Dying too young…

On a recent Saturday morning, I noticed a post on our neighborhood community board that my neighbor’s son was missing. He is a high school senior and had gone out with friends the previous evening to a restaurant to celebrate a friend’s birthday but didn’t come home.

Now, I am an author and have quite a good imagination, but I can’t even fathom the panic his parents must be feeling. (Even if I thought I could imagine it, I am sure the actual feeling is a hundred times worse.) It is every parents’ worse nightmare. He wasn’t answering his phone and none of his friends knew where he was. They had left at 10:30 p.m. – each in their own cars – to go home.

Even though we live in the eighth largest city in the United States, the surrounding neighborhoods are a pretty tight knit group. A photo of Kyle and his car were quickly posted on the community board as well as Facebook where everyone was sharing it to get the word out that Kyle was missing.

I’ve known this neighbor for many years but since we live several streets apart and our kids are different ages, we only see each other occasionally. When his children were younger (and mine mere babies), his wife was on our homeowner association’s activity committee with me. But I didn’t feel comfortable being in the group of neighbors and friends who gathered at their house to show their support.

In fact, my husband and I talked about it. If I was in their situation, I don’t know that I would want a huge crowd around. We both felt the same when another neighbor’s granddaughter drowned in their pool. Many people gathered at the hospital, but we felt that it would have been overwhelming or possibly distracting to the family. (She survived and is doing fine.)

So, we stayed up-to-date by texts (with friends who were with the family) and the occasional update post on Facebook. All day Saturday there was no word. The police were involved in the search. There was no note saying he ran away or was suicidal. There was no activity on his debt card, but the family couldn’t get his cell phone company to help them access the location of his cellphone. They even called in a private investigator to help.

I woke up Sunday to find Kyle was still missing. Then around noon, a jogger found his car at the bottom of a 20-foot deep drainage ditch. The wreck couldn’t be seen from the road. This was a road by the high school and one that Kyle probably had driven hundreds of time. Whether he was speeding and just lost control or was distracted by a text on his cellphone, we do not know at this point. And while this was not the result any of us wanted, after 36 agonizing hours, his parents at least knew what happened to him.

And as you would expect, his parents are crushed. Kyle was just seventeen, looking forward to high school graduation and had already enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He loved knife smithing and was involved in his church youth group and in mission work with his church. From the stories other tell, he was an exceptional young man and will be sorely missed.

I’ve tried to put myself in his parents’ place. I’ve tried to imagine not seeing my son again, to see his room but know he will never be there again, to never see his smiling face or hear his laugh. And it is impossible to imagine and something I hope I don’t have to deal with for many, many years. But the problem is you never know when a tragedy like this will happen. We never know when we say goodbye to someone if it will be for the last time.

And while I still have a few years before Jase is driving and I have to worry about car accidents, there are so many other dangers, ones you cannot even imagine, out there. The same weekend Kyle died there was a news article online about a 12-year-old girl who had a snow fort collapse on her, killing her. I remember reading once about a child who stepped onto the end of a bike rack that wasn’t secured properly to the ground. It flipped over, killing the child.

We can’t shelter and protect our children or loved ones all the time. But a death like Kyle’s reminds me to hug my kids a little tighter and give them one more kiss or “I love you” before they leave for school. I employ everyone to appreciate their friends and family now and hope that you have many more days together.

Super Easy, Barely an Inconvenience

Six years ago, I wrote about the question why and how it can improve your storytelling. As in why are your characters doing this? Why are they going here? Why would he do/say/think that? (You can read that post here.)

These are routine questions that my husband asks as he reads drafts of my novel. And while his questions are sometimes annoying, they do make my story better. And they have changed how I write because as I write, I am already looking for what scenes he is going to question.

Another way to get good at questioning the character motivation/action or plot of your work-in-progress is to check out the Pitch Meetings on the Screen Rant YouTube Channel. In this series by Ryan George, a pitchman (Ryan) presents movies to a studio executive (also played by Ryan). The movies may be current or slightly older, but either way studio exec Ryan questions and points out flaws.

When asked to explain a flaw, our pitchman sometimes answers “I don’t know,” “because,” or “because they are (or aren’t) the main character.” And sometimes a plot flaw is brushed away because it is “super easy, barely an inconvenience.”

Check out this section of the “Jurassic World Pitch Meeting.”

This “super easy, barely an inconvenience” thing happens a lot. I was watching Criminal Minds the other day. The agents opened a closet to reveal a bunch of boxes containing old records. They needed to find an old patient who may be the unsub (bad guy). Did it take them long? No, it was super easy, barely an inconvenience as they opened one box and found the file right away. I know TV shows are under a time constraint but it wouldn’t have been hard or time consuming to show their search taking longer.

Here are two other short clips that show a movie’s flaw. The first is from Captain America: Winter Soldier.

If you really want a good Pitch Meeting with lots of flaws. Check out the one for Ready Player One. (The book was better than the movie and didn’t contain a lot of the flaw that the movie did.) Here is just a snippet of the Pitch Meeting.

So, don’t take the easy way out. Give your characters challenges. And make them work for their goal. Question everything they do because your readers sure will. Rarely do people do something without a reason. And yes, that reason may only make sense to them but at least there needs to be a reason beyond it is what you (the author) want for the story. Always, look for the flaws in your story and answer the question “why” and you will add realism and believability of your story.

Lexie competes in the school Spelling Bee

“This word has a near homonym. It is an adjective meaning having or revealing natural creative skill. The word is artistic.”

And so began the spelling bee. Last week, I found myself sitting in the cafeteria of my daughter’s elementary school watching 19 fourth and fifth graders square off to find out who was the best speller.

Before I go into how the spelling bee went for Lexie, let’s see how she got there. Back at the beginning of November, Lexie brought home a list of words and announced she wanted to try out for the spelling bee. The test would be in a few weeks.

Lexie is a good speller. I guess she gets that from her Gramme as none of the rest of us are that good at spelling. I am the type of person that needs to write something down, so I am not good for a spelling bee.

Lexie studied the list of words and took her test. And scored high enough to be one of the 20 students who would participate in the school spelling bee. Now, I don’t know the number of kids who tried out but there are 225 fourth and fifth graders at her school, so to be one of the selected few was an awesome achievement.

After I signed her permission slip – which also warned us that the winner of the spelling bee was required to be available to participate in the citywide spelling bee in March – we received a more extensive list of words that ranged from easy words like maze and soggy to harder words like mockingly and ambuscade.

We began studying. I was surprised Lexie was so into preparing for this. We practiced a few times a week and then over winter break when the kids were off for 2 weeks we began practicing daily.

And as the spelling bee approached, Lexie began to get nervous. She would be spelling in front of half the school (third through fifth grade attends the spelling bee). What if she was the first one out? What if she got out for misspelling an easy word? What if her classmates teased her for getting knocked out of the spelling bee?

I told her that nineteen of those kids would be knocked out. There could only be one winner. And sometimes you get knocked out by messing up on what others might consider an easy word. But she shouldn’t focus on that. She had gotten in the spelling bee. She was one of 20 to compete and that was more than her classmates could say.

On the day of the spelling bee, Lexie was still nervous. And I am sure seeing the crowd did nothing to calm her. She was the last speller – number 19. (One of the 20 chosen students didn’t turn in the permission slip.) Finally, it was her turn to spell. Her word was “scratched.”

After asking for the definition and to hear the word in a sentence, Lexie began to spell.

“S-C-R-A-T-C-H”

And there she stopped. I kept waiting for her to add the “E-D” but she didn’t. And then bing, the bell rang letting her know she had misspelled the word and she was out of the spelling bee in the first round. Ugh. I felt bad for her. Not only was her fear of making a mistake in the spelling bee coming true but she was the first one out.

During a break, I went to see her. She was in tears. I comforted her and so did one of her friends. Lexie didn’t realize that she got knocked out for forgetting two letters. I pointed out that another contestant also met the same fate by spelling swivel instead of swiveled.

Eighteen rounds later, the spelling bee was finally over and a fourth-grader stood as champion. Lexie received a special spirit stick for competing. And to her astonishment, her classmates all congratulated her for competing. An hour after she was knocked out, they had forgotten all about who got knocked out when. They were just happy to be done with sitting on the cafeteria floor.

And now that the spelling bee is over, we are looking forward to this coming weekend where Lexie competes in the First Lego League competition. Lexie was one of 10 students out of the 20 in her robotics club chosen to represent her school in this robotics competition. I hope this one has a better outcome, but regardless of how her group does, I am proud of her.

Hashtags for Authors (updated)

In 2013, I made list of Hashtags for Authors. Three years later, I updated the list. Well, here it is again and once again I have updated the list, checking to make sure each one is still in use and adding a few new ones.

hashtagFor those of you who use Twitter, you are probably already familiar with the idea of hashtags. These are keywords prefixed with a hash or “pound” (#) symbol. They help categorize your tweets and help others easily find tweets about similar subjects.

Used correctly, Twitter hashtags are one of the best ways to connect with readers, industry experts, and other authors.

The use of relevant hashtags increases the likelihood that others will see your post and become a follower. It is a great way to engage a particular community of Twitter users.

The following is a list of some of the hashtags for authors or writers. Most are self-explanatory. If you use any that I missed, please leave them in the comment section and I will add them to the list.

For when you are writing

#amwriting – comments from other authors

#amwritingfiction

#amwritingfantasy

#amwritingscifi

#amwritingromance

#amediting – comments from those in the editing stage

#amrevising – comments from those revising their work

#amreading

#amreadingromance

#editing

#proofreading

#reading

#readingforpleasure

#storytelling

#WIP – work in progress

#writing

#writingtips or #writetip – writing tips from other authors and editors

#writerwednesday – or more often #WW- used to give a shout-out to writers or suggest authors to follow. (#WW also is used by some Weight-Watchers)

General book/writing

#Amazon

#author or #authors

#book or #books

#bookWorm

#ebook or #eBooks

#fiction

#iBooks

#iTunes

#KDP – for Kindle Direct Publishing

#kindle

#KindleBooks

#kindleUnlimited

#Kobo or #kobobooks

#Nook or #NookBook

#novel or #novels

#selfpublishing or #selfpub

#Smashwords

#writer or #writers

Genre-specific

#adventure

#ChickLit

#Childrensfiction

#christfic

#ChristianBooks

#Christianromance

#cookbooks (could also use #food – #cooking – #recipes or such if promoting a cookbook)

#crime or #crimefiction

#DarkFantasy

#Dystopian

#EpicFantasy

#Erotica

#fantasy

#histfic or #historicalfiction or #HistNovel – used for historical fiction

#horror

#humor

#kidlit

#litfic – literary fiction

#mystery

#mysterywriter

#nonfiction

#paranormal

#paranormalromance

#poetry

#romance

#romanticSuspense

#scifi or #ScienceFiction

#short or #shortstory or #shortstories

#specfic – speculative fiction

#suspense

#thriller or #Thrillers

#TrueStory

#womensfiction

#YA – young adult (or #youngadult)

#YAfiction

#YAfantasy

#YAlit

For promotions

#99cent or #99cents or #99c

#authorinterview

#authorRT

#blogtour or #virtualbooktour

#bookbuzz

#bookgiveaway

#bookreview

#excerpt

#fictionFriday

#Fridayreads – promoting what book you are currently reading

#free

#freebook

#FreeDownload

#freeebook

#FreeReads

#giveaway

#Goodreads – relates to the site Goodreads and its followers

#IndieThursday

#interview or #interviews

#kindledeals

#newrelease

#SampleSunday – offering a link to an excerpt or sample of your work

#teaserTuesday Or #TeaserTues- usually a line from your novel and a link to a sample

#WW or #WriterWednesday

Other

#author or #authors

#blurb

#booklover

#bookmarketing

#buyindie

#ereaders

#GreatReads

#novellines or #novelines – when quoting a line from your (or someone else’s) novel

#ff – stands for “follow Friday” where other writers share people to follow (also used by many non-writers)

#indieauthor or #indieauthors

#indie

#indiebook or #indiebooks

#indieThursday

#IndiePub or #IndiePublishing

#mustread

#pubtip – tips on publishing

#readers