Monday, November 26, 2012

A Humbling Reminder

I just wanted to let you know that Like You Mean It has been one of the BEST stories I've read on here. I was actually debating on whether I wanted to go to vet school or occupational therapy school, and because of this story I chose OT school so I can with with people who have to use a prosthetic limb. So, thank you for helping be the reason I"m going into such a fantastic field.

A few days ago, I received the preceding message from one of my fans. The story she's referring to, Like You Mean It, is one I've posted online at a website called Wattpad. It follows the journey of a young man who loses his arm in a car accident. Not only must he learn to cope with being disabled, but he has to learn how to handle the reactions of others. It's a tough road for a seventeen year old kid whose peers once voted him most athletic and nicest smile. 

As I've said before, when I first started out as a writer, my dream was to have a line of books featuring disabled teens in leading, romantic roles. I wanted these teens to have a role model rather than being relegated to supporting characters if they weren't omitted altogether. I wanted to touch hearts and change lives.

You might recall from my previous postings, both here and on Twitter, I'm a huge fan of the Wattpad website. It's been dubbed "the You Tube for e-books" and offers writers the chance to post their work for review by readers. I've often said writers, whether seasoned pros or just starting out, should check out this site. Although writers don't receive monetary compensation for the work they post, the honest feedback fans provide is an invaluable tool for improving a writer's craft.

After receiving this fan's message, I'm even more convinced of the virtues of Wattpad. I'm still waiting to realize my dream on a larger scaled, but I feel one step closer. Beyond that is an even bigger picture, one that speaks to the amount of influence a writer can wield. Something about Like You Mean It spoke to this young woman and convinced her of her calling in life. It's a humbling reminder of how much writing means not only to the writer but to the reader as well.

Monday, November 19, 2012

That's Not So Bad

Earlier this year, I signed with a new literary agent. By new, I mean new to me and not new to the business. I feel the need to qualify that statement because there are some in the industry who warn writers away from getting involved with new agents. However, that’s a topic for another time. My intent is only to remind my loyal readers that I managed to snag a great agent earlier in the year.

I was signed on the strength of one of my paranormal novels. For those of you who know me, or if you’ve read this blog before, you know the paranormal genre isn’t my first love. I’ve always been more of a realism with a touch of romance kind of writer. The problem with that was when I first tried to get my realistic novels into the hands of publishers, the timing wasn’t right. Teens wanted vampire novels. I wrote one only to be told it couldn’t compete with the existing vampire titles. Down but not out, I changed my tactic and wrote an entirely different paranormal novel whose subject matter scared away potential agents and publishers. Not willing to give up, I tried again and put a softer spin on a different paranormal novel. It worked. I found the agent I’m working with now.

Since signing with this agent, he’s been working hard to get this book into the hands of the right publishers. So far, they’ve all passed, but it’s not over yet. It’s still under review with several other publishers so you never know what could happen. In the meantime, my agent has forwarded me the rejection letters. Though he’s obligated to do so, I could tell he felt bad doing it when he prefaced the email with the words “no one likes to read rejection letters”.

My response to rejection letters depends on the day. There are some days when I barely register a reaction and other days when I cry and still other days when I go off on a long rant about the difficulties of this industry. Interestingly enough, the day I opened this email, I didn’t do any of these things. Believe it or not, my faith in my talent was actually buoyed by the comments from the editors. The most negative comment came from only one person who didn’t feel a connection to my protagonist. Most everyone else felt the plot was interesting and liked the characters and praised my storytelling ability.

It seemed the problem didn’t lie with me. Once again, it’s a matter of timing. You’re not going to believe this, but the young adult market is flooded with paranormal novels. Publishers are turning those away and looking toward realistic novels. I am absolutely thrilled to hear this since realistic plots are what I consider my bread and butter. As we speak, I’m in the process of editing one to send to my agent to see if it’s strong enough to submit to publishers. With any luck, I can catch this train before it takes off. Until its ready, my agent will continue to make the rounds with my paranormal novel.

Nobody likes to read rejection letters. True enough, but those letters weren’t so bad this time around.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The One that Started it All

Yesterday was the actual Veteran’s Day holiday. Today is the observance. Those people who work for businesses closed on Sunday are lucky enough to get the extra day off thanks to those who’ve served and sacrificed for the United States.

If you know me personally, or you know anything about me, you know how near and dear the military is to my heart. As the daughter of Air Force veterans, it’s difficult not to recognize the importance of that service, but I like to think I’m the kind of person who’d be grateful without the personal connection.

Thinking about Veteran’s Day got me to thinking about the first novel I released. Letters from Linc was published in 2006 but set in the year 2003. The story centers on a young Marine facing his first deployment to Iraq just weeks after marrying the love of his life. The story was written at a time when our nation’s involvement in Iraq was in its infancy and we weren’t really sure what it would grow to be. 

It wasn’t long after the story was published that I began to read stories of substandard conditions in our military hospitals. They couldn’t help it. The number of wounded resulting from this war exceeded their ability to keep up. Determined to find a way to help, I made the decision to donate one hundred percent of the royalties from the sales of my novel, Letters from Linc, to our nation’s hospitals. Even though it means I’ll never make a dime off the story, it’s a decision I’ve never turned my back on because I’ve never regretted it.

Since Letters from Linc was published, I’ve met many fine men and women who’ve served our country as well as their loved ones. One woman told me the story helped her understand her husband better. The man was a medic in Operation Desert Storm who’d not only suffered a head injury but came home with a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Another woman told me the story touched her heart and reminded her of the things she and her husband felt during his service in Vietnam. Another young man, whom I’ve yet to have the pleasure of meeting and who was also one of our country’s defenders, has become one of my biggest champions. He’s always quick to talk up my work any chance he can because he understands what I’m trying to accomplish.

I wish I could say that sales are skyrocketing and I’m one of the biggest donors Walter Reed Hospital has ever seen, but the truth is I can’t. Sales are slow, especially in this tough economy. I’ve never been one of those authors who are about the bottom line. All I want, all I’ve ever wanted, is for people to be touched by my stories. The only reason to be disappointed here is because I feel like I’m falling short. I didn’t serve, but I want to give back to those who did.

You know, if you haven’t purchased a copy of Letters from Linc, it’s never too late. You can buy the e-book on Amazon for just $3.99 or if you’d prefer, the paperback version, it can be purchased for $14.95. If not, believe me when I say I understand. And believe me when I say I’m in this for the long haul. I’ll never forget those who served or the book that launched my career.

Monday, November 5, 2012

When Life Gets in the Way

No doubt you’ve noticed it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted anything here. It’s not just my blog that I let go but all of my social media. Messages piled up in my email inbox as well while my laptop sat dormant for several weeks all for one reason. Life got in my way.

On October 19, 2012 I got a call that changed my life and not in a good way. It was Friday afternoon and I was in the middle of editing a manuscript during the lunch hour of my day job when my stepmother called. Rather than calling to say hello, she was frantic. My stepmother was out of town and had been unable to reach my father by phone. She sent my eighteen year old stepsister to the house to see what was wrong and my sister was unable to wake my father up. Pushing back my panic, rather unsuccessfully, I assured her I’d take care of everything and call her when I knew what was going on.

After letting everyone in my office know what was happening, everyone who hadn’t left the office for lunch, that is, I called my husband. Needless to say I was a bit put out when his voice mail picked up, though I knew he was in the middle of a coworker’s retirement luncheon. As I hurried out of the building, I left him a rambling message. On my way out to my car, he called back to clarify what was going on and I managed to make a little bit more sense. While sending him to my dad’s house, I went to the Veteran’s Hospital to await the arrival of the ambulance.

I’d just pulled in the VA parking lot when my husband called. My father was awake and speaking but was obviously ill and in need of the hospital. The problem was that he was refusing to go. This isn’t unusual for my dad. Like most men, he’s always denied the gravity of any illness he has. Frustrated, I drove the distance to my dad’s house. By the time I got there and saw my dad, my frustration gave way to full blown anger. My dad looked terrible. His blood sugar and blood pressure may have been fine, but he was twitching violently as though he was having some sort of seizure. I was less than nice when I insisted he go to the hospital. Even the paramedics didn’t want to leave him. It was a phone call from a paramedic supervisor that convinced him to go to the hospital.

So it was back to the VA hospital. I followed in my car while he went by ambulance. The trip was around fifteen minutes for me. Somehow, I managed to arrive before the ambulance, and it was another half-hour before I saw my dad again. By then, he was unconscious and still shaking. The doctors fired questions at me that I couldn’t answer. When did his symptoms start? What other complaints did he have? How long was he like this? What medications was he taking?  As much as I would’ve liked to answer their questions, I fired off one ‘I don’t know’ after the other. I didn’t know. I don’t live with my dad, and the last time we spoke there was no mention of any illness.

Several hours later, my dad was in intensive care and still unconscious, and my stepmother was cutting her church retreat short to come home. After almost ten hours at the hospital, and after the arrival of my stepmother, I headed home. My father still wasn’t awake and test results were still pending to pinpoint his problem.
Saturday October 20, 2012, I went to see my dad. I was pleased to see he was awake. Though he was still weak, he was awake, and he seemed to be himself. We joked with each other the same way we always had. When I left to go to my daughter’s band competition, I was confident he’d be better and be home soon. Sunday night, I learned how wrong I was.

For some reason, my dad took a turn for the worse. He was struggling to breathe and hadn’t slept the night before. As my daughter and I sat with him, he spat out delirious questions like asking us if we had a knife to cut the cake. While we were there, the doctors came to assess him and discuss a course of action. Thinking my stepmother should be a part of the discussion, I took my daughter and went in search of my stepmother who assured me she’d keep me informed. By ten thirty that evening, my father was sedated and intubated.

It seemed my father had pneumonia and had not only been admitted with septic shock but had subsequently contracted Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome. The idea of the intubation was to allow his lungs to recover while he rested. It was only supposed to be a few days. Instead, it was almost two weeks.

Every time they tried to take my dad off the respirator, he became combative and refused to follow their commands. I will never forget the first time the doctors tried what they called a “sedation vacation”. The plan was turn off the heavy sedatives so that he could wake up. Once awake, they’d turn down the respirator to see how well he could breathe on his own. You know what they say about best laid plans right? My father raged against their efforts, and I mean that in a literal sense. He kicked and thrashed and fought tooth and nail. It took five medical personnel to hold him down while they turned on the medication and waited for it to put him under once more. As I watched this, I couldn’t help feeling I’d failed my dad. We’d never expressly talked about it, but I suspected he didn’t want this kind of intervention. I feared his fight was his way of telling me that, but my stepmother insisted he agreed to be intubated. He agreed? He also asked me if I had a knife to cut the cake. I didn’t think much of his agreement, and I told her so.

Day after day, I sat at my dad’s side trying to come to terms with the fact that he was going to die. I was never going to speak to him again. Rather, he was never going to speak to me. There was so much I wanted him to know, and I was afraid he didn’t know any of it. I wanted him to know how much I loved him and appreciated all he’d done for me. I wanted him to know I was glad he’d been my dad. I wanted him to know I was going to be okay, and I’d do my best to always make him proud.

My friends and coworkers asked about me and my dad daily. As I gave the updates, I confessed I didn’t have a good feeling. I should tell you this is my dad’s fault. He raised me to be a pessimist. Expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised if the best happened.

Almost two weeks later, you can color me pleasantly surprised. It was the doctors’ fourth or fifth day of their “sedation vacation”. My father was a bit more responsive but still very combative. Their plan was to put him back under and try again tomorrow. This was always their plan, and I was getting angry. Luckily, my dad had other plans. Despite his wrists being restrained, he managed to use the muscles in his neck to dislodge the tube halfway from his throat. On seeing this, the doctors called in the respiratory therapists. My stepmother and I were asked to leave the room while they worked. By this time, it was nearing lunch time. I told my stepmother I was going to have some lunch and would be back in the afternoon. When I returned a few hours later, my father was no longer intubated or sedated. He was wide awake, and I wept as I hugged him and told him the things I’d longed to say while he was unconscious.

As you can imagine, during this ordeal, there wasn’t time to write. I wanted to write, knowing how it would heal at least me. The problem was I couldn’t bring myself to make the time. Certain my dad was going to die, I didn’t want to miss the last of the time I thought we had. I couldn’t let myself do that and regret it, especially if did pass while I was pounding away on my laptop.

With this ordeal sufficiently behind me, my dad’s been home from the hospital five days now, I’m finally able to write again and let me tell you what. It feels good!