Writing A Novel: The 10 Best & Worst Things That Have Happened To Me

May 9, 2014 by

Writing A Novel: The 10 Best & Worst Things That Have Happened To Me

Today is Friday, May 9, 2014 and things are wrapping up for the big Mother’s Day weekend here in America.

So as we’re reflecting about life and the sacrifices Mom has made in your life, here’s today’s writing exercise.

The recommendation is to write these out on 3″ x 5″ notecards, but really, any place you want to write them out and think about them is fine.

The idea behind this exercise, those previously mention, and those to come is to help give you a wealth of material to consider if you’re writing a novel, or, if you’re just in a reflective mood about your life in general.

TODAY’S EXERCISE

So take out a sheet of paper, notecards, even your Notes feature on iPad, iPhone or Mac, etc. and think about these next two questions.  It calls for 10. Maybe that’s enough.  Maybe you can/need to do more than that. Either way.  I encourage you to do these exercise in quiet reflection. There are no right or wrong answers. And no one has to see them. This is for you. Did you know that according to mental health experts, most people among us never sit down and do anything like this at any point in their lives? Here’s your chance to do something few others will ever do.

What are the 10 worst things that ever have happened to me?
What are the 10 best things that ever happened to me?

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A Note To My Grandchildren

May 2, 2014 by

A Note To My Grandchildren

It’s May 2, 2014 and at this point in my life, I don’t have any grandchildren. Just three wonderful teenage daughters who still are trying to figure out who and what they’re going to be in this world. Many days, even like today at my age of 48, I’m still trying to decide that myself. This morning in Arlington, I had breakfast with my long time friend and mentor, Ron Rose, and he began telling me about a work he’s writing and that prompted me to take on this simple task: Writing A Note To My Grandchildren.

But at this writing, the thing is, I do not have any grandchildren. That doesn’t matter, the Internet will be alive and well when I do and this will be cached away somewhere in cyber space for each to find and to ponder.

Point One

My Great-Grandparents, Clarence and Mamie Claxton are buried in Athens, Alabama, where they lived hard and raised many children. I go to the main cemetery in Athens anytime I’m in town to pay them my respects. Sometimes I leave my current business card on their headstone. I always say a prayer and talk to them, even though I only met my great grandmother “Momma Claxton” once that I can actually remember. We sat on her porch there in Athens with her while she shucked peas, I think.

I know so little about them and their lives. I don’t know about their sacrifices or what a normal day was like. Knowing how we Claxtons have been, they were honest and hardworking. Maybe an aunt or two of mine could tell me more, but nonetheless, this is all I remember about the Claxton side.

Of my mom’s side, I remember my great grandmother on Mom’s side, we called her Granny, and my grandpa’s mom, who could only speak Czech, we called Baba. Granny was Swedish and I remember visiting her apartment in Hobart, Indiana when we would pass thru between moves. She always seemed to have those powdered candy breath mints at her house. That was nice.

My own grandparents, Andy and Joyce Sheptak, my mom’s parents, were hard working. Grandpa was an artist and there’s a wooden carving portrait I’m sure one of your mom/aunts now have. It kind of looks like a heart and it’s a family treasure. If one of you ever get to have it, treasure it.

The artwork of the late Andy Sheptak. That's his pic below.

The artwork of the late Andy Sheptak. That’s his pic below.

Grandpa Andy wrestled with his liquid demons throughout his life but he was a great grandpa. Grandma Sheptak got bad arthritis in her latter days and died three months after your twin aunts/mom(s) were born in 1999.

Grandma Sheptak was always telling jokes. I called her on the phone all the time throughout my life and have dearly missed her being gone each and every day. In the years after she left us, I was able to draw closer to Grandpa. There were times when he would just cry. Once he said he tried some of the pain medicine she had been taking and later told his doctor he’d done so. His doctor helped Grandpa understand how strong the meds she was on really were. That greatly helped him let go of her and understand she no longer was in pain.

We buried your Great-Great-Grandpa Claxton on Sept. 10, 2001. That night, I flew back from Northern Indiana to Dallas not thinking anything significant about flying. The next day was 9/11 and I was glad to not have been stuck as I would have been away from your mom/aunts. As I write this, your dear, dear Great-Great-Grandma Claxton’s mind is withering away in the dark years of life. She was such a positive influence on me. She would bake. Made me Play Do from scratch once. And she taught me Southern delicacies like how to make gravy and chicken and dumplings. I never learned how to make her biscuits from scratch. I’m sorry. That would have been something good to have passed on.

My dad, your Great-Grandfather, still is alive, too. He’s a retired USAF B-52 pilot who helped bring to life me, three great uncles and a great aunt. My dad spent much of his career on alert in Northern Michigan ready to go attack the USSR, or he was flying, and later, in Montgomery, AL, he worked at the prestigious Air War College. He was great at military history and planning. He was happiest when he was flying. After he got out of the Air Force, he got a teaching certificate to teach high school kids algebra. He enjoyed it, but kids didn’t really want to learn and he wanted to travel.

My mom, your Great-Grandmother, raised the five of us. When your great Aunt Kim got old enough, your Great-Grandmother earned her nursing degree and then spent 20 years working at the ER in the VA in Montgomery, Alabama. She got a bunch of grandkids all of a sudden in the 1990s and insisted on being called “Be Bop.”  I have no idea why, but it stuck. If you ask your mom/aunts, they will light up when you say the name.  I promise. Even with her in Alabama and them mostly growing up in Texas, Bop still had a positive impact on their lives and they each loved her greatly.

So what was the point of all that? Simple. You now have some context of your family that’s probably not written down anywhere else and probably won’t be spoken about much when you’re reading this. I wish I had this about my Great-Great-Grandparents, so please regard this as a special treasure that I learned needed to be left behind because it was not left behind for me.

Point Two

There’s a 2013 movie called People Like Us, and in it, the lead character offers a young boy in it the six secrets to a happy life that were left to him by his father in the movie.

I’m going to repeat them for you here now:

The Six Rules

1. If you like something because you think other people are going to like it, it’s a sure bet no one will.

2. Most doors in the world are closed, so if you find one that you want to get into, you damn well better have an interesting knock. 

3. Everything that you think is important, isn’t. Everything that you think is unimportant, is.

4. Don’t s*** where you eat.

5. Lean into it. The outcome doesn’t matter. What matters is that you were there for it, whatever it is – good or bad.

6. Don’t sleep with people who have more problems than you do

These rules are simple and clear. They don’t need a lot of extra explaining. If you need some help with them, I suggest a conversation with your mom/Aunt Chandler.  She and I have talked about them. Hopefully I will have time with the twins before it’s too late.

Point Three

I don’t know if we ever will get the chance to meet, but I pray daily that we do.  I also want to encourage you to keep an open mind about your mom, dad, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. And your grandparents.

People at no matter what point in human history will make mistakes. Some of us fall into holes. There will be some days and some holes so deep you might think it’d be easier to reach up out of it and pull the dirt in on top of you. Other days it will feel like people, even the ones you thought were helping you, are tossing the dirt in on top of you on purpose.

Family members seem to get at odds with each other so easily and so often over the simplest of things.

Sadly, as a parent yourself many days from now, you will have to experience the tension of not talking to your mom, your dad, a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, a grand child, etc.

Trust me. It will happen. And when it does, I encourage you to keep loving them and say and particularly write as few harsh words about them as you might. It’s going to be hard and it’s going to hurt, but keep praying for them and believing that in the end, someone is going to turn a corner and come around.  And if it needs to be you who turns the corner, do it when the time is right.

We all get forced to grow up faster and faster with each changing generation. I can not bare to think of the challenges and world you will have to face.

Point Four

Trust your faith. I have done what I can to instill it in your mom/aunts. But ultimately know how they relate to God is in their own way and as a parent, all I can do, and all they can do, is point a child in a direction we would hope they would go. Forcing doesn’t work. I’ve seen it and there are people still alive who might read this and think I was talking about them, so I shall stop there.

Point Five

Live your life honestly. Work hard. And fight like the Devil for what you believe in. The one thing people cannot take away from you in this life is your personality and your integrity. It is your job to protect both. They can pour cold water on your ideas and maybe even hold you back from time-to-time, but I encourage you to get back up and keep going. We Claxtons have seldom just had anything spectacular given to us. It’s been all work. I’m sure life is going to be very much the same for you. And remember, even if we were able to amass millions, in the end, we’re not taking any of it anywhere with us.

I’ve told your mom/aunts multiple times that Grandpa isn’t/wasn’t going to pay for any weddings for them until they each had/have set foot on at least three continents, worked in their own job, finished college and been on their own for a while. The order those things happen in is up to them, but to my dying day, I shall be suggesting the same thing to them and hopefully them to you, too.  Not doing those things is going to lead to avoidable failures, but you’ll also find, some people just have to make failures in order to actually learn something.

Final Point

My lineage ends with your mom/aunts because I wasn’t fortunate in God’s plan to have a biological son. So carrying on my legacy is left in a diluted way to you.  Know always, even as I write this in 2014, that I loved you very much, whether we are ever able to meet or not. There are many a days when I feel the presence of my three retired grandparents upon me, much as though you might feel a warm breeze touching your face as you view the passing sun at the end of the day.

I’ve asked your mom/aunts some day to leave my ashes off the beaten path near the Sentinel Dome area of Yosemite National Park in California, the side facing off toward Half Dome. To me, there is no prettier place on this earth and if you put me in a box some six feet under, I won’t be there anyways, for I shall do all in what cosmic power I have left to lift my spirit to that point anyway. Yes, I hope to be in the Heavens with our Lord, but what’s left of the physical me should be left where I have longed to spend the breadth of my days but was not able to.

Never let go of the beauty God has put into this world. Your mom/aunts can mimic for you how I would get excited about the beauty and power of the morning light, particularly at Yosemite, as beams of radiant energy from the sun pierced the treetop veil over the rocks and nature below. And as you sit along the water way at the foot of Bridalveil Fall and hear the rushing of the cold spring rapids racing toward the Merced, know that my spirit also will be there encouraging you to slow down, to stop, to breathe deeply and enjoy the beauty of what God has left us all.

Thanks for reading. I love you and your mom/aunts more than words here can tell. Love them back for me.

Grandpa “Daddy Claxton”

 

 

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Writing A Novel – Mistakes I’ve Made

May 1, 2014 by

Writing A Novel – Mistakes I’ve Made

Many successful authors will tell you that writing about characters they have created is in part, writing about themselves.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been doing daily exercises of compiling a stack of 3 x 5 notecards full of lists of various self-study questions and topics.

Today is no exception.  And again, whether you’re writing a novel or not, this can be most helpful an exercise.

EXERCISE:

Take out a 3 x 5 notecard, write “WMHIM” and number it, and date it, and then below, start a list of the mistakes you feel you have made in life. When you fill up a card, take out another one, label it and keep going.  Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. And like I’ve repeatedly said, this can be helpful to one whether they’re writing a novel or just trying to get a better handle on the person inside.

What Mistakes Have I Made? 

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

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April 27, 2011 in Alabama – One Of The Worst Tornado Outbreaks Ever

Apr 27, 2014 by

April 27, 2011 in Alabama – One Of The Worst Tornado Outbreaks Ever

I was in Huntsville, AL for April 27, 2011, one of the worst tornado outbreaks ever recorded in the state with 247 killed in 62 storms. I never will forget that day as long as I live, for I thought at one point, it was going to be my last.

Smithville Tornado April 27th 2011 095

Smithville Tornado April 27th 2011 095 (Photo credit: Tales from the South)

During the mid 1990s, I worked in the Governor’s Office of Gov. Fob James. His lead bodyguard, State Trooper Tom Taylor, became a life-long friend of mine. It was during the spring of 2011 that I was working with a client in Huntsville, where Tom, wife Karen and the rest of the Taylors returned to after leaving the administration in January 1999. I was staying with them north of Rocket City in a little community called New Market.

That morning, I’d gone into the city to work with friend and colleague, John Hornbuckle. Around 9 a.m. that morning we heard of a tornado warning just northwest of the offices and gave chase, but it was moving too fast to catch up to. We went back to the office. But what I didn’t know was how bad the storm had been when it went over the Taylor’s house. They had downed trees. It was something of a mess.

Now having been in Texas for a decade and away from Montgomery, Alabama where I’d spent almost 20 years of life and 10 of them working in or around the Governor’s Office, I’d grown unfamiliar with Alabama weather. While in office with former Gov. Guy Hunt and Gov. James I remembered the Airport Road deaths from tornadoes at rush hour in the late 1980s and then I still have photos somewhere of me, Gov. James and Trooper Taylor walking through the damages of the F5 tornado that hit west of Birmingham in April 1998, but I had no idea how the rest of the day was going to go.

Here in North Texas, our weather people are good at hyping the weather, they’re just not very good at accuracy. And like most talk in Texas about things being bigger – the rivalry between Texas and OU, the severity of storms, etc. I’d grown accustomed to not getting too serious about dire weather predictions after a decade of blown North Texas forecasts. Usually, like even this morning in DFW, a line of storms comes thru and the event is over.

April 27, 2011

But that didn’t happen in Alabama on April 27. I left John at the office about 11 a.m. to go to the Taylor’s because they had downed trees and I was going to go help. Well, by the time I got there, Tom had already returned, Karen was there, the kids were out of school, (It was a week day) and word was around 12:30 p.m. that we were all headed from there to a shelter close by.

RadarScope App

It was at this time that Tom told me about and shared with me the best app for iPhone I’ve come to use yet–RADARSCOPE. It gives amazingly accurate and up-to-date radar images. Previously I’d been using the WeatherUnderground.com site. In the past few weeks, they have made changes to the site that to me make navigating it a complexity and in times of a storm, I just want to see what the radar looks like, the color in the formations, how fast it’s moving and I don’t need it down to the street level.

To their credit, on Twitter, WeatherUnderground asked me for feedback, but I have to say, I’m not getting anything near with them what I’m getting on my iOS devices in RadarScope.

The Afternoon of April 27, 2011 in Huntsville, AL

We got to Tom’s brother’s house. It had a storm shelter in the basement and a ramp around back where one could seek shelter. Being north of Huntsville in New Market, I had no idea that we had moved further into the path of the storms that would knock out areas to the northeast of Decatur and south of my Dad’s birthplace, Athens.

As I recall that day, we endured SEVEN tornado warnings. One nearly right after the other. It was harrowing.

Around 5 p.m. Karen, Tom and I thought things were going to die down enough for us to get out and go get something to eat. There’s a great Mexican place just across the Tennessee border we’d talked about going to. But before going north, we went back to their house. And then …

The Drive Back To The Bunker

When we realized another ferocious storm was coming, we left Tom and Karen’s house headed the two or three miles back to the bunker we’d been in. But by then the storm was upon us. There were torrential rains. The road ahead at one point headed due west was overflowing with rushing water. We were in a Jeep with a plastic-type lid. It began to hail and every stone that hit the car sounded like a rock in that blinding rain. We made a right turn to go north. More rain. More wind. And when there’s hail, there’s usually something spinning at high speeds, a tornado, around it.

As we drove thru this, I began to pray harder than ever before. Now I’d ridden thru hurricanes coming ashore and that kind of thing with the governor and Tom before, but this was different. We were being tossed and banged. We could barely see and the last thing we needed to do was stop because we surely would have met tragedy.

I could see off to the right of the road from the front passenger seat. Trees were falling to our sides. Trees were falling on the roads.  I just knew we were about to be off to the right of the road in a ditch.

The storm didn’t let up the entire ride over to Tom’s brother’s house. But by the grace of God, we made it.

The Rest of Alabama

That day, 62 tornadoes dropped to the ground in Alabama and 247 people met death’s door, a fate I thought at several points we were certain to join them in.

Because of the storms, the power in Huntsville and most of North Alabama was out for nearly a week. By early morning, Karen, Tom and I had ventured out to see Highway 231 a log jam in both directions. Traffic lights were out. People were seeking food, gas and ice. Miraculously, I found an open gas station about a mile from the Taylor’s house and once topped off, headed to see my Mom in Montgomery until things were restored.

All across the state, people were mourning the loss of family and friends.

I was lucky to have survived that day. I know it was by God’s will that I didn’t die because he had some other mission for me to fulfill. It’s days like today I reflect on whether or not I’m meeting him and his purpose. Today’s sermon in church was about stopping things we shouldn’t be doing and getting focused on God; letting Him take over and putting the things holding us all back onto the Lord and dealing with them, no longer ignoring them.

Finding Your Purpose

Have you found your purpose? Do you know why God has led you to where you are now? More on that to come, but I encourage you today to remember those who perished this day just three years ago. Bless you and bless them.  Radar right now is showing a mass of storms in Mississippi and they’re marching toward Alabama like General Sherman on Atlanta. Let us pray that things go okay today. History doesn’t need a repeat.

 

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It’s Saturday – Time For A Mental Break

Apr 26, 2014 by

It’s Saturday – Time For A Mental Break

My three girls, Reagan, 14, Chandler, 17, and Haley, 14. Yes, that makes R&H twins....

My three girls, Reagan, 14, Chandler, 17, and Haley, 14. Yes, that makes R&H twins….

Since Monday, I’ve made a daily post on the aspects I’ve been using to begin writing a novel. Today is Saturday and I’m going to take a mental break–at least here on the blog.  If you’ve been doing the exercises, you probably should take one, too. (If you’re too tied to it, the next exercise is the opposite of the one from yesterday–things you don’t like….)

Following these exercises has put me on a rewarding and interesting road to self-discovery.  This week I’ve heard from friends on Facebook who have said they’ve enjoyed the exercises and have even gone out and bought 3 x 5 blank notecards to follow in stride. That’s satisfying and invigorating. It gets back to my ClaxtonCreative.com mantra of “telling stories with purpose.”  I’m fulfilling my purpose that I feel God put me here to do.

When God Redefines The Possible

To find inspiration, breakfast and the comfort of chaos, I tend to float around a coffee shops, etc. to feel connected and more importantly, to get my butt out of this chair. It gets quite uncomfy after a while. Yesterday morning, I had another pleasant turn that only God could have engineered. Fate is much less cunning to be able to match this feat.

I met a waitress who is on fire for God in a way one seldom meets in this life. When she was introduced to me through my “regular,” Jessica, and she found out what I was doing, she, too, said she was working on her own novel and was about a year ahead of me. She’s writing a Christian novel and from the fire in her heart, one can only know good things will come from her words. There can be no other possibility. Like I have done so many times before, I shared with her about Dr. John Ed Mathison’s book, When God Redefines The Possible.

Good things have always happened in my life when I’ve been associated with that piece of work, so I’m hoping this young lady, clearly half my age, will find some power and inspiration in John Ed’s work to be able to help her in her own walk and in her own write. It is amazing how God bumps us into the right people at the right time.

I said Monday in my first post about writing that I was on an adventure journey. And like the best of them, you run into people you did not anticipate and learn things you did not know before. Aspects that make life and adventures all that much more rewarding. She said she’s veered off of using an outline to write with and though she didn’t use the term, is being a “pantser.”  (We’ll get into what all this means in coming posts.)

Okay, had a late night. My eldest went to her prom and my twins came over to help get her ready and pose for pics.  This picture sums up what my life is all about–telling stories with purpose, God’s purpose, for the benefit of Him, and the benefit of these three angels–(L to R: Reagan, Chandler and Haley.)

A post about Netflix’s series, House of Cards, is slated for Monday as well as new exercises.  Thanks for reading. It’s time for a mental break.

God bless.

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W. Cartwright in Mesquite–One of the most dangerous curves in North Texas

Mar 8, 2014 by

W. Cartwright in Mesquite

Another crazy-assed Mesquite driver took out the AT&T phone box on June 22, 2013. A month and five days, it's not been fixed. Now there's a blue tent over it.

Another crazy-assed Mesquite driver took out the AT&T phone box on June 22, 2013. A month and five days, it’s not been fixed. Now there’s a blue tent over it.

–One of the most dangerous curves in North Texas

I’ve been in the Stoneleigh Apartment complex in Mesquite/Balch Springs, Texas for almost four years now. Over that time, there have been multiple single-car accidents at the intersection exiting the complex and into the curve headed toward Belt Line Road.

Most of the accidents clearly have been caused from drivers well exceeding the 40-mile-per-hour speed limit.

In the field just past Stoneleigh to the east, the owners used to have a fence up. After a car would plow thru it, they’d rebuild it.  Last spring, they finally decided they’d spent enough on fencing and replaced it with small pine trees. Some are growing okay, most look like they’re on the edge of death, and frankly, they are–the from the next idiot who comes flying around the curve and loses control of their car.Dec. 5, 2011

Last June, as you will recall, one driver came thru the intersection and flew in between the major light pole and the telephone pole in the intersection and straight into the AT&T phone box there. It took AT&T almost four months to get parts in to replace the box while we got to see that ridiculous looking tarp tent they built. AT&T July 11

There have been other times when whoever hit the telephone pole hit it and it snapped about 15-20 feet up. I knew something had happened that time because at 4 a.m. or so the power went out.

Two weeks ago, a truck was stopped in the right lane of the road just past the intersection because it’s right rear tire had fallen off.

This morning, ANOTHER truck was stopped in almost the same spot and guess what, right rear tire missing.

School Bus Passing

Another frequent illegal event that happens in front of Stoneleigh Apartments on W. Cartwright is the number of drivers in the interior, east-bound lane who patently ignore the flashing RED lights on the school bus about 8:10 a.m. on school days. I’ve seen this happen on at least three occasions in the past month. What makes this even more inexcusable is that these same drivers stopped for the bus when it picked up high schoolers just 100 yards to the west on the road.photo 2

Prediction

Someone is going to get creamed one of these times by one of these people who are exceeding the speed limit and coming around the curve on W. Cartwright in Mesquite. Increasing the odds of this happening are the ridiculous hold times that the light stays green, and for those wanting to turn left out of the apartment complex, having to sit there like dead ducks at the red light.

For a while last year the Mesquite Police Department ran radar in the evenings in front of Stoneleigh to catch some who were headed home a little too fast down Cartwright. But it’s been months since this has been done and the speeds haven’t changed.

Maybe something can be done and done before someone gets hurt, possibly a child waiting for the bus or a mom with a car full of kids trying to leave the apartments and head west toward 635.  Sadly, it looks like it might take something like that for there to be any plausible action taken.

Maybe instead of holding so long, it ought to take less time to sit to come out of the apartment complex and more time for people to sit there at the light going toward the east. The only light previous to the exit at Cartwright is uphill and at the entrance ramp to 635 North.  The next light is at Belt Line and one cannot go from 635 and thru the light at Belt Line without stopping because of the timing. Perhaps a little more red light time on W. Cartwright is the answer. I don’t know, but I wish the Mesquite Police Department and the Mesquite city traffic engineers would consider this before we have a fatality.  Otherwise, it is almost assuredly going to happen.

photo

And in regard to the school bus getting passed while kids are boarding in the morning and the lights are flashing, my daughter tells me that Dallas County Schools has gone to a system where the buses have cameras and take photos of those who drive by illegally. She said it’s somewhere around a $300 fine.

As ticket happy as the city of Mesquite is, you’d figure they’d have been all over this by now. I hope they at least will be very soon.

 

 

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