Dani Coleman lives an idyllic life in Louisville, CO. If she could double the hours in a day, she would still not have enough time to write.
When I was in first grade, I made my sister hold down the shift key on my mom’s typewriter so I wouldn’t have to worry about capitalization as I wrote a story. Although the anecdote lives in my family’s repertoire to illustrate how poorly I treated my dear sister, not to mention my lack of knowledge of shift-lock, I have no recollection of the actual story. But its existence marked the beginning of my call to be a writer.
Not that I’ve made it a priority throughout my life. When it came time to choose a major in college, I studied math and science because I felt I needed the professors and homework sets in order to learn that material, where as I could read and write on my own. As an undergraduate, I often took a literature or composition class, not necessarily to learn anything but to reserve time in my life for reading and writing. This slipped away with the singular focus that was necessary to get a master’s degree, but by the time I got a job as a computer programmer, I knew I needed to build writing time into my life again.
A personal project to read John Steinbeck’s entire oeuvre, including his mediocre first novel, led me to the conclusion that short stories would be a good way to hone my skills. To explore outside my comfort range and give me deadlines, I asked my husband to come up with assignments. I found that I was most inspired by what-ifs: not fantasy or science fiction exactly, but speculative variations on reality.
So, I was receptive to a short blurb in Wired Magazine calling for fiction set in a climate-changed world. This was shortly after the term “cli fi” came to be used for climate fiction, whether speculative or not, and I realized I was uniquely positioned to write it. As a programmer on a climate models, I have easy access to intelligent society’s best projection to what the earth will be like in the future. And I’m already a writer.
One morning on my hike to work, I realized that a climate-changed world would be a perfect setting for a character who had been wandering around my head. Woe to those who fall pregnant in post-apocalyptic Colorado. As I played with the idea, I realized it wasn’t going to fit into a short story. With some panic—our third child was one year old, I worked part-time and taught karate in the evenings—I calculated that I could write a novel in a year if I wrote five hundred words per day.
It actually took one year and nine months. As I was finishing the first draft, a newsletter at work profiled another programmer and it mentioned that she also wrote fiction. She mentioned that Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and I was intrigued enough by their website to attend their annual conference that fall.
My first Colorado Gold conference was the biggest turning point in my writing career. Simply being around hundreds of people who were as excited as I was about writing revealed how important a part of my life this was. As the conference chair said, I’d found my tribe. I met people at various stages of their careers, and the conference provided workshops that should help me to attain those levels. And one of those hundreds of people was a neighbor of mine, who told me of a writing group in my hometown of Louisville, CO, owned by author Rachel Weaver.
At the first speculative-fiction critique group hosted by the group, now a northern branch of Lighthouse, I met critique partners and began the long process of figuring out what needed to change in my novel. Rachel is one of those teachers who sprinkles all of her workshops with gems that make even the most basic lesson worthwhile. One of my favorites is that the first draft is you telling yourself the story and then you have to figure out how to tell others. It took over a year for me to re-balance the risk versus reward in the opening of my novel to make it believable to more than ten percent of readers, another year to show my protagonist’s strengths as well as her weaknesses and yet another to make the plot authentically exciting.
This fall, I hope to be ready to pitch a complete, polished novel. My baby ages with the manuscript and she’ll almost be seven years old. No matter; one thing I’ve learned is that I’d rather work toward quality rather than deadlines.
Meanwhile, I’ve had the idea to write a middle-grade novel to appeal to boys like my nephew, incorporating timely social justice themes. I had expected to revise some short stories and perhaps write a sequel to my current manuscript, but one more thing I’ve learned from writing it is to go where the ideas take me.
Brooke Linville is a writer, storyteller, and entrepreneur in Boise, Idaho. She is a single mom with two boys. Her published work can be found in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic, Entropy, Women’s eNews, the Idaho Statesman, and others. Her unpublished work can be found in folders and baskets around her house. Brooke’s on-stage stories have been featured in Story, Story Night, Boise Startup Week, and recently on the TedxBoise stage. She can be found online at brookelinville.com.
I’ve been telling stories all my life: I told my life story to anyone who sat next to me on the United flight between Norfolk and Chicago on my way to my dad’s for summer vacation; I wrote an award-winning story in fifth grade about Hopper the frog who had to move from his mom’s lily pad to his dad’s; and I wrote about every notable event for my high school newspaper as the Editor-in-Chief for two years. Writing was as much a part of me as my thick, curly hair.
I didn’t major in creative writing though. As I approached adulthood, it seemed that “writer” was something you aspired to, dreamed of one day becoming. It wasn’t something you were. So I became a teacher, then started a web design and social media company, then helped my husband launch a virtual reality startup. I’m not sure they were any more reasonable career choices, to be honest. And yet, I felt like telling others that I was a web developer when they asked what I did was somehow more legitimate than writer. I wouldn’t have to tell them that the only place they could find my novel was shoved in file folders in the back of a closet. I did have publishing credentials – Women’s eNews, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Entropy. But it never felt like enough to justify the title: writer.
After my divorce in 2016, I recommitted to my writing. I finished the aforementioned novel, submitted it to agents, got some really helpful feedback. I loved writing that story, but I agree with the agent that told me that it wasn’t the novel I should launch my career with. Career, she said career. So I’ve put that project on the shelf, and now I’m back to writing, exploring, considering, drafting, revising. And learning.
One of my biggest challenges in writing narrativ
es has been with story structure. I can write a nice sentence, but those thoughts don’t always come together in a satisfying story arc. So I’ve decided to take a few months and throw myself into learning as much as I can about perspectives on outlining and developing plot points. It’s my version of a self-made MFA.
As a regular attendee at writer’s events, I’ve also begun to pay attention to what makes a presentation memorable and engaging. Being able to tell a story on the page doesn’t always translate to being able to tell a story on the stage. In addition to honing my writing craft, I’ve also turned to learning more about live, on-stage storytelling in hopes that one day I can give memorable talks at writer’s conferences and other events. The first time I stood before a crowd of two or three hundred telling a story without notes, I was terrified, my voice shaking and my hands trembling. But I’ve continued to do it, and I’m starting to overcome the fear and be more confident in that skillset. It’s exciting to see performance reemerging as a part of storytelling.
As a result of this work, this last month, I gave a Tedx talk in Boise about helping raise $12 million to save my college. I drafted the story as I would any other for submission, revising and rewriting. And then I worked in my public speaking skills to be able to effectively deliver the message, practicing the talk several times a day, continuing to tweak as it was spoken aloud. Though not necessarily publication related, I consider it a highlight of my professional development to date.
I still have a web design business and do some social media consulting. But if you find me at a dinner party and ask me what I do, I now answer, “I’m a writer.”
Find Brooke's Tedx Talk here!
Trai Cartwright, MFA, is a 25-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. She teaches, produces, and writes screenplays and novels, and can be found at www.craftwrite.com. While in Los Angeles, she was a screenwriter, independent film producer, and story consultant and development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, New Lines Cinema, and 20th Century Fox. Trai currently teaches creative writing, screenwriting, and producing for the Colorado Film School and two online master’s programs, writers groups, conferences and cons, and one-on-one as a development and story editor. She is the screenwriter for Secret Ellington, and producer of docu-series Hidden Tigers.
Moments of epiphany in writing:
Letters Form Words:
A.N.T. equals “ant.” What?? Five-year-old mind blown. As soon as I accumulated enough words, I started writing stories. About ants. And cats. And dogs. And Jane. And John. They ran. A lot. This was the beginning of my way of making sense of the world.
Writing Staves off Boredom:
In the 4th grade my teacher and I didn’t see eye-to-eye. I was bored. I asked for more work. She told me to sit at my desk and wait until everyone was done with the assignment. I glared bloody eight-year-old doom at her. For weeks. She and my parents corrected me. That’s when I started writing books at my desk. Now I finished my school work even faster, so that I could get back to writing.
Writing Saves Lives:
Growing up wasn’t the safest endeavor for me. Poor parenting and all that. I stayed in my room and wrote to avoid detection by my violent family. I completed seven books by age thirteen.
Writing Out Loud (Almost) Wins Prizes:
My eighth grade teacher noticed I was smart but very, very quiet. She invited me to stay after school (and avoid the lousy parents) and write a speech and practice performing it. Turns out I had something to say. I won the school contest. Then the city. Then the region. I did not win State, despite a standing ovation. I’m pretty sure that’s because the girl who won did so because she was a foot taller, much thinner, blonder, a cheerleader who wasn’t awkward in her skirt. But the audience knew who really won. They let me know after, in the hallway. I felt bad for the cheerleader, because she overheard.
And it bit hard. I discovered screenwriting, my forever-medium, in college. When you find your natural habitat, the lure sinks in deep and you swim for the rest of your life with it lodged in your cheek. I’ve got three spiritual homes in this world: Oakland, California; Galway, Ireland; and screenwriting.
College Stories, When Revision Is Applied, Get Attention:
For years, I worked and re-worked the first screenplay I ever wrote. An Oscar-winning producer optioned it when I was 25. A big agency repped it. Despite rewriting Little Man Travels many times and having held jobs at the studio level by this point, I wasn’t ready to be a Big Time Screenwriter. It’s better it didn’t sell. But it gave me a taste. I understood the work that was going to be involved, and I understood that I wasn’t mature enough to take on a massive career such as was proposed. Back to the salt mines.
Sometimes Other People’s Stories Are Yours:
I didn’t mean to be a producer. It happened because another writer’s screenplay wouldn’t leave my head. So I gave notes, many times, and many times, the writer came back with a better and better script. And then one day it was ready to be a movie. And I was suddenly a producer. So I produced a few movies, mostly because I loved the writers so much.
More Options, Please:
Five of my screenplays have been optioned. I have always had representation. This was what keeps a writer going in Los Angeles. People constantly told me they loved my writing; what else did I have? So I wrote more scripts. I got really good. But never quite hit the script that sold.
When LA Burns, Write Fiction:
Los Angeles had an epic fail. A cascade of events unraveled our economy (most predominantly, a protracted writer’s strike). It destroyed the spec script industry, which was how, back then, writers broke in. The epic fail begat the golden age of TV. And would eventually shift the business from Hollywood to places like China and Silicon Valley. I knew it would take years for the business to regenerate. I didn’t have the energy to wait. So I quit. And did what lots of other folks did: I went back to school.
MFA’s Are Dangerous:
Beware programs that don’t let you write what you write. Or don’t teach you about the business. I quit my first program within six weeks.
MFA’s Are AWESOME:
At UC Riverside, I reduced the learning curve to acquire fiction skills to just three years. Much faster than my screenwriting evolution. I loved my program. I have written three books. One day I’ll finish the one that everyone says will sell.
Colorado Has No Use for My Freakish Skillset:
When I got back to my home state, I was greeted by crickets. No one knew what to do with a filmmaker. So I created a wee empire on my own. I found the screenwriters, the filmmakers, and taught them everything I knew. When I had my MFA and some confidence speaking in front of people, I taught Fiction and Nonfiction and Memoir and Teleplays and Web Series at universities. I became an infinitely better writer. Shhhhh. Don’t tell anyone, or every writer will rush classrooms, having heard that teaching shows you what writing really is and how it’s really done.
Sometimes I Get Hired to Write:
I’ve got a couple projects out there in the marketplace. But mostly I get hired to teach and to edit manuscripts, and I love it unreasonably. Working with writers is my heart. Writing stories is my nervous system. Together I am almost a human, and the world sometimes makes sense.
Award-winning author Betty Bolté writes both historical and contemporary stories featuring strong, loving women and brave, compassionate men. No matter whether the stories are set in the past or the present, she loves to include a touch of the paranormal. In addition to her romantic fiction, she’s the author of several nonfiction books and earned a Master’s in English in 2008. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Historical Novel Society, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and the Authors Guild. Get to know her at www.bettybolte.com.
Whenever I’m asked about when I started writing, I have to reach far back into my childhood. As a kid, I wrote reports on dogs, cats, and horses, paraphrasing the World Book Encyclopedia articles and even tracing the pictures of the animals and their labeled body parts. I also dabbled in short stories, usually about dogs and horses and sometimes a kid or two who owned them. Even younger, I sat at my father’s manual typewriter and typed out the current weather report…by looking out the window as I typed!
Words have always been a huge part of my life and my fun. My dad taught me word games of all kinds to entertain me when I’d go with him on his customer calls. He was a professional photographer and when I wasn’t in school he’d take me along while he talked to his client about their pictures. He taught me about word play and having fun with language. My sisters taught me to read and do basic math before I even went to kindergarten, let alone first grade. Books have been a huge part of my life.
Over the years, I have worked as a clerk for a government agency, as a secretary in various corporations, as a freelance word processor, as a temporary employee, and then as a freelance technical editor and writer. The highlight of my tech editing/writing was working at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, editing real rocket science! Talk about a dream come true. The common thread I see is working with words, language, meeting the expectations of a variety of audiences.
All along I wrote fiction. Novels and short stories. It wasn’t until I was working on my master’s degree in English (graduated in 2008) that I had an opportunity to really focus on writing a novel. My thesis ended up being fact and fiction combined. I analyzed the supernatural elements in Edgar Alan Poe and Henry James’ stories then shared how I used them in my own paranormal romance. I was on my way to writing fiction full time, though it took me several more years to be able to walk away from tech editing to writing my books, which happened in 2012. That same year I released an updated edition of Hometown Heroines: True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure, a collection of short historical fiction/biography about girls from the 1800s (first released in 2001). Hometown Heroines was honored with a gold medal for Young Adult Fiction in 2015 by the Children’s Literary Classics organization.
My first paranormal romance, Traces, was released by Liquid Silver Books in April 2014, followed closely by Remnants in October. I also hybrid published the first two books in a historical romance series in October 2014: Emily’s Vow and Amy’s Choice. I learned that year to pace myself—especially after releasing three books in one month! Talk about chaotic. I hadn’t planned on doing so much in one month. Actually, I really hadn’t planned! Writing was still more of a hobby in my mind, but that year changed how I approached my new career path.
I got back the rights to my first two paranormals after two years with Liquid Silver and repackaged them to start a new series, Secrets of Roseville. I’ve published three in that series and am writing the fourth to release later in 2018. I have learned a lot by indie publishing my paranormals, including what I like about self-publishing and what I don’t. One thing I did learn is that if I’m going to continue on this career path, I need a plan and an inventory/accounting system.
Now I draft a business plan each year (December before each new year starts) and quarterly update it and the planned schedule of releases to reflect any changes in either priority or timing. I write most every week day, from 8 to 12, give or take. That’s my job, writing the stories I love to tell. Afternoons and weekends are time to run errands, exercise (I really need to get back into that!), play music or do crafts/sewing, spend time with family, travel for both research and pleasure. All the other activities that keep my imagination fueled and inspire me to write.
Speaking of history and research, one of these days I’d love to sit down with Diana Gabaldon over a glass of wine and talk about the research and sources she used to write her Outlander series. I love her stories! I met her briefly in 2013 at the book signing at the Historical Novel Society conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. She admired one of the swag stress balls I had on my table and came over to see it. I was so floored to be talking to her, I stuttered and stammered, but I did get a picture with her.
I’m still working on fine tuning my accounting system to keep track of sales and book inventory, but my loving hubby is helping me sort it out. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my writing career is to stay positive, focused, and flexible. But most important, I’ll keep writing as long as it is a fun challenge and not a chore.
Elizabeth Sullivan feared for her brothers, fighting for freedom; her father, pretending to serve the king; but mostly Jedediah Thomson, doing his duty. She cherished every moment they had together, knowing it could quickly be taken away. Making her willing to risk everything to claim a piece of him forever….
Where to Buy Elizabeth's Hope
Originally from Norway, living in Colorado, Dr. Halvorssen has focused on teaching law and writing on environmental issues, especially climate change. Her first law degree is from the University of Oslo, Norway. She has a masters of law and a doctorate in law from Columbia Law School, New York—her dissertation focused on international environmental law. Halvorssen developed the first course on Global Climate Change Law & Policy at University of Denver. Before pursuing an academic career she was an Executive Officer at the Norwegian Ministry of Environment. She is a member of the International Law and Sea Level Rise Committee of the International Law Association. Halvorssen is Director of Global Legal
Solutions, LLC an international think tank and consultancy. She is also a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, the Colorado Writing School, and the International Thriller Writers.
I taught global climate change law and policy at University of Denver. Unfortunately, not enough people have understood the challenges of climate change. And the news media had it backwards for a long time. That’s why I decided it was better to take a different approach. There are very few people who read the scientific reports, more are likely to read novels. That's why I've written a thriller with a focus on climate change.
It’s been a huge challenge to move from teaching international climate law to becoming a fiction author. There are not so many emotions when you write law journal articles. I have been to many conferences and workshops to learn the writing craft. It's a completely different world.
I’d like to meet Ian Brown and Le Carre (David Cornwell) to get some of their insights and for inspiration.
The Dirty Network
My thriller, The Dirty Network is in the final stage of publication at the Wild Rose Press – hopefully to be published by late summer. Waiting for a release date.
Author page: anitahalvorssen.com
The Wild Rose Press: https://catalog.thewildrosepress.com/authors
I’m now working on the sequel to the Dirty Network. You can read about it here: http://svalbardposten.no/english/anita-realized-that-it-was-not-enough-to-teach-climate-change-law-in-the-united-states/19.9708
Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid author who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Sisters In Crime; facilitates a local critique group, and teaches writing classes and courses. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.
Bouquet of Brides – Donna Schlachter
A Prickly Affair came about as the result of a long-standing friendship, a step-mother who I dearly loved, and a desert oasis I longed to write about. Mary Davis, a good friend, contacted me because I’d worked with her on a previous romance collection, wanting to know if I was interested in another, and I said yes. My step-mom and my dad loved Cave Creek, Arizona, and got married in a little chapel in town there, and I wanted to set a book there because I love the town, too. Being a writer with a pen name, I thought it might be neat to have my main character write under a pseudonym, too.
As with most of my books, my main character, Lily Duncan, is slightly autobiographical. She is strong and independent—or so she thinks—but she also recognizes something is missing in her life. I think readers will connect with the deep longing in her heart.
As for my hero, Peter Golding is named after a chemistry professor I had in college. To be honest, I was a little afraid of him—he seemed so unapproachable. But as the semester went on, I found out he had an incredible sense of humor along with a good dose of an inflated opinion of his own self-worth. My Peter comes west to “rescue” Miss Daisy Duncan from this western backwater of Arizona Territory and whisk her off to the City. Boy, does he have a thing or two to learn!
Writing a romance is challenging for me for two reasons: as a suspense writer, I tend to have three or four subplots going on at the same time, but novellas just don’t have the word count to support that. At the same time, I want to intrigue my readers to keep them guessing, so at least a small subplot is imperative.
The other thing is I must be certain that the hero doesn’t simply come in and save the heroine. Writing a strong female character helps with that, but I don’t want my male character to look weak, either. He has to have certain abilities that will help him save the day at least once.
Getting to the romance can also be a challenge. There must be a reason why these two get together. It’s why we read romance, right? One reviewer said she couldn’t understand why my characters ended up falling in love. We must keep in mind that people in the 1880’s wed for different reasons. Their courtship—if there even was one—looked different than today. For Lily and Peter, they wrote about love and published love stories, but had never been in love. Yet they were drawn to this other person who was completely unlike them and whose life goals were completely different. I think this is a picture of what God does in our own lives. If we were whole, we wouldn’t need Him, and we wouldn’t need a spouse. Yet the combination of our differences makes us whole as a couple, and when we use our passions, experiences, and talents for Him, we are complete in Him.
Next on my plate is the release of The MISSadventure Brides Collection in December, also from Barbour Publishing. Then I teach an ACFW online course in May. Already it’s an exciting and busy year ahead!
A Bouquet of Brides Romance Collection
Lily Duncan—“Cactus Lil” to friend and foe alike—is as prickly as her name implies, and she likes it that way. Arizona in 1885 is a land as harsh as the moon, but Lil, born and raised near Cave Creek, feels at one with the sand, rocks, and giant saguaros. She loves living in the desert, and is happiest on her own on her small cattle ranch near Cave Creek, Arizona. Although she’s never been in love before, she pens romantic short stories for a magazine under her pen name of Daisy Duncan.
Peter Golding has never been west of the Mississippi, but a tender young woman named Daisy who writes of love and relationships intrigues him. Through reading her powerful descriptions of what love should be, Daisy’s stories have captured a part of his heart.
When Peter’s uncle sends him to find Miss Daisy Duncan and bring her back to New York City, Peter decides to take matters a step further and bring her back as his bride—surely then his uncle will be impressed with her. But when he arrives, he quickly realizes that Miss Lily Duncan is no shrinking violet waiting to be rescued. In fact, she has to rescue him several times.
Cactus Lil finds her heart torn between this stranger from the east and her desire for independence. If she surrenders to her feelings, will she be forced to do his bidding? When she finds a telegram from her editor telling Peter to bring her back or lose his job, she believes his attentions to be self-serving. Will Peter choose her or his job? And will she decide to surrender her heart or send him packing—again?
Where to Buy A Bouquet of Brides Romance Collection
Today is the last day of the challenge. Phew! May is going to be an intense month, so one less daily task will make a big difference to my sanity. But it’s been fun, even if my brain has zigzagged all over the place. So many things happened in April, it’s not hard to believe how fast it flew by.
On the home front, we’re awaiting a zoning decision that may greatly impact the direction of our lives (or at least, the direction of my parents’ lives). My fingers are crossed that the zoning commission is able to make a case with the city council about modifying the new regs for short-term rentals. In the meantime, we’ve developed a good list of contingency plans but are hoping we can move ahead with our original plan. Either way, my parents will be moving into their new home on June 1. Can’t wait!
And with that, another AtoZChallenge is in the bag. I’ll be updating the blog much less regularly, but I hope you’ll check back now and again. Every Monday, you’ll see a new #WhatsYourStory segment about an aspiring or published author. Drop by and introduce yourself to some great new reads!
Thanks for reading J
G. Bennett Humphrey’s historical non-fiction/memoir: BREAKING LITTLE BONES, Triumph and Trauma, The First Cures of Childhood leukemia, (2016) describes his one year spent as a clinical associate on the children’s leukemia ward, 2 East, at the National Cancer Institute, NIH, from July 1, 1964 through June 30, 1965.
From 1966 to 2005, he pursued a career in pediatric oncology. He has been a visiting professor in the US, Europe and Japan and was listed in the 1993-1994 edition of Who’s Who in the World.
In retirement, Ben’s activities included; long distant cycling, hiking, canine care, outdoor adventures in Colorado with grandchildren, and writing, and publishing prose and poetry. One poem from his chapbook, The Magpie Cries, (2016) resulted in his being named Senior Poet Laureate of Colorado for 2013, and he received a welcome review of BREAKING LITTLE BONES by Kirkus Reviews in 2017 and a positive judge’s critique for the 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Contest 2017.
I was a very ambitious and very immature boy in 1955. I wanted a career in academic medicine and I was lucky enough to be accepted into the University of Chicago’s MD/PhD program. Nine years later I had: my MD, a PhD in biochemistry, completed an internship and two years of residency in Internal Medicine, and studied for one year in a research lab in Germany. I’d been a busy boy, and I was still ambitious and immature. I had to complete the last year of residency in internal medicine and a two-year fellowship in the subspecialty of my choice, Hematology. I’d be 35 years old before I could look for a job.
Big Problem: The Vietnam war was heating up, and the military needed doctors. Two years of military service would be a zip on my Curriculum Vita, one’s job resume in academia. There was an alternative possibility: the Yellow Berets. The National Institutes of Health, NIH, had a program for clinical associates: two years as a commissioned officer in the U. S. Public Health Service. An appointment to NIH was a big deal - an anti-zip. I applied and got in.
Bigger Problem: I was one of three physicians to work on the pediatric leukemia ward, called 2 East, at the Clinical Center on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. All of my training was in adult medicine. What did I know about children? -Zip. One of my colleagues was also an internist, Jerry Sandler, and the other was a pediatrician, Rick Lottsfeldt, who had completed his fellowship in pediatric oncology. During wars, friendships are forged under fire watching friends die. Our friendship would be forged on this unit, under fire from senior staff, and the friends we’d watch die were the children on 2 East.
Even Bigger Problem: Adult patients have relatives; children have mothers. Mothers! What did I know about mothers? Nothing. For me as an internist, a mother was a caring adult having years of experience with a pediatric person. A knowledgeable woman who could understand an illiterate infant’s needs, whose day was filled with interruptions and dirty diapers and who for some inexplicable reason wasn’t an alcoholic.
But my problems turned into life experiences that began on day one. A nurse introduced me to my patients. In the first room, a three-year-old boy sat among a zoo of stuffed animals. He appeared in no distress -- apparently indifferent to the dried blood covering his face and hands. He clutched a teddy bear also coated with blood. When Billy offered me his bloodstained bear, I took it, pretended to examine the abdomen, and returned the bear with a smile. He smiled back. In the past, as an internist, I was often given a bottle of booze by a grateful patient. Now a child had trusted me with his most prized possession. The nurse told me that not everybody was allowed to hold that bear. I was deeply moved, and my year on 2 East would be full of such encounters. Kids are neat; they cope better than adults. It’s a privilege to be taken into their world, to bond with them.
I had much to learn about caring for patients and much of that would come from the nurses. Doctors treat; nurses care. At the end of rounds on that first morning, I took a moment to reflect on the nurse. Her name tag read “Morgan.” A short, peppy attractive young woman, she had touched each child on the shoulder while introducing me. It was a little gesture but an important bridge of love between a patient and nurse. I would witness these acts of caring for the next year.
The mothers would teach me, among other things, about the daily task of living one’s ethics and discovering the hues of love. I would stand in awe of these compassionate women who used a variety of coping styles. One of the few things God got right was creating Mothers and Nurses.
“What’s my story?” In addition to the above, I would be part of two events. Firstly, a paradigm shift in the medical attitude towards childhood leukemia. Generally considered a uniformly fatal disease, the chemotherapy under investigation at NIH would result in a 15 percent cure rate. A few cures are hard to see when most of your patients die. Secondly, I would undergo a transformation from an internist interested in basic research to a physician who would leave internal medicine, retrain and become a pediatric oncologist devoted to clinical research.
For 50 years, I’ve known I’ve wanted to capture this one pivotal year, 1964, of my life in a memoir. But how would that be possible? I had absolutely no training in creative writing, and I would have to deal with a lifelong disability -- dyslexia. I had written scientific articles, clinical reports, book chapters and even books in pediatric oncology. Good practice in dull writing.
Ironically, my introduction to creative writing started with five years, 2005 to 2010, of studying, reading, workshops and publishing poems. Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, Kentucky, even published a collection of poems, The Magpie Cried, 2013. One poem from that collection resulted in my being named Senior Poet Laureate of Colorado for 2013. What a wonderful way to spend one’s time and energy.
In 2010, I started to work in prose. My goal: capture that one pivotal year. I was lucky in have valuable feedback and critiques from over 20 authors, six of whom deserve special mention because they read multiple drafts of my manuscript: the members of the Fort Garland Literary Society, Mary Lampe, Francie Hall, and Rhonda Borders; Annie Dawid, award-winning author and retired Professor of English, who was my tutor in writing; Summer Wood, award-winning author and recipient of the 2012 Willa Award; and Pat Nolan, poet, artist and a mother who has had to endure the loss of a child. The manuscripts went through 15 drafts. I’m not very bright, but I am tenacious.
After a year of corresponding and meeting literary agents who felt no one wants to read about the death of children, I had a very enjoyable experience self-publishing with the help of the CreateSpace staff from Amazon. Breaking Little Bones was published in 2016. There have been 22 Amazon reader reviews, and positive critiques from Kirkus Reviews and the Writers Digest 25th annual contest.
I’m still ambitious. I’d like to find a small press or a literature agent for Breaking Little Bones, but my immaturity gave way along time ago to gratitude for spending my academic career in pediatric oncology.
Breaking Little Bones
In this profound, complex story, G. Bennett Humphrey, MD, PhD, chronicles his year on 2 East, a pediatric leukemia floor. Doctors are fighting a presumedmortality rate of 100 percent, but the cost of finding a cure weighs heavily on their hearts. The cure rate for the children of 2 East in 1964 will turn out to be 15 percent.
With almost no training in pediatrics and no experience with chemotherapy, the author confronts an entirely different world. From the beginning he is amazed by the strength of the mothers, the compassion of the nurses, and the admirable ways the children themselves cope with this devastating illness.
Breaking Little Bones combines the personal and the scientific in poignant moments. It is both an overview of the revolutionary medical progress made in treating acute lymphocytic leukemia in 1964 and an honest narrative of what it was like to be there. Humphrey knew these kids. He knew Todd, who loved words, and Polly, who held her bald head proudly. He formed a brotherly bond with his team members, and he had to figure out his own unique way to cope with the grief.
This transformative look into one of the most heartbreaking areas of medicine digs deep, revealing what we can learn about truly living from those facing an early death.
Check out G. Bennett Humphrey's website here!
Where to Buy Breaking Little Bones
A few years ago, my son’s music teacher taught them the words to Yellow Submarine. I’ve always loved their music teacher. He introduces them to music that they might never otherwise have heard, and my children have developed all sorts of opinions that are both awesome and hilarious. For instance, during their Beatles lessons, my son declared that “John is the best Beatle”. We bought my son a Yellow Submarine ornament for the Christmas tree.
One of the first songs I learned to play on my ukulele was Coldplay’s Yellow. That song speaks to my soul, and I can’t tell you exactly why. Maybe it’s because my dad wrote a song about the color blue and it got me to thinking about the colors of feelings. People usually associate anger with the color red, but for me anger is more of a fiery orange. And yellow, which for some people might resemble fear, is a sunshiny happy color to me. As I’m thinking about the new house, I see yellow, even though there’s not a speck of yellow in the house.
Xenial is word used to describe a friendly relationship between two parties, as in host and guest. Usually, I would choose a cheat word for this category…like Xtra or Xactly. And my husband suggested that I make this post about egg puns because we’ve been pretty obsessed with those since my daughter had to recite Shel Silverstein’s poem “Eggs-rated” a few years ago. BUT, I chose xenial because when our home improvement is all said and done, we hope to have xenial relationships with our guests.
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
Be My Guest!
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