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On Monday, July 25, I led a two-hour writing workshop at Coronado Community Center here in Hot Springs Village. About 35 writers and would-be writers attended, and we had a great time together.

The “five secrets” we talked about are not really “secrets,” of course. These five essentials to writing a good short story are well known. But we all need to be reminded of them from time to time:

  1. Create complex characters.
  2. Develop the story arc.
  3. Show, don’t tell.
  4. Write realistic dialogue.
  5. Maintain consistent POV.

I spent the first hour giving pointers and presenting examples to illustrate each of these. After a break, we came back together during the second hour and heard Village Writers’ Club member John Swinburn read a short story he had submitted for critique following our club’s writing workshop in May.

We all discussed his story, paying special attention to the POV. From whose “point of view” was this story told? Was it from the perspective of the female protagonist, Faith? Or was it from the perspective of another important character, Lucius? The story seemed to slip from one character’s POV to the other’s. That kind of “head hopping” is a common mistake that novice writers make. Normally, a well-written story has a primary POV character, from whose perspective the complete story is told. That helps a reader become emotionally invested in that character.

However, we noticed the opening paragraph seemed to be written from the author’s perspective—he spoke directly to the reader, asking the reader a question. Also there were other parts of the story where the author presented information about the characters, and the story did not appear to be written from either character’s point of view. Finally, we decided this story must be written from an omniscient POV—a viewpoint not often used in a short story, but one that is still a viable option for a writer if he wants his reader to view the characters “from a distance.”

We closed our workshop by reading and discussing a piece of historical fiction written by my longtime writer friend Ellen Withers, from Conway, Arkansas. She had given me permission to use her story, “Discovery at Idaho Springs.” Ellen used every one of the “five secrets” to skillfully develop a truly memorable short story.

Many thanks to all who participated in the workshop and to John and Ellen for sharing their stories. Now, I hope all who attended are inspired to sit down and soon create a tale that will entertain their readers. Happy writing!

Last Monday, Robin had a pacemaker inserted at National Park Medical Center in Hot Springs. The surgery went fine, and he’s had a good week. He’s wearing a sling on his left arm to keep him from raising it above shoulder level or stretching it out too far—can’t do anything that might pull out those wires inserted into his heart! He’ll be limited to light exercise and no driving until after his follow-up appointment with the doctor on July 14, but by then he should be completely healed and free to get back out on the golf courses. He can hardly wait!

Those of you who have been following this blog know the ups and downs he’s had the past year—with episodes of sudden drops in heart rate, light-headedness, and sometimes fainting. His memory loss has also been a problem, due in part to his fluctuating heart rate and lack of steady blood supply to his brain. We’re hoping the pacemaker will remedy many of these problems.

Today is Father’s Day, and I’m so thankful for Robin! He’s been a wonderful husband for me and a great father to our three children. The verse on the Father’s Day card I gave him was perfect, I thought. (I wish I had written this!)

To My Husband on Father’s Day

Our lives have changed

and so have we

since all those years ago,

when we were young

and full of dreams

and loved each other so.

 

But through the changes

that have come

and made us more mature,

there also is serenity

a feeling we’re secure

in knowing that our love survives

through everything we face,

and this great love we’ve shared so long

could never be replaced.

 

That’s why, as I remember

that the years are passing too,

I don’t mind growing older,

sharing life and love with you.

 

Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers out there today!

Empathy

Have you ever gone merrily along your way for a while, oblivious to your good fortune in life? Then, all of a sudden, something happens to jolt you awake?

Saturday morning, April 23, Robin entered the kitchen and, without any warning, he slumped over the counter and started to faint. I reached to grab him, and we both fell. I managed to break his fall a little, but I landed flat on my back on the hard kitchen floor!

The deeply throbbing pain and muscle spasms were excruciating. On Monday we went to our doctor who took X-rays to make sure nothing was broken. He prescribed muscle relaxants, and for the rest of the week, I continued to use ibuprofen and ice packs to reduce the swelling.

Since then, I’ve graduated to heat, acetaminophen, a six-day steroid pack of tablets, and yesterday I began physical therapy. The therapist will work with me twice a week for the rest of this month, and I am encouraged.

Robin’s fainting was due to a harmful interaction of cold capsules with his regular meds, so as soon as he discontinued taking the cold capsules, his light-headedness stopped. That’s been a blessing!

However, this back pain of mine has given me so much empathy for those of you who suffer all the time. My heart goes out to you. Today I am praying that you will find the help you need to overcome your pain.

Robin and I have what appears to be a freak of nature right here in our own backyard. A giant white oak close to our deck is beginning to leaf out now. However, sticking out among all the buds and long yellow tassels dangling from nearby branches is one small twig whose leaves at the end are now completely mature and green.

How could this twig be so different from the “mother branch” to which it is attached? In fact, the entire tree is only budding. There are no more mature leaves anywhere on it.

leafy twig

What’s really interesting is that there is another white oak about fifty feet away whose leaves are now all mature and green, just like that little twig’s. Robin and I have laughed and said it’s like that little twig was “kidnapped” from the other tree.

There’s a lesson here, I think. Children are not always like their biological parents. Genetic factors do play an important role in their physical and mental development, but environment and experiences are just as important.

Who knows? That little twig may have seen the other tree all leafed out and decided to leaf out too. What child or young person may be watching you today?

With all of us focused on Robin lately, I’m sorry to have to admit I’ve been having my own “oops” moments as well—like last night when I wrote the wrong date for our trip to Nashville! I’m sure our family noticed that, so I decided I’d better correct the record.

We traveled to Nashville on Wednesday, March 2, and saw Dr. Ally and Dr. Kirshner on Thursday, March 3. There now, I feel better. : )

Truth be told, we all have these “senior moments,” don’t we? Even our younger friends are not immune. Most of the time, it’s no problem. The correct name, or the correct date or time will pop back up eventually, and we go on about our business. It can be embarrassing, of course, but it doesn’t hurt for us to admit we’re fallible human beings. That keeps us humble and sympathetic when those around us forget things too.

 

On Wednesday, March 3, Robin and I traveled to Franklin, Tennessee, to visit with Dr. Ally and Dr. Kirshner at Vanderbilt Neurology Clinic in Nashville. Now we would learn what was causing the long-term and short-term memory gaps that Robin had been experiencing. We were apprehensive, of course, but we were also thankful that our uncertainty would soon be over.

On Thursday, our daughter, Sharon, and son-in-law, Mike, drove us downtown, and when we arrived, Sharon and her dad posed outside the entrance for a photo so we would always have a record of this momentous occasion.

Vanderbilt visit, Sharon and Robin

Robin spent the first part of the afternoon with a graduate assistant of Dr. Ally’s who administered an hour-long battery of tests for memory and cognition. She really put him through his paces, and when he came out, he wasn’t sure how he had done.

Next, he saw Dr. Kirshner, who gave Robin a number of physical tests to determine if his neurological system was functioning properly—checking his reflexes, balance, sight, walking ability, strength, etc.

Finally, we all talked with Dr. Ally, who is a psychological neurologist, and Dr. Kirshner, who is a medical neurologist. The two doctors discussed Robin’s test results and consulted with each other right there in our presence. Then they gave us their opinion of why Robin is suffering from memory gaps.

On the MRI disc that we brought, they could see the small lesion in the frontal lobe of Robin’s brain, and they surmised that was caused by a minor stroke. Whether that was a fairly recent occurrence or one from the past, they couldn’t say, but they did say that lesion seemed to be the source of the lapses in memory. There were no other indications of any neurological damage or impairment—no signs of progressive deterioration or the beginning of Alzheimer’s—not even any signs of vascular dementia.

We were thrilled! And so relieved!

Both doctors told Robin to keep exercising, to keep playing golf, to keep doing everything he is doing to keep his heart healthy. This would keep his brain healthy too, they said.

My grateful husband has been more than happy to oblige!

 

Last month I wrote about “uncertainty” and how difficult it is to deal with—especially, when our health or a loved one’s health or lifestyle is at stake. Today I have some good news.  Robin heard from Vanderbilt yesterday, and he now has an appointment for a complete neurological work-up on March 3—only two weeks from today!  He has appointments with two doctors at the Vanderbilt Clinic for Aging and Dementia in Nashville.

Our daughter Sharon, who lives in Franklin, just south of Nashville, will help us while we’re over there. Being in the medical field, she is familiar with many of the facilities and doctors in the area, and she will take us downtown for our appointments. She’ll also be with us while Robin is examined, and she can hear the same things we hear when his doctors talk with us.

Recently, Robin’s memory lapses have been less frequent—at least, his short term lapses have been fewer. He has been feeling much better, and he is enjoying golf and his other regular activities.

However, we are still discovering there are deficits in his memory of events from past years. Sunday, he was talking on the phone with our son Steve, and the subject of our family’s trip to Yosemite in 2012 came up.  Robin couldn’t remember the trip at all!  This was a shock to all of us!  Steve sent a few photos, and I also found the photos we took on the trip, and Robin enjoyed seeing them, but he still couldn’t remember any details about the trip.

Maybe, now we’ll begin to get some answers to what is happening. And hopefully, there will be things we can do to help.

Thank you again for your support and your prayers. We are so blessed to have you with us on this journey.

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