Ready, Set … Goal!

Having made the statement that I was going to revisit an old manuscript and revise it because I know now more than I did then, I had several people respond that they couldn’t wait to read the story.

Not only that, but in my writing group I set my next month’s goal to finish at least four chapters. We each put in 25 cents and write down our goal for the next meeting. These slips of paper are put in a pot and drawn. If your name is drawn and you have accomplished your goal, you win. If not, the pot rolls over to next time.

It isn’t about the money. The last person who won walked off with a whopping $5.00. It’s about setting that goal and reaching it. No one wants to admit that, for whatever reason, they didn’t do what they vowed to do. It’s not only  embarrassing, but shows a lack of commitment.

So I set both a short-range and a long-range goal to revise and finish this story. I’m excited. For one thing, in the past 10 years or more since I started it, I’ve learned more about pacing and structure. I’ve changed from pure pantser to more of a plotter, because I’ve discovered that if you go down a  road without checking a map first, you could very well find yourself at a dead end, or almost as bad, someplace you never intended to go and no way to get back on course.

I would most likely finish the story without having made my intention public. But now I feel a responsibility not only to myself but to my few but loyal fans.

Setting a goal is good and we all do it. Sometimes the only person aware of the goal is yourself, and if you fail you are the only one who knows it.

However, if you set a goal and talk about it to friends and write about it, you  have a lot more riding on its completion. And if that doesn’t make you sit down and start writing, I don’t know what will.

 

 

 

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a’s and b’s of contests

I’ve entered a few contests in my time and have been a) mortified or b) uplifted by the judges’ comments.  I have had entries returned with angry lines scrawled across my hard-written efforts and I have had very nice remarks that almost made me feel good that I had lost. Judging is difficult, but it is akin to critiquing. You try to point out flaws gently and kindly.

Gently and kindly is best.

So when I judge, I try to keep in mind how I would want to be treated. Maybe there are issues. How best to tell the would-be writer that maybe, just maybe, they might want to take a teeny-tiny revisit and oh, say change a word or two here or there to make the sentence more coherent?

You almost have to choose your words as carefully as if you were writing a query letter, which everyone knows is the hardest writing of all. And a contest all its own, of sorts.

Because the last thing a judge wants to do is discourage a writer just as she is starting out her career. You don’t slap their hands with a ruler because they made a little error in spelling.

Spelling is the least of it. Spelling can be corrected. But when the writer makes a great big error in plotting, or in pacing, it’s a little more difficult to point it out. I can say, “I got a little lost here…” or “a bridge paragraph might work at this point” and go on my way.

That said, the beginning chapters of the three manuscripts I read made me eager to read more. The opening sentences were spot-on to rouse my interest. The unfolding plot lines kept me guessing.

If these authors are amateurs in the sense that they are not yet published, the established authors had better look out.

Or not. There is always room in the world for a good, fast-paced, and interesting novel. One thing I have learned about writers is that they do not feel as if they are in competition. They are always eager to help one another.

What I take away from judging is that a) I can see other writers’ mistakes more easily than I can see my own and b) I look forward to reading more from these talented ladies.

 

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

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