In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing a famous children’s writer. In April of 2014, I figured I’d gotten enough publications that I could share some of the things I did “right”. I’ll keep that up, but I’m running out of pro-published stories. I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it, but someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. Hemingway’s quote above will remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales, but I’m adding this new series of posts because I want to carefully look at what I’ve done WRONG and see if I can fix it. As always, your comments are welcome!
ANALOG Tag Line:
Serena Lane is an eighth grader who has to do a "family project" for her social studies teacher, but when her grandmother dies unexpectedly in the middle of it, Serena is forced to discover if the people left behind are really the family they thought they were and documents it in THE BIZARRO FAMILY PROJECT.
Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?)
Are people with the same last name a family? Are people living under one roof a family? Are people who are related by blood always family? What if you’re sure of the answers one day and the next day, someone changed the questions?
“Serena Lane sighed as she read what she’d just typed on her laptop.”
Serena Lane sighed as she read what she’d just typed on her laptop. The first paragraph of the introduction of the Bizarro family was for Mr. Ledo, her eighth grade social studies teacher.
“How do I explain me and Grandma and William and Matt and Canon Jane Owens to anyone?” she asked. The lime green sheet of tag board lying on her unmade bed said nothing. She sighed. Looking at it made her head hurt, but last night it was the only color The Grocery Warehouse had left.
“This,” she said, turning her attention to the silk wall hanging of Samurai Deeper Kyo, “is a decent start to a bad project. I’d actually rather pull toenails out of my feet with a tweezers than do it but if I don’t, I’ll fail eighth grade.” Everyone at Carter Middle School said that failing the Family Project was a permanent daily trip to the counselor’s office and possible placement in the Secondary Academy for Lifetime Occupations. Teachers called it The Academy. Students called it the Special Academy for LOsers.
For Serena, they’d probably drop her back a grade level, where she belonged despite the fact that her parents had petitioned to have her move up in third grade before they were both killed in a car accident. As far as that went, she had “adjusted well” according to Mr. Capan, her fourth and fifth grade teacher. Sixth grade had been a breeze. Serena picked up her seventh grade picture. “Ugh,” she grunted. Not a good year.
What Was I Trying To Say?
Today, for good or evil, “family” is whatever we say it is.
The Rest of the Story:
“No one who lives in the Forbusch Mansion Bed & Breakfast has the same last name. If the cops ever find out, we’ll all go to prison. My grandmother’s a former terrorist, her boyfriend is related to Jesse James, my cousin is a drunk driver and our live-in mystery writer was an FBI agent who only writes about bugs and how they are used to kill people. Me? I’m a juvenile delinquent. Ask anybody. We (drum roll please) are the Bizarro Family and this is our Project.
Grandma Esther, her boyfriend William Faulkner DeVries (though I never put the words ‘boyfriend’ and ‘grandma’ together until I moved in with them), me, Serena Lane, my frequently drunk cousin, Matt Jones, and the famous mystery writer, Canon Jane Owens are a weirdly mutated version of a regular family. I confess I like it this way, but it has its down side, too: none of us have to stay around. We’re all free to go or to be taken away at any time. It was the taking away part that freaked me out and made a mess of this poster. See, while I was doing the Project, Grandma Esther died. She was the one who held the rest of us together so I’m not sure, as of the writing of this paper, whether the Bizarro Family is still a real family…”
In the end, they stay together, though not exactly as you’d expect…in fact, unless I go down and dig up the actual, paper novel downstairs, I’m not sure exactly how they all stayed together – just that they did.
Can This Story Be Saved?
I wrote the original story around the idea that one person could hold multiple people together into a cohesive unit and that once removed, the unit typically falls apart. It’s a “sort of” law of physics illustrated by what would happen to our Solar System if the Sun suddenly vanished. They planets would all fly off into space to eke out the rest of their meager lives.
Earth, of course would freeze solid and all life on it vanish (though there might be some simple forms that would exist near volcanic vents for a while. But complex life as we know it? Nope.
At any rate, my Wife and I have been binge-watching various TV shows and movie series. We currently started CHUCK; we’ll finish THE HOBBIT and the LORD OF THE RINGS movies tonight; we’re eagerly awaiting the premier of OCEANS EIGHT (an offshoot of OCEANS 11, 12, and 13); I have read Lois McMasters Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN books dozens of times; I’ve always been a fan of the M*A*S*H TV series (who wasn’t?); we’ve fallen for THE ORVILLE…I could go on, but the purpose of this brief review is to point to the importance of the “ensemble cast”.
I can vaguely remember hundreds of television series that started off with a cool premise and then flopped because the actors playing the characters didn’t gel. I can name at least one television series that started with an absurd premise, but because there was “something” about the ensemble cast, it worked – SCORPION.
There are plenty of YA books that worked only because the ENSEMBLE did – HUNGER GAMES springs to mind, as do the HARRY POTTER books. The idea for both series is neither new nor particularly amazing. It’s the people that pulled off the series. In HP, both the written characters AND the acting ensemble melded to form unforgettable adventures to which people have returned countless times.
So, my question for BIZARRO FAMILY PROJECT is “Why didn’t the characters as I wrote them ten years ago gel?”
Among the answers to that question is the one most important: I wasn’t a good enough writer to pull it off. Am I now? I don’t know, but I MIGHT try. I’ve got lots of irons in the fire; I’ve got lots of ideas to try and put together for a story. Do I want to go back in time and see what I can do with the series. I can tell you ONE thing I won’t do – pander to whatever social wind is wafting through the country at this point. Social winds typically lose their power unless the writer makes a current issue timeless. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is one such book. Wikipedia says of it, “The novel is renowned for its warmth and humor, despite dealing with the serious issues of rape and racial inequality. The narrator's father, Atticus Finch, has served as a moral hero for many readers and as a model of integrity for lawyers.”
Positives – the novel emphasized POSITIVES despite its horrific theme. Morals…I’m pretty sure we don’t talk about THOSE in 21st Century Western Society any more...are another theme. Despite the fact that race relations have changed since the novel was written (btw – “No, they haven’t gotten better. Different.”) yet the novel persists, despite the hit it took upon the publication of GO SET A WATCHMAN which was (as far as I can tell) widely panned as a first draft of MOCKINGBIRD.
How could I make something important out of BIZARRO FAMILY PROJECT? Do authors set out to make hit TV series, create fabulous ensemble casts, or write profound novels? No idea. Maybe they just try to do the best they can to tell the story that strikes them deeply – and if that’s the case, maybe I CAN rewrite this.