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Start Next Project….Check!

Whew, it’s been a little while since my last post.  May has been busy!

My week-long work event went well and I started working on the story about my dad.  I’m not very far…and I haven’t worked on it since I got back in town. But in my defense, the very next week, my mom and niece were here for a visit. We had a great time ~ I love playing tour guide and showing people some of what my husband and I love about Charleston. It gives me a chance to play tourist again ~ it’s so easy to do and I love exploring. I find that I never see the same sights twice.  Even though I’ve been to Magnolia Plantation 4-5 times, I love it every single time.

My niece, Mom, me and hubby, reading to head out into the harbor on our boat tour.

My niece, Mom, me and hubby, ready to head out into the harbor on our boat tour.

Thanks to Mom trying to not have me go to the same places again, we visited a plantation that I’ve not yet had the chance to explore ~ Middleton Place. I have to admit, I was concerned in the beginning about going to this one. The main plantation home and another building housing their art/music galleries were destroyed in the Civil War…the only house remaining is the gentleman’s guest quarters and business office. I wasn’t sure how interesting that was going to be ~ for me or Mom and my niece. I needn’t have worried. We spent easily half the day there and I need to go back and see the things we missed.  That’s the beauty of many of these historic sites…there is always more to see. Or more ways to interpret what you are seeing. Or more details to pick up on, now that you’ve had the chance to take in the overall picture. There is so much history here, that it can be overwhelming, trying to take it all in at once.  Every time you see a plantation, walk the streets of downtown, or take a guided tour, you will find there are other pieces of the puzzle you can add to the story.

All that remains of the main house and the art/music galleries.

All that remains of the main house.

Middleton Place Gentleman's Quarters

Middleton Place Gentleman’s Quarters

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also have to point out that, even during these two weeks of eating basically anything that got put in front of me, I managed to not gain any weight. I was able to maintain my weight loss to within a few tenths of a pound.  Now I can refocus and keep working towards my goal without having to do too much work to re-lose pounds that managed to find me again during my two weeks of reckless abandon. Dessert with every meal? Yes please! Full calorie soda, foods swimming in sauces and deep fried goodness? Absolutely!

Here we are enjoying loaded baked potatoes and nachos at Smoky Oak Taproom. My husband and I rave about these potatoes!

Here we are enjoying loaded baked potatoes and nachos at Smoky Oak Taproom. My husband and I rave about these potatoes to anyone who will listen!

Thanks to the record breaking heat here this holiday weekend, my plans to go out of town were put on hold in favor of staying close to air conditioning. I can’t help it…when we go out of town, I want to explore.  I want to hike to waterfalls, search for treasures at the local flea market, and seek out alligators in the swamp. My husband was not excited about doing any of those things with the temperature hovering somewhere around 100 degrees. I can’t blame him, but it was disappointing that the one weekend we could have gone and had some fun, Mother Nature has to go and stoke the fire in the furnace.

But, to put a positive spin on it ~ I have some extra time to write that I wasn’t expecting to have. That’s not to say I’ve taken advantage of that yet (and it’s 3pm on Monday) but I’ve gotten a bunch of other things tackled that needed to be done. Because…you know…that’s how it is when you are writing…any other possible activity that you can be doing besides writing…

 

 

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Picking at a Scab

I apologize in advance for the rambling that is about to begin…or the soap box I’m hopping up on…maybe both.

The book review I’m working on this week for IndieReader, is written by a Vietnam Veteran about the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on our soldiers who served as “boots on the ground” in Southern Vietnam. The book, Silent Spring – Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War was written by Vietnam Veteran Patrick Hogan. In it, he goes into great detail about the chemicals used in Vietnam. Agent Orange is but a slice in the dangerous chemical pie.  He shares studies about the dangers of the various chemicals, as well as the battles he and other Vietnam Veterans have waged against the Department of Veterans Affairs over the years regarding illnesses attributable to the chemical warfare they were exposed to during their service. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I’m close enough to the end that I’m angry.

My dad passed away in 2009 from a heart attack connected to his adult onset, Type II Diabetes. His diabetes can be connected to his time spent serving his country in the Vietnam War. Not only did he have diabetes, he also suffered from high blood pressure, he was irritable and angry, and spent most days in his recliner napping his life away. (Unnatural drowsiness and psychiatric changes are also effects of Agent Orange.) And the best (or worst) part?

He was only in country twice for short periods of time.

Dad was an Air Force mechanic stationed at bases outside of Vietnam…most notably Taiwan. Mr. Hogan was stationed in Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam. My dad was there for a couple of weeks, from January 29 to February 15, 1969. He also had boots on the ground on September 19, 1969 to repair a plane in Da Nang.

In all, Dad was “in country” less than a month and came out the back-end with the maladies above.

I can’t even imagine the situation for those Veterans who spent their entire service in the jungles of South Vietnam. Well, yes, I can imagine ~ Mr. Hogan lists his illnesses and disorders in the book and breaks them out by ones the DVA has accepted as being caused by his time in the service, ones the DVA doesn’t accept, and those he hasn’t even submitted to them yet.  In all, he has twenty-two health issues that can be tied to his time in the service and his exposure to the chemicals and conditions in Vietnam.

Until the 1990s, the government refused to acknowledge that Veteran health problems were related to the chemical warfare in Vietnam at all! Millions of gallons of Agent Orange, Agent White and other herbicides and insecticides were used. The service personnel on the ground were spraying DEET right on their skin to ward off insects.

It sickens me that all of these kids ~ because most of them were kids, drafted into military service ~ who trusted their government would protect them and stand behind them, came back to the U.S. and were treated like second class citizens. They took the brunt of the public’s scorn about the war ~ and the government allowed them to be the scapegoats. They were denied the protection they deserved from the government, and the care/support they should have been entitled to when they returned home. The government turned a blind eye, knowing full well the dangers of the chemicals before they sprayed one square mile of Vietnamese jungle. The soldiers were led to believe that the chemicals were safe for humans. They trusted their government wouldn’t let them down…wouldn’t throw them to the wolves.

It makes my heart break for my dad and all the other Vietnam Veterans who, having made it home after their tour of duty, have died from or are currently suffering from, illnesses and conditions that most likely developed while they were serving their country. Eighteen and nineteen year old kids who sealed their fates the second they stepped of the plane in South Vietnam.

My dad might still be alive today if he hadn’t served in Vietnam. Other descendants of Vietnam Veterans might still have their loved one. Not just from the U.S., but also Australia, the Philippines, Thailand and others. And what about the South Vietnamese themselves? Our service members, contaminated as they were when they left, still got to leave.

I knew of Agent Orange in the most basic sense, having learned about the war in school. It wasn’t until shortly after Dad died that it really began to sink in.  We went to order a gravestone from the V.A. office and mom just started talking to the woman and mentioned Dad having been in Vietnam a couple of times to fix planes. The woman stopped what she was doing and asked, “He was in country?” My brother and I glanced at each other, wondering what this was about.  My mom kept sharing the story.  The woman asked Mom if she had documentation proving that Dad had been in country.  Mom thought she had his orders somewhere at home, but she absolutely had letters Dad wrote about those experiences.  The woman told her to bring in whatever she could find.

My dad had just died and I was looking for something to do. I needed some way to focus my grief outside of myself. I’m a writer. I did a little research.

And then I got pissed off.

I learned some of what Mr. Hogan writes about, but on a more introductory level. I didn’t dig too deep into the chemical compounds. I didn’t know Agent White was a thing. I didn’t look for information about conditions in South Vietnam. All the further I got was an introduction to Agent Orange. That was enough information to send me through the roof. But, what do you do with this information after the fact? What could I do now? I wasn’t a Veteran, so I had no real life experience to tie this information to. I’m not a scientist and much of the chemical compound information Mr. Hogan talks about goes right over my head. My dad was already gone and I couldn’t talk to him about his experiences (not that he was likely to talk about the war anyway).

The anger did get me through the funeral, so it was helpful in that way. I knew I wanted to write about this and I spent some time writing memories of my dad. I wrote a couple of small things about Agent Orange, but mostly just as information to share with my mom and brother. Time kept marching on and life kept happening and I eventually started the writing project that spawned this blog.

But now I feel like I need to revisit this place in history. I need to revisit Dad’s death and his time spent in Vietnam. Maybe I just needed to wait a bit, for the raw emotions to scab over and begin to heal.

Maybe I needed someone or something to give me a little nudge.

So, Faith is going to the back burner right now. (Sorry, girl, but I’ve got this thing I have to get off my chest first.)

I’m not sure what it’s going to turn into. Maybe it will simply be a family history story that my niece can keep to remember her bumpa’s military service as she begins her own (she has begun her service in the Air National Guard). But maybe my dad’s story will turn into something bigger. Maybe it will become a book that will go out there into the world. Maybe it can become part of a larger cautionary tale about the evils of war.

All I know right now is that I have to write it.

dad

 

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Looking for Representation

The book is finally ready to be sent out to agents in the hope that I will find someone who loves the story as much as I do. Certainly I expect there will be edits and I’m excited to take that next step. If we can make the story stronger, let’s do it.

I sent a query to an agent who is looking for historical women’s fiction and I hope she will be the perfect fit. I don’t know how long it might take to hear from her and I’m both thrilled and terrified at the same time. It brings back all of my self-conscious fears ~ what if the book just sucks?

To distract myself and stay out of my own head, I’m turning my efforts to Faith to get her story started.

Wish me luck!

 

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Next Round of Edits…done.

I finished the edits from my second (friend) reader.  She has me now thinking about how I want to end the book.  Like, I think I might need to add a few more chapters and cut the Epilogue down a bit.  Actually, both of my reader friends suggested I should add more and not end it where I chose to end it.

So, now, before I put the book back out to an unknown beta reader, I’m feeling like I need to revisit the story and do some revisions on the end.  Damn…and here I thought I was done.  HaHa!

I know, I know…all of you with published books out there are laughing hysterically at me right now.  You thought you were done?!  Are you nuts, lady?! I know…two rounds of edits isn’t really that much. And certainly, now that I’ve had two different people tell me a very similar feeling about the ending, it would seem I need to do something to make it stronger.

In my defense, my original plan had been to write a sequel where I was going to go deeper into the years covered by the Epilogue, so it felt like I was ending the story in the right place. But the more I thought about all of the additional research that would be involved in fleshing out the Epilogue into chapters, I decided that if I spend another couple of years doing that, this book might never see the light of day.

Plus I’ve got Faith waiting around for the chance to tell her story in my next book. She’s been starting to come together nicely and, while she’s waiting patiently right now, I don’t think she’s going to be willing to do that for another couple of years.  That’s asking too much of even the most understanding character.

So, I’ve decided the best way to handle this shortcoming is not with another complete book, just more added to the current one. I’ve gotta tell you, it’s a little bit of a let down to be going back to writing this book.  I love the characters and the story, but I was truly ready to set them loose on the world.  Like an 18-year-old kid you think is ready to go off to college and start making her way in the world (and move out of your house), only she decides she needs a gap year and plans to keep living at home, and working to save some money. Sure you love your kid, but you were so ready for her to leave the nest.

So, I’m officially in the gap year…hopefully just a gap couple of months.  HaHa!

Counting down the days…

 

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Trying to be more disciplined

I’m trying really hard to follow a stricter writing schedule. That means, in part, that I’m going to spit out a blog post once a week even if I have absolutely nothing of any substance to offer to the writing world.  haha.

Thankfully, this week, I have writing news.

I received my book back from the beta reader. In the name of full disclosure, the beta reader is a friend of mine. We met in college (both of us a little bit older than your average age college ladies, but that’s all I’m going to say about that) and we were both in the writing program.

I absolutely trust her with my “baby”, but I was still nervous handing it over.  I mean, I wanted…needed constructive criticism, but yet, part of me truly didn’t want it.  lol.

I know I had already had another friend with a writing background read it, but she had already been tuned into the story.  She had read parts of it during the construction, she was well acquainted with the dreams that drove this story in the beginning. My story was almost like a little sister who followed us around everywhere we went.

With my other writing friend, it was a completely new story…no preconceived notions, no bits of it that she had already read, no idea where it was all going. That was a little scarier – like letting a random stranger stay at your house and babysit your cat while you go on vacation scary. Who knew if kitty would still be there when you got home (or if your TV would be either, for that matter). Will your baby be returned to you unharmed?

OK…I’m overreacting. It wasn’t near that intimidating…maybe more like letting a new stylist cut your hair scary.hairdresser-1019806_960_720

In any event, she has offered me many helpful grammatical type corrections as well as questions that will make me think a little bit more about certain scenes. What can I do to make them stronger?

My first friend helped me to complete the story of my character’s life. She got me to think past the action of the book to where the character goes from there. My second friend is getting me back in the story to fine tune. Between the two of them, I already have a more complete work than I started with. And isn’t that the point of it all?

Now I just need to get on with the edits ~ Round Two! Or is it Round Three now?  Wait…Round Four?

 

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Maybe Outlines are Good?

I’m still working on coming up with a plot line for my Salem Witch Trial book.  I’m getting somewhere though…Faith, my character, is starting to come together a little bit.  I’m seeing a bit of her family dynamic, and how it is that she stumbles into the past.  I guess you could say I’m writing a bit of an…OUTLINE! Ugh! I’m really not an outline writer…I don’t want to have too much planned out because I like to let the story flow whatever direction it needs to go in and if I have an outline, I’ll be worrying about trying to fix a square peg into a round hole (if you will). I think that was a little of my problem with my first book.  Like, I knew one of my characters had to return to the story to meet his destiny, but I struggled for a long while trying to figure out how that was going to happen, after he walked out of the story earlier.

Before I go any further with anything even resembling an outline, I think I just need to start writing Faith’s story and let the characters lead the way.

But, I’m also still researching…I have a book called Writer’s Guide to Places, so I can get a little information about Salem. Certainly I can do internet research as well. I’m writing about a place I’ve never been, so I want to have a little information before I begin.

In other writing news

Well, maybe not writing news, but I’ve started doing book reviews for IndieReader. It might be a good resource for my first book, if I decide to go the self-publishing route. In the meantime, I’m helping fellow writers promote their books with reviews. It’s fun and I’m reading some books I wouldn’t necessarily seek out on my own. This is good for broadening my horizons as well as adding some publicity to other authors. My last review was a children’s book. I’ve always thought I might like to write children’s books, but I know I don’t have the skills to illustrate it, so I’ve never given it much more thought than that. Never say never!

Writers should read

“They” always say that writers should be voracious readers. I’ve been taking that to heart lately.  Right now, I’ve got four books I’m reading (in addition to the one I’m reviewing):

We Are Charleston – written about the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church Tragedy here in Charleston.

Who Do You Think You Are? – for the budding Genealogist that I am. I had no idea that census records had to wait so long (75 years!) before they can be made public.  I never thought about the privacy issue. Now, like other long time genealogists, I’m not so patiently waiting for 2025 for the release of the 1950 census. I’ve sadly realized that the information I’m looking for about my grandmother might not be reflected in the census record.  She was 14 in 1940 and will be 24 in 1950…already married with children. I was hoping to document her time spent living with a family as a teen because she and her father didn’t see eye to eye. The census records will completely miss this.

Memoir Your Way  – in the same vein, I’m hoping this book can give me a head start on preserving some of the family stories and organizing photos.  It hasn’t been helpful for the latter, but I’m just getting to the chapters about writing the stories.

Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank – a book of short, humorous essays written about life in the south. These are perfect little bits to read during my lunch half-hour.

Meanwhile…

This is the look Ralphie is giving me because, dang it mom, we should be playing right now, not blogging!

bored Ralphie

He couldn’t care less that I’ve got self-imposed deadlines to keep! If he can guilt me out of my desk chair, he will happily do it. Do I look pitiful enough yet? No? Let me try again…you look away from me and back again and I’ll have something even better!

I better get to work before he DOES come up with something better. Poor little guy!

 

 

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Finished Book Continues Editing Process ~ New Book…Well…

I have a second beta reader who will be giving the book a read through.  Keep your fingers crossed that all goes well.

The new book I’m struggling with just a little bit.  I can’t come up with what I think is a believable plot.  You know…as believable as a witch/paranormal story line can be. I’ve done a little bit of free writing, but I think it might require more. What I’ve written so far sounds like a pre-teen book.  Which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not really where I want to go with the story.

Which is an interesting statement to make when I don’t have a clue what the plot line is or where I do want the story to go.

At first I thought I wanted to have my character be a journalism student who, for her investigative reporting class, decides she wants to dig around in the Salem Witch Trials and try to prove the women innocent.  But then it occurred to me, after reading another book about the trials, that perhaps there isn’t enough information out there to really confirm or deny anything with any amount of confidence ~ particularly for me, a writer who hasn’t really studied the trials and who doesn’t want to spend another year doing research this time around.  Plus, what would the conflict be?  Would the spirits of the accused be causing some kind of trouble? Would a living breathing person be trying to help or hinder her? Would all of that be interesting to read? It just seemed that I didn’t have the knowledge to breathe life into the story in that format.

So, now, I’m leaning more towards having the trials themselves be less of the focus of the book.  It would lean towards magical realism (as defined by Wikipedia: a story where magical or unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic environment). You know…witch…paranormal…all of that. Or maybe this would still be just standard fiction? Maybe chick lit? Any of those would give me more flexibility to run with the details.

I haven’t a clue right now, what those details might be.  But I’ll get there…the story just needs to roll around in my mind for a while…I need to toss ideas out in my free write, no matter how silly they seem.  Eventually, something will stick.  My character (whose name will be Faith) will eventually begin to take shape in my mind. She will come to me when she is ready and she will have a story to tell.

 

 

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