Can a Pantser Become a Plotter?

It has been almost a month since my father-in-law passed away. He used to call us all the time and was very outspoken in his opinions. I found in the first few weeks that something in our lives was missing, but now it is sinking in that he is gone and we must return to our everyday lives. What has helped is discussing our memories of him.

I admit I have had trouble concentrating on writing lately with all my reflections. But Thursday is the day to put up my post and so I am putting forth a great deal of effort into getting my blog written.

When it comes to writing novels, I am a pantser—that is, I write from the seat of my pants. I don’t plot scenes, develop characters, or map out the hero’s journey before I begin writing. This method worked for my first novel, True Mercy, but I’ve run into some issues in my second novel.

I began as usual, developing characters and writing the plot as I went along. After editing the story numerous times, I sent it off to my editor. Unlike the first novel which grabbed her interest right away, she had a lot of questions and problems with the story. She wrote comments such as one of my main characters was selfish and she was critical of the dynamics of each family in the novel.  I edited some more and not satisfied with her critique, I decided I needed a second opinion. Mind you, editors are expensive, but I was not satisfied. I also had to face up to the truth that the story needed a great deal more work. In my opinion, which I admit is subjective, I thought this novel has potential and I wanted someone who appreciated the story and help me improve it.  After doing research, I found a second editor. She indicated to me the novel has merits but with a caveat—she said I needed to rewrite the whole story. This editor told me if I was not willing to rewrite, she would understand, there would be no hard feelings, and she would give me a partial refund.

But rightly or wrongly, I couldn’t give up. I rewrote the whole novel. Time will only tell whether all my hours of effort and hard work were worth it.

After all this work, I am exhausted and can’t wait to send it off and get rid of it. I have vowed that if I ever write another novel, I will HAVE TO PLOT IT OUT AND DEVELOP THE CHARACTERS BEFORE I BEGIN THE ACTUAL WRITING PROCESS because I honestly don’t think I could go through rewriting the whole story again.

However, upon reflection, when I wrote True Mercy, I did in fact rewrite the whole story—it took me four years before I published it. But back then, writing a novel was, well, a novel thing for me to do. The whole experience was new and fresh. I couldn’t wait to publish it and have people read my work. Going into my second novel, I hoped the whole process would become a lot easier, but it wasn’t. That’s why I want to try the plotter approach next time. Plotting the novel is supposed to be very demanding in the beginning as the author develops the characters and charts out the events that take place in the story before the actual writing process begins. Other writers have told me it is better to do the hard work in the beginning so the editing process is easier and less frustrating. What’s more, they tell me the book is written more quickly. I plan on giving it a try.

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Book Review of The List

My father-in-law, Bernard Kursman, passed away on May 17th. Since then, I have been in a daze with all the traveling, the mourning rituals, and returning to regular life. He had been very ill for the past year and my family and I have been under incredible stress. I have recently started back on writing and decided to post a review of a fascinating book I read that takes place in post-Holocaust Britain.

The List was an eye-opening historical novel. It tells the story of Edith and Georg, who escaped the Holocaust and now live in a boardinghouse with other escapees. Edith is pregnant and both she and her husband are desperately waiting for news of survivors in their families. At the same time, Georg, a lawyer, is having trouble securing employment because the British do not want to hire “aliens.” They must contend with discrimination as British citizens debate whether they should deport the refugees back to the countries of their birth so available jobs and housing go to the country’s returning soldiers. At the same time, Jewish people are organizing in Palestine to sabotage British control because they are restricting Jewish immigration in efforts to placate the growing resentment of the Arab population. 
I learned a great deal about the lives of the Holocaust survivors and escapees as well as their uncertain status in post-WWII Britain. The author enables readers to empathize with the pain of refugees desperately trying to locate surviving family members, Georg’s job-seeking frustrations to provide for his wife and their unborn baby, and the pressures Jews and British experience in Palestine.
Author Martin Fletcher’s characters Georg and Edith were based on his own parents and their challenges as they worried about their loved ones while anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first baby. The characters and plot make the story memorable and riveting. In the beginning, the readers don’t see the connection between the characters in Britain and those in Palestine, but Fletcher expertly weaves them together for a compelling conclusion.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller designed to bring awareness to two issues, families with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis.

Idelle is available to write blog content for businesses and organizations. Please contact on this website.

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Woods, Residential Housing, and Options for the Disabled

The recent trend is to stop so-called “institutionalizing” individuals with special needs. Policymakers and journalists have latched onto the thinking that all special needs individuals should integrate into the community. That is, they should live in private homes for the handicapped and get busing to work/activities in another location with cooperating medical facilities nearby for their care.

Well, I am writing to tell the public that this thinking does not work for all people, particularly those with severe special needs. They need and should be entitled to options.

I will use the residential housing community Woods Services in Langhorne, Pennsylvania as an example. The Philadelphia Inquirer plans to run a series of articles on alleged abuse and neglect at Woods. While it is true that they and other residential housing facilities suffer from a shortage of people willing to work with individuals with extreme disabilities, Woods Services does its utmost to provide housing and round-the-clock staffing for each client. They provide medical and dental services on campus, including a shift of nurses for all their housing units. If, God forbid, there is a life-or-death emergency, a client can receive immediate medical care, which helps prevent a condition worsening or even death.

For the school-age population, Woods has a state licensed private school on campus that operates the whole year, providing special education and supports like occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. For non –verbal clients, alternative communication devices like sign language and voice output devices are also available.

For those over 21, Woods buses clients to work sites on campus or out in the community, whichever is appropriate for each client. Some of the on-campus work sites include a coffee shop, a floral shop, and factory jobs. All positions include a job coach.

All clients have on-campus psychological and psychiatric services.

In addition, Woods provides trips like going to the movies, the mall, and Philadelphia sports games all through the year.

And no one is in danger of aging out. People can live in this staff- and medical-supported residency throughout their lifespan.

Politicians are supposed to serve and represent the interests and needs of their constituents. Journalists are supposed to report the news. Neither are experts in special needs care. They should not decide or persuade the public that all individuals with severe disabilities are suited for a one-size-fits-all system. There is no system that is right for all individuals—obviously, everyone has different needs and cannot thrive with only one option.

One change I personally would like to see in all group homes for special needs clients, and for nursing homes as well, is more funding to increase the staffs’ salaries in the hope of motivating more people to work in these residential housing facilities. It takes a special person to work with people who cannot take care of themselves through no fault of their own. They are the unsung heroes.

Woods is unique in having a vigilant staff. A few years ago, a client reportedly had a temper tantrum and hid under a bus. The staff spotted the client and made sure he was safe before the bus moved again.

Most people cannot relate to the challenges of having a loved one with severe special needs. But anyone could have a child, a sibling, or any other relative who is born with a neurological disorder and that person may require care at all times with no hope of ever living independently. Family members need the peace of mind that goes along with knowing their loved one is getting the care and services they require round-the-clock. These families need places like Woods.

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Again!?

I write this blog with a heavy heart. On Saturday, April 27th, the last day of Passover, the day Jewish people say Yizkor, a prayer for family members who passed away, a gunman opened fire in the Chabad of Poway in San Diego, California. He killed one woman and injured three others.

This was only six months after a gunman went on a shooting spree in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Like many people, I keep asking, “Why? Why take the lives of innocent people and leave so many others traumatized? What goal could these crazed gunmen possibly be achieving?

And just like the Pittsburgh shooting, the world lost a very special individual.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was attending the synagogue not only because it was the Sabbath and Passover, but also to recite Yizkor for her mother, who passed away in November. She was one of the founding members of the Chabad synagogue. Lisa Busalacchi, a friend of Kaye’s since they were in second grade, said that “. . . if someone were sick or someone died, she was the first one there with food or asking what she could do.” Another friend recalled when a member of the synagogue was diagnosed with breast cancer, Kaye drove her to every doctor’s appointment and helped care for her children. Witnesses say Kaye’s final heroic act was shielding Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein from the gunman’s bullets.

Still the gunman managed to shoot the rabbi, who was rushed to the hospital. Doctors operated on him but he ended up losing a finger.

There were other heroes in this shooting. Almog Peretz, 34, was injured while protecting Noya Dahan, his 8-year-old niece, and other children from the shooter. Dahan was also injured.

Oscar Stewart, 51, a construction worker who served in the Navy and Army, shouted at the gunman, who froze, dropped his gun, and ran away. Stewart chased him to his car and pounded on his car window. The gunman drove away but was later apprehended.

Jonathan Morales, an off-duty US Customs and Border Patrol agent, also chased the gunman to his car. He told Stewart to step away and began shooting at the car. Morales then went into his own car and continued shooting until he hit the gunman’s car.

The gunman was identified as 19-year-old John Earnest, a nursing student at Cal State University, San Marcos.  He grew up in a middle-class family near Poway, was an honors student, and an exceptional pianist. Earnest published a manifesto online shortly before the attack. It is eerily similar to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a famous antisemitic book in which Jews are accused, among other things, of controlling the media and the economy.

I think Oscar Stewart said it best when he told reporters that “If you’re ignorant and you don’t know what people are like, you don’t know that I’m a person just like you. I go to work every day in a manual labor job.  “. . . supposedly he said in his manifesto that the Jews control this and that—I don’t control anything. I go to work just like you every day. He didn’t know that.” He went on further to say, “The most important thing I want to share is that we need to know each other. If you make an opinion on anyone, you need to know what they’re about, and who they are. You can’t generalize and say every blue person is evil because they’re blue. That’s ridiculous.”

References

Joffre, T. (2019, April 28). Suspect’s Manifesto: Jews deserve hell and I will send them there. Retrieved from https://www.jpost.com.

Kamim, D. (2019, April 29). Poway Chabad Rabbi had asked Border Patrol Agent to pray armed-just in case. Retrieved from https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com.

Oster, M. (2019, April 28). Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, killed in Poway attack, shielded rabbi from bullets. Retrieved from https://www.jta.org

Stoltzfoos, R. (2019, April 28).  Combat Vet who stopped the Synagogue Shooter: “I scared the hell out of him.” Retrieved fromhttps://flipboard.com.

(2019, April 30). FBI says received vague tips ahead of deadly California synagogue shooting. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com.

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April is Autism Awareness Month

The increasing rate of autism should be everyone’s concern, not just those who have a family member with the diagnosis. At the present rate, 1 in every 59 children is diagnosed with autism. There is a spectrum according to the severity: those on the high end of the spectrum are able to function independently while those on the lower end require constant care and supervision. Any child could receive the diagnosis regardless of socioeconomic class, color, or religion. Anyone who feels it is not “their problem” may one day be in for a big surprise—if that person does not have a child with autism, then a sibling’s child, a niece or nephew’s child, or a grandchild could have this developmental disorder. Therefore, autism should be everyone’s concern.

National Autism Awareness month concept with puzzle or jigsaw pattern on heart with autistic child’s hands supported by nursing family caregiver

The following is a list of questions people may have. I will try to answer them as clearly and succinctly as possible.

Q. What is autism?                                                                                                      According to the website Autism Speaks (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism), “Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.” As every individual is unique, autism affects each person differently.

Q. What are some telltale signs of autism?                                                                                                                      Signs include

  • Repetitive behaviors like hand flapping, rocking, jumping
  • Inability to make eye contact
  • Speech difficulties
  • Repetition of words (echolalia)
  • Inability to participate in social interaction
  • Sensitivity to sounds, smells, and tastes
  • Trouble understanding the feelings of others
  • Agitation with schedule changes
  • Unusual mood patterns, sleep difficulties
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fixation on particular topics
  • Limited attention span

In my novel True Mercy, one of the main characters is an eighteen-year-old man with autism named Adam. I include many characteristics of autism in my portrayal of Adam like hand lapping, rocking, echolalia, sensitivity to smells, unusual mood patterns, and fixations on certain topics.

Q. When do signs of autism appear in children?

According to Autism Speaks, signs of autism may occur from the first few months of life to as late as 2 or 3 years old.

HelpGuide (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/does-my-child-have-autism.htm/ ) has compiled a list of early signs of autism:

The baby or toddler doesn’t:

  • Make eye contact, such as looking at you when being fed or smiling when being smiled at
  • Respond to his or her name, or to the sound of a familiar voice
  • Follow objects visually or follow your gesture when you point things out
  • Point or wave goodbye, or use other gestures to communicate
  • Make noises to get your attention
  • Initiate or respond to cuddling or reach out to be picked up
  • Imitate your movements and facial expressions
  • Play with other people or share interest and enjoyment
  • Notice or care if you hurt yourself or experience discomfort

Q. What can parents do if they notice these signs?

If a parent notices their child has developmental delays, it is vital they seek the advice of their child’s pediatrician to find out if testing is needed. The earlier the diagnosis, the sooner the child can receive early intervention, which is critical for the child to make gains in their development. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the therapy that has proven to help children with autism make significant improvements.

Q. What are some resources to get help?

I gathered some resources but this list is by no means exhaustive.

Autism Bedforshire http://www.autismbedfordshire.net

Autism Speaks http://www.autismspeaks.org

Autism Society http://www.autism-society.org

Autism Web http://www.autismweb.com

Autism Hwy http://www.autismhwy.com

HelpGuide  https://www.helpguide.org/home-pages/autism.htm

Addendum:

I had intended to conclude my blog post at his point, but when Amy Tobik of Autism Parenting Magazine (https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/supportive-states-raising-autism-child/?utm_source=Autism+Parenting+Magazine+Contributors&utm_campaign=71fe1ce660-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_06_18_01_56_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_782e0cc91d-71fe1ce660-96778409 ) sent me this article by Krystal Rogers-Nelson, I couldn’t resist including it. She provided a list in the order of the most supportive states for raising a child with autism.

The three main factors considered for these rankings include:

  1. State laws requiring insurance coverage of ABA therapy (points were weighted based on age limit, coverage limit, and types of insurers required to provide services)
  2. If a state is part of the ADDM Network (Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, which estimates the number of children living with autism and other developmental disabilities in various places in the United States).
  3. Grants available to individuals and families in the specified state
Rank State Age Limit? Coverage Limit? ABA Therapy Requirement for ALL Insurers in State ADDM Network Grants Available
1 California No No** Yes No Yes*
2 Massachusetts No No Yes No Yes*
3 Indiana No No Yes No Yes
4 Colorado No No Yes Yes No
5 Vermont 21 No** Yes No Yes*
6 Maryland 19 No Yes Yes Yes*
7 New Jersey 21 No No Yes Yes*
8 Washington No No Yes No No
9 New Hampshire 21 Varies based on age No No Yes*
10 New York No $45K Yes No Yes*
11 Oregon No*** No No No No
12 Connecticut 15 No No No Yes*
13 Maine 21 $36K Yes No Yes*
14 Pennsylvania 21 $36K Yes No Yes*
15 Mississippi 8 No Yes No No
16 North Dakota 21 No No No No
17 Ohio 21 No No No No
18 DC No limited to cost of similar therapy No No Yes
19 Wisconsin 9 $50K No Yes Yes*
20 Delaware 21 $36K Yes No Yes
21 Arkansas 18 $50K Yes Yes No
22 Minnesota 18 No No No No
23 Nebraska 20 No No No No
24 Utah 10 No No No No
25 Wyoming 20 No No No No
26 Illinois 21 $44,877 Yes No No
27 Florida No $36K, $200K lifetime Yes No No
28 Georgia 6 $30K No Yes Yes
29 Rhode Island 15 $32K No No Yes*
30 South Carolina 16 $50K Yes No No
31 Virginia 10 $35K No No Yes*
32 Kentucky 21 $50K No No No
33 Kansas 12 limits based on hours Yes No No
34 Michigan 18 varies based on age Yes No No
35 Oklahoma 9 $25K Yes No No
36 South Dakota 18 varies based on age Yes No No
37 Texas 9 varies based on insurance plan Yes No No
38 Alaska 21 varies based on insurance plan No No No
39 Iowa 21 $36K No No No
40 Louisiana 21 $36K No No No
41 Arizona 16 varies based on age No Yes No
42 Missouri 18 $40K No Yes No
43 Nevada 18 $72K No No No
44 North Carolina 18 $40K No Yes No
45 Tennessee 12 varies based on insurance plan No Yes No
46 Alabama 9 $36K No No No
47 Hawaii 13 $25K No No No
48 Montana 18 varies based on age No No No
49 West Virginia 18 $30K No No No
50 New Mexico 19 $36K, $200K lifetime No No No
51 Idaho n/a n/a No Law Requirement No No

Multiple grants available for this state.
**Can’t exceed the cost of treatment allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
***Must start treatment before age 9.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller designed to bring awareness to two issues: families coping with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

Need help with blog content? Please contact me through my website, www.idellekursman.com.

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