Sunday, March 17, 2019

Holiday Grief

Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash


I’ve never been one to fully broadcast my Irish side. On most St. Patrick’s Days, you may find me in an obligatory green piece of clothing. Since I don’t wear as much green as I used to, it may be a faded t-shirt or green beads that I borrowed from my daughter.

However, in the past four years, St. Patrick’s Day has been bittersweet rather than a loud and rowdy celebration of Irish (or near Irish) heritage. Four years ago when my son was still in middle school, he lost a classmate, a teammate, and a friend in a horrible accident. I cannot fathom losing someone you see every day when you are so young. On this day every year, he does not think as much about green leprechauns and pots of gold. Rather, he and his friends are reminded of the empty seat in their classrooms.

As a parent, I had to think on my feet from that day on as I watched my son go through the stages of grief. The night it happened, his friend was supposed to be at soccer practice, but his friend never showed up. Through social media and news reports, we found out what happened. He went to bed knowing, but was numb from the sobering truth. I sat in his room because he had questions I didn’t know how to answer as he was dozing off. The next day, I made him go to school. He hated that more than ever, hated the idea of walking into a class and seeing his friend’s empty seat. I armed him with a hug and a pocket full of tissues. But the truth was that counselors were going to be there. The students were going to be there for each other for support. There is no support sitting at home watching TV or lying in bed refusing to see the sun that your friend would never see from Earth again. He thanked me later for making him go.

That night, he cried himself to sleep and made sure that we would go to his memorial service in the next few days. Those nights I felt like I was staying up with a newborn child all over again because sleep came so restlessly for him. There were times that his friends he hung out with after school asked me questions or just wanted to talk through their feelings. I stayed in touch with their parents going through the same thing I was. Sometimes those friends asked me to drive them to his memorial marker. The day after his funeral, the indoor soccer team started their championship game. After a tearful moment of silence, the forward bawled her way to a smashing goal upon the kickoff. It was the saddest, yet powerful team effort I have ever witnessed for such young players.

Grief is something that everyone has to endure in their life. When a life is lost so young, their friends may be struggling with it for the first time. While some children lose a grandparent, they think of it more as a circle of life when the old die when their time is up. The loss of a child from a terminal illness or tragic accident is even more difficult. Time may make it easier for them to learn about coping and moving on, but the memory never goes away. It is important to reflect on all of the positive memories just like it is important to give them time to grieve. Some children will talk while others will write, draw, or reflect. The role of the parent for me is to be there. My son’s friends talk with him because they say he is a great listener. At the same time, he needs someone to listen to him, which is often where I come in.

When I was in high school, one of my English teachers said that children and their parents only spend about six minutes of quality time together. I shared this with my parents and we just laughed in surprise at the statistic. Every evening after that, if there was some down time after dinner, I would sit with my parents on the screened-in porch or in the living room to just talk. Sometimes it was for six minutes, sometimes longer. I do what I can to have at least six minutes of quality conversation with my children on an individual basis so that we can talk about the mundane, the fascinating, or the important thoughts that are on our minds. These six minutes, a statistic that is likely to be much lower in the technology age, allows my kids to know that I am there for them no matter what with few limitations on topics. That includes dealing with grief.

If you have to share grief with your child, I feel for you. It is not something that you can truly teach a child. Rather, you have to take the journey of sadness with them as a guide. The rest is up to them to figure out as a part of growing up. If you are a parent who lost a child too soon, I see your grief and your guardian angel watching over you every day.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Losing My Senses

Photo by Cristiane Teston on Unsplash

A life without senses seems bleak and gray, like a flower without color or scent.

Writing has always been a descriptive means of sharing a life. Whether it is a memoir or an imaginative work of fantasy, a writer uses senses to tell a story and share a piece of themselves.  But nothing is more frightful when a story lacks that sensual connection between the writer and the reader.

When a story is void of a vision or a voice, the reader is more likely to stop reading and hide that book somewhere else.  A connection has to be tangible for a reader, even as far as the five senses as well as emotion. As I age today, I am more aware of the likelihood that my senses will dull.  My glasses script will get stronger.  My hearing may fade to the point that I may need hearing aids.  These things come with devices to help, but what about those senses that do not come with assistance?

One day many years ago, I lost two of my senses. The setting and situations that led up to the event were the perfect storm for a traumatic event. I was at the mall with my mother and I started feeling sick. The next thing I knew, I was in the emergency room because I passed out in the mall. Talk about your shop til you drop, except we hadn’t even started shopping yet. Regardless, I fell straight back and cracked my skull on the concrete floor. The doctor said that I hit my head in the right place so that I would not have pressure in my skull. It’s nice to know that I managed to damage myself in the best way possible, but it’s not very reassuring.  That is especially true for my mom who witnessed the whole thing. To this day I still have amnesia of the events including the ambulance ride though I am told I was alert and responding.

So the skull fracture healed and the concussion was resolved, but the damage to my olfactory nerves took much longer. Remember when you were little that you would hold your nose when you ate vegetables that you did not want to taste?  That is because your sense of smell and taste are connected. While the damage was not permanent, it took me months of tasteless foods and odorless objects before my brain even started reinterpreting the smells and the connections I had to them. I still had the ability to taste with my tongue; i.e. soup was salty, gelatin was sweet. Still, you may not realize how much it can be limited.

I had to go through the whole learning process at college because the accident happened a month before my freshman year. As much as I got along with my roommate, there were some moments that made me seem like the crazy one. For some reason, for example, the first time that they turned on the heat in the dorm, I SWORE I smelled raw chicken. The same was true in cars. In the dorm, it was impossible because there were no kitchens or cafeterias in the building. The most we cooked was microwave popcorn and ramen noodles. However, the smell in the car got to be so overpowering for me that I would have to hang my head out of the window in the middle of winter so that I wouldn’t get nauseous. Phantom smells were becoming commonplace. I found out later that this can happen when you have a head injury. Raw chicken may have been a phantom smell altogether. I would rather smell ANYTHING other than that. Vanilla, a man’s cologne, pine trees, something other than rotting flesh.

Not being able to smell had its advantages. When I would visit my friends in the guys’ dorm, I was never offended by the smells that came out of their rooms. Burping and farting contests? They may clear a room, but it had no effect on me. Then there was the time that my darling roommate had an itch for a prank war. She would put cream of wheat in my coffee creamer or shaving cream in my toothpaste. You can’t enjoy a good prank when there is no reaction to a taste. She eventually went on to target other girls on our floor.

Even though the doctor said that nothing was severed and I would get my smell back, it was a struggle wondering when it would happen and if I would get it right. I mean, raw chicken because of heating? That was pretty bizarre for a while. There were many of things I missed while I was coping without these senses. I LOVE garlic. Even the smell of grilled onions is like comfort for me. I missed these smells and tastes so much. Chinese and Italian foods were just fuel for the body without these flavors. I mourned their absence in a poem for one of my writing classes in college. My professor was easily entertained by my themes.

Today I would say that I am at 80% of taste, smell, and interpretation. Every now and then I will ask my husband what a smell is because I just cannot figure it out. One of the many things that have come out of this experience is my appreciation for the things we can smell and taste in life. I like knowing that I am odiferous and need to take a shower before I interact with others. I love the aroma of garlic bread in the oven. I also enjoy embarrassing my son when I tell him how nice the celebrities are at meet-and-greets as well as how good they smelled. (See previous post.) I may have olfactory issues, but I’m glad that I had the ability to reintroduce myself to smells and taste. This experience has made me appreciate them more.



Garlic and onions are for me
The aromas that deserve my revelry;
When smells are lost and taste not found
It clouds my world, so dull and down.

I’ll pass on decay, scorches and feet –
Those smells are not for me.
But daffodils, cologne, and cookies, I say
Bring life to my nose every new day.


Friday, February 1, 2019

World Read Aloud Day 2019



This year World Read Aloud Day is on February 1st.  I have been reading aloud to people for years whether it was my own children since they were born to the students in my classroom.  One year the school where I worked did a teacher swap.  I read to seventh graders instead of my usual second graders.  I brought in a picture book titled Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude by Kevin O'Malley.  It was a story told by two very different students in their own voices as they had to work together to write their own story.  My voice changed between the sweet, innocent girl to the boy who sounded like he should have been riding the waves instead of presenting in front of a classroom.  Even seventh graders enjoy a read aloud, it seems.
I read to my kids until they were done hearing my voice.  My daughter is more into a Q&A session instead of books.  My son was a struggling reader so I did not hesitate to read to him each night, even when he was in middle school.  My husband wasn't a fan of that idea because he thought that middle school is too old to be read to.  Honestly, there is no time in which a person is too old for a read aloud.  Not only does it happen often, but the listeners benefit from a good story.
Jim Trelease wrote The Read-Aloud Handbook which has been revised into numerous editions.  It outlines the benefits of reading aloud at any age and gives a list of books that are great for reading it aloud.  Even though kindergarteners may not be able to read more than the basic sight words, they can sit and enjoy a read aloud novel like Charlotte's Web.

What are the Benefits of Reading Aloud?

  • A love of reading
  • Building vocabulary
  • Developing background knowledge about their community and world
  • Developing a bond between reader and listener

What are the Benefits of Reading Aloud to Older Readers?


Just like reading a picture book to seventh graders, I have worked with people who love to sit back, relax, and enjoy a story.  Seriously, what is the allure of audiobooks if not to be read to?  It is not just for teachers and parents, but also to other members of the family such as children or caregivers.  People can share newspaper articles, poems, stories, and other written work that is worthy of sharing out loud.  It can be modeled to children of all ages.  When reading aloud is consistent in daily life, it can be enjoyed for years to come as long as it is still enjoyable.

Struggling readers still enjoy books, but often it is challenging for them to read age appropriate books when they struggle with words or concepts.  Thick novels from Harry Potter to Percy Jackson have creative language that are Greek or Latin-based.  Readers can struggle through figuring out the word, but miss out on the enjoyment.  They are ready to drop the book and wait for it to come to film.  When the book is read aloud, the speed of the book is comfortable, fluid, and easier to comprehend.

What about older books like the classics?  A lack of proper grammar was part of the characters in some books.  Think Tom Sawyer and dialects used by Mark Twain.  One time I read aloud To Kill a Mockingbird to an eighth-grade class when I was a substitute teacher.  I had to read aloud the chapter of the trial in which Tom Robinson testified.  The southern dialect of an uneducated African-American defied everything students learned in English class.  It is like "Write this way, but read this way".  Yes, eighth graders have already learned how to read, and literature such as this showed character and culture that was not like their own.  By reading along as I read aloud, they spent less time decoding words and more time analyzing the content regardless of their reading ability.  And I got to practice my southern drawl.  Bonus.

Older readers are not just students.  I have read to my grandfather when he was going blind.  Back in the 1990s, audiobooks were available by mail from certain libraries, but they were not always what he wanted to know.  I have read aloud the Catholic Diocese history in our town, the beginning of the biography of a president of his alma mater, and the collection of one of his son's essays and poems.  He probably had the latter one memorized, but he requested a read aloud whenever I would visit him on Sundays.

My grandfather was an inspiration for the senior fiction I wrote with Jamie Stonebridge.  While it is age-appropriate and easy enough for some seniors to read on their own, it can still be read aloud to those who want to hear a story.  They are designed for patients with Alzheimer's or those who are recovering from a stroke.  Reading aloud is not just for the young, but for anyone who want to listen to a good story. 

What books do you love to hear read aloud?  What book did your children want you to read over and over?  Do you think there is an age limit to be read to?

Photo Credit: StockSnap

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Feedback on my Freelancing Experience

I work from home.  I also work on the road.  I work when it is convenient for me.  The things that I do range from social media updates to researching my next writing piece.  Most importantly, I enjoy what I do.  

I'm not usually the first person to try new things, but as I talk about transitioning to freelancing and writing as a career, I have found myself advising friends and family about what I have discovered.  Now, this is usually the time in social media postings that bloggers, writers, and other freelancers hook interested parties to promote their workshop, webinar, and the like.  I'm not there yet, and I don't know if I want to be. What I will do is share what I have learned about two platforms that I have used.

Upwork


Since 2011, I have been a freelancer with Upwork when it was known as oDesk.  It is a platform where clients connect with freelancers in a variety of areas from writing to translation to customer service.  You can submit proposals to a job posting or wait for the jobs to come to you based on your profile.

It has worked for me because I have discovered how much I can do that I never thought of before.  Some of my clients have communicated so well that they have continued my education while I provide them suggestions and advice from my own experience.  Currently 60% of my clients are long-term and my client feedback has been 100%.

Upwork is good for supporting both clients and freelancers.  Their Facebook page keeps followers abreast on the freelance and self-employed population from around the world.  You can read advice from others and sometimes they have contests.  My coffee mug is one of my small wins.




If you wanted to become a digital nomad or just someone who can still make money from home during a polar vortex, it is a possibility.  It may feel overwhelming at first, but you may discover that you have something to offer.  You can see more about Upwork and even customer service options from this link.

Fiverr 

I found out about Fiverr in one of my husband's men's magazines.  (What can I say?  You read what is available sometimes. 😏). Anyway, I was intrigued by the opportunity to do any gig for $5.  I was already volunteering my services as a children's book quiz writer, so why not make money off of that?  Cheap for teachers, administrators, and such, right?

Well, it worked for a long time.  I had steady work for quizzes, and it opened doors to other work.  I connected with SmartKidzClub.  After working with them on their quizzes for their-books, we are working independently from Fiverr.  Now I have my children's book series with quizzes.  Fiverr has a variety of categories that can fit your skills.  You can sell products and services.  With an account, you can purchase them as well.  There are even ways to promote passive income.  Remember what I said about freelancers who promote their work with pre-made webcasts and handouts for clicking through?  My mother and I worked together for her ultimate guide to Paris.  Just send the PDF upon request and payment is confirmed.

I don't work through Fiverr anymore, but it was a good start for me.  It can also be more appropriate for someone else with a different set of skills.  You can find out more about Fiverr at this link.



Freelance work can be primary or supplemental income depending on how much time and energy you want to put into it.  It does get easier, especially when you discover what is out there.  However, there are some important tips to heed:

Always communicate with your clients 
Never undersell yourself
If it is vague or sketchy, you don't have to sign up for it
Enjoy what you do 




Do you work as a freelancer yet? Do you have any platforms or sites that have worked for you?  Please share your experience!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Small Wins

Throw some confetti - it's a win! (Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)

I dabble in contests.  I'll enter text-to-win contests, social media giveaways, and other similar ways to win.  There is little or no risk in it because I'm offering my email or phone number, not the soul of my firstborn.  I don't gamble.  That is not a lifestyle I wish to afford.  Sometimes I win a prize.  I can be the winner of gift cards, promotional items, and even meet-and-greets with people who are more well-known than me.  I've met Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber (nice guy, smells awesome) and then-White Sox pitcher Chris Sale (also a nice guy, taller than my husband, another great-smelling guy). 

I have scent issues, but that is for a post for another day.

They may call it a grand prize or first prize, and then someone will look at it like, "That's it?"  So some of the promotional prizes are less than "grand".  It annoys the pessimists who see these winnings in their half-empty glasses.  The optimists are a little too perky with statements like, "Well, it's a win!"  While the glass is half-full, it is not something that changes my world.

I don't enter contests with the full intention to win the grand prize of an all-expense paid trip to the Super Bowl, $100,000 to remodel my home, or the chance to spend five minutes with a megastar backstage at a major event.  Yes, they can be nice, but I'm not in it for that.  I'm in it for the small wins. 

When I was researching this idea of small wins, I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review from 2011 titled The Power of Small Wins.  Mind you, "Harvard" and "Business" are not two keywords that I look for in my reading material, but the article was actually interesting when it comes to motivation in your work.  There is a whole psychology about bosses and managers keeping their teams engaged in their tasks.  Making progress can make a difference in the workplace, even if it is a "small win".

As a college student, I was looking for ways to get my name out in the world.  A byline in a magazine or poetry journal was the only way that I knew how.  Submitting my poetry was like gambling - I was taking a huge chance that I could be accepted and published, or I could go down in flames for reasons of "not what we are looking for" or "we are not accepting at this time".  However, every time that I could publish something, it was a small win for me.  My name was out there, I was sharing a piece of my imagination and experience with readers.  If I got paid, it was small, but it was still a win.

Each "win" in writing has been a stepping stone.  It is work experience and publications on my curricula vitae.  It is also my motivation to keep going and keep trying.  These milestones are the encouragement I need to keep setting my goals for something more while I am still finding joy in them.  This kind of happiness was not as frequent in my other jobs in life.  While I had my wins and can see the results in my former students, the gratification does not feel the same.

So I will keep entering contests (maybe even start one of my own) and get my fix on small wins there.  I'll also be working on my small wins in writing.  Once I finish my landmark series for Smart Kidz Club, I'm thinking about another series with Patriot the tour guide eagle.  Maybe I'll step away from books and find my riches in other forms of writing.  If I am happy, then I am winning.


Contest prizes big or small,
try as we may, we can't win them all;
but when the win is what you do,
it is always a big deal to you.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

It all started in a bar...

Nice title.  Sounds like something out of a country song or romance novel. 

Actually, it is about a hobby.

No, not drinking.  Too obvious.  Not smoking either.  Those things started earlier than that, like behind a convenience store with other teens. 

No, it's painting.

Not so obvious, right?

Seriously, today's adult entertainment is more than a smoke-filled bar with pool tables and flashing neon signs.  People of all backgrounds are being enticed with activities ranging from poker runs to zumba classes.  Even recently a nearby church advertised an adult beer and Bible study at a local tap room. 

For me, I found painting in a bar.  After writing became a career instead of a hobby, I needed another way to be creative that was different from what I did on a regular basis.  I remember watching PBS with Bob Ross and other master painters creating visions of nature using multiple shades of colors that transformed their blank canvas.

I can draw an awesome Garfield.  My palm trees look like feather dusters.

So the bar that I am talking about was actually a painting class that was BYOB - bring your own bottle.  It could have been wine or beer, they were not picky.  They only asked that you did your best not to dip your brushes in your drink.  The instructor sounded like she had some previous experience.  So I dragged my mother-in-law because she had been to painting classes before and had the best wine carrier for our bottles.  My sister-in-law joined us because she thought it would be interesting.  Wine was a bonus.

I don't know if it was the alcohol or the paint fumes, but I had a blast.  We laughed, we brushed, we made mistakes and we learned how to fix them or achieve happy accidents.  When the BYOB events became fewer and fewer, we looked into the ones set in bars.  Acoustics were terrible and we were not in control of the music volume.  Not to mention the drinks cost as much as the bottles we brought in before.  Still, I keep searching because painting gives me a kind of zen, that meditative trance as you watch and transform a blank canvas to something (hopefully) that is pleasing to the eye.  I also enjoy using someone else's brushes and paints because it takes the guess work and storage off my hands.

We did try painting at home.  Here is the result:



I know, he is quite handsome.  Those painting classes have paid off.  I get a few hours of a trance that is less greasy than a massage and I get to express my creativity in a visual medium.  Sometimes I share my work.  

It is important to try new things and follow passions.  I didn't take art in high school or college because I followed other pursuits like music or language.  Maybe I missed out on something.  Still, your hobby does not have to be related to your work.  In fact, it can be the furthest from your occupation as long as it brings you happiness and some kind of release from the daily grind.

Let me know what your hobby is.  Maybe you'll inspire my next one.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Determination



This is the first year that I have heard about one-word resolutions.  Maybe I was not paying attention since it is a concept that has been around for years.  Maybe I was skeptical.  Probably skeptical.  

I'm not big on word boards and inspiration webs.  Webs clutter my mind like they clutter the corners of my ceilings. But I always saw myself as a multifaceted individual with numerous interests that branched out in many directions. How could one word tie in my goals for the new year?

I answered a social media question of a friend of mine on whether I list goals or focus on one word or phrase.  I confessed to my list, but maybe there was one word - determination - that resonates in my mind when I think of goals.  I am determined to improve my health.  I am determined to become greater things in my writing career.  I am determined to find order in my life.

So my friend has encouraged me to make it my word for 2019.  I think he is right on this one.  It provides me with more of a purpose of why I want to do more for myself and where I am going to find the strength to do so.  Everyone can have their own word, and the members of my family have their own purpose if they set goals for themselves.  Someone may choose "determination" as their word of the year.  However, I chose it for me rather than have it dictated to me.

I still need my milestones and clear goals so that I can have something to achieve.  I have numbers that are measurable and timelines that are reasonable.  So I can keep my list to help me visualize what I can achieve.  No matter how I do it, I am determined to be more than I was in 2018.


Determination is my light
That illuminates my way
To health, wealth, and wisdom
All year or just one day

Determination can never outline
The steps that I must take,
But rather the strength and focus
To be the success I make.


Image Credits: mohamed_hassan 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Reflections


Happy New Year to you and yours.  Did you make any resolutions this year?  I do make goals for myself every year.  One of those is to be more consistent in my blog, so here is the first of many to come in 2019!

The past few weeks have been a time of great reflection for me.  There have been holidays, anniversaries both happy and sad, and reunions that have been years in the making.  Anyone who I have gathered with has me thinking about the past, present, and future.

Now, anyone who knows me personally knows I am a very reflective individual.  It shows easily on my face.  Some are patient to see what I contribute to a conversation.  I remember one professor in  college who saw that reflective look on my face and asked my opinion on a topic.  I know she did not expect my candid response with an example to back my observation.  I believe she was more cautious as the course went on.

Reflections are a good source of writing material.  It was actually the title of the self-published poetry collection I made for my family a few decades ago.  My reflections of adolescence, young adulthood, love and loss filled the pages and allowed my loved ones to understand the joys and pain I could not tell them in words.

My creative works of late has been less of reflections and more of an intellectual pursuit.  Landmarks of the countries written for kids, a day in the life for seniors, even the start of historical fiction based on stories of today's octogenarians, they fall short on my reflections.  Maybe that should be another goal on my list of New Year's resolutions.

I look in the mirror 
And what do I see?
The reflection of a writer
Emerging from me.

Her eyes have seen sadness
Yet shine with such wonder;
Her words are soft-spoken,
But her pen is like thunder.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Where Has Time Gone?

Photo Credit:  annca


It finally dawned on me that October is more than halfway over and I have been slacking on my blog.  It's not you, it's me.  No, we are not breaking up.  It has been nice knowing that someone is interested in what I have to say. 

We all know that it is hard to find the time to do everything we need and want to do.  Sometimes these things never get done.  Before we know it, we fully grasp the line in a Luke Bryan song "Days go slow and years go fast".  We have to enjoy everything that we do or else we will never get that time back.  I quit my full-time job in 2009 so that I could be there for my family rather than have my 2+ hour commute take it from me.  Now I can say that I know more about my children instead of having others tell me about them.

Time still gets away from me.  I do keep a busy work load, and it's my work ethic that keeps me more organized with time management.  I know how long my children's books will take me to research and draft.  I know I have to walk away from my senior fiction so that I can find the direction that works best for my characters.  Before long, it's time to take the kids to soccer or whip together dinner.  At the end of the day, I know I have been productive.

As I talk about time, I think about another moment coming up that takes time.  I've announced my novel for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month starting November 1st.  I think the longest piece I have ever written was my senior paper for a history class.  It was nowhere near 50,000 words, but it was full of content, research, and answers to questions I had about the topic.  Right now I'm planning on fleshing out a young adult historical book.  It's going to have more bone structure and muscles than flesh, but it will be closer to a novel worth sharing than what I currently have on my computer.

What am I going to need?  Time, patience, maybe a support group to remind me why I want to do this.  Wine?  Probably not too much if I am writing for youth.  I plan on checking in,  Are you taking the novel-writing challenge this year?  I'd love to have a buddy there to keep me motivated.  It's time to prepare!

From the sands of time
to the smartwatch on your arm;
don't let life pass you by,
don't wait for its alarm:

Life is full of wonder,
experiences and fun;
in time you will have these,
before time says you're done.


Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Struggles with Creative Thinking (or Curse my Brain's Tangents!)



Along with my daily assignments, I am also halfway through my next senior fiction novel and compiling my research for the next book in the U.S. Landmarks series with SmartKidzClub.  I'm pretty close to my bandwidth, when out of the blue, I get inspired.  Dang it.

Don't get me wrong.  I love getting inspired, but it rarely happens when I get writer's block.  Maybe it is all of the brain activity or maybe I'm starting to get overwhelmed.  I tend to plan ahead and frontload myself with all of the things I need to do in the next 24-72 hours.  Better early than late, right?

The important thing is that I take the time to write down these inspirations as they come.  When I was proposing my U.S. Landmarks series, it was as easy as making a list of the places around the country that needed to be showcased.  The senior fiction is an outline of six chapters with concepts or activities that I want to include.  Even a sprinkling of reactions.  That outline is very rough because I will add dialogue later, but I can at least get the web of events pieced together and determine how it will all end.

As I have been talking on the phone and email with my Queen of Brain Tangents (Mom), I know she can see that my urge to write about this new topic is out of the blue.  It's like the idea that pops in your head when you are taking a shower or driving on your boring commute.  Mine developed when I was walking the garbage can to the curb (it's a five-minute walk roundtrip).  As I have been distracted by these ideas, I have come to the conclusion that I need more information.  Long story short, I need to seek out a historian specific to this time period and location.  Road block.

It leads me to believe that some of the most interesting stories are trapped in oral history.  My story idea is one that belonged to my parents as they were growing up during World War II.  They have their own experiences that they have shared over the years, but I finally figured out how I can take those memories and shape it into a piece of historical fiction for young adults.

Oh there are plenty of stories to tell.  One that sticks in my mind is the fact that my history professor mentioned in class about German POW soldiers who were imprisoned in western Illinois.  He told how they would get their daily exercise by crossing the bridge high over the Mississippi River and back.  Genius way to prevent escapes, in my opinion.  Did I know that there were German soldiers in the American Midwest?  Of course not!  Is it in books or as an easy Google search?  Not where I have looked.  My skills as a history minor failed me.  I knew of something to the effect from the youth novel The Summer of My German Soldier, but never did I think that POWs were so close to home. 

The Internet is only as good as the keywords we input.  Our minds are only as broad as the information we process.  We are the archaeologists and anthropologists responsible for keeping some of these stories alive.  Even if you can save a few of those family stories, you may see that they are not rambling tangents, but a way of life, an experience, or just a thought that should not be lost.


My mind is made up
and the message is clear;
I must write a new story,
one hidden in yesteryear.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

My Fork in a Writer's Road




One thing that excites me about writing fiction is the fork in the road. I was a fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books growing up, and it is so true in life how one decision can affect your whole outcome.

The most recent senior fiction I finished was about a trip to a farmer's market. I came across a number of forks in the road on that little journey. They ranged from problems and solutions, the decision to add a character or not, or just how to finish the story altogether.

The fork in a writer's road can start from the beginning. What aspires an author to choose a topic, pick a character, and determine which genre they want it to develop into. I think about Susanna Carr (http://www.susannacarr.com/), a romance writer who has written for Harlequin Presents and Harlequin Blaze. While both are published under the same company, the paths the stories require go in different directions. The path of the heroine can go from bad to worse, hot to steamy, or however the author chooses to take the adventure. It's the author's discretion, the author's “fantasy”, the author's adventure.

Authors can find their inspiration at the fork of the road at any point from brainstorming to drafting. Even the editor can reveal a new path that takes everything in a new direction. Sometimes these new adventures enhance the story, creates a tension that piques the reader's interest more, or make it possible to spin off into something new and fresh for the next story in the horizon.

Right now as I am recharging my creative juices for my next writing adventure, I look at my map of ideas and wonder what journey sounds exciting to write about and read.

The next Jamie Stonebridge senior fiction story will be about a good day for a walk in the summer. The paths for that story are numerous. Sometimes I go back to my days of “romance” and take a “what if” approach. You know, “what if she said yes (or no)?” or “how would life be different if she picked the nice guy over the bad boy?”. It's just like a fractured fairy tale where there isn't always a happy ending or the point of view tells another version of a familiar story.


Now I must hurry and write
the tangent forming in my head,
because the new adventure awaits
for what characters will do instead.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Questions for Jamie Stonebridge

As I mentioned before, my collaboration in writing senior fiction started with a request for writers.  It was not a genre that I had heard of before, but it was one that I could immediately see a need for.  While adults may have fond memories of reading Dr. Seuss or easy fiction, it does not have the content that matches their experiences.  I was eager to try my hand at easy books targeted for a more mature audience, and I have been pleased with the results.

But what does Jamie Stonebridge have to say about it?  Well, I'll have Jamie tell you more.

Q: What inspired or motivated you to write stories for seniors with dementia/ Alzheimer’s/ Parkinson’s/ or stroke survivors?


A:  A couple of reasons. I think every extended family can think of a loved one who has faced the challenges of age related memory decline. When I became aware that this was happening and how ‘changed’ people’s circumstances and abilities can become it planted the seed of an idea in my mind. I’m also struck by how people, due to improvements in health and medical care, are living physically much longer than they did, say 30 or 40 years ago. But will our minds ‘keep up’ with our bodies? These thoughts came together and made me think about what could be done to help people with dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or survivors of strokes.

I wanted to develop some books that would entertain but not patronise people. Fiction that would not use complex words that might have been forgotten by age and would not involve complicated plots or many characters that needed to be remembered. I also made a conscious decision to make sure the books didn’t sound like they were written for children. The books would need to be about an older person, enjoying a pleasant ‘universal’ activity that makes them happy. The hope is the reader can share in that happy feeling as they read each book.

Q:  You chose a format that included a short chapter and an image to capture the reader’s attention. This works well for your audience. Was it a decision you made from the beginning or did the concept take some trial and error to get it to its current state?

A:  The format came about by me first applying skill I had learnt as a trainer along with some good old-fashioned trial and error. Overall, I wanted to the books to not be very long so that they could be read in one sitting if that was appropriate to the reader. Research by others describes how people with dementia and related conditions enjoy the activity of reading or experiencing a book. That can include holding a book, touching the pages, looking at the pages and images, being read to or sharing in the reading activity. The research also suggest that long books can confuse or be too big a mountain to climb causing the person to give up or feel frustration.

The trainer in me knew of the impact of show an image and then tell the information. So a real world photograph that relates to the chapter or ‘sets the mood’ seemed a natural choice to start each chapter. These images are often close up details or reflective of the experience related in the chapter and are always positive and welcoming. The idea is that the images provoke or encourage a feeling or awaken memory in the reader.

The first concept for the books was to have eight chapters, but we quickly discovered that six chapters worked so much better. A story can move along and conclude without losing pace in six chapters. Generally, each book covers one day or a weekend. The season or weather, a sound or smell prompts the main character to have an idea that they go and experience, a ‘journey’, that then concludes. The reader therefore gets to share in this pleasant journey and feel like they have shared in that experience.

Each chapter generally has the same number of pages, so the reader expectation, the pacing of the book, follows a welcome pattern. We also decided that each book should not contain any peril, danger, fear or negative feelings. Overall the books are structured to speak to the reader words that are not complex, but not childish. Their aim is to make the reader smile and feel positive.
Another aim with these books was to make them big enough to easily hold (6x9 inches), with easy to see large print text, and books covers that have bright images that reflect the story. The covers are somewhat in the style of a James Patterson book cover. Finally, I wanted to make sure that ‘dementia’ was not mentioned on the cover or within the book so there is no stigma attached to the reader. The Senior Fiction label is the only allusion to the targeted style of writing.

Q:  What is your goal with this senior fiction project?

A:  The goal with every book share the enjoyment that can be gained from the simplicity of everyday events and the calming effect of a satisfying ending. By writing with empathy and in a positive way the hope is to produce books that bring a smile to the reader or to re-introduce them to books when they have felt they are lost to them.

Q:  Do you write for other audiences?

In the past I have published children’s fiction under a different pen name, only to discover it is a very crowded space with too many books and not enough readers! I’ve also published family fiction and light romance with some success via Trudy Joy.

I also publish Word Search books for adults and seniors under the pen name Freedom Bell or Freedom Puzzles. These are typically themed (Harry and Meghan Word Search was a big hit this summer) and have a great following of all ages including seniors.

Q:  Where can readers buy your books? They are currently on Amazon.com. Will they be available in Canada or do your readers have to purchase through the US site?

A: At the moment Jamie Stonebridge books are available on all Amazon site (e.g. amazon.com and amazon.co.uk) sites apart from Canada. I don’t fully understand the reasons why, but the publishing platform Amazon uses currently has restricted availability from the amazon.ca site, but Canadians can order it from the Amazon.com site. I am hoping this situation changes in the future as I would love these books to reach as many readers as possible.


The books have been very well received so far, and I am hoping this continues to grow so more people can benefit from these books.  I’d love to hear their ideas or suggestions for book themes.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why I Write Senior Fiction



 

For the past nine years, I have been a freelance writer.  The Internet has made it easier for writers like me to pick and choose projects that match skills and expertise.  At the beginning, I had to find my niche and clients by trying new things and proving my value in my research and writing skills.  My education background was a solid match for many articles or children's topics.  Recently I saw a project that piqued my interest.

There was a request for writers to collaborate on a book series targeted for those with Alzheimer's, stroke, dementia, or just wanted to read a simpler book at an adult level.  I knew I could do this well and with passion based on my high-interest, low-vocabulary projects in the past, but also channeling what my grandparents would want.  Two of my grandparents lived into their nineties.  I would take the time to visit them every time I was home from college or visiting with family.  While they were never diagnosed with dementia, they required some of the patience that dementia caregivers need

My grandmother was a stubborn woman of the south.  She taught me how to be gracious and kind, but I never quite mastered her charm when it came to getting what she wanted.  As she grew older, I made certain to call her every day on my commute because I knew her days got monotonous.  She dominated the call with questions about her great-grandkids and family gossip, but she also dictated when the call ended (even if I was not done talking).  She had enough focus to read the newspaper every morning, but preferred to have conversations with others.  It was her stubbornness that kept her alive longer than doctors estimated.

My grandfather had his own challenges with old age.  He had hearing aids for as long as I could remember, but when his eyesight faded, he could not be as independent as his spirit wanted to be.  His blessings came with his numerous grandchildren who could drive him to lunch or take care of his shopping.  No sooner than I got my driver's license did I get a call from Grandpa to take him to church that Sunday and every Sunday after that.  Every visit ended with some reading.  I knew he got recorded books in the mail on a regular basis, but he wanted to hear the stories that were not available in audio format.  Two of his favorites were the Catholic diocese history and one of his son's bound book of student essays.  For that one, I always read the dedication page to his parents and the story of life growing up in the family home.  I never did get past those first pages.

I know there are coloring books and sudoku for mind activity, but there are some people who just love a good book. They still want to open up the pages, feel the resistance of the binding, hold the pages, and take their mind somewhere else.  Novels can be too long or complex while young adult books don't always hold a senior's interest. So when I saw this project, I wanted to create something that my grandmother would have the patience to read and that my grandfather would want to have read over and over again.  I am proud to be a part of this collaborative effort.


June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month.  As you care for your family members whether they have early onset or on the road to recovery, consider books like "Trip to the Lake" or the newly released "A Visit to the Library" for those loved ones who always had a love for reading.  And maybe you will enjoy reading it with them. 

This is my treasure to you-
and because of you I evolve;
The stories I tell from the heart
with memories of those I love.