When I was at my worst medically, my genetics doctor told I needed to write a book every three months to keep from making myself sick. But two years ago, after further genetic testing, we found a mutation my boys and I share. Best of all, there's a treatment. Since starting it, I've been fairly stable from a mitochondrial disease/dysautonomia standpoint. I went from requiring IV fluids monthly to only having them once this entire year (during a surgery in August I'll discuss in more detail later).
When my words returned in October 2015, after two years of self-doubt, rejection from three of the Big 5 publishers, and losing my agent, I vowed I would never take for granted the ability to craft stories again.
Here's what I completed since this time last year (December 18, 2015-December 18, 2016):
Forever (stand-alone This Series finale)
Out of the Storm (stand-alone releasing Jan. 31)
The Auction (Magnolia Grove #1)
The Date (Magnolia Grove #2)
The Promise (Magnolia Grove #3)
The Secret (Magnolia Grove #4 releasing Dec. 29)
Two essays for non-profit anthologies (#AmWriting to benefit The Wayne Foundation is currently available, the other project is undisclosed)
Broken rewrite in progress
Heartfall was inspired from a stock photo. Funny enough, as the story evolved, I tossed the stock photo out in favor of a different cover. I started working on Heartfall in January and published it April 1st.
It was the book that helped me realize I didn't need validation from a publisher, an agent, or anyone other than myself.
There is a heavy anti-bullying message, and since I've been through plenty through the years (both as a dancer and an author), writing it was cathartic and most definitely therapeutic. For those two years while I was getting rejected and struggling to find my lost voice, I studied the craft of writing, and I'm confident it shows in Heartfall.
I learned a lot about myself while writing Claire's story.
Heartfall is about Claire realizing her strength, her beauty, which is largely dependent on discovering who she is and growing her confidence and self-esteem. While writing it, I finally could see all those characteristics in myself again.
Through Claire's story, I discovered I'd not lost my voice. I had never found it to begin with. I've got it now, and I'm holding on to it tightly.
By the end of April, I had my fourth spinal tap in less than a year. Despite being maxxed out on Topamax, my intracranial pressure was the highest it'd ever been. Struggling with IH has made me appreciate that quote now more than ever.
In the midst of that crisis, my next novel was started on April 20. Out of the Storm was a challenge from Georgette Geras to see if I could write a story based on a chapter she'd started writing herself. She gave me a character name, a title, and that chapter. I immediately felt a connection to it, and I decided to give it a go thinking it'd be fun to write a short story or novella with readers as a group collaboration.
But by the time I finished it in mid-July, it'd developed in to my longest book yet.
Writing it was one of the coolest experiences I've had (and a great honor). While I wrote the rough draft on Wattpad, I pulled it and sent it to a couple of agents. After more rejection, I've decided to move forward with my plans of self-publishing it. It releases January 31, 2017.
A few people have said Heartfall and Out of the Storm are two of my best books. So, I've struggled again trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong because both have been rejected by agents and a small press publisher. When I think about giving up or when I wonder why I'm still doing this, I remind myself I was good enough, at a much weaker point in my career no less, to get an agent. I remind myself several publishers requested my full manuscript of Skipping Stones back in the day. I read through the quotes about all the rejection some of the most successful people in the world have endured, and that's when I recognize I've not faced a fraction of the denial they did. I'm still paying my dues.
Ultimately, with every rejection, I go back to what I learned from Heartfall about validation and self-worth.
Looking back on the last year, it's clear her letting me go was the best thing she could have ever done for me. And no matter how many times I tell myself I don't need the validation, I still want it. I want an agent. I want a publisher. I want to hit lists. Those were goals I set for myself four and a half years ago, and not meeting them makes me feel like a failure.
With that being said, over the last week or so, I saw both of the quotes below. I really am starting to think I'm right where I'm supposed to be—self-publishing. Dory is so smart. I'm just going to keep swimming.
I was told in June, when I was not responding well to medication for the intracranial hypertension, I needed a shunt. After much discussion about the newer alternative procedure of stenting, my neurologist felt a shunt was a safer choice. Besides, not everyone is even eligible for a stent. You have to have venous stenosis, and the gradient has to be large enough to qualify. I knew my MRI showed stenosis, that my MRV didn't show whatever would have been bad, but that was all I knew. My doctor admitted he'd never had a patient get a stent, but agreed to research it. He was concerned about clotting and the fact they are so new there are no long term studies.
He called me later that same afternoon and told me he just didn't feel comfortable with it. My exact words when he told me the next time he saw me, he expected me to have a shunt were, "That's a hard pill to swallow, but okay." Because I wanted so desperately to feel better. I needed to. I could barely care for myself, let alone my children. Each day that passed, the pain intensified. Some days, I couldn't get out of the bed. Others, just going to the grocery store resulted in a five hour recovery nap. I don't cry over stuff easily, and I think I'm pretty tough, but sometimes it was all I could do. It just made my head hurt worse, though.
The thought of having my skull opened and a non-removable device implanted that has a high rate of complication and infection was on my mind constantly. I kept trying to tell myself I'd been scared to get my central line, but it'd been the best decision I'd made medically for myself. This was different because central lines can be removed.
Truthfully, I've never been more terrified about my health. There was something nagging me. I couldn't help but worry if I had that surgery I'd end up in a worse situation. There were plenty of stories like that on the message boards I visited on bad days or when I wondered if my insomnia was from my medicine or if anyone else had their teeth rot out from Diamox (turns out my issue was just plaque, thank God, but the answer was yes—horrifying since I have a phobia of the dentist). Sometimes, I'd go to the groups when I just wanted to remind myself that, as much as I hurt, there were people who were so much more severe than me—to be thankful.
Regardless, something in my gut just kept telling me a shunt wasn't right. I have the utmost respect and trust for my neurologist. So, I made the appointment with the guy he told me was the best.
This doctor was about to go out of network with my insurance company. A surgery got cancelled, so they were going to work me in the same day. I was rushing to their office when I got a call he'd been paged into emergency surgery. Thankfully, the PA ended up seeing me, but that meant I didn't get the answers I was hoping for immediately.
After several follow-up calls from me, the PA finally told me the doctor did not feel comfortable putting the type of shunt my neurosurgeon and I agreed on for anatomical reasons. I'd researched all types of shunts, and I knew the kind he was suggesting carried even more risks for complications. I went back to those support groups I mentioned above, explained my situation, and asked where I should go given my geographic location. The answer was loud and clear. MUSC was one of the top programs for the condition in the world. And it just so happened, I was going to be there a few weeks later for a signing. After explaining to my neurologist what happened at the first appointment, he sent my referral and records. Charleston was able to see me the day before the event. It was perfect.
And so I headed to the home of my first female character, Gabriella Gerhart.
At that appointment, we went over the facts: I'd lost more than ten percent of my body weight (which is often the best treatment), was clean eating, had gone and come out of remission, and had tried every medication unsuccessfully. Since diagnosis in May 2015, I'd had four spinal taps and two hospitalizations in addition to two MRIs and an MRV. Since all my previous studies had consistent evidence of stenosis, he recommended I have an angiogram to confirm I was a candidate for a stent. We never even discussed a shunt. They were able to schedule the angiogram for the upcoming Monday after the signing. Even more perfect. And scary.
They couldn't put me to sleep or give me pain medications because it affects the pressures, so I was awake the entire time. It was one of the most painful things I've experienced, but at the end of the day, I had an answer. The narrowing on my right side was likely causing all my symptoms: headaches, seeing spots, excruitiating pain behind my right ear, ringing and pulsating in my ears, nausea, dizziness, and the list of pretty much every other brain tumor symptom applies. Intracranial Hypertension is also called pseudotumor cerebri because the symptoms are like a brain tumor, but there isn't one. The doctor felt like blood was backing up from the stenosis causing my brain to swell, and thus, increasing my intracranial pressure.
Ten days later, I kissed my babies goodbye and left to head back to Charleston with tears in my eyes. My mom joined us this time. We went to The Oyster House, which used to be A.W. Shucks (it used to be one of my favorites in Charleston, and I wrote it into the This Series) for my last meal before surgery, and then early on August 5th, I headed to MUSC to have brain surgery.
A stent was placed on my right side. Immediately upon waking up, the pain behind my right ear was gone. The vision issues were improved, and the pulsating in my ears was gone. Crazy amazing, right? I spent a night in the hospital where they performed neurologic checks every hour before coming home.
The first two weeks were really rough, and I slept a lot. The third week was the best week. The fourth was rough again. I worried I'd still end up needing a shunt.
So, I went back through it and improved it. In the process, I more than doubled the word count and made a new goal for myself: to start and finish the series within a three month period.
My goal was to make them all novellas, so I figured it was attainable and not overachieving too much. But I'd just had brain surgery, so I'm not sure my judgement and ability to make decisions was the greatest. More on that in a minute.
At my one month follow up in mid September with my neurosurgeon (still weird to say *my* neurosurgeon), he told me we could start weaning me off Diamox, that it was likely my pressure was now too low and the cause for some of my lingering symptoms. He also told me to increase my caffeine. Seeing as I was caffeine-free, that was easy.
I noticed I felt the best on half my dose, but wanted to see what I'd be like completely off. I failed the trail, and I was anxious and eager to go back on that happy dose. I'm mostly headache free, but still have ringing in my ears along with dizziness. Knock on wood, I've only taken a nap once or twice since fully recovering. There is a chance I may need a stent on the left side. We'll revisit that in a couple of months.
Back to books. With the headaches under control, The Date, book two, was the easiest novella for me to write this year. I wrote it in two days. Two days. I'd spent two years trying to have this story come to me, and voila. It was gushing. More confirmation that the quotes above were right.
Let me just say, as a writer, the past year has been so enlightening. I'm not kidding when I say I've learned so much. Not just about the craft, but about how my brain works (biologically and creatively). The Promise, book three, was not nearly as easy. I was really struggling to put all the pieces together. It'd been a long time since I wrote a series, and it's not like I was waiting to release them all once they were written so if I needed to change something, I could. The fear I was writing myself into a corner was, at times, paralyzing.
One of the most important lessons has been that when I'm blocked, it's usually because my plot isn't right. There's no need to sit and stare at a blank screen. That's counterproductive. The best way to zap it is an impending deadline and going back to the drawing board. Once I figured out the twist, which is the biggest high for me when I'm writing, I was good to go. It was a longer novella than the other two. The Promise was my favorite of the series by the time it was all said and done. Maybe because it was the hardest.
Until...The Secret, book four, came along. I swear its goal was to kill me. The Saturday before my Tuesday deadline, I thought I was going to fail, not meet my goal. But then I realized I wondered if I was self-sabotaging myself—letting anxiety and a little bout of depression win. Was I like Claire hearing all the rejections over and over again in my head? Was I letting the voices saying I wasn't good enough win? And that's where good friends come in—virtually knocking some sense into me. They believed in me when I couldn't believe in myself for a minute. And it was only a minute because I had too much work to do if I was going to succeed.
After being blocked most of November, I wrote 27,000 words from Sunday to Tuesday to pull off completing that book and the series. The Secret is longer than Broken, which I wrote in two weeks. It's a full length novel. There were just minutes to spare before my deadline with my editor. Out of the past year, I think this professional achievement is one of my greatest—even if I'd not finished—because I didn't give up.
In conclusion, maybe the biggest reason I wrote so much, was because I worried I was going to die this year. And when I wasn't worried about death, I feared I was going to, once again, lose the ability to tell my stories because of my brain condition. I didn't want anything left unsaid. I can say with certainty I truly lived life like I was on stage—and instead of dancing—I let my words do the performance this time.
#SheBelievedSheCouldSoSheDid #Dreams #TaylorSwift #Enchanted #SpeakNow #LiveLikeYouAreOnStage #Heartfall #OutOfTheStorm #ThisSeries #Broken #JBMcGee #IntracranialHypertension #IIH #PseudotumorCerebri #Magnolia Grove #Success #Validation #Motivation #Inspiration #ThankYouForYourSupport