Welcome to our first grandchild!

Sunday was my two-year anniversary of blogging.

I started slow with only a couple of post a month, but five months in, I took an online course and ever since I’ve posted three times a week, without fail. I’ve tried to keep a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule because I like the way the little blocks line up on the calendar to the right. Occasionally, I might post a day late, usually due to time zone issues, but always, three times a week.

Being somewhat compulsive, ever since I made the commitment to my blogging routine, I’d not missed a post. Not when I was sick, or on vacation, or experiencing total writer’s block. I might post a cartoon or short message but, by George, I posted something three times a week…until Monday.

Total silence.

No Internet connection.

I suppose I could have done it from my i-Phone, but I was hoarding my phone-charge for messages and e-mails with family.

We arrived in Honolulu 8:30 Sunday night. At 2:30 Monday morning, our daughter-in-law’s water broke and she was having contractions. And they were progressing. Fast. We grabbed her already packed bag and headed to the hospital. By 7:30 she’d dilated to 8 cm. That’s cranking! Then nothing. And more nothing. About 5:30 p.m., they decided to do a C-Section because the baby was so large.

 Our grandson was born

Monday, March 26 @ 6:54 p.m.

8 lbs, 15.5 oz.

20 1/2″ long

lots of blond hair; bright green eyes

Beautiful and ready to conquer the world

My stepson is deployed to Afganistan, but was present much of the day and evening via Skype. One of my most treasured moments was watching Hubby as he watched his son talking to our grandson via Skype.

The best I can figure (with time changes) we were awake about forty out of forty-three hours from Sunday morning at 5 a.m. until Monday at midnight. Of course, math was never my strong suit and I’m still sleep deprived, so my numbers may be off.

I’ll post more pictures where you can see how beautiful he is when mom and dad say it’s okay, but for now I went for the doting grandparent shots. Suffice it to say, he is the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen. He’s laid-back in temperament and super cuddly. Can you tell this grandmother is already head over heels in love?

So, no post on Monday ’cause we were busy getting this baby into the world. (Well, all I did was wait and pace, but that had its place, too.) And you know what? I don’t even care that it messed up the perfect little blocks on my calendar.

If you aren’t a grandparent yet, let me tell you. There are no words, even in my writers’ bag of creative description, to adequately express the feeling of grandparenthood. Needless to say, I’m walking on cloud nine–even if I’m WAY  too young to be a grandmother.

Aloha,

~Kay

Tiptoe through the tulips…or daffodils…with me

Hubby and I are making a brief stop in the Seattle area for a brief layover on our way to visit our first grandchild. Wait. Wait. Wait. More about him soon.

We spent last night in Bremerton, Washington, with our six-year-old godchild, Xander and his family. His older brother, Dawson, performed his magic act in the school talent show and their sister, Trysta, was his lovely assistant. Their mom told only Dawson of our pending arrival so when we got there, the two of them slipped us into the media room so Dawson could zap us into the living room for the other kids. Now that was some magic trick!

 

We stopped by this morning for pictures with all of the kids. Count ’em. Yep! Six. The youngest one is only on loan, but they’ve fostered her since birth. It’s going to be tough when it’s time for it’s time for her to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today we migrated to my sister’s home north of Seattle. We took the long way via the Tulip Festival in Mt. Vernon, but only the daffodils were blooming. The Festival is officially the held in the month of April, but I’d hoped some of the tulips would be over achievers. I’d been to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival perviously, but Hubby had only experienced it vicariously through my reminiscing. We took lots of photos of the daffodils. A few of our favorite tulip pictures (from prior years, of course) are from the festival website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope your weekend is a beautiful as these flowers!

~Kay

I’m attending police academy

Well, sort of. It’s Citizen’s Police Academy and it’s way cool.

For eleven Tuesday nights from six until nine-thirty, I join other citizens from my county to learn how the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department works from the inside out. Did you know it’s the third largest police force in the country? I didn’t!

My class is the twenty-fifth session since the academy began in 1995. Currently two classes are held per year.

A couple of our classes are conducted off-site. At one, they will do an aviation overview, demonstrate hazardous devices, show the canines and mounted horse patrol, and the SWAT team will be there. The other off-site will be a tour of the Emergency Communications Center (911). We may invite our families to the former, but everything else is restricted to class members who were carefully screened prior to the sessions.

Last night was focused on terrorism and emergency preparedness. (This kept me awake for hours, and when I did go to sleep, it was nightmare city!) Future classes will include education about Internet crimes, safety recruitment, drugs, gangs, youth services, domestic violence, forensics, ID, the E1 Protector Program and the Judicial System among other topics.

In addition to the classes (and perhaps the most exciting part of all), we have two optional activities. First, we can sign up for a time slot at the shooting range and shoot any of the guns in the Metro arsenal. Note to self–get earplugs. The other is a ride-along at any of the precincts on the shift of our choice: day, evening or overnight. I did a ride-along on a Saturday night many years ago in another city–much smaller than Nashville. It was downright scary. Anything that happens–you’re right there in the middle of it. I think I’ll go for a daytime ride this time. I want to see how every thing works–all the cool gadgets in the car and their super duper computers. And I want to SEE where I’m hiding if I get into a precarious situation.

During orientation and in our pre-course materials, they made it very clear we may not arrest any one nor are we representatives of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department. I guess we could get away with this. Citizen’s Arrest 

But this class is a big deal. At the first session, the initial speaker was the mayor, followed by the Chief of Police. And when I say speakers, don’t think boring. At orientation, we learned about how the department works, facts and statistics about our city, and, believe me, these speakers know how to work the room.

When applying for a spot in the program, I had to state why I wanted to participate in the class. I kept it simple and said something like: I’m a writer and would like to portray scenes involving the police as accurately as possible. One other writer is in the class. Most of the participants are Neighborhood Watch, lawyers, volunteer chaplains, and people wanting to give back to the community. I’ve already jotted down notes for one story line based on something I heard, and I’m sure the contacts I make will be great resources when I have procedural questions in my writing. Oh, the guy from last night, Mr. Scare-me-to-death, he’ll be getting my calls!

Do you have a program like this in your community? I’d love to hear if other areas are also educating their citizens in this way. Oh, by the way, the course is “free” or rather a great use of our tax dollars. Plus it’s just plain fun. And how often do you get to have fun?

~ Kay

 

Up on the rooftop…again

You might recall a little over a month ago we got a new roof. Almost everyone in our neighborhood replaced their’s during the fall and winter. The houses are about the same age and a hail storm came through last summer that did enough damage to warrant new roofs for most of the homes.

Our property backs up to Corps of Engineer land (lots of trees) so we are somewhat protected from storms coming in from the west (as this one did).  We knew we had damage (there were chunks of siding and roofing all over the deck and back yard—should’ve been a clue). Yet, we were still surprised to learn the extent.

Our insurance adjuster came today. Not only do we need another new roof, but we have a little siding on the back of our house and it’s riddled with holes. Our gutters are going to have to be replaced, our deck stripped and stained. All of the windows on the back were damaged. I’m not sure what else is on the list. He couldn’t even calculate the damages on site. Now, remember he works for the insurance company, not a roofing company.

I have a stack of roofing company flyers in our kitchen two inches tall and neighbors are asking companies to put signs in their yards before work is done to keep other companies from contacting them. It’s crazy.

I knew it was a bad storm. I was home, cowering in the basement. I didn’t stop trembling for two days. Lots of people lost their homes and close to forty lost their lives.

Though it seems like a long list to us, I’m grateful it is is all we have to do. It is, however, a strain on the pocketbook to pay two deductibles in two months for new roofs. And our deductible is structured at 1% of our home’s value. Ouch! It’s more than our annual premiums.

Our across-the-street neighbors’ insurance company dropped them after they replaced their first roof. They found a new company, sent in their premium and were covered when the storm hit. Their cars were parked in their driveway and were also totaled. We’re being told to expect to insurance rate hikes. You think?

Because of the volume (and we don’t have any leaks) it’ll be a couple of weeks before they get back to us. We asked if we should wait until the spring storms have passed to do the work, but the adjuster said the damage was severe and needed to be done as soon as possible.

This is one of those cases where the story has to be true because no one would believe it in fiction. Does anyone else have a double jeopardy nature story to share? Misery loves company.

~Kay

 

Rainy day and taxes

It’s pouring buckets in Nashville–I know because Hubby and I had an 8 a.m. appointment with our tax account on the other side of town and drove through downpours both coming and going. According to the weather channel, we’re in for more of the same all day.

I’m aware there are people who wait until April 14th to start their taxes, but you’d have to commit me to a mental hospital if I did that. I don’t know why gathering the data is so stressful for me–perhaps because I keep very thorough records and there’s so much to plow through. I just know when that basket of “stuff” goes out the door to the accountant, my stress level goes down with it.

I finished putting together the numbers yesterday, then Hubby and I ran some errands. On the way home, this is what we saw:

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope your Friday is filled with (in the words of the great Leslie Gore) “Sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, everything that’s wonderful is sure to come your way… Sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, that’s how this refrain goes; so, come on, join in, everybody.”

Have a great weekend!

~ Kay

Pleasant surprise

I had my post all set (in my mind) for today, but when I picked up my laptop around eight this morning, I saw I had fifty-five e-mail messages. What the heck? It didn’t occur to me these were birthday wishes. Several were e-mails, but well over half were e-mail notifications of messages left on Facebook.

I seldom sign-on to Facebook unless I have a notification–so little time. With a personal account and a “writing” account, I find when I do get a notice, I’m usually signed into the wrong one. Consequently, I seldom send birthday wishes unless I just happen to notice one during my infrequent visits. So, I’m feeling a little guilty, but trying to let it go since it is my b’day.

There are messages from friends from grammar and high school, friends from college, sorority sisters, husbands of friends, relatives, relatives of relatives, godchildren, friends from other places I’ve lived, people I’ve met during my travels, professional associates, writing buddies, people I’ve met online–I can’t remember who all.

I have some birthday wishes to send today as well. Hubby’s niece (mine too, now) shares my birthday as does a good friend’s twins who turn 21 today.

When Jessica was born, I wasn’t in the family, but when she discovered we were born on the same day that pretty much sealed the deal in her eyes for me to marry her uncle.

I’ll never forget when my friend told me she was having her C-section on March 14th. I was in Orlando (or maybe Tampa) at the SEC basketball tournament. It was Saturday when she told me and I insisted on leaving right then to drive back, even though the 14th was still several days away. Then-hubby wasn’t a particularly happy camper. I moved away from where Maddie and Georgia lived before they turned five, but was privileged to experience several of their “firsts” with them. They’ll always hold a special place in my heart.

So…I’ll forego the planned post for today and hop over to Facebook to savor these notes. The next time someone questions the benefits of social networking, I’ll tell them to wait until their birthday.

 

~ Kay

What I learned at my critique retreat

The critique retreat for my writers’ group, Quill and Dagger, was held at the lovely home of Nancy Sartor on Saturday and was wonderful. It was a beautiful day, almost warm enough to sit outside on her spacious deck, but she’d put together a powerpoint, so we stayed inside.

She based her presentation on structure and used the concepts from the book STORY ENGINEERING by Larry Brooks. 

In a nutshell, Brooks says a well-structured book will have an Opening Hook, a First Plot Point, a Midpoint, a Second Plot Point and an Ending. He throws in a couple of Pinch Points (which none of us had ever heard of) and WaLa–Book. Okay, maybe not quite that simple. Brooks compares the First Plot Point, Midpoint and Second Plot Point to three big meals. Mainstays of the day. Pinch points are like nutricious snacks between those meals to give energy and nurture. For something that seemed pretty bare-boned on the surface, it sounds plenty fattening now! Let’s see what you think.

We begin with an Opening Hook–we all know this. Brooks said the hooking moment needs to be within the first twenty pages of Part 1. However, our group agreed, in today’s market, it needs to be in the first page, if not the first paragraph, if not the first sentence.

According to Brooks a plot point depends on two things: the location within the story and the content shift it delivers to the story. He contends a plot point must not be introduced until the story has been properly set up, or the story will tank.

What is this set-up?

  1. Setting
  2. A thorough introduction of hero including the hero’s backstory and inner demons (world views, attitudes, prejudices, and fears that define him and hold him back)
  3. Establish what the hero has at stake–what he/she has to lose
  4. Foreshadowing of events to come — The best foreshadowing is not recognized as such when it occurs.
  5. Set the pace and focus of the scenes to unfold to get to the first plot point

     

Brooks maintains the First Plot Point should occur at approximately 20 to 25% through the story.

Brooks’ definition for the first plot point: “It means what the hero thought was true may not be as advertised. It means safety and status quo are being threatened. It means everything must stop until this problem is addressed. It means dreams go on hold until this is solved, or it can mean that new dreams are suddenly within reach. It means survival, or not. Happiness, or not. Justice, or not. It means that the stakes are on the table now. The First Plot Point begins the hero’s new quest in pursuit of this need. It begins a response to whatever the First Plot Point brings to the party. It brings the sudden need for safety, for understanding, for relief, for an answer for a new approach, a new paradigm, a new set of rules.”

Our group checked his premise against the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of one of our member’s novels, and wa la, he was right on the money! According to Brooks, the FPP is the bridge between Parts 1 and  2 of a novel and everything that comes before it is a setup for the plot point and everything that comes after it is a response to it. Its mission is to shift the context of the story from setup mode to response mode. He says the story doesn’t really even start until Part 1 concludes with the first plot point. I know lots of people who’d argue with him and say if that’s the case, then start the story there.

Part 2 of the novel is all about the reaction. If the author has done a good job, the reader cares about the hero and wants to accompany him on his quest against the antagonist. Brooks says the reader must truly be vested in the hero and the hero’s fear to care what happens. He warns it’s too early for the hero to save the day. He can try, but it can’t work. Not yet. If he tries, he needs to learn something about himself and the antagonist  (growth) he can use to fight back in a future attempt. Brooks suggests Part 2 consist of twelve to fifteen scenes.

The First Pinch Point comes in the middle of part 2. A pinch point is when the reader sees for him/herself the implications of the antagonistic force.

Next, he said a novel needs a context-shifting Midpoint, at precisely the middle of the story. This is the end of Part 2. Once again something new will enter the story and change the nature of the game for both the hero and the reader. This new knowledge can pertain to previously existing yet hidden information or to completely new info. Like a plot point, it can be considered a plot twist. But unlike other twists, which can appear without concurrent rrelevance or meaning to the story, a Midpoint changes things through meaning. “Through the revelation of what’s been, until this point, behind the curtain of awareness, the Midpoint empowers the hero in the transition from Part 2 wanderer to Part 3 warrior.” The Midpoint can deliver information.

Part 3 is where the hero needs to get down to business. It’s time for the author to deliver. Hook the reader with set-up and stakes promised in part 1 and deliver empathy garnered in part 2. Part 3 is where “the hero literally fights back, hatches a plan, enlists assistance, demonstrates courage, shows initiative. This is where he steps up. He evolves from responder to attacker. From wanderer to warrior.”

But in the middle of part three, Brooks throws in the Second Pinch Point. Like the hero, the antagonist has also evolved and has overcome his own weaknesses in pursuit of his own quest, so he is also stronger and more frightening. This increases the tension and ups the stakes

Second Plot Point is the final place to put new information into the story. It will be about 75% into the story and will separate parts 3 and 4. After this, according to Brooks, no new expository information may be introduced other than the hero’s actions. All narrative information to shift the story into resolution mode must be given by this point. Future story shifts have to be based on information currently known or some decision or action on the part of the hero. There was some discussion within the group about the introduction of new information after the second plot point. What do you think?

Part 4 is the beginning of the end of the story. Brooks says you have twelve scenes to wrap it up using the second plot point as the springboard for those sequences. I have know idea where he gets this number. The story has to be strong going into the ending. (Duh!)

Now, we’re to The Ending and, of course, there are rules. They are pretty basic, and either because our eyes were crossed, the snacks were calling, or we really agreed there was little discussion around how Brooks advocates ending a novel. Here are his Rules of The Final Act:

  1. Hero has to be the hero. Can no longer depend on others to come to the rescue
  2. Hero should demonstrate personal growth
  3. Hero should show creative thinking that makes the reader feel his heroism
  4. If the book is part of a series, current book has to stand alone!

Actually, we all whole-heartedly agreed with all four points.

My group agreed the take-away from the book is he’s on to something if his hypothesis is correct. He says if you use his method, you will have 30 to 40 scenes or about 2/3 of your entire story when you finish setting up the structure. “By planning for these pivotal milestone scenes, by grasping what they are and how they empower the flow of the story, and thus, understanding what types of scenes need to set them up, pay them off and connect them, you will have launched the architecture for well over half of your entire novel.”

What do you think? Sounds good to me.

~Kay

 

 

Critique Retreat

Are you in a writing critique group?

I’m in two.

My online group will post pages (no more than fifteen) twice a month (between the first and fifth, then again between the fifteenth and twentieth). We critique in between. The group, Step by Step, fluctuates between four and eight active members depending on who has a work in progress. Inactive members remain in the forum and are still welcome to critique whether or not they have something to put up themselves. We have few rules but do have a moderator in case there are problems. A couple of times I’ve thought things might come to blows–hard to do online–but it’s always settled down when other group members chimed in with opinions and compromises.

I’m fairly new to my flesh and blood group, Quill and Dagger, but they’ve been around since the early 90’s. I confess this group still intimidates me a bit. We have two agented, published, successful novelists. At least one group member is self published. A couple prefer short stories and jumping from project to project. We have dark and we have darker. (I’m not so good with dark.) One member is a journalist currently working on her MFA. It’s a diverse, eclectic and extremely bright group with nine members. I know, I know…how’d I get in?

This group meets twice a month (Tuesday nights) in the back corner of a Shoney’s for dinner followed by discussion of any pages submitted. (The wait staff know our drink order without asking.) Sometimes only one or two will have sent something in. Other times almost everyone will have a submission. Most print the pages (tress be-damned), make their comments, and return them to the author after the discussion. A couple send their notes online.

The style of critique is as varied as the group itself. We have grammar, punctuation and word nazis (me included) balanced by those who ask the tough questions. What is your character’s motivation? How is this chapter moving the plot forward? Is this character (story line, whatever) necessary? Put it all together and it works.

Quill and Dagger has been around so long (‘cept me) they even know each other’s families. They have a summer pool party and a December holiday party that includes significant others. How cool is that?

Tomorrow we’re doing something that’ve not done before. We are having a retreat. It it works well, we’ll probably have three or four a year. One person has become our subject matter expert on structure and we’re going to her house to learn all about it. We’re to take the outline of out latest WIP (so much for us pantsers) and we’ll go from there. She’ll have snacks; we’re taking more snacks. I can’t wait.

How does your writers’ group operate? Does it have any quirks you’ll share?

~Kay

 

 

Ups and downs aren’t limited to writing

Finally, I know up from down…mostly.

I’d been fighting vertigo for several weeks. It’s not unusual for me, when the barometric pressure changes to have inner ear changes as well. Usually, it’s not too severe. Until Monday, I’d gone to tap class and (though some might disagree) done just fine.

Last Friday, when I woke I knew a big storm was a’coming. I had to hold on to the walls to walk. Sweet, sweet Hubby moved all of my work stuff from my nook upstairs to the main floor so I wouldn’t have to navigate stairs and left strict instructions not to drive. As if!

Around four Friday afternoon, he called and told me to go to the basement immediately. He’s not normally so bossy, so I hopped to it — as best I could with the limitations of vertigo. I stuck the house phone in one pocket, my cell phone in the other; unplugged my laptop, stacked my iPad on top of it and put the bottle of water I’d been drinking in my nearby purse. All of this took about ten seconds. I gathered my cache in my arms, headed to the stairs, about ten feet away, and manuvered my way to our lowest floor.

About two-thirds of our walk-out basement is finished. We have a game room, a guest room /den and bathroom. The bathroom is completely underground and our designated spot for safety.

Hubby called back before I could unload and get the basement television turned on. He was at a conference in downtown Nashville and said the storm had already passed through there with sixty miles per hour straight-line winds and was over the airport when he called earlier. There is only a lake between our home and the airport.

I told him to let me get settled and I’d call him back. I tried to find a flashlight–I’d forgotten one from upstairs–but to no avail, so I downloaded an app to my cell phone. (We now have two flashlights in the basement.) I began tracking the storm on both the television and my laptop when, all of a sudden, it sounded like machine-gun fire. Okay, no. I don’t know what machine gun fire sounds like, except for TV and movies, but that’s my description. I sat on the cold tiles of the basement bathroom floor, watching the weather map on my laptop screen, trying to hear the television news from the volume I’d turned way up, but all I could hear was hail plummeting above me. I had two floors between me and the roof; I was sure they were gone because the hail sounded as if it was right on top of my head.

I phoned Hubby back and he could hear the hailstorm over the phone. He cautioned me NOT to go up the stairs, even to see if the house was still there. Another front was following this one and he was staying downtown until it was safe to get out and wanted me in the basement until they’d passed. I readily agreed.

As quickly as the noise started, it stopped. Like it’d been unplugged. Still swooning with vertigo, I climbed the stairs, (I know, I know, but it was my house!), opened the door and verified it hadn’t blown away. I didn’t even leave the stairwell before I retreated to the basement. The newscaster said the hail was so thick it looked like snow on Interstate Forty. Hummm. I ventured to the windows and here’s what my back deck looked like ten minutes after the storm. The temperature outside was in the sixty’s.

You can’t really see the individual chunks, but Hubby took some photos when he got home, and they were larger than a quarter. Big. Damaging. Hail.

Remember how almost everyone in our neighborhood replaced their roofs during the last six months? Remember our new roof? The one put on last month? The insurance adjuster hasn’t come out yet, but the roofing company that installed the roof came by the day after the storm. We not only have roof damage, but damage to our gutters, screens, siding, downspouts, decking and window trim. Damn. But then I read the newspaper about how people lost their entire homes, their lives, everything. I consider us lucky.

My hands trembled until Saturday from the experience and typing about it makes them quiver again. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it has to be for the true victims of this devastation.

Sunday’s newspaper said wind speeds west of here got as high as 135 mph making it an EF2 according to the weather service. That’s like a hurricane!  A tornado that ripped through a community where a friend lives had winds of 90 mph. The measly 60 mph straight-line winds that roared past here—well, they were still 60 mph winds! This was just in Tennessee–one of the lesser hit states, with no loss of life. May peace be with the families of the thirty-eight victims who died in neighboring states.

In the southeast there were eighty tornados spotted on Friday, March 2. The weather channel said seventy-six is average for the entire month of March. This could be a long month. Wherever you are, make sure you have safe shelter.

Oh, and guess what! The room is spinning again. Damned vertigo.