Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Caught in the Rain

"It's going to rain today," my 8-year-old son said. It was 9:00 a.m. and we were walking up the hill from our house, on our way to drop him and his sister off at school.

"How do you know it will rain?" I asked, "Sometimes it's just cloudy and it doesn't rain.''

"Oh, it will rain. See, the wind is coming from that way, and there are big rain clouds over there. It will rain."

I was skeptical. Having grown up in Portland, Oregon, I'd seen a lot of rain, but I'd also seen a lot of clouds that didn't produce rain.

I gave my two kids their goodbye, have-a-nice-day hugs and continued my walk. I have been walking every weekday, going a little further each day. The city installed a nice walking/biking path not far from my home, complete with convenient mile markers so I could tell how far I actually walked. I was determined to go a full five miles.

I reached the mile marker that indicated I'd gone 2.5 miles--time to turn around and head toward home. It was going to be downhill most of the way. I smiled, knowing I was going to accomplish my goal. That's when I heard the thunder. I mentally reviewed what I knew about lightning safety, picturing the crouching position on tiptoes that was considered the safest stance in a thunder storm, hoping I won't actually have to assume that position.

I am still a good 1.5 miles from home when the first raindrop hits the ground in front of me. I hear the pattering drops on the pavement and brush around me. At first it is a soft pop here and there, like popcorn starting to heat up in the microwave. More lightning and thunder. Soon the rain falls with greater frequency and I not only see the pavement becoming more spotted, I feel the drops on my clothes. I pick up my pace.

Soon I'm jogging through a rainstorm. Ben was right, I think to myself, it was going to rain. A woman passes me, pushing a jogging stroller. We exchange smiles, knowing we'd both rather be inside our homes. I remember my cross-country runner son, now on a mission. His favorite time to run was during a rainstorm. I smile.

By the time I am about one-half mile from home, the heavens open and the rain turns into a torrent that swells rain gutters and turns my jeans heavy, wet and cold. My shirt is completely soaked and I can feel the wetness creeping into my innermost layers and I feel the rain against my flesh. That's the point when I remember Them. I remember my pioneer ancestors. I've been thinking a lot about them, as I will be spending the weekend at Martin's Cove. I wonder how they handled rainstorms. Did they keep walking? Did they crowd into their wagons? Did they shelter under trees? Did they have dry clothing to change into? I knew that as soon as I could make my way home, I would step into a warm, dry house, take warm shower and change into dry clothes. The pioneers had no such luxuries.

About 3 blocks from home the rainfall takes on a different sound. Louder. More forceful. I feel a sting on the back of my neck. Hail. Soon the hail has replaced the rain and I am being pelted with gravel-sized hailstones, each one a needle-prick on the bare skin of my neck, arms and legs. Hail hurts. My shoes make a sloshing sound as I jog; as wet inside as they are on the outside. I take temporary shelter under a tree to catch my breath, hoping the hail lets up. That's when I notice that my mascara has melted down my face and onto my white shirt, making gray streaks. I hope nobody I know sees me before I can get cleaned up.

My fast pace and the unexpected weather have taken a toll on me. I am exhausted. My breath comes in gasps, but I want to get home as quickly as possible, so I leave the tree and jog some more. As I finally round the corner to my block, I notice that the water in the gutters has reached the level of he sidewalk and is rushing like a small river. My neighbor pulls into her driveway and sees me. The water has run down my face into my eyes, coating my contacts and making it hard to see. I blink and smile at her. She says something like, "Oh, you're out in this mess. Get inside. Hurry." Yeah. I finally reach my front porch and lean against the side of the house, panting, dripping, shivering. My son was watching for me. He brings me a towel. It is good to be home.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

ANWA Meeting Notes

We had our local ANWA (American Night Writers' Association) meeting last Thursday at Kari Pike's house. I went with some amount of nervousness because I had made copies of a few pages of my writing that I wanted my group to critique. It was my first time and I was fearful of what might be said about my writing.

The lesson was presented by--okay, I'm really bad with names, so I might have this wrong--Gail, who had attended a writing conference by Orson Scott Card. I love these kind of reports because so often I can't go to these conferences. One idea was to ask "what else" when you get stuck in a story. You can even ask other people to help you decide "what else." You might get some great ideas that hadn't occurred to you, but takes your tale in a new, exciting direction.

Other tips were things to avoid having your reader say: "Oh yeah?" - make it believable; "So what?" - make the reader care about your characters; and "Huh?" - make it clear. Even if you already explained it before, if your readers aren't getting it, you need to explain it again or explain it better.

I was talking to my Mom last week about the "oh yeah?" factor of writing. She is heavy into family history research and has been for years. She has seen many amazing miracles happen in the course of her research. She made the comment that truth is stranger than fiction. I told her that not only is it stranger, but the same experience, if written in fiction would not be believable and would make for bad fiction. Instead of "how amazing," the reader would say something more like, "Sure, like that would really happen." It means fiction writers must walk a fine line between making something unique and interesting without making it unbelievable.

The last part of Gail's presentation was a strategy she picked up from a class at the University of Utah. She called it "Steal a Plot." I think I'd call it "Borrow a Plot," but the result is the same. She recommended changing a plot idea until it is no longer recognizable, plugging in your own characters, location, etc. She said that she uses this technique in scenes too, where she wants to show a certain character trait. She will think of a scene from the scriptures or historical sources that show that character trait and borrow the scene into her own work. She had us practice writing a plot summary from a favorite movie, then tell how we might change it to use it in a novel. It was a fun exercise--go try it!

After the lesson, it was time to critique members' work. I was the only one that night who brought something to be read, which added to my nervousness. I passed around copies of my print-outs and read it aloud. And, I am happy to report, I survived! It wasn't as painful as I'd feared. In fact, I got some wonderful suggestions and some mistakes were pointed out that I really should have known better than to make, but didn't see. This was all done gently and encouragingly. The group showed great interest in my story and seemed excited to hear more of it. What a relief! I went through my first critique session and I did okay. I am really glad I did it, and I will be much less fearful next time.