Plot Twists from Animal Encounters, Park 2 – Deer

Plot twists. Every editor and reader wants them. How do we think up all these plot twists? Life. Experiences. Experiencing the unusual, the unexpected.

I’ve lived in many places where deer have also lived. Here in Michigan, there are three to five of the critters which pass through our yard now and again.  If I don’t actually see them, I often see their hoofprints in the snow or mud (or nibbled down veggies, hostas, and other plants).

One spring when we lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota, we had a herd of about forty deer make their residence in our fenced-in backyard. We were the only people in the neighborhood without a dog. We were the deer Haven of Rest. I remember one morning running out our door and off our porch waving my arms and screaming. I expected the deer to scatter. As a herd, they turned their heads and stared at me. Knowing any one of them could crush my skull with one little kick, I turned and ran back to the porch waving my arms and screaming. Each afternoon after they’d left, I’d go out and scoop up the numerous piles of “raisins” and dig them into our garden. That particular summer my garden totally flourished.

I love catching sight of deer in the wild. However, with all our modern roadways and speedy vehicles, traveling along interstates or backroads have often included daily roadkill sightings of the large beasts. Once while driving through the hills of Pennsylvania, we came to a stretch of about twenty miles where there were fourteen dead deer along the road. Fourteen. After a while I closed my eyes and prayed for hunting season to come quickly for swifter deaths for these majestic creatures to thin the herds.

Thankfully, I’ve never run into a deer while driving, nor has anyone else in our family. But one time a deer ran into me.

I was heading to work (teaching elementary school) in the dark pre-dawn hours, the only car going down a 4-lane road in Rapid City. I was in the left lane, traveling about 45 mph when in my peripheral vision I saw eyes immediately outside my driver’s window. A running deer. One moment it was running perpendicular to the car and inches from my window, the next it had turned sideways. But it couldn’t stop its forward momentum. The deer slammed its full body against our little Sidekick car, shoving it into the shoulder of the far right lane. I stopped as soon as I could, certain there would be a dead deer in the center of the road, but the deer had vanished. When I got to school I climbed out of my car to find myself shaking rather badly. I checked the side of the car expecting to see it crushed in. There wasn’t a mark, and my logical mind has no idea why not. I was thankful to be alive, for this story could have ended much differently. But I shall never forget those huge, wide brown eyes about a foot away from my own.

So when you’re writing your stories, include the unusual, the unexpected, and you shall have your plot twist.

Queen of the Story Starters

Someone once asked me if I have another book in the works. I nearly choked on room air. How about another twenty-five in the works? And, yes, those are twenty-five completed rough drafts I’ve started but never got back to to complete. Most of those rough drafts have seen many revisions or even rewrites over the years, but I would not be willing to send them to an agent or publisher or even self-publish them because when I stand back and take a serious look, they just don’t make the cut. For each of those stories, I would want to deeply re-think and then deeply re-revise before I’d pursue publication in any form.

Actually, twenty-five drafted novels isn’t really much to brag about for queenship. So why am I bold enough to take up the crown? It’s those thousands of story ideas which I’ve started with a chapter, a page, or even just a very cool title or thought. I love writing. I love letting my fingers fly over the keyboard. I love taking pen in hand and more thoughtfully writethings out in script. I could probably have easily a hundred ideas in a day if I allowed myself to be mind-blank, or rather mind-open, and were to write them all down. (Hmm. Is this a sign of ADD? I’ve never been diagnosed. But I digress.) But in order to complete a story, i.e., ready it for publication, I need to focus on that story and that story alone.

I have two major writing goals. One is to produce a well-written finished product. Two is to keep ideas freely flowing. The first writing goal is for others. The second writing goal is for me, and allow for my own creativity.

I am a visual learner. I can stare at a photo or picture for a long time and get lost in it, the artist, the lives of the characters, the feel of the breeze on my cheek in a still room. I get antsy going into art museums because there is so much in each piece. I could easily be that odd person who sits on a bench in front of something which snags my fancy and look as though I am comatose as I totally get lost in my thoughts stirred by what I see frozen before me. Lives unfold. Every detail has history and feelings. I have a large print in my house of a relative from the 1700’s going to a prison. There are dozens of people in the print. I could write a story about each and every one of those people.

Here is my gift to you today: a story starter from a photo I took. Happy writing.

JPS on Bench 03

Wool Sweaters Update

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Just so you know… when you wash 3 second hand sweaters a couple times, and beneath your 50 year old laundry tub are five twists in the steel drain pipe capable of trapping bunches of washed out wool, plan on adding a couple hundred dollars’ plumbing bill to the cost of those inexpensive sweaters. (Can you hear my sigh from where you are?)

Tornado Cleanup — 7th Day After

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I finally posted some photos on my FB page (link). Peter had posted some from his stay earlier. Believe me, I have TONS more, including of the neighborhood damage, but those will come (perhaps) later, when we actually have internet from our house.

As mentioned earlier, at 1:15 p.m. yesterday, our house finally got power. We in our neighborhood see this as a miracle, for even yesterday morning, we were all chatting up that we didn’t expect it to be hooked up for weeks. It is actually only partial power, because of the hole in our home from a fallen tree – master bedroom and den (Jeff’s home office) are without power, and will be so for who knows how long.

There is SO much I can be writing about. Over these past seven days, I wrote over 30 pages of notes (some nearly unreadable) in my journal. I’ll write about some of that later, and maybe other of it never. For this post: 4 things.

1) I felt like I’ve been on a week-long missionary trip, working from sunup to sundown in 90 degree (plus) heat. Although, I must add that it’s only been in the 90’s for three of those days, including today.

2) Because we’re on well water (v.s. city water), when the power went, so did our water supply. Now that we have water flowing in our house, I feel euphoric. The big problem is what to use the water for first? My initial inclination was “Me! Me! Sweaty, stinky, dirty me!” But with several hours to sundown last night and humidity high, my veggie garden, strawberries and grapes got first priority. Oops. Thinking back, it was clearing and cleaning our two refrigerators which happened first. And that took hours.

With the tree removal guys working till sunset (and we are getting close to the summer solstice, you know), Jeff and I had a European meal at 9:30 p.m. There are clothes to wash, floors to wash, dishes, counters, bathrooms. Today I did five loads with more to do. Plaster went everywhere when the wall crashed. Then there is sweaty, stinky, dirty me.

3) My poor, poor yard. I’d already spread (before the tornado) 2 huge bags of peat most and 2 large bags of grass seed over our lawn. It was going to be gorgeous this year. Then came the bobcat and chipper and trucks and trailers pounding our lawn flat.

You must realize that I am the gardener/ lawn care person of the family. I hand-pick dandelions, and I aerate the lawn with a pitchfork – seriously! Yep, it takes a long time, but it does a great job. Thinking about “what do you need,” perhaps we should have a pitchfork part at our house after the machines are all gone from our yard. Oh, yeah. There will be a dumpster there for a while during reconstruction, along with affiliated machinery. (Heavy sigh)

4) The only thing I wish for now is that the city would pick up our garbage. They are three days late in collection, and with all that stinking, rotting refrigerator food bagged out at the curb, I’m just waiting for animals to have a feast.

BUT, we are safe, and WE HAVE POWER! (and water!) Life is good.

Day 6 After the Tornado

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As word is getting out to people in town who were unaffected by the storm, or to distant friends as well, that we Carlsons were one of the home owners struck by trees and without power, and consequently for us, without water, since we’re on well water (think no toilets, showers, cleaning ANYthing, bodily or otherwise), people are asking what do we need? What can they do to help?

We are safe, and physically healthy. We are thankful (and amazed) that there were no injuries or deaths related to this storm. Just a few miles away at Fort Custer, Friends Carrie and Jim were camping over the weekend. They only had 15 mph winds there. It was a VERY strange storm.

As of this writing, we still do not have power or water.

But “first” off, THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONCERN FOR US. It means far more than anything we can think of (for you to do for us).

Thursday, Friend Dale, whom I’ve known since I was 11 years old – we call each other “cuz” ‘cuz we looked alike – she called from Mississippi to tell me they (in Mississippi) wanted to do something for us in Battle Creek, especially since people from our church went to help them after Hurricane Katrina. It was the first time I broke down and cried.

Friend Jan from here, came over on Tuesday and, knowing we didn’t have water, told me she wanted to wash our dirty laundry. Memorial Weekend was our 33rd wedding anniversary, so I’m afraid I procrastinated laundry enough to have four or more loads, including the plaster-covered clothes or towels used during immediate cleanup. Normally, I would have been embarrassed to allow someone else to handle our dirty clothes. Thank you, Jan. It wasn’t an emergency, but it sure was one big-ish thing we didn’t have to worry about doing (at a laundromat).  Whenever I smell Downy, I shall think of you and smile in gratitude.

“Secondly,” prayer works! Our regular Thursday Morning Prayer Meeting at church prayed especially for us, we were told. All day long yesterday, Jeff kept saying, “This has been a crazy day.” One example from the many things which happened: We’d been waiting since Monday morning for our tree removal people to come and get our tree. They finally called and said they’d be out Thursday afternoon. Our next door neighbors hired someone to clear our tree which fell on their house, and their guys were there Thursday morning. They’d stopped at the property line, and Jeff and I thought no more about it. We were in the basement with generator stuff, and when we came back up an hour later, their tree people had cut the tree off our house and down to the root ball. Uncertain at first what to do, Jeff finally went out and talked to them. They’ll come back and get the rest of the trees (not on our house) at some later date. BUT all this was in time for the electric company folk to come by and attach lines from the street to our house. SO, instead of weeks without power, we we’re supposed to get it “soon.” (I’m sending this from Friend Francie’s house.)

WHAT DO WE NEED? WHAT CAN YOU DO?

A neighbor wrote on FaceBook Sunday night, “Need bread,” and was inundated with loaves by Monday afternoon. It got me thinking what do WE need?

One, there are others in the area worse off than we are, some without insurance. They have needs far greater than our inconveniences of no power, light, or water. And, two, when you think of the millions of people in Third World places, or even here in America, who don’t have these, we absolutely have the four things people need to survive: food, water, shelter, love (like from caring folks like you).

Yes, it’s true that we have no water at our house, but Neighbors Mark and Cindy across the street have “city water,” and have graciously allowed us to use their outside spicket day or night. Mark calls me “Water Girl.” But “Water Man” (Jeff) helps carry, too. While we only have to walk across the street for clean water. Some people on this planet must walk miles for it.

Yes, it’s true that yesterday, we threw out all our stinking food from the refrigerators – and what a treasure to find a jar of unopened pickles in there — but we are former campers, and used to roughing it, just not in our own house. We find a lunch of peanut butter and crackers and V-8 and applesauce is quite satisfactory. There are also restaurants opened now near to us.

What do we need? The answer is fluid. On night one, tarps and nails. By night two, ibuprofen. A cell phone charger was vital for communicating with the many, many professionals needed – insurance, tree removal companies, roofers, building contractors, etc. (As I wrote this paragraph, the power came on. Hallelujah!!! The generator can be turned off.)

Although we have water (yea) we will only have partial power in our house because of broken walls and breakers turned off to that portion of the house, which only affects the den and master bedroom. But did I mention we have power?

We won’t have internet at home for a while, nor land line phones or tv, but those are SUCH luxuries, and only means a bit of inconvenience to do things we were used to. Life will come back better than before.

I’m posting some photos on my FB page, but thought a moment ago that before and after shots would show more dramatically the comparison of damage done.

Many, many thanks to you all for your care and concern during this time.

Battle Creek Tornado, Post #2

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On Sunday, I wrote four pages of observations on notebook paper before deciding to write tonado-related things in my pen and ink journal, including important phone numbers, notes, priorities, and even scattered half-phrased thoughts. I’m now on my 25th tornado page in that journal. I figure, as a writer, someday I’ll return to those pages for future stories/articles. For now, it’s simply a central location for stuff my brain is too shaky to retain.

Five points to today’s post:

1) We still are without power and water. Yesterday, there were still 31,000 people without power, with the plan to have everyone restored by 11 pm tonight. Even so, our wires are pulled away from our house and under a large oak, so unsure of when this applies to us.

2) Son John had his own tragedy happen a week before ours. A drug-crazed stranger threw a 50-pound boulder through his car window, then proceeded to rip apart the dashboard before threatening John’s life. Far away carless John is in his own survival mode, but wishes he could help as well. There will be stuff for him to do later. No worries.

Monday, Jeff called Son Peter, who lives 5 hours away. As soon as he found out the extent of the devastation, he drove here with a chain saw, lots of bottled water, tarps, and nails. We had a list of three major things he could help us with during his overnight stay. They were all accomplished two hours after he arrived. It was like Jeff and I were taking baby steps in shock, while Peter comes in as a triathlon athlete (which he is, actually). He whipped through a project, then said, “What next?” His time was not only a physical boost to us, but definitely an emotional boost.

3) Our yard went from 90% shade a week ago to 90% sun this week. Sunlight comes through windows which hasn’t seen sun in our seven years here.

Related to that: With downed trees all about, it took Peter four attempts to get to our house. Even so, the neighborhood looks so different, he started to drive past our house when he saw us out front. Yesterday, Friend Francie, who was out-of-town during our storm, drove down our little street (a whopping 20 or so houses), and became confused when she realized she’d reached the end of the street and had to of have passed our house.

4) People keep asking what we need. This morning I broke down for the first time and cried with “Cuz” Dale called from Mississippi, saying how she touched she/they were when members of my church and I went to help with Katrina clean up, and asked “If there is anything at all I can do–” I answered, “Dale, you already have.” It’s the care and concern and compassion, and being a friend — that is the BEST thing anyone can do for us. Just be our friend. Thank you.

5) Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to work on some photos at home to post on FB tomorrow. Hopefully. It’s hard to plan things more than a few minutes ahead of time.

Love to you all. We sure feel it coming at us from you.

Why Write? (part II)

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I feel like standing up and saying, “Hi. My name is Sandy. I’m a writer.”

I haven’t confessed to too many people that I actually have four blogs. I don’t post on them all regularly, but they are four very different blogs on very different subjects. For instance, I also have a humor blog where I write true funny family stories, but also stick in some good old clean jokes now and then. That blog is strictly for sharing the funny. Another blog concerns my husband’s occupation — b.o.r.i.n.g. to most people.

Why four blogs? For compartmentalizing different focuses.

I also have written nonfiction articles, as well as stories cross-genre and cross-age, from PB to adult thrillers. (The last is under a pen name, so as not to confuse my dear children readers.)

When I was a freshman in college, my advisor — a very plump woman threatening the existence of her chair, with narrow eyes which burned into your very soul — asked me what I wanted to be (when I grew up). I got all fluttery and replied, “I just don’t know. I love being outside, but I love working with kids, and I want to help people, and I want to explore places, and –” She slammed her hand to her desk to stop my babbling. I was startled because, after all, she’d asked. She waggled her finger at me and said, “Focus. Decide on one thing and do it.” Then she waved me out of her presence with the back of her hand. I was devastated. But then, I ended up in a profession which did all of the above. I was an elementary school teacher, and a girl scout leader, later becoming a wife and mom and cub scout leader. I really COULD do it all. Ha on her!

Coming back to my wide interest in writing… I feel my former advisor shaking her pudgy finger in my face with a “Focus!” Will I ever learn? Could I focus on just one series and write a bazillion stories with those characters? Not sure it’s in my varied personality. But because of my families adventuresome spirit, I don’t need to do tons of research for what it would be like in many situations. We’ve been there. OH! something I hadn’t thought about because it is far too scattered to focus into one book — a memoir!

Writing Exercise — Weather

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We’re in part of the “monster storm” area. Eighteen inches of snow is predicted to fall tonight, over top the six or so we’re to get during the day. Power will be iffy. We are also on a well-system, which means if the power goes out, so does our water pump (i.e., no flushing toilets, no showers, no leaving water dripping through the pipes with single digit tempts outside to keep the pipes from freezing). If we use our fireplace, we must keep the flu open or smoke will fill our house. But if we do use the fireplace, that means more warm house air will escape up our chimney than stays inside, because we don’t have a blower. With single digits in the forecast the day after tomorrow, someone would have to be up all night feeding the fire. We simply don’t have the wood supply for that.

This is exciting.

Why?

I am a writer.

Yes, I know there is real-life danger issues with this storm. But as a writer… I’m taking notes, and suggest you do, too. What are my emotions ahead of the storm? During? After? How can I describe the various stages of the storm? What can happen with candles? Then there are always the “what-ifs.” What if this were 1800? (– for those writing historical novels.) What if someone was pregnant and went into labor, but the roads were impassable? What if a child wanted to play outside, alone? What if a tunnel had to be shoveled to the barn to take care of the animals? What if that heavy snow and resulting power outage and … brought people together? How? What? Where? Who?

What fun.

I’m grabbing my journal and pens and pencils (pencils in case the ink in the pens freeze). Bring it on.

Face to the Grind — Writing Challenge

 

Grand Traverse Bay

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Face to the grind.. Not quite sure what that means, except that it sounds painful. I’ve got my face to the grind, working on NaNoWriMo this month. It’s not painful, actually; it simply requires discipline. Then again, perhaps that is painful in a sense.

From participating last year, I know the NaNoWriMo group gives ideas periodically for what to write about for the day, in order to add to your word count. Just like never getting bored, I never have trouble thinking up things to write. What I have trouble with is the discipline of writing. Therein lies my writing challenge for you — do some raw writing about this photo I took on a trip up north last week. Set the timer for ten minutes… Ready? Set? Go.

WriteOnCon, 2010 (and S.C.B.W.I.)

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I signed up for the WriteOnCon this summer with a bit of hesitancy and skepticism. Hesitancy, because I’m a long-time member of S.C.B.W.I. (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). If fact, I joined before the “I” was added. That’s neither here nor there.I’ve co-chaired two (live) writers conferences in this chapter, helped with several SCBWI conferences in CO, and was SCBWI newsletter editor for the Dakotas chapter. I’m rather invested in the organization, and will continue to be so, and continue to attend live conferences (like the one in October). The bug-a-boo (i.e., hesitancy): One of our Regional Advisors discouraged us on our listserv from attending this upstart conference.

I had skepticism about participating in WriteOnCon, because I simply had my doubts about how such a conference was going to work. As a past conference organizer (and of two others, non SCBWI), I was also curious about the technical side of it and how the sessions would be presented. Besides, one could not help but feel the excitement vibrating over the internet about it.

Once my decision was made to attend, I decided not to be shy nor embarrassed and put my name right out there, not hiding behind a user name like mewriter2. (Apologies to anyone who picked that name.)

This is the morning of day two of the first WriteOnCon. I’ve “attended” most sessions at the time they were presented, and must say WRITEONCON IS AWESOME! (Yes, I shouted. Sorry.) A large round of applause needs to go out to the conference organizers. I’m impressed with the variety of speakers, subjects, and methods of presentation (YouTube, narration, live, monitored chats).

Thank you risk-takers, Casey, Elana & Shannon. You three rock!