The Day After the Storm

After our second night on the floor Irma had blown through Ocala as a Category 1 hurricane. It was very early when people started getting up and packing their things. Our classroom was interior with no windows and no power so it was very dark, but some came prepared with battery-powered lanterns and flashlights. Some used their cell phones to illuminate their way. In a matter of a couple of hours we were a few of the last people in the building. We couldn’t leave because we needed gas to go home.

We asked the police officer in the registration office and he told us gas was waiting on the Port of Tampa to open, they were bringing in fuel on tankers, but the winds had to fall below a certain level before they would open again. So we were pretty much stuck.

We had breakfast. We left our dungeon-like room for a exterior classroom with windows. Then we heard from the staff that they were consolidating everyone left in the cafeteria. We shuddered when we thought of the linoleum floor and our one blanket.

The power was still out but in the afternoon they got the generator working in the cafeteria and there was air conditioning once again. Both Kosta and I were beginning to crash hard–two nights on the unyielding floor with noisy neighbors left us sleep-deprived and longing for our bed. It was a long day of doing very little. I was too tired and distracted to read, and I ended up sitting and watching people while Kosta read my novel on his computer.

And then at dinner they made the announcement: due to the reopening of the high school on Wednesday, they were transferring all the remaining folks to a temporary shelter at Central Florida College.  Since we had a car and didn’t have to wait for the bus we jumped on it to get a choice spot of floor at the new place.

We were the second to arrive. We were shown to a large conference room that, mercifully, had air conditioning. There was a stage jutting out into the room and we found a tidy corner tucked behind it. We spread out our bedding and found that when we sat down we were quite hidden from the rest of the room. It was a nice as sleeping on a concrete floor in a roomful of strangers could be.

The Salvation Army gave us a hot meal and some reading material about Jesus. I was so grateful for the former I didn’t mind the latter at all. I looked around and saw a lot of people with nowhere to go. I knew that when we got gas again we would be on our way and how lucky we were to be in that position.

We settled down to sleep and groaned as our bruised tailbones hit the floor. It was a long night–well, not really–it just felt long. We were up before the dawn and out on our way to find gas before most of the rest had even rolled over in their sleep.

Post Hurricane Irma news: My agent and I have agreed the the book is ready to be submitted to publishers and he is shopping it around now! I am excited and terrified. It was so much work–a labor of love, to be sure–but it was a long time coming. I am ready for the next step up in the game.

Finger crossed for me, please!

 

Shelter Me

Kosta and our little patch of floor.

We got to “bed” on our patch of floor near to midnight. But in our haste to flee we had no pillows, no blankets, nothing but our suitcase, computer bags, and some food and water. We did have two bath towels from the car, and we rolled those up to use as pillows. The lights were on in our room as folks were still coming in. But we lay down and tried our best to be comfortable.

The floor was poured concrete with just the thinnest skimming of industrial carpet and before long our backs, hips and shoulders protested. Our necks twisted painfully under the towels. At 1:30 the lights went out. But some jackass was watching Pulp Fiction on an iPad without headphones and the sounds of gunshots thudded through me. I was already strung as tightly as possible and squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for it to end.

Finally, all was quiet, but getting cold. I had not packed wisely. I grabbed three t-shirts, but nothing with long sleeves. I at least had long pants but the air conditioning was over-efficient and we both were starting to shiver. But then a flashlight appeared out of the darkness and some angel came towards us with a blanket. “Here,” she said, “do you want this? I noticed when you came in you didn’t have any bedding.”

We gratefully pulled the blanket over us, snuggled together as best we could, and finally were able to sleep.

In the morning we got in line for breakfast. The cafeteria had scores more of folks sheltering on the floor, demarcated areas with painter’s tape marking their little rectangles of personal space. Everyone looked like something out of The Walking Dead–glassy eyes, shambling gaits as they waited in line for food.

Waiting for breakfast in the cafeteria.

The storm still hadn’t hit that far upstate so we ate outside on picnic tables. I think we had food they normally serve high school students. If that is the case, we need to do better as a country at feeding our kids. The food was edible, but highly processed and tasteless. Don’t get me wrong though, I was damn grateful that we didn’t have to feed ourselves solely from the snacks we brought with us. Popcorn doesn’t fill a belly like toast with sausage and cheese.

The day was long and uneventful. We watched as much storm coverage on my phone as we could. My breath hitched as I watched the eye of Irma move directly over Naples on the radar–my house right underneath it. We talked a lot about what we would do if our house was destroyed. Mostly, we were trying to mentally prepare for the idea that we would have nothing to come home to. But my parents, the cats, and Kosta and I all had our lives. The rest could all be rebuilt if need be.

I was able to talk to my parents and found they had fared somewhat better at the special needs shelter. They had both been given cots, Mom even had a mattress. They didn’t have blankets but they had brought their pillows so they were able to sleep in reasonable comfort.

The day was an interminable wait, our nerves stretched tight. I tried to read but our neighbors made it nearly impossible. The room was filled with screaming kids, people watching movies on their phones with the volume turned up, and lots of loud talking, one woman in particular shouting at her toddler every few minutes with a voice like a bullhorn. We sat quietly in our corner and tried to block it all out.

That night some jackass tried to invite the entire shelter to our classroom for a dance party. He went so far as to go to the office and ask if there was an intercom system that he could use to tell people about it. Then he put on some music and tried to coerce everyone into dancing. The only takers he had were the kids in our room, bursting with unspent energy.

Then Mr. Dance Party got sullen. He got on his phone and started talking to a friend loudly how we were all useless and just “waiting to die.” I ignored him and kept my nose stuck in my book. Finally he shut up.

The light were out by 11:30 and things quieted down for the night. But then at about midnight we all heard the power die as the air conditioning ground to a halt. The faint howl of the wind could be heard through the bunker-like walls and ceiling. Kosta and I held each other and tried to sleep.

 

The Calm Before the Storm

The house we left behind.

We just went through a hurricane. Irma barrelled through Naples just a week ago and heavens did we have an adventure. Things are still not back to normal but they are getting there.

But let me start at the beginning. Last Saturday we were all prepared for the hurricane. The storm shutters were up and my parents had moved in to weather the storm with us.  We had food and water and were as prepared as we could be.

Then we looked at the storm surge map on NOAA.gov.

They were predicting that we could have 6-11 feet of flooding. Six feet of water is taller than I am by a good stretch. After seeing the horror that happened in Houston we started calmly freaking out. Would our house be underwater?

We did what we had to do–less than 24 hours before the storm hit, we left. We packed up what we could take in an hour, bundled the cats into the car (and boy were they unhappy, I have the scratches to prove it), and we headed north out of Naples. Irma was coming and we weren’t going to wait around until the water reached our lower lip.

I never thought there would be a day when I would take what I could grab and flee my home. From time to time in our lives we look around and think about what we might take it we had to leave at a moment’s notice. For me, I had my computer with my novel, some of my good jewelry, my Grandpa Wally’s wedding ring, and the cats. Other than a few changes of clothes and some food and water, we left everything behind, not knowing if there was going to be anything to come back to.

It was surreal. How do you mentally prepare for something like that?

We left at about 7 pm and headed up I-75 towards Tampa. Both my parents and Kosta and I had full tanks of gas and that got us to Ocala. We were down to a quarter tank and there was no gas to be had anywhere. All the gas stations were EMPTY. Everyone evacuating in the days previous had sucked up every last drop of fuel that remained. There were no hotel rooms available anywhere. So we went to a hurricane shelter.

But my parents had to split up with Kosta and me. We had to stay at Vanguard High School in Ocala because it was the pet friendly shelter, and Mom and Dad had to go to the special needs shelter because she is oxygen dependent. It was hard to say goodbye to them for a few days, but we did what we had to do.

We were late–it was after 11 pm when we got to the shelter.  We were so late they didn’t have space to keep Shady and Fingers at the high school. They had to transport them to the local animal shelter for the duration of the storm. But they probably had better accommodations than we did. We registered, and were shown to a windowless classroom.

To be continued…

Chelsea Sedoti: Five Questions

Hawthorn Creely is the true essence of awkward. She doesn’t interact well with her peers, she is the total opposite of her golden jock older brother, and she always says the wrong thing. She might be a little self-absorbed too, but she’s too busy thinking about how awkward she is to notice.

But then Lizzie Lovett, a girl who graduated with her brother disappears on a camping trip and Hawthorn’s focus narrows to a point. What happened? Did her boyfriend have anything to do with it? Obsessively following the story, Hawthorn decides to do her own snooping around, including finding out more about Lizzie’s boyfriend and what he might know.

Chelsea Sedoti writes a fascinating tale of obsession, mystery, and danger. Hawthorn gets tangled in a web of her own making and must learn some hard lessons to extricate herself. The marvelous thing about this book is that even though there is darkness and despair there is also humor and light. Sedoti does a beautiful job of balancing the two.

Five Questions
1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

Several years ago, I saw an article in the newspaper about a missing girl. Though I didn’t know her, I became oddly interested in the case. I started following it closely, checking daily for updates. After a few weeks of this, I stopped and asked myself why I was so obsessed with the missing girl. I didn’t have an answer, but decided I should pull back a little bit.

But the incident made me think about putting a character in the same situation. A teenage girl who gets wrapped up in a disappearance that has nothing to do with her. Only this girl wouldn’t know when to stop. She would let herself get drawn in to the disappearance more and more.

And just like that, the main character in THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT was born. The rest of the story followed.

2.  What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I tend to fall somewhere in between plotting and pantsing.

If I begin without knowing where the book is heading, I get lost along the way. It’s not fun to realize halfway through that a good portion of your story doesn’t make sense.

On the other hand, if I know every single thing that’s going to happen in a book, the writing process becomes much less exciting. I miss out on the moments where the characters surprise me.

So before I start writing, I know how the book begins, I know how it ends, and I know the key moments that happen along the way. Beyond that, I just wait and see where the story and characters take me.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

My favorite writer is John Irving, and he’s been influencing my writing since I was a teenager. That might seem odd—he writes literary books for adults, I write strange books for teenagers. But my favorite thing about his writing has always been how he blends comedy and tragedy. Life is never entirely dark or entirely light. Most of the time it falls somewhere in the middle. And sometimes humor is the only way to get through tough situations. This is something I’ve tried to emulate in my own books.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I generally don’t listen to music when I write. I get very influenced by the mood of music. So, if I were trying to write a lighthearted scene and a gloomy song came on, it would completely change the tone of the story. Rather than always trying to match the music to what I’m working on at the moment, I opt to write in silence.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading DARE MIGHTY THINGS by Heather Kaczynski, an upcoming science fiction book about a competition to join a mysterious space expedition.

Chelsea Sedoti

Chelsea Sedoti fell in love with writing at a young age after discovering that making up stories was more fun than doing her school work (her teachers didn’t always appreciate this.) In an effort to avoid getting a “real” job, Chelsea explored careers as a balloon twister, filmmaker, and paranormal investigator. Eventually she realized that her true passion is writing about flawed teenagers who are also afraid of growing up. When she’s not at the computer, Chelsea spends her time exploring abandoned buildings, eating junk food at roadside diners, and trying to befriend every animal in the world. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she avoids casinos, but loves roaming the Mojave Desert.

Writing in a Vacuum

Writing is an isolated business, at least for the writer. Once a book is sold it becomes a team effort of agents, editors, designers, printers, bookstores, and marketing teams. But before a writer gets to that lovely prospect, there are countless days of agonizing over every word, plot point, and character. Usually all alone.

I am one such person as that. While it is true my husband (also a writer) is hands-down my best go-to person for reading pages, giving critiques, and editing with me, it still is a rather lonely place. I know my husband loves my writing, but he did marry me, right? I know he wouldn’t bullshit me, but he is just one opinion.

The Algonquin Round Table — the ultimate writer’s group.

That is why a writer’s group is so important. You can get feedback from more than one person, and if you have a good writer’s group, that feedback is helpful. Ah, but not all writer’s groups are equal, are they?

For example, last year I heard of a group that met at a church on Saturday mornings. It was a drive but Kosta and I arrived on time and took seats in the meeting room. It was a very large group–near to twenty folks crowded around the tables. But as the first few members began reading their work I realized I was in the wrong place.

How did I know? Because my husband and I were nearly the only two folks who were not octogenarians writing about their husband’s cancer/Alzheimer’s disease. That’s not entirely true, but it did feel more like a therapy group for widows. They enjoyed what I read (at least they said they did) but I didn’t get any helpful criticism. How could I when I was only aloud to read one page?

For a serious writer it can be hard to find a group of like-minded folks who are working on projects for publication. I still haven’t found one, but I am always on the lookout for potential partners. But it seems that for now I am on my own. And that’s okay. I’ll just keep working hard and doing what I love. That, in the end, is what it’s all about anyway.

 

Change your tune

As Tom Petty once sang, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.” And when you are waiting for something, be it doctor’s tests or whether or not you got the job, it is the hardest part. Even when you are pretty sure of a good outcome, there is still that tinge of dread that things could go this way:

Usually, however, there is no battle with a lion following. (Although I’d take Russell Crowe in a gladiator’s kilt any day.)

Why is waiting so hard? Obviously it is because we generally have no control over outcomes and that makes us anxious. The unknown sits like a vague shadow just out of our reach. Does it have fangs or is it smiling? Or, God forbid, both?

I am a champion worrier. You give me a topic and I can winkle anxiety from it with little effort. I can conjure entire conversations, scenario after scenario of how things can go wrong and hardly break a sweat. It is no small thing.

But what does it get me? A big fat load of anxiety, and time still marches on and events unfold like they were always going to. Except I’ve just given myself a headache from clenching my teeth in my sleep.

I once saw a meme on Pinterest of a monk sitting on a rock in the middle of a lake. Underneath it were the words: Relax. Nothing is under control. And as hokey as that might sound, it is wisdom I try to take to heart. Most situations in life are out of our control and there is very little we can do except change how we react to it.

Back to Tom Petty. You all know I am prone to ear worms. The last few days I’ve been replaying “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.” And while that isn’t a bad tune to have stuck in your head it is making me fret. Every time I reach the the chorus I feel the spring coil a little tighter.

But then this morning I had a flash of brilliance. In high school I was a big fan of Guns N’ Roses. And while most of their music palls to an enlightened feminist such as myself, there is one song that could effectively supplant Tom Petty’s voice in my head.

“Said woman, take it slow

And things’ll be just fine.

You and I’ll just use a little patience.”

Sing it, sir.

Hoodoo Voodoo Chooka Chooky Choo Choo

I can’t wait. I said I was going to take a little time off to relax before starting on the next book, but I don’t want to! I want to plunge ahead and start researching.

I write historical fiction which means my research nerd gene gets exercised frequently. The Abduction of Audrey Bettencourt is starts in London in 1817, right in the heart of the Regency period. Very Jane Austen, or Georgette Heyer, which excites me. But there is also the shadowy figure in a remote castle in the Carpathian mountains that I had to research as well.

Marie Laveau

This new book sees my heroine, Jane Bell, setting out from France on a journey to New Orleans. The war of 1812 still hangs heavy in the atmosphere, and a young Marie Laveau, the famous voodoo priestess, is just coming into her powers. What an enthralling period of history to explore!

I just went and ordered four books on New Orleans, Marie Laveau, and voodoo.  I can’t wait to dig in. I hope a visit to the city itself can be arranged within the next year. I’d love to absorb the flavor and history of NOLA first hand. I figure it isn’t that far and I’m already used to the heat living in South Florida like I do. Seriously. I could use oven mitts to handle the steering wheel these days.

Also: books are coming to meeeee!

I’ll still have a few days before the books arrive, so I’ll take that moment to breathe, relax, and do some recreational reading. Do you know of Book Bub? It’s a great little email service. You create an account and tell them your preferences and they send you a daily email with sales on eBooks from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, etc. It’s wonderful and terrible because I have about 50 new books on my Nook that are just waiting for me. Well, vacation is coming and I’ll have plenty of reading material to choose from.

But soon I’ll be in the bayou.

(p.s. The title of this post refers to a song originally written by Woody Guthrie and covered by Billy Bragg and Wilco. It has been my resident ear worm all week.)

 

Only Good Things

Good things happened today.

It is the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter being published in the US. That is a marvelous anniversary to observe. I always thought about which house I would have been sorted into. I don’t quite know if I’m quite clever enough to be a Ravenclaw, I know I am not ruthless enough to be a Slytherin, but I am a hard worker so I think I would have done nicely in Hufflepuff.

Today was a good day for another reason–I sent the manuscript of my book to my agent in New York. Can I just pause for a moment and give him some love? Alex Slater at Trident Media Group is my champion. He fell head-over-heels in love with my first book and demanded (very politely) that he be allowed to represent me. Goodness, who doesn’t want that? He’s tirelessly enthusiastic, kind but direct, and believes in me and my writing. I know how lucky I am to have him in my corner. I hope that he will love The Abduction of Audrey Bettencourt as much as I do.

Now that I have sent it off to Alex I am quite without an occupation. I’ve been slaving over this manuscript in every spare moment for months now. I know I should be looking ahead to the next book and I shall, but first I think I’m going to do a little reading. It might be time to revisit the Harry Potter series and remind myself that I would have done well in Gryffindor too.

The final lap…

“Been around that track a couple of times but now the dust is starting clear…” ~Dead Horse, Guns N’ Roses

Last week I officially finished draft three of my manuscript. My husband and I edited it together, and I have to say he is a wizard when it comes to pointing out flaws, or places where I can massage the story a little more. It’s a miracle that we can work together as well as we do, and that we’re still happily married.

So now all of the pieces are in place and have been filled out to their best potential. Tonight we start on the final polish. I will read it aloud to him and we will tweak the hell out of it, polishing until it shines like the top of the Chrysler building. (Shout out to little orphan Annie.)

As in my last post, I am so far down the well of editing that I have hardly had time for anything else in my life but the book, book, book! I am looking forward to having a little breather after I send it off to my agent. (Who am I kidding? I’m going to eat my nails off one-by-one until I hear back from him.)

That being said, I am really proud of this book. I am so pleased with the way it all came together in the last draft. I am excited to move forward and find this little book a home at a publishing house.

It’s time.