DROWN: Author Esther Dalseno’s Retelling of The Little Mermaid

drownI was a kid when Disney released its version of The Little Mermaid. My friends and I were warbling our own versions of “A Part of Your World” at the same level little girls today sing “Let It Go” from Frozen. So, when I saw Esther Dalseno‘s novel DROWN and discovered that it’s a new version of this classic tale, I was intrigued. More than that, I had greedy hands for her book. (I mean, just look at that amazing cover!)

You can pre-order DROWN now on Amazon, and it will arrive on your e-reader on October 31. To celebrate her release day, Esther agreed to talk with me about her book, her journey to publication, and why she’s eager to read INCONCEIVABLE!

Tegan: Esther, how did you get the idea to do a retelling of The Little Mermaid?

Esther2Esther: It’s always been my favorite fairy tale all of my life, it’s so gorgeous and sumptuous and bittersweet, and I kept waiting and waiting for someone else to do it.  I am a big traveler, having left my country Australia nearly ten years ago, and at the time of writing in 2009 I found myself in a very lonely situation in third-world Laos.  Having been in the South East Asian region for some time, I had become a very enthusiastic scuba diver, and my love for the underwater world led to DROWN.  Everything about the atmosphere in the depths influenced DROWN’s dream-like narrative voice and pacing, and I found myself inspired by every little thing – the way light fractured when it hit the water surface and fell on sand beds, the way octopus ink jets and stains the water in cloud formations just for a moment, the tiny popping noises in your ears during breeding season, when the water is filled with fish spawn.

Tegan: Who do you think will most enjoy your book and why?

Esther: Readers of all ages, especially those who enjoy a more literary approach to a story.

Tegan: Often, fairy tales leave readers with some kind of lesson. Do you have a particular idea or two you hope readers take away from your book?

Esther: The Little Mermaid has always been a character who gave up life as she knew it not just for a man, but for a chance at humanity.  The theme of DROWN is how precious humanity is, and how readily it is taken for granted.  I live in Europe and currently there are thousands of Syrian refugees seeking safety and a new home here.  They have crossed land and sea in perilous conditions – the old, the young, small children and newborn babies, just for a chance of belonging to a society that respects human life.  In a way, DROWN’s protagonist has motives similar to that of refugees, and she seeks safety and value in the human world.

Tegan: The cover of your book is gorgeous–eye-catching and it certain piques my interest. Who designed the cover for your book, at what levels were you involved in its design, and is there anything you want to tell readers about?

Esther: Thank you, Tegan!  It is gorgeous, and I feel very fortunate to have such a cover for my book!  Let me tell you, this design was not at all what I had in mind for DROWN, as I had very set ideas regarding all aspects of the novel!  In fact, that cover was the very last option I would consider.  However, it grew on me so rapidly, and the public’s reaction has been so positive that I’ve once again reached the conclusion that it’s best to leave such things to the professionals!  Here is a lesser-known fact that only advance readers know: the character on the cover is not at all who you think it is.

Tegan: Tell us about your journey to publication.

Esther1Esther: I sent out query emails immediately after finishing DROWN, and it was on a beach in Thailand that my little Nokia travel phone rang.  It was Holly Root of Waxman & Leavall, yes, THE powerhouse agent Holly Root, whose client list includes V. E Schwab and Rae Carson among many other bestselling authors, offering little old me representation.  I had just had another offer the day before, but after our conversation, I knew Holly was the right agent for DROWN.  Sounds easy, right?  Like a recipe for success?  Not entirely.  Then came the storm in the guise of the Big 6 publishing houses, who had difficulty placing the novel.  “The fairy tale aspect screams YA,” they said almost simultaneously, “but the writing feels so adult!”  I can confidently say that in the year 2010, there was not a Young Adult or Fantasy editor in any of the big publishing houses who had not read DROWN.  We held our breath, as we were so close to a significant book deal with a certain house we could practically smell it.

After that fell through, DROWN was rebranded from Young Adult to Adult Literary Fantasy.  We never found a publisher who wanted to take a risk on an indefinable genre and an unknown author at that point in time.  After five years of radio silence, DROWN is now being released by a baby indie press and I have never been happier.  I never, ever thought DROWN would see the light of day after what happened in New York. All I ever wanted was for people to read my writing, and now that dream is coming true.  My advice to aspiring authors is this: that the face of publishing has changed, and there is no guaranteed set path to success any more. There are many, many ways to get there. And no matter how long you have to wait, never, ever, ever give up.

Tegan: You and I connected when our books were featured together by a reader on Instagram. I think we were both instantly intrigued by the other person’s novel. I was drawn to Drown because The Little Mermaid is a longtime favorite story of mine. Also, that cover! What drew you to INCONCEIVABLE?

Esther: Tegan, I’d actually been interested in INCONCEIVABLE before that Instagram post!  Obviously that cover draws in any eye that beholds it!  But when you read the synopsis, you see there is far, far more beneath the surface than the promise of a gorgeous, frothy, whisk-me-away-from-my-real-life romance.  I think themes of woman’s reproduction and infertility being written about in mainstream fiction is the way forward.  There is a great deal of shame and an expectation for women to hold their tongues and not bring up their struggles with conception, or God forbid, miscarriage.  As someone who has experienced the latter, when I was thinking about how to respond to this question, the first thought that crossed my mind was: my friends and acquaintances will feel immediately uncomfortable reading this, seeing the word “miscarriage” and equating it with me.  And that’s what made me decide to include it.  I don’t think people truly understand the devastation of miscarriage unless they experience it themselves.  The hopes you have for that child, the bond you feel when their body flutters inside yours, and the day the flutters stop and everything becomes still.  Doctors blame you: something you ate?  Exercised too much?  Or in my case, they blamed my age.  And then everyone who knew you were pregnant begins to avoid eye contact for a little while.  It is this shame and aversion to the subject that requires more brilliant writers like you, Tegan, to include these themes into your work.  It’s so people like me can look others in the eye and say:  “That’s right, I lost my baby.  No, I am not okay.  Yes, I do want to talk about it.

Esther DalsenoEsther Dalseno was born in rural Australia, and has traveled the world writing and teaching. She lives in Berlin, Germany with her husband, daughter, and dog. She was previously published in the acclaimed short story collection, We All Need a Witness, by Pan Macmillan. Her second novel, Gabriel and the Swallows, is due for release in 2016.

All images provided by Esther Dalseno

Knights, Dragons, Turncoats: A Conversation with Author Keith Willis

traitor knight coverMeet Keith Willis. He’s into dragons, knights…you know, normal stuff like that. Keith and I first connected on Twitter last year when we were both looking to get our debut novels published. Keith’s book, TRAITOR KNIGHT, is available for purchase from Amazon as an e-book. It begins with Morgan, the main character, saving a woman from a dragon, which does not earn her gratitude. From there, Morgan goes undercover to discover the traitor who’s threatening the kingdom. It sounds like a fun take on knight tales. I’m looking forward to reading this because it’s quite different from many of the books on my to-be-read list. And if I’m anything, I’m an omnivorous reader.

Tegan: Keith, thanks for taking the time to celebrate your book’s release earlier this fall by answering a few questions.

Keith: Hi Tegen, and thanks so much for having me on your blog. Congrats on your upcoming release! For the record, I’ve already preordered my copy of INCONCEIVABLE! It comes out on November 16, which is my anniversary, and I can’t wait to read it.

Tegan: That’s so cool, and thank you for pre-ordering my book. I bought yours and look forward to reading it! You write about knights…so, are you a knight or do you play one on the weekends?

Keith: No, I’m afraid I’ve never been knighted, although I have been benighted on occasion. And, I’m sorry to report, I don’t play one on the weekends either. My weekends are generally taken up with camping and canoeing in the summer and lots of reading, writing, and Scrabble during the long NY winters.  I’ve just always been fascinated with the romantic chivalric legends—one of my early favorite books was TH White’s The Once and Future King—so I guess it was foreordained that my first novel would be about a knight.

Tegan: How did you get the idea for this book?

A Knight's HelmetKeith: The idea for the book that would eventually become Traitor Knight actually started out as just a humorous take on the traditional knight vs dragon fantasy trope. I wanted to do something a bit different, and I kept getting scene playing in my head where my knight only managed to defeat the rampaging dragon because the beast came down with a case of hiccups (l loved the notion of a hiccupping dragon, I think perhaps from too much Looney Toons in my formative years). Then I realized that the damsel in distress he managed to save was fiercely suspicious of her rescuer, although I didn’t know why at the time—just that she would have rather have been rescued by anyone else. And things snowballed from there, as my characters told me what happened. I had no notion of where things were going, or even of my characters’ backgrounds, goals or motivations when I started the story. In case you can’t guess, I don’t outline or plot things out. Definitely a pantser, all the way.

Tegan: Many of us fell in love with creative writing as children. When did you begin writing fiction?

Keith: I’ve always done a bit of writing, but the most part it was always just throw-away pieces done for the entertainment of my friends, or poems for my wife. I honestly didn’t start writing seriously until I turned 50. At that point I had the opening scene for Traitor Knight in my head, and decided ‘it’s now or never’. That if I was going to achieve my goal of having a book published, I’d best get moving and actually write the darned thing. And it really wasn’t until this point that I really felt I had the time and energy to devote to writing. And my wife was very supportive of the idea, which definitely helps. Although I try not to take too much of ‘us-time’ for writing. I tend to do my writing either early in the morning  or during my lunch breaks at work. I actually seem to get some of my best work done during that time, oddly enough.

Tegan: Do you have a professional life outside of writing? If you don’t mind, tell us about that. (I think readers are sometimes surprised to find out what some writers do for their “day job!”)

Keith: I do indeed have a professional life, also known as The Day Job. While I’d love to spend my days writing or doing something much more fun than working, those pesky bills aren’t going to pay themselves. And I don’t think my writing career is going to be at the level where it’s paying those bills, so for the time being I’ll keep working. As far as what that job entails:  I manage an eclectic group of database content editors for a global information technology firm. So after spending ten years in the banking industry and fifteen years in retail management, for the last eleven years I’ve finally been able to utilize my English degree, at least to some extent.

Tegan: Tell us about your journey to publication and what you learned along the way.

Keith: My journey to publication was a pretty long one. It took almost exactly seven  years from the time I first wrote the opening scene of Traitor Knight until the day it was released by Champagne Books this past September. It took just over a year to write the first draft (which actually was so long it ended up being two books, with Vol. 2 in revisions at the moment). Then came five years of rejection, revision, rinse, repeat.

fingers typingOver the course of my time in the Querying Trenches, I received a total of 86 rejections. The early ‘no’s’ certainly were justified—both the plot and my writing were pretty awful. My initial efforts were plagued by lots of ‘telling, not showing’, and by a lack of conflict within the story—I got my hero up a tree, but then instead of throwing rocks at him, I handed him a ladder. If everything goes the hero’s way, there’s no real conflict, no journey, and no real stakes to engage a reader.

As I gained experience and got feedback from various sources, those endless rewrites turned the story into something that began to garner more frequent requests for pages or full manuscripts. And while I still was getting rejections, now there were fewer form rejects, and more “Wow, I really like this, and wish I thought I could place it”, or “I’ve take this, but I’ve just signed someone with a very similar book.”

And then came Twitter.

When I initially engaged with Twitter, I viewed it as just another rather time-wasting social medial platform. But then I caught wind of a contest called #NewAgent. I was intrigued, and figured ‘what have I got to lose?’. I entered, and was hooked. I found a community. The writers on Twitter are amazing—supporting, sharing, encouraging, commiserating one another. I’ve met so many great friends through these contests—like yourself—who have helped me to polish my pitches and queries and pages to the point where when I entered #AdPit in September, 2014, I ended up with a publisher.

I got a favorite in that contest from Cassie Knight, who was at the time Senior Editor for Champagne Books. She requested the full manuscript on Sept. 9. While I was excited about the request, I had a number of other fulls and partials out with various agents/editors, so it was really just one more in the mix.

Then on September 30 I got a request for a promotional plan from Champagne. This sounded like it might be the real deal. I sent it in that day, and the next day I received an offer of contract. To say there was dancing in the streets would be an understatement. However, I didn’t just sign on the dotted line. I had agents reading material, and to be fair, I needed to alert them. I also wanted to have my attorney review the terms of the contract, to make sure I wasn’t giving the shop away. And finally, as this was an offer from a small press I’d never heard of, I wanted to research it.

After I signed the contract, it wasn’t all just beer and skittles. I had a lot of work to do. A clean, revised ‘final’ draft. Marketing and cover art data. In May I got my cover art (which I think is amazing), and in July I received editorial notes from Nikki Andrews, my fearless editor.

I got the ARC, with 10 days to review it for any errors. I went through it once more with my wonderful wife and proofreader, Patty, who I owe peacocks, apes, ivory and chocolate—along with all my royalties—for how hard she worked through this entire process. She was the eagled-eyed one who found things like quotation marks going in the wrong direction. Amazing.

And finally, on 9/7/15, the book was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Although if they’d been paying attention, they would have suspected.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Tegan: Wow! What a journey you’ve had. Who is your target reader for this book?

Keith: I think anyone who loves The Princess Bride will enjoy my book. Actually anyone who enjoys fast-paced adventure and intrigue tinged with a dash of romance and a dollop of wit will enjoy it. And while the target market is adults, it is definitely suitable for the YA audience. In fact my wife works in a high-school library, and one of the librarians is mentioning the book in all of her orientation sessions, so in essence about 800 kids have heard about my book so far, and hopefully a few of them will read it.

paparazziTegan: How has your life changed since your book was published?

Keith: Well, I can’t say that paparazzi are stalking me or anything like that. But it is a great feeling to be able to tell people “I’ve published my first novel.” And it’s made my life a lot busier. Most authors, especially indie/small press published ones, are their own marketing department. I certainly am, and I’m constantly trying to promote it (while not being obnoxious about it). I’m donating copies, along with lots of swag, to charity auctions. I’m slated to do several book fairs in November, and I have a spot in a village Winter Market/Victorian Stroll in December. And once I actually come out in print I’ll be on tour going to libraries and bookstores in the upstate NY and New England area to do readings/signings. It’s a never ending process, it seems, and my wife has been even better about telling people about the book than I have. I couldn’t have done this whole process without her awesome support and encouragement (and proofreading).

Tegan: Any new projects in the works?

Keith: I have more ideas than I know what to do with. I just wish I had time to write ‘em all. Right now my main focus is book two of the Knights of Kilbourne series, tentatively titled DESPERATE KNIGHTS. It was essentially done, until I ended up changing TRAITOR KNIGHT so much that much of what I’d written for book two was out of sync. So now my goal is to figure how to reconcile those changes and get DESPERATE KNIGHTS finished and ready to submit to my publisher. I also have a number of short stories set in the same universe that I’m collection for a companion volume, and I have ideas and a bit of writing done on book three, working title BEWITCHED KNIGHT.  And there are other projects that I’m in process on as well, like a series of cozy mysteries. As I said, way too much going on for a guy who works full time and has a family.

Keith WillisKeith Willis, is a graduate of Berry College in Rome, Georgia, having earned his bachelor’s degree in English Literature and French. He’s a member of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, the Latham/Albany/Schenectady/Troy Science Fiction Association, and the Mythopoeic Society. He primarily writes fantasy/romance fiction with a side of cozy mystery.Keith’s home base is the Saratoga Springs, New York area.

Top image via Flickr by aperture_lag

Knight helmet image via Flickr by Bryn_S

Fingers typing image via Flickr by Key Foster

Paparazzi image via Flickr by Todd Huffman

Author photo provided by Keith Willis courtesy of The Daily Gazette

Vacation and Infertility: A Trip Back in Time

Earlier today, Patrick and I arrived in Miami without our three kids. We’re here to celebrate his 40th birthday in a place we’ve long enjoyed visiting. In fact, our very first trip here happened not long after we started trying to get pregnant.

A Time for Hope

On that first trip, we laid in bed one night watching a movie. I turned to Patrick and said, “I can’t wait until we have kids we can bring here. Can’t you imagine all of us lying on the bed after a day at the beach and watching a movie?” The rest of the trip, I thought about what it would be like to have our children with us. My visions included angelic, well-behaved toddlers who giggled and let me dress them in perfect outfits.

A Time for Longing

My spirit was much less optimistic when we came to Miami the following year for vacation. We were newly diagnosed with infertility. I had two negative pregnancy tests while we were here. I didn’t have the emotional energy to imagine bringing our children to the beach because all I could think about was how to bring our children into the world. Longing mixed with hope and bubbled in my heart every time I saw a family with kids.

imageSomeone once said infertility is like missing someone you’ve never met. I think that’s a good analogy. I didn’t know my child’s face or name, but I felt keenly my child’s absence.

A Time to Heal and Reflect

Now that we have three marvelous children through adoption, my time in Miami is about reconnecting with my husband and searching for treats to bring back to the kids. (We wouldn’t dream of coming home empty handed!)

But as we walked the familiar streets this afternoon and I saw many kids running and playing with their parents, a ghost of that old despair and longing nudged its way into my heart: I missed my children. But today, I savored the fact that now I know the shapes of their eyes, the silly nicknames I’ve given them, and the sounds of their excited voices. I know the curves of little lips that, when we return home, will welcome us with kisses.

In what ways has infertility Changed the way you feel about certain places you visit?

 

Infertility and Shame: The Body Broken

I believe it’s a valid choice to stay silent about your infertility. There are many reasons to choose to keep your struggles private. But don’t let shame be one of them. In ways big and small, life seems to tell us that we should feel shame over our inability to conceive or give birth. And I’m here to say there is nothing shameful about being infertile or experiencing pregnancy loss. You’re not less of a woman or man. Your worth and ability to contribute are not dependent on birthing a child.

I hope you liked that pep talk, but I know overcoming shame is not as easy as saying “Shame, be gone!” So, to help you unpack your feelings, I’ve put together a list of five perspectives about infertility/getting pregnant that breed shame. It’s my hope that in identifying the sources of these feelings, you can set aside the shame and give yourself the gentleness you need during this difficult journey.

shameInfertility is someone’s fault.

When you’re diagnosed with a medical condition, it’s natural to wonder, “Why isn’t my body working properly?” That question doesn’t always carry an implicit tone of blame, but it often does for people having trouble conceiving. You know from your doctor and the online forums you visit that the reproductive system is extremely intricate and complex. It’s not always clear which partner is having the issue. But when it is, there’s this persistent question: would my spouse already be a parent if he/she had married someone else who didn’t have a condition that causes the infertility? The partner who has an identifiable issue feels tremendous shame, grief, and responsibility.

Let me also say that while you may increase your chances of getting pregnant by losing weight, reducing stress, or making other healthier choices, these changes aren’t a magic bullet that solves everyone’s fertility problem. I used my infertility as an opportunity to get more serious about eating better and exercising more. It was a lovely to discover that exercise improved my mood. And at that time, I needed any little thing that could help me have a sunnier outlook.

Blaming yourself for your infertility only perpetuates the shame. I was able to let go of some shame when I chose to focus on how to move forward. I adopted a mindset that said, “It is what it is, so let’s do what we can to work around it.”

couple holding handsYou and your husband aren’t a family unless you procreate.

I have a serious issue with how most people use the word “family” because they only apply it to couples who have children. When I married my husband, I felt like we were a newly-minted family. We didn’t have children yet, but we were a family. We had our own home, we combined our resources, and we aligned our priorities. The way we use the word family needs to evolve so that it encompasses couples without children. The shame comes from the implication that until you have children, you aren’t a real family, and that’s heartbreaking for couples trying to conceive their first child.

“Don’t you know there’s an easy fix for that?”

Every couple of weeks, a new blog post circulates on the interwebs with the top five phrases you should never say to your infertile friends. Yet, rarely do these articles get at the underlying implications of these phrases. Look, fertiles, you know you can’t say stuff like this: “You’ll increase your chances of getting pregnant if your husband wears boxers instead of briefs” and “You guys just need to stop trying so hard and go on a vacation.” Other than sounding like an idiot who obviously knows nothing about infertility, these people are using words that have a shame-inducing implication: if you’d only shape up and make these changes, you’d get what you want, and if you aren’t doing all these things, then it’s your fault you can’t get pregnant.

Recognize these hurtful words for what they are: a misguided attempt to offer advice. Just look at the person and think, “Bless their hearts, they have no clue.” Speaking of blessing…

If you’re blessed, you’ll have children.

If you come from a Judeo-Christian tradition, you probably have heard that children are a blessing from God. When you’re struggling with infertility, it’s easy to think you aren’t worthy of being blessed in this way. You may believe you’re lacking, and if only you could fix that part of your life that falls short of expectations, you’d be able to have children. I went down this rabbit hole on multiple occasions when we were trying to get pregnant, and it’s an issue my main character explores in INCONCEIVABLE. The fact that my religious beliefs equated having children with being blessed contributed to a sense of shame: somehow, I failed to measure up in a specific way that prevented me from getting pregnant. I know all the encouraging responses, and read a really wonderful book that helped combat these thoughts that crept up on me from time to time. (I know many other religious traditions equate fertility with divine blessing or approval, so please feel free to share in the comments. I’m writing here from personal experience.)

butterfly1Your body is broken because it can’t do something very basic.

The tiniest insects mate. Their very existence depends on it. Animals do it. They’re hardwired to procreate for survival of their species. So, if bugs and bears can get pregnant without the help of doctors, why can’t my husband and I do it? I remember thinking at one point that my body was simply defective. It was a heartbreaking way to frame my struggle, and one that I latched onto in a moment of despair. But, I knew my body wasn’t defective; it just wasn’t capable of doing this one (very important) thing. To combat this feeling, I trained and ran a half marathon. When I was on the course, I remember having extreme gratitude that my body was able to carry me so far so fast. Also, the race was a tangible metaphor of our long and arduous journey to parenthood. Could I finish a half marathon? Yes. Could I hang on until we’re parents? You bet.

I’m so grateful for every person who shares their experiences with me and my readers in the comment section. It takes courage to speak up. So, I look forward to reading your answer to these questions: What paradigms or perspectives have nurtured feelings of shame over your infertility? How do you work through it?

Top image via Flickr by Alkan Chipperfield

Shame image via Flickr by PinkMoose

Butterfly image via Flickr by Rene Mensen

PitchSlam: An Important Part of My Journey to Publication

PitchSlam, the contest hosted by L.L. McKinney. It was an important moment for me and for INCONCEIVABLE. Last October, I had a stack of rejections from cold querying agents. The rejections were warranted. I’d queried too early. But with PitchSlam approaching, I made some major changes (read: improvements) to my manuscript. It was ready. I was ready.

I sent in my pitch and first 250 words. The feedback was incredibly helpful, and I worked away on my revisions, prepping for the final submission window. At the time, I was at a beach on vacation. I forgot about the gorgeous weather and the beckoning waves long enough to hammer out a pitch and first 250 words that made me proud. I submitted and waited.

Team Mutant Charm!

When the team leaders announced their picks, I was thrilled to be on Team Mutant Charm led by the talented and lovely Michelle Hauck. It was a huge break and a much-needed confidence boost. Then, the wait for agent picks began.

When Agents Like Your Pitch

cartwheelIt’s quite a head trip when you get a notification on Twitter that an agent you admire is following you. That happened twice the day the agents made their picks in last year’s PitchSlam. When all of it was said and done, I had requests for my full from three stellar agents. I also had two partial requests. It’s possible I turned a cartwheel in the front yard. It was that kind of day.

And Then You Wait

After the excitement and cartwheels, I had to wait. I wondered when the agents would read my fulls. Were they so excited about my pitch and first 250 words that they’d push my MS to the front of their stack? Well, no.

The first agent got back to me within a month and a half, a very reasonable time frame. She asked me to revise the beginning, but overall, her feedback was very positive. After two weeks of feverish re-writes involving critique partner feedback, help from a professional editor, and lots of coffee, I sent her my revised manuscript. I felt better about it. The story was much stronger. But, it wasn’t enough to convince this agent to represent me. In the kindest possible way and with the most encouraging words, she said the story still wasn’t right for her.

I kept waiting to hear from the other agents, and even sent them my revised manuscript based on the first agent’s feedback. I heard nothing. Then, I saw that the Pitchmas contest was happening in December. I read several success stories. This was enough to intrigue me. So, another writer and I said, “Why not?”

Pitchmas Success

Even though it felt like a long shot–there were SO MANY entrants!–I’m glad I entered Pitchmas with my revised manuscript. My pitch and new 250 words received multiple requests. One came from the head of an indie publisher, Curiosity Quills Press. In the end, an acquisitions editor requested my full and then offered me a publishing deal. With an offer on the table from a very reputable publisher, I asked the agents who still had my manuscript if they would like to represent me. All declined, but I signed with CQ and have never looked back.

The Moral of This PitchSlam Story

If I had not connected with the agent who offered the excellent suggestions as part of the revise and resubmit request, I doubt INCONCEIVABLE! would be on the brink of being published. What that agent asked me to do was a complete game-changer for this manuscript. Even though it still wasn’t the right manuscript for her, it was the right fit for Curiosity Quills. I hope that no matter what happens for you during PitchSlam, you find a way to use this experience to put you one step closer to improving your manuscript and making it ready for publication.

INCONCEIVABLE Cover.jpgAnd one final note. All the work I did on the PitchSlam pitch paid off. I used that as the start of my marketing materials for INCONCEIVABLE! Because now, I’m pitching my book to people who are, arguably, more important than agents: readers who will decide whether to invest their time and money in my book!

Cartwheel image via Flickr by Bitterjug

Miscarriage: The Lonely Goodbye

candle1Scheduled events drive our lives. Weddings, baby showers, and funerals mark major transitions, while soccer practice, choir rehearsal, and book club meetings fill the hours, knitting themselves into the backdrop of our day-to-day routine. But what do you do when something terrible happens that completely alters your universe, but there’s no tradition or template for how to recognize your loss, grieve, and receive support from others? Here are six reasons why I think of miscarriage as the lonely goodbye. At the end of this post is a poem to help observe this loss.

  1. There’s no formal ceremony. When someone dies, there’s usually a funeral, memorial, wake, or graveside service. In many cases, these ceremonies are infused with traditions, religious observances, and reflections on the person’s life. But when a woman has a miscarriage, there’s no widely practiced ceremony to name and grieve this loss. The fact that my miscarriage didn’t warrant any observance hurt my heart, though I was too sad to think of any way to put together my own private observance.
  2. Few people know when it happens. When only a select group of friends and family know about a pregnancy loss, the potential support network is small. For a variety of reasons, women may choose to tell only a very few people about her loss. This means she carries much of the burden of her grief by herself.
  3. Friends and family often don’t know what to say. “You can just try again” and “At least you know you can get pregnant” are not comforting words to a woman who has experienced a miscarriage.
  4. Medical staff may not know how to respond to you with sensitivity. I’ll never forget getting a form letter from the clinic that did my in vitro fertilization cycle. It arrived a couple of weeks after my miscarriage. It basically said, “We’re sorry. But if you just try again, we feel confident it will work out better the second time.” I threw away the letter. My regular OB/GYN was much better in his response: he said he’d support whatever we wanted to do as our next step, assuring us we still had options for achieving a successful pregnancy, if that’s what we wanted to pursue. But he never pressured me to keep trying or to rush to a decision after the miscarriage.
  5. sad womanYour own emotions betray you. This is an issue I explore a bit in INCONCEIVABLE. My miscarriage came after our one and only IVF cycle, which was the culmination of five years of trying to conceive. After I found out I was pregnant, I barely let myself believe it was finally happening, though I savored the joy and hope quietly building in my heart. When the miscarriage happened, I cried gut-wrenching tears and felt such intense anger and sadness for a couple of days. Then, I went numb. I spoke with a therapist because I was worried that I wasn’t crying more. With gentle and kind words, she assured me my feelings were a normal part of the grieving process. She encouraged me to give myself time and space to experience healing, and not to judge my heart for how it mended itself.
  6. Life goes on. This is both a blessing and a curse. Because not many people know what you’ve experienced, it’s easy to pick up again with the rhythms of your routine. But I found myself wanting to say randomly, “Hey. I’ve experienced a major tragedy that likely means the end of our journey to getting pregnant. Mind if we stop a minute and just think about the seriousness of that? Because I’m thinking about it a lot.” Yeah, it would’ve been completely awkward to do that, but I had the weird urge to say it, to rage against the fact that no one noticed my loss and my pain.

I’m interested in hearing from anyone who has found ways to mark and observe their pregnancy loss. I look forward to reading your comments. In closing, here’s a poem I wrote, the kinds of words I wanted and needed to hear after my miscarriage.

The Lonely Goodbye

We tried again to love you into being,
But away you went, leaving me sitting quietly
In an emergency room where doctors mumbled,
“There’s nothing we can do.”
You left behind a box of “somedays.”
(I keep it in my closet on a high shelf.)
Someday, you’ll sit beside me on the piano bench.
We’ll scoop up shells together on the beach.
I’ll laugh when you play dress up in my clothes…
But they will keep. High on that shelf. They must.
For now, it’s time to steel and heal my heart,
And say goodbye to you, my almost-child.

Top image via Flickr by seyed mostafa zamani

Image of sad woman via Flickr by Mitya Ku

Enter to Win a Signed Paperback of INCONCEIVABLE!

The first Goodreads giveaway for a FREE signed paperback copy of INCONCEIVABLE is underway! How do you get in on this contest? There are two easy steps:INCONCEIVABLE Cover.jpg

  1. Head over to Goodreads and enter to win. As long as you have a Goodreads account, it’s really that easy. And if you don’t, you can set one up with an email address or through your Facebook account. You know you want this book. It’s SHELF CANDY!
  2. Pre-order the e-book on Amazon. Yes, the contest is for a physical copy of the book. And it’s signed! But, let’s be real. Most of us enjoy the convenience of reading an e-book. So, don’t miss out on having the e-book automatically delivered to your beloved e-reader on release day, November 16.

That’s it! That’s all it takes to be plugged in to all the contest goodness. To clarify, you don’t have to purchase the e-book to be eligible to win the paperback.

Speaking Out: A Live Conversation About Infertility and INCONCEIVABLE!

Despite technical difficulties, I was able to participate in most of the conversation about infertility and my book today on KCUR, the NPR station in Kansas City. I want to invite you to listen to the clip, which also included Karree Tidwell, a board member from Kansas City Infertility Awareness. This is a local group that offers support to people who are struggling to conceive.

I’m pleased I was able to talk about the storyline of INCONCEIVABLE, my own journey through infertility, and the importance of support groups. I’m planning to do a few more media appearances. What other topics would you like to hear me discuss?

 

Infertility and Why Community Matters

I’m glad to see more celebrities and other newsmakers talking about their struggles with infertility. I also want to give a shout out to all the people across the country who organize and lead local infertility and pregnancy loss support groups. When we were in the throes of trying (and failing) to conceive, there wasn’t a formal group in our area, and I felt its absence. I longed to connect with other women who knew firsthand the monthly ups and downs of the process, gals who shared my obsession with at-home pregnancy tests, and ladies who understood the shame and guilt I felt because my body wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. I came to understand why community is so important for people struggling with this medical challenge.

unimpressed11. You need understanding, not crappy advice.

Ever shared your infertility journey with someone who just didn’t get it? Sure, they might try to comfort you with some sage advice like, “Stop trying so hard!” or “Go adopt a baby from Africa. Then you’ll get pregnant!”

What you really need are co-conspirators who can help you survive the two week wait or can tell you which filters make even the faintest positive lines on a pregnancy test show up. Online communities are a great place for these kinds of relationships. These message boards are full of women who are in the same boat as you, and would send their old pee sticks by the truckloads to anyone who suggests relaxation is the key to overcoming infertility.

2. You need mentors.

It helps to connect with people who are farther along on their journey. They have valuable advice that they’ve gleaned from their experiences. For example, it helps to hear when others have decided to move from trying in utero insemination to in vitro fertilization. If your doctor suggests a course of treatment that sounds new to you, ask your infertility support group if they know anything about it. Of course, you should always feel comfortable asking your doctor medical questions…but sometimes, it’s helpful to also draw on the collective wisdom of the BTDT ladies. (That’s Been There Done That for all your fertiles out there.)

popcorn woman3. You need permission to treat yourself right.

Sometimes, you need an ugly cry because you just found out your ovaries didn’t produce enough eggs for your upcoming IVF cycle. Sometimes, you need to go see a mindless action movie and gorge on popcorn. Sometimes, you just need to rant and rage against the world because it’s not fair that you can’t conceive but the neighbor’s cousin’s dentist’s assistant just got pregnant after a one-night stand. Being in a support group with other people who are going through infertility allows you to understand that there are many appropriate and healthy ways to cope with your emotions.

In what ways has being in community with other people experiencing infertility helped you?

Animated gifs via Giphy.com