.”

Another gift was a box that said “Senior Survival Kit” on the lid. It contained a tube of denture adhesive, a magnifying glass, antacid tablets, aspirin, wrinkle cream, laxative, hemorrhoid ointment and a pair of socks that said “left” and “right” on them.

One of my friends gave me a book that listed information about the year I was born.  The average cost of a house back then was $7,450.  Gas was 17 cents per gallon, a postage stamp was three cents, a loaf of bread was 14 cents, and a new car was about $1,400. Truman was the president and the 45-rpm record was just invented. Argyle socks were the latest fashion trend. Believe me, I felt older than dirt after reading that.

I have to confess, however, that when it comes to my age, I’m still in denial. I live in jeans, dye my hair and wear it long, and still dare to do things like ride on roller coasters and go zip-lining. But reality has a way of reminding me I’m not twenty-one any more…especially when it comes to my mail.

I can remember when the mail-order catalogs I received were from places like Victoria’s Secret, Frederick’s of Hollywood and The Beauty Boutique. Now they come from places that sell hearing aids, back braces, life insurance, liver-spot remover and motorized wheelchairs.  I can get up in the morning feeling like a 30-year-old, but after I read my mail, I feel as if should be picking out my headstone.

On the bright side, I don’t have that “little old lady” voice yet.  I was on the phone with a customer-service guy the other day and he happened to mention he was in his 30s.  I told him I had underwear older than him and he laughed and said, “Yeah, right! I can tell by your voice you’re only about 35.”

I wanted to adopt him.

So I figure I can stay young if my only contact with people is by telephone.

Being seen in person, however, is another story. I can remember one year when I went to this Halloween haunted house. There were two volunteers stationed at the door who shouted a number between 1-4 before each person went inside. I finally asked one of the employees why.

“Well,” he said, “we do it to warn the actors inside what ages the people coming in are, so they can adjust their level of scariness accordingly.  A number one is a young child, number two is a teen, number three is an adult, and number four is a senior citizen.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” I said.

When it was my turn to go inside, one of the guys at the door shouted,  “Four plus! Maybe even five!”  I was seriously tempted to clobber him.

But my friends have been trying to point out all of the benefits of being in my “golden” years. They reminded me I can get into state parks free of charge and I can get discounts at stores and movie theaters, among other places.  And, of course, there is Medicare.

Benefits or not, I fully intend to continue to be in denial about my age for as long as possible.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel a sudden urge to go take a nap.