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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Writing A Novel: What I Like….

Apr 25, 2014 by

Writing A Novel : What I Like….

This is a series offered by DaddyClaxton.com and ClaxtonCreative.com about the process of preparing and writing a novel.

Just a few examples of things I like, written out weeks ago in planning for my novel work and self-discovery.

Just a few examples of things I like, written out weeks ago in planning for my novel work and self-discovery.

Presently, we are engaged in initial and exhaustive exercises designed first as a self-study following the logic that if one is going to invent characters to go inside a work of literature, one probably needs to do some self-study about oneself beforehand.

That’s what’s being done and proposed in today’s exercise. The task is simple. I suggest getting out a fresh stack of notecards and creating a long list. Atop of each card, write the name of the exercise subject, as in today’s — What Do I Like? — and then put a number 1 at the top right corner. When you fill up the first card, you can make one, two or three columns, start a new card and at the top of the second write WDIL and a 2 on it, and so on as you build a list. (I always put the date somewhere on these 4.25.14. Someday, that might have extra meaning–legally or personally.)

The premise for doing these cards is simple: when you want to bring a character to life and you’re looking for unique or fun things about them, or even bad things from other cards, it should prove helpful to be able to go back to today’s exercise and find a gem or many to apply.

This exercise, and the other ones being posted, also are designed to help a person dive deep inside their heart and find do some self discovery. If one can identify things they do like and then begin to ponder why it’s been a month, six months or two decades since the last time it was done or enjoyed, well, maybe that might move you to change something in your life or, maybe even discard it because you like it too much.  And you know, that might really turn out to be a life-changing event whether you’re writing a novel or not….

EXERCISE – 5

Take out your notecards and begin to make a list of answers to today’s topic. We suggest you use 3 x 5 cards and label each card with the nature of the question and number them. You are encouraged to do more than one card, but if you can encompass the whole realm one one card, then that’s all you can do….. Enjoy.

What do I like?

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Writing A Novel: What I Do NOT Want To Be Remembered For

Apr 24, 2014 by

Writing A Novel: What I Do NOT Want To Be Remembered For

Welcome to my series about writing a novel. We are in the beginning stages of a self-study designed to help one whether writing a novel or just interested in identifying ways to learn more about oneself.

Today's exercise: Things you do NOT want to be remembered for....

Today’s exercise: Things you do NOT want to be remembered for….

If you’ve not read the previous posts associated with this thread here on DaddyClaxton.com, I encourage you to jump back to the beginning on Monday, April 21, 2014.

Regardless, today’s exercise is designed to help tickle thoughts about oneself that hopefully can be beneficial.

There are no right or wrong answers here and one need not post their thoughts anywhere. In fact, this is a highly private exercise series.

To take part, I’ve been encouraging people to use 3 x 5 blank notecards, a good pen and their imaginations to do the daily exercise.  Start by writing the day’s question at the top of the card and number them as you go. It’s okay to just put one column or two or three, depending on how big you write. But the point is, to be honest with yourself. Today’s question is a legacy question, one we all must ask ourselves from time-to-time throughout life. This can be a motivational question or it can be a bucket list type question, particularly today.  Spinoffs from this card series today are perfectly fine and even expected and hoped for. If you can identify things you’ve done in the past that you don’t want to be remembered for, maybe you start a list of things you can do to ensure that doesn’t happen or the impact of what was done is outweighed by something more positive or beneficial to others.

The premise for these cards for those writing a novel is to keep an inventory of characteristics that can be projected onto fictional characters once a writer begins the process of writing a novel. But honestly, they can be just as positive or beneficial to someone who just wants to enjoy more about what this life has to offer.

You don’t have to post your list below. If you’d like to share, that’s perfectly fine. But this really is designed for a personal study and reflection.

EXERCISE

What I DO NOT wanted to be remembered for?

 

 

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Writing A Novel: A Self-Study

Apr 23, 2014 by

Writing A Novel: A Self Study Of Me…

Go buy several stacks of 3 x 5 notecards and keep them with you where ever you go.

Go buy several stacks of 3 x 5 notecards and keep them with you where ever you go.

At the suggestion of Robert McKee from his book, STORY, for more than a month now I have been carrying around stacks of plain, white 3 x 5 notecards and writing nearly everything I can think about on them. That is as it pertains to the process of penning my first novel.

For several years now I have made it a regular practice to carry with me a sketchpad. Some day my daughters and dear friend, the former Ms. Julie Nelson, are going to find them tucked a way and find out more about dad than they ever realized was going on in this head of mine. Actually, that will probably fill in a lot of gaps with them as to where my brain was when they said I wasn’t talking so much and seemed like I was somewhere else.

But for the past month, I’ve converted over to the stack of notecards and various rubberbands sectioning off a pile associated with this, that and whatever else it is I’ve uncovered, realized or thought about either in the form of research, “What if…” exercises, and plot ideas.

More importantly, there’s also been stacks of cards associated with WHO I AM. Whether I was writing this book or not, those would be invaluable to me.

Back in 2008 or so on a plane ride to somewhere up east I did a similar exercise and listed out all the roles I was playing in life, things like son, husband, brother, father, writer, painter, blogger, etc. (See yesterday’s post for this exercise.)

But through my own devices and hints from McKee, I’ve come to realize that in order to write a convincing story, I’m going to have to dig deep into research, and not just research into the technical nature of places and things that are going to be in my story, but most importantly, I’m going to have to dig down deep and find out what’s inside of me.

EXERCISE

So here’s what I did and what I encourage you to do, whether you’re reading the blog to see what I’m up to or if you’re on a similar journey to write a novel, short story, novella, play, movie script, whatever. You need to find out first and foremost who you are.

On separate 3 x 5 notecards, write out the answers to the following two questions:

Who am I? 

What do I want to be remembered for?

This exercise from today and the ones to follow should take you DAYS to work through and there are dozens of other questions I’d suggest you spin off from these. If you’re serious about writing, if you’re serious about doing something positive and helpful for yourself, I suggest you go to Walmart and buy three or four packs of black 3 x 5 notecards. (They’re like $0.84 at Walmart and $1.99 for the same thing at Albertsons.)

When you get home, out on the porch, are sitting in the middle of Chick Fil A, Cracker Barrel, Panera Bread, Firehouse Subs, or where ever it is you go to perch, (I don’t drink coffee, so I took Starbucks off the initial suggestions list but if you do, put it back on) take out some blank cards, make sure you’ve brought a good writing pen–my favorites are ones from bedside at hotels–and write the question at the top of the card and start writing what comes to mind on the card. When you fill up the front of the card, start a second with initials of the question on the top of the second, with a number 2 and keep answering the question. And keep going and going and going card after card after card.

Remember, this is a journey, not a sprint. This isn’t a one afternoon activity and it’s time to start writing something. So don’t rush this. Whether you ever get to the point of starting a book about an adventure you want to share with the world or not, just doing this introspection will tell you things about yourself you do not realize right now.

Seriously.

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Writing A Novel: A self-study?

Apr 22, 2014 by

Writing A Novel: A self-study?  Over on DaddyClaxton.com today we’re writing about an unexpected benefit of writing a novel–doing an in-depth personal self-study of oneself in order to be able to write a novel. Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 7.16.57 AM The logic makes perfect sense. If one is going to get into the minds of multiple fictional characters, there are many things that seemingly would need to be straight within the mind of the originating author as well, right? So today, and for several days to come actually, we’re posing a series of questions that we believe all authors, and even those not wanting to write, should ponder and do so seriously. Did you know that almost 95 percent of the population will never do such an exercise? In our mind, we’d rather be in the five percent who does. Life will seemingly make a little more sense. We hope. We encourage you to jump over to DaddyClaxton.com and read the set up and then do today’s exercise and the ones to follow in the days to come.  We think you’ll be glad you did.

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Who Am I? The Self-Discovery Caused From Writing A Novel

Apr 22, 2014 by

Who Am I? The Self-Discovery Caused From Writing A Novel

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My childhood window, upstairs and down. I used to sit at these windows and write when I was in elementary school at KI Sawyer AFB in Michigan and we lived at 208 Fortress.

Somewhere back in time at 208 Fortress Street in base housing of the former Strategic Air Command’s K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I would sit at a kidney bean family heirloom desk with a children’s red type writer and “write.” I would sit in front of the lower window you see in the photo to the right and I would write.

A few years later in Mrs. Reid’s eighth-grade journalism class at Mitchell Sr. Elementary School in Atwater, CA circa 1979-80, I received the worst grade I’ve ever received on a writing project–an F, for refusing to write a short, fictional story. Note, it was a journalism class.

During my senior year of college at Auburn University at Montgomery, in 1987, I received one of my best writing grades–an A, in Nancy Anderson’s Advanced Expository Writing class. Mrs. Anderson, who went by the self-proclaimed nickname “the Dragon Lady,” almost never awarded works with such grades, but I am proud to say, I am one of the few. During that quarter I was taking 24 hours of classes, working on the school newspaper and working at a local department store to help pay for school.

Writing, and principled writing, has been a part of my life since I can remember.

But I am learning at age 48 there still is much I have to learn about writing.

My late maternal grandmother, Joyce Sheptak, used to always to encourage me to “write what I know,” the oft used cliche nearly every writer knows. She always used to cite “I Remember Momma” as her impetus for the suggestion.

During the past month or so since I began this new novel writing practice, I’ve studied much about what I know and come to the conclusion that my writing shouldn’t be as much about “what I know” but about “who I am.”

And that’s led to some amazing self-discovery and analysis. My counselor, friend and web client, Dr. Harold Duncan of Dallas, Texas says right now I’m actually doing something that almost 95 percent of the population, or more, never will do, whether writing a novel or not.

I’m trying to really find out who I am.

WHO AM I?

That’s been an amazing question to ponder. Dr. Duncan says that at age 48 it’s about time I started asking myself such questions. As he has explained, you can’t do what I’m doing in your teens, 20s, 30s or even really in one’s early 40s. In life, we’re just not ready. Our perspectives on such an exercise would be highly skewed.

Think about that for a moment. In our teens, we clearly have no clue about what life is about. We think we do. Many parents have done much to help get us ready to leave and cleave by age 18 and graduation from high school, but even as the eldest of five children, I can honestly assert, I wasn’t ready for that.

Our 20s are spent trying to find a vibrant career and in large part, mine were also spent thinking I needed to find a spouse to start a family. God had other plans.

Our 30s are spent in family and work mode.

Our 40s leap up fast and we think we have become experts about what this life is about and all of a sudden someone pulls a rug out from under you and everything that once was up is down and what was down is now up.

And at least for me, after enduring that mid-40s upsetting of what I thought was going to be a smooth sail to the finish line, I can honestly sit here and pen this. I have some new perspectives on life I didn’t have before.

So who am I? I’m not the person I was at any other point in my life. When I was younger I held the perspective that I probably couldn’t write fiction because ultimately, I hated to see the travesties of life inflicted on my characters. I wanted and thought and longed for a smooth life. I thought that was still possible. After being wronged, cheated and having lost nearly every element of normalcy to my life I once held as dear, I finally feel like I can skewer a character or two of my own in my stories.

More about me to follow. This is, after all, a journey. We’re not going all the way in one or two posts.

 EXERCISE

Time to step away from the computer for a bit, take out a piece of paper and a pen and think about yourself.  Do this exercise:

1) Write down one or two words that describe each of the various roles you currently play in your life.

Fill up the page. Do two or three. That’s fine, there are no right or wrong answers, so long as you’re being honest with yourself. This isn’t for anyone else to see, so be brutally honest with yourself. The more honest you are with you, the more you will get out of this activity, whether you’re going to write a novel or simply work on better defining who you are.

2) Once you’ve made a sizable list go back thru it. What roles are you in that are positive? Are there any that are negative? Do you need to change any of them?  If there are roles you think you need to change, I recommend getting out a 3 x 5 notecard and putting them on a separate list. We’ll come back to them later.

 

My Novel Project

The Beginning April 21, 2014

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