Tag Archives: random musings

An Interesting Place to Visit, But… by Norm Brown

This past Saturday, my older brother and I visited our youngest brother at his current abode, a state prison facility near Bryan, Texas. He’s serving out what is hopefully the last few months of a sentence for driving under the influence. This was only the second time I had ever seen the inside of a prison. As we waited outside the automated gate in the razor wire topped fence, my mind wandered back to that first time many years ago.

I was probably a junior or senior in high school at the time. I was a member of a young men’s group that set up a visit to a state prison in Huntsville. The unit we toured was limited to convicts up to the age of twenty-one. This wasn’t one of those “scared straight” sort of programs. We weren’t “troubled” kids, but I guess our adult supervisors thought it would be good for us to see what the consequences of misbehavior could be. I suppose it was effective. So many years later, I still have quite clear memories of that tour conducted by the warden of the unit. The group entered through gates in two very high parallel fences. He pointed out the armed guard towers at the corners of the rectangular enclosure, as well as the dangerous looking large dogs (Doberman Pinchers, I believe) that lived in the space between the two fences. When one of us asked the inevitable question about escape attempts, the warden seemed to get quite a kick out of describing how would-be escapees usually were found clinging to the branches of a tree in the nearby woods, chased there by the released dogs. Once inside the facility, we toured some of the areas where inmates spent their days: the mess hall, exercise area, and locked hallways. As you might expect, these were not in use at the time. We were barely allowed to glimpse any actual prisoners. When the tour was complete, we all breathed a silent sigh of relief that we didn’t have to spend our lives in such an awful place. Mission accomplished for our adult leaders.

Yesterday, some 45 or so years later, my brother and I went through the security checks and were seated in a large visitation room at a table with two chairs on one side and one on the other. Our younger brother was escorted into the room through a metal door and seated across from us. As we talked and caught him up on family goings-on, I couldn’t help but look around and consider how different this place was from the high security prison I had toured as a teenager. Unlike the severe lockup of the other unit, this was basically a holding facility for guys who were at least close to being considered for release. My brother talked a lot about the difference between this and the prison he had recently left. As you might expect, this place, though still depressing and austere, was much less violent.

As I sat and listened to him, I couldn’t help but look around the crowded room. Every table was occupied on one side by a man wearing a white cotton shirt and pants. The place was very noisy; you couldn’t make out any actual conversations. But, unlike my previous prison tour, I saw real people rather than just bars and guns. On one side of us a prisoner lightly held his wife’s fingers across their table. Their eyes never wandered from each other. Behind my brother you could barely see the bald head of a tiny baby held in the muscular arm of a huge inmate. He was holding a bottle of milk stuffed in the baby’s mouth as he smiled and talked to the lady across from him. Trying not to appear nosy, I glanced around the full room and saw a lot of other private scenes like that. One prisoner talked animatedly to a younger version of himself–his little brother, I assumed. Quarters clattered almost constantly into the vending machines along one wall. We weren’t allowed to bring in a wallet, but could have coins. Like the other visitors we bought a soft drink for our inmate brother. In fact, he gratefully guzzled two Dr. Peppers. Normally, he’s only allowed one can drink every three weeks.

The feeling here was so different from the high security prison I had walked through so long ago. In spite of the hardships of living packed into a dorm with up to 60 other inmates, there was actually HOPE in this place. When my attention drifted back to my brother across the table, I realized he was talking about his recent efforts to secure a place in a half-way house if and when he was paroled. Like some of the others in the room, he too may get another chance at reconstructing his life later this year. It’s not a sure thing, but there is hope.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Where did the summer go??

I can tell summer is over.  Not by the falling temperatures (we hit 100 degrees in the Black Hills this past week) and not by the school supply lists which have been popping up at all the usual spots.  Rather, I know when summer is over when the quiet returns to the Hills.

The Black Hills of South Dakota are known for its beauty.  And it is beautiful.  We are also home to one of the United State’s most recognizable monuments — Mt. Rushmore.  Thousands of people visit there each year, mostly in the summer months.  The same can be said for South Dakota’s Badlands, for the Crazy Horse Monument, for Custer State Park.  All beautiful, amazing, tourist spots.

But its the lack of noise which falls like a hammer by the third week of August each year which brings home the fact that summer’s days are numbered.  The Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is my personal “final milestone” of the season.

This year was the 70th annual event and visitors came from all over the world to attend.  Can you imagine one little town of 7,000 people swelling to 500,000 almost overnight?  Or more???  Welcome to Sturgis!

Yes, the Sturgis Rally is only a week, and it takes place at the beginning of August.  When the bikers leave, however, summer seems to leave with them.

To be truthful, I’m not even sure where the summer went.  It seems like just yesterday I was bemoaning my snow-packed driveway and now it’s time to winterize the car again.

This rush of time seems prevalent in other areas of my life, as well.  I’m pretty sure it was this time last year when my daughter got on the bus for her first day of kindergarten.  She’ll be a Senior when school starts Monday.  Gone are the days of Legos and Barbie Dolls.  They have been replaced with cell phones and iPods.

I think there is a lesson in all of this — enjoy the moment.  It’s gone too soon.  Alice Morse Earle penned these famous words we should all live by: “The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”

May you enjoy the gift today will bring!

Blessings!

Nichole

Nichole R. Bennett is the author of Ghost Mountain, available on Amazon.com or secondwindpublishing.com

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INVOKING ATMOSPHERE AND EMOTIONS

Sia McKye

We all have things that make us feel good; things, which bring us, comfort, or lift our heart. Maybe it’s a snatch of song, the scent of cookies baking, watching kittens play, the sound of a baby’s delighted laugh. The first snowfall and the quiet hush of peace and beauty it brings to our heart. It’s all about atmosphere. Sometimes atmosphere is something that happens, other times it’s something we invoke.

When I’m not in the mood to do household tasks, but know it has to be done, I play music with a strong beat and rhythm. Want to set a party mood, music again. Music and scent has always been a big thing in my life. Music makes me feel good, adds energy and can reset my mood. Music is a tool I’ve used to give the atmosphere of peace and serenity after an argument or so my baby could sleep. After a stressful day out in the world I long for the comfort of home. I light my scented candles, turn on music, change into something comfortable—lounge pants, oversize shirt, a pair of soft socks or barefoot. If it’s cold and dreary, cooking special foods for dinner which call upon memories of growing up or happy times. Surround myself with cozy things to snuggle to on a cold winter’s night, a funny movie, the smell of popcorn, a down comforter, a cat in my lap, a dog at my feet, and my family around me. A plate of homemade cookies, the snap and crackle of a fire all are atmospheric things of comfort I deliberately set up in my environment.

How do you set the atmosphere in your writing? We want to show not tell, so how do you show the mood and tone surrounding your characters? Dialog will show but what do you do with your ‘scene’ that gives a clue to your atmosphere.

What makes you feel good, brings comfort, invokes happiness or laughter?
At the end of the day or the close of a long week, what does your mind leapt to that spells comfort? How do you give that to your readers? How do your characters or scene reflect that?

What sets the mood of fear or caution? What suggests anger or danger without a word being said?

What comes to mind:  Seeing a cowering dog, tail between its legs, dark clouds boiling on the horizon, circling of vultures over a copse of trees, or a house shrouded in fog on a dark night, maybe footsteps in the night behind you. The squeal of tires, crash of broken glass; what comes to mind as you approach a door and hear the screaming of obscenities and a thump against a wall.

Setting atmosphere and emotions are important in our stories. Our characters represent real life. We want to touch our readers with something they identify with. We want to touch their emotions and their memories with our writing. It’s your readers’ emotions and memories that help layer your stories and make your characters multi-dimensional.

When you need to set a particular tone or mood, what do you do to put yourself there first? Sound? Touch? Scent? How do you set your scene so your readers feel and see it, without drowning them in words?

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Finding Time for Writing

Sia McKye

“If we make it through December
Everything’s gonna be all right I know
It’s the coldest time of winter
And I shiver when I see the fallin’ snow
If we make it through December, we’ll be fine…”

Merle Haggard sang that song way back when. For a country song, I always liked it. I liked the message behind it. Tough times. Taking it a day at a time. The feeling of hope.

We’ve all made it through December. We’re renewed with the New Year. Many of us are trying to get back on track, after the busy holidays, with our writing. Now we need to make it through January. How are you getting back on track with your writing schedule? Do you have a schedule? A schedule is a must for me. Everyone’s different. There’s no right or wrong way.

For me, it’s discipline. I have to organize my time to allow for my writing time. Those days I’m not working, I write a couple of intensive hours in the morning. I treat it like a job. I have to stay focused or I lose it. If I lose it, I feel guilty because I frittered my time away. What that means is, I can’t surf the net, or take part in my on line discussions.

I’m usually up by 6:00 a.m. every morning. My son, Jake, gets up at 6:30. While I have my first cup of coffee, I catch up on my email and what’s been happening.. By the time Jake walks out the door at 7:30 a.m. to catch the school bus, my dogs have done their duties outside. I eat something; grab a second cup of coffee and by 8:00 a.m. I’m ready to write. I close out all but the MS I’m working on. I don’t answer the phone; I let the voice pick it up. I write. There’s no magic to it. It’s a matter of just sitting my butt in the chair and doing it. Just as if I went into the office to work. I take minimal breaks during that time.

Somewhere around 10-10:30, I’ll break. I may walk outside and check on my animals (I raise Great Danes and horses), start a load of clothes, figure out what I want for dinner. If I’m in a good writing groove, I’ll continue writing for another hour. I have chores to do and sometimes errands to run. I work on getting all that done mid-day. I try to nap for an hour, if I can, around 2:30 when I’m home. That way I’m refreshed for when Jake comes home by 4:00 p.m. I tend to wake up a bit out of it, so I need that 30 minutes to get into gear for snacks, homework, chatting, and the evening feedings, starting dinner. My husband is home by 5:30 so we spend time talking about our day while dinner is cooking. After dinner, it’s catching up on secular work issues and I try to get in an hour or two of writing. Depends upon work. I’ve been learning how to juggle editing and new writing. I haven’t won that battle completely, but it is getting easier.

Bottom line for me, if I don’t make the time, then my time gets squandered away and nothing is accomplished. I don’t like that feeling. I also need to be consistent. Most successful writers have to be.

How do you carve out time to write? Some work full time. Some can’t write at home but have a favorite place they can write. Some can only write on weekends, or early morning before the day starts, or late at night when the house is quiet. The point is they have to make the time.

So, what works for you?

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AS A WRITER, WHERE AND HOW ARE YOU DROPPING YOUR PEBBLES?

Sia McKye

I’m a reflective person by nature. I think about many things in life. Look for lessons and ways to make things better for me and mine. To me life is like a giant puzzle made of pebbles. Sometimes it’s comprised of hard labor. Other times, the fun is in seeing how to work all the pieces tossed at us, and make a picture of it. Don’t like those particular pieces, rearrange them. I’m also an optimist but with my feet firmly planted in reality. I know if I work at it hard enough, think it through, I’ll find a way. And so it is with my writing.

To be a writer is rather solitary. We pour our hearts and souls into our writing–our characters, our created world. They’re part of us, aren’t they? When someone rejects that, of course we feel it AND feel they’re rejecting us. On one level that’s true, but we have to learn to compartmentalize, or we’re dead in the water. We have to have tough Rhino skin or we’re not going to survive. And yeah, it sucks.

As with most of the entertainment/arts groups, publishing is a tough playing field to break into. A key element in being a success in any field, is focus, working at perfecting your skills, and believing in yourself and your abilities.

I think about authors like Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, and Catherine Coulter. They all started out with Harlequin and or Silhouette. Many curled their lips at books from Harlequin. Whether it’s a lightweight romance publisher, or POD and E-book publishers—who cares where you start, so long as you start? I believe these authors honed their story telling skills and learned what readers like and didn’t like, and built a readership base in these forums. And who are we to curl our lips, or diminish the worth of an author that makes those choices? Now, these authors are now regularly on the Best Sellers lists.

Singers start out playing local, market themselves aggressively, and get their names out there. How? Singers play for anyone that lets them sing. Bars, lounges, you name it. Actors do the same with local theater, and work their way up. They network like crazy. Are you doing that as a writer?

Pebble in the pool effect. Think about American idol. These singers are looking for shortcuts and there isn’t anything wrong with that, but even the shortcuts come with fierce competition. As authors, we do contests too, so we can relate.

What’s important here is: if the pebble isn’t first dropped into a pool of water, no ripples happen. The pebble has to be dropped more than once. It’s the same with writing. Every time you write a story, you drop a pebble and every time you query, or enter a contest, you drop another one. Every blog, writer’s conference, and joining a writing group is another pebble.

Maybe only a few of us will make it big. The truth of the matter is; it’s not solely dependent upon talent. There are lots of talented people. Sometimes chance or fate or whatever you want to call it, steps in. But, if we’re not putting forth the effort, and getting our writing, and our name out there, it can’t be offered.

There’s a quote I like and I’ll share it with you. “Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”

…or dropping the pebbles.

It’s something I think about frequently—what am I doing with my pebbles?

Am I stacking them in a pile with no work or thought given them?
Am I hoarding them in a drawer where no one can see them?
Am I allowing fear of success or failure, hold me back?

By putting our work out there, we’re on the dance floor or to continue the metaphor, dropping our pebbles.

As a writer, where and how are you dropping your pebbles?

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