Dead Bodies . . . what to do with them?

In my current work-in-progress, someone dies (shocking, I know). The novel was inspired by something that happened when I was a kid of about 12. We were on a family vacation in Salida, Colorado staying at a quaint little “guest ranch” just this side of Monarch Pass. The towering Fourteeners all around us were awe-inspiring, but what I really remember were the sheer drops as we drove up into those mountains. At one point, my mom started talking to one of the locals about how easy it would be to drive right off the edge of the mountain and someone said something about a mangled guardrail. The local told us about a woman who had driven her car off the road in the middle of a snowstorm. She said the car was still down there, at the bottom of the ravine. Said it was too dangerous to try to retrieve her body. That has always stuck with me. Very much made an impression on me.

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Although that was an interesting story, writing my novel required research. I went on a ride along with a police officer and asked questions about how the officers would react if a woman were found standing on the side of a road, where another individual appeared to have gone over the edge. If you are writing about crime, I encourage you to go on a ride along. Most departments will allow you to do so, and it’s a fairly simple matter to apply. You will likely have to pass a background check. Before you go on the ride along, do a little research. There are lots of resources, but I recommend the article at PoliceLink, which you can find here.

I have only been involved with planning a funeral once, so I did a little research about funeral directors. YouTube is a great research tool for writers. I ran across an interesting short documentary (For Life) which gave me ideas for dialogue and action. If you use YouTube for research, look for documentaries or first person reviews.

Another part of my story that required research related to death was that the body isn’t recovered. That brings up some interesting questions, about how the individual is declared legally dead (this is known as death in absentia). In Missouri, this is a statutory question and requires that the person be missing for five years. If you have legal questions, you can usually check the Revised Statutes for your state. These can also give you ideas for plots. For instance, Missouri laws cover details like the definition of dead (think medical thriller) and disposing of the body (what if a funeral director cut corners to save costs?).

So, now you know how I spend my free time. :o) What have you researched lately?

Hallucinations . . . (It’s Not a Tumor) (editor’s note: read with a heavy Austrian accent)

ImageEarlier this week, I awoke in the early morning hours to see a body hanging from the ceiling, head down, arms outstretched. The head was about 6″ above my nightstand. I’m pretty sure he was dead. I turned my head away, telling myself, “It’s not real. It’s not real.” Turned back to see if the body was still there.

It was.

So I rolled back over and closed my eyes tight, again telling myself “It’s not real.” I repeated that until I finally fell back asleep. When I awoke, the body was gone.

WHEW.

Back to sleep. Woke up again and there it was again. Exact same place, hanging the same way.

Now, a writer I look up to and try to learn from (Holly Lisle) recently sent an email saying that writers should question everything. We should ask why.

So, following that train of thought, I wanted to know WHY I saw a dead body hanging beside my bed. Especially upside down. Clear as day, while I was awake. I did what all good researchers do, and typed it into Google “what causes hallucinations”.

Well, my friend, that probably wasn’t a smart thing to do. Because now I suspect that I either have psychosis, dementia, or a tumor. If you don’t believe me, read THIS for yourself. Of course, it could be something like a migraine or a sleep disturbance. I just have to keep telling myself, it’s not a tumor!

Have you ever had a hallucination? If so, what?

Facebook: Is it the work of an evil genius?

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Facebook: Is it the work of an evil genius?

For years, I stressed to my stepdaughter and daughter the importance of protecting their online identities, and not giving too much personal information to strangers. Then Facebook came along and everyone threw that fear out the window. We now willingly announce our relationship status, our location and what we’re doing every day. Even if you have your privacy settings to allow just friends to know what you’re doing – how well do you know your friends? What about that guy that you went to high school with? The girl that moved away in sixth grade? Facebook has become integrated into our lives so completely that many feel disconnected if they aren’t on. Is it more than social media? What is the next step? A chip implanted that automatically tracks us and updates our location? What about a map instead of a wall, that constantly tracks you and your friends and shows you where each of you are in relation to others? What if it was used by governments? Employers? Stalkers? Serial killers?

The Cure for Cancer

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The Cure for Cancer

The novel I am currently working on involves a researcher who believes he has found the cure for cancer. It is always interesting to see how things make the news once a story idea is swirling around in my brain. Perhaps I just notice them now. My brain is receptive to those ideas. In my novel, the researcher works for a private foundation where testing isn’t quite as controlled and careful as one would hope. Although this speeds up his research, the results can be disastrous . . . for him as well as his wife, it turns out. Professor Hawthorne (click the link above) is much more respectable than my character, and I wish him all the best in his continued research at the University of Missouri.

Super Virus?

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Super Virus?

Click up (^) there to go see the Mail article. Another Briton has died from a virus that scientists say may be worse than SARS. For years I’ve been fascinated with the idea of a super virus. From the days of throwing dead cows over castle walls, humans have been taking advantage of the mean side of Mother Nature to destroy their enemies. This new virus has me wondering – did Mother Nature create this? Or did we?

The Case Against Conceal & Carry

ImageDH & I spent Saturday together. It was a bit dreary, a dark and gray day. We started the day pleasantly enough, with pancakes at IHOP, and then attended Active Shooter training compliments of the local police department. Now, those of you who know me know that I enjoy shooting. I grew up around guns, and have a little Walther P22. Great gun for plinking cans in the back yard and, if push came to shove, I could at least wound an intruder or make him reconsider his choice to continue or back off. The Active Shooter training was good, and offered some great tips for those of us who do not carry concealed. I don’t carry – have taken the class, but haven’t gone to get my license yet. My husband and I continued our day with a tour of antique stores and flea markets, finding all sorts of little treasures (a Munchkin Zombie Sherpa! WOOT!) and finally stopped at Dairy Queen in a little town to grab a bite to eat. And that’s when the day turned for me. I was already getting grouchy because I was tired and hungry. As we sat waiting, a group of six local boys was loudly discussing their various exploits. (what do you call a group of idiots? A gaggle? A crowd? A herd? How ’bout a noose?) One was talking about working for the fire department. So these weren’t just teenage punks. These were older teens or early twenties. One described popping over a hill and finding a bunch of turkeys in the road, so he floored it and – BOOM – feathers flew everywhere! He used the f-word about every third word. All laughed hysterically, then began describing other birds they’d hit. A rooster, among others.

At that point, I turned to my husband and said, “And that is why I do not carry concealed.”

Can you imagine? I could be with a group of friends and proclaim, “I went into this DQ and there was a bunch of rednecks sitting right there, so I went at them and – BOOM – hats and chew and belt buckles everywhere!”

(NOTE: I have nothing against rednecks. And there really should be a different word for backwoods country idiots like these guys. And to top it off, these guys thought they were really impressing the girls working there. They didn’t. As soon as they walked out the door, the girls were laughing at them. And I do hope that Karma is real.)

Recovering a Sense of Safety

Working through The Artist’s Way is often helpful for me. As I’ve mentioned before, I am about to become an empty nester. Given that, I am feeling the need to prepare . . . and part of that preparation is nurturing my Inner Artist. If you have read Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, you know that the first week is about recovering a sense of safety. This is the beginning of a journey of artistic exploration and release. I am excited – I am really looking forward to releasing the creativity. I feel like my muse is deep inside me, covered with sludge, struggling to make her way to my shoulder so she can whisper in my ear.  What are you feeling?

One of Julia’s conversations in this chapter discusses Shadow Artists. Look at your own life – this may be your situation. Many people who are artistic don’t receive the encouragement they need as children, so they follow a safer path. They are caught between dream and reality in a shadow world, on the fringes of the artistic world they yearn for – but aren’t quite brave enough to strive for. I am a paralegal by day, so I don’t think I quite fit that pattern. I certainly thought along those lines though – when I was in high school, trying to decide what to do with my life, I planned to be an English teacher. Later, I decided to be a school librarian. Then life happened and things changed and, well, eventually I ended up as a paralegal by day and writing in my spare time. So, though I don’t consider myself a Shadow Artist, I did meander down that path in my younger years. There are times I’m still tempted, though . . . think how easy it would be to “become” a book editor for others who want to self-publish books. And I do wonder if my forays into non-fiction (for paralegals and weapons accessories) are the work of my Shadow Artist.

Another thing that we creative types have in common is the need to protect our inner artist. S/He is a child that needs to be nurtured and protected. Please recognize that this is a learning/growing process. Picasso did not create a masterpiece the first time he picked up his brush, and Stephen King wasn’t an instant success the day he first wrote words on a page. Give yourself permission to explore. Through exploration, you will eventually find what you are searching for. My favorite quote of Julia’s is her answer to the question”But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really” write? Her answer: “Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don’t.

So, let’s start now. Think about those dark, negative beliefs that hide inside you. These are at the core of your creative block. We need to uncover those dark beliefs so that we can deal with them and get rid of them. It’d be nice if we had a delete key, but we don’t. So, how do we get rid of that negativity? First, recognize that just because you hear them in your mind doesn’t mean they are true. They came to us from society, our parents, our friends . . . but that doesn’t make them true. I want you to take each negative, and turn it into a positive. For instance, one of my negatives is that “I don’t have good enough ideas.” My positive is this: “I have many good ideas.” Put a positive spin on that nagging negative voice. We usually remember the negative and forget the positive – I challenge you to pay attention to those positives. Make an effort to remember them.

Easy for me to say, right? Actually, it’s easy for you to say, too. I want you to work with positive affirmations. They really are powerful. There are lots of affirmations out there – find something that works for you. Here are a couple of mine: “I am a creative person.” “I write every day, whether I am motivated or not.” Use these affirmations and positive thoughts to get past those negative thoughts that your Inner Censor blurts out.

And now, it’s time for you to work on some tasks to recover your own sense of safety. I’ll work on these this week, too, and may share them with you later:

1.   Time Travel – list 3 old enemies of your creative self-worth. Be specific – these monsters are the basis of your negative beliefs.

2.   Time Travel – list 3 champions of your creative self worth.

3.   Imaginary Lives – If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them?

IMPERFECTION

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For the last couple of years, I’ve chosen a theme. 2012 was the Year of Imperfection. I decided that what was important was making forward progress, whether or not the action was perfect. My focus on perfection became obvious to me when I began using Flylady as my online personal coach. Perfection was absolutely paralyzing. It still is, if I let it. I often refuse to take action because I cannot do it perfectly. There are so many things I’d like to do, but I don’t have what I think I need to do it, so I do nothing. I won’t bore you with it – if you want to read more, Flylady speaks of it much more eloquently than I can. So, 2012 was the Year of Imperfection. It was an exercise in learning to do what I can. For instance, my BFF had sent me Eureka on DVD when I had surgery – in 2011. I started a thank you card to her, but didn’t have the brad or the ribbon that I had in mind, so the card sat on my desk in my scraproom for AGES. In 2012, I sealed it up and sent it. Months late, but I sent it. Imperfect, but done. Embracing Imperfection also allowed me to submit writing to agents, editors and contests. And I did okay. One of my short stories was even published in The Storyteller Magazine!

So, the Year of Imperfection has drawn to a close and 2013 is here. What will this year’s theme be? I have a couple of thoughts:  Transition . . . Letting Go . . . Growth . . . Mind, Body, Spirit . . . Minimalist . . .

How about you? Do you have a theme for the year? Any suggestions for a good theme?

Take Care of You

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What is it about us, as women, that makes us think we have to do everything? Is it learned behavior, or is it in our genes? I, like many women, have many roles to fill. Who am I? I am a mother, a wife, a stepmother, a daughter, a sister, a co-worker, an employee, a paralegal, a writer . . . and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

The struggle to balance those roles is just that – a struggle. I would not get through the day if I didn’t have a game plan. I’m a bit of a control freak, I’ve been told (and you may notice a bit of that in my main characters – that’s a piece of me in them). I don’t deny it (though my philosophy with most things is deny! deny! deny!), I try to work with it. I start each day with a plan. Personally, I swear by my Franklin Planner. My life is in that book. My first boss out of college, Virginia Stewart, was a good influence on me. She trusted me, she taught me, she encouraged me. She let me take time off work to attend classes towards my masters degree, and other classes that were simply meant for self-improvement. One of the classes she sent me to was the Franklin time-management one-day seminar, and she bought me a binder, the first year’s filler, and a storage binder. That’s something that made a truly lasting impression on me – that she thought enough of me, a lowly young secretary, to invest in me like that. I should track her down and write her a thank you.

OK, so now you know my method of management. A couple of years ago I tried something different – divided each day into three sections – work, family and personal. I think it is important to realize that these three facets of your life work together, and mesh with each other, to form a total picture. One cannot exist without the other, at least in my life. My work is what keeps a roof over my head and food on the table. My family is, well, my family – the most important facet of my life. Separating them in my planner didn’t really work. There is too much overflow and overlap. So, I’m going back to the traditional planner with a daily task list. Maybe I’ll try something different for home, though.

My personal life has somehow been glossed over for the past several years or so (well, until 2005). My daughter is now 17. She’ll graduate this spring and will soon be off on the grand journey called College. She no longer requires my constant attention. I should be able to carve out enough time to have a personal life, to explore my own wants, desires and needs. To be honest, I am a better parent and a better wife when I allow myself that time. Yesterday, I was ready for Christmas to be over, to have time to myself. While my DH snoozed on the couch and watched Cowboys for Christmas, I played in my scraproom. It was WONDERFUL. I felt so refreshed afterwards.

So, you may ask, why do I suddenly feel this need to carve out personal time? To allow myself that luxury? A pivotal moment in my life occurred on February 28, 2003. My best friend died of cancer. She was 35 years old, with a loving husband and two wonderful children. We were best friends in high school, when we talked for hours on the telephone, cruised the loop together in her mom’s yellow Mustang, and double dated. We got dressed up for Prom together, and cried on each other’s shoulders when things didn’t work out with a boyfriend. We thought we had the rest of our lives to do . . . whatever. Anything. Everything. Then one day she had a routine mammogram, and the results weren’t good. She called me, and I helped her walk down the hallway of the hospital after her masectomy. She didn’t look good then, but the chemo and radiation seemed to work. A couple of years later, she attended a breast cancer survivor seminar/luncheon with me, and I thought she would make it. Less than six months later, she was dead.

You never know when your time will be up. You have to do it – whatever “it” is – now. For me, writing is important. It is my legacy for my daughter. One day, I want her to read my work and be proud that I am her mother.

Most important takeaway: Don’t put off the good stuff until tomorrow.

Artist’s Date

Like many of you, the events of last Friday have weighed heavily on my mind. I just could not bring myself to post, and so I didn’t. One of these days, perhaps I will share my thoughts. But for now, I need to turn my mind elsewhere. I find myself in need of an Artist’s Date, and think I need to plan one very soon.

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One very important part of doing the Artist’s Way is the Artist Date. This is one to two hours a week, which you spend by yourself – this is a very special time just for you. No kids, no husbands, no friends. Just you and your Inner Artist. We tend to get so caught up in life that we just don’t take time to nourish the creative soul that is hidden deep inside us. This is your excuse – it’s your assignment, so it officially needs added to your to-do list.  I don’t care how important you are, I don’t care how busy you are. If you want to do this and be successful, you need to do it all the way. Think of it this way – you are refilling the well. You have a deep well of creative ideas which you draw on when you write, but if you keep dipping a bucket of creative ideas out each day, you are eventually going to run the well dry. Not a good thing. You want your well to be full of FRESH creative ideas. If you hole up in your home or office and spend your free time writing (which, let’s face it, many writers think they have to do), your writing loses its freshness. I know you are busy. So am I. But if you want to be a SUCCESSFUL writer (or artist, or photographer, or sculptor, whatever), you have to get out there and experience life.

I’m not asking you to spend a lot of money here. I’m a struggling writer, myself. All I ask is that you get out your day planner or calendar, and mark out 2 hours for you to take your Inner Artist on a date. Do it today – don’t put this off. Give some thought to what you might want to do. You could go to a movie, visit a museum, take a class, go for a walk, go for a bike ride, take a bubble bath, spend a couple of hours in the salon being pampered. Whatever you do, it should take you outside your normal weekly path. Do something different, something to pamper yourself and stimulate your creativity.

If you need more ideas, just let me know and I’ll send you my Artist Date handout of ideas. And comment below – tell me and the others your ideas for dates.