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My Work In Progress

The legal pad I started the story on with Post-Its for quick character reference.

The legal pad I started the story on with Post-Its for quick character reference.

Why am I doing the Writing Process Blog Tour again? Because my friend Sonya Craig tagged me to do it and I like to think I’m a good friend. I met Sonya through a mutual friend on Twitter. He included me in a #FollowFriday tweet and she followed me, no questions asked and tweeted me that she followed me because our friend told her to. I was sold. Sonya writes sci-fi, tweets about Fat Cat, and advocates for proper mental health care. A woman after my own heart because I love sci-fi, cats, and access to needed mental health services while breaking down the stigma.

What are you currently writing?

Since finishing Saving Grace and sending it off to beta readers, I returned to Family Ties, a story I started fifteen years ago and finally finished last year. I’ve spent the last year tweaking it to the point where I’m happy with what I have and also couldn’t bear to look at it anymore, shoving it into my first reader’s hands for now.

Sara Parker spent the first fourteen years of her life without friends, living by strict rules, and keeping secrets. Arissa Jericho moves in across the street and befriends Sara, to the dismay of Sara’s parents. The first day of high school, the girls meet Jason Waters. Now Sara has two friends and learns why her parents didn’t allow her to have friends in the first place. When you keep everyone at a distance, no one has to know a thing. Sara is convinced she will lose her friends if her secrets ever come to light. When Arissa and Jason stand by her instead of leaving her, Sara learns the true meaning of family, bravery, and love. She accidentally reveals her last secret when she gets too comfortable, setting off a series of events out of everyone’s control, starting with ripping Sara away from the only stability she’s known.

My character brainstorming and how each one relates to Sara.

My character brainstorming and how each one relates to Sara.

What makes your work different?

It’s not often you read a general fiction book with teenagers as the main characters. I originally meant for this to be general fiction. Then I decided to go in the direction of Young Adult. However, the first third of the book is unnerving and disturbing and I don’t think it would do well in the Young Adult genre unless I tone it down, which I will not do. So now I’m back to general fiction and I feel more comfortable with that decision. Sara has a dark and discomfiting story. One that people may shy from. It is a completely fictional story, but it is also real. There are young people just like Sara in the real world needing a way out and supportive people to help them.

Why do you write what you do?

I used to work in the mental health field. When I started Family Ties, I was doing direct care work with teenage boys in a psychiatric residential treatment facility. I told myself when I started at the agency I would leave work at work, but doing that is easier said than done. The boys I worked with came to us from all over the state, each with their own story no less horrifying than the next. I’ve always found writing to be therapeutic and Family Ties was my way of dealing with the stress of work. There is a piece of each of those boys in Sara. A thought. A glance. A fear. A hope. A smile. An act of bravery. A piece of resilience. In time, Family Ties became just as much for the boys as it was for me. Even if I told myself I was okay if I never published it, I realized I needed to for the boys and every other child like them.

Editing a print copy because I find more mistakes and it's easier on my eyes when Sjogren's Syndrome symptoms are bad.

Editing a print copy because I find more mistakes and it’s easier on my eyes when Sjogren’s Syndrome symptoms are bad.

How does your writing process work?

The way I wrote the bulk of Family Ties was much different from Saving Grace. I started with brainstorming my characters and their personalities on a legal pad. I had an idea of how I wanted it to end, which gave me my working title – Lily. Then came the writing…on the same legal pad…while listening to Goo Goo Dolls’ Dizzy Up The Girl CD on repeat. More specifically, “Acoustic #3”. This was before mp3 players and iTunes were around. I listened to the CD so much, it ruined it. Luckily, Chaz had a backup of it. I wrote in whatever free time I found, which wasn’t much. By the time I was doing case management at the agency, I was on-call 24/7 for my in-home clients which meant a lot of crisis calls. Most of them requiring me to drop what I was doing and drive out to the home. Yes, including turning the burners off the stove while cooking dinner. There were times where after writing a scene I had to walk away from it because it was so emotional I found myself in tears. Not just take a break and do something for an hour. Set it aside completely. Sometimes for months at a time. I finally came back to it last year without needing to set it aside because of the emotions and used the same process I did with Saving Grace.

I’m tagging two friends of mine, Johnna Perry and Theresa Hernandez. I met Johnna in person two years ago at a retreat hosted by a mutual friend and fellow gluten-free blogger. We both knew of each other but didn’t know each other, as often happens in the blogospher. After three days we were fast friends and we share giggles a lot with each other through Facebook, Twitter, texts, emails, and in person. We both love bourbon and will brainstorm recipe ideas (many of them containing bourbon) while we’re drinking (bourbon) together. She’s just one of the friends who convinced me to read Fifty Shades of Grey (a book I picked up off the shelf to see what the hubbub was about and promptly put it back) and I think I’ve more than returned that favor. And yes, it took several friends to convince me I should read it. I’m hoping she’ll share a bit of the cookbook she plans on doing. Theresa and I connected through our gluten-free blogs years ago then fell out of touch when she let her gluten-free blog (she had some really yummy recipes). We re-connected through Twitter recently and our writing. It’s been fun talking to her about subjects other than recipes. Theresa writes in the Young Adult genre and posts lots of book cover reveals, excerpt teasers, and reviews for other authors on her blog. So many books to read, so little time!

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Read What You Want Without Shame

City of Heavenly FireA piece from Slate made its way around Twitter in a flash yesterday. It’s titled, Against YA: Read what you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children. The title should have clued me in that I was about to read something inflammatory to raise numbers, which is why I’m not including a link. I only read it because an author was tweeting about it and I was confused. I thought reading it would help. I was wrong. I still don’t understand the tweets and I’m angry that someone has the audacity to tell people how they should feel.

No one gets to tell you how you should feel about anything. Feels are an automatic response. How you deal with those feelings once you recognize them is a different story. I didn’t spend ten and a half years working with teenage boys reinforcing that it is NORMAL to feel angry when someone pisses them off to sit back and have an adult tell me I should feel embarrassed for reading Young Adult fiction. No. No one dictates my feelings.

My taste in books is like my taste in music, a little of everything. I never read young adult when I was the “appropriate” age for it. I never read Sweet Valley High or Flowers In The Attic like other kids my age. I went from reading Judy Blume and Nancy Drew to Sidney Sheldon and Judith Krantz. My favorite book is V by A.C. Crispin and I read it in seventh grade. So what if I read the genre now? If I want to read The Mortal Instrument series, I’m going to read, enjoy it, be satisfied with the ending Cassandra Clare gave us, and not allow anyone to shame me for it. If I want to stand outside Barnes & Noble waiting for them to open so I can buy the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series, I’m going to.

I sat here after reading the article wondering, why am I writing? I never meant to write Young Adult, but I did. My intention has always been to make it accessible to adults, too, but someone says they should feel embarrassed for reading it? Then I remembered my former clients who serve as the inspiration for my protagonist. I’m writing it for them. I’m writing it for me. I’m writing it for anyone who wants to read it.

What does it matter what we read and enjoy? Some people turn their nose up at those who only read comics and graphic novels. Why? It’s still reading. There’s a plot. There’s a hero. There’s a villain. It’s elitist and judgmental to say one genre is better than another. We prefer one genre over another. That’s it. It’s like music. No one genre of music is better than another and I’ve never let anyone shame me for liking Barry Manilow.

Read what you want and forget what anyone says about it.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Giving Up is Not an Option

EditingI embraced my full-time ability to write last year after regaining energy levels from my first bout with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. I quit my job months before because even with reduced hours and working on my ability to manage the mental and emotional stress, the physical stress of the work took its toll. I was in pain almost 24/7 and fighting off infection after infection. My sleep felt like it was non-existent even when I was lucky enough to get eight hours. I was so exhausted I wound up crashed out on the sofa after sitting down to watch TV.

I felt better enough after not pushing myself day in and day out that I realized it was time for me to start doing what I wanted to do. I focused on my blogs at first. Then, I returned to my first manuscript.

Next, Sjögren’s Syndrome struck. For those of you who haven’t followed me on Hunter’s Lyonesse, I was diagnosed with this autoimmune disease in 2008, months after my hypothyroidism diagnosis. I tested positive for antibodies, but never presented with symptoms. Until last year. This means my body attacks my own tear and saliva glands. My eyes were severely dry as was my mouth. I had to keep water with me wherever I went because my mouth was so dry; and sitting at the laptop too long dried out my eyes faster than if I was not staring at a screen.

At the same time, we discovered food allergies and intolerances that developed over years of not being diagnosed with Celiac sooner. It created gut permeability and while my body decided to attack some of the foods that were escaping through the gut lining, it was also reacting to other foods as if they were allergies (but no anaphylactic reactions). I had to deal with keeping my eyes and mouth moist while removing nine more foods from my diet on top of the gluten, dairy, and eggs. My body is on overdrive because it spent decades attacking gluten and once I took that away, it attacked other things.

After a year of focusing on treating ALL my allergies (not just the food) and getting acupuncture monthly to help with the Sjögren’s symptoms, I’m in a much better place than I was a year ago. But there are still problems. I still can’t sit at the laptop for long if I’m wearing my contacts. I can’t drink alcohol without feeling the dry eyes and dry mouth the next day. I can’t eat grains of any kind without my fingers being stiff and swollen the next day. Brain fog hits me when fatigue from any one of my illnesses strikes. There are days the brain fog is so bad I can’t form a single clear thought and have to walk away until it lifts. Right now, my brain is telling my body to attack Vitamin B so my body is pretty much killing it rather than using it like it should.

I work between the laptop and pen and paper because of my limitations. I try to be more aware of how long I’m at the laptop before I get up for a break. But we all know that when you’re in the middle of writing something to get it out of your head, you can’t be bothered to get up for a break. When I don’t do that, it comes back around the next day with more stiffness or more dryness.

The food reactions that get in the way: debilitating headaches, stomach pains, and non-stop itching to name a few. Plus, I developed a problem with my shoulders from sitting so long writing. It put me out one weekend because my right arm was nearly useless. Chaz had to finish chopping vegetables for me one Saturday for dinner. I went five days straight in pain and begrudgingly took ibuprofen on the fourth day (ibuprofen exacerbates gut permeability) to alleviate just a little of it. Thankfully, my doctors fixed me up on the fifth day.

You might think it’s no big deal and that I should be able to write with brain fog or a headache or stomach pains or non-stop itching or shoulder pain, but this assumption means you haven’t experienced any of these things. Unless you experience brain fog for yourself, it’s difficult to grasp. It’s like getting lost in a really thick fog in which you can’t see your outstretched hand in front of your face and you try to feel your way around while disoriented but you get stuck in a deep patch of mud instead and you just want to lie down and take a nap because all of that was so exhausting. Yes, that run-on was intentional. Writing is the ability to craft words. When brain fog takes over, you lose this ability and it’s like your IQ dropped a hundred points. Trying to tell Chaz what I want or what I need can be a trying experience…for both of us.

It’s frustrating when I sit and write using pen and paper and I can’t keep a handle on my pen. My grip loosens even as I tighten it…and there goes the pen thwacking on the desk. Sometimes it’s because of the inflammation in my fingers. Sometimes it’s the pain in my shoulder. It’s one thing to realize before you sit at the desk to write that something is off and writing isn’t a good idea. It’s completely different to be wrapped up in the process when your body turns on you and everything goes awry.

It took me a month to complete the first draft on my second manuscript, and that was with an insane week of banging out four to six thousand words a day. The ideas and words just flowed that week. I’ve been working on the second draft for two months. I feel like I should be done with it by now and I find myself getting frustrated with that. Then, I stop and remind myself that it’s okay, each day I work on it is one day closer to a finished second draft. I’m doing the best I can each day and that’s all I can do. The alternative is to give up and that is not an option.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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