Mom

Next Friday on January 19 my Mom is having high risk surgery. She has a benign tumor in her colon that is growing aggressively fast and it must be removed before it becomes a bowel obstruction. Because of other health issues the doctors say she has a 50% chance of survival.

The surgery will be in Tampa, about two hours north of where we live. Kosta, Dad and I will be staying in a hotel for the duration.

I won’t deny it. I’m scared.

Please send us your prayers, goodwill and energy. Regardless of the outcome this is going to be an extremely difficult time for all of us. I’ll post again after the surgery to keep everyone updated.

Thanks in advance and love to you all.

 

Shine a Light

Our doorbell rang last night about 6:30. It was Dad, who had stopped on his way to the emergency room. Mom was sick and he couldn’t get a hold of us. We had just gotten home from dinner out, my phone charging in the bedroom. So we put our shoes right back on and hopped in the car.

My Mom has quite a few health problems, including three auto-immune diseases: Myasthenia Gravis, Fibromyalgia, and another unnamed one that attacked her lungs, leaving them at about 30-40% the size of an average adult female. I don’t talk about it a lot for several reasons. For one, it is her business as it is her health.  But it has been becoming more and more clear to me over the past few months that it is okay to talk to people about it. Support is a good thing to have from your family and friends.

Mom has pneumonia. It isn’t very bad, but for someone with lungs like hers it is bad news nonetheless. The good news is it was caught early and can be treated with antibiotics and she can be in the hospital where she can get the care and watchful eyes of the medical professionals. I have to say everyone at Physician’s Regional has been extremely top notch and helpful. I am relieved to know she is in good hands and being cared for.

Still, I am anxious to hear she is better and can come home. Our next hurdle to jump will be the surgery she will need in the next couple of months. It is extremely risky, considering the shape of her lungs, but it can’t be helped if she wants to survive.

Friday night my parents, my husband and I had a celebratory dinner marking their 48th wedding anniversary. While the men were outside heating up the grill for the steaks Mom and I had a good talk. We were frank and honest about the future. Mom said she wasn’t ready to die. She wanted to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary. She wanted to go to Disney World again. She wanted to see me become a published author. In other words, she is far from done with this life.

I love my Mom. She is gentle and kind, but there is also a fiery center to her that I admire greatly. She has more strength than anyone I know. And it makes me feel so helpless to see her struggle when there is nothing I can do but hold her hand. But if that’s what I can do, I am there.

The holidays are coming. I am going to shine a light in the darkness for my mom and my family. We will get through this.

 

Eileen Cook: Five Questions

with-maliceI studied abroad when I was in college, and it was the best thing that had happened to me up to that point. Living and going to school in another country takes you out of your element and exposes you to new ways of being, and for that I am forever grateful.

But what if my time abroad had ended in tragedy? What if I woke up in a hosptial and had no recollection of how I had landed there or what had happened? Eileen Cook takes a look at that very premise in her young adult thriller With Malice.

A girl wakes up and doesn’t know where she is.  At least she remembers who she is, Jill Charron, a National Merit Scholar and state debate champion. But how she woke up connected to machines and tubes, an enormous pain in her head and a broken leg, she has no idea. The last thing she remembers is being with her friends Simone and Tara. But when her parents inform her she’s been in a car accident Jill is terrified she’s going to miss her study abroad trip. That’s when the second nasty surprise comes –she’s already been, the accident had happened in Italy.

With a traumatic brain injury Jill can’t remember a thing about going to Italy, let alone the accident that put her in the hospital. What really happened? Bit by bit Jill starts to put the pieces together and finds that the truth may or may not be more than she can stomach. Who is Niccolo? And had she and her best friend Simone really been fighting over him? Was the accident all her fault?

Told with a tense plot that reveals breadcrumbs to lead us back to the real story, With Malice is a twisty, dark thriller. Not knowing who to trust, Jill needs to untangle the fact from the fiction and discover just what part she played in the tragedy, and what really happened between Niccolo, Simone, and herself.

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

There were a few things that came together to form the idea of this book. I’m fascinated with long-term friendships and how they survive and evolve, or don’t. I knew I wanted to write about two friends who had been in a relationship for so long that at times it was hard to tell where the good parts and the bad intersected. I’d also worked for over twenty years in the field of vocational rehabilitation assisting with people with injuries and illnesses. I’d done a lot of work with individuals with brain injury and taking the opportunity to explore identity and relationships when you can’t trust your own memory was exciting.

Once I wrote a full draft of the manuscript I knew it was missing something and two other pieces of inspiration fell into place. The first was that I was planning a trip to Italy and it occurred to me to set the book there. I did a semester abroad while in college. It was an amazing experience, but there is something very disorienting about being so far away from home and your own culture. I felt it would give Jill an extra push to explore her friendship if they were out of their current element. As I prepared for the trip I started to read more about the Amanda Knox trial and that motivated me to add the pressure coming from the media- where everyone else is deciding your guilt or innocence based on very little information.

The final bit of inspiration came from the first season of the Serial podcast by NPR. (If you haven’t listened- download it- you’ll thank me.) It’s a true crime story about a murder trial that happened in the 1990s. With each person that told their story I would shift my feelings. “He’s totally innocent! He’s guilty! Wait-he’s innocent!” I wanted to see if I could recreate that feeling for readers by providing them with new perspectives that might change how they felt about the story line.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

When I started writing it took me a long time to realize that what works for one writer might not work for another. I always encourage people to try different processes and see what fits their style.

What works for me is to spend time plotting and planning before starting to write. Sometimes this includes writing diary entries from different character’s point of view, making timelines, and endless lists.  I used to jump in as soon as I had an idea, but I’ve learned it’s better to let an idea ferment for a period of time.  Like wine, it gets more complex and interesting if it sits for a while.

I usually get up early and walk the dogs or go to the gym before settling in with a cup of tea and getting to work.  I’m not creative before eight in the morning or after ten at night. I usually have three or four hours of writing/creative time before my brain gives up.  I spend the rest of my day doing more business things, marketing, teaching, research etc.  Also looking at random things on the Internet, yelling at my dogs to stop digging in the yard, and drinking endless cups of tea.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

In some ways I find this an impossible question because I am terrified I’ll leave someone out. From Judy Blume who I loved with a white hot passion growing up, to Stephen King who was one of the first to inspire me to want to be a writer. (Can you imagine two more different writers if you tried?)  With every book I read I’m interested to see how that writer chose to tell that story, the decisions they made from when to start the story, to whose perspective to how they increased the tension. I try and learn from everything I read. I don’t believe there is any one (or even two or three) writers that directly influenced my writing- it would be all of them.  One of the things that still gives me great joy is standing in a library or bookstore and being aware of just how many great books are out there to read. And writers just keep making more!

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I love the idea of listening to music, but I find that when I do I tend to start singing along. No one wants that. I sound like someone stepping on a hamster when I sing. I will sometimes play movie soundtrack music in the background while writing. I find the music is designed to invoke an emotion so it can inspire me. For example, if I’m writing an action scene then the Indiana Jones theme song might be on.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’ve recently read two books that I’m excited about. Both are coming out in June and I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek. (There are some benefits to being a writer!) I just finished a book called The Party by Robyn Harding. It’s the story of a slumber party where something goes horribly wrong and how all members of the family unravel after the event. The other book is The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy about two girls who are homeless after their mom’s death and how far the older sister will go to protect her younger sister. In both books there’s a mix of YA and adult perspectives and I found how the different ages viewed the situations really interesting. Plus they’re great reads!

eileen-cookEileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight different languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. Her newest book, With Malice, came out in June 2016 and was called “a creepy and satisfying thriller” by Entertainment Weekly. She’s an instructor/mentor with the Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program.
You can read more about Eileen, her books, and the things that strike her as funny at http://www.eileencook.com. Eileen lives in Vancouver with her husband and two very naughty dogs and no longer wishes to be anyone or anywhere else.

It’s a thrill-ride that ends in a crash. Get your copy here:

Amazon                    Barnes and Noble

Randomly, on a Saturday

The week flew by and that was not necessarily a good thing. Here are the reasons why I am startled to find myself at Saturday:

  1. Dad was in the hospital again. You might remember he had triple bypass surgery last summer. He landed there again this week because of a kidney infection that got into his bloodstream. He’s home now, after three days of IV antibiotics and doing better, though he’s kind of wrecked from the experience.
  2. Crazy week at work. We were short-staffed and it is high tourist season, which made for a creative scheduling for reference desk coverage. The highlight of the week at the library was someone came in asking for the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Instead, the patron asked for Hillbilly Allergy. It’s a wonder I can keep a straight face.
  3. Editing the novel. In all my spare time (my what?) I worked on rearranging events and consolidating chapters 4-8. Yesterday I was working at lunch and got a good hours’ work done. But then I got distracted with something and left my computer open. When I came back I shut down the file and it asked me if I wanted to save my changes. And, dear reader, I CLICKED NO. What the hell is wrong with me? Now I have to see if I can replicate the changes I made all over again.

That’s my week. I am super excited about my author interview on Tuesday. I won’t tell you ahead of time who it is, but he is kind of a big deal. Next Saturday I am going to take pictures at the Farmer’s Market and show you our delightful weekly ritual. I’d do it today but I am at work. And I’m barely awake so if any of my local friends want to bring me a double latte I’d be forever grateful.

Unexpected Events

Things have been great on vacation. We met up with our friends in Munich, and spent several days visiting Nuremberg, Würzburg, Bamberg, and Rothenberg ob der Tauber. We were treated to such views as this:

Nuremberg. Totally hideous, isn't it?

Nuremberg. Totally hideous, isn’t it?

We have had a wonderful time reconnecting with our friends Danielle and Sylvain, and we have discovered a few things about German culture.

  1. They like cash. I think I only used my credit card to pay for the hotel and the rental car. Cash everywhere else.
  2. Sparkling water is called Sprudelwasser.
  3. The Germans are crazy for pork and cabbage:

    That's a lot of sauerkraut.

    That’s a lot of sauerkraut.

Seriously. I ate so much pork I thought I was going to sprout a curly tail. Pork at every meal. Cabbage hiding under the lettuce of your salad and of course the ubiquitous sauerkraut. We went to the grocery store and they had an entire Wall O’ Pork. They are totally serious about their pig food products.

We are now comfortably ensconced in our friends’ old stone farmhouse in Western France. And it was good to be surrounded by friends because the totally unexpected happened.

The other day I got a text from my Mom saying Dad had been having chest pains. They went to the ER, ran some tests, and the upshot was Dad had to have triple bypass surgery. It happened today and went extremely well. He is in recovery and all signs point to a good recovery. But the fact that I wasn’t with my mother to sit there and hold her hand while her husband of 46 years had open heart surgery left me a quivering mess.

But my wonderful friend Danielle helped me through with Reiki. If you don’t know what Reiki is, I invite you to read about it here. Basically, it is healing energy from the Divine that a practitioner can channel into another being: human, animal or plant. I’ve been a practitioner for several years now and Danielle is the Reiki Master who has taught me. Together we created a flow of Reiki that was sent directly to my father, thousands of miles away. It was proactive and left me feeling more in control of my emotions and hopeful of a positive outcome. I held it together.

Dad will probably be in the hospital for five or six days. Kosta and I debated over what to do. In the end, (mostly because we can’t afford to change our plane tickets) we are going to continue with our vacation. Trust me when I say it was not an easy decision to make. Most of me is longing to be home with my family. Everyone seems to be coping reasonably well. Mom has been so brave and capable and I am proud of her for surviving an extremely difficult situation.

The last couple of days have been rough, for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much on a vacation before. But Dad has survived his ordeal, Mom is coping with hers, and Kosta and I will deal with ours.

Perplexed and a little frightened...

Perplexed and a little frightened…