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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Ukraine, Where is Jack Ryan When We Need Him?

Mar 5, 2014 by

Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine si...

Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine since 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ukraine, Where is Jack Ryan When We Need Him? 

With all the hubbub going on in the international news media about the events in Ukraine, I somehow have this feeling deep in my heart that somewhere in this world there’s a Jack Ryan type running around going “WAIT A MINUTE! YOU’VE GOT TO LISTEN TO ME!”

I keep pretty good tabs on the news and the whole thing where the former Ukrainian president fled just seemed to explode out of nowhere the past few weeks. Then came video and virtual tours of the ornate presidential palaces. Then came supposed movements by Russian troops into Crimea. Then came responses from the US that this was a violation of international law. There have been talk of economic sanctions. Now there are even stories about how ExxonMobil would be very negatively effected by sanctions because of massive plans they have to drill in Siberia. Russia is threatening that if sanctions are put in place, US assets will be seized. Today there a more talks about kicking Russia out of an alliance of European nations, and more.

It all very much sounds like the beginning of a Tom Clancy movie. And maybe I’ve seen too many of them, but it also sounds like there should be a Clancy character, an analyst for the CIA, running around the halls at Langley saying, “Something’s just not right.”

I went to breakfast this morning and talked to a woman I’ve known for about four years now who still is very much from Ukraine. She says she has nothing left back in that country now except two friends. Family is gone. She loves her old country, but says brain drain has been going on there for many years now, along with corruption. “The people left there now are trash,” she said. I think she was referring more to supposed leaders, either legitimate ones or not–and I think right now it sounds like more of them are not legitimate than are.

And it sounds like corruption is a big, operative word there. Makes me nervous about why we’re about to drop ONE BILLION US dollars there if there’s such rampant corruption.

It’s no secret that we’re mad at Putin and would like to do nothing but give him a big middle finger–think of Edward Snowden as a primary reason. But again, there seems to be something missing here.

For years I’d thought that the people of Ukraine didn’t like Russians. To that my friend said with heavy accent, “We are same blood. We have Russian blood.” She then told me one of her parents moved to Ukraine from Russia with “just suitcase.”

Yesterday CNN ran a piece from a former Kremlin officer entitled Why Putin’s Move Is No Surprise. And I’ve wondered since all this began what we would do if a Mexican state just south of the US border were to have such an uprising. (Most likely this president would do nothing, but consider there was a threat of that pandaemonium falling over into the streets of the US.) Wouldn’t we want a beefed up presence of authority in the area to keep the peace?  How is that any different than Putin activating troops in the area to keep things peaceful? The CNN trolls had fun with that post, but I have to admit, from that perspective, it’s completely different than what we’re saying here in the West.

The video over the past few weeks show the lavish palaces that were built for the Ukrainian president. CNN kept calling them “his home.” My Ukrainian friend said, “American TV,” and rolled her eyes. “Those palaces belonged to the state. Not the president.” And it made me wonder then if somehow we had a horrific overthrow of the US government and all of a sudden we all could take more extended tours of the White House with it’s fancy technology rooms and spy stuff. Would European media portray what they found here the same way American TV news did of the Ukrainian palaces? I don’t know the answer to that. The Ukrainian palaces sure seemed a lot nicer than the White House, but consider the point, not the technicalities of it. (Needless to say, I’m not advocating for such to happen here in America in case anyone wants to try and twist that.)

I keep reading the news accounts from multiple venues several times a day because I honestly don’t feel like we have been told the whole story about what happened in Ukraine or that we ever really will. We know historically to not trust the Russians. But we also have an ever-lengthening list of times this president hasn’t been honest with us either.

Like the face of Putin, always stoic and ever ready for a game of poker, there’s more going on in this story than we know about right now. And the question to ponder as more and more information and twists come along is will we ever really know the truth?

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Domestic Violence is Real, and it’s Serious

Feb 27, 2014 by

Domestic Violence is Real, and it’s Serious

There have been two murder-suicides in Dallas in as many days.

Domestic Violence is a real and serious crime and far too often it goes unreported and when it is reported, many times little or nothing is done about it until it’s too late.

As a victim of Domestic Violence in my own home (yes, a man can be a victim, too), and having worked with Veronica Galaviz, who in April 2010 was attacked in the middle of the night by her estranged husband who after trying to kill her, set her house on fire and then killed himself, I take it very seriously and often roll my eyes when local media give props to efforts to hold awareness rallies or DV agencies that have been in operation for years clammer for additional funding of programs that haven’t even put a dent in addressing the problem.

Let me qualify that. I get why there have been rallies to raise awareness in Dallas about Domestic Violence and I applaud Mayor Mike Rawlings’ efforts to raise awareness about the problem. Raising awareness of the problem is good. Getting people to come make a pledge not to do it, admirable. Sending high school kids to a Cowboys game (to see a star wide receiver who allegedly assaulted his mom) for the most pledges at their campus, yeah.  Saying our agency needs money for shelters because more and more women, children AND men are  falling victim to Domestic Violence, yeah, I get that, too.  There’s just one problem with all of that–little has changed.

Where is the effort to stop Domestic Violence before it happens? 

Sometimes my level of efficacy about the issue is low. Domestic Violence takes place in every culture around the world and has since the beginning of time. The “If I can’t have you, no one will” jealousy mentality is powerful, isn’t new and it isn’t going away. And it’s often deadly.

Veronica has been doing research the past few years and has made yet un-heeded recommendations to lawmakers about ankle bracelets for protection order violators. In her case, she kept telling Rowlett Police that her ex was at her house cutting her cable wires, slashing her tires, and just stalking. They said, even with a video of a man in front of her house slashing tires, that the video wasn’t conclusive it was him. And so they did nothing.  And so he kept acting, and acting, and acting, until April 21, 2010 at 1:30 a.m. he broke into her house and tried to shoot her. When she got away, he set the house on fire and shot himself.

Veronica has advocated for a one-strike you’re out provision for violating a protective order. Right now, it’s basically just a piece of paper, and if law enforcement won’t act on what’s in it, then it is an EXPENSIVE piece of paper that’s worthless. So add an ankle-bracelet, and when there is a 500-foot violation, etc. it’s off to the county lock up until the person can appear in front of their judge again and the potential victim is kept safe.

Just two ideas. Two ideas that could be a little more costly to enforce, but they could save lives and certainly do more than people filling out pledge cards or shelters filling up with more and more victims.

My Own Case

Domestic Violence comes in different, but nearly always at escalating, levels. I have had things thrown at me, been rushed at like I was going to be physically hit, and scratched and more.

When you wake up in Dallas and fly to New York for an event and don’t want to go walking in Times Square at 12 p.m. EST cos you’re exhausted and have to be up at 3:30 a.m. to go over to the Today Show, you don’t deserve to be beaned by an iPhone in the back of the leg by your spouse, your “safe” person in their anger. (See photo). And then you’re in a mentality of “if I just don’t crack eggshells, things will be better.”  But I’ve learned the hard way that once someone begins doing that and more to you, the relationship needs to end and fast before it gets worse. Getting An iPhone Thrown And Hit In the Back Of The Leg

I have no problems saying that hearing about pep rallies about Domestic Violence make my eyes-roll. The Dallas media has done a lot to promote the mayor’s efforts. And each story I’ve seen, I’ve just rolled my eyes and tried to keep my mouth shut, you know, the victim mentality.  I’ve lived through the abuse and have lost more of my life than I ever could have imagined. People think Domestic Violence only happens to women, but it affects the whole family, and women can do it and act like they’re the victim themselves and few would believe it to be the other way around.

This also is why I don’t take lightly when I hear others making threats either to me or my children whether married, dating or separated. I’ve finally reached the point in my life where if people in relationships are going to be dangerous, the relationship with that person is over and if it keeps up, someone is going to jail. Period.

Domestic Violence is a serious crime and it’s high time it be taken far more seriously than standing in front of City Hall and saying “make a pledge.” I get why it’s being done. It’s just not having an impact.

Anyone can become a victim of Domestic Violence. And that’s the scariest part of all.

 

 

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