The longest week

I wasn’t going to write about this, but because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I decided to share anyway.

Like many woman, I get an annual mammogram. I may be past the recommended age range, but I remember my first husband’s Aunt Estelle dying of breast cancer 50 years ago. She had a total mastectomy, but the cancer got her anyway. She was  in her eighties.

So I two weeks ago, I had a screening mammogram. I always feel a little apprehensive, but in the past 15 years the only result was a letter telling me all was fine.

I went immediately in panic mode when, just three days later, I got a phone call. The caller ID was Charlotte Radiology.

I'd Rather Go to California by [Bruney, Sandra]

I wrote about my journey back in 2014 in “I’d Rather Go to California.Many people have told me it helped them, a friend, or a relative, which was my purpose in sharing my story.

I knew it would not be good news. They send a letter for that.

The very nice voice on the other end told me I had to schedule a diagnostic mammogram and a ultrasound. The only reason given was that the first mammogram was “incomplete.” I figured that was a code word for “We found something disturbing and it may or may not be cancer so we’ll take another look.”

Friends, the week until I went back was the longest week of my life. If this were the first time this had happened, I’d have been scared but ignorant. This time I was scared and fully aware of what might be ahead. It may have been 16 years ago, but I still remember the pain of surgery, the sickness of the chemo, during which I lost nearly 30 pounds because I couldn’t eat, and then the exhaustion following radiation. It took me a year to recover.

I had the diagnostic mammogram and was taken to the ultrasound room. I waited there alone for about five minutes, with everything going through my mind from how to tell the kids and what this meant for my planned trip to Ireland in 2019.

Then the doctor came in. “Everything looks good,” he said. No need for an ultrasound. Come back in a year.

I felt that burden I’d been carrying lift right off. I thanked him and hugged the  nurse. I thanked God for His goodness all the way home.

I hadn’t told anyone about this except for two friends I knew would stay mum while offering up prayers. When I told them the news, they were as happy as I was.

Not every woman going for her annual mammogram has such good results. Remember them in your prayers. Support whatever organization you prefer in continued research and hope for a cure.

And ladies, schedule your mammogram.

 

 

 

 

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And here we go again…

I don’t normally rant on this space. It’s supposed to be about my writing journey, not politics.

Let me start by saying I am not against guns. My Dad hunted when I was young to put meat on the table. It was the tail end of the Great Depression and we were happy to eat rabbit, squirrel, venison, quail or what ever else he shot. Mom drew the line at cooking ground hog or ‘possum.

After Jim died, I found six guns in the house, from his grandfather’s rabbit gun to a Kruger pistol. I got rid of all of them. I don’t hunt and if I shot at a burglar I most probably would shoot my big toe off before I hit him. I took a rifle course in college, but had to drop out because of my poor eyesight.

I don’t care if you have a gun in the house as long as it is safely locked up away from curious little hands.

But I do have some questions. I read The Charlotte Observer, which recently reported its 70th homicide for 2017. Most of these are committed by young kids in their teens or early twenties. The victims are also teens, or even children. Why do these kids have guns? We know their brains are not yet fully mature and that this age range acts on impulse. I recall reading about one victim who said in the ambulance taking him to the hospital that he didn’t know being shot HURT! Why would he? Movies, TV, and video games show people getting shot, but they don’t convey the pain of the victim, the anguish of the victim’s family, the horror of something done that can never be undone.

We want the government to act, but they are bought and paid for by the NRA. In a perfect world, Congress would listen to the people who elected them and not their pocketbooks and enact some sensible legislation. We can’t get all the guns off the street, but we can make it harder for them to be used when some kid feels he is being dissed and wants to show that sucker not to mess with him.

  1. Make the person who sold the gun equally responsible for the crime committed. We hold bartenders responsible when they sell alcohol to a minor, why not gun sellers? Make it illegal for anyone under 21 to own a gun except a hunting gun. Most kids know who they bought the gun from.
  2.  Make it harder to buy ammunition. Same as above for the seller.
  3. Outlaw rapid-fire automatic weapons for anyone not in the military. You don’t hunt with them, you don’t target practice with them. So why have one? If you need one to feel macho, try another venue like running a marathon. It will also help relieve that anger and stress that makes you want such a weapon.
  4. Make would-be gun buyers complete a course in gun safety before purchase just as young hunters must take a course in hunting safety before they get a hunting license.  Double the penalty for a crime committed using a gun if the shooter can’t show his certificate.

Yes, I know none of the above protects us from crazy people. Our mental health system is working overtime. And even those professionals can’t do anything if a person suddenly breaks. That person isn’t in the system.

I don’t believe any of this will happen any time soon until the public takes a united stand. But that would take unity, and those who claim second amendment rights have to realize their rights end when our lives are in danger. I want to be able to go to a movie, a night club, an outdoor concert without wondering if I’m going to be a victim of someone’s misplaced rage. I know there is no way to eliminate that possibility, but we can make sure the chances of it happening are lower than they are now.

And it will only happen if two things change. Congress should not let the NRA keep their hands tied when it comes to enacting common sense gun laws. And the NRA should admit its culpability and acknowledge that those laws will not keep you from target shooting or hunting or protecting your home instead of screaming that their “rights” are being violated.

And sadly, pigs will fly before any of this happens.

Rant over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson re-learned

When my first two non-fiction books were published, I was elated. A real publisher had accepted my submissions. It was a small, indie press, but to me it was a first step. Never mind that the company went out of business a few years later and I had to re-publish the books on my own. The experience was invaluable in that I realized I was no longer a wannabe, but a professional writer.

The second lesson I learned was during the editing process. Each book (Angels Unaware and The Lunch Club) elicited the same directive from the editor: Lose the first chapter.

It’s good advice. Many writers, including me, think that everything has to be explained in the first pages. We throw in too much back story, we put in too much detail about the characters and their lives, and we never get to the point of the story until chapter two. It’s not until then that the action begins to gain momentum.

I tried to follow that advice with my next books, published by a different small press. I started out with the problem and the story accelerated from there.

But I must have forgotten with my current work in progress. Like the tablecloth I mentioned in my last post, I kept starting and stopping, knowing something was wrong, but just not getting it. The first chapter limped along like a dog with a sand spur in his paw. Aggravating and painful.

Then one evening the answer came to me. The first chapter is boring because it doesn’t state the problem in the first page. It drones on until about mid-chapter, and then we discover the dilemma the protagonist faces. By then, most readers would have yawned and tossed the book aside.

Yep, I needed to lose that first chapter. So I highlighted and deleted the whole thing  and rewrote the second chapter (now first) so that the reader knows immediately what the heroine faces.

The lesson here is that we continue learning, but sometimes we forget what we learned. That’s why it’s so important to keep reading craft books and magazines, to attend workshops, and to work with a critique group.  I submitted that now-gone first chapter to a critique partner who said succinctly that she wasn’t sure if the protagonist was 13 or 30. I re-read it and realized in an effort to make the heroine young, I had essentially made her a teenager. More cuts and revisions.

But now that I’m aware of the red flags that I’d ignored in my blithe assumption that as a published author I knew what I was doing, I am eager to tackle the story again.

And I’m still eager to learn. On October 28, Joseph Bathanti will lead an intensive short story workshop in Wadesboro. I don’t write short stories very often, but I believe that what I  learn from a master writer can be applied to longer works.

If you live in the Charlotte area, check it out at Carolinas Writers Conference. Maybe I’ll see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

I finally completed a tablecloth I started embroidering 60 years ago. It is a stamped cross-stitch. Counted cross-stitch didn’t become a “thing” until much later.

I forget now why I bought the cloth and embroidery silk. Maybe I was bored. Maybe I wanted something for my “hope chest.” I do remember Mom buying it for me and I lugged it off to college. And forgot about it.

Then I graduated and got married. I dug it out and worked on it a little, but then the babies came and I put it up again.

It survived several moves. Every few years I’d “discover” it and add a few more stitches until something more interesting came up.

And so it went. Until I cleaned closets last Spring and found it again. I’d used some of the thread for other projects and almost threw it away. But then I searched online for thread and found the very same company I’d bought from all those decades ago and the colors still matched. So I ordered the skeins I needed. When I received my little package, I sat down and started embroidering. (And binge-watching “Ozark”.)

This week I tied off the last stitch.

 

Yes,  I hear you saying, “What has this to do with writing?”

The answer is: Perseverance.

Do you have a story you started years ago and stuck in the back of a desk drawer or in a box under your bed? Do you bring it out every once in awhile and decide it’s too much trouble, it will take too long to finish, you’ve run out of words? And put it back again?

Maybe it needs revision. (I had to pick out some areas and start again because I’d used the wrong color.) Maybe the pattern isn’t clear and you don’t know what it’s going to look like at the end. Maybe you’re just too busy living life to sit down and pick up the needle–I mean, pen.

But it nags at you and you can’t quite let it go. So you work on it for awhile and then you put it away.

And then one day you decide to just finish the d**n thing. And when you do…you’ve become a writer. You persevered.

Congratulations!

 

 

 

 

Feeling validated

Well, whoop-de-do! My latest book, “Riverbend,” got a 5-star review in the September issue of Ind’Tale magazine. Naturally, I want to exploit this in the nicest way possible, which is to say putting it on Facebook.

But Facebook reaches only so many people. I’m sure that you (if you are a serious author) are always seeking ways to promote your book because frankly, we are the only ones who will.

I wanted the world (or those who don’t subscribe to Ind’Tale, which is a great on-line magazine, by the way) or follow me on Facebook to see the good news. But how?

I have often wondered how authors get those glowing editorial reviews on their Amazon book pages. Did the magazines and newspapers submit them? Common sense told me the New York Times has better things to do.

So like all curious people the world over, I Googled my question. And duh, you can do it yourself. Go to Author Central, click on the book page you want the review to appear on, and lo, there is a form you can fill out.  Look on the left side where it says “editorial” and click on “add.” You have to do it for both Kindle and print editions.

I didn’t copy-past the entire review as it was too long, and the rules say if you are copying another’s words, you should limit it to two sentences. So I picked the most glowing.

If you are not on Author Central at Amazon, why on Earth are you not? It’s another tool in your kit. Maybe not everybody visiting your book page will click on your link, but those who do get to see every book you’ve written, links to your bio, blogs, videos, or anything else you want to add.

I promised long ago to share any insights I have into the writing game, and sadly to say, promotion is a big part of it. Some of us are not good at self-promotion as we think it is tantamount to the bragging or parents scolded us for. We need to get over that notion.

You wrote a book. Now get out there and sell it.

 

 

Disaster preparedness

I love Nature as much as anybody: sunsets, beaches, mountain vistas …

But lately, Nature has been a little too upclose and personal. Ask anyone from Texas. Or Mexico.

If I had to pick between a hurricane and an earthquake, I’d pick neither, thank you very much.

It looks as if we’re getting something, though. A full-fledged hurricane or maybe some strong wind and rain. Not sure of Irma’s path. At one time predicted to roll over us, now maybe to the west, but wait, that could change.

So I went to Walmart yesterday to fill my gas tank, and get a few staples just in case. I remember Hurricane Hugo and the ensuing week without power. At that time we had a generator and lots of propane goodies like a lantern and stove. I no longer have any of those because I didn’t know how to use them and since Jim isn’t here to do it (or show me) I got rid of them, congratulating myself on the storage space I was saving.

I wish he were here now, not necessarily to fire up a propane lantern, but to talk me out of my misgivings about this storm. He was always  calm, but methodical. He knew how to get ready for an emergency without scaring me to death.

So anyway, I got the car gassed up and started looking for a battery for my heavy-duty lantern-type flashlight. I went to just about every store I could think of and finally went to an auto parts store. The clerk there told me they used to carry lantern batteries (the big, square 6-V kind) but now everyone had gone to LED lights.

So I bought one. And two packs of AAA batteries to back up the ones that came with it.

I also bought lamp oil for the two antique oil lamps in the den. I fired one up and it still works, so it’ll be all right if the smoke doesn’t drive me out of the house.

Food? Breakfast bars, some tinned meat, another loaf of bread, a big jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers. I figure I can pop up some corn ahead of time and put it in a bag. Won’t be able to brew coffee, but I can make cold-brewed tea.

And of course, wine. And books. Which I will read by the light of the new LED lamp or kerosene lamp or my flashlight. Because how else do you pass the time with no TV?

Of course, I am figuring some days without power if the wind is strong enough. If it is stronger than knocking down a few trees and takes my roof with it, all of the above is moot.

Maybe none of this will happen, but I’d rather be prepared. In 1999, Jim prepared for Y2K by stocking up on all the aforementioned things that I just got rid of. No electronic meltdown happened as predicted, but we did get 16 inches of snow New Year’s Day, almost unheard of in the N.C. Piedmont. And the power was out for a week. So it all came in handy and he couldn’t wipe the smirk off his face for a month.

So wherever Irma heads, be careful out there. And be prepared.

 

 

 

 

To this point, I’ve considered historical fiction as beginning with Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear and ending with All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I read all of Auel’s books, but confess I never read the World War I classic.

However, I notice a change creeping up on me like gray hair and arthritic knees. The big thing now is World War II novels, such as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Kristin Hanna’s The Nightingale. If you haven’t read these two novels, stop right now and get them from your library, download them on your Kindle, or do whatever you have to do. I’ll wait.

These are both marvelous books that take you right into the war and its effects on those who lived through it … or didn’t. But as I read them, I wondered, “How is it that these are labeled historical fiction?”

Isn’t history events that happened before you were born?

I haven’t been coy about my age, but evidently I am older than I thought. You see, I remember World War II. Not as a historian would view it, but through a child’s eyes. I knew there was a war going on, I just didn’t exactly know what a war was.

Thank God for that.

To me, war meant Victory gardens, and a scarcity of certain commodities like sugar. I knew sugar was scarce because my mother complained bitterly when she was ready to make jam from the berries she grew along the side of our vegetable garden and couldn’t buy any, even with her ration book.

War meant saving bacon grease in a tin can, and rolling string into balls. It meant carefully peeling the tin foil from its paper backing after unwrapping a stick of chewing gum and saving it.

War meant seeing beautiful wrought iron fences disappear from the lawns of stately homes and drawing the shades down at night so not one glimmer of light could escape.

These were minor and forgettable things compared to what others went through. But we didn’t know about the others. Not then. We didn’t know how blessedly safe we were.

But war  touched many other children: children shot, starved, gassed. The novels I mentioned brought this home to me. We know war is evil, but until a skilled writer brings our emotions to the fore, we can’t really understand what it is like. Hanna and Doerr put us in the picture, and after reading their novels, we can’t say we don’t understand any longer.

And still it goes on. And on. Korea, Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria…

I would love some day to know that all wars belong in the historical category. I know I won’t live to see it, but I hope my great-grandchildren will.

And they will read the stories and thank God such madness has ended.

 

 

 

 

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