Friday, April 18, 2014

moving on...

It's been two and a half weeks since my mother-in-laws' passing and life is slowly moving towards a new normal. Sometimes it feels as if her funeral was months ago, sometimes as if it were yesterday. Such is the nature of time and healing, I suppose.

I've had this past week off from school and planned to get so much writing done! But we're tasked now with dealing with her house and I have an uncle for whom I've become caregiver and of course, the garden needed cleaning off and we have sixteen people coming for Easter dinner on Sunday and...

You get the picture.

It's been a while since I have taken time to myself to write something new. And the writing workshops? Sorry, they haven't even been on my radar. Looking at the calendar today, however, gave me a bit of a shock. The last time I sat down to write on my current work in progress was February 20th. Nearly two months ago.

That brought me up short. No matter what else is going on in my life, I always have time to write. I have to. It's what keeps me sane. In the past ten years, the longest I've gone before this was two weeks and I was nearly a basket case by the end, wanting to get back to my characters. What was different this time?

This time it was the number of directions in which I was pulled. I wanted to spend time with my mother-in-law, knowing there wasn't much more time to spend with her. Instead of writing, I'd go visit her. I needed to spend time with my elderly uncle, playing financial forensics with his accounts and helping to move him into an assisted living facility (we're almost there!). My son and daughter have both gotten engaged and I wanted to spend time with them and their significant others. I had to spend time at my day job if I wanted to continue to eat and pay the mortgage. Something had to give and that something was writing.

It was a choice, make no mistake about that. I'm not regretting my choice at all. Just offering explanations as to why I made it. Family comes first. Always. Your families should come before all else in your lives, too. My hope for all of you is that they do.

So no regrets.

Today I had an afternoon to myself and thought about writing but realized I'd need to start at the beginning and re-read the book to remind myself of what it was all about, and I just didn't have the energy. The characters, understanding their place in my life, have graciously moved to the wings and are patiently waiting for me to call them back to the stage, but I just couldn't do it. Not yet. I want to give them the full attention they deserve.

So what did I do instead? The next best thing. I lost myself in a book. At the Big Book Getaway, I bought a copy of Debbie Macomber's new book, Rose Harbor in Bloom and waited in line to have her sign it for my mom (Mrs. Macomber is my mother's favorite author, bar none). Mom read it and let me borrow it earlier this week. Debbie's books are easy reads. There isn't a lot of heavy philosophy. No long passages of description. The characters are likable and you feel like they could be your neighbors. In other words, a perfect book for an afternoon's escape.

I will get back to writing. Soon. You can count on it. The itch is already starting between my shoulder blades. Another week or two and I think I'll be ready to be creative again. In the meantime,

Play safe and hug someone you love!
Diana

Friday, April 04, 2014

My Mother-in-law

So, ten years ago, my mother-in-law, Nina, was diagnosed with leukemia. She started a rigorous regimen of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that successfully killed the cancer cells in her body.

Unfortunately, it also killed every white blood cell as well.

For sixty-five days, she remained in a sterile room at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY, waiting for them to come back. Her blood was tested often, the lab techs desperately searching through the red cells to find the white blood cell fighters. Because that's what the white ones do - they fight infection. Without them, a simple cold can kill you.

At the end of sixty-five days with nary a white blood cell in sight, the doctors gave up and acquiesced to her daily question, "Can I please go home to die?" She wanted to be home for her final moments, not dying in a sterile room an hour away from her family and friends. With regret, the doctors conceded that, while the cancer didn't kill her, the cure had.

So you can imagine everyone's surprise when, two weeks after being home, a blood sample (yes, they were still taking them, pitting hope against hope) showed not one, but two white blood cells! A week later there were four in the sample and another week later she hit double digits. By the end of the year she was declared cancer-free and released from all restraints.

That was ten years ago.

Two years ago she was diagnosed with colon cancer. She'd put off her screening and by the time it was found, it was too late. She underwent emergency surgery, but the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes and they couldn't get it all with the scalpel. Back to chemo treatments. Doc gave her 3-6 months. Yes, the same doctor who had treated her before and who now called her his "miracle patient."

Eight months after the initial diagnosis, Nina threw herself a going away party. She rented a small banquet room at a local restaurant, invited close friends and family, and had a celebratory dinner, complete with a large, decorated cake for dessert. Her husband and daughter had passed away in the years between her cancer bouts and she lived alone in the house she and her husband had bought just after their marriage. The house she intended to die in. The attended in spirit, with pictures of all of us spread around the room to enjoy.

At the party, she gave out envelopes containing checks for various amounts. She said she wanted to see people enjoy the money she was able to give them, rather than have them spend it after her death when she wouldn't be around to watch. We had a cake and she even invited her cancer doctor, who made a great speech about how she keeps turning science on its head. When asked how many other patients he had that kept bouncing back the way she did, he answered honestly. "None."

Two months later, she fell and broke a wrist. We were starting to get concerned about her living alone in the house and checked up on her often, but she was adamant: she was staying where she was.

Seven days later, she fell again and broke the other wrist.

Chemo treatments were stopped as they'd made her bones too brittle to withstand these falls. She went to a local nursing home for rehab, having to learn how to feed herself with a cast on each wrist (hint: it ain't easy!). At the end of summer the casts came off and she came home.

By February, however, she was getting weaker. Her fierce independence was being assaulted by the growing cancer. My husband would go over every morning to get her started and his brother and his wife would stop in during the evenings to put her to bed. By March, we had a calendar and a system in place that provided 24/7 watchers because she'd fallen two more times, putting a hairline fracture in one hip and separating the muscle from the bone in the other.

We are not professional caregivers, however, and she needed more medical care than we could give her by ourselves. She wanted to go back to the nursing home for rehab for her hips and, after a struggle, the insurance company said yes. Her independence asserted itself there, too, as evidenced by the first day when her physical therapist found her, alone, without her walker, in the bathroom washing her hands. She was just standing there, though, because she couldn't get back to the bed by herself. Ya gotta love such determination!

But cancer always wins in the end. She went, officially, into hospice on March 30th and we knew it wouldn't be long. She would tell stories, but her strength was ebbing and we could catch only a single word in about six. As the pain increased from the cancer and the broken hips, morphine took over and she spent a lot of time sleeping. On Wednesday, April 2nd, at 10:15 in the morning, she slipped away.

Her sons were with her, as was her other daughter-in-law. My husband said it was an incredibly peaceful moment. The space between breaths lengthened and then...she just didn't breathe in again. She was gone to meet her husband and daughter on the other side.

I cry as I write this. I keep thinking I've done with the tears and then someone will make a reference or I'll see my husband's bent shoulders and the tears fall again. She's in a better place. I firmly believe that. Her pain has ended and our lives move on.

But I will never forget a woman who had the gumption to give herself a going away party. She was an inspiration and will be missed.

RIP, Nina Duprey. Requescat in pace.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Update

Just checking in. Things haven't changed much since the last update...although my mother-in-law is in hospice now. She has good days and bad days and we're trying to spend as much time with her as we can.

I haven't been writing. Not that I don't have the time, time is there and I find myself looking for a good escapist movie to watch, or I'll scrapbook old baby photos or I'll....you get the picture. What I don't do is write. It's as if my Creative Muse has stepped back and said, "You go do what you need to do. I"ll just wait here. I won't abandon you, but right now you need to spend your mental energies elsewhere."

You gotta love an understanding Muse.

Diamond Submission is back in my hands - ready for editing. I will get to it this week as I get to it. It deserves my undivided attention. So does my mother-in-law. So does my 82-year-old uncle who still lives alone -- and shouldn't. So does my mother, who just turned 80 this week past - my mother who always thought she'd be dead by 70 because both her parents were.

So it isn't a matter of time, it's a mater of mental capacity. I have a great Far Side mug where the cartoon is of a class filled with students and a kid raising his hand. The bubble over his head says, "May I be excused? My brain is full."

I am that student. :)

Take care everyone, play safe and, with any luck, those of us in the Northeast will be able to stop shoveling snow soon!

Diana

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Catch Me If You Can

I teach two college classes -- Composition I & II. One of the assignements I give is to write a movie review. We all watch the same film in class (the students have to come to consensus on it - which is a hoot to watch!) and then they write reviews. I do the same, just because it's fun. Yeah, I'm a writer-geek and proud of it!

Last year we watched Ironman and you can read my review here. Read on for this year's film review.


I recently had occasion to view the semi-biographical movie, Catch Me If You Can. This movie, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, tells the story of the real-life adventures of Frank Abagnale, Jr. (DiCaprio), a con-artist and master forger and Carl Handratty (Hanks), the FBI agent charged with catching him.

Steven Spielberg has experience telling biographical stories, having already done so with Schindler’s List. His strict attention to detail creates vivid images the audience will long remember. He brings that attention to detail to bear in this movie as well, from using period costumes and settings to the music playing under the scenes.

But he goes further, delving deeply into the parts of the story where reality and truth don’t quite line up. Into places where realism plays against reality. It is when the film presents these moments that it truly shines and moves from the realm of just another popcorn movie into the category of excellence.

Two Franks: Senior and Junior

Frank Abagnale, Jr. is a loveable con-artist. He’s debonair, intelligent, quick-witted and handsome. The audience cheers when he becomes the substitute teacher, loving the respect and obedience he commands from students his own age, simply because he’s dressed in a suit coat and tie and puts authority in his voice.

That acting with authority is a huge part of a grifter’s repertoire and Frank wields it as like its natural-born talent. It isn’t, of course. He learned it from his father, Frank Senior. One of the first father-son moments in the movie is the father using the son to pull a con on a bank to increase his chances of getting the loan he so desperately needs.

In fact, that scene is one of the first where reality and the truth don’t quite line up. Frank the elder wants to arrive at the bank as if he’s a big shot, so he scams a woman into loaning Frank the younger a nice suit so his son can pose as a chauffeur. They arrive in a fancy car and make a great show as if this need for money is a minor setback, nothing more.

But the reality is twofold: one, Frank Senior really needs the money to keep his store or he will go out of business. He’s desperate. And two, the elder Frank doesn’t really know how to pull off a con. Sure he gets the suit for his kid, but once inside the bank, his confidence crumbles when the manager tells him, “No loan.”

Neither of these two, the elder or the younger, like reality very much. They both prefer to live in a world of their own creation. Frank Junior continually attempts to get his parents back together, mostly by suggesting his father can win her back with things (a Cadillac or a trip to Hawaii, for example). His inability to accept this reality is tested again and again and it isn’t until he sees his half-sister in the living room window that he accepts the fact his parents are separated forever.

Frank, Jr. would much rather live in the world he creates with his cons than in the real world as it is. We see this again at the very end of the movie when Frank accepts a job with the FBI. The day-to-day grind (symbolized by the stacks of files that workers pile on Frank’s desk) becomes tiresome and when Frank sees a pilot’s uniform for sale, he takes off. Literally. Only when Carl “catches” him at the airport and tells him look around, that no one’s chasing him, does Frank see another type of life. The thrill of the chase is done and over with. It’s time to face reality and he does.

Frank Senior, on the other hand, never accepts reality. Sure, he accepts the inevitability of his divorce, but at his son’s expense. “Where you going, Frank? Someplace exotic?” is his mantra, the questions he asks his son each time he sees him. He lives vicariously through Frank Junior’s adventures. Even when his son doesn’t contact him, we are given no reason to believe he will change his ways. He’s blamed other people for his troubles for decades (the IRS is “after him”, “They have all the money,” “I wasn’t going to let them take it from me, so I closed it down.”) and we are given no reason to believe he didn’t go to his grave thinking his troubles weren’t his own fault.

Spielberg shows himself to be a master of juggling multiple plot lines in order to tell one, straightforward, linear story. He uses flashbacks throughout the story to tell the story of this father-son relationship so the audience gets the backstory as to why the two are so out of touch with the harsh reality of their lives. We see his parents very much in love in happier times, we see the moment his mother moves out and we see the father confronted by the reality of what his son is doing. In every case, reality and truth don’t quite match. It’s this consistency that makes this a better-than-average film.

Carl Handratty

Carl is the antithesis of Frank Abagnale, Jr. Where Frank thinks quickly on his feet, Carl becomes clumsy and flustered. Frank is smooth and debonair, Carl can’t even tell a knock-knock joke. Frank moves through a world of high class establishments, Carl works in a gray office filled with hard edges and difficult-to-use technology. Where Frank represents the dream, Carl embodies the reality.

Spielberg skillfully juxtapositions these two characters throughout the film, jumping between the stories of each man as one chases the other. The most startling contrast comes when Frank is with the high-priced call girl in the very swanky hotel and Carl is in a dark, gray office lit only by the light of a single harsh light bulb. The dream vs. the reality shown in stark, visual contrast.

However, Frank and Carl have similar disassociations with reality. Toward the end of the movie, we discover Carl is divorced and hasn’t seen his daughter in nearly two decades. This surprises Frank because Carl had earlier referred to as a little girl. Yet she is an adult. Carl justifies his lie by saying she’ll always be little to him because he has no memories of her growing up. Adding in this bit of information isn’t trivial. Frank and Carl eventually become lifelong friends; in order to believe that this could be possible, Spielberg needed to show us that it didn’t matter which side of the law they were on – the two men were more similar than different.

Brenda Strong

It’s worth noting this character, even if she has a small role in the film. Brenda Strong (Amy Adams) is the woman who finally catches the heart of Frank Abagnale, Jr. For her, he decides to settle down, be one person—Frank Connors—and lead the life of a normal man. He crams for the Louisiana Bar exam and passes it, even though his courtroom style comes straight from Perry Mason. It is for her that he begs Carl to stop chasing him, to leave him alone now.

Of course, Carl can’t do that. Laws have been broken and restitution must be made. Brenda ends up being used as a patsy to catch Frank, a ploy he sees through, escaping by using several of the techniques of the con he’s picked up along the way.

But Spielberg makes us feel sorry for Brenda. She’s stuck in a hard place, having already been thrown out of her house for a mistake she made once before. She loves Frank, but one can imagine a scene not in the movie—a scene where her father presents her an ultimatum once more: help the FBI or move out of the house again. Even the way she stands on the sidewalk waiting for Frank shows us an unsecure, scared young woman. Because of Spielberg’s framing of the shot, we do not blame Brenda for being the bait, we empathize with her instead.

Final notes

The setting of the movie is in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s – a time period I remember well. While I don’t remember Mr. Abagnale’s appearance on “To Tell the Truth” I do remember the show – and Kitty Carlisle. She was iconic to the show, asking hard questions in her attempts to discover the truth. She had a biting wit that often went to the heart of the matter. The blending of actual footage showing her asking the questions with the actors pretending to be Frank Abagnale, Jr. was seamless – and I looked hard. Spielberg used the same video recording techniques to match the styles. It was so seamless I still don’t know if the other two pretending to be Frank were present-day actors or the actual men from the 1970’s show. IMDB does not provide a separate listing for either of them, although both Joe Garigiola and Kitty are listed as cast members of Catch Me If You Can.*

John William’s music choices were spot-on for the film. “Embraceable You”, the song his parents dance to in their living room, is a wonderfully romantic song to set as background to the story of how they met and fell in love. “The Girl From Ipanema,” a light, frothy song played during the segment at the Tropicana Hotel, changes to the chase music when Carl realizes his unsub is still in the building, clueing the audience in that something is afoot.

In fact, this chase music, a clarinet melody played in short, quick notes, is set up during the film’s opening sequence, where the entire story is played out in stark shadows. It returns each time Carl gets a clue and moves a step closer to capturing Frank: when the waiter gives him the comic book clue and he realizes the person he’s looking for is a kid, at the father’s apartment when Carl notices a return address for Frank, at Frank’s mom’s house when Carl sees Frank’s picture in the yearbook—and again at the engagement party when they miss Frank by only a few seconds. The skillful use of this audio clue continues to build excitement in the audience.

Stephen Spielberg’s movie, Catch Me if You Can, might be about a criminal, but it is entertaining. He skillfully interweaves the lives of these characters, using the contrasts of reality and truth to tell a story about three men who, despite their differences, also have many similar traits. Through the use of realism in his movie, we believe these people are real and that their lives are well-represented. A good movie that's better than an average popcorn flick!


NOTE: According to Wikipedia, all three actors playing Frank, Jr. in this segment were actors. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Body Language

Please welcome Nancy Corrigan as our guest blogger today. She's talking about the use of body language to express emotion in a scene. Something too often overlooked!

From Nancy:

I love using body language to build my story. Partially, this stems from my joy of people-watching. So much can be learned from how people interact with others. Here’s a little snippet from my latest release to show how Devin expresses his feelings.

Excerpt from Beautiful Mistake
He reached up and ran his long fingers through the patchwork hair. The strands fanned with the movement, settling against his shoulders. With the second sweep through the locks, he yanked handfuls of the colorful hair, a groan accompanying the rough tug. She dropped her gaze before she gave into the urge to ask if he was all right. Her fascination with him wasn’t healthy. Outward appearances didn’t make the man and this one was a dangerous predator. Big cats did not make good cuddle buddies.

She pushed her body into a sitting position. The movement tugged her abused stomach. Preparing for the worst, she glanced down and didn’t see what she’d expected. Instead of a bruised and beaten body, she saw her familiar tanned skin—blood free, without any ugly black and blue splotches.

Her shoes had been replaced by a pair of large socks, the tops rolled down to help them stay on. Scratches marred her legs from the edge of her exercise shorts to her feet but none were bandaged nor did they need to be. The only square of gauze covered the wound on her belly.

“How long was I unconscious?”

He tensed and rubbed one of those big hands over the back of his neck but didn’t turn around. She glanced away when it became apparent he wasn’t going to answer and ran a finger over a splotch of shiny new skin on her knee. Anxiety settled in her bones. A lot could happen in a matter of days.

“Few hours,” he muttered. She looked at him. His arm was folded against the wall, his forehead resting on it. “I tended your wounds. Most won’t scar.”

Picking apart the emotions
Now, Devin’s upset, guilty and stressed in this scene. He’s the one who caused Lena’s injuries and he feels horrible for his actions. So, what are his body language clues?


He runs his hands through his hair and yanks on the strands to portray his frustration, groaning as he does so. Rubbing his neck is an automatic response to his guilt, but it’s his inability to look at her which drives it home. He folds his arm against the wall, defeated and shamed while he admits that his actions left a permanent mark on the woman who will end up saving his soul and his mind.

Activity from Diana:

Okay, time to review your own writing. Go back to your current wip and take a look. Where can you add in body language? Any words you can take out and express through a character's action instead? I know this is something I struggle with. With my theatre background, I tend to focus on dialogue and figure the reader can fill in the details. This is fine when I'm writing a play where the actors like to have some wiggle room for their own interpretations.

But romance readers want to be able to see the scene in their own imaginations. And body language is a great way to help them do that.

Try it. Take a scene that needs some beefing up and, instead of concentrating on the dialogue, add in movement, stance, gestures. Go overboard. You can always pull back later.

Enjoy!

To find Nancy on the web, you can visit the following:

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Sandwich Generation

Last year at this time I wrote a post about how I tend to write non-fiction when life gets in my way. There must be something about the month of March because I find myself in a similar place today.

Google images
I called this post "The Sandwich Generation" but I have to admit, I didn't truly understand that term until recently. A relatively new term, it refers to those who are both raising children and taking care of elderly parents. When life expectancies were short, this situation didn't arise very often. Today, with the wonders of modern medicine, people live longer, more active lives.

And this has led to the sandwich. My parents moved to a senior citizen apartment complex in December (read a little about the move here) and that brought stresses that now, for the most part, are gone as they've settled in and found new routines. At the same time, my adult children were making decisions about their own futures and needed advice and nurturing. Who comes first, the parents who raised me? Or the children I am raising? 


Perhaps the sandwich metaphor isn't right. Maybe the fulcrum of a teeter totter is more appropriate. The trick is to balance both sides and not get worn down in the middle.

And now it's two other elderly family members who need our assistance. My husband's mom has taken a turn for the worse lately. Yes, the same mom we thought had only a few months left last year. She's been amazing. Told she had only a few months left, she made plans, threw herself a going away party, and got ready to leave the world. Yet here she is, a year later, defying the odds and baffling the doctors. She's more bed-ridden than not, however, and several falls have taken their toll. She now needs round-the-clock care and the family is trying their best to cover all the hours of the day.

And I have an uncle, who also still lives alone, who is showing some signs of dementia. He never married and has no children of his own, but he was my favorite uncle when I was a kid. Because he physically lives closest to me, his care falls on my shoulders. I don't mind, please don't think this is a complaint. It's the way things are and I'm having fun learning new things about him. He's always loved to tell stories about things he's learned and I love hearing them. I always have.

But I'm definitely feeling stressed. Why? Because in the midst of this, my son has become engaged. I want to give him and his fiancee their time in the sun as well. My daughter is looking to start a new life, too, with a new job and new career path (although she's still in love with stage management, should any of you be looking. She's also an incredibly gifted stage painter). Both my children still live at home and I cherish these last few months as a family of four + two. 

So sandwich or fulcrum...I'm either getting squished or worn down. Both negative metaphors. But I'm not a negative person. I prefer the glass to be half full. I like the sunny side of the situation. I need a new metaphor.

Erwinna Covered Bridge, Bucks Co, PA
A bridge. Bridges are strong and useful. They bring people together and provide opportunities for people on one side to learn and grow from those on the other. They are static, stable and pretty (at least MY bridge is! That's my story and I'm sticking to it.). Some bridges are sleek and new, others are old and traditional.

I think of myself as a covered bridge - a little on the old side, but picturesque and still in use. The roof protects, the planks are sturdy, the way is clear.


Even if I do feel like a covered bridge in a snowstorm right now, the metaphor works. :)

So if my writing on the blog isn't as regular, if you want a reason I haven't sent a newsletter out since October, if you want to know why my next book is delayed... know that I'm busy being a bridge right now. I'll get back to my regular activities soon enough. Perhaps too soon.

Play safe!
And go hug your generations...

Diana




Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Sorry, everyone...

Hey folks, quick post to let you know my mother-in-law has taken a turn for the worse and I won't be posting for a bit. She requires round-the-clock care and the family's taking turns being with her. Keep her in your prayers, if you will.

I'll be back as soon as I can.

Diana