Plan B: How to get an *actual* job. Again.

ARGH. PART OF Plan B is to have a steady paycheck and insurance. So, it’s *back to work* for this girl. Yes, I’m still writing, but I’ve also got to get my affairs in order.

Yes. He's cute. But he probably won't  help you get a job...

Yes. He’s cute. But he probably won’t help you get a job…

If you’re looking for a job and you’re “of a certain age,” now is the time to get after it.

“Don’t view your age or your experience as a liability. It’s a benefit to companies to have a multi-generational workforce,” says Oriana Vogel, vice president of global talent acquisition at American Express. “One of our goals… is to hire employees that can provide a variety of different perspectives and experiences.” Age doesn’t come into consideration when it comes down to hiring the best people, she says.

“In fact, if you have more experience and skills, you can offer something different from gesome other candidates,” says Scott Dobroski, career trends analyst for Glassdoor.com.

Some things those of us over 30 is *responsible,* *reliable* and we know how to act in public.

If you’re dusty in some areas, take a crash course–we should all know Word inside and out, but consider taking a refresher in Excel (oh how I hate Excel), and of course Powerpoint and Photoshop.

Show that you’re tech-fluent. Hiring managers want to make sure you’re as comfortable around today’s technology as the generation that practically grew up with smartphones in their hands. You can communicate this early in your resume and via your LinkedIn profile. “Upload photos and videos, presentations, and more to the summary and experience sections of your profile,” she says. And when you ask colleagues, clients and so on for LinkedIn recommendations, “Ask them to highlight concrete examples that reinforce your cutting edge skill set.”

Focus on skills, not years. Your resume should communicate what you’ve accomplished in your career without drawing attention to when. “Include your job and career highlights at your most recent employer at the top, followed by success highlights and metrics at employers over the past ten years,” Dobroski says. You should still include a chronological employment listing, but it’s OK to put it further down the page. “If you have amazing, relevant and recent experience near the top of your resume, where hiring managers look first, that’s what matters most,” he says.

Don’t be afraid of photos. Don’t take or leave off a photo on LinkedIn because you’re worried hiring managers will pause if they see some gray in your hair. Fisher says a profile with a photo is 14 times more likely to be viewed than one without a picture. “The key is to have your photo convey who you are as a professional,” she says. “You want hiring mangers to be able to view you working at their company.” In other words, no snapshots of you with the kids. Or grandkids. Or cats . . .

Dress smartly. You know that your professional wardrobe shouldn’t be dated, but if you’re not sure if, say, a suit would be overkill, Google Images can help you out. “We are not judging anyone based on what they wear,” Vogel says. It is to your advantage to be comfortable with how you look in an interview, though, whatever that might entail. “If a candidate doesn’t know what to wear to an interview and because ‘corporate attire’ runs the gamut these days… look for images of the company’s offices and check out what they wear,” she suggests. Don’t be afraid to swing by and take a look at what folks are wearing

Get good letters of reference. Ask your smartest buddies to write a letter about your qualifications, your personality and your ability to be resposible.

Be specific and ask questions. “Use examples of how [you] handled challenges rather than just saying ‘I have done that,’” says Blake Nations, CEO of Over50JobBoard.com. And ask a lot of questions about the job. “By asking questions that are pertinent you can show you have experience in a subtle way,” Nations says. “You can show you have an understanding of how the flow of a work environment functions. This is something younger people may not understand as well.”

Address your age. If you get into an interview and start picking up on a feeling that your age might be a stumbling block, Jobcase.com CEO Fred Goff says it’s better to take the plunge and raise the issue yourself. “[Say] something like, ‘I am really excited about this opportunity but clearly I notice that I have more experience than your average hire… Do you think that is an issue?’” Goff says this not only brings the discussion into the open, but it communicates to the interviewer that you’re not afraid of confronting challenging topics head-on. “Good people will realize that just the fact you are addressing the elephant in the room suggests it will be just fine working with you,” Goff says.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A *gift* from Atticus the Ninja Kitty (I don’t remember registering for a dead rat)

TO CELEBRATE THE end of 8-inches of rainy weather, Atticus brought me a dead rat. He laid it at my feet, then demanded breakfast. Not sure if this is just cat behavior, or a comment on Human Nature, but I had to get rid of it before it started decomposing.

The cattle and chickens are less demanding, but fairly high maintenance, considering the *return* they offer. I’m scheduling the cattle to go to auction by October, the chickens will return to their previous free-range status, and I’m looking for a job west of Austin. Despite the logistics, I’m ready to be back *home* in my lovely lake house, where I hope to get back to writing.

Atticus could care less about the ins and outs of the humans in his life, which I suppose is true of some people, too. I’m also trying to figure out why Dead Copy (Book Two in Cauley MacKinnon Mysteries) isn’t loading back up on Amazon, though Scoop (hooray! It’s free today) is up and doing well.

And as I’m trying to tie up loose ends, find new ends and writing, Atti Catti is demanding a snack. He’s a funny little, relatively unlovable kitty who came to me the way most things do–he stumbled into my life . . .

Atticus Finch came to us under the light of a full August moon, summoned by whatever

I present you with a dead rat. You're welcome.

I present you with a dead rat. You’re welcome.

deranged spirit it is that brings surly cats to the only people who could truly love them.

The skinny, spike-tailed, yellow and white kitten was a “gift” from a friend and her cat-whispering husband, who managed to coax the starving stray from the neighbor’s garden.

The kitten instigated a war between her felines, she explained, and must find another home.I should have known then that he was a natural-born troublemaker.I named him Atticus, hoping he would grow into the name and become a peaceful, loving writing companion.I should have named him Attilla.

After showing him his new home, bestowing upon him a multitude of gifts and a nice, fluffy bed, I decided to wait to introduce him to my stepson’s enormous, slow-witted Labrador retriever. Atticus had other ideas.

The moment I placed the kitten on his new bed, he transformed into the Tasmanian devil and catapulted onto the bewildered dog, a hissing, spitting whirl of fur.

I pried him off the dog and separated them, as they remain to this day.Atticus has no idea that he is a ten-pound cat, and has become the terror of the neighborhood. I recently had to apologize to neighbors after he chased their dog under the car. Again.

He lies in wait on the branch of a live oak like a sniper. No animal, be it deer or dog, is safe from his sorties. My cat, it seems, is the neighborhood thug.Despite infinite affection and an endless supply of Little Friskies, Atticus cannot get it through his little pea brain that he is no longer a stray. He doesn’t eat, he devours. Jaws unhinge so he can cram as much into his mouth as is kittenly possible.

He wolfs down dinner as though he’ll never see food again. He would glut through the entire bag of kibble and start on the dog chow if he could figure out how to open the Tupperware.Despite his antisocial behavior, he cannot stand to be apart from us. When we go for walks, he follows, hiding in the woods so as not to be seen. I suppose it would ruin his reputation.He does love to write, though. We do so on the river banks, sitting in the sun. If I don’t wait for him to come along, he climbs up the highest boulder and howls like wounded banshee.

Atticus about to pounce a deer

It is a forlorn, paint-peeling yowl that causes neighbors to throw open their windows.When we are writing, it is the only time he behaves like a cat, batting at the letters appearing onscreen and stomping on the letter “J.”

I think he’s trying to tell me something.In spite of his antics, or perhaps because of them, I am besotted with the little beast. Atticus is my Monster Muse—a pint-sized inspiration with the heart of a lion and the soul of a warrior.

We should all be so lucky.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Life does, in fact, come with instructions

IF LIFE IS  a test, I feel I’m failing miserably. You know those periodic *Emergency

Bodhi's instructions for life: Look for your Joy, then Leap!

Bodhi’s instructions for life: Look for your Joy, then Leap!

Broadcast tests* that blare on in the middle of network news, telling you that if it’d been a real emergency, instructions would follow? You know, the one that *didn’t* come on during 9/11? Or Hurricane Katrina?

I’d still be sitting here waiting for instructions.

I was thinking Life doesn’t come with instructions. Except the pre-programmed ones. The ones that say:

  • Treat others the way you’d want to be treated.
  • Do the best you can until you learn better, then do better.
  • Open your eyes, be grateful for what you have, work  on what you need, and share

That’s what I’m trying to do now. I used to irritate the sugar outta me when Mama always said, “Life isn’t fair.”

But she was right. It’s not fair that The Donald can still be a bazillionaire, not pay his bills, then file bankruptcy four times and start over. People should pay what they owe you. Period.

What’s going on around here isn’t *fair* either–someone who will not be named just cheated me and mine out $40,000, which I needed right now, and *poof* it’s gone.

93-year-old Opa is in the hospital, and just found out 86-year-old Grandma is in the hospital this morning. Grandma really stepped up, especially  when I was little, after Daddy died  (I was just under five-years-old and he was 23). So no, Life isn’t fair. But there are angels among us, who see that Life, at best, is a wobbly table, and will help when they can.

My job , I think, is to try to help steady the wobbly table and put food on it, the way others did for me. To write stories that help  people through the hard parts, and  do it the best way I know how.

Right now, the books aren’t doing as well as they should (a lot of that is my fault), so I’m looking for a job in the Bee Cave area, getting rid of *stuff*,  moving back to the lake house. and deal with  the previous tenants in a fair and lawful manner, and hope they will do the same,

The cattle will go to market in a couple of months, and the chickens can return to their free range status. I will continue to wake up every morning the way I always do, Thankful for what I have, working on writing.  I will do the best I can. Until I can figure out how to do it better . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Austin: Music, Madness & Magic–and a great character for a series

IT’S NO SURPRISE to any of my readers, but Austin (in my books and in real life) is

Keeping Austin weird, one book at a time...

Keeping Austin weird, one book at a time…

an actual character, complete with all her weird and wonderful quirks. There’s music, madness and magic here–it’s where people come to be who they want to be or to be who they really are. *Scoop, the award-winning first of the Cauley MacKinnon series is free on Amazon today!

Yes, the Congress Bridge bats are in my books. And  seeing grown men ride unicycles while wearing nothing but a thong? Yeah well, that’s just the way we roll.

It’s just part of the daily routine down here in Austin.  They say “from the outside looking in you can never understand it, and from the inside looking out you can never explain it.” I had an editor tell me one time, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true it has to be believable.”

But in Austin, anything can happen. And it usually does . . .

 

Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon

5434 Burnet Rd

Chicken Shit Bingo is a real thing, and we love it. There’s just something downright beautiful about a bird’s pooping pattern defining the outcome of a high stakes parlor game. As an added bonus, it confirms the rest of the country’s strangest suspicions about what we do for fun. See it for yourself at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon.

Museum Of The Weird

412 E 6th St

If you possess any interest in the strange, peculiar, or supernatural, the Museum of the Weird is a spot you need to visit when you’re in Austin. For a small fee, they have an impressive array of curiosities, including what may or may not be the body of a long-deceased yeti. Austin’s own Museum of the Weird is exactly as weird as its namesake would imply.

Cathedral of Junk

4422 Lareina Dr

The Cathedral of Junk is exactly what it sounds like: a cathedral made of junk. That doesn’t make it any less impressive, though. Scraps of all conceivable origin have been painstakingly assembled into what is probably the most astounding collection of bric-a-brac ever. Find out more about the Junk King right here.

VIA TRAPEZE TEXAS

If you’re looking to do something a little different, or more realistically, something way different than usual, you should stop by Trapeze Texas. As the name would imply, they offer classes of the aerial arts variety, where you can achieve your childhood dream of being in a circus without actually running away and joining one.

Full Circle Bar is home to the Austin chapter of Brewskee-Ball, the first ever National Skee-Ball League. It’s maybe a little weird that you can live out childhood arcade fantasies with a beer in hand. The bar also hosts weekly cornhole tournaments in their cornhole garden. Yes, that’s a thing.

1101 S Congress Ave

Walk through the winding halls of Castle Sfanthor and experience a century of celluloid monsters immortalized in wax. It’s also a mecca of geekdom featuring vintage comic books, toys, action figures, model kits, and some of the coolest genre t-shirts you’ll find in the city.

Alamo Drafthouse At The Ritz

320 E 6th St, Austin

Weird Wednesdays at the Alamo Drafthouse is the equivalent of that weird friend you had in college that played Magic: The Gathering and was a little too into Captain Beefheart. Okay, maybe you didn’t have that specific friend in college, but the point we’re making here is that Weird Wednesdays showcase the kind of fringe elements of film that would never otherwise find a wider audience.

Midnight Cowboy Cocktail Lounge

313 E 6th St

With 6th Street’s well-deserved reputation for rambunctiousness, the weirdest thing about Midnight Cowboy is how downright dignified it feels. They bill themselves as a “relaxing oasis in the midst of the 6th Street liveliness”, which is an understatement if ever there was one. This old-school style speakeasy requires you to ring a buzzer to enter, and have your cellphone kept firmly in your pocket for the duration of your stay. Nowthat’s weird.

Pease Park

1100 Kingsbury St

Eeyore’s Birthday Party certainly attracts a varied crowd. You’ve got hippies, weirdos, furries, responsible parents, dogs, and all other manner of folk attending this adored annual tradition. It’s a perfect harmony of the people who make up Austin, Texas. It’s held annually on the last Saturday of April at Austin’s Pease Park.

Barbarella

615 Red River St

Tuezgayz at Barbarella is a weekly queer-friendly dance party, but everyone is welcome to pack this smoke-machine dance floor and shake that booty into a frenzy. If you see a friend on a Wednesday and they look a little (read: a lot) more haggard than usual, Tuesgayz is likely the culprit.

Esther’s Follies

525 E 6th St

VIA ESTHER’S FOLLIES

You know you’re a true weirdo when they make a documentary about how weird you are. “Crazy” Carl Hickerson has been a fixture outside of Esther’s Follies for awhile now. Like our old friend Leslie, Crazy Carl is just one of those figures in Austin who has been doing his unconventional thing for what seems like forever. His eccentricities (chiefly, flaunting his man boobs) and friendly demeanor are what make him a city treasure.

Voodoo Doughnuts

212 E 6th St

Let’s face it: Bar-hopping on the world-famous Sixth Street while carrying a big pink box of doughnuts isn’t exactly “normal behavior.” Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut became famous for being weird, so naturally they opened up a doughnut shop right here in Austin, in the heart of Sixth Street no less.

Hippie Hollow Park

7000 Comanche Trail

It doesn’t get much weirder than Hippie Hollow. The fact that it’s the only clothing-optional public park in the entire state of Texas actually makes it legally weird. So yes, if you come to Hippie Hollow, you’re going to see people in their birthday suits. Don’t be shy.

The Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata

1808 Singleton Ave

The first weird thing about the Museum of Natural & Artificial Emphemerata: it’s located in a house in East Austin. The museum hosts weird bits of esoterica like Fiji mermaids, pickled critters, and a wide array of artifacts that fall squarely into the “odd” category. Be sure to check out their four-legged duck.

Peter Pan Mini-Golf

1207 Barton Springs Rd

VIA PETER PAN MINI-GOLF / FACEBOOK

Peter Pan Mini Golf is the only place in town we’re aware of that has a giant T-Rex statue, which is notable in and of itself. Beyond that, the course has a ton of weird, old sculptures with creepy faces to keep you company as you play your round of miniature. It’s also BYOB, so you can weirdly stumble around the course.

Carousel Lounge

1110 E 52nd St

Carousel Lounge is the definitive answer to a question nobody asked: Where would Hunter S. Thompson drink in Austin? With its disorienting cascade of brightly colored lights and baffling commitment to a distinctly circus-like aesthetic, Carousel Lounge feels exactly like the kind of Vegas bar Thompson would stumble into and write about later.

<mandrella@do512.com>

<mandrella@do512.com>Ego’s

<mandrella@do512.com>510 S Congress Ave

In the fiercely competitive world of Austin Karaoke, Ego’s reigns supreme. Tucked snugly under an office building off South Congress, it’s been a favorite dive-y haunt for decades. It’s got all the hallmarks of a good bar: strong drinks, low prices, and middle aged men who aren’t at all ashamed to belt out “Toxic” by Britney Spears.

The Highball

1120 S Lamar Blvd

VIE THE HIGHBALL / FACEBOOK

The Highball might just have the strangest karaoke rooms in the United States. Spin Magazine enjoyed the weirdness enough to do a whole story about them. One room looks satanic, another is themed after Super Mario Bros., and another is modeled in circus freaks. It’s an amazing place to sing your song of choice.

Austin Panic Room

1205 Rio Grande St

Let’s preface this by stating that Austin Panic Room is way more fun than the name might suggest. Having said that, you’ve got to be ready for a real challenge. Austin Panic Room puts you and your pals in a room filled with puzzles and a variety of challenging scenarios that you have 60 minutes to figure out and make your escape.

Hope Outdoor Gallery

1101 Baylor St

Take one look at the HOPE Outdoor Gallery and your first reaction is probably going to be “WHAT IS THAT?”. It’s big, bright, and incredibly colorful. When you get to exploring the art a little closer, it’s weirdness reveals itself to you. There’s all manner of creatively spray painted creatures, messages, and more on its layered walls. You could spend multiple hours and still miss tons of details.

Lala’s

2207 Justin Ln

LaLa’s is a perennially Christmas-themed bar, complete with plastic elves, twinkling lights, and holiday decorations. It’s a beautifully strange mainstay in North Austin; a cash-only bar with a legendary jukebox and one of the best Bloody Marys in town. You can read all about Lala’s right here.

Congress Avenue Bridge

Lady Bird Lake

The Mexican free-tailed bats are so ingrained into the Austin psyche that it’s easy to forget that they’re a strange attraction in the first place. But for the vast majority of people that visit Austin, they’re one of the most easily accessible phenomena available. If you’ve lived here for awhile, you may have even forgotten how weirdly awesome it is to observe them flying in great droves through the evening sky.

Stubb’s

801 Red River St

We know what you’re all thinking: Brunch is great and all, but wouldn’t it be better with Gospel music as the sound track? The answer is yes. It doesn’t hurt that Gospel Brunch at Stubb’s features southern-style grits, migas, fried catfish, and their famous BBQ brisket. Perhaps most importantly, they have a killer Bloody Mary bar.

Zilker Park

2100 Barton Springs Rd

We’re not going to make the argument that flying a kite is weird in itself, but when you see hundreds of them flying in the same place at once it just feels extraordinary. What’s doubly strange is just how elaborate some of these things get at the Kite Festival. Last year there was a giant kite that looked like Mothra from Godzilla.

Curra’s Grill

614 E Oltorf St

When it comes to flavors, the Margarita is a pretty versatile drink. Strawberry, coconut, apple, pineapple, cantaloupe… the list goes on. What you might not have known is the list goes on so far that it eventually reaches the Avocado Margarita. We’ve always felt that the avocado is the Cadillac of fruits. Now drive that Cadillac straight to your mouth in drink form. You won’t regret it, but you may find yourself craving it constantly.

Driskill Hotel & Bar

604 Brazos St

Originally built in 1886, The Driskill is one of the oldest buildings in Austin. When a building has been around for 129 years, you can safely bet that some interesting things have gone on there. The original owner, Jesse Driskill, lost ownership of the hotel in a whiskey-fueled card game, and the place is widely reported to be haunted.

Gourdough’s Public House (S. Lamar)

2700 S Lamar Blvd

If extraterrestrial beings landed in Austin and Gourdough’s was the first restaurant they visited, they’d have a pretty flawed view of what our human diets consist of. Gourdough’s is like some bizarre culinary dimension in which donuts are not just a treat, but the main course. That’s pretty weird, if you think about it.

Moonshine Grill

303 Red River St

Being that Austin is a weird city, it stands to reason that supernatural phenomena would occur here. We’ve already told you about The Driskill, but there’s plenty of other spots that may or may not be haunted. Austin Ghost Tours give you the chance to form your own opinions about the other side of weird Austin. The tours begin and end in front of Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill every Saturday night.


Are we missing your favorite weird thing to do in Austin? Holler!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

When the “Good ol’ boys” start throwing threats, be prepared . . .

I AM FIT to be tied, but I’ve got my facts in order, so former tenant (aka, the boy

Be aware, Daddy's Boy. Mama's done her research and has documentation . . .

Be aware, Daddy’s Boy. Mama’s done her research and has documentation . . .

whose daddy owns an oil company and who’s suffering from falling gas prices *thank you Mr. President, my own personal bank acct. is happy about this*): You will now be referred to as Daddy’s Boy.

So tenant *Daddy’s Boy* has moved out (he tried to move out early, bounced his last check and tried to tell me to take it out of his deposit–Do Not Do This).
Daddy’s Boy signed a Texas Real Estate Commission Lease supplied by a Texas Realtor.
That said, it could be worse, but no, he did not abide by the lease he signed (a regulated, standard  legal document) .
It could be worse, but late payments, bounced checks, cat poo and pee  in the laundry room, an unauthorized additional  satellite dish installed, etc.,  the list goes on.
And now he’s threatening to sue  me that he wants the full deposit back or he’ll “put a lien on the house and enlist  the full wrath of the THREE lawyers he *keeps on retainer * in order to get his entire deposit back before the legal 30 days we have to assess damages and additional standard clean up as provided by the lease” he signed..
So here’s a question: What kind of person are you that you need not one, not two, but three attorneys on retainer?
 
This morning, I am preparing a factual, highlighted copy of the  documentation regarding written, signed, lease infractions in a professional, non-threatening way, including copies of bounced checks, pictures of damage, etc. I’m not being unfair. He’ll get what he’s owed (except maybe a figurative ass-kicking he deserves).
I’m not getting personal on this (even though he’s threatened me and got me *shaking in my Wonder Woman boots*)–it’s all standard Texas Real Estate Commission docs that *he* signed.
 

I do not like being threatened. Especially when I’ve got copies of the bounced/late checks, photo evidence ,etc. the law on my side and my own attorney. 

Be aware, Daddy's Boy: Mama's got facts. And proof. And back up . . .

Be aware, Daddy’s Boy: Mama’s got facts. And proof. And back up . . .

So. When you threaten a woman with unfounded, illegal actions on a standard, legal lease *you* signed sir, be aware: I got facts and evidence and a signed contract.
So  back up, Daddy’s Boy. And get your affairs in order sir. I’ve got bank records and the original documents . . . and you’re messing with my writing time.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to the beginning . . . in life and Story

JUST RE-READ Stephen King’s On Writing, and it’s still raining–which is a good

We write now?

So you’re not gonna do anything about all this rain?

thing, considering all of July was dry as a well-diggers grave. I love reading in the rain, which is so much easier than re-writing my work in progress. While doing that, I figured out what’s bothering me about what I *am* writing btw, Book One of the series, Scoop is still free on Amazon!

But while writing Book Four in the series, guess what? I started at the wrong place (literally and figuratively–in real life, I’m moving back to the lake, and all the errands that entails).

What I wrote isn’t  bad, in fact, I like it, but will move it all down and start with the subplot, which I didn’t even know was there. So now, Cauley, while battling bad guys and ex husband, has to find out who hacked her phone and is texting certain folks nekkid pics of her.

Free on Amazon today!

Free on Amazon today!

So now, the book starts, not with who’s Fed Exing three heads in a box (oh, they’re still there, they just aren’t The Beginning). Now the Story starts with who hacked her phone and texted her boss (who is also her mentor, friend and editor) a naughty pic, if there are more, who all got the text, and what repercussions will result . . .

So. Let’s talk about Story, and why it begins where it begins:

The opening of a short story or novel is just that—the very beginning. That’s the simple and straightforward definition. However, what this book is really concerned with is illustrating the differences between good and bad openings—although perhaps it may be best not to assign words like good and bad to openings. Instead we’re going to be talking about and describing openings that work and openings that don’t work.

THE COMPONENTS OF AN OPENING SCENE
An opening scene has ten core components: (1) the inciting incident; (2) the story-worthy problem; (3) the initial surface problem; (4) the setup; (5) backstory; (6) a stellar opening sentence; (7) language; (8) character; (9) setting; and (10) foreshadowing. Let’s take a quick look at each and how they work together to help the opening scene achieve its unique goals. This is only an overview, as these elements are discussed in greater detail in later chapters.

The Primary Components
Each of the ten components is important, but some are more important than others. The four most important, in almost all stories, are the inciting incident, the story-worthy problem that is introduced by the inciting incident, the initial surface problem that is directly created as a result of the inciting incident, and the setup. The importance of the last six ingredients varies according to the individual story, but even though important, they usually take a back seat to the first four.

1. The Inciting Incident
As noted in the previous chapter, the inciting incident is the event that creates the character’s initial surface problem and introduces the first inklings of the story-worthy problem. In essence, this is the “action” part of the story, the part that is plot-based. This happens to the protagonist, then he does this to resolve it, then this, and so on.

2. The Story-Worthy Problem
The inciting incident sets the stage for the story-worthy problem, which functions just beneath the surface of the story on a more psychological level. Consider it the driving force behind the initial surface problem as it’s ultimately what the protagonist must reconcile at the end of the story. The inciting incident introduces this problem by either bringing to the forefront a buried problem or creating a new one, thus beginning the gradual revealing process that will encompass the rest of the story as the protagonist’s—and the reader’s—understanding of the true nature of story-worthy problem deepens.

3. The Initial Surface Problem
This is the problem that occurs as a direct result of the inciting incident. And while it may seem at first glance that solving this problem is what the story is really all about, it’s not. As we just discussed in the previous section, every story is ultimately about solving the deeper, more complicated story-worthy problem that is slowly revealed as the story progresses. So why does the initial surface problem qualify as a primary opening scene component? Simple. It propels the protagonist to take action (he wants to solve it, or at least he better for your story to work), and assists in the eventual revelation of the story-worthy problem.
Keep in mind that the initial surface problem can evolve into or create additional, even larger surface problems, but that these must rise organically from the initial problem and always be firmly moored to the story-worthy problem.

4. The Setup
The definition of the setup is just that—it “sets up” the opening scene by giving a snapshot that allows what will take place in the following scene to be clear to the reader. The last thing you want to happen is to force the reader to “backtrack” to make sense of what’s taking place in the scene. That’s why opening directly with dialogue is usually a mistake. Unless the dialogue is crystal clear as to who’s talking to whom and about what, the reader may have to go back and reread the dialogue again once she figures out the context and who the participants are and their relationship to each other. At the least, such backtracking—either literally or on a subconscious level—represents a speed bump. At the worst, it can create a complete stall for the fictive dream. There are, of course, exceptions, but it’s usually safest to not take chances and to avoid beginning with direct dialogue.
Setup can take any number of forms or combinations of forms. The overall “rule” is to only give what’s absolutely necessary for the reader to understand the scene that will follow and no more. Remember, this is the beginning and the beginning is the place the reader will decide whether to invest any more time in the story. That means little or no backstory—save that for later. (That’s why I’ve listed backstory as a secondary component instead of primary component despite that fact at least a small amount usually appears in opening scenes—to remind you to use it with care.) You also shouldn’t include excessive detail or description in your setup. Save it. Your setup should contain at least a hint of the trouble to come, either directly or indirectly. It may be something as simple as showing the reader a man and a woman seated across from each other in a restaurant and the man refusing to meet the woman’s eyes as she begins talking. At the other extreme, it may need to show that the restaurant is an abandoned, dust-covered dining room in a Western ghost town and it has recently been designated as an atomic bomb test site. In any case, only provide the bare minimum that will serve the scene that follows and orient the reader sufficiently that what ensues is clear as it begins to take place.

The Secondary Components
Now that we’ve defined the inciting incident, the story-worthy problem, the initial surface problem, and the setup, all of which make up the foundation of an opening scene, let’s look at the secondary components of backstory, a stellar opening sentence, language, character, setting, and foreshadowing. I say secondary because, while the first four ingredients are absolutely crucial to any beginning, these last six take on varying degrees of importance depending on the story and your aims, and some of these latter components may not even appear in some openings.

5. Backstory
This is usually where new writers err the most when it comes to their opening scenes. Backstory includes anything and everything that’s happened up to the time of the inciting incident. There are times when a bit of backstory is necessary for the reader to grasp what’s going on in the inciting incident and why it’s important. However, this is the greatest bane for most editors and agents when they encounter a newly submitted manuscript and is the biggest kiss of death for the work. Tread carefully when considering how much backstory to include in your story.
Are there times when a longer backstory is necessary? Actually, there are. In many police procedurals, mysteries, thrillers and related genres, the story begins often with a crime being committed. The protagonist is nowhere around the scene at the book’s beginning. Many of best-selling novelist John Sandford’s novels are classic examples. They begin with the crime being committed and it’s only later that the protagonist enters the story.
There are other exceptions, such as in Larry Watson’s Montana 1948, which we’ll look at in chapter four.
The danger in telling you that backstory can sometimes be lengthy, is that you may take that as license to provide too much backstory. The single biggest fault of most writers is that they simply don’t trust the reader’s intelligence to “get” what’s going on without providing lengthy backstory. Editors, agents, and writing teachers constantly fight that impulse in writers. Many writers feel the reader has to know that Mary has been married three times, each relationship ending badly, to “understand” why she’s looking for a good relationship. Providing that kind of backstory will most likely lead to rejection and is the kind of backstory that, while indeed important, needs to be doled out at a later point in thestory and bit by bit.
In general, keep backstory either absent from the opening or only include as much as is absolutely necessary to set the scene for the inciting incident. We’ll discuss backstory in greater detail in chapter four.

6. The Opening Line
Spend an awful lot of time on this sentence. In fact, more effort should be expended on your story’s first sentence than on any other line in your entire story. No kidding. The first sentence is the first thing the readers will see when they open the door of your manuscript or story. Make sure it’s a good ’un! One that will create a strong impression. My own favorite is one I used in my short story “The Bad Part of Town,” which begins: He was so mean that wherever he was standing became the bad part of town.

I know it’s my own story and one should at least appear to be somewhat humble, but honestly, do you think most readers would be able to resist reading on after reading that sentence?

7. Language
The opening is where you should create your most memorable language. The first sentence is often the best sentence of all in many successful stories. Take time to craft not only the first sentence, but the rest of the opening. Refrain from using adverbs and too many adjectives, especially ordinary ones. For gosh sakes, don’t pair adjectives in an attempt to make the description more powerful. The rule of thumb with adjectives is that with each additional one, the power is halved, not doubled, as many mistakenly think. The secret to good writing is to employ strong, original verbs (avoid forms of to be), and concrete nouns. Avoid “invisible” words like beautiful or redundant phrasing like ran quickly. Especially avoid using adverbial qualifiers for dialogue tags; instead, stick to said for almost all of your tags.

8. Character Introduction
The opening is where you at least introduce your protagonist and usually the antagonist. This doesn’t mean you give a life history for either of these principle characters. Introduce your reader to your characters by showing the characters’ reactions to the inciting incident. Those reactions reveal and define their personalities, creating a first impression as strong as any in our own lives.
Brevity is key here. Instead of long, boring physical descriptions and little tangential stories that you think will illuminate your character’s personality, pick a telling detail and let the reader fill in the rest. Characters are best revealed by their actions instead of exposition anyway, and you have a whole, entire book or story for exposition. For instance, if you feel it important to develop your protagonist’s characterization as a skinflint, don’t give some long, drawn-out tale of him pinching pennies as a youngster, or (worse!) tell the reader he’s a miserable miser. Instead, in your opening scene, show him doing something miserly within the context of the inciting incident scene. Show him having to transfer two handfuls of hundred-dollar bills to one hand so he can scoop the inside of the coin return of a candy machine for forgotten nickels. Remember, you don’t have to develop the whole of his characterization in the opening—just the single most important facet—and you should do that briefly and with a telling action.
Also be careful not to introduce too many characters at once. Give your reader time to get to know the main character(s) before flooding the page with many others. A host of people parading about on the stage when the story has scarcely begun will confuse the reader, who will be trying to keep track of all these folks. If there are very many characters in the beginning, your reader may well throw up her hands at trying to figure out who all these people are and how they may impact the story.

9. Setting
At least a glimpse of the setting should be included in the opening. It’s important to be grounded physically. The amount of detail you provide should depend on how important the setting will prove to be. Writers like Ellen Gilchrist and Raymond Chandler made their story settings almost a character in their stories, and so included greater detail than did the minimalist Raymond Carver, who was much more interested in character. The setting includes many things—the physical space from the doily on the end table to the Milky Way and beyond. The time period is part of the setting. The culture and society the characters find themselves in is also a part. Anything that can be seen, heard, or imagined is an element of the setting. Be careful that you only include details that are important. To paraphrase Chekhov, if a gun appears on the credenza in act one, it needs to be fired by act three. All that means is that every detail in the setting has to serve a purpose. The reader will expect whatever is being described or noted about the setting to play a prominent part somewhere in the tale.
Keep in mind that setting is one of the ingredients that may or may not be that important, and it is hardly ever as important as many writers believe it to be. Sometimes writers spend far too much space on creating the setting because, well, settings are easy to write. Half the time you’ve spent in English and writing classes has probably been devoted to writing settings. You become good at them. The problem is, when you have a strength, it’s tempting to go to it again and again, instead of tackling the tough part of writing, which is writing scenes. Also, description has changed a lot from the days you learned how to write description in school. Today, passive description is largely eschewed, and almost all description in a contemporary story is active description, incorporated unobtrusively within the action of a scene, so the bit of description doesn’t stop the scene or even slow it down noticeably.
In yesteryear, you may have been praised by your teachers for long paragraphs of near-poetic descriptions, using clever similes and metaphors and laying on the language of dead poets. But today’s description is short and sweet, and doesn’t interfere with the action and drama of the scene. Instead of describing a highway’s “thin, white hypnotic lines” or “bumper-to-bumper traffic with little kids and dogs hanging out of windows” and the like, today we would simply write something like Tim Dorsey did in his hysterically funny novel Torpedo Juice: “His headlights bounced off a panther crossing sign.”
However, there are times and stories that do call for more extensive settings—specifically, stories in which the setting becomes a character itself. Many of Ellen Gilchrist’s stories depend on the city of New Orleans playing a character’s role. Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County setting is as much a character in several of his novels as any flesh-and-blood person. That duly noted, Faulkner still didn’t open his stories with detailed descriptions of place, but rather waited until a bit later to deliver lengthy descriptions.

For most stories and novels, a brief description of setting is useful and even necessary to ground the reader, but I urge you to save lengthy descriptions for later on. A brief description of setting is important, and it is important that it be brief.

10. Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is hinting at the action or obstacles to come. Hints about upcoming perils create page-turning reads, but foreshadowing may or may not be important in your opening. For certain types of novels—mysteries and thrillers, for instance—foreshadowing may be very important. For other genres it may not even be necessary. Let’s say you have a character who will save the day at the end by leaping over a tremendous chasm. You may want to foreshadow that in the very beginning by mentioning that he won the bronze medal in the long jump in the 1984 Olympics. Even though that initial mention may occur on page 1, and he doesn’t actually make the big hop until page 387, the reader will remember and the jump won’t seem ludicrous when he actually makes it. It will have been effectively foreshadowed.

These are the major components, or r elements, a good opening scene should include, and we’ll be discussing them again and again throughout the book. Only you can determine which of the ten components need to be included in your story, and to what length. Think of the top four components as first tier, and the last six as second tier.

These ten components are a lot to have going on in a relatively short space, so it’s key that you write tight. The opening scene should be relatively short—a good working length would be one to four pages—so it’s important to be concise and make the language work in more than one way.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Rain. And Plan B . . .

MUCH NEEDED RAIN again today. Cats are UN happy but doggie is loving it. I may have to actually trade shorts for actual pants today. We’ll see.

i know kitty. But we need the rain . . .

i know kitty. But we need the rain . . .

Plan B in full swing today.  Sending pics of lake house  clean up to those who need  it, trying to get rid of *stuff* and maybe, just maybe, plot twists underway in WIP, which has been stewing away on back burner.

Other writing stuff also underway (the  Almighty’s way of teaching me patience and priorities). I don’t always get the message the first time . . .

Melt downs aren’t pretty, happily, they are few and far between. That said, the longest fuses often make the biggest BOOM–my heartfelt apologies to those who witness them.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment