Tips To Hone Your Writing

Here are ten tips to help you hone your focus and provide some actionable steps to knock your story/novel/ mystery into shape.

1. Identify theme or message
What drove you to commit to writing this book? What is the purpose of your story? What is the truth) you are trying to share with the world? Even a mystery can hold truths.

Understanding the story’s core will provide a lens in which to view your characters and scenes during the developmental editing stage.

Maybe you want to explore an emotion such as rage, or the consequences of acting on unconscious beliefs. Whatever the theme, ensure your book as a whole answers the question you implicitly proposed in the beginning.

2. Focus on the beginning
The first line sets the tone for the rest of your book. Rework it. Test out alternatives. Make sure it hooks the reader into your unique world and shows them what to expect.

As an example, compare the draft version of 1984’s opening line:
‘It was a cold day in early April, and a million radios were striking thirteen.’
With the version that went to print:

‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

Can you see how a small tweak makes such a dramatic impact?

In one short line, Orwell has managed to convey something fundamentally wrong with the world he is about to plunge the reader into, and by the end of 1984, we understand what that is.

One of my favorite sayings is: ‘the end is in the beginning and the beginning is in the end.’ Review your beginnings and ends to see how well they tie together.

3. Identify core conflict and reveal it through action
You had big plans for your book and there’s so much in your head to somehow make real on paper. Trying to cram everything you want to say into the story will slow it down and choke the plot.

Keep in mind your theme or core message as you examine each scene, highlighting the crucial plot elements and gearing your efforts to revealing it through the actions, reactions and thoughts of your characters. Cut away anything that is weighing the plot down or isn’t pushing your protagonist to grow and adapt.

4. Avoid head hopping
Pick a point of view and stick with it. New writers tend to forget who is narrating each scene, chopping and changing between characters. This is known as ‘head hopping’ and can be very distracting, and usually means that the writer hasn’t decided who the reader should care about most.

The key is consistency – if you want to be an ‘omniscient narrator’ abide by your own rules. It’s usually a better idea to stick to either first person or third person limited, which means writing from one character’s viewpoint per scene or chapter.

That’s not to say you can’t have multiple points-of-view throughout the book, however, just be clear and consistent.

Another common mistake is to describe something happening when the character in question couldn’t see it from their point of view. For example, John is gazing out of the window when Jane walks into the office, yet he knows she is blonde before he even looks at her. Glitches like this destroy credibility.

5. Seed the background to your characters’ fatal flaws
No one is perfect, not even fictional characters. Having said that, the flaws they have should make sense and should be seeded throughout the book.

That goes for the antagonists too. There’s nothing more disappointing than when a bad guy fails against the hero because of some sudden, previously unknown flaw. Every thought, action, and reaction must be informed by your characters’ personal history and beliefs.

6. Give your characters quirks
Humans are complicated creatures and although your characters aren’t actually real, the reader needs to empathize with them as if they were flesh and blood. To do this, make your characters distinct from each other, with their own quirks and foibles.

Think about:

• Mannerisms
• Style of dress
• Physical imperfections
• Props (e.g., Indiana Jones’s whip)
• Nervous tics
• Unconscious habits such as whistling or pen clicking

7. Vary descriptions using other senses
People tend to favor one sense over the other, and for most of us, that’s the visual processing system. Writers are no different! But neglecting smell, touch, taste, and sound can flatten scenes.

Consider how these different types of smell can have such a dramatic impact on your environment, comfort levels, and memories:

• Perfume
• Body odor
• Freshly cut grass
• Decay and death
• Floral smells
• Cleaning fluid
• Animal smells

Think about the emotions these scents and odors would trigger in your characters. Can you see how broadening your range of descriptive devices can increase the reality of your settings?

8. Cut clichés
Clichés are so last century. Every word, phrase, and sentence should have an impact, but clichés dull the effect because readers have become numb to these hackneyed expressions.

The only exception to this is within dialogue; clichés can reveal the mindset and cultural background of your characters. Don’t overdo it though.

9. Maddening multiple metaphors
Metaphors are wonderful and add richness to your writing, but it’s easy to mix them together and lose the precise meaning – or use more than one in the same paragraph.

If this happens often, you’re probably trying to describe too much. Pick the essential point of the scene or paragraph and focus on that and cut the rest.

10. Keep raising the stakes
Conflict is at the heart of storytelling. No one wants to read a story where literally everything is perfect and nothing ever happens. What would be the point?

Make sure you vary the stakes at key plot points to maintain the reader’s interest and keep your characters challenged enough to grow and develop.

However, starting out with extremely high stakes in order to hook a reader in can backfire because everything that happens afterward can feel like an anti-climax. Pace yourself and turn up the dial of conflict as your plot develops to reach a satisfying conclusion.

After implementing the steps outlined above, your book should have an intriguing opening, a fast-moving, compelling plot, believable characterization, and enriching descriptions.

That’s not to say that you will have picked up on every issue within your manuscript. Objectively is very difficult when you are emotionally invested in your own work. Which leads me to your bonus tip:
Stop editing. Let someone else do it!

There’s only so much you can do alone. For those on a tight budget, this might mean handing your book to a trusted beta reader. For others, sending it to a professional editor is your best bet.

At the very least, by taking the time to really analyze your work, you’ll learn more about your unique writing style and develop a greater awareness of your own quirks and foibles. That can only be a good thing.

How To Be Human

Being human isn’t as easy as it used to be; it now requires gadgetry. Speaking as one who can barely operate a can-opener without risk of dismemberment, I would like to formally protest the ever-escalating onslaught of technological frippery that threatens far more than life, limb or thumb. The very soul of humanity is at risk (inasmuch as catatonic tweeters qualify as humanity). Humankind – or its reasonable facsimile – is on a collision course with electronic lunacy.

In an effort to look busy, The Department of Innovations in Frustration has developed the automated phone system. If you’ve ever felt the life-force drain from your body as you navigate through a series of buttons and recordings, you’ll long for the bygone days of simpler, yet more efficient systems like yodeling or smoke signals. Dropped calls on your cell phone spark nostalgia for the superior reliability of two tin cans joined by a string.

Fast-food intercom systems likewise confound communication. Ordering a bucket of wizened chicken should be a simple matter, yet something always seems to get lost in translation (namely your food). When speaking through those vexing voodoo boxes at the drive-thru, it’s often unclear whether you’ve successfully ordered hot wings or booked passage to the underworld.

Another source of dread is the ticking time-bomb of the computer keyboard: the “Reply All” button. One distracted slip of the fingertip and that scathing critique of your boss’s toupee threatens to render you unemployable.
And then there’s the sinister satellite signal that always seems to be lost during the play of the century (insert favorite sport here), but never during the antacid commercials.

What’s the antidote to these soul-crushing techno-traps? A refresher course in how to be human. Consider making a few subtle changes in your dependence upon technology:

Instead of paying for costly video games that simulate dancing, try dancing. Rhythmic movement of the arms and legs is a primal urge felt by many humans (and orangutans) that requires no formal training (with the exception of suburban males). The only risk involved is catching a glimpse of oneself in a mirror which can lead to self-loathing and isolation.

Rather than e-mailing a co-worker, utilize the power of human speech. Nothing separates man from beast so much as the capacity for verbal communication. Although, five minutes of mind-numbing conversation with your chimp-like office-mate is likely to send you reaching for a blunt object, a major setback to your anger management program.

Abandon the isolation of the exercise treadmill in favor of a brisk walk in the great outdoors. Push from your mind the time you stumbled clumsily into oncoming traffic and escaped certain doom only by falling down a coverless manhole.

Reject the dehumanizing practice of severing a relationship via text message and meet in person, preferably in a social setting like a café. Though risk of flying cutlery and public humiliation loom large, isn’t it worth it to reconnect with humanity?

On second thought, perhaps there are advantages to dehumanizing technology.
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Eileen Mitchell is an award-winning essayist and playwright with recognition from The Robert Benchley Society Thurber House and the Will Rogers Writers Workshop.

Beyond the Five Senses

We think there are only five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. But neuroscience says this is wrong. There may be as many as 22 to 33 senses according to the latest scientific research. That’s what the neuroscientists tell us and that gives us between 17 and 29 more reasons to celebrate as writers.

The more tools we have in our writer’s toolkits, the wider our range and the more chances we have of reaching wider audiences.

We intuitively know about many of these ‘new’ senses but most of us neglect to apply these valuable gems in our writing. They can be vital for creating unique characters and character worlds.

As master writer Stephen King says, we want our readers to “prickle with recognition” when they read our writing and what better way than to manipulate some of the many senses most of us instinctively recognize but aren’t taught to identify as universal, human senses.

One of the most fascinating under-talked about senses is the physiological sense of balance. This sense enables us to walk without falling.

This applies equally to animals and humans. This means a dog or a cat with no sense of balance could provide as much comic relief as a person who lacks a sense of balance could provide tragedy in your writing.

Even something as simple as a character with a cast on his arm or leg loses the full sense of balance and can be used by an adept writer as a unique handicap in a story.

Consider riding on a merry-go-round. A disturbance with your sense of balance can make you feel nauseous, dizzy, or disoriented. This could apply equally to a character who has overdone it in an amusement park as it can to someone with Alzheimer’s or vertigo.

Another fascinating sense is the ability to detect magnetic fields to pick up direction, location, or altitude.

Roughly 50 different animal species that we know of use the Earth’s magnetic fields to get around. These include birds, insects, and mammals, including mice and bats.

This sense would come in truly handy when you’re trying to get somewhere, especially if you’re lost in a dark forest, in cold outer space, or in a magical maze.

Detecting magnetic fields, altitudes, and locations can be used by writers who stick with realism, too. We do have a mineral called magnetite in our brains and bones. Perhaps scientists might figure out that humans can detect magnetic fields, and that scientist might be the main character in your next novel.

A neglected sense in much of our writing is our sense of time. The ability to perceive long vs. short periods of time passing may come from two different parts of our brain, but either way, it’s a great sense to manipulate in your writing.

When did you last read a book in which one of the characters couldn’t track time? Yet, it opens up so many possibilities for unforgettable, relatable characters we can all empathize with. All of us know at least one person who doesn’t seem to have any sense of time.

I’m not even talking about toddlers who lack the brain structure to even comprehend a sense of time. Yes, little kids really do live in the ‘now.’ Emotions often run high around people big or small who have no sense of time and that makes for great drama in a novel.

I used the sense of time as a writing exercise in one of my classes and one class participant based an entire short story around it.

Another sense you may not be able to define and that you should add to your writer’s toolkit, is the ability to distinguish your body from the rest of the world and move it (i.e we can scratch our feet without looking because we know where they are).

Before we pick anything up, we have a sense of how much effort will be required to successfully lift it. If you take a deep breath and prepare yourself to haul a heavy suitcase only to discover it’s empty, you are momentarily thrown off balance.

Though I encourage writers to apply under-used or never-used senses to liven up their writing, it doesn’t mean the classic five are in the clear. At least two of them need to be revamped: smell and taste.

We can smell a lot more than roses. Here’s some information about our olfactory sense that you can use to apply the sense of smell in new ways in your writing.

You can move way beyond sweet, spicy, and citrus perfume, a trillion scents beyond, in fact. Yes, humans can sniff over one trillion scents, including fear and disgust (through sweat).

There’s a reason why your mom was always telling you to wash your runners. Women do have a superior sense of smell. Consider that the next time your heroine walks into a laundromat or a gym.

Everything one writes about smell applies to everyone’s favorite sense: taste. Don’t be afraid to explore beyond the standard sweet, sour, salty and spicy (crunchy peanut butter anyone?).

Scientists are split on whether we can taste savory (cheese, meat), fat and calcium. Why not have a heroine who can’t bear the taste of fat or calcium engaged to be married to someone whose greatest love is to cook for her using many fat and calcium-filled ingredients?

Could expanding your use of characters’ senses change and improve your writing? Please leave your thoughts below.

Writing Tips: 4 Mistakes To Avoid When Creating Your Protagonist

We writers have a habit of falling for our carefully crafted protagonists. I mean, after spending 70,000 odd words with them, what can we expect? It’s only natural we fall in love and/or lose the ability to be objective. It’s one of many reasons why editors are so important to our mysteries/sci-fi/novels or short stories.

So when writing, you need to know how to avoid mistakes when creating a protagonist. There are four common mistakes you can easily avoid when creating your protagonists.

The most common are:
1. A LACK OF OBJECTIVITY
2. NO DEPTH
3. NO GROWTH
4. FAILURE TO CONNECT

One of the biggest results of a lack of objectivity is a bloated manuscript. Those scenes spilling aeons of family history, or the minute details of your hero’s pug-puppy stamp collection, really aren’t necessary.

A LACK OF OBJECTIVITY

One of the biggest results of a lack of objectivity is a bloated manuscript.

DEPTH
Depth is somewhat subjective. What one reader finds beautiful, another may hate. But there are some easy wins you can implement to help you create depth.

Don’t give your hero an overwhelmingly positive personality – heroes who are overly positive make your reader feel like they’re being accosted by a perky cheerleader at the crack of dawn when they haven’t had caffeine. It’s a bit much, even for the most tolerant reader. We all have off days; it makes us human and gives us depth. Your hero needs the occasional off day too.

Your hero must make mistakes. Likewise, we all make mistakes. It’s how we grow. A hero that never makes a mistake can come across as annoying, patronizing and make the reader feel inadequate. LET YOUR HERO MESS UP AND LEARN LESSONS.

Your hero’s personality needs to be a consequence of his history – we are a product of our history. When a character isn’t, it can create an uneasy feeling in the reader.

The reason Indiana Jones is scared of snakes in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is because he fell into a pit of snakes as a kid. The audience knows this, so the fear makes sense. CONNECT THE DOTS. PLANT THINGS IN YOUR HERO’S PAST THAT BECOME RELEVANT IN YOUR STORY.

Actively drive the plot forward – your hero takes the risks and faces the greatest danger. It’s Harry that kills Voldemort. IT’S YOUR PROTAGONIST WHO MUST DRIVE THE ACTION FORWARD AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, MAKE THE FINAL BLOW DEFEATING YOUR VILLAIN.

FAILURE TO CONNECT
A failure to connect can happen on two levels: disconnecting with the audience, or the hero disconnecting with the other characters and the story. The cause and cure are one and the same.

The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.Your protagonist is the manifestation of your story; the web that pulls all the elements together: flaw, theme, supporting characters, plot, obstacles, change arc etc. should all be linked.

The entire story is connected, which is why it connected with readers.

Essentially, what you need to remember is this:

While your villain is the source of page-gripping tension, when the words are read and the dust has settled on your back cover, it’s the hero that your readers remember.

The hero should connect every element of your story. He should grow and change and drive the plot forward all the while representing our ‘flawed’ human nature.

Let your hero make mistakes. That way, when your hero has the ‘ah-ha’ moment, your readers will too. Much as it makes me weep, eventually, villains are defeated. But heroes are like puppies. They’re forever, not just Christmas.

Are you prone to some of these mistakes when writing your protagonists? Please leave your thoughts below.

Why I’m Glad My Mother is Dead

When I was a baby, my mother kept me in a buggy all day long. She said I cried all day and night. But what she didn’t know was that I was allergic to the milk she was giving me. I am still intolerant of the all-dairy products, that is, unless they are low fat. But the point here is, she didn’t hold me, cradle me or rock me in her arms.

Then when I was around six, she had another baby. He was a normal baby, but I was jealous. So I moved his crib around the room. This made my mother mad. And when she got mad, she yelled.

When I was nine, she had yet another baby. This baby was born with a closed stomach. So off to the hospital they went. Meanwhile, my mother hired a cook. The cook made us a ham. My father had never tasted a ham before. Not that we were kosher. My mother just never made a ham. She made lamb chops, chicken, meatloaf and a variety of other foods, just not a ham.

My brother came home. No more closed stomach. But now we were six people living in four rooms. I was sort of the middle child. My sister is five years older than me. My brothers are six and nine years younger than me.

But here’s the thing: I was ignored. My sister wasn’t nor were my two brothers. My sister got her learner’s permit, as did my brothers. I was told I wasn’t allowed to drive their car so why did I need a learner’s permit. I didn’t learn to drive until after I got married.

I ignored my mother too. She was too infantile to deal with. Look at me, pay attention to me. This was the way she was.

In fact when I got in trouble at school, I told my sister, not my mother. My mother used to grill my sister on what I said. To this day, I don’t know what my sister said.

But finally we moved to six rooms. After that my father kept moving us to smaller apartments. My mother never complained about that. But I could often hear her complaining about one thing or another.

One day when I was teenager I came home at dawn. My mother was waiting for me at the top of the stairs. Then she began to call me all sorts of names. Of course I ignored her.

Now we get to the part when she was old. My brother moved to Boston, my sister moved to New York. One of my brothers stayed in Chicago, but he turned out to have schizophrenia.

Then my father died. Who do you think took care of my schizophrenic brother? Me, of course.

After my father died my mother came to my house. It was Thanksgiving. We were invited to our cousin’s house for Thanksgiving. But my mother wouldn’t go and she wanted us not to go either. But we went. When we came back, she started yelling at me.

I also had a job. But she wouldn’t let me go to the job. She wanted me to stay with her. I almost lost that job. So I drove her back to her apartment. We didn’t speak as I drove. I had so much to say to her. But I thought what was the use? She was a grown woman yet but she acted like she was a child unloved (which I’m sure was the truth), and nothing could change her.

Then the day came when she moved in with her sister to a place where they had their own apartment. The first day my mother was happy. After that something happened (not sure what) but she got unhappy, and when she was unhappy, she got mean.

Finally, she moved into a nursing home. My sister came out to help me. By the time she got to the nursing home, my sister was glad to see me. My mother had been scared to go into a nursing home. So she got mean. My sister had never experienced her that way. When my mother was scared, she made everyone around her unhappy.

My sister went back to New York. And I began to be my mother’s ‘pal.’ I had to visit her at least once a week or I’d get a nasty call from her.

One day I got a call from my brother’s nursing home. He’d died in his sleep. So I went to my mother’s nursing home and told her. She hung her head. At that moment, I felt sorry for her. But it didn’t last.

I won’t go into his funeral. But a month later, my mother went into the hospital. She was scared, so she got mean. Some hours later she died. I was sad, but glad. I was finally free of her!

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Sue Powers has had stories and flash fictions appear in numerous zines and publications. Some were published by Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings, Blue Earth Review, and Another Chicago Magazine. She is a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

What Do Writers Do?

I’ve often been asked what writers do besides writing. Some work. Some volunteer. Some learn a new skill. Most write. Many like me work and write. But most of all I read. Reading provides entertainment and instruction, that is, if you’re reading what you like to write. I’ve met writers read what they aren’t writing. Even that is instructional by way of grammar and sentence construction. If you don’t read, how can you write?

I’m now reading the historical novel, White Houses, not at all what I like to write. But it’s such a good book I can’t put it down.

Novelists read novels. Short story writers read short stories. Mystery writers read other mysteries. I’ve read so many short stories I’ve begun to read other things. So I picked up this book and began reading and like I said, it’s such a good book I can’t put it down. Will I write a historical novel? I have written a mystery, but doubt I would write a historical novel.

I should be reading short stories, as I am a short story writer. Once I finish this book, I will start reading short stories once again.

What are you reading? Are you a writer?
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Sue Powers has stories and flash fictions appear in numerous zines and publications. Some were published by Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings, Blue Earth Review, and Another Chicago Magazine. She is a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Why We Write

Why do I write? Because I can’t stop writing. It’s simply part of me.

Like many of us, creativity and self-expression are fundamental to who we are — we’ve been listening to and telling stories from way back. In my case, since I was in kindergarten.

We aren’t the only ones who sees a story as essential. Freud saw it as central to human experience and as the means of healing wounded psyches.

Jung saw it as a way of dipping into the collective unconscious, the stream of experience that underlies all of history and humanity.

So, if creativity is so fundamental to our being, what makes it so hard sometimes to write what we see in our minds?

Sometimes life gets in the way. And sometimes we get in our own way by not understanding that there are stages to the process, which, like any other natural stages, cannot be hurried or one put before the other.

I understand both ways of slowing down the process. I have also learned about the way writing works: It’s an organic process that resembles the stages of butterfly development.

The way I think about this now is a ‘model.’ In the cycle of change model, people go through predictable stages of change much like a butterfly does.

Our natural tendency when writing is to push when we should be resting and to resist the difficulty when the process calls for discipline.

I find when I’m writing I forget to eat I’m so focused on what I’m writing. I forget to get something to drink. I forget everything, mainly because writing requires concentration. Without focus or concentration, you’ll be distracted by your spouse, your kids, your job or just the fact that you haven’t made dinner or cleaned the bathroom.

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Sue Powers has an array of publishing credits, among them Saturday Evening Post, New Millennium Writings and Another Chicago Story. She’s the recipient of a fellowship & grant from the Illinois Arts Council in Prose and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She works part-time for the Association of Legal Administrators.

Beeing Here

In my six decades of life, I have always lived in what the highway signs refer to as a “thickly settled” area. That’s often been what you might call “an understatement,” considering that for many years I lived within the city limits of Chicago and Boston, respectively.

At some point in those decades, I started turning my attention to the natural world at regular intervals to cope with a distressing sense that nature was in trouble. I didn’t just wake up one day and start to get depressed about the environment. I have a degree in Environmental Engineering and a number of years under my belt of visiting hazardous waste facilities in the great state of Indiana. I needed to connect with nature straight up and have her tell me that everything was going to be OK.

I got that reassurance, finally, when my soon-to-be wife introduced me to bird watching. At that time in the Boston area we were able to spot a large number of bird species passing through, and even living in, the area over the course of a year. It was wonderful and reinvigorating. It restored my sense of safety about the world.

I wish I could say that this feeling of safety has been a constant for me ever since. I don’t tromp around in waste dumps anymore. And even living in a town adjacent to Boston, I still would see some bird diversity from time to time. But it really seemed like the quantity and variety of birds had diminished since the late 90s when we were most into birding. That said, I chalked it up to a combination of shifting migration patterns and my just not paying attention to the birdosphere much anymore.

Then, some 10 or so years ago, I discovered bees. Wow. They’re so cool, so… so… natural, and they were everywhere you could find a flower (which is all over the place in Boston-adjacent towns like ours). Easier to photograph than birds, and it takes less time to do so. When I visit bees, I get close up and personal with them too. Birds don’t let you do that. I was best buds with the bees.

You know what’s coming. Bees have been in trouble for a while now. I didn’t see it for a couple of years, but then about three years ago I did. It was bad. Two years ago I went walking around the neighborhood on a bee-and-photo jaunt, and there was nothing. Nobody. I was crying inside.

Finally I came upon two or three bees, but they were not flying. They were barely even moving, like little bee couch potatoes after a week of binging on little depressing bee dramas on the bee TV. At least I saw some buddies; but I was scared.

The next year, last year, was better. Not at all great, but enough to give me a little hope.

Then, this summer, we moved to a semi-rural part of a small town in Western Massachusetts. When my wife found the place, she was all excited about it, but I was doubtful. It was turning out to be very hard to find a suitable place in the area, and it sounded a little small compared to even the too-small place we were in. But we piled into the car to visit together, then piled out of the car when we pulled into the driveway. The house was fine, size-wise; it just looked a little small with three messy college students living in it.

But I hardly noticed the house. I was in bee-land again, and two hawks were riding updrafts over the meadow next door. And the view. The view was… well, home. You can take this guy out of the city AND you can take the city out of this guy. 100%.

The problems with the natural world remain, and they are guaranteed to get worse – at least for a while. I read a headline the other day about how the new president of Brazil will resume deforestation of the Amazon, and I felt as though a screw had been turned past breaking, inside of me. I do what I can to turn back the tide by what I’ve chosen to do in my work. But over these at-least-51 years (OK, and then some) I’ve learned that I need to live among bees and birds, to maintain my balance. Not beeing here is not an option.

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Rich Shandross has studied and practiced Environmental & Chemical Engineering for most of his career. He is currently an Associate Director leading project teams that work on energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative power sources.

The Wax Museum

Whatever happened to Baby Jane is starting to happen to me. I’m not talking about serving up parakeets on a platter (not yet), like Bette Davis did to Joan Crawford in that twisted cinematic tale of sisterly rivalry gone to the birds. I’m talking about a jolt far more frightening than any horror flick frenzy. I’m referring to that monumental moment in the mirror when girlish becomes ghoulish (or boyish becomes oyish). Suddenly the look that worked for so long is now so unworkable. The porcelain complexion has faded from translucent to Transylvanian – the wax museum is calling your name.

For men, aging is a simple matter of accepting a bad toupee and stocking up on luau shirts.

For women it’s a little more complex, like having a youthful replica of yourself, courtesy of Madame Tussauds, fitted with a wick, lit with a blowtorch and you get to watch while it melts.

Forget about crinkles and crow’s feet, your complexion will soon resemble a crepe de chine blouse. And that’s the most fashionable thing that can be said about your appearance. When your skin starts to sag more than your sweat pants, you begin to wonder: can housecoats and babushkas be far off?

Your creamy white throat is still tempting, but not in the way it used to be. The resemblance to turkey skin makes you hungry, (what doesn’t?) but now you get to accessorize your wardrobe with wattle.

For the rich and famous, aging poses no problems because looking like a mutant freak is apparently considered chic in Hollywood. For regular humans, however, some semblance of humanoid features is required to successfully co-mingle in society. And besides, the average budget doesn’t allow for anything other than Oil of Olay. Heck, forget about the budget, you pass out at the dentist – are you really going to let someone inject toxins into your body (other than whipped cream and cheese whiz?)

Botox brow and collagen lips may work on the red carpet, but in real life, children are so easily frightened. Cultivating a colorful personality profile is a far more realistic solution for the not-so-rich and far-from-famous.

For men, becoming a spunky geezer is always a popular option.

Single gals can consider the cat lady lifestyle.

Classic choices for moms include: Muumuu Mom – billowy dresses, boufanty hair and bosomy hugs; Manic Mom – glued-on grin, piercing pitch and busybee bravado; Matronly Mom – plump, placid and proper. Or you could go full-out eccentric (Norma Desmond style) and become Madcap Mom sporting age-inappropriate clothes, embarrassing dance moves, and hop-on-a-motorcycle-just-before-you-break-your-hip joie de vivre.

Whoever you are and whatever you choose, remember your new mantra: No one will notice your wrinkies and frownies, if you keep them distracted with cookies and brownies!
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Eileen Mitchell is an award-winning essayist and playwright with recognition from The Robert Benchley Society Thurber House and the Will Rogers Writers Workshop.