Comedian Tackles Infertility in Web Series

I’m happy to introduce you to Wendy Litner, a fellow infertility warrior I met through Twitter. She’s also a comedian who’s developing a web series called How to Buy a Baby. The trailer is a hilarious send-up of the more ridiculous aspects of the infertility journey. I love comedy and appreciate Wendy’s ability to infuse a trying situation with humor. My Q&A with Wendy offers insights into her project, the shame that many people experience with infertility, and the latest step on her path to parenthood.

Tegan: How did you get first get the idea to make a web series about infertility?

Wendy: My husband and I have been dealing with infertility for years now and I have been writing about my own personal experience for places like Today’s Parent and Mamamia. While I started out as a personal essay writer, I have been trying to stretch my writing muscles and have become increasingly interested in script writing over the years. I felt like infertility just wasn’t getting enough air in popular culture, despite the statistics suggesting that a large portion of the population has struggled with it. I really loved the idea of being to explore a couple going through infertility. Webseries, while still difficult to make, have become increasingly accessible and popular and I liked the idea of having a larger story told in these smaller vignettes about a marriage under pressure. Also, I am so inspired by people like yourself who have taken their experience with infertility and turned it into something beautiful for other people. I wanted to lend my voice to this as well.

Tegan: I watched the trailer for How to Buy a Baby. It’s really funny and cheeky. Why did you decide to talk about these issues using humor as the lens?

Wendy: I believe there is humour in everything! Sometimes you have to look really, really hard but it’s there. I come from a really funny family who have always handled adversity with humour and I have tried my best to apply this to infertility as well. It doesn’t always work. I am a comedy writer and so I try and tell things in a funny way, even if it’s dark comedy. I was really inspired by Tig Notaro and her Live performance, where she jokes about her breast cancer. She showed so much strength and humour and resiliency and I thought if she could laugh at that, I could laugh at my inability to have children. I have gotten emails from other people struggling with infertility who appreciate being able to laugh at their awful experience and I will feel like somewhat of a fraud. Here I am trying to advocate humour in a way and I am in the fetal position crying over my experience. Through my many (many!) tears though, my ultimate coping mechanism is laughing.

Tegan: What do you hope to accomplish with How to Buy a Baby?

Wendy: I hope to humanize the experience of infertility. I want people who have been in the trenches to know they are not alone, in this child-centric Facebook world of ours that can make an infertile feel so alone. I also hope to raise awareness about what infertility does to a person and what it does to a couple. People who are lucky enough not to have to buy a baby can be very quick to say things like “why don’t you just adopt” and they don’t appreciate how difficult, costly and time consuming that process is. People can be a bit cavalier about their procreative abilities and not realize that they are so very lucky to have had a smooth path to parenthood. I hope people struggling with infertility will feel seen when they watch HTBAB.

Tegan: What kind of reactions have you gotten so far in response to the HTBAB trailer?

Wendy: The response from the infertility community in particular has been so overwhelming! I have gotten the most amazing and encouraging notes from people who have shared this experience and it means the world to me. (I was going through a round of IVF as well while I was working on this and my hormones were out of control – I couldn’t stop crying, I was so touched!). I was nervous about how people would react to the dark humour aspect of it, worrying that people would think I am trying to make light of so much pain when I am trying to do the opposite. I have been so happy that people have embraced it and are excited to see more. We have received funding from the Independent Production Fund here in Canada and are now trying to raise the balance of our funding and find a distribution platform to share the series.

Tegan: Why do you suppose people are still uncomfortable talking about infertility?

Wendy: I feel like there is a sense of shame surrounding infertility. I think we women get embaressed that our bodies weren’t able to do what the bodies of all our friends and families could do. I have felt it myself, this sense of guilt and self-reproach that I must, I must, be doing something wrong and that’s why I can’t get pregnant. My rational self knows this is ridiculous and that I have done everything possible but there is still that tiny part of me that says “maybe I shouldn’t have had that cup of coffee during my IVF cycle.” I am hoping that the more people that share and talk about their experience the most people will be comfortable talking about it.

Tegan: Tell us about your own connections to / experiences with infertility and where you are on your journey to parenthood.

Wendy: After many failed infertility treatments my husband and I are now pursuing adoption. Of course we wanted a baby yesterday, so the waiting and uncertainty is extremely difficult but I am trying my best to look at this new process as an adventure to meet our child. I feel like I have just now become versed in the language of infertility and now we are moving on to a whole new process. While I don’t expect it to be a smooth one, I hope that it will end happy. I can’t wait to be a mother!

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Son of a Pitch! Bonjour!

INCONCEIVABLE Cover.jpgBonjour, my lovelies! This is a special greeting for all those writers who are participating in the pitch contest, Son of a Pitch! I look forward to reading your pitches and sharing my feedback. Just a note about the theme: All the participating published authors are choosing a hero or villain from Disney to use on their blogs. I chose Belle because her ability to look beyond the surface and see what’s inside reminds me of Hatty, the main character in my novel, INCONCEIVABLE!

Just to help you get to know me a bit better, here are seven fun Tegan facts:

    1. I secured my own publishing deal for INCONCEIVABLE! with respected indie publisher Curiosity Quills. I had hoped to get an agent to represent me, but when CQ came calling with so much love for my story and a great vision for promoting it, I couldn’t say no.
    2. I’m a Francophile. I studied French for four years in high school and all through college. So, I can parler. I adore the French language and culture. I’ve traveled all over the world, but France is one of my favorite countries.
    3. belle meme1This is Foodie Central. (Sorry, Belle.) I adore food, but I’m not a snob. From Cheetos to ostrich steak, I appreciate a wide range of delicious foods. My favorite ethnic cuisines are Ethiopian and Mexican.
    4. I have one husband, two kitties, and three kids. It’s a hot mess up in here, ya’ll. Is it any wonder I have chronic “mom brain?”
    5. I love to read in many genres. I can appreciate and enjoy Stephen King as much as Nicholas Sparks. Some of my favorite books are The Alchemist, 11/22/63, the Chronicles of Narnia, Brave New World, and Accidental Saints. How’s that for variety?
    6. autumn meme1Fall is my favorite season. Yep, I’m kind of basic in that way. Bring on the pumpkins, lattes, falling leaves, and Halloween. One of my favorite lines from INCONCEIVABLE! is about autumn.
    7. I was in a community theatre production of Beauty and the Beast. I wish I could tell you I played Belle, but I was much better as a dancing, singing plate in the enchanted castle. There were three of us plates and we were kind of fabulous. #Justsaying

I look forward to finding out more about you! Please connect with me on Twitter and Facebook. Because I’ve had so much love and support from other writers on my journey, I’m thrilled to pay it forward by helping you!

 

The Continuing Story of Ever Upward: Childfull Living After Infertility

EUCoverJustine Froelker is the author of Ever Upward, a memoir of her journey through infertility and the decision she and her husband made to live as a childfull couple. Justine created this word to mean a life that’s full of opportunities to be around children, to love them, and be a part of their lives while not being parents themselves. The book chronicles a heartbreaking, emotional, and beautifully-told journey of how they arrived at their decision and how they’ve embraced it.

I am so inspired by Justine’s transparency as she continues to share about her life and gives voice to this choice that sometimes invites criticism and sparks controversy. (For the record, I’m supportive of couples finding the resolution to their infertility that’s right for them, whether that be pregnancy through fertility treatments, surrogacy, adoption, childfull living, or any other option.)

March third marks the one year anniversary of Ever Upward’s publication. I decided to ask Justine to share about the experiences she’s had in the months since its release.

Tegan: As more people have read Ever Upward, what kind of response have you gotten?
Justine: There is nothing quite like getting an email, tweet, Facebook message or review on your book, especially a book as personal as Ever Upward. A bit of of my feedback has been on editing, which I am grateful and completely realize myself. Ever Upward is my first book, without a huge publisher and one that I honestly needed to be in people’s hands, and so I was inexperienced and limited with my editing. One day, when the 2nd edition is picked up for Ever Upward, I promise this will be fixed. I am also confident that my second book will be edited to my critics liking. The biggest response to Ever Upward has been a simple thank you and people sharing pieces of their story with me. Infertility or not, successful treatments or not, our stories are much more alike than different. Most people write me and say that they found their voice in my words, the things they have not been able to say out loud, yet, were found in my story. Every message reminds me to keep fighting to get Ever Upward in more hands, because it is changing lives for the better. It is continuing to change mine too.

Tegan: Have you received any feedback or reactions to your book that have surprised you? If so, tell us about them.
Justine: The biggest surprise has been in what a home Ever Upward has found among mothers. I wrote a blog post about it a while back, because it is incredible to me that Ever Upward has been accepted and loved so much by a club that I will never technically fit into. The journey of infertility leaves lifelong scars, whether or not you end up a mother in the traditional definition of the word. Ever Upward gives us all permission to own our stories, all of our stories.

Tegan: What opportunities have you had to share your story and talk about childfull living since your book was published?
Justine: I am continuing work on building the platform, the part of being published that is so foreign and difficult for me, and frustrating! I have found that my story does not go viral and in many ways I feel completely invisible. I am the advocate who’s story did not end up how we all want it to, happy with 2.5 kids. This is difficult for a lot of people. I am also sharing messages that are healthier and as of right now not the norm in the infertility world. However, I have written for The Huffington Post many times, which I am so grateful for. I have also written for mindbodygreen, The Good Mother Project and Still Mothers. My story has also been featured in CNN.com and I was quoted in Redbook Magazine, both of which felt so huge for the healthier messages in infertility advocacy!

Tegan: What projects related to infertility/miscarriage/childfull living do you have in the works?
Justine: I am part of the documentary Don’t Talk About the Baby and I am continuing to write at my blog www.everupward.org. I have stepped back a bit in pushing the platform to concentrate on finishing the follow up book to Ever Upward. I am actively involved in social media by sharing my own writing, other pieces and helping people to define their own happy ending and especially work on the self-care.

Justine FroelkerJustine Froelker lives in St. Louis with her husband Chad. They have two dogs, and have lovingly restored an older home. She’s a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the research of Brené Brown). Justine runs a private practice in St. Louis. SHe has worked with clients dealing with issues such as infertility, anxiety, depression, addictions, and eating disorders. In addition, Justine writes for St. Louis Health & Wellness Magazine.

From Chips and Salsa to Downton: What I Like/Love This Week

Happy 2016, friends! Hope the new year is off to a fantastic start for you. One of my resolutions is to do a regular blog post highlighting the things I like/love each week. Feel free to share with me in the comments what made this week special for you–I’d love to hear about a newly-discovered movie or TV show, a recipe, a book, or anything else you want to share.

  1. Unexpected kindness. The kids and I went to pick up a to-go order of chips and salsa from our favorite local Mexican restaurant. A man I don’t know was also waiting in the lobby. In one quick movement, he tossed some cash on the counter and said he wanted to pay for our order! It was completely unexpected and kind. We thanked him as he hurriedly left, perhaps a little overwhelmed by the effusive appreciation of three small children dressed as storm troopers. LOVE!
  2. Crack cake. crack cakeI’d never heard of crack cake, but when I saw the rather simple recipe, I was intrigued enough to add it to my Pinterest food board. Then, I made the thing. Oh. My. Goodness. It was incredible. Not a crumb was left over. I highly recommend this cinnamon-y bundt cake. This recipe also enabled me to remove the cake from the bundt pan gorgeous and intact–a first for me! Incidentally, the recipe calls for white wine and I didn’t have any on hand, so I used what I had: pineapple juice. It was a perfect substitute. LOVE!
  3. The final season of Downton Abbey (no spoilers here).pipe and smoke it I admit it. Hubs and I watched the last season and Christmas special along with the Brits. It was a beautifully written and flawlessly acted set of episodes that brought the perfect ending to a program that’s become one of my all-time favorites. Aside from the absolute perfection that was the Christmas special, I enjoyed several key scenes involving Tom Branson. He’s tops in my book, primarily because we got to see a slow build as he changed over the course of the series. He embraced his place in the family, but maintained the spark that endeared him to Cybil and many viewers. Of course, the Dowager Countess was in fine form, as always. LOVE!
  4. Better Call Saul. With Downton done, I have a huge hole in the part of my heart where fictional characters reside. I’m looking for the next binge-worthy show. While I’m not sure I’ve found the next “it” show, I started watching Better Call Saul recently and really enjoyed it. This is a spin-off of Breaking Bad, a series that never resonated with me. After a couple of episodes, I just couldn’t get into it. So, I’m watching BCS with none of the baggage or context of Breaking Bad. Still, it’s well written and very well acted. I’m looking forward to getting a bit deeper into this series. LIKE!
  5. SNL’s Mom Translator sketch. Over the holidays, my sister-in-law and I really needed the help of the Mom Translator, a fake product featured in a “commercial” during Saturday Night Live. For some reason, she and I couldn’t accurately recall the name Kylo Ren, even though we’d both seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We each had variations that were weird and hilarious. Help, Mom Translator! LIKE!

Now it’s your turn! What do you like/love this week?

Crack cake image via It’s the Little Things Blog

Downton gif via Giphy

Top image via Flickr by jeffreyw

Shine Fertility: Support for People Experiencing Infertility

If you’re fortunate enough to live in Chicagoland, you have more than Lou Malnatti’s pizza, Garrett’s Chicago Mix Popcorn, and the Magnificent Mile at your fingertips. You also have Shine Fertility. And to tell the truth, I’m a little jealous. When Patrick and I experienced infertility, there was no formal support group in our area. So, Chicago, treasure this resource!

Shine1Katie O’Connor founded this support, education, and advocacy group after she and her husband experienced infertility. She estimates that 90% of her group’s members are women, though Shine has some couples events throughout the year. So far, Shine Fertility has had 40 graduates, and 58 women are currently active in mentoring, support meetings, and virtual meetings,

I recently had the great opportunity to ask Katie some questions about her group.

Tegan: Why did you decide to start your own support organization after experiencing infertility?

Katie: Shine was born from my personal journey through infertility.  When I was going through my own struggle, I realized what an island I was on.  I wasn’t a part of the pregnancy groups and I also wasn’t a part of the new mom clubs, I was stuck in the middle, alone.  I thought there needs to be a group for the “secret sorority” of women struggling through infertility.

The waiting room at my fertility clinic was packed, yet no one talked, no one shared stories of struggle or success.  It was depressing.  I was lucky to reconnect with an old high school friend who was also going through infertility and we were each other’s support system (along with our husbands).

I thought when going through a difficult time, it helps to talk through it with others experiencing the same thing.  I developed Shine as one part support and one part education on overall women’s health and fertility.  Since growing into a non-profit we’ve added in the advocacy part!  Our first event was in June of 2012. We hosted a panel of women (my friends) sharing their personal stories of overcoming infertility, their advice, their successes, and their hard times.  It was amazing, and from that, the group grew, and the rest is in the past!

Tegan: Your goal is to help couples who are struggling with infertility. Yet, I imagine you must get a great deal out of this work. In what ways has founding this organization helped you?

Katie: Here is a Shine testimonial that hits me at the heart strings every time I read it!

“I was at an all-time low…But when I went to my first meeting, I met other women that were at different stages of their journey. This was a place where I found myself finding it easy to finally release and cry, in front of women I didn’t know, about my struggles. And, they understood. And cried with me.  It was a venue where I could mourn for my past losses and cry for my helplessness in going forward. I wanted to give up, but leaving these meetings, I knew I couldn’t.  The meetings are casual and welcoming, and they bring in fabulous guest speakers.  In fact, I met my fertility doctor who I found success with through Shine. I am thankful I was introduced to Shine, it was exactly what I needed.  It made me realize I wasn’t alone, and gave me the strength to keep going.” ~ Shine “graduate”

This particular member had endured several failed IVF rounds, and you could feel it was wearing her down.  But I still remember when she called me to meet for coffee.  We sat down, and before we could even say hi, she pulled out TWO ultrasound pictures and showed me her twin baby girls.  We both cried, and hugged, and cried some more (in joy).  I was one of the FIRST people she told and I was so honored to have been a part of her journey and be trusted with this special news.

Tegan: When people first connect with your program, are they generally relieved to have found a support group or are they hesitant because they aren’t sure how much they want to share with others?

Katie: Both – for a person who has an easy time sharing, you can see the tension release as they talk, their shoulders melt, they start to smile, and overall seem less stressed, just by opening up to the group about what they are going through, and knowing the others in the room are going through the same thing.  Others sit more silent for a few sessions or more, then finally open up, and sometimes there is an emotional release too. People cry, laugh, we’ve experienced it all!  I am just happy women feel they can come to a group session and have it  be whatever THEY need!  And for those who just don’t feel comfortable in the group setting, we have our Fertility Friends mentoring program which is one-on-one support; infertility “graduates” supporting those just starting their journey!

Shine Fertility board members Mariann Madden, Courtney Marincsin, and founder Katie O'Connor

Shine Fertility board members Mariann Madden, Courtney Marincsin, and founder Katie O’Connor

Tegan: Why is emotional support so important to people who are going through infertility?

Katie: Infertility treatments are taxing, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  You feel less of yourself, and you can feel like less of a woman. According to Harvard Medical School, “women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack.”

Pregnancy rates actually go up 25% when patients receive support services. Our Shine sessions are designed to be comfortable and welcoming, a place to feel secure sharing your thoughts and asking questions.  The goal is to create a community that allows individuals to laugh and cry, side by side, while celebrating the successes and battling the challenges of infertility, as well as provide members with the knowledge to feel empowered throughout their journey. Sometimes all you need is to feel understood, surrounded by individuals going through the same thing, sharing your story and realizing you are not alone!

Tegan: What changes need to occur to increase awareness and support for couples going through infertility?

Katie: We need to get people talking about it!  I was an open book while we struggled with infertility because it helped me to have the people around me know what I was going through.  But I know that isn’t easy for everyone.  The more people open up and share their story, the more people will realize they aren’t alone, that they don’t have to suffer in silence.  We need to end the stigma that is associated with infertility, and create a movement similar to the movement that breast cancer had decades ago that now has the general public informed and educated on the disease.

Tegan: What are the misconceptions about infertility that irritate you the most?

Katie: Saying “just relax,” you’ll get pregnant. If only it were that easy! There is no question that high stress is associated with infertility, and that infertility is associated with lots of stress. While the exact biology of how stress might come into play is not fully understood, substances such as cortisol, epinephrine, melatonin, opioids, and others are known to affect stress and reproduction.

Also that it’s just a “woman’s problem,” is frustrating! In actuality 30% of the time it’s the woman, 30% of the time it’s the man, and 40% of the time it’s a combination of both.

Tegan: What’s the single most important fact you want to emphasize to people who are going through this medical struggle?

Katie: That it’s not their fault! Women put so much pressure on themselves, so much blame, and guilt.  Infertility is a diagnosis, a “disease”, not something you caused on yourself.  There are organizations like Shine here to help and be a support system for them as they travel through their journey!

Top image via Flickr by PineappleAndCoconut

All other images provided by Katie O’Connor

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

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

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