Farewell, my girl: If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever

If I had known it was the last time I would brush you, I would have complained less.

If I had known how skinny you would get in the end, I would have worried less about you gaining too much weight.

If I’d known it was the last time I’d hear you bark, I would have let you do so with abandon.

If I had known it was the last time you’d lay in the yard soaking up the sun, nose pointed in the air, eyes closed, I’d have let you stay until you wanted to come in.

If I had known it would be my last 3 a.m. potty emergency with you, I’d have been way less irritated.

If I had known it would be the last time you’d come to me for lovin’ and slobber all over me, I wouldn’t have been annoyed.

But this makes it seem like knowing is what would have made me feel better. That’s not true, though.

I knew when you made your visit to Grandma’s that it would be your last, but it still hurt.

I knew when you had your waffle with eggs and bacon that it was your last spoiled weekend breakfast, and still it ached.

I knew when we came home from the steakhouse that it was your last time being excited for the doggy bag of scraps we always brought you, and still my heart sunk.

Here we are, on the precipice of that final vet visit, and my heart is absolutely shattered.

I don’t know how I will say goodbye. I suspect it will be with tears and sobbing and gut-wrenching sorrow.

I don’t know how I will handle the coming days without you. I suspect with a low down grief that even Angus’s sloppy puppy kisses won’t soothe.

I don’t know how I’ll ever fill the void your passing will leave. I suspect I never will.

Goodbye, my Rosie girl. If love truly could have saved you, you’d have lived forever.

 

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Seven tips to keep in mind when you query

If you are a writer beginning the querying process, like me, you have a lot of questions. I’ve spent the last six years learning about my craft in every way possible. Like many new authors I wonder how hard it is to get published in today’s market.  Agent Chip MacGregor said, “…there were about 65,000 new books traditionally published last year, and. . .maybe ten million proposals sent to agents and editors… There are a couple thousand literary agents in this country, and if they all get 10,000 queries per year on average . . . the odds are awful.” You know what that means? We need to be putting our best foot forward if we have any hope of success. Here I’ve compiled seven tips for you to consider when you start querying agents.

  1. Make sure, if you’re writing fiction, that the manuscript is complete. Do not even bother an agent until then. Why? Imagine your novel is only barely started. You’ve crafted the perfect query letter. You’ve found THE agent to make your publishing dreams come true. One morning, you wake up and find a response from said agent. She requests your entire manuscript to look over. Now what? She won’t have months to wait for you to finish it. You’ve just blown your perfect shot before you’ve even begun.
  2. Beta readers, get some. I cannot express to you the importance of a good beta reader. They are the folks to whom you entrust your very raw, barely formed word baby. They read it. They offer advice. How do you get them? You ask people who can give you legitimate writing feedback. Your mom is not a good choice. This is the woman who celebrated your first use of a toilet. Her standards are a little low. Do I recommend friends? Nope. The only caveat being they must be able to hurt your feelings and feel no remorse. If you have that kind of friend, use them (and cherish them, because honesty, baby). Pick people who are writers or readers that you trust. For example, my beta readers consist of all writers except for two. My friend AnnMarie, while not a writer, always steers me in the right direction where readers are concerned. In a recent incarnation of my first novel, one of the bad guys killed his girlfriend’s dogs. I needed to make him truly despicable. She freaked out. “Make him despicable, but almost forgivable. I have to be able to humanize him and maybe have a small piece of pity for him. If he kills the dogs, I put the book down then and there.” The last thing I want is a reader to put my book down, so I allowed AnnMarie to save the dogs. My second friend, Renee, is an awesome beta reader. She picks up on the smallest details that I get wrong, something that I, as a reader, have put books down for in the past. Everyone else is a writer. They get the voodoo that I do and help accordingly.
  3. Edits, more edits, and even more edits.  While your manuscript is with beta readers, edit. When it comes back from them, edit. Edit until your brain bleeds. Then you stash that manuscript away for a few weeks and edit until your eyes bleed.  Repeat until your fingers bleed. I know, that’s a lot of bleeding, but it’s necessary. Expect to edit more times than you can count. Then edit again for good measure. You need to be shopping around the very best version of your work. I’ve heard too many writers say that they don’t see the need to edit, because after getting an agent they’ll just edit it for them. That’s like expecting a half done lasagna to bake itself. It just doesn’t work that way.
  4. Platform, Religion, and Politics. You have a platform and a brand. It all revolves around what you write when you are a writer. Unless what you write involves religion and/or politics, don’t write or share about religion and/or politics. If the last presidential election taught us anything it is that those topics are about as polarizing as they come. One fact is true: If you don’t want to isolate readers, leave those topics at the door. If you simply must share, get a private Facebook account that doesn’t allow the general public in on that side of your life. I know Stephen King puts his opinions on social media, but he’s STEPHEN FRICKIN’ KING. When you’re that big, by all means, share away. Until then, stow it.
  5. Stalk your intended agent before querying. Okay, not really. No law breaking. But please research who you are querying. Look them up. Find their social media. Read through it. Find old interviews. Read those. Find out who they represent. Stalk them, too, for good measure. Find the agency they work for. Read their bios. For the love of all that is holy, tattoo their submission guidelines on your soul. Whatever you do, make that query letter as personal as possible and STICK TO THOSE GUIDELINES. You don’t want to get rejected because you didn’t follow what you were told. And don’t blanket a ton of agents and blind carbon copy them. It’s tacky. It’s lazy. It’s a turnoff, and almost a guarantee for rejection. Speaking of the “R” word….
  6. Accept rejection with grace. I cannot stress this enough. Agents talk, y’all. They follow each other. You will find this out when you cyberstalk them. There is nothing worse than getting a rejection to lay you low, possibly even make you angry. Do not take your anger out on them. That’s a first class ticket to Ignoring-The-Crazy-Author-Ville. Try getting someone to take you seriously when you’ve just lambasted their agent/friend all over social media. You hurt a lot of feelings and make yourself look like the amateur, insufferable jerk that you are. By all means, lick your wounds. Be sad. Tie on a feedbag of Ben and Jerry’s. Do not take your anger out on those meant to represent you. That being said,….
  7. Get back up and brush off the moss. Don’t let rejection stop you from achieving your dreams. Trust me, I know how tough rejection is. My first novel has been rejected 29 times so far. I used to take a page from Stephen King’s book and hang them all on a corkboard. But then they started to mock me. My writing suffered. I’d look at that pile of rejection letters and think the worst thoughts. I hung a little Snoopy charm (I love that beagle!) on them so that maybe I’d smile when I saw them. That cute little dog started to mock me, too. I removed it all and just keep a tally list now. I cannot allow the pain of rejection to keep me from writing. First, because there’s no stopping the drive to apply words to paper/computer screens for me. It’s how I process the world. Second, I have faith that somewhere in this wide world is one other crazy person employed by a literary agency that just might believe in me as much as AnnMarie and Renee. And I owe it to myself to find her (or him, but more likely her). So, I am getting back up, brushing off whatever moss has grown on me, and trying again. While I anxiously await agent responses, I’ve started another novel.

You should do the same. Keep chugging along. Follow these tips and give yourself the best possible chance of success!

Changes and a New Focus: Dealing with Family Crises and Finding Balance

So much has happened in the many months since I’ve been here. Too much, really. My family and I have faced so much upheaval that we’re just now beginning to settle into our new normal. That has taken eight, long months and it’s a tentative settling at best. Let me back up and explain.

Eight months ago our definition of normal imploded. All within one week’s time we found out that a close relative was diagnosed with breast cancer, my husband was diagnosed with diabetes, and I had pernicious anemia (PA) and possibly multiple sclerosis (MS). It’s been an arduous journey to health and we aren’t even at the end. Jim has stabilized with changes to his diet. Our relative is (all fingers crossed) in the last leg of kicking cancer square in the ass. Me? Still in limbo, I’m afraid. I can control the PA with bi-monthly shots, but the other symptoms…not quite.

It all began because  I couldn’t walk without falling. The fall that sent me to the doctor frightened me. I was coming down the stairs after my morning shower and I toppled and hit the wall hard, literally and figuratively. I can no longer walk unassisted. I use a cane to navigate stairs and a rollator for all other ambulatory needs. I can drive only short distances, and then only if I absolutely have to. There are days I can’t drive at all because I can’t trust my feet or hands to do as I command. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for me. There are so many other physical changes in my life that I won’t go into here. It all boils down to one thing: I have to accept that I am handicapped now.

And that’s not something I am doing well with. I have always been fiercely independent. Asking for help was not an option I ever employed. If I wanted to go somewhere or do something I just did. Nothing stood in my way. And if I couldn’t do it, well, it just didn’t get done.

But here I am. Needing help every damn day of my life because you can’t just not wear pants because you can’t put them on yourself. You can’t just leave the house without shoes because your foot won’t lift off the floor. You can’t just not eat because walking across the room isn’t an option for the day.

And I hate it. I resent it. I cannot stand it!

The worst part? I am eight months into poking and prodding and testing and multiple doctors and I STILL do not have an official diagnosis. Ask how many Type A people would enjoy that. If you find one, please introduce us. I need help.

All this to say, I am grieving the loss of my independence something fierce. It truly feels like some part of me just up and died. Last August I was walking, driving, and living my life like every other person–going to my nieces’ dance recitals and soccer games, going to the grocery store, taking my kids back and forth to events, going to have lunch with my husband at work. Four weeks later I just wasn’t anymore. Two weeks after that, I was using a rollator once in a while. Eight months later, and the rollator is a part of my body. The fear that a wheelchair looms in my near future is so very real that I want to cry.

Don’t get me wrong. I know things could be exponentially worse. I’m still here, alive and watching my kids transition into the next big phase of their lives, watching my nieces grow, and reconnecting with long lost family. The recent loss of a friend who was only 12 days younger than me drove that realization home hard.  I sat at his memorial last week, weeping for the loss, aching at his mother’s face, his widow’s sobs, and I knew I was being selfish. Talk about forcing some perspective.

However, it’s still a loss I am feeling and grieving. I know, at some point, I will rise above this. I will learn how to navigate this massive change. Until then, I am trying to remind myself that this is not the end of the world. It’s just a hefty bump in my road–a road that I am travelling, like it or not.

For now, I’ve chosen to focus on what I CAN do. It’s the only thing I think will help. I’ve decided to kick my writing goals into high gear while I still can. I’m going to be sharing here about navigating the traditional publishing slopes. I am querying agents for my first novel. I am working steadily on my next novel. I am blogging again. Most of all, I have to remember that I am more than just my rebellious body.

I’m still a wife.

Mother.

Aunt.

Friend.

And writer.

I’m still me.

Treatment: Hope

The summer of 2017 has not been kind to me and my family, both close and extended. So many people I care about have had diagnoses that literally upended their lives this summer, some temporarily, others forever. I’ve been operating under the mire of worry for the last month, trying to find my way past the grey clouds swirling about my head. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying, researching, crying and angry, pondering why things seem so damn unfair. No answers, just the echo of my questions as a reply.

This week I realized something, though. As I watch the stress mount on everyone, as I watch the numbness, shock, and dismay turn to anger, I ask, “How much more? How much before we break?” While I do not get the answers I seek, I do get the picture in my mind of a mountain.

Why the mountain? Well, when you think about it, it’s a steep climb with few footholds to make it to the top. It’s a tough journey, the toughest of your life, and questioning whether you can conquer what seems impossible. That’s exactly what we are all doing. We are standing there facing that treacherous climb and asking ourselves, can I make it? Do I have what it takes? What if…?

You have to embrace your strength. You have to face that mountain with every ounce of tenacity, guts, and grit that you can muster, if for no other reason than that the minute you doubt your own strength, the battle is lost. Even before that first step is taken, you will lose if you don’t embrace hope. Hope becomes all you have. And it can be enough.

You have to have the hope that you will reach the top of that mountain, that you will stand at the peak and scream to the world, “It didn’t beat me! I faced my battle and it didn’t beat me!” Keeping that in mind is what will keep you going. It will see you through. It will be enough.

I am looking at all this that our family is going through and trying to convince myself that this bump in the road may be more like a crater, but it isn’t insurmountable. We are a strong group of people. We are fighters. We are stubborn. We are strong. We have hope. And that is enough.

Hello 40’s, Goodbye Freewheelin’

What is it about entering your 40’s and the rapid decline of health? I find myself asking this question more and more as I sink deeper into the quagmire of midlife. I’ve had many health victories this past year, not the least among them a whopping 84 pound weight loss. But, alas, weight loss, awesome as it is and still on my list of focal points for my life, is not the magic bullet we think it is. Friends, sometimes life happens and it cares less about the scale than anything possibly could.

2017 is shaping up to be the bane of my insurance company’s and wallet’s existence. It’s six months old and already I’ve had a five day hospital stay, sleep apnea diagnosis, am unable to see much of anything without my glasses (no shock, I come from some serious mole people) and my asthma. Lord, help me, my asthma.

Before now, for decades I had an inhaler banging around in the bottom of my purse, an accessory I carried only when I didn’t have pockets or had more to haul around than one hand could easily manage. I’m not a high maintenance woman. Less is more in all aspects of my life, whether it’s makeup or possessions. However, the recent diagnosis of sleep apnea–a total accidental find to begin with–sent me back to the lung specialist.

Turns out that my lungs are revolting. Enacting a coup. Plain old being more than just a pain in my chest. I went from one lonely, probably expired inhaler, to having one on my person at all times and one for each floor of the house. In addition to that lovely aerosol accoutrement, I also have three pills and an inhaled steroid to take daily. As if that wasn’t enough, I am also tethered to a nebulizer and peak flow meter every four hours. And, like this week, if I have an exacerbation, add a butt ton of prednisone and antibiotics to that list. For the first time ever, I have to wear a medical alert tag at all times because, like Tuesday, there may come a time where I am unable to speak because I can’t breathe.

It’s overwhelming for me and my family.

I have an emergency paper laminated and hanging on the fridge so the kids know what to do if days like Tuesday happen again. I have a bright yellow folder accessible at all times that lists all my meds and allergies should they have to call 911 and speak for me.

It’s scary stuff.

While there are more health issues I’m dealing with, and will undoubtedly blog about, I am trying my damndest to remain upbeat, to not let asthma have the last word. The Type A in me is pissed that this was not part of THE PLAN. You know, the preordained by me PLAN of how my life was supposed to go. But the normal part of me, small as that may be, knows that life is unpredictable. Because of that I have to roll with the flow. Accept what I can change, right?

So, for now, asthma calls the shots. But while I struggle to learn how to keep it in check, I am not going to give up the hope that I can go back to my untethered to machines, freewheelin’ ways.

Someday.

Hopefully soon.

Do you deal with asthma? What are your triggers? How long have you dealt with it? Let me know in the comments!

IWA Podcast interview

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the International Writers Association’s Robert J. Moore. In November I joined this group and met Robert, a truly kind and, I must say, the happiest guy I’ve ever met.

Stop by the podcast and follow it to get it in your inbox. Give it a review on iTunes and pass it along to friends and others you know who might like it or benefit from the great info there. Thanks for listening!

Click here to listen to the interview or click the IWA logo below.

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