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Jul
02

Writing a synopsis, for me, is harder than writing a novel. And I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. Talking to a writer in the midst of chipping a novel down to a page or two is much like talking to a marathon runner who still has to walk to her car. She’s so elated to have run so far. Yay! But, are you kidding, there’s still an expanse of hot pavement to cross? Can’t someone just drive the car across the lawn and over the curb and through the fence and pick me up?

Synopses are necessary. Every editor and agent who accepts submissions wants a synopsis. And even those among us who self publish need a synopsis (or something very much like it) for the book description that will accompany the book on sites like Amazon. There’s just no getting around these tiny demons.

But, criminy, writing a synopsis is tough. Really tough. I’m talking beef-jerky-left-in-your-backpack-all-winter tough.

I’ve tried a bunch of short cuts over the years. I tried writing one sentence for every chapter. I’ve tried recording myself pretending I’m telling someone about my book like it was a movie I’ve just seen. I’ve tried using the 7-point plot, the 4-act structure, the hero’s journey. I’ve taken classes, read articles, attended workshops. And while they’ve all helped (and have been the key that unlocks the process for others), I still suck at writing a synopsis.

The mere thought of writing a synopsis drives me to the good bourbon. (Never drown your sorrows in cheap booze, I say.)

(Though, I have noticed that a shot or two of Basil Hayden’s can improve my synopsis writing. The booze distracts my internal editor, who uses my writing a synopsis as permission to scream at me like a crack-crazed harpy. But fine whisky also sometimes distracts me. Sometimes I get a decent draft of a synopsis. Sometimes I find myself cleaning out a closet. Or writing inappropriate screeds on Facebook. Or napping. It’s not a reliable solution.)

In 2008, I took what’s called Master Class in Oregon. This intense, brain-melting, myth-busting, break-you-down-and-build-you-up workshop taught by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch was one of the two best workshops I’ve ever attended (and I attend what I consider a lot). One of the things it tantalized us with was that we’d learn to write a synopsis. My expectations were not high for that part.

Kris and Dean gave us lots of tips and a few great sort of templates to help turn 300 pages of story into 2 pages or so of marketing. Good info, but not revolutionary. But then they did something that I didn’t expect (and that also, frankly, pissed me off). They made us take all that useful info and apply it to a novel we hadn’t written. Though we all had novels we very much needed to write synopses for, they wouldn’t let us apply our newfound knowledge to any existing work.

During Master Class, we had to write novel hooks every day (sometimes as many as 5 a day). Think of a hook as the back of a book or the part you might put in a query letter to grab an editor’s attention. It’s less than a page, a few paragraphs, max, that encapsulates your book. Here’s one I wrote in about 5 minutes as I struggled to get 4 hooks done before we met:

Every beach has them

Those girls. Those skinny, perky, young girls, in all shades and the one size.

In Vegas, the beaches are manmade and bow at the feet of giant casinos. Same with the girls. And forty-two-year-old Mere Unger, Manager of Beach Talent at the Oasis megahotel, is their boss.

For the past seven years, Mere has played den mother to a pack of skinny models with spray-on tans and push-up bras. But when one of the girls is found dead, stuffed into the base of an all-you-can-eat buffet cart, Mere learns that while money may not make the world go round, it sure gives Las Vegas one hell of a spin.

The book was called “Beach Bitches,” thanks to my friend Jennifer Baumer, who whipped that title out when I came to her door in a panic halfway into Master Class. I wasn’t sure I could put a swear in the title and was bemoaning this in the common room, when Chris York (one of our teachers) scoffed and said something about not being a wuss and that I should use it. Well, I like Chris’s work very much. And she has one of those voices and demeanors that when she says to do something you do it. So I turned it in.

It went over well. To my surprise, our instructors liked it better than any other hook I’d written. But I still wanted to write a synopsis for a book I’d recently finished. I didn’t want to waste my time playing with something I was never really going to write. Even though we were specifically told not to. I did. And it bombed. I could see how bad it was before anyone had to tell me. All this did was confirm to me that synopses are impossible.

The next night, when we were given another synopsis format, Dean told each of us what hook we had to write a synopsis for. Damn, they’d taken away cheating, those sneaky bastards. I had to write a synopsis for “Beach Bitches.” And I had about 10 hours (including sleep time) in which to do it.

Fine. Fuck ‘em. I’d show them what real shit smelled like on the page. I wasn’t going to waste precious sleep time working hard on something for a book I’d never even write. I sat down and wrote whatever came to my mind. And what happened was exactly what they said would happen, exactly what they had designed to happen. My synopsis, written in a matter of an hour, did not suck. Here it is:

Every beach has them

Those girls. Those skinny, perky, young girls, in all shades and the one size.

In Vegas, the beaches are manmade and bow at the feet of giant casinos. Same with the girls. And forty-year-old Mere Unger, Manager of Beach Talent at the Oasis megahotel, is their boss.

Don’t call her Ma’am.

Sure, there was a day, not quite at the dawn of time, though sometimes it feels that way, when Mere would’ve been one of the queen bitches. But those days have gone the way of shoulder pads and perms. Today, Mere is not feeling so much put out to pasture as she is headed for the glue factory. And it pisses her off.

For the past seven years, following a divorce her husband calls his “trade-up,” Mere has played den mother to a pack of skinny models with spray-on tans and push-up bras. She’s helped her bitches – male and female – through the trials of boyfriends (so so so many boyfriends), booze, and a race toward Botox. She’s the one they come to when the chips are down or the weight is up.

If a bitch has a problem, Mere’s got a solution. No strings attached.

Until one of her girls is found strangled and stuffed into the base of an all-you-can-eat buffet cart, her left hand chopped away and missing. The image of the beautiful twenty-year-old with the snowy skin and honey hair, her makeup still perfect, right down to where the bruises start, her long legs and the one stunted arm, her bikini neatly spirit-glued in place, not even the bow on the top mussed – this is the image Mere carries in her mind like a calling card.

And Mere is going after some answers of her own.

As she starts unraveling not only the murder of a paint-by-numbers “spokesmodel” (may I take your drink, sir? Oh, can you rub some sunscreen on my back? Yes, we do take Diner’s Club. Oops, I think my sarong just slipped.) at one of the biggest megahotels in Vegas, she also finds a world of barter and trade, where headshots are worth the same as casino chips and not everyone can be a high-roller.

Mere follows the path of one dead blonde girl to an exiled New York mob boss with a penchant for Elvis movies and wedding memorabilia, whose own niece is coming up at the cabanas on The Strip. She’s ready to make the leap to the bigs — the sandy beaches of the downtown Golden Towers, top rival of the Oasis.

Mere tracks down a ring of card collectors, as fanatical about the Cabana Cards each hotel/casino puts out about their girls, as any baseball nut or comic book geek. These guys (because it is always and … always males) can recite every bust size at every beach in town. They know the likes and dislikes of Missy at the Towers, the favorite food (as if) of Candy at the Geyser, and they can tell you where Cerenitee had her first ever photo shoot (The Reno Home and Boat Show, May, 2001).

And finally, Mere finds a world of whales and sharks, catered to in every high-roller suite, high-stakes poker room, and VIP lounge in town. These are the men the politicians kneel to, the hotels build underground villas for, and who every girl in town is looking to entertain. These men are willing to pay more for a date than they are for a lay, because it’s all about image, baby.

You’re in Vegas now.

By the time Mere tracks down the high-rolling whale who has taken to collecting more than just the Cabana Girls’ cards, she has discovered the intricate layers of those who are served … and those who are served in Vegas. She’s scratched a surface that is more than skin deep, and she’s carrying out the scars.

Because Mere learns that while money may not make the world go round, it sure gives Las Vegas one hell of a spin.

Beach Bitches is an edgy mystery with a firm grip on snark.

Not only does Beach Bitches targets mystery readers, it may also appeal to those curious about Las Vegas and how it works behind the scenes. With gambling now legal in 48 states, the interest in Vegas – the grand dame of sin – has intensified, spilling over into movies (from Casino to The Cooler to the Ocean’s series) to television (CSI to Heroes) and enough merchandised bit of dice-and-card plastic to fill the Mirage.

Cindie Geddes has been making her living as a writer for the past eleven years, managing and writing for her company, Flying Hand Writing Services. She’s ghost-written nine nonfiction books sold to Warner Books and Wiley & Sons, as well as a few smaller presses. Her more than three hundred articles have appeared in magazines ranging from Nevada Business Journal to Ladies Home Journal. Her short fiction has been published in small press magazines, as well as anthologies, and has led to Geddes’ receiving seven fellowships and grants in her home state of Nevada.

Geddes takes her knowledge of the casino industry, having worked in one herself (though none this lavish, by a long shot) and mixes it with all the frustration and angst deserving a woman of a certain age in a world always screaming for younger, thinner, more, more, more.

But Beach Bitches also gives a nod to all us women who have ever felt frumpy and ignored next to that girl in heels and a swimsuit. Through the eyes of Mere Unger, readers get to see all the glitz, all the glamour, all the ridiculous excess of the fastest growing city in America. And they get to see it in its underwear.

It’s not always pretty.

Now, this is not much like the plot the actual book ended up having (after all this, I had to write the book). Frankly, I like this old plot better, and I may use it if I have the opportunity to write another Bitch book someday. But I can’t use this synopsis/proposal for my existing book. So last week, I ended up having to write a new one in an hour (I am not a master of organization, nor time, let me tell you). I was so happy to have this old one as a starting point. But I had to work in the actual plot. And it sucked (not the plot; the summary of the plot). But not nearly as bad as the others I’ve written, because I had an opening and closing that I could still use. An opening and closing I wrote months before I ever started the book – a book I had never even considered writing until that assignment, in a genre I’ve always considered too difficult for my plot-challenged brain.

I wrote 20-something hooks during Master Class. Four proposals. I want to write all those books now. But if I don’t, if I find myself writing something completely different? First thing I’ll do is write a hook. Then I’ll write a synopsis. Only then will I sit down and write the book.

Synopses still suck, but writing them first decreases that suckage by a lot. Enough that I can save the good bourbon for celebrations. Or inappropriate Facebook screeds. After all, all work and no play … well, you know how that ended.

Cheers!

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Cindie Geddes

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