Author: Shelly Miller

Anniversary of Tornadoes

TV CoverAlgebra makes me nervous. Letters mixed with numbers doesn’t seem right to me. I’m not the norm in my town of Huntsville, Alabama -one of the top three cities for science, math and tech grads. Yet, I walk amongst them.

Some letter/number combinations are daunting to even the most precise engineer, however. Combos like F4 and F5 strike a different chord, no matter your walk of life in this town. Home of both NASA and the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, ironically, Huntsville is also targeted as the most tornado-damaged city in the nation.

On this day five years ago, we saw some of the worst devastation on April 27, 2011 from not one, but several invasive tornadoes. One formidable F5 traveled on the ground for over 90 miles to wreak its havoc. But you should see our city now. The land is recovering and beauty has been restored. A wasteland is now a park. We have more shelters, more warning systems, better awareness, which translates to future lives saved.

We are proud, yet humble. Proud of where we are now, compared to then. And humble for what the future holds for us in terms of tornado activity. We keep building and keep hope alive. God bless those who lost what can’t be rebuilt or restored. May your hope be renewed too.

You can read our stories here in Tornado Valley: Huntsville’s Havoc .

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Day of Devastation

TV CoverApril 27, 2011, a difficult day for Alabama to forget. Today marks the four year anniversary of the Day of Devastation when 62 tornadoes touched down in our state, leaving nearly 300 dead.

I met a lady who was untouched by those storms, but later, found a letter that had blown in through her screened porch door. The postmark and address was from Phil Campbell, AL-a town 75 miles away, and one that was levelled by an F5 tornado on that fateful Wednesday.

The letter was nothing much, just some country club dues that someone owed. However, the lady felt she had been sent the letter for a reason, so she drove the 1.5 hr. drive to Phil Campbell to find the addressee. She soon discovered that the person whose name was on the letter died in the F5.

The lady was touched in a small, random way. Many Alabama folks were directly touched when the random tornadoes became very personal to them. My thoughts and prayers go out today for all those victims and those still living with loss. God be with you and your families. We haven’t forgotten and we never will.

Shelly’s Gardens

dsc_7559 “Wake up, Honey, I got you something.” Words every wife loves to hear in the morning from her husband. I stumble to the spare bedroom to see my surprise. What could it be? I’ve been hinting for a cryptomeria-my new favorite tree which grows 30 ft. tall, surely not inside the house though.

My husband jubilantly points to the computer screen as I adjust my eyes to see my name surrounded by flowers. He built me a new website/blog: http://www.shellysgardens.com

It is so sweet! Visit the site and tell me what you think. A blog with content is in the works, but I can’t figure out how to write and garden at the same time yet. I do talk to my plants… All the pictures are from our backyard. Hopefully I’ll soon have pictures of my customers’ backyards. Turning something I love into a specialized gardening business and having a cute website to boot, what more could I ask for? (Maybe a cryptomeria).

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)

March Madness

March Madness makes me think of basketball and my alma mater, Murray State. It also makes me think of tornadoes. I’ll never forget cleaning up after an F4 tornado hit my friend’s house on April 27, 2011. Laura and her family survived the direct hit while riding out the storm in their basement. However, the rest of the house didn’t fare so well.

As I pulled into her driveway, the trees were a dead-giveaway, or what was left of them anyway. Most were beheaded, snapped like matchsticks. The ones left standing were naked. The pressure from the tornado exploded the bark and left the trees to die a slow death. Laura had mentioned the pressure during the tornado too. During the storm, her children had held their ears in pain while Laura checked hers for bleeding-the intensity was that bad.

The house appeared to be intact from the road, but upon a closer look, the gap between the garage and the house was askew with a giant, vertical crack running the length of the two-story home. The tornado literally split the house in two. But still, Laura’s family was alive. Others, just down the road, didn’t survive. And her home, well, you could still decipher that it was a house. It would mean six months in a hotel, but at least it wasn’t wiped clean from its foundation as others in the area were.

Her neighbor’s home was one of those that went MIA. The only thing left standing in the field was what appeared to be a refrigerator, but was actually the storm shelter which saved her neighbor’s life. Laura and her husband found the neighbor inside of it, pinned inside by a massive Doppler radar ball. The radar was the one mounted on the highway stand, a half mile away. It looked much bigger on the ground as it barred the door to the storm shelter. And it felt much bigger when they pushed it a few feet to rescue their neighbor.

Despite the demolition, there always seems to be something quirky in the midst of the debris that pulls through a violent tornado. I noticed a familiar Styrofoam cup on the outside of Laura’s windowsill. Inside the cup was a new planting of a tomato which we received from our Master Gardener class, the week before the tornado. While multiple tempests destroyed miles and miles of Alabama, the little Styrofoam cup did not budge from the outer window ledge. Weird, huh? The mighty oaks were no more, but Laura could still look forward to fried green tomatoes.

It’s getting to be that time of year again-for tornadoes, not tomatoes. If I sound flippant, it’s just me getting nervous. While researching for Tornado Valley: Huntsville’s Havoc , I heard many storm accounts and personal stories. My heart beat faster as I listened and cried along with the victims, but even had a few laughs over bizarre experiences. I compiled them into a book, not to relive the moments, but to learn from those who lived through them. The tornado stories continue to fascinate me. I’d like to hear yours if you have any to share. shelly@tornadovalley.net.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($0.99)

Picture Writing

On a quest to go back in time, I barely made it out of Owensboro, Kentucky before Snowmageddon hit. I had travelled to my hometown with camera in hand, determined to link the past with the present. While one doesn’t define the other, it was still a worthwhile venture to connect the dots. In fact, it was downright fun!

DSC_5436I met a friend who has known me and my faults since I was six years old. Kudos to Lenny for still showing up. We arranged to meet under the river’s shell. I later learned the shell is really a bat wing, but thankfully, my friend saw a touristy person trying not to strangle herself with the zoom lens around her neck as she ran towards the river-as if that would make the passing barges hold still for a picture under the bridge. The crazy lady may have been yelling for them to slow down too. That’s how Lenny knew it was me.

We began our hometown adventure at the riverfront playground, puzzled by how to climb the concrete trees. Taking a photo from where I watched past Regattas, I wondered if I could see through the rails to where the hanging was. “What hanging?” Lenny asked.

“We weren’t born yet, but it was right over there by the Hampton Inn.”

On a happy note, Lenny said, “This spot is where I proposed to my wife.”

So many memories were made on the river, even ones from the Boogie Shack. I tunneled down the playground’s tornado slide for a not-so-graceful landing, static electrified hair and all. I’m still sore.

For our next scavenger hunt photo, we took my car. “I pictured you driving a mini-van,” Lenny said.

“Get out or take that back,” I said. Like spies, we parked on street corners and zoomed in on house trailers, mansions, even corn fields. We got a lot of stares in the small town, but I promise we only parked in the liquor store’s drive-thru in order to get the best shot of the old steel mill. You know, a picture shot. Even better was our side trip to a sewer ditch where we frequently picnicked. More than a few folks wondered what we were up to.

A memorable day was spent all for the sake of My Big O Journey: Growing up in Owensboro, Kentucky. The book’s upcoming print copy will have old Owensboro pictures as well as the recent ones Lenny and I risked our reputations for. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, several photographs will accompany each chapter. Heaven knows how long it takes to write that many words.

Just like Lenny and I retraced our past steps, writers should come out of their shells (or bat wings), and walk in the same shoes as their characters. It should be mandatory that a writer visits the place he writes about. With today’s temperatures dropping into the teens, I’m outlining my next book about Hawaii.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)
Write Baby Write: You Can Do It

The Magic Eraser

Write Baby Write: You Can Do It It had been a long time since I looked under the kitchen sink. “I need to look under here,” I said to my husband, as he prepared a meal for supper club that evening. He just stared, not used to my being in the kitchen while he cooked. Gourmet chefs can be like that.

While deveining shrimp, he stepped over to avoid the cabinet door banging his shins while I searched the cabinet’s contents. Unlike Mother Hubbard, my cupboard was never bare, filled to the brim with stuff I intended to use ‘someday.’ I forgot what I was looking for in the clutter, but spied something else: Magic Erasers. I eased the unopened box toward me while bottles of cleaner toppled like bowling pins. I slammed the cabinet shut before rolling a strike.

The Magic Erasers were an impulse buy during my coupon binge in 2011. Besides twenty jars of free mustard, I often returned from grocery trips with household cleaners for pennies on the dollar after stacking coupons. The Magic Erasers were new-in-the-box, but I doubted they would work four years later. While my husband slaved away in the kitchen, I decided it would be an ideal time for me to try a new product. I wetted one end of the eraser and dabbed it on the wall. I couldn’t’ believe it; the mark disappeared, the mark that had been there since we last moved furniture-could it be seven years ago? The seven-year mark disappeared as did all the others when I erased my whole house. I only stopped when the Magic Eraser disappeared. Indeed it was magic.

Good writing needs a magic eraser too. On a keyboard, it’s called the backspace key. Before computers, we mostly used pencils. My pencil eraser always wore out well before the sharpened writing tip, and I thought that was bad. I was convinced that good writing needed lots of words, the more the better. I was rewarded for adding flab to research papers in order to increase the pages or word count, per a teacher’s requirements. Once I finally learned what an adjective was, I strung them together to make even longer sentences. My daughter did the same on her homemade cards, writing: I love you so, so, so, so, so…much-until her Crayola disappeared like the Magic Eraser. She did this to show me love when she was five years old, but you won’t be showing the reader love if you water down words with over-abundant adjectives to impress them-unless you’re five years old.

Mark Twain once said, “If you find an adjective, kill it.” He even suggested to “substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

I’m amazed at the end of every writing piece after performing a document word search for ‘very.’ I need to stock up on Magic Erasers for my ‘verys’ alone. But let’s back up to the pencil. With a pencil, you can’t write and erase at the same time. It’s the same with writing-you can’t erase until after you’ve written. Write first and erase later. And then be ruthless with the ‘verys.’ They are very annoying.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon

We Got Spirit in our Britches and it really, really Itches

“Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon, lime. Look at the scoreboard and see who’s behind. You, you, you , you-Yeah, you.”

I was used to this kind of cheer while growing up in Kentucky. We talked all kinds of smack around basketball, and intelligent words weren’t required. Nowadays, cheers are mellower and might even spell real words like d-e-f-e-n-s-e.

However, one place in our nation still chants intensely personal cheers. The Library of Congress notes the homecoming tradition of the University of Montevallo as the oldest in the country, with their distinctive mantras passed down from the late 1800s. The entire college body divides into sides-either purple or gold, and remains that way forever. I once interviewed a lady for my Montevallo book, and asked her whether she was purple or gold. She replied, “I AM a purple.” She graduated from the university in 1956.

Imagine programming your GPS by pulling up the state of Alabama, and drawing a giant X on it. The exact center of the X marks the spot where these age-old cheers take center stage, culminating on one special night of the year called College Night. By the end of the night, you’ll find yourself hypnotically mumbling along, not quite sure what you’re saying, but joining in the frenzy nevertheless.

When you step into the arena on College Night, the world as you know it is left behind. You’re transported to a place like ancient Rome, where costumed lions roam the floor, and an urgent crowd jostles you towards a mosh pit. Confident grins surround you, looking inquisitively at your poker face. The arena is charged with excitement, anticipation, and nonsensical cheers which make sense to the other thousand people ringing cowbells and waving banners. Listen to the beginning of this video clip and see what I mean: YOUTUBE TRAILER

You feel like you’re on a different planet, albeit a happy one. Suddenly, half of the crowd gives a ‘thumbs up,’ and you are keenly aware that the decision has been made to go for the kill. Panicked, you scan the crowd for real gladiators and lions in this other worldly place where anything could happen. You’re relieved when the band strikes up the familiar Star Spangled Banner, indicating you’re still in America after all. The crowd stands at attention with one hand over the heart and the other behind the back, but something is odd. The hands behind the backs are signaling with peace signs.

The purple motion is the peace sign while the gold motion is the thumbs up. At least country comes first during the National Anthem…right before the color war. The last battle of College Night takes place on stage as each side vies for the best original play. Viewing two separate plays in one evening, judges gauge the best performance and decide whether a purple victory or gold victory will prevail. What’s it going to be this February-a PV or GV? This still doesn’t explain what “Moo Psi Moo” means. Visit the University of Montevallo website for more information on College Night! (Click Here)

wsos-montevallofront-words-smallWith one PV daughter and another GV daughter, this event hits home for me! If you can’t make it to college night and want to experience this ‘Local Legacy’ at one of the top colleges in the South, check out my book (click here)

Are you ready to Sing?

Are you ready to sing? Once this tune gets in your head, it’s there to stay. Imagine Julie Andrews and the von Trapp family singing “These are a Few of my Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. You’re almost there. Add a little more attitude and a phantom banjo. Now you’re ready to hum along to this little ditty about my hometown in the 1970s. My Big O Journey: Growing up in Owensboro, Kentucky is now available on Amazon’s Kindle! You can get the ebook at Amazon (click here!) Yes, I’m excited and yes, I’m nervous. Both make me want to sing. So, in the key of G sing with me:

The Sound of Bluegrass Music.

Big Dipper burgers and mutton with burgoo
Shiny Red Goose shoes and Farrah’s new hair-do
The Charley’s Chip truck, Harlem Globetrotters too
These were the things that we liked to do

Wax Works recordings with eight tracks and albums
Snow drifts and ice rinks and Lincoln Mall’s fountain
Lunch box with thermos, the OTS bus
These were the things that were special to us

Bluegrass and banjos, young boys with tall afros
Dancing with Maypoles and movies at Malco
Drive-ins and Sun-in and Miller’s Lake fun
These were the things that I would have done

Rash Stadium football, a fat Cabbage Patch doll
Dizzy Dave’s straight jeans, Camaros and mood rings
Regattas on river, and Dipper Dan’s cream
These were a few of my favorite things

Izod sweaters
Stick pin letters
And uniform plaids
I simply remember what Owensboro had
And then I just feel…so glad!

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)
Write Baby Write: You Can Do It

Coming soon in 2015!

The book draft is finished. My Big O Journey: Growing up in Owensboro, Kentucky is coming to Amazon in February 2015! Take a sneak preview of the cover. My Big O Journey: Growing up in Owensboro, Kentucky I’m even more proud that I didn’t gain my usual 15 pounds when writing, while losing 15 friends at the same time. At least, I don’t think I did. Most folks extended grace, knowing I was in a race to the finish before carpal tunnel syndrome set in. Laser-focused and self-absorbed, I escaped to my own world and didn’t recognize those around me, including family members. My own daughter claims that when she asked if I wanted something from Chick-fil-A, I told her to hush! I missed my chance for nuggets and great lemonade, but have a book to show for it.

My Big O Journey is about growing up as a Kentucky girl in the seventies. Feeling too young to write a memoir, I stuck to one decade of life and lost myself in the reminiscing and nostalgic stories of youth. I was neither a bad girl, nor a goody two-shoes, and was able to offer justice to both sides of the Big O. I didn’t sugar-coat the past, but turned up some surprises that even spooked myself while writing a certain chapter.

I loved the pouring out of ideas which somehow connected together. I usually get burned out ¾ of the way through the writing of a book. That’s an understatement-I hate my own book by then and threaten to abandon it in a bottom drawer. This usually means I’m about to have a break-through as opposed to a breakdown, and it’s most important to push through. During My Big O journey, I never reached that breaking point. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane and all the side alleys.

I trained my mind to empty all onto the page-the good, the bad, and the ugly, knowing full well that I would review my thoughts-turned-words many times before sending the pages off to edit. My editor would scour those same words and purge those never meant to land in a book on Planet Earth. Entire chapters melt in a puddle on the floor like the wicked witch. Ouch.

I’m okay with that. The problem comes when I’m in public and open my mouth to speak. Because I’ve spent hours unleashing unfiltered thoughts onto paper, it’s difficult to filter those same thoughts before voicing them. You won’t believe the things I blurt out. My words become squirted toothpaste – no squeezing them back into the tube. Once they’re out, they’re out. Where, oh where did my filter go? If my editor were around, even she would run for cover. Maybe that’s why my husband neglected to inform me of his office Christmas party…hmmm.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)
Write Baby Write: You Can Do It

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Shelly Van Meter Miller, Tornado Valley: Huntsville's Havoc

Author Bio Picture, Shelly Miller

I can feel it in the air. Something’s coming over me. It reminds me of a bout with the flu, but it’s not. The last time I thought I had the flu, I was really pregnant. But I’m not. I’ve had this bug several times before, and I know what it does. It’s serious business, but it’s only temporary.

I’m making preparations in advance, just in case I’m incapacitated for a while. I grocery shopped and bought carton after carton of that frozen macaroni my family loves. That way they won’t starve when I don’t make dinner. I also bought some extra socks and underwear, and that’s when I saw their panicked looks. You see, there’s a good chance I won’t be doing much laundry either.

November is just around the corner, and I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo. It sounds like something from my favorite seventies sitcom, Mork & Mindy, where the late Robin Williams played an alien from the Planet Ork and greeted earthlings with a quirky handshake saying, “Na-Nu Na-Nu.” It has nothing to do with aliens, a little to do with hands shaking, and maybe just as farfetched. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.

Writers around the world are fluffing up their favorite seat cushions, stocking up on K-cups, and warning everyone dear to them of what’s about to happen. The goal is to write an entire novel of 50,000 words during the month of November. It’s a goal, it’s a challenge, it’s a book!

In order to achieve this lofty aim, the daily word count must reach 1,667. I double-checked the math, and yes, that’s what it really is. Luckily, my type of novel needs only 30,000 words, so I get to cheat a little. This doesn’t disqualify me from participating in NaNoWriMo since the object is to complete a novel in a month.

I agree that books shouldn’t be born prematurely, no matter how many words. However, the words will be there, ready for the polishing and purging which must happen as part of the writing process. But that’s for my editor to worry about. My goal is to get the words out of my head and onto the page-all 30,000 of them.

If you ever wanted to author a book, NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity. While writing is a solo and sometimes lonely process, participating in a group of thousands of writers in the same boat is very motivating-just the boost you need. Google the term for more inspiration, and while you’re there, join some positive writer’s groups and add to the comradery. Ready, set, Write!

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon