A Desperate Struggle

Before I get to the reason behind the post title, it is my pleasure to announce the winners of the print copy and ebook of Stephanie Stamm’s A Gift of Wings. For the cover makeover post, click here.

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The winner of the ebook for A Gift of Wings is Mishka Jenkins!

The winner of the paperback for A Gift of Wings is Sue Archer!

Congrats, winners! Please comment to confirm below, then email me your information at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com. For the ebook winner, I’ll need the email address you use with Amazon. For the paperback winner, I’ll need your snail mail address and a phone number. Amazon will not deliver without a phone number. I’ll pass along your information to Stephanie, who will have the books sent to you. Thanks for commenting!

Now, onto the reason for the title. I’ve written posts about the sunflowers outside my apartment building. This is the last one, I assure you. I couldn’t help noticing how the sunflowers have been drooping lately, though we’ve had some rainfall. I wish I knew how to help them. I’m no gardener, but I can’t help wondering how plants this size thrive in such hard, shallow ground so close together. How could they gain adequate nourishment? Perhaps that’s why the bottom leaves look so unhealthy.

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I feel the same frustration with a scene I’m working on: an action scene involving a fight between two enemies. My nephew read it, because I had misgivings about it. It seemed to droop, rather than crackle with life. His assessment? It lacks tension and emotional depth. In other words, it’s too shallow.

“I wish I could help you more,” he said. And then he asked the question that was more helpful than he could have guessed: “What would you do [in this situation]?”

At first I avoided the question, because I was supposed to be thinking like the point of view character. Who cares what I would do? But I really needed to know. I was too clinical, too eager to get from Point A to Point B. There wasn’t enough emotional grit to make a reader eagerly turn pages.

I needed to remember when I was at my rawest emotionally, when I was desperate to survive. Interestingly enough, years ago I lived on a block where drive-by shootings occasionally happened, thanks to a gang member who lived two doors away. Yet even the memory of those days didn’t take me to a raw place, because occasional gunshots and police sirens were part of the nighttime fabric in my old neighborhood. (Amazing what you can get used to, isn’t it? Sadly, many innocent people have been killed in drive-by shootings.) I needed to go deeper.

The memory of almost choking to death came to mind almost immediately. Several years ago, a piece of steak lodged in my throat and for a few frightening moments, I didn’t think I could get it out. Talk about being fully present in a moment. When you’re struggling for breath, every millisecond has an epic weight to it. Someone who has asthma knows this all too well. Thankfully, the Heimlich maneuver works. I wouldn’t be able to write this if it hadn’t.

That wasn’t the only desperate moment. I had an allergic reaction to penicillin one night a few summers ago. I had taken it for a sinus infection, little knowing the problems that would arise. A fluid-filled sac developed on my tonsils that slowly closed off my airway. Instead of calling someone or wasting time waiting for an ambulance, I drove myself to the hospital. I’ve never driven so fast in my life! Miraculously (and it was a miracle), I hit green lights all the way. The hospital was less than fifteen minutes away. After an examination, the doctor recommended an overnight stay to allow various antibiotics to be administered through an IV to reduce the swelling. The doctor mentioned that my body had built up an intolerance over time. He then led in a parade of interns eager to take pictures of the sac on my tonsils. After the gawkers left and I was taken to a room upstairs, I was told how fortunate I was to get help in time.

My scene lacks that kind of heart-pounding desperation. But now that I’m reliving those horrible moments, moments where I was completely present, completely desperate to live, I find I’m in a better place to revisit the scene.

Ever have a difficult time writing a really tense scene? What did you do to put yourself in the moment?