Book talks and things that go boom!

Lately, I feel as if I am being pulled in several different directions. I’m not complaining because I love to be busy. I love company. I love going places.

I was relieved when a health scare turned out to be nothing (but a week of anxiety) and was happy when I learned of back-to-back family visits. Truly a time for celebration. But I forgot that my family were coming to see me and not my house, so I spent a week cleaning and scouring and mopping which wore me out. The good thing is that my fall housecleaning is now accomplished!

All of you know that when family comes, you drop everything going on in your life to be with them. But sometimes this can’t be done. I had an obligation at the church on Sunday: lay reader and assistant to the pastor for communion. I told my kids I had to be at church and invited them to come. They did, and I had the very great and meaningful pleasure of serving the communion cup to my two sons and daughter-in-law.

They left and I had one day to wash sheets and towels and re-make the beds before another branch of the family arrived.  Again, I had an obligation I couldn’t back out of. I had promised a book club in another town that I would come and talk. I called and asked if I could bring my two guests along, and the hostess graciously said “Yes.”

There are all kinds of book clubs and I thought I knew how they worked, but this club was different. They each buy one book, and at their meeting they put the books on a table and the members choose one to read during the next month.

“Don’t you discuss them?” I asked.

“No, we never talk about the books,” was the answer.

Well, I talked about MY books and my road to publication, which is what they wanted to hear. My guests said they enjoyed it as they hadn’t realized how I got started writing or how many books I had written.

Which reminds me, one of the questions I was asked was about my schedule. I think they were disappointed when I said I didn’t have one. Anything, I said, from a load of laundry to a dirty floor, can keep me from writing. They were surprised that I had to make myself sit down and write. I keep vowing to write first, then do my chores, but like all good intentions I gradually slip back into old habits. This past week has shown me how far down I have slipped.

Another question was if I ever worked on more than one book at a time. I said yes, I’m currently revising one and re-writing the end of another. When I get tired of one project I switch to the other. It’s a race to see which gets finished first!

Am I going to get back on schedule now that my visitors have headed home? I hope so, but I do have plans for the rest of the month. One item on my list is to see the Georgia Dome get blown up on Nov. 20. We’ll have to get up early in the morning to see that, but who would miss a big explosion? Not me.

Maybe I can somehow work it into one of my books.

And if I get pictures I will share!

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Family secrets

Secrets and lies. Every family has them. Events are omitted purposefully from the family history, questionable relatives are white-washed, stories are half-told or not at all.

This makes for great reading. We want to know why and who and how. We cheer the plucky heroine as she unravels the mysteries of the past to explain the present.

I’ve been playing with writing our family history. I say playing because, like the tablecloth I’ve been cross-stitching for 50 years or more, I pick it up and put it down again, leaving it for months at a time. I could tell the story with no trouble. It’s what I put in and what I leave out that makes me give up and go to something else.

There are amusing anecdotes that come easily. But how do I write the sometimes horrendous events that also make our family who we are? Does posterity really want to know? Do they need to know? Or should some secrets stay buried until they are pushed so deep that no one remembers?

It’s easier when you are writing about fictitious characters. They can be as angelic or evil as our imaginations can paint them. Their stories hurt no one except other fictitious characters. And as the author of their imaginary lives, we can heal them with our words.

But in real life, the truth can hurt. It changes how we feel about not just our forebears, but about ourselves. If they are not who we thought they were, then we are not who we thought we were.

So I write a few pages and then come to a stopping point when I realize I don’t really want to include some things. I wrestle with the necessity for telling the whole truth or not telling the story at all. I hope some day I will be brave enough to include the ugly as well as the noble.

It’s much easier to write fiction.

 

 

Reviews…and how to write them

I just finished writing reviews for two books I recently read. I don’t bother writing reviews for best-sellers or established authors, but I do for friends and acquaintances if I’ve read and enjoyed their stories. I hope they help.

I know writers, myself among them, who have asked, begged, and bribed friends and relations to write a review. Some say they will and never do. Some do, God love them. And some say, “I don’t know how.”

My response is, “Just write one sentence: I liked the book. Or hated it. Whatever.”

I know it’s hard if the only thing you’ve written lately without relying on emoticons is a thank-you to Grandma on a pretty note-card because she doesn’t have a computer and still uses a land-line phone. I concentrate on what it is about the book that makes me keep reading. What do you enjoy most in a book? It might be the plot, or it might be the characters. Maybe it’s the quirky humor. There has to be something noteworthy about the book or you wouldn’t have read it in the first place. So start with, “I enjoyed this book because…” and fill in the blanks.

Do people read reviews? I do. I realize not everyone is going to  like every book written, but I try to find a middle ground between gushing praise (written by the author’s mother, perhaps?) and crushing criticism (which may well have been penned by an envious fellow writer). I read a few five- and four-star reviews and then one or two one-stars before making up my mind to purchase the book.

Okay, in a stab at honesty, to download the free or 99-cent book.

Do reviews help the author? I think they do help people make up their minds to click the “Buy” button, but no one is going to read them unless they’re at least curious enough about the book that they’ve visited the site, be it Amazon or another distributor, the publisher, or the author’s web page. How do they find out about the book in the first place? Ah, that’s a subject for another blog. And when I find out the answer, I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, if you’ve complimented a writer you know and she asks, boldly or hesitantly, that you repeat your kind words in a review, please do it. It isn’t all that difficult, honest. Just say what you said aloud to them.

And if you don’t know the writer personally, but liked their work enough to recommend it to a friend, you might do the same. Writers love it if you buy their book, but they love it even more when you tell them–and the world– how much you enjoyed it.

 

 

Start ’em early

One of the goals of our local writers’ club is to promote literacy.  I guess we’ve said this so loud and so often, it wasn’t a surprise when someone actually took us up on it.

A summer camp for kids needed someone to lead a class on story writing. Guess who they called?

So Kaye and I set out last Monday morning for the camp, which was held indoors. Given the 90+ temperatures we’ve had lately, I considered ‘camping’ in an air-conditioned room a perk.

How did it go? We had a blast. We had two groups of kids, the first from 4-8 years old and the second from 8 to about 14. Talk about enthusiasm! Once they grasped the idea of creating a story from scratch, the kids were falling over themselves to contribute their ideas.

They  knew the basics of story writing: Beginning, middle, end. They knew there had to be a problem and a solution. They knew a story was better when it contained details to set the scene. So our job was made easier because we just had to build on what they already had learned. We tried to steer them away from retelling Hansel and Gretel or The Parent Trap and get them to thinking on their own.

The first group’s story was imaginative even if it didn’t make a lot of sense. It didn’t have to follow a perfect story arc, it just had to entertain. And that it did.

The second group of older kids had a rocky start as the tweens and teens argued about the plot and where it was going. I had some doubts, but I needn’t have worried. They settled down and began backing up each other’s ideas, cooperating beautifully. Their story was heartfelt and had a satisfying conclusion.

I took my notes home and wrote down the stories they envisioned. I’ll print them out, a copy for each camper and a few extra, and take them back to camp next week.

I think the kids had a good time. I know Kaye and I did.

Who knew giving back could be so much fun?

 

 

 

 

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