The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

Part I

by BA Couture

I’d like to say I was a typical nineteen year-old: relatively uneducated, inexperienced, and unworldly, but I can’t; it was worse than that. I just wasn’t very astute, and I didn’t have that—I can set the world on fire, I can make a difference—attitude. Whatever I could do with two sticks and a pile of dead leaves would surely go unnoticed even in my little home town.

To this day it always amazes me when I hear that some kid of thirteen knows exactly what they want to do when they grow up. Even my older sister had known before high school she wanted to be a nurse, prompting my parents to enroll her in a private school where they taught Latin. What an advantage to have that kind of insight.

Despite insecurities, I did manage to get myself into college, but it was simply by way of following the crowd. I had no idea what I would do except take classes. Since I’d been doing that for twelve years, I was fairly confident I could do it.

One thing I knew about myself was that I was a monumental underachiever. I didn’t actually know that term; I simply knew I was rather like a horse pulling a wagon. I’d make it back to the barn sooner or later, but someone behind with a whip was just enough motivation to get me moving and staying on the straight and narrow.

That bit of self-awareness led me into an English class with an instructor purported to be “really tough”. She was just what I needed. I had liked high school English—mostly the grammar, diagramming sentences and all that, but I’d had the same teacher for four years and I was ready for some new blood. Insecurity did not prevent me from taking chances—I was nineteen after all.

The first day of class, the stern-looking, wrinkled-up little lady behind her desk instructed us to open up one of our books and read the short poem on page xxx. We were to write an analysis of it right there in class.

I can handle this. As long as it’s not Beowulf or Canterbury Tales. I know some of the buzz words: imagery, symbolism, blah…blah…blah.

Two days later we were back in that classroom and the petite lady, with our papers hand, did not look pleased. She passed them out, and thankfully she had been kind enough not to put our grades on the top page. I flipped to the end and found a big red C at the top.

Good God, she is going to be tough. Maybe I had the symbolism of the owl all wrong. Who knows? This stuff is all anyone’s best guess anyway. How can one possibly know what was in a poet’s mind?

And then my eyes slid down to her meager comment at the bottom. What!

“You have a flair for writing.”

I have a flair for writing? A “C” and I have a flair for writing? What, for heaven’s sake, did you say to those who got an A or a B? …you could win a Pulitzer Prize?

She stood in front of her desk saying she had been rather disappointed in our first efforts and then began to list the grades. “There was one C,” she began.

What! I had the lowest mark in the class! For a Nano second there was a sharp hit to my stomach.

She continued, “One D, and the rest Failed.”

The discomfort in my stomach quickly shot up to my heart. If I could trust my ears, that C was suddenly looking mighty good. Not knowing if she had already managed to put names with faces, I didn’t dare look over at her…or at anyone. I was embarrassed, proud, excited, challenged…and elated.

This lady was going to wield an excellent whip. Just what I needed.

Her name was Ms. Crisp, and she apparently knew to whom she had given the “C” because she called me to her desk after that class ended. She asked if I had decided on a major yet. In my usual disconnected from the universe manner, I told her that last year I had been a Math major and this year I was a Spanish major.

She was probably a gentile southern lady, opposed to sneering or showing any sort of disgust or frustration, because her expression remained unchanged as she heard my carefree if not careless words.

You never realize when you’re nineteen, or even older for that matter, that there are some remarks you will never forget. So these were her next words. “You have a flair for writing. You should think about majoring in journalism or we’d be pleased to have you in the English department.”

Wow. What?

I didn’t really know much about this woman, but I was beginning to question her cognitive abilities. English department? She couldn’t know how I felt about Beowulf and Old English. So my mind disregarded that suggestion and went right to the journalism idea.

Journalism was non-fiction wasn’t it? People told you what to write and when to write it. At eight in the morning, I might be expected to dash off the facts surrounding some car accident or overnight shooting. They’ll tell me when and how to write. Oh no, I couldn’t do that. That’s too much of a whip. I’m a free spirit; my imagination needs to be let lose. The stories I make up in my head are for fun. I couldn’t possibly make something so special to me into a…a…a job!

Yeah, I was that obtuse.

In my uninformed, miniscule world, that’s what journalism meant to me. Of course career counseling at my small, country high school had consisted of, “You could be a teacher or a nurse or a secretary.”

My would-be mentor was trying her best, but since she couldn’t possibly know all my short-comings and insecurities, I decided to dissuade her with one simple truth.

“I don’t know how to type.”

I can’t quite explain her reaction. It wasn’t a sneer or a rude noise. It was more a slight release of breath. But I have always thought she had looked down at her desk briefly to keep herself from reaching across it and slapping me. Though her expression remained pleasant, it was there in her eyes when she said through partially clenched teeth, “You can always learn to type.”

I could have told her I had boldly avoided typing class in high school, because it was the surest way to keep anyone from making me their secretary. What a degrading notion that was to my sixteen year old mind. Who knew they were going to stick a screen onto the very same keyboard and connect it to the universe instead of a single sheet of paper. Someone might have told me that.

I had seen Ms. Crisp’s disappointment when I left that day. She had just had a conversation with a twit, an unimaginative, unworldly twit. I’d had a great imagination for fantasy, but in the real world I’d had no imagination at all.

**** To be continued on ****

MAY 27th 2015

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PUBLISHED TODAY IN THE GALACTIC HERALD

PUBLISHED TODAY IN THE GALACTIC HERALD

PUBLISHERS’ GUIDELINES STIFLE CREATIVITY!

(What Really Suffers)

by B A Dreamer

Today, writers worldwide were saddened to discover the truth about writing guidelines imposed by the publishing community. Under the guise of a desire to help writers get published; agents, editors, and publishers alike have ruthlessly applied their demands. Many thought these guidelines to be “rules”, and followed them without question.

Don’t use the passive voice.

Don’t use adverbs (“ly” words)

Don’t use more than one semicolon in an entire manuscript. (What?)

Don’t use complex sentences.  (The average person is stymied.)

Don’t use sentences with more than 18 words.  (Again stymied.)

Don’t use the word “that” (even in a sentence THAT has to be read twice to be understood—avoid “that” at all costs).

And those are just a few of the “rules” harried writers have sworn to abide—giving up their talent, creativity, and innovativeness. Until, yes, there’s no longer a Charlotte Brontë among them.

But now, a small group of writers from a little known website named Scribophile has ferreted out the truth. Reminiscent of Woodward and Bernstein, fighting for justice, this ensemble of stifled intellect came to the Galactic Herald with their discovery.

“What would you like us to do?” asked the Editor in Chief.

A frail, little woman stepped up. Clearly the ravages of these harsh rules had taken their toll. Her words were beautiful, poetic, eloquent—until she got to 18. She stuttered, seeming not to know what the next word should be. She had reached her limit.

We, here at the Herald, were heartbroken for her, but she valiantly tried again. “It’s just that…I mean it’s just there are others who have suffered.”

She’d done it! Under 18 words and she hadn’t used the word “that”. “But who, ma’am? Who has suffered?”

“Gramma.”

“Gramma? You mean grammar?” Poor thing, she must be from the east coast.

“Yes-yes, that’s what I mean. I’m sorry; I’m not used to discussing serious issues of the real world with people who contemplate real problems—I write Romance.”

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am, but why has grammar suffered?”

“Because writers have been browbeaten into following the rules—I mean guidelines—of the publishing industry,” her plaintive tone was inspiring yet heart wrenching, “and we have forgotten THAT Rules of Grammar are the cornerstone of ALL rules for writers.”

She took a slow, deep breath; clearly those 32 words strung together had depleted her energy. She dropped into a chair, looking unreasonably dispirited (HER, not the chair).

“I can see how sad this has made you.”

“Yes. To think of all the beautiful and creative ideas out there, the wonderful stories that will never be read. If no one understands what we’ve written because the grammar is simply nonsensical, we may as well have written that elegant prose into our personal diaries. No one except our relatives will care. It’s just sad.”

***

Had you known this article was about the importance of writers knowing correct grammar, would you have read it?

Rules of grammar are no more guidelines than a stop sign is a suggestion.

If you’ve not read it, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” is a fun presentation of a few rules of grammar. IMO

An excerpt: “It is sad to think people are no longer learning how to use the colon and semicolon…”

It is indeed.

[Side note related to caption: Following publishers’ guidelines—to the letter—really does stifle creativity, but if we don’t know what we’re doing, we probably better follow their suggestions to some degree.]

(Disclaimer: I torture grammar all the time, but I try not to.)

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TWINGES: TINY SEXUAL IMPULSES – TOO SOON?

 

As a new romance writer, I am naturally interested in all opinions of what makes a pleasurable read. While there are numerous ingredients in a successful romance, the one that seems to draw interest from my critics is pace; not pace of the plot or pace of the romance, but pace of physical attraction. Specifically, how soon should the female and male main characters (FMC & MMC) get that um…twinge for each other?

Most would say it depends on the circumstances.

I agree, so let’s take an example.

If our MMC, a fireman, is traipsing through a burning building hanging onto his hose, his fire hose, and he spots a scantily clothed woman faint with smoke inhalation lying on the floor, he doesn’t get a twinge does he? I mean…he doesn’t, right? That’s not a rhetorical question. I really don’t know.

We all hope he doesn’t, at least for the woman’s sake. But what if he does? What if for one insane second before he scoops her up and dutifully delivers her to safety, a little voice in his head unpremeditatedly asks, I wonder if those are real?

And what about the victim? As she’s being carried, nauseated, gasping for one tiny breathe of fresh air, recognizing her near loss of life, does she squint open an eye and think, God firemen really are sexy. Just put me down anywhere, that mattress over there will do?—that last part, as she fades into oblivion, is simply an unconscious yet conditioned response to having had so many twinges in her life—at least according to critics.

Regardless of real life thought processes, as writers we can have our characters think anything we want whenever we want, and hopefully their thoughts will be reasonably realistic.

Realism is the first part of the issue: Could the fireman have actually had that thought followed by an ever so slight electrical impulse sent to his libido? The same question goes for the female victim.

And the second part of the issue: If they did have those instantaneous thoughts, should we really tell the reader?

In an attempt to address both parts, here is a more specific example:

When our FMC and MMC meet, they both recognize the constraints and conflict in their situation: ethically they should not get involved in any way outside of their main purpose for being together.

This is the Romance genre—they are going to end up together. It’s the law of the land.

The question is when does each think the other is attractive in a sexual way; so not just faces; they’re ogling body parts. This kind of thing:

He thinks:

God she’s got a great butt. And she was showing just enough cleavage today to make it interesting.

She thinks:

I’m glad he’s removed his jacket; I can see the definition of his pecs. I bet he’s got a six-pack to match.

All pretty tame, right? Sounds realistic enough, in our current day.

So let’s look more closely at the setting:  A hostile takeover; the MMC is an attorney for the aggressor company; the FMC is Chief Financial Officer of the swallowed up company—her father’s company. The two characters will be working together for perhaps weeks (though not every day) in her company’s boardroom where documents will be reviewed and meetings with company principles will be held. Is the environment clear to you?

Keeping realism in mind, at what point, after how many days of interaction, do the characters have their randy thoughts? after 1 day? 1 week? 1 month? 

Everyone’s different, right?

One couple, after three months of working together could bid each other a very formal “nice working with you” goodbye, sans any sexual impulses, conscious or otherwise; while another couple might feverishly shove board books, spreadsheets, and laptops off the conference table and share a little “afternoon delight” by lunchtime on the first day.

But I’m asking for some sanity here. What’s normal? What’s believable? What’s realistic? Probably somewhere in between.

So, in the above setting, how long would it take for the average woman to forget about the very serious task at hand and focus on the guy’s physical appeal? According to some of my critiques, within the hour. What companies, what offices, what hospitals, where in the world are all these twinges occurring? And more importantly, is any work getting done?

Regarding the second part of the issue, once you’ve decided when the guy and girl realistically get that first sexual impulse, when do you tell the reader about it? Seriously. If the fireman plausibly had that sexy little thought, would you rat him out to the reader? I once had an MMC who had bad breath, but I didn’t tell the reader about it.

We want readers to love our characters, so how much do we really want to tell them? Does knowing that the fireman and the victim had these thoughts, elevate your opinion of them…your caring for them?

And there it is. That’s what I don’t know.

Does the reader really want to know that in the middle of a board meeting a man noticed a woman’s blouse gap as he was introduced to her? Maybe in real life, the pig…I’m sorry, the idiot…I’m sorry, the guy, actually did notice it, but do we really want to tell the reader that about our MMC, our Hero? He’s a guy. He noticed if she had a panty line before she got two steps into the room. 

Make no mistake, my MMC‘s are very virile men. Don’t think for one minute they don’t get twinges by page two; I just don’t tell anyone about them until page thirty.

But seriously, remember, there’s no liquor involved, just two sober, rational, non-sex addict adults who are faced with some type of ethical conflict or constraint. She’s not a nun, but she also didn’t just get out of prison.

Realism and character likability:  When it comes to twinges, what timing sounds real to you, and does being told about them make characters more, or less, likable? Just how much interaction should there be before characters experience these sensual thoughts? Please—I’d like to know.

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