Here’s my 5-pronged update:
This past week, I’ve been researching first paragraphs and first pages of books. See, most of the agents I’m submitting to want no more than 10 pages. So you have to make a good impression FAST.
Consequently, I’ve been scrutinizing and scrutinizing my first paragraph like crazy. I haven’t been that fond of it for awhile, so I finally decided to do a rewriting exercise: instead of just editing the crap out of the opening sentences, I decided to scrap them and rewrite brand new versions.
Over the course of the last few days, I wrote fifteen different first paragraphs. Then I melded some into others and pieced together a few others.
When it’s all said and done, I’m still not crazy about it. A good first paragraph/page should throw you into the story and create tension. That way, people want to turn pages from the beginning. Let me tell you, it’s difficult to achieve that early on.
At this point, though, I think I’m over-analyzing things and should just let it go. I think I’m so intimately familiar with the words that I won’t like anything I’ve written.
Almost all the selected readers have a copy of the book. So far, the feedback I’ve received has been really great. One friend actually told me he regretted agreeing to read. “I HATE reading,” he revealed to me later, saying he volunteered just to be nice.
But he’s started reading and told me yesterday that he’s halfway through the book and “totally addicted.”
I purposely selected different audiences for the book, so I’m really curious about what a couple other people will think. It’s actually as much a psychology study as anything else. If the plot can grab all the readers’ interests, I think I’ve got something pretty decent on my hands.
Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. That’s all I’ve gotta say about the video.
OK I wasn’t going to share this story, but I just can’t help myself.
A few weeks ago, I found out that a group of high school band students offered to play at the Christmas Mass.
When I heard about it, I thought the idea was really cool; we need more musical involvement! So as they were giving me the scoop, I just nodded along, all excited, and gave them my complete support.
Since then, they’ve been practicing and we had our first group rehearsal on Sunday.
First off, I was surprised by the randomness of the instruments. Our band consists of a French horn, piano, xylophone, cymbals, and a violin. Yeah, just try to think of those 5 instruments all playing together. To me, it’s like wearing paisley with stripes and polka dots and leopard print.
Honestly, though, I thought it was pretty cool. Random things can be fun!
So we all gathered together and, before I joined in singing, they did a few run-thrus with just the instruments. Smiling, I settled myself in a pew right by the musicians and in front of their parents. We chatted a bit and then the band leader motioned it was time to begin.
I settled back in my chair and got read to hear what three weeks of practice accomplished. I admit I was happy; they were really enthusiastic and the band leader seemed really talented (she played something amazing on the piano before they began).
As they lifted their instruments to their chins (or lips or whatever), a hush fell over the church as we awaited magic.
This is what happened:
Let me say right now that I anticipated a lot of different scenarios. The dying cat parade was not one of them. What made it worse is my affinity for bad music. Seriously, if people ask what cracks me up, I always answer “awful music.”
The second they started playing, my eyes got really big and I immediately busted out laughing. I couldn’t help myself. It caught me so off guard that, within seconds, I was crying I was laughing so hard. Unfortunately, all the parents were right behind me so, embarrassed, I ducked down in the pew so they couldn’t see me. The problem was, my shoulders were shaking because I was laughing so hard. There’s no way my reaction wasn’t noticed, but I refused to make eye contact with parents the rest of the practice.
Enjoying the Area
On Monday, Windy and I went Christmas shopping for her clients.
For those of you who don’t know, Windy works with mentally handicapped people of all ages. One of the wonderful things about them is they believe in Santa Claus their entire lives. And they get super, amazingly excited for Christmas. Seriously, one of the ladies sobs during their party when Santa walks in the door. It is THE cutest thing in the world.
To make the party more enjoyable, the company buys gifts for the clients that Santa hands out.
Now I love Christmas shopping and crowds and all that stuff. The thing I didn’t realize, however, is that Windy’s company has about 50 clients. We bought 2-3 gifts per client so, if you do the math, that was roughly 125 presents.
That was a lot of shopping! To put it in perspective, we left for Wal-Mart about 2:00 and didn’t get home until around 10:00. We did take a couple breaks to eat and stuff but, when it was all said and done, we shopped for like 6-7 hours.
I have to admit, though, it was really fun. We ended up with two shopping baskets full of stuff. And the things they wanted were extremely random. We got everything from Arizona Cardinals back packs to Crayons to lunch bags to manicure sets to Star Wars figures to puzzles (and everything in between). I haven’t shopped for toys in a long time and it was really cool wandering the aisles like a kid, picking out stuff.
Their holiday party was today and, after seeing the clients’ faces, it was totally worth it. Most of them ran around, grinning and showing EVERYONE their presents. One woman got a doll and she was in tears hugging it.
Random Insights or Stories
No Wagner Christmas is complete without stories of my mom. She was a Christmas FREAK, but in the good way. She had traditions stacked on traditions that made the season really significant.
So, in the spirit of the season, I wanted to share some of the most memorable MOMents (OMG I just made that up!!):
1. The Christmas boxes – Most everyone knows about Santa’s naughty and nice list. You know, that attempt to make children behave during the season. It’s a good idea, but Mom took it a step further. Shortly after Thanksgiving, she would haul out a glass platter full of pieces of yellow yarn (hay), shredded squares of cloth (blankets), and little plastic animals. A few weeks before Christmas, each of us kids would get a little cardboard box and, every time we did something good, we got to place something from the platter into our box. The thinking behind it was we were making a more hospitable place for Jesus. The more hay and blankets and animals he got, the more comfortable he’d be in his manger. When Christmas Eve arrived, we would all open our boxes and, whoever had the most stuff, won a prize. It was a really great idea to get us to behave and do good deeds.
Unfortunately, as we got older, we found a way to beat the system. An hour before the “contest,” we’d all run to the platter. There, we’d make up a bunch of good deeds we’d “forgotten about” and stuff our boxes full.
2. Insane amounts of presents – Mom was so into Christmas, she wanted to make sure they were memorable and huge. The problem was, we were poor, so she couldn’t just go out and do tons of shopping. Well, if there was one thing about Mom, she was resourceful:
a. We never, EVER got presents throughout the year (other than on our birthdays). If Mom found something cool in July, she’d stash it for Christmas. If she found cheap school supplies, she’d stash them for Christmas. That was how she worked all year, stashing things away for Christmas.
b. She’d also re-gift – there are pictures from different Christmases where the same present would show up. Seriously. There’s a pic of me, about 10, opening a nutcracker with strings you could pull to make the legs jump. That gift mysteriously vanished after a few days and, a few Christmases later, Windy received it. Here’s the funniest part: it disappeared again and, the next Christmas, Windy got it…again.
c. On top of that, EVERY. SINGLE. THING. had to be wrapped separately. Socks would be separated into two packages, matching outfits would be separated, etc…
The end result was a Christmas tree exploding with presents. Seriously, they’d be stacked all over the room and up and down the walls. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. But now, I really appreciate the effort she went through to give us memorable Christmases.
3. The Christmas novenas – Fourteen days before Christmas, everyone would gather around a box and pick out a plastic sheep. Then we’d place them across the room from our big manger scene, maybe on a stack of books or next to the couch. Each night, we’d all gather together and say a novena (it’s basically a long prayer). When finished, we’d all get to move our sheep a little closer to the manger. On Christmas Eve, if our sheep were in the manger scene, we got to open presents. If they didn’t make it (meaning we missed a novena), we were out of luck.
Unlike the Christmas boxes, the novena was REALLY REALLY effective, because Mom enforced that rule about opening presents. I remember one Christmas, our older brother was a sullen teenager and refused to pray. On Christmas, we all gathered to open presents and my parents refused to give him any. Seriously. He just sat there watching as we opened presents. Within minutes, he was on his knees saying his make-up novenas 🙂
This blog is really long so I’m going to hold off on a short story this week.