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Sunday, May 9, 2010

5 Ways To Enthrall Your Readers

Ah, the beginning of May. May, when the grass grows back its emerald bloom from the days and weeks buried in its white coffin of snow, from the goopy mud that swamps the earth and when the worms come out to play. May, when the air, hinted with the fragrance of fresh rain and lilacs that only Spring can bring, clings to your skin; when sneakers and sweatshirts are traded in for sandals and sundresses.

And if you’re like me, May is when you’re shut into a stuffy room, armed with pens and pencils, taking an AP (Advanced Placement) exam, with a clock ticking down the time. Only a mere few hours to impress strangers with your words—strangers who have to sift through hundreds of papers and stamp them with a grade.

I don’t claim to be perfect, I’m not asking you to take my words as holy commandments, but I figured that I could share my tips on how to give your piece that extra oomf, that extra edge that makes it stand out over the sea of other works.
Everybody wants to come away from writing something—whether it be an essay for an AP exam, a poem for your Mom on Mother's Day, something to post to your blog, a story to get published—feeling good. So here are 5 tidbits of advice that I've come to realize through my journey as a writer.

1. Confidence Is Key

Okay. Before your heart starts skipping like a jumping bean, take a deep breath. If you have a deadline to make, you won't go anywhere if the stress seeps into your bones and clouds your mind—especially if your insecurities are steering your thoughts. You only have so much time, and that time will pass—use it to do something towards your goal; do not pass the time stealing peaks at the clock, drumming nervous fingers against your desk. And if you don't have a deadline—don't lose it, because then you have more of a chance to get writer's block. Writer's block is far from fun; it's easy to get into, hard to get out of. And when you get bit by the writer's block bug, inspiration is that much harder to grab when you write. So take a few deep breaths.

Think of this!




Or whatever else makes you happy.

Be confident with your words. Eradicate your mind of those insecurities as a writer, those pesky parasites that poison your mind. Instead of thinking, "Um...I think this is what they're looking for...hopefully this all works out for the best!" or "I don't know if anybody will like this, I should change it," think, "Okay. I know I'm a good writer. I can do this! They will like it! I am worth it!" If you're confident with your writing, people can tell that you know exactly what you're doing, that you have credibility as an author, and they will trust you for that.

2. Quality NOT Quantity

I know, I know, it's such an elementary point—but it's a valid point. When people study for their AP exams and see the tiny, cramped handwriting of past students who took the exam, they think that they need to reach a minimum of two pages. You see it with writing stories too. People think the bigger, the better, the more impressive. This could not be further from the truth.

Substance, substance, substance. You're always bound to be received better by educated audiences if you write something that isn't quite as long as Gone With the Wind, but is a feast of knowledge, instead of pages and pages of absolute vapidity. Like Twilight. So don't fret about length! Say what you need to say; let your knowledge glow off the page; let your story be told.

3. Be Yourself; Be Sincere

As a writer, you have an innate voice to your written work. A distinct style. Don't be afraid of people and lose that natural stamp that makes your work yours! They're not monsters. They're not the creepy-crawlies that lurk in the shadows beneath your bed. They're just people, like you and me. So write as you would write anything else. And mean it. Don't pretend to be something you're not.

4. Set the Scene


You're drawing your readers in, letting them hang on to each and every word; you want to get them hooked from the start. Make it intriguing. Make it mysterious. Make it a treat for readers to read through, leaving them thirsting for more. Whether you use anaphora, rhetorical questions, or any other literary techniques, you want to lure your readers in, and once you get into the thick of your piece, you'll have them ensnared. Razzle dazzle them!

5. Make it Clear; Make it Flow


When you write, you have to make sure that what you say is crystal clear. There's nothing more jarring than getting caught up in writing, and the next thing you realize, those sentences have turned into coiled snakes that people have to stop and read through again to get the picture. The reader's experience should be all smooth sailing
, sentences light like air—not clunky and heavy as bricks.

So perhaps this month of May won't be so stressful with these tips. And when you finish that last word, you'll sit back, gaze at the clock, and smile.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

September 11, 2001: A Memoir (Part IV)

This story continues from Part III. Please be respectful, and any comments at all would be quite lovely. Enjoy! And thank you to my family for the support; without them, I would have never thought to put this up.

~*~*~*~

8:36

Beep. Beep.

I stretched my legs. I moved my arms.

Beep. Beep.

I tapped my tapered fingers against my thigh.

Beep. Beep

And we waited.

~*~*~*~

8:34

"Nobody move please, we are going back to the airport, don't try to make any stupid moves," comes an exasperated voice from above. It isn’t God, but it might as well be.

Everyone knows this is a lie. Everyone accepts their fate. Everyone begins to pull out their cell phones. Everyone wants to say goodbye.

Alice’s mother dials a number with heavy fingers. She has to push the buttons twice to get the number right.

Alice can hear the crackling ring. And it rings. And it rings.

“Hey, this is Paul Bennet. I’m not here right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get back to you a-sap.” Beep.

Alice’s mother catches her breath for a moment. She wants to save it for the right words. The last words.

“Paul. It’s-It’s Diane,” her voice is hoarse. “I’m sorry for ever leaving you; if I could take all of it back, I would. I never meant to hurt you, I swear. I-we don’t have a lot of time, but I just need, want, to say I love you.”

She drags the phone away from her ear. “Alice, honey,” she says, her brown eyes shining, “talk to Daddy; it’s time to say goodbye.”

~*~*~*~

8:38

Beep. Beep.

I peered at the pages of my sister’s book over her shoulder.

Beep. Beep.

I eavesdropped on my parents’ conversation of where they wanted to eat when I was being cut apart.

Beep. Beep.

And we waited.

~*~*~*~

8:39

The plane rocks back and forth, side to side, like an out of control rollercoaster. The abandoned cart crashes into the wall, its contents spilling all over. People scramble for their masks that dangle in front of them. People hug each other, squeeze hands. They know the end comes upon them.

The plane dives down into the heart of New York, quick as a bullet. Alice feels her stomach and her heart rise into her throat. She clasps her mother’s hand and strangles Patches with her other.

A large tower rises to meet the plane, growing bigger and bigger. The shadow of the plane soon devours the building in its ravenous darkness.

A hot, garish, orange light consumes and blinds Alice. And Alice touches the face of God.

~*~*~*~

8:41

We waited and then somebody came. It was a nurse; her head was shaved and she wore the same taffy scrubs. The nurse’s face was slack, as if shock itself had slapped her. She walked softly, like in a daydream, and leaned over the nurse’s counter.

Whispers were exchanged. The Asian lady with the plump features raised a horrified hand to her lips. It couldn’t be true!

She stood on tiptoe as she stabbed each television on to CNN. A chain of ruffled black smoke rose from the grey building. They were calling it a tragic flight accident. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t care. I thought the kind nurse had rushed to put on the latest Bruce Willis movie.

It wasn’t until later did I realize what I was seeing with my own eyes. It wasn’t until later did I register the frightening silence, the fake smiles for children who wanted to play with toys in the waiting room but couldn’t because of history unfolding. In a room across the hall, I could hear the jolly tones of Elmo and Big Bird.

The sterile stench of Hospital assaulted my nostrils.

I was dressed in the sickly white dotted patient robe, a tag branding my wrist, when the anesthesiologist, a man with glasses whose face was concealed by a bright blue dentist mask, asked me what flavor of anesthesia I wanted.

I couldn’t decide. Regular or strawberry? Strawberry or regular?

That’s when Dr. Armstrong walked up to us. He was a tall, lanky man with a full beard, and hair peppered with white.

“Mr. and Mrs. Schmid, I’m afraid we’re gonna have to postpone Kristen’s surgery. We’re very sorry for keeping you waiting, but we have to send blood down to New York.”

We left the hospital at 9:40, not knowing how much our lives would change.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

September 11, 2001: A Memoir (Part III)

You can find Part II here. Please be respectful. Any comments would be greatly appreciated, and enjoy! The fourth and final part will be posted in the morning.

~*~*~*~

7:35

The airport buzzes with the chirps and laughter of people waiting to board planes, and those exiting. They are like the waves of the sea, rushing in and out slowly, steadily. Alice hangs on to her mother’s hand as they stand in line to board their flight. Alice’s stuffed, patched up teddy bear—the one she always takes to bed with every night, hugs when thunderclaps bang against her eardrums—is pressed against her chest with her free arm. The fear of losing her teddy on the scuffed tiled floor scares her.

Slowly and slowly the line looms further and further into the plane, after a very pretty woman checks each person’s ticket with a toothy, lipsticked smile and an, “Enjoy your flight. You’re always welcome here at American Airlines.”

When the pair make their way inside the plane, trying to find their own royal blue cushioned seats, Alice snags her foot on the corner of the aisle, crashing to the ground. The teddy bear somersaults in the air, out of her reach.

“Patches!” Alice squeals among the hubbub that envelops her.

Her mother, always with grace, pulls Alice to her feet. “Oh, you’re alright, Alice,” she says with a mother’s reassurance, wiping off imaginary dirt off her daughter’s small shoulders. But a voice interrupts her.

He clears his throat. Alice stares up at him. He has black hair, black brows, and darkened skin. Alice imagines him as a character from Aladdin.

“Ma’am, I think your daughter dropped this,” he says in a thick accent, holding Patches in his hands.

“Thank you, you were very kind to do that,” Alice’s mother smiles graciously at the man. The man hands off the teddy to a speechless Alice. “Alice, say thank you to the nice man,” her mother urges her daughter.

“Thank you,” she squeaks. He leaves without a word, lacing up the aisle in between men and women shoving their suitcases in their compartments.

~*~*~*~

8:30

The waiting room was crowded, everybody slouched in their seats, either making small talk with the person next door or burying their head in one of the trashy tabloids lying about. The TVs were blackened, and the clacking of fingers on computer keys rang in with the beeping of distant machines. I didn’t see a clock, so the constant beeps ticked away the minutes until I’d be knocked out stone cold dead on one of those metal slabs.

Beep.

Beep.

“Dr. Harrison, please report to the nurses’ station. Dr. Harrison, please report to the nurses’ station,” came a cool female voice over the intercom.

Beep.

All four of us walked up to the desk. I was lounging in my wheel chair, fidgeting my legs and arms so the blood could run its course. I hated sitting around for too long. An Asian lady greeted us with a smile, her hair draping over her taffy colored nurse’s scrubs.

“Hello; what’s going on here today?”

My mom piped up. “My daughter is having leg surgery. Kristen Schmid.”

I noticed the nurse’s eyes flit to me. A coarse noise of shuffling papers. “And who is her surgeon?”

“Dr. Armstrong.”

“Okay. If you could just have a seat, we’ll be with you shortly.” Except it wouldn’t be shortly.

We sat in the coffee colored chairs directly in front of the row of televisions that saluted us. We waited. We waited, and beeping counted down the time, like a bomb.

~*~*~*~

8:20

Alice gazes out her window at the morning clouds, marveled at how tiny the houses of Massachusetts look like little toy dollhouses. She presses her button nose against the windowpane. It feels cold, and it numbs the flesh.

Two sharp screams join in a cacophonous chorus behind the navy curtain. It’s not like one of those scary movies Alice always spied her dad watching late in the dark of night. They’re shrill. Jarring. It sends chills to seep and cradle your bones.

“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!,” comes a high pitched shriek, rung with horror. With every breath, the faceless woman’s voice grew higher and higher until the only sounds that are heard are the wrenching sobs and two pairs of muffled, panicked footsteps.

The curtain rips open. A flight attendant, whose dirty blonde bun hangs in messy wisps, makeup melting down her pale face, and blood dripping scarlet from her hands and down her disheveled front, nearly runs up the aisle to the abandoned cart. The cart has towels, crisp and new and undefiled.

The man who had saved Patches appears. His face contorts into a demonic snarl, hungry for blood, for destruction. He charges after the flight attendant, who looks as struck as a deer about to be smashed to pieces by a semi-truck.

The man claws at her with his knife. “You shut up, you—” Alice hears something serpentine spat at the woman as he kicks her hard in the stomach. Alice knows the pure, undiluted loathing and filth the meaning of that foreign word possesses. It is acid to her ears.

People begin to screech and clutch each other out of fear. Alice and her mother are mute. Alice can feel the salty tears burn her eyes and scald her cheeks, and yet she cannot make a sound. She leans into her mother’s arm, the only safety she knows. Through the blur of her tears she gazes up at her mother in reverent idolatry. Her mother stares into nothingness, her face ashen, her breathing quiet, her heart jumping.

Go to Part IV.

September 11, 2001: A Memoir (Part II)

This is a continuation from Part I. Any plagiarism will not be tolerated. Please be respectful. With that being said, I hope you like this! Part III will be posted later today, or at the latest, tomorrow morning.

~*~*~*~

Rar! Rar! Rar! Rar!

My alarm clock nagged at me to get out of bed. I slapped it off, my eyes still heavy with sleep. Blackness, stained with only a thin ray of blue light from the lamppost, leaked through my window. I rolled over in the sea of jade coverlet, glaring murderously at the scarlet numbers on the clock. It told me it was 4:05.

Today would be the day that would change my life. And all I wanted to do was sleep, and eat, and drink. But I couldn’t do any of these things, for today at 9:00, doctors would take their scalpels and cut my legs open. They would make me better. All I cared about, like any nine-year-old girl, was being pampered like a princess in the months afterward.

Across the hall, I could hear my parents’ stir, the dog whining impatiently, the crack of the bedsprings. Soon I would hear my mother’s joints snap as she shuffled into my room, singing, “Get up, my sleepyhead, it’s time to get out bed, it’s time to go to the hospital. Today’s the day!” That was worse than the alarm clock because then my bed always seemed even more soft and squishy and warm.

I threw the covers off, walked blindly with my hands grasping for guidance into the bathroom, and let the stream of hot water crash and flood the tub.

5:00

Boston, Massachusetts

“Alice, honey, time to get up. You don’t want to miss your daddy, do you?”

“Mm-mm,” the little girl mumbles. Her eyes flutter open and she sees her mother’s willowy figure leaning against the doorframe. She could hear the pounding current of the bathwater a long ways away. Her cotton candy pink Disney Princess suitcase stands against the wall, empty and unzipped. It waits for her to slide out of bed, to get on a plane to Los Angeles at 7:40 A.M.

Her mother glides to her bed, tousles the young girl’s auburn hair. “C’mon, Sleeping Beauty, I want to leave this apartment in an hour.”

6:00

Buffalo, New York

Little pinpricks of light from corporate towers danced happily on the water and down below in crowded houses. All four of us—me, Megan, Mom, and Dad were packed into my mom’s 1999 white, mud splattered Kia minivan, crossing over the Skyway. The morning dawn over Buffalo was quite beautiful, a watercolor of deep blue and black, stained with hazy purples and streaks of pink. Smoke from Mom’s cigarette billowed out into the crisp air. Its stifling reek seeped into the van. I kept stuffing my nose in my shirt, or inhaling the brisk wind hungrily from Dad’s side of the vehicle—kind of like a dog.

In the harbor below, a big broad ship towered into the dark sky, its mast studded with bright yellow lights.

“What’s that?” Megan asked, looking up from her book on Anastasia and the Romanovs.

“That, Megan, is the USS The Sullivans,” my dad informed us.

“It’s kind of a funny name,” I said.

“Well, there’s a story behind it. The Sullivans were five brothers who joined up with the US Navy during World War II. And all of them died in the war. And there was this one family, I think they were from Tonawanda, who also went through something similar as the Sullivans. That’s why it’s here in Buffalo,” Dad said, pointing to the darkened boat.

And then it zoomed out of sight.


Go to Part III.

Monday, May 3, 2010

September 11, 2001: A Memoir (Part I)

At the request of my aunts, I have decided to post my story on my blog. It should be known that this is part memoir, part fiction. The parts that are autobiographical are the ones that deal with the surgery. Everything you do not recognize is all part of my imagination. Moreover, please be aware that any seemingly discriminatory remarks are to enhance the character. I, personally, am not racist and do not judge anyone on their skin, gender, culture, religion, sexuality, etc. I think it's wrong and hurtful. As a warning, there will be sensitive issues in this story. Lastly, please be respectful and do not, by any means, plagiarize. With that being said, I hope you enjoy this! Part II will be posted tomorrow.

September 11, 2001

Imagine this. A taxi driver sits in his car and smokes a cigarette, staring at a photo of his ex-wife and daughter. They are happy, the autumn wind playing with their long blonde hair, tugging at their matching pea coats. He wishes he could go back in time, fix the things he had broken. Maybe then he could hug and kiss his wife, make her laugh that laugh he loved that sounded as symphonic as a bell. Maybe then he would see his little girl scamper through the front door of the apartment when she came home from school instead of seeing her every other weekend and Easter. But he knows these are just wishes, and he takes another drag of his cigarette, the smoke drifting into the soft glow of early morning. The green numbers on the clock say it is only 6:30. Jesus.

Then three Pakis walk up, tap on his window. One of them, the one that looks like a hairy ape, holds up some money. Damn good for nothin' Arabs the driver thinks; he gets the ugly urge to spit in their faces, to slam the gas pedal and leave them hanging in the dust. But they have money, and money is money. He lets them in.

The man hands the driver the bills.

The driver snuffs out his cigarette. “Where are you going?”

“Logan International. Don’t ask questions.”

There is a somber, almost holy silence about the three men that disturbs the driver. Memories of fighting in the Persian Gulf resurface, of how he saw his war friends get blown to bloody bits by children and women and old men with bombs strapped to them. He shakes his head of the nightmare and returns to reality. These Arabs have beady black rat eyes and obviously devoted to their so-called Allah, but they are young and have yet to be hardened by the gore of war.

The driver pulls up, and the three men get out. His thoughts wander back to the broken fragments of his life, wishing he could save his buried war buddies, could hug and kiss his wife and make her laugh that laugh he loved, and see his daughter scamper happily through the door when she came home from school instead of seeing her every other weekend and Easter. These wishes blind him, and he does not see another Arab man linger by the payphone, and place a call to a friend; he does not see the knowing, curt nods of the three men to the one on the phone, as if they are partners in a cathartic crime. It is 6:52 A.M. And he pulls away.


Imagine this. A woman working in the airport is about to go on break. She craves a cigarette, her muscles tingling in anticipation. Her blue eyes become electric as the hands on the clock inch closer and closer to her release. A co-worker walks up behind her, her black hair cascading down to her shoulders as she pulls her ponytail out.

“Hey,” the co-worker greets her. “I’ve come to take over the fort while you’re out,” she laughs.

“Oh, thanks Veronica. You’re a lifesaver. Do you mind if I cut out a couple minutes early?”

“Nah, I’ll be able to handle it. Just be back before Mike comes over here; you know he’ll fire your ass if he sees that you went on break before you were supposed to again.”

When the woman returns, she finds Veronica sneaking peeks at the month’s edition of Cosmo beneath the desk. Amongst the crowds of moving people she sees five Arab men moving past security and boarding their planes. It is 7:40 A.M.

It is too late.


Go to Part II.