Life Happens When You’re Planning Something Else

The current year has been full of surprises, not all of them happy. And while I don’t want this blog to be a downer, I feel I should set the record straight in some regard.

If you’ve read my previous blog this year, you are aware of the death of my dear son-in-law, Carleton, on January 6. A traumatic event leaving behind grief, a complete reorganization and dissolution of life style for my daughter. An altogether sorrowful time which only the memory of his dear and presence can lighten.

After spending two weeks in Vermont with the family, I returned home and tried to get myself back on track. First on the list was scheduling my annual mammogram. Check off that item. But four days later I received a call from Kaiser. They needed to check their findings with an ultra-sound. I remember the thumping of my heart as I heard the message. It was that night that my husband said he felt a hard lump in my right breast. But I was in denial. I’ve had fibrous “lumps” before and besides I’d had stage 1 breast cancer 13 years ago in my left breast and have been clean every since. I had other things to do than revisit that scene.

Unfortunately there was no denying the x-rays and ultra sound screen presented after that second visit. Invasive ductile carcinoma, at least stage 2.
Next stop was a visit to the surgeon. I elected for a lumpectomy as it seemed it would take out the bad stuff and still leave me with something to fill my bra.

Surgery revealed that 12 of 14 lymph notes had cancer cells. An appointment was set with the medical oncologist and later with the radiology oncologist. A cat scan showed a couple of suspicious flecks elsewhere in my body, so meeting my new main doctor didn’t bring the best news. Best case scenario stage 3. The worst, 4th stage, or terminal.

With my daughter and husband with me, I thought I reacted rather well. No tears, no Oh My God, am I going to die remarks. Shock does wonderful things. Next came the Pet Scan which would zero in on those nasty “flecks” and reveal if they were simply artifacts or actual cancer.

Fortunately, the results were good. Stage 3, which means the cancer cells have migrated out of the original tumor and into the lymph nodes but no farther. That day I was euphoric. I had a chance. Within a day or so, relief spiraled into something more somber. My biggest fear was that I would suffer the horrendous nausea experienced after my first bout of chemo in 2000. My doctor assured me they would provide me with an arsenal of anti-nausea medications to prevent a recurrence. All I could do was pray they would work. Other than toothache, I can think of few things I dread more than vomiting.

But I now realize that a great blessing has come to me with an outpouring of love, encouragement, and prayers from family, friends, and colleagues. My daughter so newly widowed and in straightened circumstance, flew from Vermont, via Virginia, to spend 8 days with my husband and me. With Bill and Paige at my side, I was encouraged and supported. Ongoing concern, Reiki treatments, and offers of food from friends smoothed away many of my darker thoughts. It’s a beautiful thing to know that people genuinely care, that they are willing to write and send their healing energy to a friend in need, putting aside their own concerns to do so.

With renewed hope and strength, I’m actually getting back to writing on my current WIP, Emaline, and today I am breaking the blog barrier. Life does go on. Thank you all for being my companions and guides along this new trail.

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Published in: on May 3, 2012 at 11:24 am  Comments (21)  
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Meet A New Fantasy Author

Today I have the pleasure of featuring author, Laura Kentowski. Her debut novel, Guardian of Fate, has earned many positive reviews, mine included. Rather than try to tell you about this lovely lady, I’m going to step aside and let her do one of the things she does best. Write.

Laura, it is a privilege to welcome you to Alice’s Blog. So draw up a hypothetical chair and pour a virtual cup of tea. Tell us a little about yourself and how you manage to juggle a full time job with being a wife and mom.

Hi Everyone! First of all, I’d like to thank you, Alice, for having me here on your blog. It’s truly an honor.

I’m really your typical working wife and mother with a drive to push myself to exhausting limits. Five days out of the week I work as a corporate manager, come home to a whirlwind of a 5yr old, and eventually find a little quiet time late at night to delve into imaginary worlds with my writing. With the help of my husband, I’m sometimes able to sneak in more of my hobby if ideas can’t be ignored. Nothing beats the feeling of creating a whole new existence for my characters, even if I’m running on fumes.

Alice:  When did you first suspect that writing was your passion?

Laura:  I’ve been a big reader for as long as I can remember. I loved how my favorite authors had the ability to take me away from everything with their words, they still do. I can remember coming home with stacks of books that I could barely carry from the library, demolishing them within days, only to go back for my next stack. It wasn’t until I was about 12 that I attempted my own story. Something about a roller coaster, if I recall (twists and turns seem to be an overall theme in my writing – both figuratively and literally, now that I think of it). There were a few more stories here and there, but I was usually too wrapped up in school and friends to have the time for more. A year or so ago I started a book review blog as a way to combine my love of reading and writing. After about 4 months of that, I was compelled to write more. Short stories bloomed, until 1 idea took on novel proportions and I couldn’t stop. Writing became a ritual.

Alice:  Knowing that you graduated with a double major in Psychology and Criminal Justice, I’d love to know how those fields of study helped to shape Guardian of Fate.

Laura:  It’s funny because my first few novel ideas were psychological thrillers. Who knows, I still may use them some day. I’m a huge fan of twists and turns in novels and movies. I love finding ways to wow the psyche. By nature, I investigate everything with a need to figure things out. The human mind is an amazing entity that works in miraculous ways. If I can make a reader say, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!” then I feel that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.

Alice:  When did the idea for your book first begin to take shape?

I was haunted by a recurring vision that my main character, Cassandra, was having. She didn’t know why (nor did I at the time) she was having it, but it was compelling. As I started looking more closely at her life, it began to unfold for both of us. There was no going back as we found out together how important her role in life was. Secrets were being kept by those she loved at the same time that mysterious entities came forward, and we had to find out why.

Alice:  Do you have a special place where you write?

Laura:  With all the havoc in my life, I take it where I can get it. Most times at night I’m camped out in the recliner with my laptop. Earphones plugged in to iTunes playlists or Pandora radio, keep the noisy drone of the outside world from creeping in.

Alice:  Do you keep a notebook for stray ideas or bits of dialogue or description?

Laura:  I have several: in my purse, on my phone, in my work bag, on my desk at work. Half the time I lose track of where I put all of them. Thankfully, I’m so anal that I transfer the ideas the minute I can to my writing program so they are not forgotten.

Alice:  Do you like to outline or just fly by the seat of your pants?

Laura:  I’ve tried so hard to be one or the other, but I’ve relented to the fact that I do both. Guardian Of Fate started by the seat of my pants for several chapters until I got stuck. Being new at the whole novel idea, I was devastated as to what I should do. I searched and searched for a way out, but couldn’t find anything that prompted me forward. One day I set out to outline and the ideas just started flowing again, but only so far. So I started writing it out in detail again, until the next block. Eventually it became a pattern: write, outline, write, outline. I vowed to outline my entire next book, but Seeker Of Fate seems to be headed in the same direction of the back and forth routine. What does that make me – a planter (panster/plotter)?

Alice:  Once your first draft is finished, what comes next? Do you let it sit and chill, or do you dive right in with revisions and edits?

Laura:  Again, this was a complete learning process for me. I was ready to dive right in with my revision and edits once Guardian Of Fate was finished, but I hit another cement wall. I’d start, but found myself looking for all the wrong things, not sure of what I needed to do – completely lost. Frustration set in and I found myself putting it off for about a month. Once I got back in, it was like the flow of writing again. I knew exactly what needed to change and kept at it until the end. It was definitely my least favorite part of the whole process.

Alice:  I think Guardian of Fate would make a great movie or TV series, especially since you’re already writing a sequel, Seekers of Fate. What are your thoughts on that?

Laura:  Ahhh, my dream put on a screen, how wonderful would that be. You know, I actually get this overwhelming euphoric feeling when I see other authors’ works come to life on TV and movies. I imagine how they feel to see their characters played out in front of their eyes – literally. Of course, I would love that to be my work someday. My only fear would be capturing the emotions of the characters just right. I’m a true believer that most books are 100 times better than even the most award-winning movies. It’s just so hard to get all of those important details portrayed in such a small amount of time. I think Guardian Of Fate has enough drama, action, and twists to be a movie (I’m just a bit biased), with much more to come in the forthcoming books in the series. I’m just chomping at the bit with more surprises for everyone! Seeker Of Fate is turning out to be just as tortuous with its twists and turns as GOF.

Laura, it’s been delightful to have you as a guest and learn the ins and outs of your writing incentives and techniques. I enjoyed reading Guardian of Fate and can’t wait for your next novel, Seeker of Fate.

Guardian of Fate is available in print and e-book through Amazon.com or at Barnes & Noble. It can also be downloaded in other formats for a variety of e-readers.

Read Laura’s blog at LJ Writes.

Published in: on February 7, 2012 at 8:51 am  Comments (7)  
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Author Interview: McKenzie McCann

Today it’s my privilege to welcome McKenzie McCann as my guest.  McKenzie is not only a junior in high school, but a writer as well. She has been blogging since February of this year, and has also written her first novel. Welcome, McKenzie

Alice: You must have begun writing at a very early age, McKenzie.  What is it about writing that makes/keeps you engaged?

McKenzie: Writing is more of a hobby than anything else. I got serious about writing poetry when I was eleven, but the idea of writing for publication didn’t come around until 8th grade. I’m something of a psychology nerd, and being able to create unique characters opens my perspective of how people work, what makes them the same, what makes them different

Alice: What trends or genres seem to be the most popular with teen audiences today?

McKenzie: Most kids in my class like palette cleanser books and fantasy. Very few read for the intent of finding themes or to learn anything. They just want a good story with a lot of sex. I don’t know much about the people who read fantasy, but I know Leviathan is very popular right now. Most of them don’t understand the point of reading classics like The Odyssey or Macbeth.

Alice: I’m unfamiliar with the term “palette cleanser books.”  Could you explain exactly what they are?

McKenzie: Basically, a palette cleanser is a light read. You don’t have to worry about a happy ending and the content isn’t controversial or difficult. Night by Elie Wiesel is not a palette cleanser, but Anna And The French Kiss by Stephine Perkins would be.

Alice: In view of that explanation, do you think teens read fiction mainly for entertainment, rather than to see different ways of coping with modern conflicts and issues?

McKenzie: We’re in something The Maintainer (my best friend, her epithet makes more sense if you follow my blog) and I coined as ‘intellectual decay.’ Younger people are losing the ability to think deeply because school does not ask them to do so. We’re encouraged to only make observations, but analysis is becoming a dying art. If you think teens are consciously reading a book because they think it’s helping them in some way, you are very wrong. They may subconsciously like a book because it relates to them, but ask people why they like a book, and you’ll get a blank stare and a ‘because it’s good.’

Alice: Are teens, in your opinion, reading more, reading less, or reading differently than earlier generations?

McKenzie: I think about half of teens read for fun and the other half read because they are forced to. I’ve heard that the ebooks trend has resulted in more teens reading, but maybe ten of the two hundred kids in my school actually have ereaders. Most of the ones that do were already avid readers to begin with.

Alice: They say a good cover can sell a book. What kind of cover would be most likely to attract today’s teen?

McKenzie: I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I like covers that pose a question. I do judge books by their covers. I think it’s a good indicator of how much thought went into the story. As odd as it may sound, I’ve noticed a lot of popular books don’t have an actual full face on them, such as Forever… by Judy Bloom, Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb, Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner, or even the Twilight series. They may have half of the face, the back of the head, the face turned so we only see the cheek, but never a full face. Other body parts might be on the cover, such as legs, feet, or hands. I don’t know if this appeals to teens more or less, but that’s what’s being read.

Alice: What important thing should adult writers of YA fiction remember?

McKenzie: Teenagers are so loud. Actually, let me correct that. TEENAGERS ARE REALLY, REALLY LOUD. Every single day I come to school a group of people are often shouting about something. It’s as if they have no idea other people might be inconvenienced. I think that’s something adult authors should keep in mind, most teens act without a single thought of the future and without consideration for one another. And do it loudly and in the worst possible manner. In our high school lunch room, you often can’t hear the person sitting next to you, and there are only about twenty people in there on any given day.

Alice: You’ve recently signed a contract with Puddletown Publishing Group for your book Perfecting Perfection.  Tell us a little about the process of submission and whether you were asked to do any revisions or edits before the final acceptance.

McKenzie: My mom and Renee, one of the founders, knew each other from going to Women in The Woods, which is basically like summer camp for adults. My mom heard from Renee that she was starting a publishing company, so I submitted. I got a reply right away and Renee said she liked it, but was going to hand it off to Lisa Nowak, who was in charge of the YA branch. It was the longest two weeks of my entire life. Mind you, my life hasn’t been very long, so two weeks was absolute agony. Lisa did like it and gave me some edits, asking to resubmit after the edits had been applied. I did all of that, got some beta readers, and sent it back. By then Lisa had quit, so Renee looked it over, gave it to someone they called a ‘marketing editor.’ In July, I learned the marketing editor liked it and I was offered a contract. I did not receive the contract until mid-October.

Alice: What inspired you to write this particular novel? And can you tell something about it?

McKenzie: Basically, I got the flu and wrote this to preoccupy my mind. One of my friends often says ‘my brain is smarter than me!’ and that’s how I feel about this book. I was delirious with a fever and the whole thing just spilled out. It started with Riley, my main character, and I just loved him so much, I had to make him into a story. I knew he was the lead singer of a successful band and the fame was tiring him out. That sounded really intriguing to me, and that was how I knew people would read it. I am a teenager, no matter how much I detest it, and it’s helpful for writing a marketable story. Perfecting Perfection is kind of like a high-minded YA romance novel. There is plenty of deeper meaning, but the story does not rely on it.

Alice: What are your plans after high school graduation?

McKenzie: College, naturally, I am dying to go to Reed in Portland, Oregon. I want to study either psychology or creative writing. It depends on what will happen with my novel in the next eighteen months. If I can make it as a full-time writer, I will. If not, well, I do love psychology, but it’s not my passion

Alice: You’ve grown up in the computer age, but do you ever have moments when you feel that technology is out pacing your learning curve?  Too many gadgets, too many apps, and too many social networks?

McKenzie: I hate Facebook. I got one because on the way home from my first week of Outdoor School, all of the other counselors on the bus essentially yelled at me for not having one. I figured I had resisted long enough, and besides, I barely use it. Technology gives people an excuse not to talk to one another, and that’s just sad. What would life be without true human-to-human interaction?

Alice: Do you have a date for the publication of your book, Perfecting Perfection?  And how can interested readers get in touch with you?

McKenzie: I pushed for a date, but Puddletown refused to add one to the contract. They said there were too many factors to even settle on a time frame. In July they said they were aiming for November/December, but I will be very impressed if it’s out by then. Readers can find me on my blog at The Ubiquitous Perspective and my email mrhmccann@gmail.com.

McKenzie, thank you for your thoughtful responses and for a peek into the world of teenagers as seen by one of their own.

Published in: on November 1, 2011 at 7:15 pm  Comments (6)  
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Volunteer for Glory is now Available!

The release of my book has been a long time coming, but now that it’s here, it seems like yesterday when I wrote “The End” to Volunteer for Glory’s first draft.  The genesis for Volunteer came in 1974 when I dreamed of a beautiful, dark haired girl. Despite the vagueness that often accompanies such nocturnal adventures, I knew her husband and lover were soldiers in the Civil War. When I considered this as a book, the setting was sticking point because I knew so little of that time. Could I change the era, I wondered?  My characters resisted, declaring this is when they had lived. My arguments were wasted, so off I went to our small public library, since this was before the age of personal computers. I would conduct an overview only. No commitments.

After reading the first pages of the first book, I was hooked. I devoured every source on the subject. I ordered additional volumes from nearby libraries.  I bought others. I wrote letters. I accessed the Official War Records of the War Between the States in Portland State’s military history section.  Serendipitously, I discovered and was given an official atlas detailing the Atlanta campaign.

The Civil War became the setting that drove the novel’s theme. Stuart (Rachel’s husband) would join the volunteer cavalry; Jared, her second love interest, would march with the infantry.  Left at home with a new baby, Rachel would wait for a husband enthralled with dreams of glory.

Resurrected after its long entombment in a file box, Volunteer for Glory has been edited and, in some small ways, revised. It has now been published in e-book format and a Print On Demand book will soon follow.  Dreams do come true. For my characters, and for myself.

Description: When Stuart, Rachel’s dashing young husband joins the volunteer cavalry after Fort Sumter, she know she will have to find the grit and determination to bear their coming child and survive on the small Illinois farm. What she doesn’t expect is to fall in love with Jared Westbrook, a handsome young neighbor. The daughter of a Boston minister, she tries to deny her feelings for him and focuses on remaining faithful to her husband. While the men fight through the bloody battles of the Western campaign, they are molded by their wartime experiences. Sensitive, poetic Jared finds he can be a formidable line officer. Stuart pursues an old dream of glory. United in war, the two men are divided by love for the same woman. Who will Rachel choose? Or will the war itself make the decision for her.

Buy it at Smashwords

Buy it at Amazon.com (Kindle)


Published in: on March 20, 2011 at 8:59 pm  Comments (6)  
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Old Memories and New Beginnings

Of the many New Years that have passed, two remain fixed in my memory.  The New Year’s Eve when I looked up into the midnight sky and saw the first snowflakes that would herald the great snow of 1950.  My father scoffed when I ran to say, “It’s snowing!  It’s snowing!”  But I was right.  It was.

The second memory occurred when I was eighteen.  Bridling my beloved horse, Stormy, I rode him to the end of a nearby road ending at a neighbor’s pasture.  As the distant sound of gunfire and celebratory shrieks echoed through the night, we welcomed 1956.  What great things lay ahead, I wondered?  Romance?  Travel?  Art school? Writing a book?

The years have passed, some good and some not so good.  But this is a time to look forward.  The new year recognizes the fulfillment of at least one old ambition. Wrenn, Egypt House, published in 2008, is now available on Kindle through Amazon.com.  Volunteer for Glory is looking for an agent in this 140th year anniversary of the shots fired on Fort Sumter that formally triggered the War Between the States.  And Scattered Pieces, a book set later than either Wrenn or Volunteer, is ready for what I hope is a final edit.

The most immediate “new beginning” brings a January TV interview with Veronica Esagui, writer and publisher of the show, Author’s Forum. We will discuss the writing process, and in particular, Wrenn, Egypt House. The show will air on Comcast cable, either channel 11 or 28.

Other events are already in progress; continued participation in Chrysalis, a writing group for women.  Association in that group has brought new and amazing people into my life; women who are not only talented writers, but who are gifted in diverse fields. I will continue my work in the field of editing.

Gazing into the crystal ball of the future, I see the shadows of things planned but, as usual, the future lies hidden to all but prophets and seers.  May this new decade be one of peace and economic stability.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Buy Wrenn, Egypt House at Amazon.com

Buy Wrenn, Egypt House as an e-book

Published in: on January 1, 2011 at 11:46 am  Comments (2)  
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