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?