#YouCan’tMakeThisStuffUp Part 4 of 5

Part 4 of this week’s blog series, #YouCan’tMakeThisStuffUp, picks up after the construction of our handicap ramp. What happens next has nothing to do with the ramp; that’s just where I ended Part 3 yesterday.

In case you missed Part 3, here’s a link to it: ­­­­#YouCan’tMakeThisStuffUp Part 3 of 5.

I start noticing a slight pain under my left shoulder blade. I figure it comes from using muscles I haven’t been using until I started having to hop on my left foot and get around with a walker. I quickly develop a new appreciation and awe for people who are permanently physically handicapped.

A few days later

I wake up on February 26 with stabbing pains throughout my left rib cage and in my back – under that shoulder blade. I can’t get comfortable. It hurts to breathe. It really hurts to take a deep breath. Marie and I decide this time I need an ambulance.

There’s a whole other story regarding the ambulance, but I’ll spare you the details. It’s my first ride in an ambulance as a patient.

Keep in mind that it’s the middle of flu season and there’s talk that COVID-19 is coming to America. The waiting room at the emergency room is overflowing with sick people. Some of them are very sick. I try to remain calm, not touch anything, and not take a deep breath.

Diagnosis:  Pulmonary Embolism

It’s finally my turn to be seen. I’m sent for a lung x-ray. I’m told I might have pneumonia in my left lung, but a CT scan is needed for a diagnosis.

The diagnosis is pretty quickly made. I have a blood clot in my left lung! A blood thinner is injected into my stomach and I’m monitored. The hospital is full. The hospitalist says I might have to spend the night in the ER.

Much to my surprise, a room becomes available and I’m admitted for observation.

Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia on Unsplash

The next day I start taking a blood thinner in pill form, and will continue to for three or four months.

No, I can’t do that

Physical and occupational therapists come to my room to assess my mobility capabilities. I cannot be discharged before they see me. Hospital rules. We have a ramp at our house now. The only remaining barrier is the threshold in the doorway from the porch into the house. I never should have mentioned it.

One of the therapists demonstrates how I should be able to hop up steps and hop backwards over our door’s threshold. Since the industrial strength leg brace weighs a ton (that’s the only exaggeration in my story) and I’m not a healthy 67-year-old – I have my doubts that I can hop up steps or over the threshold forwards – much less backwards. I can barely get my left foot an inch off the floor when I hop.

When I put all my weight on the handles of my walker in order to hop, it feels like electricity is running through my hands. I’m not having fun with my walker if on a flat surface while going forward. I decline the therapist’s offer to take me to “the gym” where I can learn how to hop up stairs on one foot. (Call me a chicken if you so desire.)

Her next suggestion was that I could sit down on the floor and scoot myself backwards up steps or over the threshold. When I inquired of her how I might get up from the floor, she said I should just scoot over to a chair and pull myself up. She sat on the floor of my hospital room (not to worry… it had been mopped that morning — GAG!) scooted over to a chair and pulled herself up to a standing position.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Before I could protest, the other therapist in the room pointed out that with a broken leg it was going to be impossible for me to pull myself up using a chair. Neither of them had explained how I was supposed to sit on the floor in the first place. The only way I can see myself sitting on the floor is if I fall backwards while using my walker. That seems a little drastic to me, just so I can scoot over an exterior door threshold.

Not to be defeated, the first therapist said I needed to go home with a shower chair that doubles as a bedside toilet. Not wanting to come across as totally uncooperative, I decided to accept. The chair is ordered. My lunch is cancelled because I’m being released at 10:30 a.m. Trust me, it’s already been a long day.

Marie stops shopping for a threshold bridge ramp and comes to pick me up at 10:30 even though we know this probably isn’t happening. Lunchtime comes and goes. 10:30 release turns into 2:00 p.m. release because the shower chair has to be delivered to the hospital and I, of course, can’t go home without it.

An hour or so before the shower chair is brought to my room, the nurse whips out her cell phone, calls someone else in the building and asks, “What’s the status of Ms. Morrison’s shower chair/portable toilet?” The response on the other end of the line was, “I’m on it.”

Let that settle in for a minute. Marie, the nurse, and I all simultaneously realize how ironic, “I’m on it” sounds and we all have a good laugh.

To be continued . . .

Since my last blog post

Sadly, the first two deaths attributed to coronavirus-19 in North Carolina, have been reported in Cabarrus County.

You’ll be glad to know that we’ve had no calamities at our house in the last 24 hours.

I’ve been listening to The Litigators, by John Grisham and almost finished listening to Long Road to Mercy, by David Baldacci.       

I’ve worked on a historical short story. If I’m ever to have a collection of short stories to publish, I need to start spending more time writing and less time thinking about writing.

Until my next blog post

Take care of yourself and those important people in your life. Seek out someone who might be alone and scared. Contact them in a safe way. Listen to their concerns and try to reassure them. We’re all in this together.

Tune in tomorrow for #YouCan’tMakeThisStuffUp Part 5 of 5.

Janet

#YouCan'tMakeThisStuffUp Part 3 of 5

In case you missed #YouCan’tMakeThisStuffUp Part 2, here’s a link to it: https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/03/24/youcantmakethisstuffup-part-2-of-5/.

Something I forgot to include in Part 2 was when the triage nurse asked me, “Do you feel safe in your home?” (this being right after my sister has crashed into me in our kitchen and fractured my tibial plateau) and I responded, “I did until a few minutes ago!”

I know that was a very serious question, and I’m glad ER triage nurses are required to ask it, but I just couldn’t resist having a little fun with it.

Today we pick up my tale of woe just as our friend, Carol, arrives after 1:30 a.m. with a key to our house.

We thought we’d hear from you again tonight

Once she’s in the house, Marie calls the fire department and requests lift assistance. The same crew is still on duty. One of the firemen says, “We thought we’d hear from you again tonight.”

The firemen marvel that I have a fractured leg. They carry me up the porch steps and into the house in the handy-dandy rollator.

Marie and I eat I don’t remember what, but it tasted good, and we went to bed. I’m armed with a bell to ring if I need her during the night – and my cell phone so I can call her if she doesn’t hear the bell in her bedroom.

Do you need burial insurance?

The next morning we start getting daily robocalls offering us burial insurance. I don’t know if the hospital gave them my phone number or if someone told them the next day was my birthday. Either way, I wasn’t in the mood for that. In fact, the calls continue. I’m still not in the mood.

Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday!
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The next day was my birthday. Marie and I usually take each other out for dinner on our birthdays. Like many such celebrations in 2020, that celebratory meal will have to be postponed for a few months or longer.

We need a handicap ramp

When I had my follow-up appointment with an orthopedic doctor, I learned that my fracture “isn’t quite bad enough to require surgery due to your age.” He could have talked all day without referring to my age! I’m fitted with an industrial strength thigh-to-ankle leg brace that has big dials on either side of my knee and four Velcro straps that have a tendency to stick to everything except where I need them. I’m told not to put any weight on my leg for a total of 12 weeks from the date of the accident.

In light of what we learned at the orthopedist’s office, we go home and start looking for someone to build a handicap ramp at our porch. A neighbor up the road has a landscaping business. He makes time in his busy schedule to construct and install a permanent treated-wood handicap ramp for us, finishing the job literally in the red mud while sleet was falling. (I don’t know if Billy wants to go into the ramp-building business or not but, if you live in the Charlotte area and need some landscaping done or a retaining wall built – or possibly, a handicap ramp – I can vouch for Reedy Creek Lawn and Landscape in Harrisburg, NC.)

To be continue . . .

Since my last blog post (24 hours ago)

I was scheduled for knee x-rays yesterday. I wasn’t too keen on going into a doctor’s office during this coronavirus-19 pandemic, but the nurse assured me all necessary precautions were being taken.

My sister and I continued our “Lucy and Ethel” ways. While I brushed my teeth, I thought about my leg brace. I didn’t think about it again until I was sitting in the passenger seat of my 1991 pick-up truck (because it’s easier to get in and out of than Marie’s car.) She had to go back in the house to retrieve my brace. Do you know how difficult it is to put on a full-leg brace while sitting sideways in a pick-up truck? If not, I can tell you on a need-to-know basis.

When we arrived at the orthopedic doctor’s office, I called the nurse from the truck. I hopped to the door with my walker and the nurse met me there. She grabbed a wheelchair and whisked me through the deserted waiting room and straight to x-ray.

Do you know how difficult it is to stand on one foot and hold your own lead x-ray apron long enough to have two x-rays made? I can tell you, if you really want to know.

The x-rays showed that my tibial plateau fracture is healing just fine. Calcium is starting to fill in the fracture, which is a good thing. Everything looked great! Just four more weeks of not putting any weight on my right leg. I can do this! I don’t have to leave the house again until my next doctor’s appointment in April.

The day’s fun wasn’t over yet, though. At 5:00 p.m. I went on my tablet to see and hear my pastor’s devotional on Facebook Live. Facebook Live is a new thing for me. A very new thing for me.

I learned something today at 5:00 p.m. If you go to the church’s Facebook Live broadcast and hit a red button (it either said, “Video” or “Live” or something else)… anyway… I hit the red button and instead of tuning into Neal’s devotional, I recorded an 11-second video that broadcast live on my Facebook page. Fortunately, most of the 11 seconds only showed the inside cover of my tablet. That flash at the end was my lap covered by a blanket. The moral of the story is:  Never hit the red button. (My apologies to Staples and their Easy Button.)

Until my next blog post

Take care of yourself and those you care about. Check on your neighbors and people who live alone. Support local small businesses like Reedy Creek Lawn and Landscape as you can.

Tune in tomorrow for #YouCan’tMakeThisStuffUp Part 4 of 5.

Janet

#YouCan'tMakeThisStuffUp Part 2 of 5

In case you missed #YouCan’tMakeThisStuffUp Part 1 of 5 yesterday, here’s a link to that blog post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/03/23/youcantmakethisstuffup-part-1-of-5/.

Today we pick up my tale of woe as my sister, Marie, dials 9-1-1 after falling into me and fracturing my tibia. Of course, we don’t know exactly what my injury is at this point.

It is determined that she can take me to the hospital if the fire department will send out a crew to provide “lift assistance.”

Fire truck
Photo by mauro arrue on Unsplash

The firemen are great! They help me sit down in the rollator we had for Marie’s knee surgery recovery. The three firemen pick me and the rollator up, take me out the door, and down the steps to the car. Off Marie and I go!

What happened to you?

While signing in at the emergency room and being triaged, everyone wants to know how I got hurt. I’m trying to make light of the situation because I have no idea I have a fractured leg. (I’m in pain, but I haven’t considered that the accident could have fractured a bone.)

Everyone at the hospital thinks I’m kidding when I tell them what happened. Imagine my surprise when the x-rays show a closed fracture of my right tibial plateau. I didn’t know my tibia had a plateau. Since the bone hadn’t come through the skin, I have no idea how life-changing this injury will be.

Meanwhile, Marie is getting tired of my including her in the story of how I got hurt. I tell her, “That’s too bad. If I leave you out of the story all that’s left is, ‘I was stirring soup and broke my leg.’ That makes no sense. The truth – the whole truth – is a much more interesting story.”

What do you mean you don’t have a key?

They put my leg in an immobilizer and give me a pain killer that makes me so dizzy I can’t stand up to be discharged. When that passes, I’m wheeled out to the car and we set off for home.

We’re really hungry. It’s after 1:00 a.m. on January 28, and it’s been a long time since lunch. We’re glad to get home and can’t wait to call the fire department for lift assistance again, get something to eat, and go to bed.

key
Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Marie gets out of the car, goes to the porch, comes back to my car window and says, “I can’t find the house key!” I try to calmly ask, “What do you mean you don’t have your house key? I don’t have mine because all we took of mine was my wallet.”

Sorry to wake you up, but…

There’s nothing for us to do but call our friend, Carol, who has a key to our house. (Before you start yelling at me….. We used to have a spare key hidden in the yard in one of those little fake rocks, but a raccoon or some other wildlife moved the “rock” and dumped the key out in the grass. We hadn’t yet worked out a new hiding place.)

By now it’s 1:30 a.m. Carol comes to our rescue and apologizes for being her pajamas. We don’t care what she’s wearing. It’s cold, we’re hungry, and we’re just glad she was at home and able to find that key!

To be continued. . .

Until my next blog post

As the whole world journeys through this Coronavirus-19 pandemic, remember we’re all in this together. Stay safe. Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Eat comfort food.

Tune in tomorrow for #YouCan’tMakeThisStuffUp Part 3 of 5.

Janet

#YouCan’tMakeThisStuffUp Part 1 of 5

In these uncertain days of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it was difficult for me to settle on a topic for today’s blog post. If you’re like me, you’re having trouble concentrating on your task at hand. 

I’m working on several future blog posts about the craft of writing and a number of fiction and nonfiction books I’ve read this month, and I will save those for the upcoming weeks.

My blog post today (and Parts 2-5 which will follow tomorrow through Friday of this week) will test your ability to trust me. It is a true story. Since the end of January, I’ve mentioned in passing that I have a fractured tibial plateau. It was the result of a freak accident.

Since the end of February, I’ve mentioned a time or two that I also have a pulmonary embolism. A fractured leg and the pulmonary embolism which followed it are not on face value anything to laugh about; however, I choose to look for the humor in everyday situations.

We can all use a chuckle during these difficult times, so please accept my series this week in the spirit in which it is intended.


Setting the stage

My sister, Marie, and I had been out and about on January 27. We were on a tight schedule to eat supper and get to book club.

food prep image
Photo by Piotr Miazga on Unsplash

Why isn’t Janet helping me up?

I’m heating soup on the stove. Marie is taking a dish out of the microwave oven. Her knee buckles. She manages to put the hot dish on the kitchen island before sprawling across the floor. What she didn’t know was that as she sailed across the kitchen she slams into the side of my right knee.

Marie is lying on the floor with her back to me because she has the presence of mind to turn herself in a way that she wouldn’t land on her left knee replacement. She can’t see me, but I’m clinging to the kitchen counter in great pain. I’m saying “Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no!” because I realize I cannot put any weight on my right foot. Marie is still on the floor with her back to me thinking I’m saying, “Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no!…” because I’m worried about her. (I was worried about her, but more worried about myself at that moment.) She’s wondering why I’m not helping her up!

Marie rolls over and sees that I’m hurt. I tell her I can’t put any weight on my right leg. I continue to cling to the kitchen counter as Marie struggles to get up. She brings me a chair and we pretty quickly agree that I need to go to the emergency room at the hospital three miles from our home. I try to walk to the door on crutches, but I soon feel faint and more or less collapse into a chair.

We decide we need some professional help, so Marie dials 9-1-1.

To be continued. . .


Until my next blog post

I hope you have escaped and continue to escape being infected with COVID-19. I hope you are physically, mentally, spiritually, and financially secure as we all journey through the most uncertain public health time of most of our lifetimes.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m fortunate to be able to take advantage of some electronic audible books through the public library which closed its doors to the public on March 16 “until further notice.” I’m listening to The Ligitators, by John Grisham and Long Road to Mercy, by David Baldacci — but not at the same time. I just like to have more than one book going all the time.

We’re all learning as we go, and I’m glad I’m retired and not in a major decision-making position. Marie and I make a good team. I’m in the enviable position of living with my sister. She just happens to also be my best friend. She’s taking great care of me. Together, we’ll get through this crisis.

I hope you also have someone to depend on through thick and thin.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you’re able to create during this time. I’m finding it difficult to concentrate most days. If you’re in that same boat, don’t beat yourself up over it. This is not the time to be demanding of yourself or others.

My thanks go out to those in the healthcare profession. Perhaps by the time we come to the end of this pandemic we’ll realize as a society that doctors and nurses are more valuable than – and should be paid more than athletes.

Take care of yourself. Stay safe, and try to stay well. Let the people in your life know how important they are to you. Keep in touch socially via phone, text, Skype, email, and however you safely can to minimize the isolation we all feel during this pandemic.

Tune in tomorrow for #YouCan’tMakeThisStuffUp” Part 2.

And, if you are a fan of humor from everyday life, I recommend the offerings by my fellow-North Carolinian Jeanne Swanner Robertson. Her website is https://jeannerobertson.com/.

Janet

Nominated for Fix Her Crown Award

Thank you, Laleh Chini, for nominating me for the Fix Your Crown Award on her wonderful blog, A Voice from Iran. Here’s the link to her blog: https://lalehchini.com. Here’s a link to the blog post in which she nominated me, in case you’d like to see what she’s all about: https://lalehchini.com/2020/03/21/nominated-for-fix-her-crown/.

Fix Her Crown Award
Fix Her Crown Award. http://www.cindygoesbeyond.com

The rules are simple:

Thank the person who nominated you and link to her blog.

Copy and paste these rules to your post and please include a link to the Fix Her Crown Award post: https://kimsdiytribe.com/fix-her-crown-award/.

Post three photos of just yourself and write a short caption beneath each about why you chose that photo.

Nominate seven women for the Fix Her Crown Award, women who lend a helping hand to the woman whose crown seems too heavy, who appreciate the sister who dares to be her own glorious self, who raise strong young women, who smile at the sister journeying alone and walk alongside her for a time, who stand with the sister whose crown has been knocked off her head time after time and women who shine as their own beautifully unique selves.

Link to the blogs of the seven nominees.

Here are three photos of me:

Silas and Janet were equally excited the day “their” vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, arrived in July, 2014.
Janet with Penny Padgett, owner of The Book Shelf in Tryon, North Carolina. Penny and The Book Shelf bookstore hold a special place in my heart. Penny was the first (and only) book store owner who invited me to have a book signing after my vintage postcard book was published. That was in happier days for Penny and for me. Sadly, she has had to sell off her inventory and close the bookstore this year after not being able to find a buyer for her business in the wonderful small mountain town of Tryon.
This is a photo of my first local history column in 2005 in the now defunct weekly newspaper, Harrisburg Horizons in Harrisburg, North Carolina. I wrote a different local history article every other week for more than six years. It was the most enjoyable “job” I’ve ever had. Maybe someday I’ll be able to publish all those newspaper columns in a book!

That’s enough about me. Here are the women, in random order, I nominate for the Fix Her Crown Award:

Kally: https://middleme.net/

Alison: https://piermanparis.com/

Janet: https://janetgivens.com/

Diane: https://indianeskitchen.com/home/

Terri: https://reclaiminghopecoaching.com/

Beverley: https://becomingtheoilandwine.com/

Jennifer: https://jennifertarheelreader.com/

This award nomination came as a complete surprise to me! Thank you again, Laleh Chini, for nominating me!

Until my blog post tomorrow

Everyone out there stay safe and well during this coronavirus 19 pandemic.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Freedom of Information Day

Occasionally, I blog about an event associated with that particular day. Did you know that March 16 is Freedom of Information Day in the United States? Neither did I; however, I believe it should be a national holiday.

In light of the current political climate in America, I want to shout from the rooftops about freedom of information today!

Why March 16th?

James Madison was mentioned repeatedly during the recent presidential impeachment hearings held by the U.S. Senate. James Madison is revered as the “Father of the U.S. Constitution.” He advocated for openness in government. He insisted the government must have no secrets from the people. How radical was that? He drafted the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights.

U.S. Freedom of Information Day
Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

James Madison was born on March 16, 1751. Hence, March 16 was chosen in 1966 to be celebrated as Freedom of Information Day. It’s unfortunate that the day itself gets no attention. We seldom hear anything about the Freedom of Information Act except when its implementation is being questioned by a news agency.

History of the Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act was enacted on July 4, 1966 and went into effect a year later. This law declares that every person has the right to access all federal agency (Executive Branch) records not protected from disclosure by on of nine exemptions or exclusions. Those exemptions include things like national security, personnel records, trade secrets, and geological and geophysical information (including maps) related to wells. Although President Lyndon B. Johnson had misgivings about the Act, he signed it into law.

It is interesting to note that the original act was replaced just one month before it’s 1967 effective date. Also, it was amended in 1974. Those amendments strengthened an individual’s right to see federal records about himself and provided a path by which the individual can get their personal records corrected. Furthermore, the 1974 amendments give an individual the right to sue the government for violating the Freedom of Information Act.

Subsequent amendments

Amendments to the Government in the Sunshine Act in 1976 spelled out Freedom of Information Act exemptions in greater detail. President Ronald Reagan issued an Executive Order in 1982 that permitted broader interpretation of the exemption regarding national security.

Between 1995 and 1999, President Bill Clinton issued executive directives that allowed the release of classified national security records that are more than 25 years old.

The Electronic Freedom of Information Act amendments in 1996 made adjustments to the way in which electronic records are kept by the federal government.

The Freedom of Information Act has continued to be a political football in the 21st century. By an Executive Order issued by President George W. Bush, the records of former U.S. presidents were protected in 2002. The 2202 Order was revoked by President Barack Obama on the day after his inauguration in 2009.

The future of the Freedom of Information Act

And so it goes. The Freedom of Information Act continues to be amended through new Acts and Executive Orders. It will, no doubt, remain a fluid law that will be amended and re-interpreted for the remainder of the years the United States of America exists as a country. Its scope will continue to be challenged in U.S. Supreme Court cases and by lawmakers and presidents.

Since my last blog post

Since my blog last Monday, the corona virus COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic. Sadly, the United States has fallen far behind in preparing for and testing for the virus. This is due to the negligence of the Trump Administration, but now is not the time for finger pointing. Now is the time to start playing catch-up and learn from the current president’s mistakes.

My thoughts are with people around the world who have been infected by COVID-19 and their caregivers.

My fractured tibial plateau continues to heal, and I continue treatment for a pulmonary embolism.

Until my next blog post

Above all, try to stay well. Take reasonable precautions to guard yourself and those around you from the flu and COVID-19.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve suspended the requests for a dozen or more books from the public library to try to keep germs from other library patrons out of my house. This is when e-books can really be a blessing — and perhaps a lifesaver, so take advantage of those free e-books from your local public library system.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time. My mind is a little scattered just now due to health concerns, but when I can concentrate I’m trying to work on future blog posts and historical short stories.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Did you know there was a Freedom of Information Act in the United States? Have you had any personal experience with the Freedom of Information Act?

What about in your country? Does it have such an act to protect an individual’s information held by the government?

Janet

#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 2

When I wrote my #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization, Part 1 blog post for February 17, 2020, I planned to post Part 2 the following Monday. Life happened, though, and some medical issues forced me to hold off on Part 2 until today. Here’s the link to Part 1, in case you missed it or wish to refresh your memory: https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/02/17/fixyournovel-4-characterization-part-1/.

If you are bored stiff by the subject, just scroll down to the end of today’s post to find out what I’m currently reading.

As I did in Part 1, today I’ll share what two or three writers, writing coaches, or editors have to say about characterization. I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in my two characterization blog posts.

I’ve read a lot about how to develop memorable characters when writing fiction. As I read what other writers, or book coaches and editors have to say about characterization, I try to determine what the best advice is so I can put it into practice as I work on my historical novel.


Book coach Andrea Lundgren’s take on happiness in novels

In her October 7, 2019 guest post on A Writer’s Path, https://ryanlanz.com/2019/10/07/what-does-it-mean-to-write-about-happiness/, book coach Andrea Lundgren observed that novels rarely show characters in a state of happiness. Maybe there’s a flashback to a time they were happy, but the reader doesn’t see the character having a happy moment.

Ms. Lundgren suggests something that goes against the grain of accepted fiction writing advice. She stated the following in that guest post:

“Do we dare take time out, for them and us, to just enjoy life as it flows by, without making the scene “keep things moving forward”?

Ms. Lundgren continued:

“And does happiness only occur in little moments, in the troughs between peaks of activity when no one is doing or demanding or announcing anything? Maybe we need to start plotting for filler scenes, where nothing happens but that exchange of dialogue and silence that is a normal, happy moment of life.”

That resonated with me. Writing experts put a lot of pressure on authors to evaluate every scene and, if it doesn’t move the story forward, delete it. In connection with Ms. Lundgren’s post, it seems to me that having an occasional scene in which your character is just relaxing with a friend or enjoying an event might help that character seem more human and more likeable. And in that way, does that scene not in some small way move the story forward?


Editor and author David Griffin Brown’s take on character

Writing as a creative guest on The Creative Penn website on August 2, 2019, https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2019/08/02/writing-tips-creating-memorable-characters/, David Griffin Brown gives tips on writing memorable and compelling characters.

Mr. Brown opens his article with this:  “Fiction editors encounter manuscripts at all stages of development. A typical issue we see in early drafts is where one narrative element is given more attention than another.

“For example, with works of historical fiction, it’s common for writers to showcase their research at the expense of plot and character. On the other hand, with a character piece, the plot often drags in the second act. And in high-paced, sharply plotted thrillers, characterization can lag behind plot development.

“That being said, most manuscripts will benefit from close attention to character conflict, motivation, and relationships. But first and foremost, it’s important to let your characters act, react, and interact.”

Mr. Brown goes on to talk about emotions, conflict, and personal relationships between characters. He talks about the king of all fiction-writing rules:  Show, don’t tell.


Chris Andrews’ take on character and structure

In his book, Character and Structure:  An Unholy Alliance, Australian fantasy quthor Chris Andrews writes about the importance of (or possibly, necessity of) getting your reader emotionally invested in your story or novel. He writes that you must make the reader care.

Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance, by Chris Andrews

Mr. Andrews’ book says, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.”  He says if a writer gives in to his or her preference – character vs. structure – one will dominate and the other will suffer. A character must have a logical structure to work within.

Mr. Andrews writes, “You have to be able to develop, write and evaluate a story from both sides of your brain:  logic and emotion…. Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers emotionally engage your audience.”

I like the following short paragraph in Mr. Andrews’ book: 

“Characters are about people, not events. Structure is how you tailor events so your audience can engage with your characters.”

Mr. Andrews’ book is one of the best books I’ve read about the craft of writing. He takes you step-by-step through the structure of a novel and how your protagonist should grow and change within that structure in order for your novel to engage your readers and be memorable for them.

I read Chris Andrews’ book last September and I wrote about it in my September 30, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/30/character-and-structure-by-chris-andrews/. His website is https://www.chrisandrews.me/.


Some new thoughts from Janice Hardy

In #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization, Part I, I referenced Janice Hardy. Her blog post on February 26, 2020 was titled, “Oh, Woe Is Me:  Strengthening Character Goals.” Here the link to it, so you can read the entire blog post: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/05/oh-woe-is-me.html.

It’s about how a writer can make a novel’s protagonist’s life as difficult as possible. She gives lots of suggestions.


That was my inner response when I first encountered the term. In Part 1 of #FixYourNovel #4, I referred to character arc but didn’t address it.

A character arc is how a character changes over the course of a story or novel, but there’s so much more to it than that! People have written entire books on the topic of character arc. I read one in October:  Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M. Weiland.

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

I highly recommend her book to others who, like me, are trying to master the art of writing fiction. The book addresses plot points, when your character arcs, minor character arcs, impact characters, and how to write a character arc in a series.


Biographical sketches

Throughout the writing process I’ve tried to keep in mind to make my characters distinguishable, but it’s time to revisit the question, “Are my characters distinguishable?”

By writing a biographical sketch for each character as I developed the basic bones of the plot for my novel in progress, tentatively titled The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon, I had a computer file containing details about each character. This was the place I made note of all distinguishable characteristics – everything from appearance, clothing, mannerisms, smell, occupation, world view, beliefs, background, family, and manner of speaking.

My hunch is that it is easier to write character biographical sketches before and as you write your novel, but it can be done after the fact. However you choose to do it, it’s a good idea to work through this step before hitting the “publish” button or submitting your manuscript to an editor, literary agent, or publisher.

I read that J.K. Rawlings spent five years writing the biographies of each of her characters before she started writing her Harry Potter series. Wow!

As you evaluate your novel’s manuscript, re-read each of your characters’ biographical sketches, every reference to them in your book, and all their dialogue. It’s time to beef-up those character traits and to check for consistency.

  • Have you made your characters’ motives clear so their actions are logical?
  • Did you reveal backstory a little at a time and sufficiently without doing an information dump?
  • You don’t have a character telling another character something they already know, do you?
  • Does your character have an arc and is it in the right place?

In summary

At this point, you might be saying, “It’s not enough for writers to invent characters? They must make each one distinguishable in appearance, actions, and speech; make them likable but not perfect; and make them memorable and compelling. Is that all?

No. A writer must also balance character, and plot, and setting. Characters must interact with one another. Characters must be believable. Characters must react to the circumstances in which they find themselves. They must have emotions. They must be motivated. Relationships and conflict are necessary; otherwise, there’s no story.

You see, there’s more to writing a novel than typing.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. If you like my blog, please tell you real friends and your social media friends about it.


Links to my #FixYourNovel blog posts #1, #2, #3, and #4 Part 1:


Let’s continue the conversation

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Think back over the books you’ve read.

Which characters stand out in your mind and why?

Feel free to share as much or little as you want to in the comments below or on the social media I share this blog post on.

Janet

Three Historical Novels I Read in February 2020

For me, the month of February can be summed up in three words. Best laid plans.

What actually happened

I thought I’d get a lot of reading done in February while being confined to my home with a fractured leg. I discovered it was hard to concentrate. I only completed three books in February. When given the opportunity to read 24/7, it loses its appeal – or at least it did for me. Added to my concentration problems was a hospitalization due to a pulmonary embolism. It was quite a month!

Since I didn’t get anything posted on my blog last Monday, I’ll try to get back on my weekly posting track now. I’ll try to finish writing “FixYourNovel #4 – Characterization, Part 2” for next Monday.


Moving on to today’s topic

Some readers look for a blog post the first Monday of the month about the books I read the previous month, so that’s what I’m doing today. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you might like one or more of these three books.


The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

As usual, I can’t remember how I heard about this historical novel. I’m glad I did, though.

The rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany
The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton did extensive research and wrote this book over a 12-year period. She takes you to Germany in 1938. Through several real people, she weaves a suspenseful story of the Kindertransport effort through which 10,000 Jewish children were saved from certain death in Nazi Germany. Those 10,000 children were taken by train from Germany to The Netherlands and from there to England.

The references to closed borders and Hitler’s accusations about “the lying press” sent chills up and down my spine as an American. The parallels with the policies of the current United States president are striking and frightening to those of us who value our democracy.

There are gut-wrenching scenes of parents putting their children on trains with admonitions to make the most out of the museums and educational opportunities they’ll have in England. The children are entrusted to strangers with promises from their parents to somehow get to England and reunite with them.

No child under four or older than 17 years old was allowed to go. Each child was assigned a number. When they arrived in England, they were reviewed by prospective adoptive parents on Sundays.

As is stated in the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, “Although fiction, this novel is based on the read Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933. She was, to the children, Tante Truus.”

I regret to quote the following from near the end of the book:

“Efforts to effect similar transports to the United States, through the Wagner-Rogers Bill introduced into Congress in February of 1939, met anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic opposition. A June 2, 1939, memo seeking President Roosevelt’s support for the effort is marked in his handwriting ‘File no action. FDR.’”

I hope you get a chance to read this excellent historical novel.


The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The ophthalmologist who treated me for shingles in my right eye several years ago was an avid reader. During my frequent appointments, we often discussed our favorite novels and authors. He introduced me to the novels of Stuart Nevillle and Adrian McKinty. I finally got around to reading my first novel by Mr. McKinty last month.

Police suspense novel set in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland
The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The Cold, Cold Ground was Mr. McKinty’s twelfth novel, but it introduced a new character, Sean Duffy, a Roman Catholic police officer in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. At least one of my immigrant ancestors came to America from Carrickfergus, so I was immediately drawn into the story. My ancestor was a Presbyterian, though, which has always intrigued me in light of “The Troubles” between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. I just don’t understand Christians hating other Christians, but that a topic for another day.

Back to the novel… Duffy is often put in awkward situations since he is one of only a few Roman Catholic police officers in Carrickfergus.

In The Cold, Cold Ground, a serial killer is making a statement, and Duffy is determined to solve the case and see the murderer brought to justice. There have been two murders. No one else suspects a connection except for Duffy.

I look forward to reading other Adrian McKinty novels.


A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

I was really on a roll last month with good historical novels! I wish I had remembered more details from the Latin American history courses I took in college. Some of that information would have been a helpful backdrop while reading this novel about the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.

You may wonder what Latin America had to do with a late-1930s civil war in Spain. I wondered the same thing, so I was in for an education.

A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens fled across the mountainous French border when General Franco and his Fascist followers overthrew the Spanish government.

In A Long Petal of the Sea, you follow a pregnant young widow, Roser, and her army doctor brother-in-law, Victor Dalmau, as they join 2,000 other refugees on the SS Winnipeg, a chartered ship to Chile. The voyage is chartered by poet Pablo Neruda. He described Chile as “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” Hence, the name of the novel.

The day they arrive in Chile just happens to be the day World War II erupts in Europe – September 2, 1939. The novel spans decades and four generations as these refugees make the most of their new lives in Chile while always yearning to return to their beloved Spain.

Isabel Allende, the author, was born in Peru and grew up in Chile. Since she was the first author to donate an autographed book for the autographed books auction held by the Friends of the Harrisburg (NC) Library some years ago, Ms. Allende holds a special place in my heart.

The novel was beautifully-translated into English by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading a memoir, Inheritance:  A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro and listening to Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. Please visit it every week to see what I’m up to.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any good books lately? Share your thoughts with us.

Janet

#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 1

Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to publish today’s blog post for months. Who am I to have the audacity to attack such a topic? I haven’t even published my first novel.

Perhaps I should have left #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization on the back burner until I had more writing experience. However, to be perfectly honest with you, I got tired kicking the can down the road. I got tired revamping my blog’s editorial calendar and shifting this topic further into the future.

I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in today’s post.

In my journey as a fiction writer, I’ve read about all aspects of the craft of writing. New articles and how-to books are published every day. It’s impossible to keep up.

Today’s blog post is a combination of the things I’ve read about characterization by people who know more about that skill than I do. It’s my job as an aspiring fiction author to wade through all the advice, discern what’s worth keeping, and try to put those gems into practice.


Author Kristin Lamb’s take on characters

I read a September 23, 2019 article by author Kristin Lamb several weeks ago and immediately added it to my resources list for today’s blog post. I love the title of Ms. Lamb’s article: “Characters: Audiences Read Stories, but Great Stories Read the Audience.” It pulled me right in. Her article can be found at https://authorkristenlamb.com/2019/09/characters-story-audience/.

Of course, I had to keep reading to find out what she meant. In a nutshell, Ms. Lamb said that every reader reads a book through their unique perspective. The character in a novel has “baggage,” but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her into the story and that completes how an individual reader sees a character.

If there are three main characters in a novel and three people read it, it’s possible that each reader will identify with a different character due to the readers’ backgrounds and life experiences.

Photo by Frank Holleman on Unsplash.com.
Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash.com.
Photo by Pablo Rebolledo on Unsplash.com.

Also, I think “Great Stories Read the Audience” is an excellent way of saying a writer must know her target audience. I could try to write a novel that would appeal to everyone, but the finished product would probably appeal to no one.


Proofreader Louise Harnby’s take on characters

In https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/unveiling-your-characters-physical-description-with-style­­­­, Louise Harnby addresses how a writer needs to make her characters distinguishable. Some writers tell the reader what a character looks like or gives hints.

One method is to do what Ms. Harnby suggests:  let the viewpoint character describe another character, but don’t let it sound like a description in a police report. The reader doesn’t need to know every detail of how a character looks. Tell what is different about a character. Give each character a distinguishing physical or personality trait.


Author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland’s take on characters

Something Lori Freeland says in her June 3, 2019 blog post, https://writersinthestormblog.com/2019/06/down-with-the-rules/, also addresses a method a writer can use when describing their characters. It’s a twist on bending or breaking the writing “rule” that says a character shouldn’t describe herself or himself.

Ms. Freeland writes, “Main characters can describe themselves if they do it right…. Go ahead. Put your character in front of a mirror. But make it a funhouse mirror that emphasizes her faults and grows them larger than life.”

In this blog post, Ms. Freeland also comments about motivation. A writer needs to tell the reader what motivates a character. This clarifies the story.

To quote Ms. Freeland, “The internal journey of your character is as crucial as the external journey.”


Australian Fantasy Author Douglas W.T. Smith’s take on characters

Douglas W.T. Smith wrote about characters, voice, and dialogue in his April 9, 2019 blog post, https://dwtsmith.wordpress.com/2019/04/09/five-ways-to-improve-your-characters-voice-and-dialogue/.  He states something important about characters and dialogue:  “Remember, if the dialogue doesn’t advance the plot, give insight into characters, or show relationships between characters, it should be deleted.”

Mr. Smith goes on to talk about how a writer can make characters distinguishable by giving each one a unique speech pattern or word choice. From there he reminds the aspiring writer that all dialogue in a novel should be necessary and should move the story forward; otherwise, it is unnecessary.

Some things are better told through narrative. Mr. Smith writes, “Use dialogue when it’s needed – when it will show relationships or reveal character or plot the way no other tool will.”


Back to Louise Harnby

Related to that last quote from Douglas W.T. Smith, is this comment Louise Harnby made in https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/writing-dialogue-and-thoughts-8-problems-and-how-to-fix-them­­­­­:  “Dialogue should be purposeful. If you’re using it to introduce information, have the characters seek answers to questions they don’t know the answers to. Unveil backstory that’s known to the speakers through the narrator, not the speech.”


Author and Writing Instructor Janice Hardy’s take on characters

Janice Hardy’s April 30, 2014 blog post, http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/04/five-ways-to-create-likable-characters.html, is titled “Five Ways to Create Likable Characters.”  This brings up a whole other aspect of characterization. As if making each character look and sound different from every other character weren’t enough, a novelist needs to make most of their characters likeable.

Ms. Hardy prefaces her list of five ways to create likable characters by cautioning writers not make the characters perfect. She says, “There’s a fine–and often moving–line between likable and perfect, which can make it difficult to create a well-balanced likable character.”

Ms. Hardy’s blog post goes into detail about how to make a character likable and how to make each character distinguishable, so please click on the link above and read her entire post if you want to learn more.


Until my next blog post

At my own risk, I’m announcing that my blog post next Monday will be a continuation of today’s. If the topic doesn’t interest you, please check in again in two weeks when I’ll write about some of the books I’ve read in February.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende while I’m partially-incapacitated with my fractured leg.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. I hope you’ll visit it every week to see what I’m up to.


Let’s continue the conversation

Do you prefer to read plot-driven novels or character-driven novels? If you’re a writer, which do you prefer to write?

Janet

Three More Books I Read in January 2020

Today’s blog post is a follow up to last Monday’s. I read six books in January and I’ve split them up between last week’s blog and today’s. I hope you’ll find a book among the six that piques your interest.


The Sins of the Father, by Jeffrey Archer

Book Two in Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Series, The Sins of the Father.

I only have myself to blame. Why I thought it was a good idea to read the second book in Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles Series before reading the first book, Only Time Will Tell, is a mystery. The Sins of the Father ended with a cliff hanger that compels me to read the third book in the series, Best Kept Secret; however, I feel even more compelled to read Only Time Will Tell next.

The Sins of the Father is based on the premise that Harry Clifton assumes the identity of another sailor during World War II. He lands in an American jail for this offense. Meanwhile, Giles Barrington is assumed to be the heir to the Barrington estate. Harry’s love, Emma Barrington, gives birth to a son whose parentage is a mystery. Harry’s parentage is also in question. Who will inherit the Barrington estate? Will the real Harry Clifton please stand up? Not in The Sins of the Father. The case of which man is the lawful inheritor of the estate goes to court, but court is adjourned in the last sentence of The Sins of the Father, without a verdict declared.

This was an enjoyable read for me. Working through my to-be-read list, I’ll eventually get to Only Time Will Tell and then to the remaining five books in the Clifton Chronicles.

Let this be a lesson for me:  Always start reading a fiction series by reading the first book in the series!


Keeping Lucy, by T. Greenwood

I must admit that I didn’t finish reading Keeping Lucy. It held much promise. The scenario is a woman gives birth in 1969 to a Down’s Syndrome infant girl. While she is recovering from a hard delivery, her husband and father-in-law secretly have the days old infant moved to a institution that “cares” for such children.

That secret arrangement goes over with the mother like a lead balloon. I enjoyed the book to that point and was eager to see what happened. Unfortunately, I stopped liking the mother. For starters, she didn’t try to see her daughter for two years. What mother would let her husband dictate that?

Spoiler alert:  when the mother finally goes to see the two-year-old daughter without telling her husband, she finds the toddler is a victim of horrendous neglect. I won’t go into the gory details, but things were really bad. The mother checks Lucy out of the institution for a long weekend but vows she will never take her back to the facility.

I was trying to forgive the mother for not visiting her daughter for two years, but instead of taking Lucy to a pediatrician or an emergency room and reporting the abuse to the authorities, she tries a home remedy to purge Lucy of the parasites with which she is infected. This is a mother who is financially very comfortable. She doesn’t take the action I think any mother would take because Lucy isn’t on the family’s health insurance policy.

That’s when I had to close the book. I was disappointed. I liked an earlier novel by T. Greenwood, Where I Lost Her. I wrote favorably about it in my May 2, 2017 blog post, “What I Read in April.” (I can’t seem to make a clickable link to that post today.) Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I read the first 14 chapters of Keeping Lucy. I really wanted to like it.


Twisted Twenty-Six, by Janet Evanovich

Years ago, I enjoyed reading the first 15 to 20 books of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Either I’ve aged out or just become bored with Stephanie Plum’s escapades. The latest books in this series just haven’t made me chuckle, much less laugh out loud like her earlier books did. I’ll probably not read the 27th book in this series.


The Broker, by John Grisham

I’ve read only 18 of John Grisham’s novels, so I’m still playing catch-up. The Broker was published in 2005, so many of you read it a long time ago.

In this suspense novel, Joel Backman is “the broker.” He has ended up in prison for hacking into a spy satellite system the US didn’t know about. After six years of incarceration, the government decides he can do them more good on the outside than in prison.

The out-going US president grants Backman a pardon hours before leaving office. Backman is whisked out of the country, where he is to live out his life in something similar to the Witness Protection Program. Notice I said “similar.”

Spoiler alert: In truth, the whole thing is a CIA setup. The bad guys track Backman down. They are supposed to kill him.


Since my last blog post

I’ve spent the last two weeks either in bed or in a chair with my leg in an immobilizer. I’ve tried reading other blogs on my tablet and leaving a few comments, but our internet service isn’t the best. Sometimes it works better than other times. It’s frustrating after being used to using the desktop computer. That’s where I am for a few minutes, so I can finish writing this post and get it scheduled to go out.


Until my next blog post

I’ll have more x-rays and see what the orthopedic doctor has to say about my fractured leg. I’m not in pain, which is an encouraging blessing. I’m growing weary of the immobilizer and not being able to put any weight on that leg. I need some patience, and I need it NOW!

I have a good caregiver, and for the foreseeable future I don’t have to cook or wash dishes. There’s the silver lining! My planned blog posts the next two weeks is about characterization in fiction. I’ve worked on these posts off and on for a while. If I can get the material pulled together and edited to my satisfaction, that’s what I’ll post on February 17 and 24. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll try to come up with something else that won’t bore you to tears.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Diane Chamberlain’s new novel, Big Lies in a Small Town.

If you’re an artist or writer, I hope you have quality work time this week.

Thank you for reading my blog. You have many demands on your time, so I appreciate your taking a few minutes to read my blog. If you like what you see, please share my blog with your friends.

Janet