Saturday, October 14, 2017


*October is miscarriage and infant loss awareness month.

I lost our first child on May 29, 2010.  The date is ingrained in my memory because it was two days before Memorial Day.  It was a Saturday, and the cramps and the bleeding started early.  I probably would have thought it was my period overdue if I hadn’t taken a pregnancy test weeks earlier and excitedly presented it to my husband in a box as a five-year anniversary present.  But, I knew the truth.  My body was busy creating a life, and I convinced myself of what the books told me—that what I was feeling was simple growing pains and spotting associated with early pregnancy. 

But, they—the blood and the pain—were too much, I realized later that afternoon.  Something was wrong.  I told Mark we need to go to the ER.  We had no choice.  It was Saturday, and my doctor’s office was closed.

We were quiet on the way to the hospital, listening to Stevie Nicks’ lovely and haunting song “Rhiannon” on the radio.  She’s always been one of my favorite singers, and I listened to the song as I hadn’t before, about a woman taken by the sky, and I began to think of my baby that I was willing to stay inside of me as Rhiannon.

“Well, I don’t see anything that looks like a pregnancy,” the ultrasound tech said two hours later as she squinted at the screen before us.  She was tired, cranky, and ill-equipped to give the news. 
I was quiet as I stared at the black screen that showed my womb.  Maybe she was right.  The bleeding hadn’t stopped and the cramps were still ballooning—made worse by the catheter and ice cold water emptied into my bladder so she could stick a wand inside of me to get a clear view of my uterus. 
But if she was right, why was the pregnancy test they’d done when I first got there positive?  I clung to the thought of it—my one little rope as I dangled off the side of the Empire State Building. 
It took days to know for sure.  Hours later, a tired, gray-haired doctor came in and said there appeared to be something still inside my womb, but that they’d need to do a blood test in a couple of days to see if my HCG levels had dropped (meaning I’d lost the baby) or if they remained steady (I was still pregnant).

So, we went home without news and on Memorial Day, I went in and watched while they stuck a needle in my arm and drew blood.  Then we went to a barbeque joint and ate sandwiches, continuing to lie to ourselves about good news to come.  At least the bleeding and cramps had stopped.
I was at work when the nurse called me.  She was kind and quiet as she told me the HCG numbers had gone down.  She never said the words “miscarriage” or “lost pregnancy.”  I wondered how often she was burdened with delivering news like that to someone. 

My bosses were accommodating, one of them having lost a baby, herself.  They offered me time off work, put up signs to say my classes were cancelled due to illness.  When I was able to get back in front of the class to teach them composition skills they’d take with them, one student said, brightly, “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

I stared at her a second too long.  They didn’t know, and they never would.  Grief, I’ve always felt, is a most personal emotion, something one must feel alone before sharing it, and my grief was alive and well where Rhiannon had once been.  It was mine, and mine alone.  I thanked my student, and began my lesson for the day.

Connor saw me through the mountain of losing Rhiannon, and he was with me when we found out we were pregnant for a third time.  It was a surprise, but a happy one.  I only stilled when the ultrasound tech told us the due date: January 19, the same date Rhiannon had been due. 
But that stillness eventually gave way to joy when we heard the baby’s heartbeat and saw on the monitor little movements from the tiny baby curled into a ball.  We took those priceless first pictures with us, and I proudly showed them to my co-worker, one of only a few people who knew this little sweet secret.  I suggested the name January to Mark, and he liked it. 

In the early stages of pregnancy, one goes in for checkups about once a month.  When I went in for my second, the doctor ran the little portable monitor over my still-flat stomach.  And he couldn’t hear a thing.  He was kind, told me everything should be fine, but that he was sending me down the hall to the ultrasound room because he was having just a bit of trouble finding the heartbeat. 

A bit of trouble. 

I gathered my things and went down the hall where I sat on a bench.  I’d worn pink that day—a faded top and earrings.  It was a subconscious decision but was it a premonition?  Was this baby a girl?  I prayed that she (or he) was fine, the way I’d frantically pray in math class the day we got tests back. 

“I’m sorry,” the tech said as she removed the wand, the same kind that the previous tech had used to tell me she didn’t see a pregnancy.  I hate those wands. 

The doctor called it a missed miscarriage as I sat across from him in his office minutes later.  Just like that, January was gone.  He or she had died peacefully, nestled in my womb, but my body had trouble believing it, just as my mind did at that moment, and therefore still carried my child inside of me, still released hormones that made my emotions and breasts sensitive.
I accepted the doctor’s hug and looked at the floor as enormously pregnant women discreetly looked my way, probably curious as to why I was in silent tears, probably correctly guessing why, and most likely grateful it wasn’t them.

I was still holding Connor when  Mark came in with Papa John’s pizza and cheese sticks—my favorite—for dinner hours later, this one little thing he felt he could do to help me out.  We’d had Papa John’s for dinner at one a.m. after our emergency room visit two years prior, I’d considered.

A few days later I went in to have a dilation and curettage.  It was still dark when I arrived at the same wing of the hospital where I’d had Connor.   The nurses were kind, speaking in kind of hushed tones as they stuck a needle in my arm and wheeled me to a room I hadn’t been to in my visit before.  It was all white and lights, colder and more sterile than the room where I’d had Connor.  I hadn’t had a reason to be in this room before.  This was a place to lose a child, not to have one.
I watched the ceiling as they pushed the medicine into the needle in my hand and when I awoke, January was gone.  I mumbled through sleep and anesthesia, asking if they could tell whether it was a boy or a girl.  The nurse shook her head sadly as she helped me off the bed.  She probably had to answer that question a lot. 

That night and for several nights after, I fell asleep on a pallet in Connor’s room, right next to him, and we ate a lot of takeout.  I returned to work a few days later and found some peace lilies on my desk.  The grief wasn’t mine, alone, this time, though it did linger with me for a long time, just like it had with Rhiannon.

It took my body a long time to readjust, too.  This pregnancy wasn’t released, like before, but rather taken from me, and so the weight gain and the hormones, the sensitivity, and the pain, both physical and emotional, stayed right where they were for a long time.
Until one day they weren’t.  I eventually began cooking for my family again.  I went jogging like I used to.  I saw movies with Mark, read novels, took Connor to the park and out for ice cream, worked on my new stories. 

And about eight months later, I was pregnant with my sweet Lydia.

So, we never got to meet Connor and Lydia’s siblings.  Those prayers went unanswered, but God did answer my prayers about Connor and Lydia, proving that He knows, of course He knows, what He’s doing.  We’ll get to meet them eventually. 

It’ll just be a little later than I’d originally hoped. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Truth and Beauty

Image result for truth and beauty

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about beauty in fiction.  When I was a college writer, I always felt the need to have something stand out physically about my characters to make them beautiful or handsome.  Usually, it was gorgeous eyes.  But, as the saying goes, I digress.  I guess it’s a given in romantic fiction a lot of times that one or both of the main characters are attractive.  But the reason I’ve been thinking so much about this topic lately is probably the current book I’m reading called The Chosen.  In this book, there is an anti-hero (okay, a former villain) warrior named Xcor who is on the road to redemption if he can survive the many who are out to kill him.  He is in love with a woman named Layla who, with long, wavy blonde hair and jade-green eyes is, yes, described as incredibly beautiful.  But the thing is, Xcor is not.  He is scarred and was born with a cleft palate.  His father disowned him at birth because of this and he is so repulsed by his own appearance that when he first meets Layla, he only allows her to see him in shadow.  He is not the only one revolted by his appearance.  Maybe it’s because he’s initially a villain, but many characters describe him as ugly.  

However, when the narrative switches to Layla’s point of view, she never once shies away or turns her face from his.  She sees nothing wrong with his appearance, is attracted to him, even, after talking with him and the more time they spend together, the more she falls in love with him.  In essence, she sees what others do not.  There is a moment when, after lovemaking, she reflects on the idea of beauty.  She thinks about how Xcor would not allow her to see him even during that act (as in, lights out), but later, the way he looked at her and talked to her made her feel—you guessed it—more beautiful than she ever had.  But, her observation didn’t stop at this.  She goes on to explore these feelings more deeply and arrives at the conclusion that beauty is a state of mind.  No one else made her feel the way Xcor did, and she’d been around a lot of handsome men who’d told her she was beautiful.  In the end, it was he, a man described as repulsive, who unlocked the idea of true beauty in her.  And likewise what she saw when she looked at him was beautiful. 

I suppose it’s only fitting that when she told him she loved him for the first time, it was while looking directly at him, in full light.  It seems there’s a certain theme running through this book, huh? And I must say, the more I read Xcor, the more I am inside his head, the more attractive I find him.

There’s another character in the same series of books called Rhage and the man is so good-looking that all of his friends nicknamed him “Hollywood.”  No joke.  I was a little bored in the beginning of his story because I found him just a little one-dimensional.  What changed it for me, though, were two scenes in the novel.  First, when he is instantaneously attracted to a woman named Mary, a woman who others see as plain.  But not Rhage.  He sees her cloudy gray eyes as gunmetal gray; he describes her brown hair as mahogany; her makeup-free face holds an expression of strength and a secret hurt he needs to know.  Bottom line, he sees past what others see and that is what is attractive about him.  Second, when Mary asks him why he chooses to do such a dangerous job rather than capitalizing on his looks (like modeling or something of that nature), he has a succinct answer: that he’d rather be useful than decorative.  Nice.  He won me over, and not with his looks.  That ended up being a bonus that is enhanced by the attractive soul he carries inside. 

Image result for truth and beauty
I could go on with other examples in my mind, but it’s probably not necessary.  My topic today is hardly groundbreaking, as true beauty, most people already know, lies within.  I read a Facebook post a few months ago that talked about how a person’s real, inner beauty is reflected when they are doing something they love or maybe something they’re good at doing.  Layla’s love for Xcor and his love for her made her realize what beauty really is, and made her see what no one else did—in herself as well as within him.  I thought about her saying beauty is a state of mind when I read that Facebook post, and how I feel best when I’m writing, which is what I love to do.  When I’m writing, I don’t think about my fading hair, the lines around my eyes and mouth, the extra pounds on my hips and thighs—all the things I see when I look in the mirror.  I feel good, the same way I feel when I’m having fun with my kids or reading a good book. 

State of mind.

As I close, I’ll do so with something my favorite undergraduate writing professor once told me—she said that I don’t have to create beautiful characters to make my readers like them.  Just give them a few interesting traits and readers will fall for them.  In the end, that’s why I found Xcor, Layla, and Rhage interesting—as much inner beauty as all have, they have their interesting flaws as well (Xcor has a dark past haunting him, Rhage is a womanizer, and Layla has some pretty hefty secrets), and those flaws as much as their inner beauty kept going back for more on their stories.  And it’s something I find myself working toward in my own characters—giving them those interesting traits inside, not outside; seeing their truth, not just their beauty.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Winter is Coming

I’m so excited for people to finally see Winter Rain!  It was a story that took a while to write, and I always used to say that the reason for that was that my characters were a little shy.  That’s the way I think of my stories—my characters tell them to me and I write them down.  But as I found my way through the story of Winter Rain, I discovered that the sometimes difficult road it led me down had nothing to do with shyness. 

The story centers on Isabel, a gifted but shy musician and singer who is called back for a reunion with Shiloh Ridge, the band she played with six years earlier.  She is hesitant to go back, as are other band members, and through a series of flashbacks, it becomes evident as to why.

When she initially landed a gig playing with Shiloh Ridge, Isabel was almost immediately drawn to Spencer, the most rugged and talented in the band, and he to her.  They shared a moment together in which they dance slowly at a party thrown by Thomas, the band’s lead singer, and learn they have much more in common than music.  However, before their relationship can even take shape, Thomas makes a claim over her, even teasing her (maybe) by telling her he’ll hire her if she goes out with him.

This was the easy part, probably because it was the romantic part.  The ideas were coming fast and strong, like they do when we’re telling a good story we like to someone.  The building friendship and attraction between Spencer and Isabel, their first romantic meeting, was enjoyable to tell, so it wasn’t difficult.  It was fun.  I loved it, just like I loved the characters.  All good things must come to an end, however, and Isabel Spencer, and Thomas’s story was no exception.

Isabel tries to like Thomas while unbeknownst to her, he begins cheating on her with an ex-girlfriend.  Meanwhile, the friendship and attraction between her and Spencer grows.  But Thomas isn’t giving Isabel up without a fight.  His intense jealousy at Spencer’s natural musical talent makes him all the more possessive of Isabel and leads to a confrontation that renders each of them forever changed. 

This is where the story became difficult to write.  I knew something bad had happened between these three people, bad enough for them to separate without the thought of seeing one another again, but . . . what was it?  I didn’t know, and the characters weren’t telling me.

Tragic things are sometimes harder to talk about.  I can’t help thinking about a scene in the film Frankie & Johnny, when Michelle Pfeiffer is trying to tell Al Pacino about what her ex-husband did to her.  She begins, but can’t get the words out, only tears and hand gestures to imply her devastating past.  Long story short, he is patient with her, understands, and because he does, and so do the viewers. 

In the end, that’s the way I think of Isabel and Spencer.  It wasn’t that they were too shy to tell me what had happened years before, it was that it was difficult, maybe too difficult to get the words out right away and what was needed on my part was patience.  I’m glad I had it (like I had a choice! J), because once they told me what happened to tear them apart, I fully understood.  The trouble was, could time and the unburdening of painful secrets heal them enough to bring them back together? 

My hope was that they would.  As with many of my characters, I fell in love with them and if I told their story in a way that gives it justice, I feel as though my readers will, too. 

Happy reading, whether it’s my book or another!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Lovely Moment

 Hi there . . . remember me?  Yeah, I know it’s been a long while and another long day of teaching that’s worn me down in more ways than one--a primary reason I haven’t been able to post in a while, but that’s another blog for another day.  Right now, I just want to write about something that made me smile for a bit.

I just heard the 70’s song, “Dreamweaver” on the radio.  It was never a song that I particularly loved (though I liked it well enough) until recently, and the reason is because of a novel I read last year and loved.  And when I heard it this time, I was immediately taken back to that lovely story.

The novel centers on a young woman named Mary who has just learned that the leukemia she’d survived years ago might be back.  At the same time, a wonderful and handsome man has come into her life, almost not taking no for an answer when he asks her out.  Not wanting to scare him away with her possibly tragic news, but not sure if she’s ready for a relationship, either, Mary decides to keep the burden of her sickness inside and take a chance on going out with him, just once.  She feels this small escape might do her even the smallest amount of good.     

When the man, Rhage, picks her up in his 1970s muscle car and escorts her like the gentleman he is, she is filled almost to the brim with sadness, anger and worry over the possibility of her leukemia returning.  But as he starts the engine and begins to drive to the restaurant where he made reservations to take her, Mary describes the song, “Dreamweaver” as coming through the speakers.  

As he drives and the song plays, she closes her eyes, tells him to go faster, puts down her window and lets the cool evening air blow her hair all around.  And for a fleeting moment, Rhage takes her away from everything that is troubling her even if he doesn’t know it.  He’s given her a precious gift, a brief moment of reprieve a moment that is one of the most lovely in the book.