Thursday, January 03, 2013

Here's To A New Year!

© 2013 Marta Stephens all rights reserved

I promise that I won’t fill the page with silly resolutions. You know, those life-changing goals that sound great, but ones I will never keep (’cause it’s not in my nature). Rather I want to reflect upon and share with you what I’ve walked away with from 2012 and how those experiences promise to shape the coming year.

To begin with, I’ve always believed all things happen for a reason and undoubtedly, faith has played a significant role in my life. It’s helped me deal with a number of ups and downs and eventually it’s helped me recognize the lessons embedded in the obstacles that at time seemed so hopeless.  

Let’s face it, change is inevitable.  After all, wouldn’t life be boring if were stagnant? So I think it's safe for me to say that I’ve always tried to embrace it (change)—some days with more grace and success than other days.  Admittedly, just as I thought I had a handle on things, something else crept into the picture to complicate matters...again and again, and again which leads me to the five bumps I found on the road. 

As those who have been visiting my blog know, the first “bump” in the road came in the summer of 2011 when my husband suffered a debilitating stroke. Our lives changed that day at nine in the morning. After nearly a month in the hospital, a year in physical, speech, and occupational therapy, and countless procedures, he is thankfully doing well now. He may never walk again without the use of a walker, but life is what we now call, “Our new normal.”  

The second “bump” came five months after his stroke when I was diagnosed with second stage breast cancer.  I was looking forward to 2012 and to help him get back on his feet so I decided to get my physical and mammogram early—five to six months early. That turned out to be a huge life-changing decision. Had I waited, I would be signing a different tune or quite possibly, no tune at all. The news, of course, was a devastating blow, but with the support of my family and friends, I managed to get through two operations, four chemo treatments, the hair loss, 33 radiation treatments, and several weeks of physical therapy. Thankfully, except for the small issue of short-term memory, the affects of the chemo are nearly gone, my hair came back, and I’m happy to say that as of this moment, I’m cancer free.

So where’s the lesson you ask?  
1)      Never say, “can’t.” It’s amazing what we are capable of doing when life shoves us against a brick wall.

2)      Focus on what’s truly important. Family, health, and peace of mind. Everything else will fall into place.

3)      Never give in to pettiness. Life is too short, so let’s not even go down that road!

With respect to my writing, throughout 2011, I’d been working on re-writes of the next two books in my Harper series. I had also finished a third book that introduces a PI, Rhonie Lude, and was lucky to find an interested agent. For a while, things seemed to be looking up for me, but as you might imagine, the writing and blogging came to a screeching halt in June after my husband’s stroke. 

Fast forward fifteen month to September of this year. Life had begun to really settle down. We’d worked hard throughout the summer to landscape the yard and had numerous much needed repairs done to our home. I ripped out carpeting and wallpaper, painted several rooms, replaced old fixtures and other electrical work, and fenced in the yard for our hairy kids, Izzy, our English Bull dog, and Moo our Doxie.  Now our 100-year home looks nearly new.  

Work has been going well too and with all the health issues behind me, I knew it was time to get back to my writing. I was happily working away at the third book when…

The third “bump” in the road came along. In October my publisher with whom I’d been associated with since 2004 announce they were closing down and returned all the rights to our books. EEK!

That bit of news was closely followed by the fourth “bump” that arrived about a week later. My agent wrote to say she was no longer going to represent mysteries and cancelled my contract. Oh, double EEK!

I’m pretty sure that had these events happened earlier in my writing career, they would have been devastating and no doubt would have stopped me from perusing my writing all together.  Ironically, and I don’t know whether to blame the wisdom of age, the three lessons I’ve listed above, or a combination of these things, but instead of feeling  distraught, I feel quite liberated. Yes, liberated! Now I can do with my novels what I want. So much so, that in spite of getting an offer from another publisher to represent my series, I decided to give self-publishing a try.

Last week, the “fifth “bump” nudge me aside after I updated my website. I developed it in 2007 just before the release of my first book with an old version of FrontPage. When I went to GoDaddy to publish the revisions, I was told they weren’t going to support FrontPage after this year and the rep encouraged me to download WordPress. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. I totally dislike that software, knew no one used it anymore, and for some time had wanted to find another way of publishing my web. But oh! I just didn’t want tackle that headache right now, ha! Obviously fate had other plans up her sleeve.

So you see, my  2013 is already taking shape:  
1)      I’m editing my two existing novels, “Silenced Cry” and “The Devil Can Wait” so I can publish them on Kindle and other e-book sites. Ironically, the one thing that really encouraged me to get back to my writing was to find out that my books published in 2007 and 2008 continued to sell this past year without me promoting them.

2)      I’m now in a learning mode with respect to working with the various sites on which I plan to post/sell my books.

3)      Reading/editing “Silenced Cry” and “The Devil Can Wait” has brought me back into my writing voice. I was so afraid I’d lost it. Now that it’s back (or on its way), I’m super excited to finish the edits and move on with the next two books in the series.

4)      Finally, I’m finding my way around WordPress. I considered using it several times before, but never understood the process and didn’t want to take the time to learn it. It’s definitely different than other blogs/sites I’ve developed, but it’s coming along nicely. I still have quite a bit of information to transfer from my old site, but hope to announce the new link soon.

In the end, it has been an extremely challenging year. However, I’ve walked away from it with a sense that I am as strong and capable as I allow myself to be, and that I alone am responsible for the direction my life and writing takes. The third and most important lesson is that it’s better to accept those sharp turns as gifts of new opportunities rather than obstacles that keep us from achieving our goals. After all, you never know where the next turn will lead.

Oh yes, and two more things to  look forward to in 2013. Our son Tracy will graduate from Ivy Tech in May and our daughter Jessica    is getting married in early October. Now the only thing to figure out is when to have my reconstructive surgery! 

My deep appreciation for all your prayers and unconditional support during this very trying time.

Happy New Year!
God bless and keep you safe and may you have every joy imaginable in 2013.

PS:  Note to self: Drink more water. Lose 30 pounds.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

First Chapter Completed

This is a photograph of Earnest Hemingway's writing desk in his Key West home.

Notice the small table and chair, a typewriter, and a room full of books.

I don't see a radio, a phone, a computer, or any board games to distract him. 

So ... today I put it to the test. I took my laptop to a different room in our home. Plugged in my laptop, closed the blinds, pulled up the footstool to one of these rockers and assumed the typing position.

It didn't take long before my thoughts poured out and before I knew it, those 81 little words I worked so hard on yesterday grew into 582 and a decent first chapter.

Oh yay!

Friday, July 06, 2012

I Get The Message!

I started this 1,000-piece puzzle back in March while I was still undergoing chemo. I love the challenge of doing complex puzzles and this one was quite therapeutic. Unfortunately, it proved to be a bit too much even for me. I quit working on it when I got to the last three sections of trees. All the pieces looked the same and none of them seem to fit.  

Patience has never been my strongest quality so consequently, the puzzle is still on my desk waiting for day when I decide to work on it again.

I will, you know.

After putting so much time and effort into solving it, I just don’t have the heart to put back in the box. 

Writing for me has been much like this puzzle. I have three novels that I drafted years ago and a fourth one outlined. They're all waiting for me to finish them too. Between one thing or another, the writing bug left me just over a year ago and to make matters worse, I didn’t care.  

I'm now down to the last eight days of radiation treatment. Life seems to have finally settled into a new norm and guess what, the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train. It's the bright realization that one of these days soon I'll wake up and without thinking about anything except doing the things I enjoy.

The urge to write has started to tug on my sleeve a litter harder these days so for weeks now I’ve been telling myself and anyone who cared to listen that I’m ready. After much thought, I decided to blow the dust off a novel I wrote in 2005 to see what, if any part of this first draft was salvageable. Keep in mind that my first novel wasn’t published until 2007 so anything I wrote prior to that is still in a raw state and in dire need of an edit. 

I didn’t have to read past the first paragraphs of a number of chapters to know each was pointless, the dialogue is stiff, and the narrative telling.  Yet in spite of the flaws, the basic plot—the killer’s motivation, is worth exploring which brings me to what I’ve been doing these pasts few days.

To reacquaint myself with the storyline, I began studying the content of each chapter and making a list of the key elements contained in each. Of the original 48 chapters, I eliminated six as well as three characters, and a subplot that threatened to take over the plot.  As excited I was to actually concentrate on the task, this burst of energy didn't seem to be enough to keep me focused.  Easily distracted with one too many computer games, my creative juices slip away...again.  

Ironically, as I read through my friends’ posts on Face Book yesterday morning, I found a quote that hit me hard between the eyes. It read as follows:
“There is no such thing as writer’s block. You WILL write.
You WILL put something on the screen.
Writers write, while procrastinators bitch and moan.
You. WILL. Write.”
Okay, so it's not an earth-shattering statement, but it was what I needed to read at that particular moment.

I spent the next several hours working on developing a new first chapter—all 81 words of it. You may laugh, but those are the hardest 81 words I’ve written in a very long time. At least I DID force myself into the chair and DID write 81 words to a new beginning.  

Later that afternoon, I had to leave for an appointment.  On my way home I drove past a church. Its sign offered a message that read:  
 “Start where you are. Do what you can.”
Good grief! Do you suppose someone is trying to tell me something?  ;)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ten Days & Counting

I'm totally flattered that so many have asked about my writing and the next possible book. Sadly it will be some time before my next publication becomes a reality.  Consider this, it took me a year to write my last book, ten months to find an agent and she's had it for over a year without bites. The reality is that so much has happened on the home front since I wrote that book that it's not on my top ten things to worry about at the moment. It takes an eternity to go from the first draft to a published work. Still, warms the heart to know readers are interested.

My three other novels in various stages of completion and the several attempts I've made to work on a couple of them recently have been futile. Too much on my plate, too many things to work through for the creative juices to flow. I was thrilled to get a call from Kim yesterday. It's not uncommon for us to talk for hours about everything from family and work to writing.  She told me not to worry about the writing and that one of these days, it will flow again.  I certainly hope so.

My publisher announced earlier this month that as of May of this year they are an exclusively e-book publisher. I supposed this means I need to break down and buy a Kindle Fire.  The publisher returned the paperback writes to their authors so now what? Anyway, I'm not sure how long the paperback version of my novels will continue to be available through Amazon.  For now, they are though. I'll admit this news forced me to do some serious thinking about the future of my writing and publishing options. I have a few decisions to make, but frankly I don't want to make any until I've cleared my mind of the clutter.

I've tried to be positive about my cancer and continue to feel nothing but grateful on countless levels.  Since my last post which was written the day after my third chemo treatment I haven't really been myself.  The final treatment on was April 13 and although the chemo is expelled from the body (mine was after three weeks) the affects continue to build up. Thankfully I was never ill and was able to continue to work, but by around seven in the evening I was literally exhausted and void of any energy and desire to do the things I normally enjoy doing. There were evenings I didn't even turn on my computer or checked my e-mail. What's worse, I didn't miss it.

After several weeks, I was starting to feel like myself again when I began my 33 daily radiation treatments. Thus far I've had 22 and had hoped to be done by next week.  Unfortunately, the second-degree burns that have resulted on my skin, especially in and around my armpit area, have earned me a week off the radiation as well as work. I normally have a very high tolerance to pain, but to be honest, it and my patience with this whole mess are quickly bottoming out.

On the upside of things--and yes, there's always an upside, Rick had his feeding tube removed a couple of weeks ago and is doing great.  His balance comes and goes--still gets around with the aid of a walker. He may never fully recuperate from the stroke, but it is what it is and we've come to accept it as our new "normal."  At least, and thank God for it, he is finally able to enjoy solid food again. Consequently, he has also begun to gain some much needed weight and muscle mass and is feeling stronger every day.

I nearly jumped out of my skin this week when he announced that he was going to drive the car around the block. He hasn't driven since his stroke in June 2011. He only drove a few blocks around our neighborhood and practiced a bit in the high school parking lot. Needless to say, I was more than a bit nervous about it, but admit he did well. At least no pedestrians, vehicles, mailboxes, or animals were hurt in the process.

In spite of everything, we've managed to do quite a bit of yard work too this spring. Our son Tracy and I created a few new paths, Rick had a beautiful pergola built in the side yard so we could expand the patio area beneath it as well as the adjacent flower beds.  I've taken tons of photos of the garden to post on this blog and hope to download them soon. Regrettably, this heat wave is keeping us in most of the time except in the early morning and evening when it's time to water. Fortunately, the perennials will survive. Survival seems to be the on-going theme of the year.

I hate that my cancer treatment countdown has been temporarily halted, but the skin has to heal. It's an all consuming task at the moment. I'll start counting down again soon enough.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Round Three Went Well!

I've had a fantastic three weeks since my last chemo on March 2. Lots of energy, very productive weeks at work and home. In fact, aside from my taste buds that continue to act very wacky, I've had very few negative side affects.  They include sore gums and itching on my arms and hands, but I continue to drink at least 4 16oz. bottles of water a day and that helps tremendously!

Went in for my third treatment yesterday afternoon and for some reason, it only took four hours instead of five like the first two.  Let's hope I got everything I was supposed to get. Ha! I'm sure they did. The nurses at the Cancer Center are great, but still ... the thought did cross my mind. After all, I've been living (and dealing) with Murphy's Law for the last 10 months.  Know what I mean?

The best part of this experience has been sharing it with my friends.   Shelia F, another dear friend from work who I've known for 33 years, accompanied me yesterday to chemo. Had lunch together first and then spent an afternoon doing some much needed catching up on life. Shared lots of stories, but I especially enjoyed talking with her about our mutual experiences as caregivers to our husbands. Trust me, care giving is not for the faint of heart and it's always good to know we're not alone in our day-to-day experiences. The amazing thing about Shelia is that throughout the years of her husband's long-term illness and more than one difficult situation, I never once saw her without her trademark smile and upbeat attitude. She said it was an honor to accompany me, but honestly, the honor was all mine.  It takes a special person to volunteer to take time to sit in a straight back chair for 4 hours for someone else. She's a trouper, an amazing woman and it was nothing short of pure pleasure to have her at my side.:)

The the immediate reaction to the last treatment was an incredible need to sleep. In fact, except to take care of life necessities, I slept for three days straight.  I expect the same to happen this weekend. So I don't know how long I'll be "conscious" today before I nod off.  I'm definitely taking it easy through Monday.  I have a few things to do this morning before sleep comes over me like going to the bank and the grocery. After that, all bets are off on what I'll manage to do aside from fluffing up my pillow and getting some shut eye. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Small Nuggets of Joy

The natural flow of life was quickly disrupted after my husband's stroke last June.  After a month in the hospital, he still couldn't get up from a sitting position on his own.  Even a trip to the market had to be carefully planned to ensure someone remained home with him.

What a difference a few months makes. Rick still has a feeding tube, but we are working with a dietitian to gradually introduce solid foods with the goal of getting him off his liquid diet of Glucerna.  Another huge improvement is that he now gets around with the aid of a walker and manages on his own quite well.

In spite of how chaotic our lives have been these past 10 months, at least we can't complain about the weather.  We only had a few days of snow and ice this winter which makes me think we must have broken a record or two.  I mean, here we are in the middle of March and it's 78 degrees tonight. LOVE IT!

My daffodils are all in bloom and within a few days, the tulips will follow. 
Yesterday we had the carpeting in our living room removed and to my surprise the hard wood floors are in great shape. I took this photo moments after our handyman took it up.  It took me 2-3 weeks to rip out the carpeting in our bedroom last fall and refinish floors so imagine how thrilled I was to know all this floor will need is a good wash and wax.  Needless to say, on my way home from work tonight I'd started to make plans to work on them. When I pulled into the driveway though, my thoughts wandered off  to my flower beds and how badly they need to be rake. Okay, so I can't do it all and certainly not at one time, but I'm full of energy right now and love home projects.

By the time I changed clothes, checked the mail, and grabbed something to eat, I decide the floors could wait until morning.

A wonderful breeze was coming in from the open windows, the sky was clear and it was just too beautiful outside to waste another minute indoors.  So after supper, Rick and I went to our favorite ice cream parlor.  It was only while we were enjoying our treats that that I realized this was the first time in 10 months that he and I had gone out to "eat" together.

Okay, so this is a seemingly small and perhaps insignificant thing. It's something we've done a million times throughout our 31 years of marriage, but this has been anything but a normal year and when it comes right down to it, it's the little things like the early spring weather, the daffodils, the great hardwood floors that don't need refinishing, and the satisfaction of enjoying a dish of ice cream with my hubby that helps get us over the next hurdle.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Good Bye, Sweet Candy

No, I'm not talking about chocolates, Candy was our very camera shy mini Doxie we rescued about five years ago from an abusive home along with our other mini Doxie, Moo.  At the time we had two  Boston Bulls and yes, although four dogs seemed like a lot, our home is large and the four small dogs had plenty of room play or hide. 

One of the things we noticed on Candy when we brought her home was a small spot in the middle of her back where the hair hadn't grown correctly.  Our vet indicated it looked as if she'd been hurt at some point. The thought of an animal being abused makes my blood boil.  

The reality of that injury came two years later when we were getting ready to walk the dogs in the morning before work and Candy couldn't get up.  She pulled herself out of her bed with her hind legs dragging. That was the most horrifying thing to watch.  Thankfully, she didn't seem to be in pain--never once cried out.

It turned out she had a badly damaged disk that required immediate surgery. The vet was able to repair the damage but in spite of everyone's efforts and continued of work outs, Candy never walked again. She also lost all control of her bladder and stools and bladder infections were a constant concern. Over time several have asked why I hadn't put her to sleep.  I couldn't. Candy was four years old when that happened and if there was the slightest chance she would eventually walk it was worth a try.

We kept her in a clothes basket filled with towels that had to be changed on a regular basis. The up side of it was that we could take her wherever we went without worrying about accidents. She especially loved going outside and laying in a sunny spot on the grass. 

Sadly, in recent weeks her bladder infections became worse and she seemed to be constantly crying. It got to the point where we had to consider her quality of life and so this past Saturday, I took her to the vet one last time.  I took this photo just before we left.

Moo seemed to know what was happening and acted very lost without her pal. But soon, Izzy will be home again, and things will be hectic again.