Breaking Radio Silence

I wish it were cancer.

That’s a cruel thing to say. Cancer is awful, the treatments are painful, the whole experience is a nightmare for the patient and their family. I know how stark and raw it feels listening to a love one be diagnosed. I know how cold the seats are in the oncology department when the doctor calls to tell you that it’s time to talk about the test results. I know the looks of sorrow on people’s faces when you arrive at oncology with a small child in tow to get another blood test done.

Been there. Done that. My mother is a cancer survivor; the last time she had a positive test result come back was the same day I got my first negative test result for cancer.

I understand how bleak it is.

But I wish it were cancer that were killing me.

Cancer has an ending. It has a time frame. It has a limit. You either get better or you die. Either way, it ends.

Cancer patients are fighters. They’re lauded and applauded. If a cancer patient says they’re too exhausted to move and that they just want to lay on the couch all week no one questions that. The cancer victim is given a fluffy pillow, a nice blanket, a light meal, a bowl to throw up in, and they watch a movie as they drift into an uneasy sleep. Sometimes you’ll see a cancer patient going to work, and everyone will talk about how heroic their efforts are. They’re held up as idols of humanity (which is a whole different rant).

When you have cancer there are ribbons, fundraisers, sympathy, and support.

When you have a chronic illness you get nothing.

No one cares that it’s hard to breathe and you’re so tired all you can do is cry. No one is going to tell you how tough you are for getting out of bed. If anyone remembers the most you’ll get is a curious look and a thoughtless statement.

I thought you were better.

Are you sick again?

Have you tried __________?

Just cheer up.

There is no end to chronic illness. That’s what makes it chronic. There aren’t limits. There aren’t sympathy cards. There is very little understanding. Sometimes there aren’t even treatments.

If cancer is a battle, chronic illness is a famine.

It’s exhausting just writing this, because what can I say? I have chronic anemia. It’s an aimless, almost blameless sort of condition. One that does nothing but suck the life out of me leaving my head foggy, my limbs achy, and my motivation gone. It’s like having the flu but it doesn’t get better. The doctors blamed my last pregnancy… that baby was born in 2012. It’s been nearly six years and my iron levels remain chronically low, frequently dipping so low that I spend eighteen hours a day asleep and the rest of the day in haze.

I really wish it were cancer.

Maybe if it were cancer the doctors would care. Maybe then they’d provide something other than an iron pill. Maybe they’d look for a cause instead of shrugging and telling me I just need to power through it. Because we all know human bodies don’t really need *that* much oxygen, so who cares if my iron levels drop? Maybe then it would be easier because I could count down until my last chemo treatment or my next blood test. There’d be markers, signs, indications that I was getting better or worse.

Wishing won’t make this easier. Hoping, praying, dreaming… I don’t have the energy.

In a few weeks I go back to the doctor. Again. For another battery of tests. Again. For another round of prescription iron pills. Again.

Maybe, if I cross my fingers and wish on a star, maybe this will be the last time. Maybe I’ll get better. Maybe I’ll feel like I used to before I was sick. Maybe.

For now? I’m going to curl up under a blanket, cheer on my writer friends, and watch a movie until I fall asleep. It’ll be okay… right? They say any day you aren’t dead is a good one. So being even half alive is a win I suppose. I’m not dead. I don’t have cancer. Doesn’t that make me one of the lucky ones?

For everyone out there whose trip to oncology wasn’t as good as mine, I’m sorry. You’re in my thoughts. Cancer is a battle that I don’t want you to lose.

For everyone in the famine lands of chronic illness, keep going. You never know when the rains will return and life will change. You just have to hold on until it does.

I love you.
– L

Ehlers-Danlos In Fiction

I never meant to drag my illness into fiction. In fact, it’s been something I’ve intentionally avoided. Ehlers-Danlos is a weird genetic mutation. The things it does would make most editors frustrated.

It turns out: it does frustrate editors. A lot.

Without planning on it I accidentally gave the Lee sisters in BODIES IN MOTION Ehlers-Danlos symptoms. Arnoia’s pregnancy is threatened by a late-stage placental tear, something that ended six of my mother’s pregnancies. My mother miscarried in the later part of the second trimester with each one. With modern medicine I might have had older siblings, but with what was available in the late 70’s and early 80’s there was nothing to be done.

Rowena has the fragile Ehlers-Danlos skin although it’s protected by her augmentation. And that’s what my editor picked up on. She noticed a later chapter of BODIES IN MOTION where Rowena cuts the palm of her hand with her nails. “Not possible,” my editor said.

I looked down at the scratches on my hand, deep grooves left from a midnight mosquito bite and itching in my sleep. Nails can most certainly cut skin! But not all skin. Just skin like mine… papery thin, velvety to the touch, changed because of a mutation in the body’s connective tissue.

Changing Rowena and Aronia would have required very little. I could have given Aronia other pregnancy problems, there are many. I could have had Rowena express her rage another way. But I’m not going to.

I won’t name Ehlers-Danlos in text because BODIES IN MOTION is not an Earth-centric novel. There’s no mention of Earth, or the cultures we know, and I want that separation. I am not dwelling on the disease in the book. No one is getting magically cured. No one is going to be debating the worth of their life because of having Ehlers-Danlos. This isn’t a novel for the inspirations market, it’s unapologetically SF and SFR.

But it will be in the series.

So, if you are an EDS spoonie and want a book with a hero like you (or anti-hero/antagonist/whatever Rowena winds up being), here’s a pair of fighter pilots and warriors with genes like you. Ehlers-Danlos is found the world over in every genetic group. It’s hard to diagnose, autosomal dominant, runs in families, and can be undiagnosed for years if not generations. It’s a disease that will undoubtedly follow humanity where ever we go. Now it gets a face to go with it. I have full faith Rowena will Ehlers-Danlos regret trying to hold her back.

 

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Friendsgiving Critique #1

friendsgivingfeedback

The query is one of the hardest parts of writing a book. Even if you aren’t looking for an agent or a publisher you will write something similar. The query is, essentially, the back-of-book blurb with an additional paragraph containing personal details (previous publications, relevant platform, word count, ect). I picked this one to critique because it is written by an author who has a disability (something I can relate to because of Ehlers-Danlos), and because it’s romantic suspense, which is one of my favorite things to read. 

The original query is in black, my notes are in red, and my rewrite is at the bottom. 
– L 

 

Dear [Agent Name],

Christine was born with only three fingers on her left hand, a minor issue in most people’s eyes but to Christine it’s huge. Ever since a mean girl This reference feels dated and I recommend cutting it unless this person becomes a reoccurring character. Remember, it can take several years for a book to hit the shelves and On Trend today is dated in a few years. told her, “Christine, don’t deceive The word GIRL implies young, and deceive isn’t a word I associate with kids  yourself. No man will ever want to put a ring on that hand,” she has believed she is disqualified This strikes me as an odd word choice, but if it’s in keeping with the tone of the book, it’s fine. from being loved. She had one serious relationship in her life, but it ended badly. She has accepted that she will never be loved. What is Christine’s motivation? What is she doing with her life while she isn’t falling in love? I’d like to see that.

Then she meets Paul. White space is our friend! This is not normally a trick I use for queries, but this is a sentence that needs the space to have impact.

Paul does not This isn’t a formal letter, go ahead and use contractions. care about her hand. Christine begins to hope that she has a chance at love. When a beautiful woman makes a very forward pass at Paul, all of Christine’s insecurities resurface and she walks out on Paul, fearing that he would wake up one day and regret being with her. She had already been betrayed once. She refused to let it happen again. Her heart could not take it. If their relationship was going to end, it would be by her choice, in her timing. I don’t love the fact that you’re describing her running away without stopping to figure out what is happening. If I read this on the back of a book, I’d pass, even if it is well-written. I recommend giving her a stronger reason for leaving.She accepts a job out of state and starts packing to move.

Heartbroken and believing that Christine is gone, Paul is without hope until he discovers that the out of state job Christine was heading to had fallen through. With hope renewed, he buys an engagement ring for Christine even while she still refuses to speak to him. Paul has a secretive national security job that sometimes puts him in danger. See, this is a big deal. Unpack this! His secrets can be the reason Christine doubted him. He is accustomed to taking chances and succeeding even when the odds are stacked against him.

While many forces, including Christine’s stubbornness and a violent drug cartel that wants Paul dead, seem determined to keep them apart, Paul is determined that they will be together. This is promising! 🙂 

WITH THIS RING, a romance, is 66,000 HUGE PROBLEM!!! For an adult romance novel you need a minimum of 70,000 words. Very few agents or editors will even give this manuscript a chance because the word count is too low (the high end is 100,000 words for romance and 120,000 for epic fantasy/SF – just FYI). You need to go through your manuscript and find places where you glossed over the action or skipped some details and get those words in there. words long. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

THE REWRITE – I didn’t have a copy of the novel so I made up as many facts as I had to…

Successful lawyer Christine SURNAME is on a partnership track at a prestigious law firm and she doesn’t plan on little things like love, or being born missing two fingers, hold her back. This presents Christine’s circumstances and driving motivation. Not that there aren’t a few offers on the table, it’s just that she’s been burned before and she doesn’t need another heartbreak. Her incredibly hunky neighbor, Paul SURNAME, hasn’t let her cold shoulder stop him from trying to win her heart. From homemade sushi to fried plantains, Paul’s been dipping into his family cookbook trying to find the way to Christine’s heart, and it’s working. This introduces the love interest and the interpersonal conflict as of Page 1.

In between stories about his Jamaican grandmother feuding with his Vietnamese aunts over the proper way to cure a cold sore Paul has left out one, very important, personal detail There was a note in the original query and Paul being Black/Asian and I tried to work it into the query. He’s an undercover CIA agent on the verge of breaking open the biggest case in agency history. Senators, cartel leaders, and a Canadian ambassador… it’s going to make headlines. But when Christine walks in on him talking to his handler, things go south, fast. Here the big conflict is introduced.

When a job offer from a dirty judge puts Christine in the center of his case, Paul decides it’s time to tell Christine the truth. He’s madly in love with her, he wants their honeymoon to be in Italy, and if she isn’t careful her career-making case is going to end with her in a shallow grave. Paul has the ring all picked out, now all he needs is for Christine to give him a second chance. And here the stakes are set. The reader knows it will only be True Love that keeps the couple alive, and we’re excited to see how it all plays out

WITH THIS RING, a romance, is 75,000 words long. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

Well, Readers, would you pick up this book? 

Leave your responses, suggestions, and encouragements for the author in the comments below! 

Another Fight

Someone asked me today what they should do if life is just too overwhelming. When you hurt, and depressed, and you’ve been kicked down so many times by life that you can’t remember not being in the mud… I’m not sure I have an answer for that.

It’s a good question though. The very same question led me to make a list of medical problems and finally go have a sit down with my new doctor to try to get pro-active with my health. I don’t like asking for help. I especially don’t like going in for medical things because I feel that a normal person has a body that does repairs on its own. You cut yourself, the body heals it up. Boom and done. No extra help needed.

But my health hit a point this summer where it’s frightening me how bad it is. Even with physical therapy my mobility is limited. Even with my iron pills and migraine meds my iron levels are plummeting and my migraines are getting worse. I know the trigger is stress, but I can’t really reduce the stress in my life, because life is stressful. So, I went in, expecting a lecture on healthy eating and a list of exercises to try.

Instead, the doctor peppered me with questions. When was the last MRI on my head? What tests for inflammation had been done? What other drugs had I tried?

The answer was never, none, and none. My previous doctors either weren’t educated well enough to handle my condition, or didn’t care enough to do any more than prescribe a pill. My last doctor had been particularly bad, and it took changing doctors to get a referral to physical therapy.

This doctor stared at me in confusion. Four years of migraines and not a single MRI? He said it’s unheard of.

Here’s the thing… four years ago I started having migraines that incapacitated me for 2-3 days at a time. They left me unable to cook, eat, drive, walk in sunlight, listen to music, or even talk to people because the pain was so bad. And, for four years, I accepted that as my base line for health. Migraines, usually one or two a week, lasting 36-48 hours. That’s on me.

I let my poor health throw me into the mud and I stayed there because it was easier to take the pill and not question WHY? until the migraines started endangering the lives of others (my vision started blurring this summer… not a good thing!).

The good news is… I’m not dead yet. Which means I still have the option to get out of the mud and punch life in the nads.

And that is my answer. If you aren’t dead, you get back up and fight. It doesn’t matter how broken you are. It doesn’t matter how much you hurt. It doesn’t matter that you can’t win. You can make the bastard (in this case Life and Ehlers-Danlos and migraines and bad health in general) pay. You might lose in the end, but you will make it a Pyrrhic Victory. And you’ll do it every time someone takes you down. Because anything else is being dead while your heart is still beating.