Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tornadoes--personal account

Last night, the lives of thousands of people changed. Sometimes we get so caught up in our day-to-day lives and stresses that we forget, or never even realized, that everything can be taken from us in less than thirty seconds.

On March 27, 1994, my family and I were hit by two tornadoes at once. My grandparents were over for lunch after church--it was Palm Sunday. The temperature was around 84 degrees and the humidity was astronomical, but no rain. No thunderstorms. Just heavy clouds and that lingering, oppressive heat.

We sat around the living room talking and laughing, and I remember my mom and Meme (grandmother) started talking about tornadoes--in the abstract. We lived in a little 3 bedroom ranch on a crawlspace. They were wondering if we should go into the crawlspace in the event of a tornado.

About two minutes later, all of the trees in the front yard whipped toward the ground, leaves flipping upside down. The sky took on the ugly green cast that only a tornado heralds.

And then, over the hill directly in front of our house, a massive, two-tailed tornado rose up.

I was seven, turning eight in about a month. I remember my grandmother scream "get in the hallway!" She got in first, followed by me and my brother. My dad, remembering some old wives tale, ran into the two bedrooms and opened the windows--hoping to alleviate air pressure or something.

Then he got next to my mom in the hall. Our hall wasn't long enough for six people. My grandfather--Papa--was standing up at the end of the hallway in the living room, facing the tornado.

I don't think I'll ever forget this, and I'll admit that I still cry every time I talk about it (I'm crying right now). I watched my dad stand up to grab Papa, and in that moment I screamed "Daddy, no!"

And then the tornado hit.

We found out afterward that the main tornado was an EF-4, but another smaller tornado had come at us from the other side, and they just so happened to meet in the middle.

We all remember different things from the heart of the storm. It only lasted for about fifteen seconds. My parents and grandparents heard the freight train sound. I didn't, and neither did my brother.

My mom heard her 55-gallon fish tank explode.
I heard silverware rattling in the drawers, like someone was opening and slamming them shut.
The floor joist snapped between me and my brother, and he said he thought he was being thrown out into the sky. The floor sank just enough for part of my head to get trapped beneath the bookshelf in front of us.

When the tornado passed, people were there immediately. I'm not even sure how they got there so fast. Our neighbors, of course--and total strangers. Some said they saw the tornado hit our house from the road. All I know is that within a few minutes, people I'd never seen before in my life were helping us crawl out of the rubble of our house.

A stranger carried me out of the rubble--I was barefoot--and into a clear section of the yard beside my brother. I don't remember this, but I was screaming, over and over. My mom slapped me to make me stop. Power lines were down all over the yard. Our rabbit was dead.

We have an album of the house, but I only have one picture scanned on the computer. This was a few days later:

Most people couldn't believe that we had all lived through the tornado. The only injury was my grandfather, whose ankle got broken. They carted him up the road in a wheelbarrow to meet an ambulance that couldn't make it, due to all the debris. Our cat turned up about a month later--she'd gone almost feral in the meantime. And one of the goldfish went on to live for five more years, even though he'd lived on a pile of gravel for three days before someone found him.

We had to burn everything we owned. Looking back now, we know that we'd been given false information, but at the time didn't want to take the risk. The day that they burned our stack of stuffed animals, Mom took us out for lunch. The first stuffed animal I got afterward was a little dragon from the therapist both of us kids were seeing for post-traumatic stress.

What I'm saying is this:

What happened last night, even to those who were fortunate not to have lost lives, is going to change them forever. For about a year after the tornado, my mom would burst into tears whenever it would just rain. It's only been within the last few years that I haven't gone into hiding or gotten extremely nervous during a strong thunderstorm. Two years ago, I was stuck at work during a tornado watch, and some ignorant person thought it was funny and said there was a funnel cloud outside. I didn't know they were joking, and I had a full-on panic attack--couldn't breathe, almost fainted, shaking and crying and moaning. Two years ago.

I will never forget the kindness of strangers. The outpouring of help--people who'd never seen us, didn't know our story stopped to help when we began cleaning up the rubble.

The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross provided everything for us in the months after. I'll never forget that, either.

My family was fortunate to have escaped relatively unscathed. Things are just things, after all. They were all replaced eventually.

I know some of what the people in Alabama and northwest Georgia are going through right now, but as traumatizing and horrifying as just the tornado was for us, I can't even imagine adding in the pain of losing someone with it. It's the kind of thing you will never, ever get over.

I don't know what my point is. This post wasn't easy for me to write. I don't like to talk about the tornado, because it still upsets me, makes me shake and cry, like I said.

But despite all the horror, we learned a lot of amazing lessons in humanity. As vile as the world sometimes seems, there are people out there who have good, true hearts, who won't hesitate to help a family in need, to carry a screaming little girl out of the ruins of her home.

Be one of those people.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Soulless Things

Do any of you fans of The Office recall the episode "Safety Training"? The one where they have the first aid instructor come in, and Dwight ends up "harvesting the organs" of the dummy and then wearing its face like Hannibal Lector? One of the funniest scenes of the show, in my opinion.

Well, today it's my turn. I'm getting some hot dummy action. 

I Googled pictures of CPR dummies, but they were all so creepy in their own ways that I couldn't bear to bring them into this safe place. I have this fear of dolls that kinda links with my fear of clowns (my cousins had a doll clown that was pretty much Satan in the batting). With that fear in mind, I'd kinda like to let a couple of the dummies die, but I doubt the instructor would see my point of view. 

Even worse, today is basically the last feasible day for any of us nursing students to get this CPR certification, and the instructor said the class is really full. So I'm going to be stuck in a room full of dummies for about four and a half hours. 

Oh, boy. I can't wait. 

Speaking of soulless things, Evan and I started watching The Walking Dead this week. Besides the obvious interest, it's also filmed in Atlanta. And it's always fun to watch things filmed near where you live, right? We've only finished the first half of season one, but so far I give it five stars. The creepiness of the first episode was on par with the best zombie movies, which made husband uncomfortable at the prospect of an entire show like that, but the good news is that it focuses more on the characters and their situation after the first episode. I highly recommend! 

In other thoughts, I somehow managed to let the household run out of both milk and bodywash. Those aren't related. 

Happy hump day! 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Plans. I Has Them.

If you've never used Wordle after completing a manuscript, let me encourage you to try it out. The concept is pretty basic: copy and paste your document into the program, and it will show you a word cloud of the most frequent fliers in your selection. Once the cloud is displayed, you can remove things like your main and subsidiary characters' names in order to get a truer look at the repeat offenders.

I was fairly surprised by some of the words that I saw come up this time:

Wordle: Four

I don't know how well you can see that, other than my biggest no-no's. I think it's a link, if you click on the picture.

Obviously, you can see that I like my prepositions, as well as just. What a sneaky word, right?

However, I was really surprised to see so many body parts appear on the cloud:


I guess I have anatomy on the brain.

Moving along...

On my last post, Shain Brown asked me a few questions that it's time for me to face.

Might we ask your plans--contemporary or self-publishing? If you plan on querying, when do you foresee that process starting? 

I have a more complex answer for this question that gets deeper into my personal feelings about who I am as a writer and where I see myself going, but the simple answer is yes.

Oh wait, it wasn't a yes-or-no question.

I don't plan on going the self-publishing route. I'm going to slug it out in the query trenches with everyone else. Maybe it's because I've always thought the phrase "slush pile" sounded rather refreshing--I love those Hush Puppie Icees/Slushies. If I'm in a slush pile, can it be blue raspberry flavored? Or Dr. Pepper? Thanks.

More seriously, though, I hope to start querying over the summer. However, I will not send out a letter until I'm absolutely ready. I have a lot of revisions to do on my novel, and then it will go into the amazing hands of my critique group. After that, I have some savvy beta readers standing by to poke any final holes in the book. Only after it's gone through all that, and I've decided that I won't just scrap it, then I'll turn to the query process.

Getting ready to query is going to take a lot of work for me. I've done absolutely zero agent research. I have no clue who my bright star might be.

I also have some fears about the timing of my query. I certainly don't expect to be snapped up right away, but if I did, then I'd probably be facing some revision deadlines during my first semester of nursing school. That scares the shit out of me, quite frankly. So then I think maybe I should wait. And then I remember the slush pile.

Honestly, I'm a little frightened. But right now, my focus is still on the book. I'm not going to think about queries or agents or agent revisions until the book I have is as shiny as I can make it.

Then we'll talk.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Hey, novel!

Yeah, you.

Guess what?

I typed THE END on your face!

So obviously, I finished my novel FOUR last night. Fittingly, this is the fourth novel that I have finished.

Official stats:

96,463 words (a few more after I spell checked. I like to cram words together. Must be because I was born in Germany.)

181 pages (I like to type single-spaced.)

I don't have the same elation that I did when I finished my first novel, but I am still UBER HAPPY. This is definitely the cleanest draft I've put out. It was hard as hell, but I think I'll appreciate my own efforts when it's time to revise.

Revisions are still going to suuuuuck, though. I like to introduce idea threads, then forget about them. Whoops!

But, hey. I'm done. And now I finally feel like I can crit and read and do things without my novel looming over my shoulder. At least for a few weeks, right? Yeah.

I wrote this post right after I finished writing, so the brain is spent. I have many thoughts about the writing of this one, and I always like to Wordle my work, so I'll have a few posts next week.

Until then, pop it like it's hot.

And happy Easter!

*not you. My novel. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I Like The Way You Do That Right Thurr

An innocent Facebook post implanted a bunch of early '00's rap songs into my head last night. I dropped it like it's hot and shook my tailfeather until the novelty wore off and I remembered I wasn't 17 anymore.

(This is the link, but be warned that it's irreverent. Click at your own risk. )

Moving along, I have good news! Despite our rough start, husband and I are finally under contract on a house! It has doors and rooms and a yard and everything. We are all like :D around here.

Especially this guy:

This is Monty, a stray kitty that decided to adopt us about a week ago. I called the vet on his rabies tag, but they never got back in touch with me, so I take it to mean either they can't be bothered to contact his owners, or his owners just don't care. He's unneutered, so before we officially add him to the clan, I'm going to take him to the vet to get tested and snipped, and then he's going to be the number one vole killer at the new house.


I mocked up a blog/website for my university's fine arts & literary magazine as my end-of-semester project. Give it a look and tell me what you think, eh? Mountain Laurels


I think I strained my Achilles tendon or something running the other day. I stumbled and felt pain, finished my run, and have been limping with increasing pain. Not cool, leg. Not cool. 

Happy Hump Day! Hump your neighbor. 
Or not. Use your discretion. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Name's the Thing.

Okay, well, I didn't make my big fat goal of finishing the first draft of FOUR by last night. However, I did get a ton of writing done that I probably otherwise would not have, let's be honest.

As of last night, my word count is 82,300. I added almost 10,000 words over the weekend! I'm estimating possibly 7-10k more to tie it up, but we'll see. Somehow this novel turned into a beast.

So I have one of those writer questions for you, concerning the names of my main characters. Like all of you, no doubt, I struggle when it comes to naming my characters. In FOUR, which is an urban fantasy, both my main characters are Fae born-n-bred. To my thinking, that indicates they shouldn't have your run-of-the-mill human name.

I didn't want to get all Zychdi Bnett with my naming (unless you like that one?? just kidding), so I turned to my favorite baby names website and searched all baby names from the British Isles until I found some I liked.

Most of the urban fantasy books I've read feature a human (or mostly human) main character with a very human name, and for good reason.

I think I've found a good balance between "different" yet still "accessible," but you tell me. These are the names of my two main characters:

Mairwen Keill (F)
Torrin Shanley (M)

Whaddya think? If it helps, I imagine Mairwen sort of like prettiest Claire Danes, with long hair. Torrin, I'm still searching for, but I did find the cover of a romance novel that I liked muchly:

uhhh...sorry, was I asking something? 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

You Heard It Here.

Yesterday I avowed that I will, to the best of my ability, finish my novel FOUR by Sunday night. I'm going to be a writing maniac:

Last night I wrote 4200 words and finally made it into the final act of the book! This was a scene I've been looking forward to writing for ages--takes place at a revival, but there's something not quite right about these people.

It's been a long time since I've shared some writing, so here's a (rough) clip from what I wrote last night:

     The evangelist cupped his hands around the male’s head and lifted his face toward the ceiling. One of the spotlight beams cut a swath across his face, and for a split second, Torrin thought he saw a shadow moving beneath the sallow skin, but then the evangelist was speaking again. His voice so low, so silky.
     “Three weeks ago this boy’s mother called me, begging for me to pray to the Lord for strength. Her boy, her baby boy, had gone missing.”
     Torrin frowned and leaned forward. Beside him, Vinita did the same.
     “We prayed—Lord, we lifted our voices to God Almighty and begged for this boy’s safe return. Jesus, please—please, bring him back!”
     All around them, the crowd murmured and responded with the amens and preach it’s he’d only thought happened in movies. The evangelist panted, a sheen of sweat shimmering on his brow as he slowly moved his gaze across the crowd.
     “And on the third night, God answered our cries. This boy came walking through the front door, just like we’d asked.”
     His voice pressed at Torrin, almost physical in its insistence for him to let it in, believe its words.
     “But he was not returned to us the same.” He cradled the boy’s head against his chest now, stroking one finger down a hollowed cheek. “The Devil had taken hold.”
     Moans and shouts rose from the crowd. The air thrummed with excitement, like they were here to witness blood sport instead of religion, and thirsted for the first crimson drop to shed on the ground. Torrin glanced to his right, then left. The same glazed expressions every way.
     “The Devil has taken hold,” the evangelist repeated himself, voice louder, “but tonight he will be gone!”
     Before his voice finished fading from the microphone’s ring, the male in the wheelchair suddenly sprang to life. His head snapped up, eyes peeling wide. His fingers clawed against his legs where the restraints locked him into place.
     The evangelist grasped the male’s head and thrust him further into the light.
     “You are of your father the Devil and his desire is your will.”
     The male bound to the wheelchair turned on the evangelist, snapping ferally at hands that jerked out of the way just in time. In the flash of movement, Torrin saw the tips of fangs beneath the male’s upper lip.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I've been in a strange..mood, shall we call it?...these last few weeks. Not particularly bad, not particularly good, nor moderate.

I know it's in part due to the stress of trying to buy a house and watching each one slip through our fingers for one reason or another. I'm actually feeling better in that regard--I do know that, logically speaking, I'll get a house eventually.

Some is the nasty arrival of Spring allergies, and my forgetfulness about taking Claritin in the mornings, not after I've been running around outside all day and have a major headache.

A large part is a case of wicked nightmares and all-around odd dreams I've been plagued with lately. Serial killers in some, exes in others. Last night, I had a very realistic dream in which Santa Claus proved, irrefutably, that he existed. And as magical as that sounds, it was underscored with a hint of unease, discomfort--even fear.

To combat this lurking ennui, I've been pushing myself physically--running more and more each time, and now I've started up the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred workouts again. Yesterday while stretching post-run, I discovered that I'd burst some blood vessels in my calf.

Most of all, my writing has been suffering. I'm generally pretty good about pushing through blocks, just getting words down (thank you, English degree and papers whose deadlines don't care), but this time it's tougher. I'm so close to seeing the end, but so frustrated with the sound of my own Voice that I can't stand to see the sentences that I write. I keep telling myself it's just the rough draft, get it down, it can suck--all the usual mantras, but they aren't helping.

Fortunately, it's all still manageable. I think it's just "that time of year." Things are so close to changing, but you've gotta slog through the shit first, you know?

*** an attempt to end on a lighter note ***
Since I sorta broke my digital camera a while ago, we only had a disposable camera for our trip to Maryland a few weeks ago, and when we got them processed had a CD made too. Here are a few pictures of Calvert Cliffs State Park, where the beach is eroding and you can find fossils!

It was a 2 mile hike through woods and swamp to get there, but totally worth it! However, it was only around 55 degrees and super windy, so that wasn't as fun as it could have been. I did get in the water just for a second, and couldn't feel my feet for a while afterward...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blogs, They Be a'Changin'

Over the last few months, I've had a harder and harder time coming up with things to blog about. I've tried to keep this blog mostly writing-related, but I've never been one to give out advice (what do I know?), so the well ran dry long ago.

2011 is going to be a year fraught with huge changes for me, and I want my blog to encompass more of the elements of my life. 

I'm starting nursing school this August, and it seems to be arriving with light speed. I got a packet in the mail yesterday with a checklist of everything I have to complete to cement my spot in the program--including CPR certification, drug test, background check, & a whole slew of immunizations/boosters, among other things. All by May 5th. Although the deadline is daunting, I was relieved to open the packet, because worry wort that I am, I was afraid that I may have somehow checked the "do not want to attend" box on my response to acceptance. 

Anyway. I'll still be talking plenty about writing, because I still have big goals for myself this year with my project FOUR, but I'll be interspersing those blogs with other things near and dear to my heart. 

So, obviously I have changed the name of my blog, but I will be changing the domain name. It's going to be the much-easier-to-type "" I tried changing it already and it disappeared from everywhere, so a little notice first. I'll probably go live on the new domain a week from today.