Timing is Everything

As I read an excerpt of my novel to my writers’ group at our last meeting, one of the writers said that she envisioned my main character as 65-years-old. Oops! He is supposed to be 45! Where did I go wrong?

It didn’t take long to discover that my flashbacks and my current setting were confusing the time. My character grew up in the 1960’s but my story takes place in 1995. I hadn’t given clear clues to help the reader know how old my character was. I had to come up with a solution, short of saying “Jake is a 45 year old white man.” (Not a good idea.)

movie 1995

It seems that when people read (unless it is made clear that is it a period piece or science fiction or futuristic) they are in the present time. An author has to make it clear if the story is taking place at a different time. It is easier to write a period piece that is far in the past or far into the future than it is to write a story happening 20 years ago.

Thank goodness I have tgaminghe internet. I can’t imagine doing the research for this without it. I can google a year and find out current events, technology, fashion trends, music, movies and common slang. It helps remind me of what was going on back then.

cell phones

I am going think about specific things that identify the 1990’s such as CD-based gaming consoles, Windows 95, the dawn of email, portable CD players with earphones, digital cameras and the new use of the word “pixels.” Air Jordan tennis shoes, Hootie and the Blow Fish, the Goo Goo Dolls, Clinton as president, Newt Gingrich as speaker, the OJ trial, Bill Gates the richest man in the world at 12.98 million, Bosnia-Serbian war.

toy storySomehow I need to incorporate enough of these references in order for the reader to know that the story is taking place in 1995 and the main character is in his 40’s. He remembers things from the 1960’s but the reader needs to know that the current time is not 2014.

digital camera

I am disappointed that I hadn’t made the time frame clear. I was having such a good time writing my flashbacks but it only served to confuse my reader. I have spent a lot of time on my story and am disappointed that I must do a major rewrite. On the other hand, I think I will have as much fun adding the 1990’s hints as I did the others. Let’s hope!

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Deju Vu

“Writing is not apart from living.  Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice: once in reality and once more in the mirror which waits always before and behind him.”  Donald Murray

[Donald Murray was a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and a teacher at the University of New Hampshire.  Known for using the phrase “nulla dies sine linea” or “never a day without a line,”  he wrote several books on writing. ]

As I write my novel, I find that the most enjoyable parts are when I recall specific times or items from my childhood.  Pouring grape Kool-Aid into a shiny red tin glass and seeing the drink appear black, smelling fresh homemade cinnamon rolls just out of the oven, feeling the crisp winter air as we ran through the park, playing “Duck-Duck-Goose,” watching John Glenn blast into space on a 13 inch black and white television screen– these memories bring joy as I include them in my novel.  At the time the events occurred, I was a child with no prior experience or bias to taint them.

As I write about these things, I relive those moments in time.  A tear may come to my eye as I think about the innocence of youth and all that has transpired since, but the main emotion is joy.  I am grateful to have those memories and to be able to express them.

My main character is recalling these events as he attempts suicide by sitting in an enclosed car inside his garage.  Though fictionalized, this, too, is based on a memory.

I often write about things I have experienced. It is a way for me to sort out my feelings and organize my thoughts.  I can analyze the meaning of events and try to make sense of situations, good or bad.

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s like deja vu all over again!”

(John Fogerty singing Deja Vu which tells of war being repetitive.  He is a vet, so his songwriting reflects his life as well.)

Tornado Season

Last evening, we were under a storm watch and eventually, a tornado warning.  It was a scary time.

Storm clouds tine to go home

 

The skies looked threatening and the weatherman suggested we get ready to seek shelter.

It brought back memories.  I have been in tornado watches and warnings many times, but this one was different.

I remembered the same feeling that I had in 1975 when I  was in a massive tornado.

We were newlyweds and my husband had just returned home from work.  I looked out the kitchen window and spied a huge funnel coming from the southwest.  I alerted my husband and we headed downstairs to the laundry room of our apartment complex.

A loud roar like a train approaching filled the air.  I heard crackling sounds as power lines broke and the live wires hit the ground.  The noise became louder as debris from nearby structures filled the air and hit against each other, adding to the destruction.  We huddled in the corner of the laundry, close to the washing machines.  Having lived in Nebraska all my life, I had learned the rules.

As a child, every springtime in school, we had drills and were told to go into a basement,  bathroom or inner room with pipes. So, we went down below as far as we could and were sheltered in the laundry room.

We could hear the tornado as it passed.  It was gone in a minute or so.  We came out of our apartment and looked around.  Our complex was unscathed, but the complex across the street to the south was demolished.  We walked around the neighborhood in a daze.  It was amazing to see one house totally obliterated and another right next to it, untouched.  As we noticed exposed bathooms, we understood why we were supposed to find shelter near pipes.  Entire houses were flattened except for the bathroom walls.  It was a strange sight.

As we readied ourselves for a bad storm last night, we gathered flashlights, a battery-operated radio (in case the power went out and we couldn’t hear what was happening on the television any longer), our shoes, our billfolds and medicines.  We headed downstairs and turned on the television in the family room.  We have a spare bed in the basement, so I told my husband we could grab the comforter from the bed for protection in case the tornado hit.  I felt we were set.  We sat down in front of the television and watched the screen as shades red, yellow and green moved slowly across the map.  The darker the red, the stormier the weather.  Spots of pink indicated possible tornadoes.  The weatherman commented that the thunderstorms were so strong and the rain was so heavy, that it might be impossible to see a tornado visually, so he warned everyone to stay inside.

Nebraska tornado sign

The sirens wailed as we became increasingly anxious and nervous.  My husband checked the radio as I fetched extra batteries.  It had been awhile since we used the radio–we weren’t sure the batteries would last.

Our cat hid under the stairs.

Daisy is our “weather cat.’  She lets us know if a storm is approaching by suddenly dashing across the floor to the basement.  She runs low to the ground as she zips along the floor to the stairs.  Then we don’t see her again until the bad weather has passed.  She is a smart kitty because she knows to go into the basement bathroom, into the closet which connects to the crawl space under the stairs.

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Our lights flickered and we heard the microwave upstairs beep. The smoke alarms pinged and the digital clocks flashed.  We knew a power surge had just taken place.  Shortly, after that, we were in the dark.  “Crap!”  my husband said, grabbing his flashlight and getting up to turn on the radio.

The room was black for only a few minutes and then the television came back on.  The smoke alarms beeped incessantly, causing my husband to go reset them all.  We would deal with the digital clocks later.

Another power outage.  I hear thunder, but no train or crackling of flying debris.  Maybe we would be OK.  The room looked eerie as my husband and I held our flashlights, listening to the radio.  “The storm is approaching Boys Town,” the radio announcer said.  (We live about 2 miles east of Boys Town in Omaha.)  I prayed as the thunder boomed louder and louder.  Then, suddenly, it was over.

We went back upstairs and surveyed the yard and surrounding houses for damage.  We had a couple large tree branches in the yard, but that was it.  Our house and the neighbors’ were all intact.  We dodged the bullet.

My sister-in-law lives in a small town west of Lincoln, about 80 miles from Omaha.  Her town was hit.  I spoke with her on the phone.  Their power was out, but her house was untouched.  She said the downtown area suffered a lot of damage.  The library, where she works, was untouched but the grocery store and other surrounding buildings were razed. The roads were closed due to downed wires and debris.  The highway to the major town of Hastings was closed.   We counted our blessings.

Sutton aftermath

Tornado season is far from over, so we may have other encounters throughout May and June.  I certainly hope not, but we are as prepared as possible.

Tips on Tornado Safety from a Nebraskan who has seen her share of nasty storms and tornado damage:

If you have time,

  • Remove or secure any outdoor items that could be picked up by the wind and become “weapons,” crashing through your house, breaking windows and doing damage.  It is amazing to see what high winds and tornadoes can stab into heavy objects.  A twig can penetrate steel siding.  A lawn decoration can impale a large vehicle.
  •  Watch for signs.  Before a tornado, the atmosphere may “feel” eerie, like impeding doom.  If I don’t hear birds chirping, that’s a bad sign. The skies may look brownish as first then turn to greenish.  A wall cloud may appear, usually in the southwest.  A tornado itself may look like a dark gray funnel.  It becomes darker as it collects debris.
  • Sometimes it can be real quiet before it hits.  I always think of the “calm before the storm” because that is exactly what I experienced in the 1975 tornado.  Then the large hail hits followed by the funnel cloud with the roaring train noise.
  • Make sure you have shoes on.  Wearing slippers or being barefoot isn’t good protection if a tornado hits.  Wear jeans and clothing that will protect you.  Change out of your shorts and tank tops or pajamas. Think about what you might need or what you might do if your house is it.   Gather the supplies you might need if the power goes out, if you have to walk through debris and broken glass, if you are on medications and they are blown away or ruined by pounding rain and hail.

When the sirens go off:

  • The safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement, or safe room.
  • Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes.  It is better to be outside in a ditch.  Many casualties are people who have stayed in mobile homes.
  • Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.  If you have heavy drapes or blinds, close them IF you have plenty of time and warning.  The drapes can help keep flying debris out and decrease the change of injury. (Consider doing this as part of the preparation.)
  • Do not wait until you see the tornado.  As soon as the sirens go off, head for shelter.  Tornadoes can be hard to see if there are thunderstorms in the area or if it is nighttime.  Tornadoes can start out clear, then become darker as they collect dirt and debris.
  • If you are caught outdoors, seek shelter in a basement, shelter, or sturdy building. A fast food restaurant storage area or freezer may be an option.
  • If you cannot get to shelter, get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt, and try to drive at right angles to the storm movement and out of the path.
  • If you are unable to get to a building or vehicle, lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area and cover your head with your hands.
  • Don’t leave the in your shelter until the danger has passed.

After a tornado

  • Continue listening to weather radio for updated information and instructions. Return home only after the authorities say it is safe.  Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes when examining home for damage. Be aware of fallen power lines or broken gas lines.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the building quickly.
  • Take pictures of any damage your property has sustained.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Try to keep your animals under control.
  • And thank the Good Lord that you survived!


A Little Pick-Me-Up

Do you send short pieces to magazines, newspapers, online sites or contests?

Writing a novel can be a long, arduous process and taking a break once in a while is fun.  If I run across a request for an article or “name that caption” or other feature, I sometimes stop and write a short piece just to give myself a break from writing my novel.  It invigorates me and helps me change my mindset enough that new ideas spring forth for my novel.  It’s like taking a walk after sitting through a three-hour conference.

Today I saw a blurb in a magazine about “sharing your secrets to a happy marriage.”  I thought it would be fun to think about and jot some things down.  My husband and I are celebrating a milestone anniversary in June so it seemed like a timely subject to consider.

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Most of the time, the little articles or blurbs don’t bring any money in, but I am surprised by the number of people who see some of the things I have written.  It’s fun to hear their comments.  It reaffirms that maybe I do have something to write about and contribute to people’s enjoyment.

I once wrote a blurb for the city newspaper’s “Name the Caption” segment that they publish every Friday.  The picture was of several Canadian geese crossing the road at a stoplight.  Several geese (20-30) were stopped in the middle of the street.  Some looked as if they were watching for traffic.  Most of the geese were facing away from the camera with their backs to the reader.  My caption was “Your incessant honking is not going to make the light change any faster.”  I received so many positive comments from people on that one little sentence.

Another time I sent a short piece to a publication that was looking for “Hidden Gems.”  I had just visited a high school friend who lives in a small town.  I found it interesting that the little town of 2,200 people had some very unique features.

Its water tower had a baseball player painted on it.  I found out that a famous major league player grew up in the little town in the 1900’s. Because of that claim-to-fame, the town had a baseball museum. Image www.nebraskabaseballmuseum.com/home.html 

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My husband and I decided to tour the museum.  First, we had to call the telephone number of the gentleman who had the keys and wait for him to come unlock the doors.  His number was on the front door. By the time he arrived another couple had shown up to see the museum.  

I was very impressed with the little museum as well as an area near the municipal hall where buildings from the 1880’s had been preserved.

Gate to historic village

 We ate a restaurant that held over 3,000 cookie jars.  With the baseball museum, the historic village and the cookie jar restaurant, I decided this truly was a hidden gem.  I wrote the article and it was published.  People in the small town were thrilled.  My friend called me their goodwill ambassador.

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The Sweet Shop (the cookie jar restaurant)

As a writer, I constantly look for interesting things, places and people.  I “store” them away in my mind until I find a story to put them in.  Sometimes they end up in a short story or sentence that I submit for publication.

None of these pieces have taken much time or effort to write, yet I have received many accolades for their creation.

I enjoy writing short pieces as I write my novel.  It is like having a cool beer on a hot day–a little something to cool down the overloaded senses and pick up the spirit.