Friday, December 13, 2013

My Christmas Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

When we first moved out East, I used to write a family update letter every year to stuff in our Christmas cards along with a picture of our growing boys. I haven't done that in several years because a) I don't send Christmas cards anymore and b) I didn't really want to share what was going on.

Most of you know that two years ago, Wade and I decided to separate. It was a decision we wrestled with but we ultimately felt it was the best one. We stayed together in the same house during this time to make the transition easier on our boys, who of course, remain our top priority. This year during Labor Day weekend, Wade moved into a smaller house in Salisbury and I moved to Delaware with my boyfriend Mike who recently bought a house in the area.

The good news is that it's been three months now and everyone seems to be handling the change well. The boys stay in Salisbury during the week and are able to remain in the same schools. I visit them twice a week and they come to Delaware every other weekend to stay with me. They'll be coming for some extra time over the holidays and we are excited to be hosting my parents for a visit during their stay.

Tristan, our oldest, is a sophomore in high school now. He is a self-professed nerd and begged us to let him take Honors Chemistry over the summer. What kid begs their parents to take a summer class just because they want to learn so badly? Mine does! :) He is a straight A student and is taking 2 AP classes this year (Physics and Government) along with pre-calculus. He is also part of the Chess Club, Math Team, and a mock trial club where they all take roles in pretend court cases.

Jordan, our middle son, is an eighth grader and is part of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program at his school. He also takes advanced classes and is a mostly straight A student. He has become our resident computer geek, loves video games and is learning how to program. He can often be found poring over the laptop creating his own games. He has always been our creative one, so I think it's a great way for him to use that creativity and learn valuable skills he can possibly make a career out of someday!

Kadan, our youngest, is in third grade and even though he got a later start than his brothers in reading and writing (due to his extreme stubbornness!) he has more than caught up and is also a straight A student. He is part of an enrichment program and has a passion for maps and geography. He is also fascinated by science. He is still our resident actor, with so many expressions and moods that we can totally picture him accepting an Oscar someday down the line. When he gets a little older, we'll certainly want to get him involved in the theater.

Wade has taken a job as a probation/parole officer so he's no longer a correctional officer at the prison. It's been a positive change for him and has allowed him to work a normal M-F daytime shift after years of working nights and weekends. I left my job at SU recently and am taking this year to figure out what my next steps are. I would like to stay in this area and am looking for jobs locally but there's nothing quite in the same field. I am also focusing on my writing career and contemplating going back to school for something totally different. I guess I'm sort of having a mid-life crisis which I swear I am too young for but at almost 40 I suppose I'm not.

When I lived in Indiana, I taught a class through the Mental Health Association for children whose parents were divorcing. My teaching partner and I showed the kids a video about divorce made in the 80's that starred Alan Thicke from "Growing Pains." I taught the class for seven years and we showed that video once a month so you can imagine how many times I saw it! Something that Mr. Thicke said in the video has really resonated with me in the past year. Please forgive my paraphrasing but it was something like this: "Sure, things will be different; they'll have changed. But soon they'll feel normal. It will be a new kind of normal."

We have a new kind of normal here on Delmarva, which for those of you who don't know, is what they call the peninsula where we live since it's Delaware, part of Maryland and part of Virginia. We're learning to be happy with our new kind of normal. And even though we aren't positive what the future holds, we know that God will take care of us no matter what.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and many blessings in 2014.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

an update, please read

I was back home again in Indiana last weekend. What a perfect time to visit, too, with all the leaves changing and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. I went primarily to do an interview with Eric Bernsee at the Banner Graphic about the book. I also visited with former coworkers at DePauw, got to see a long lost friend from high school at South Putnam, hung out with my bestie Chris (the inspiration for Jennifer) and attended church at Greencastle Christian where I used to be every Sunday morning when I lived in Greencastle.

Of course, I talked up the book as much as I could. Many people said they read it and loved it or they had downloaded it and wanted to start reading it or that they had it on their list to buy. That was wonderful to hear! I knew that in order for this book to be a success, I'd have to have the support of my family, friends and the people of my beloved hometown.

That said, sales have been sluggish in the last two weeks. Some of the people I thought would be my biggest advocates haven't even read the book, let alone written a review. I have only received 11 reviews to date as a matter of fact. I know it's only three weeks in since publication but I have to confess that I'm a little disappointed by the sales and reviews. I just keep thinking that there are 10,000 people in my hometown and even more in Putnam County, many of whom I'd think would be interested in reading a novel set where they live, but I've not even sold 1% of that yet.


I hope that people are just slow to get around to reading it. I'd like to think that despite it being "chick lit" there's something in it for everyone. And I'd like to think that at $4.99 it's worth helping a fellow Hoosier out toward making her dreams of becoming a successful writer a reality. I know not everyone has an e-reader, but there are other options such as the Kindle App, the Kindle Cloud Reader and downloading a pdf from Smashwords that can be printed out. I need help with sales, reviews, and just plain getting the word out. I know I can't do it by myself. I'm hoping my article in the Banner will give sales a big boost!

Thank you to everyone who has helped so far! I can't tell you how much your support has meant to me!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

an excerpt on release day!


First, I just want to say that I appreciate the outpouring of support from my friends and family in helping me promote the book! I just want to remind you that it's a first draft and I'm hoping to use your reviews and feedback to help me revise it and find a publisher! Secondly, I want to say that even though I could have used another week to get it more polished, I picked the date 9/18/13 to release the book for a reason. It's the two year anniversary of my friend Chris' daughter Brooklyn's death, which is what inspired me to write this book. When I picked the date I thought I'd be moving to Delaware AFTER the release, not before! I don't recommend trying to finish a book and move in the same two week period, just for the record!

All that said, here's an excerpt from near the end of the book!

     Kat parked on the square and the three ladies began to hurry into the restaurant just as the sky was starting to open up and hurl huge drops of rain down upon them. Jennifer paused while her companions slipped inside the shelter. November rain, Jennifer thought, hearing the Guns N Roses song pop into her head accompanied by images from the video which had been played to death on MTV in the summer of 1992. Visions of the guests running and the cake being toppled over in the sudden downpour, Axl Rose beating a glossy black grand piano into submission and Slash shredding the guitar in a dusty, barren churchyard flooded into her mind. That video starts with a wedding in a church and ends with a funeral in a church, she reflected. I had that CD back in the day. That song came out right after we graduated. She thought about her Sony discman and her vast collection of CDs and how thrilled she was to finally have a car with a CD player instead of a tape deck. And now CDs are almost totally antiquated, much like VHS tapes. A life measured by outdated media devices, she thought. It’s a sad reality in this day and age.

      Many times in her life she had thought she was living in the past or future, finding it a challenge to stay connected to the present. She was always anticipating something or remembering something. But in this moment, on a sidewalk quickly becoming wet with rain, watching her companions slip into the potpourri-infused tea room, the scent wafting out toward her as the door clicked shut, she felt the present wrap its arms around her like a newly minted friend. She felt the embrace start to slide up her body from her feet on the sidewalk to her arms lifted in the air. She felt herself absorbing the essence of her hometown: the square with its looming courthouse and World War II era German “buzz bomb” perched atop a sturdy limestone V, the square with its eccentric little shops and eateries, the square bedecked with Christmas lights radiating out from the courthouse in all directions. She felt completely immersed in the moment as she spun around in the falling rain. She threw back her head and let the raindrops crash against her face, dripping down into her hair and flying off in the wind which was beginning to pick up and swirl around her. Everything felt alive and real to her in a way it hadn’t in a long time. 
      I’ve got to figure out a way to live, she thought more lucidly than she had thought anything in a very long time. A way to go on.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

cover reveal and my parental advisory

I can't believe we are less than a week away from publication! I've been talking a lot with my friend Chris, who is the real life inspiration for Jennifer. She's been reading along as I write and after she reads, we review it over the phone. Last night we also started to talk about promotion and marketing ideas and I started getting really excited! I may even come home to Greencastle later this fall to do some promotion in person!

Before I go any further and show you the cover, I want to make sure readers are aware that this book is not all rainbows and unicorns. There are some very intense scenes where the main characters face painful circumstances. There are a few expletives and there is a fair amount of discussion about things of a sexual nature. It's not a sanitized book. It is a book that faces mature and adult situations in a realistic way and I believe overall has a positive message. I would say it is most appropriate for readers 16 and over, which is an interesting change because when I initially had the idea for the book, I saw it as a young adult novel. And, really, in some ways I think it could be very instructive and thought-provoking for younger readers, and I suppose that mature 13-15 year olds would probably be fine reading the book. After all, some of these events happen to the characters when they are flashing back to their adolescence and, obviously, many pressures and situations that teens face today are not much different than they were back in the day! But I still feel an explanation is warranted so readers know what they are getting into.

So, now that we got that out of the way, I want to tell you how much I struggled with a cover for this book. There are so many themes going on within the pages of Green Castles, but they are mostly huge abstract concepts that would be difficult to illustrate. I decided to go for simple. I believe the cover suggests that despite being adults and facing very real grown-up problems, the minds and hearts of the three main characters still cling in some ways to the idealism of their youth, represented by a fantastical depiction of their hometown. Throughout the book, the women reconcile their youthful ideals with what is a harsh, yet sometimes forgiving reality.  So, without further ado, here is the cover, and I hope you are all ready for the book's release on Wednesday, September 18th!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

the town that wrote a book

Have you ever heard the adage "It takes a village to raise a child?"

Well, I'd like to offer this alternative version: "It takes a town to write a book."

Let me share my vision for Green Castles:

On September 18, 2013, I plan to digitally self-publish Green Castles (a novel of approximately 90K words) on Amazon (and possibly Barnes and Noble and Smashwords). The price for the novel will be $4.99 and readers will be able to download it to any electronic device: smart phone, tablet or e-reader. It can also be read on a computer via the Kindle Cloud. Unfortunately it will not be available in print, at least not yet.

The edition I publish on September 18th will be a draft. My vision is for people to read it in the first month or so of publication and offer substantive feedback in the form of reviews or by emailing me via the book's facebook page ( I will use your feedback to revise the manuscript so I can send it off to agents and publishers in hopes of having it published in print. Generating sales and positive reviews during the initial weeks of self-publication will be selling points for sure!

So, what will YOU get out of buying my book and leaving me a review or sending me feedback? Well, you get a sneak peek at what I think is a pretty good book for only $4.99, which is pretty cheap. It's likely to be much more than that when and if it's published in print! And, more importantly, you get a chance to shape the final version of the book. In addition, if you purchase the book during the first week of publication, which coincides with both the two year anniversary of Brooklyn's passing (the inspiration for the entire book - please refer to my previous blog posts on this topic for more information) and Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week, I will donate 10% of the proceeds to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation ( In sum, you get a first look at the book and the opportunity to be part of the process of revising it, you will be helping out a fellow Hoosier and new author, AND you'll be helping to fund research about mitochondrial disorders. It's really a win-win-win for everyone, I think! :)

I'm also asking for some volunteers to be what I'm calling Green Castles Advocates. These special helpers will get an advance (free) copy of the book a few days before its release, and in return they will agree to read the manuscript and be ready to post reviews very soon after publication (you must have an Amazon account and be over the age of 18, please!) Provided they enjoy what they read, they'll also commit to helping me promote the book using social media and word of mouth. If you are interested in being an advocate, please email me on Facebook! I'm looking for about 10-20 people to help out in this capacity!

I know I face a huge challenge as a new author with no following, reputation or street cred. All I really have is a vast network of friends and family, and it is those connections I hope to leverage. I'd love to see my beloved hometown pull together to help me! After all, this is your book too! Please consider the proposal I've outlined here and think about whether or not you can help my cause. Thank you so much for reading and stay tuned for more teasers and excerpts from Green Castles!

Monday, August 19, 2013

so about my name...

Many of you who live in Greencastle and the surrounding areas know my full name. Many of you know my parents, my brother and sister, and you probably know both my maiden and married surnames too. When I decided to write this book, I struggled with whether or not to use a pseudonym. A close friend of mine suggested that I use my maiden name and after some discussion I decided to take his advice. But I decided to use my initials instead of my full given name.

Some of you may have already realized my choice is paying homage to one of my favorite authors of all time, L.M. Montgomery of  Anne of Green Gables  fame. I always liked to imagine that Lucy Maud was a long lost relative of mine. I also thought "Green Gables" was not too dissimilar to "Green Castles," and I'd like to think my three heroines are as spunky and lovable as Anne and that their friendship echoes the "kindred spirits" philosophy that Anne espouses.

Little did I know, though, that L.M. Montgomery also wrote a book about a colored castle! I was googling the phrase "green castles book covers" just to get some ideas about my own book cover when I came across The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.

I'd never even heard of it. Has anyone read it? I just ordered a copy. But goodness, my book even seems more meant to be now. :) I only hope that I can do the name justice!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Blood of Jesus Ring: An Excerpt

Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter Seven of Green Castles.


    Kat headed up hills, around curves and then traveled down the long black-topped drive to her parents’ house. In the November twilight, the meadows on either side of their driveway were bare with withered hay, but she remembered many occasions that there would be dozens of deer perking their ears up and watching her fly past with huge, soulful eyes before turning and leaping back into the woods, their white tails the last flash seen before they disappeared into the dark canopy of trees. She kept rehearsing lines in her head, but not lines for a play, like usual. She thought it might be time to prepare her son for what he was going to see at the visitation the following day. She imagined looking into his big brown eyes and telling him not to be afraid or upset, but to be happy because Hope was now in heaven. And for a moment she didn't even ask herself if she still believed in heaven; she just cradled the thought in her mind so that she could feel at peace with with what she knew she must do.

    Campbell Manor was filled with the aroma of pot roast and potatoes. It all felt so warm and familial, the scent of homesick dreams. Dreams I never really had, she thought. Once I was out of here, I rarely looked back, and certainly not wistfully. She remembered one of the last times she had gathered with her family in their home before leaving for college. It was the day after commencement at her graduation party. It was the day she was given The Blood of Jesus Ring.

May 31, 1992

Throughout the entire spring of my senior year, my parents had debated about what they should get me for a graduation present. Somehow the idea of a ruby ring had surfaced as the winning gift. I had begged my mother to let me pick out the ring, but she refused. A few nights before commencement, I had a nightmare that the ring she chose turned out to be this huge, gaudy gold butterfly with a big, dull ruby right smack on top of it. It looked like something out of a bad sci-fi movie that had evil powers, like it could vaporize a robot or something. I woke up in a cold sweat, wondering how in the world I could graciously accept something so hideous and then actually make myself wear it perched like a monument to bad taste on my finger?

I made it through graduation. The gym was so loud with all of us cheering and the band grinding through Pomp and Circumstance. We tossed our purple caps into the air and I remember linking pinkies with Michelle and Jennifer and screaming “UNITED!!!” at the top of our lungs. For a moment we were the golden ones, the survivors, the initiates to the New Adult Club with our futures stretched before us, a diamond-strewn path to health, wealth and happiness.  In that moment, we forgot that we’d be parting ways. We suspended ourselves in time and simply cherished each other and what we had done to get us to that very tick of the clock’s hand as we walked across the stage to receive our freshly-printed diplomas, obligatory hugs from the principal and firm handshakes from the superintendent. Despite that suspended glory, there was still a little annoying voice in my head that wiggled its way to the surface faintly asking, “What about the ring?”

So the next day has arrived and it’s my graduation party. Campbell Manor is full of aunts, uncles, cousins, business associates, and church members. Michelle, Jennifer, Alex, Jason and a few others from youth group are in attendance, and at the moment I’m regretting having gotten stuck inside with the adults. I’m explaining to my Aunt Laura the way the theater program at NYU works when I see Alex and Michelle climbing the stairs back onto the deck from the direction of the woods. Michelle does not look pleased. I’m so distracted watching them that my aunt says, “It’s okay if you want to go hang out with your friends, Katerina.”

People keep handing me cards and I’m trying to set them aside in one place so I don’t lose track of any of them. My eyes are filled with visions of dollar signs as I hear my mother call from the family room. “Katerina! Come in here please and open the present your father and I got you!”

The french doors to the deck open and Alex slips in with Michelle right behind. She’s dragged Jennifer back into the house as well and is leaning down to whisper something in her ear. Jennifer smirks in response. I better get the scoop on that later, I think, smoothing my white pleated skirt down across my thighs as I stand up and head for the family room. The seats on the couches and the two matching wingback chairs are taken so I slide the piano bench out to sit there.

“Oh,” Jennifer says, loud enough that everyone hears and turns in her direction. “Play the song! Play the song!”

I shoot daggers at her with my eyes. I really didn’t want to give a performance. But then Michelle and Alex join in too, goading me to play the song I’d sung at graduation the day before in front of the entire school: teachers, students and parents. I sigh and turn around on the bench to face the keys. I silently pray that I can do it without the music because I’ve left it in my car. I start the intro to the song and turn to see that Jennifer already has tears in her eyes. She and Michelle move to the piano and start to sing with me, “Packing up the dreams God planted...”

It’s a Michael W. Smith song about saying goodbye to your friends. You know, the typical sappy stuff you’d expect to hear at a high school graduation in the middle of an Indiana cornfield in a gym that perpetually echoes with the sounds of dribbling basketballs and high tops squeaking on the shiny lacquered floor. In other words, the perfect song. And when we finish I can see that some of the adults have tears in their eyes too. After all, they’ve watched us grow up. This signals the end of an era for them in some ways too.

My mother starts the applause only I notice she has a small navy velvet box in her one hand so she isn’t making any noise as she tries to clap around it. The others are clapping loudly, though and Michelle, Jennifer and I each give a little curtsy. Then my mother takes over from the middle of the room. As soon as she extends the ring box toward me all I can think about is that gigantic gold butterfly from my dream and how I’m possibly going to feign delight in front of all these guests. Maybe this is an acting test meant to prepare me for NYU? I think.

She launches into this lengthy monologue about how much she and my father love me and how proud they are of me, and how they know this is only first of many great accomplishments I will achieve in my life. Then she transitions into a part about how difficult it is to let your child go off into the big, wide world. She’s still clutching the ring box and I’m dying. I just want to see the damn ring and get this over with. My heart is pounding.

“The ruby in this ring,” she continues dramatically, and I think in that moment not a soul wonders where I got my acting talents, “represents the Blood of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. The Blood of Jesus not only saved us and gives us eternal life in heaven, but I pray it will also protect our only, precious daughter as she goes off to the big city to pursue her dreams.”

I see that Michelle is vigorously rolling her eyes, so vigorously in fact, that I develop an eye cramp just from watching her. Jennifer is also watching Michelle and about to burst into laughter and I’m just thinking, show me the ring for crying out loud!

Everyone is touched by my mother’s words, and I don’t know what has precipitated more tears: my song or her Blood of Jesus Ring speech. She finally, in what seems like slow motion, flips open the top of the velvet case and there nestled in ivory satin is a tiny, delicate marquise cut ruby with two diamond chips, one at the top left and one at the bottom right. The gold band is flourished with a double fluted edge that touches the top and bottom points of the ruby. I sigh as relief washes over me. I gently lift the ring from its satin nest and slide it down my right ring finger where it sparkles in perfection between my knuckles. The Blood of Jesus looks like it was made for my finger.

As Kat reflected on that memory, she was also reminded of the near loss of the Blood of Jesus ruby many years later when she was a senior in college. It was a weekend that Nelson was visiting, taking a break from a production he was wrapping up in London. Kat and Nelson were stepping out for the day and got caught in a torrential downpour, the water rushing furiously between the sidewalks and the streets. Kat needed to mail a letter so she’d sloshed over to the corner, an umbrella protecting her long dark mane from the dripping sky.  She’d folded down the tray of the mailbox and as she slid the letter onto the tray and started to flip it back up to send the letter down the chute and into the mailbox, she felt her ring catch on the metal edge. When she pulled her hand away she immediately saw that the ruby had been pried out of her ring. “Oh no!” she gasped.

Nelson had already gotten about a half a block down the street before he heard her cry out. He came running back, rain starting to dampen the curls around his face and pushing them down into his eyes. She explained what had happened and he shook his head as if it was a foregone conclusion that the ring was gone forever.

“No!” Kat insisted. “No, we have to call the post office and have them send someone to open the box.”

“You’re sure it went inside?” he asked.

“Yes! It must have!” she adamantly claimed.

“Okay, because if it fell into the street, I’m sure it’s been washed away,” Nelson said in his matter-of-fact British accent.

Later in the afternoon, the rain had ceased and the post office representative was on his way. Kat waited near the mailbox on the street corner for signs of the little white postal truck when something glittering in the sunlight caught her eye. She crouched just a few feet away from the mailbox and there, just inches from a grate was a tiny, marquise cut ruby. It was the Blood of Jesus. It had somehow stuck to the sidewalk despite the fact that just hours before a river of rainwater had rushed down the street. It was a miracle.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

ancient history (in the days before internet and cell phones)

As I'm writing the flashbacks for Green Castles, it's really striking me how different my whole adolescent experience would have been if everyone had had internet and cell phones back then. There have been so many times while writing that I've thought, Wow, if she had a cell phone, that scene would have gone an entirely different direction. If we'd been able to text each other we wouldn't have been passing notes all the time. Or, whoa, if they could have just harassed that boy on the intrawebz, there would have been no need for prank calls. Kids don't even prank call each other anymore, do they? They just stalk them on Facebook. Sigh.

My first exposure to anything remotely like kind of technology was when I attended the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities from 1990-1992. They had a VAX system which included email, an instant messaging feature called "phone" and a very primitive social networking interface called "Meet Market." I am not even kidding you about the name. It was a huge database of Ball State (and Academy) students and you could put in your hair color, eye color, height, majors, minors, hobbies, etc. and then search by those fields. I met many a cute male Ball State student that way. (Shhh. Don't tell. We weren't supposed to fraternize with them.) I know how big of an impact those resources had on my junior and senior years of high school and then on into college, so I can only imagine how they would have affected my earlier days at South Putnam.

We are all aware how much technology has changed our everyday lives, but to think about how it would have changed specific situations can kind of blow your mind. Also, this is a good time to point out as I'll be finishing up my fourth decade and starting my fifth in 2014 that having these kinds of reflections makes me feel really old! I remember my parents talking about how things were when they were kids and now here I am telling my boys the same sorts of things. Yikes!

What invention or advance in technology do you think would have had the greatest impact on your teenage years?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Operation Non-Participation - an excerpt

I thought you might like to read a portion of Kat's flashback from August, 1988, when she and Michelle go to church camp for the first time:

After the showers, we apply about three layers more makeup than one should really need during a camping expedition. The sun is now fully awake and the other girls in the cabin are starting to scurry about, some shrieking as the cold shower water pierces their skin, others complaining that their clothes are damp. One girl is so sunburned she looks like an angry lobster with a shock of nearly white blonde hair tufting off her bright pink scalp. But Michelle and I are smug, already dressed and busy outlining our plan for circumventing any more group activities.

Our first tactic is vowing to be sickeningly sweet and congenial so as to increase our chances of being allowed to stay together. We know if the staff detects any sign of hostility toward the camp, they will split us up faster than an Indy car can turn a lap at the Speedway.  We fully recognize that our sarcastic tongues render this task nearly impossible, but the rest of our plan relies on us being able to execute this step of Operation Non-Participation flawlessly.

Secondly, we determine that some stuff will require a basic disappearance maneuver. “They can’t possibly count every single one of us all the time. In the bigger group activities, we’ll simply vanish,” Michelle suggests. 

“They’ll never notice," I add.

“Now, for the the smaller things, craft time and the discipleship groups, we’re gonna have to suck that up,” she says. I nod. “It’s the physical stuff we want to avoid. So here’s the deal and part three of our plan: It’s not that we don’t WANT to participate, it’s just that we CAN’T.”

“Oh, of course,” I agree. “We’d be perfectly happy to run around those bases with our legs tied together inside a burlap sack like total idiots, but we’re just unable to make that happen at this juncture.” I sound like a politician.

“I twisted my ankle during Capture the Flag,” Michelle explains, mustering up a disappointed tone and reaching down to rub the side of her leg as if she’s in agonizing pain for effect.

“Yeah, and I have cramps,” I say bluntly. I don’t mind leveraging my double x chromosome and playing the “period card.” Few counselors are going to argue with that, and especially not male ones.

“Excellent!” Michelle grins and links pinkies with me. “United, sister!!!” she decrees and we head up the hill to the mess hall to see if there’s anything edible for breakfast.

Monday, July 22, 2013

sentimentality, an apology and cave crickets

I've recently undertaken the monumental task of cleaning out my basement. We've lived here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for six years now and although we lightened our load considerably through multiple yard sales before moving here, we've pretty much been in accumulation and hoard mode ever since. (Don't tell my mom. She would not be pleased.)

So I'm opening up all these plastic storage tubs that are coated with dust and I probably don't want to know what else, breathing in approximately four zillion mold spores as I pore over old documents and pictures. I think it's affecting my brain because I'm not feeling nearly as nostalgic as I thought I would. It's the entirety of my past, my legacy, in those boxes and I'm kinda like, "Eh. Those boxes are just going to take up room if we move to a smaller place with no basement." (Basements are a rarity out here where it's almost sea level.)

I thought I used to be a sentimental person but after this experience and also writing Green Castles I'm starting to wonder if I really am. While writing, it's been easy to separate myself from the memories, repurposing them with different characters, and shaping and embellishing them to heighten the entertainment factor. Maybe fiction writers can't be too sentimental because even though the truth is inspirational, we're driven by the need to spin it into a better story.

After unearthing all the novels I wrote in high school, I feel slightly bad that I wrote the bulk of those words while sitting in class at South Putnam Jr/Sr High School. Since I've taught college students with microscopic attention spans for the last ten years, I know how frustrating it is not to be able to engage students. So, if any of my teachers are reading this, I do apologize for not paying attention. Especially to Mr. Kroft, because I sure as heck don't remember anything from Geometry.

And I'll tell you one more thing: all you folks out there in Hoosier Land need to thank your lucky stars that you don't have to contend with Cave Crickets. Seriously. Google them if you dare.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

the plot

So I've covered the setting and the characters of Green Castles in separate posts and I've also shared the inspiration for the novel via my friend Christina McClure in my last post. Now I'd like to say a little more about the plot of the book.

The book is told from each of the main character's perspectives, shifting the vantage between each one. As the first few chapters progress, we learn that Jennifer's daughter has passed and Kat and Michelle have traveled from New York City and Austin, Texas, respectively, to be at her side during the visitation and the funeral. Kat and Michelle have not spoken since the summer after high school graduation, having had a falling out that will be revealed during the course of the book. We learn about each of the women and what has been going on in their lives since high school. They've each had their share of struggles and reflect on the happier days of their youth.

This is where I want to make it clear that the personalities, looks, and circumstances of these characters are vastly different than their real-life inspirations. However, I will admit that many of the adventures our main characters reflect on are based on actual real-life events. That said, not all of them happened. I have to say that partially to protect the innocent, and also because I'm taking artistic liberties whenever I darn well please because, well, I'm an author and I can. So there! ;)

So just a few of the "episodes" that the girls flash back to (which by the way, are told in first person present tense from one of the three's perspective) include church camp, the Putnam County fair, productions at the playhouse, a DePauw frat party including a Boulder Run, basketball games, a late night rendezvous at Four Arches, and goodness knows what else I might come up with in the course of writing. The flashbacks are often funny which helps to mitigate the grief the women are feeling over the death of Jennifer's daughter.

Other themes which emerge throughout the book are those of acceptance, forgiveness, tolerance and reconciliation but I won't give away the ending. ;)

What do you think? Does it sound like a good story to you?

Monday, July 15, 2013


I'm diverging a bit from setting up the story to share the inspiration for Green Castles, a beautiful angel named Brooklyn, who would have celebrated her ninth birthday today, July 15, 2013. And with that, I'm turning over this post to my oldest, dearest friend, Christina McClure, Brooklyn's mother. Take it away, Chris :)

“Every 30 minutes, a child is born who will develop a mitochondrial disease by age 10. Each year, 1,000 to 4,000 children in the United states are born with a mitochondrial disease....we now know the disease is approaching the frequency of childhood cancers.”~ United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation,

Exactly nine years ago today, July 15, 2004, my daughter, Brooklyn Corinne was born. As with the birth of any new child, that day changed my life forever. Brookie was born at 36 weeks via C-section and weighed in at 8 lbs 7 oz and 19 inches long. My pregnancy had been a high risk one and complications had forced the early delivery and an extended stay in the hospital NICU. There was a week of being on a ventilator, jaundice, apnea and bradycardia with feeds, and reflux, which turned into a month stay in the NICU.

Once she was more stable, she was sent to a pediatric rehabilitation hospital to focus on her feeding issues and frequent projectile vomiting. The reflux and vomiting was on such a level that the doctors wanted to do a surgery (nissen fundiplication) when she was about a month and a half to prevent the vomiting, but decided to use meds to control Brookie’s reflux and delay the surgery. Instead, they placed a G-tube to help her feed. She was finally released to go home on September 24, 2004.

Brookie continued making slow progress toward the typical milestones, but something seemed a bit off and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. At about 14 months, the pediatrician agreed to do some basic genetic tests to help alleviate my concerns. Everything came back “normal.”

In January 2006, Brookie got a high fever (106.7 without adding the degree). After giving Motrin and calling the pediatrician, I loaded my screaming daughter in the car and headed to the ER. At one point she stopped screaming and I was terrified that something was even more seriously wrong. We got to the ER and she was back to “normal” and her fever was down considerably. We were sent home.

Over the next few months, Brookie regressed. She could no longer sit, pull to stand, crawl, or babble. I tried, in vain, to get referrals to the neurologist. Finally, I took a video of my daughter in to the pediatrician for her to see the changes in my daughter. By March, we had an appointment with the neurologist. Several tests indicated that she could have had a very rare type of leukodystrophy, but mitochondrial disease was also a possibility. Several tests were done for specific types of leukodystrophy, but all came back negative. While we were waiting for the test results, I attended a conference on leukodystrophy. After speaking with one of the doctors there, he told me that he suspected it was a mitochondrial disease and urged me to have a skin and muscle biopsy done.

We got the results on November 8, 2006. Brooklyn and my son William (who just turned 10 on July 10, 2013) were both diagnosed with Mitochondrial Myopathy, Complex I. Thus, beginning my life with what will forever be the bane of my existence, mitochondrial disease.

There were many more tests, countless sleepless nights, hospital stays, seizures, illnesses, surgeries over the next several years. In January 2011, Brooklyn finally had the surgery that they wanted to do when she was a month old.  In May 2011, she developed a urinary tract infection. We discovered that she was now unable to tolerate one of the major antibiotics used to combat severe UTI’s. To use that antibiotic would send her into true anaphylactic shock. Mitochondrial disease took its toll on my daughter. On September 18, 2011, my little girl  passed away from complications of mitochondrial disease, urinary tract infection, and sepsis. She was 7 years old.

For more info please refer to or

Thursday, July 11, 2013

the characters

There are three main characters in Green Castles, all women. They met at church when they were in junior high and became best friends until after high school when two had a falling out and eventually moved out of state. Even though the characters are loosely based on myself and two friends, the three women are very much fictional right down to their appearances, backgrounds, and circumstances.

First up is Katerina Campbell, who grew up an only child of Robert and Diana Campbell, strictly religious and staunchly conservative local business owners. They are well known in the community, which is why Kat had to be extra careful to avoid getting into trouble when she was growing up. After college, Kat moved to New York City where she became a teacher at a prestigious drama academy, married a British man, and had one son, Jacob, who is six at the time of the story. She has not been back to Indiana until the opening of the story, nor has she seen her parents since Jacob's birth. One of the primary themes of the book is that she has rejected the faith in which she was brought up which obviously has caused a great deal of tension between her and her parents.

Then we have Michelle Lancaster who was the instigator and mastermind of most of the trio's escapades when they were young. She and Kat were particularly close until they had an argument at the end of their senior years that could never be reconciled. Michelle went on to marry a successful accountant and have three children. She is a former elementary school teacher and currently a stay-at-home mom when the story opens. Like Kat, she grew up with strict religious parents but hers were a bit more naive and more easily manipulated than the Campbells, therefore she seemed able to get away with more mischief. Unlike Kat, she chose to embrace her religious upbringing and is not only a regular attendee at her local evangelical church but is also a choir member and Sunday School teacher.

Finally, Jennifer McFarland rounds out the cast. She was the tomboy of the group and always seemed to go along with the whims of Kat and Michelle. Although her parents were also religious, they had Jennifer later in life and didn't maintain tight reins on their daughter like Kat's parents did. When she was in high school, Jennifer's brother joined the military and deployed to Iraq. When he returned, he moved to California to marry and never comes to visit. That has always been a source of sadness for Jennifer and also her parents. Jennifer survived a tumultuous marriage and subsequent divorce from her high school sweetheart. She had a son, Cody, shortly after high school who is 14 at the time of the story. Seven years after Cody, she gave birth to a daughter, Hope, who, at age two was diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder, a terminal disease.

So, those are the characters in Green Castles. Next time I'll be sharing more about the plot! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

the setting

I came up with the idea for this book about a year ago, and although a real life situation and real life people inspired it, it is a work of fiction. That's going to be very important for everyone to remember because I have no doubt that friends and family will be looking for themselves amongst my characters. There might be little snippets and shadows of people here and there, but the one genuine article is the setting.

Greencastle is a small town in Putnam County in West Central Indiana. It's where I grew up and lived for about 30 years of my life. Ever hear the John Mellencamp song "Small Town?" Yeah, it's kinda like that.

Educated in a small town
Taught to fear Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another born romantic that's me

I'm going to do other posts about the premise and the characters but I wanted to start here, with Greencastle, because it will be the heart of the book. It's the place where most of my memories live and I hope to capture the essence of it, especially during the years of my "coming of age," which will be 1988-1992 in the book.

When I was home last month, my girlfriend and I drove around Putnam County taking photographs of different places that will be represented in the book. These included the high school (which, for the record, I did not attend, but the characters in my book do) my church, DePauw University, Dunbar Bridge, and Four Arches. I'll be posting some of these pictures on the Facebook page for the book as I go along. They are more for me than for the reader. I want to have clear visions in my head when I write.

So for those of you who live or have lived in Greencastle, Indiana, I'm curious, what places or memories stand out for you? What's the one thing you think of when you think of Greencastle?