Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Escaping Insanity

Out of all of the books I’ve written, this is the one.  The one that earned me the contract with The Gernert Company, the one that prompted meetings with a Simon & Schuster editor, the one that sparks the most feelings, and the one that will stay with you long after the last page.  This is my literary pride and joy – my magnum opus.

Politics is one of those touchy subjects that can be easier to avoid than handle delicately, yet it has always fascinated me.  So two and a half years ago, when I started writing Escaping Insanity, I set the story in the middle of a Presidential campaign.  At the time, I couldn’t have predicted the circus we now find ourselves in, but artistically all of this drama works in my favor.

Still, there’s so much more to Escaping Insanity than the political story-line.  In fact, politics isn’t even the most taboo topic I explore.  Because this novel also exposes the prejudices we have toward people with mental health disorders, and illuminates the stigma they face just trying to live their lives.

Escaping Insanity doesn’t advance the cause of either political party, but instead campaigns for truth, logic, and the greater good.  That’s a winning ticket we should all rally around.  The themes of love, forgiveness, accountability, and hope are the true backbone of this book, and those are completely bipartisan.

When you read this book, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll even stand up and cheer.  Most importantly, you’ll see the common thread of humanity that connects us all, from the ostracized to the elevated, and every person in between.  Here is your ticket to a good time this election season:

Saturday, October 8, 2016


In May of 2015, I was signed as an author by The Gernert Company literary agency in New York.  Among other notable clients, The Gernert Company represents fiction industry leader John Grisham.

So, as you can see, I was very optimistic when they pitched my novel Escaping Insanity to ten editors of big-name publishing imprints.  Ultimately, we received nine responses essentially saying, “I love this, but it’s not for me,” and then one response of, “I’m interested in making an offer on this novel,” from a Simon&Schuster editor who met my agent for drinks to discuss her interest in my book.  The manuscript was then forwarded along to the Editor-in-Chief for a final approval that we never received, possibly because the editor who wanted to purchase Escaping Insanity left her position there to become a talent scout with a competing literary agency.  It was a tremendous disappointment to say the least.

At that juncture, my agent decided we should turn our attention to novel number four, East of Oz, and for the next ten months, drafts, suggestions, and revisions were passed back and forth.  The novel was ultimately read and sharpened by the majority of the staff at The Gernert Company.  Finally, late this summer, East of Oz was polished and ready to go, but my agent surprisingly decided not to pitch it to a single editor, because – in the deciding opinion of publishers – there is no longer a market for “light” commercial fiction, unless it’s coming from a well-established household name like Nicholas Sparks.  Readers, editors say, want dark, edgy, scandalous, and shocking, not unlike moviegoers and television viewers.  And these gate-keeping editors of New York publishing don’t want to see something by a first-time author if it isn’t those things.

Well, I’ve decided to stand my ground, the middle ground you could call it, between unbelievably prudish and recklessly indecent.  And with the agency’s blessing I’ll be offering these two novels directly to readers through Amazon.  I would rather reach fewer people with nourishing prose than poison the masses with more literary pollution.  Bad is not the new good, villains are not the new heroes, and each purchase and online review made by you – the consumer – sends a clear message to the people controlling all media venues that there is still an audience for exciting, humorous, even heartbreaking stories that focus on the triumph of the human spirit, the resilience of hope, and the beauty of becoming a better person.  I hope you all find the time to read East of Oz and leave me a review.  Not only will you have hours of entertainment, you’ll also be a part of a grass roots movement to bring back moral restraint in mainstream media!  "Who will go with me?!" - Jerry Maguire.

As always, I need to think my best friend and tireless champion, Erika Kessler, and her crafty husband, Gabe, for editing, publishing, and designing the cover for this book.  If you don’t have people in your life who believe in you without reservation or limitation, I highly recommend getting them. Here is the link for East of Oz

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Low Pressure

I'm sick.  And after ten days, I've lost hope for ever recovering.  I have what I self-diagnosed as a severe cold.  I famously self-diagnosed Celiac disease as acid reflux, so I don't trust myself entirely.  But this time my symptoms, while debilitating, were not alarming enough for me to use my "free time" to schedule and attend a doctor's appointment.  By free time, I mean the time wherein I do twelve loads of laundry, vacuum, and grocery shop.  (Lest you were picturing television watching and the sipping of umbrella drinks.)

I don't remember much of my life before all of this phlegm, but I looked way cuter in all the pictures.  And I vaguely recall being quite active and physically fit.  After an eight day exercise hiatus, I counseled myself to get back on the horse Thursday, and I went for what I thought would be a nice little jog in the recently returned sunshine.  It was, in reality, a test of my survival skills and I when I miraculously crawled back into the house, gasping for what I thought would be my last breaths, I called to tell my husband goodbye.  (And to remind him to do laundry, vacuum, and grocery shop after I'm gone.)

A friend texted me later that day to see how I was feeling because she knew I'd been battling a relentless cold.  I texted back "Wondering if I need a lung transplant."  She immediately offered to donate a lung to me, citing two important factors in her decision, "I'd get to come and hang out with you AND lose weight!"  With friends like these, who needs U.N.O.S.

It's not that I'm such a wimp in the face of a cold virus.  Part of the problem is that my heart condition doesn't mesh well with lingering illness.  When I'm completely "healthy", my resting heart rate is 43 and my blood pressure is 90/60 if I'm lucky.  I take a daily non-Barry-Bonds-type steroid to keep my blood pressure at least that high or higher, and in emergencies I supplement with Doritos.  It's a manageable, if thigh-spreading, system.  Until I get sick.  Then my heart is like, I'm tired, let's rest for...I don't know, forever?  And if I try to do too much, my blood pressure insists I sit down.  Immediately!  It will go so far as to turn the lights out and bring the house down.

One day I'll get a pacemaker and my heart will have no choice but to behave, in sickness and in health.  It was going to be guesswork as to when I needed to get that.  No one rushes to put a pacemaker in 36 year old with manageable symptoms.  But thanks to advances in heart monitoring technology, we won't have to guess.  I'm having a recorder/monitor implanted in three weeks and then my cardiologist can see exactly what's going on in there all the time.

Or so he says.  I realize, thanks to Edward Snowden's disclosures, that this could be a big government conspiracy to get a tracking device in me.  They must be aware of my international spy aspirations and desire to get Republicans back in the White House.  And clearly I'm a threat if they are going to such great lengths to get a microchip in me.  But don't worry, I've seen many a movie character cut those things out; I could probably do it in my sleep.  Which is the condition I find myself in more often than not these days.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Applying Myself

Since I'm at my kids' school all the time anyway, I decided to apply to be a substitute teacher.  Getting paid to do what I was already doing was a genius idea, so, obviously, not mine.  I have the occasional brilliant idea, but they are never ever finance-related.  I like making friends, making jokes, and making cookies, but making money has always been pretty far down my to-do list.  Also, making to-do lists is pretty far down my to-do list.

But I'm by no means anti-income.  So when this opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it.  (Jumped at it?  Jumped all over it?  Wait, which preposition goes there?  Am I even qualified to teach?)

Initially, there was a lot of paperwork to prepare.  An extensive application, reference forms, a list of additional references, and the references addendum.  Basically, all of you should have received a phone call from Wake County Public Schools wherein they asked you to vouch for me.

I also needed an official copy of my college transcripts.  For the first time ever.  I've had to give proof of my degree before for one other job I had like ten years ago, but honestly, I could have fooled those people with a home calligraphy kit and some decent card stock.  But this was sealed transcripts!  And it was so fulfilling to have someone other than my parents see that A+ I got in World Lit. that I may apply for more transcript-required jobs just to show off.

After I was approved, which had to be related to my stellar performance in Western Civ. circa 1996, I received another large stack of papers to fill out.  So I went at it again, with my best I-could-be-a-school-teacher handwriting, only I had my husband fill out the W4s (W2s?) whatever those tax thingies are, and my direct deposit forms.  He knows our routing number, I don't even know what a routing number is; it's easier.  Anyway, he handled that task chicken scratch style and I was worried he was job-blocking me, but alas they hired me despite his poor penmanship.

Next I had to get a physical and a TB test.  First of all, I thought TB had been eradicated back around the time FDR was in office.  Isn't it one of the myriad of shots they gave me as an infant?  Like here's how you don't get measles and let's top you off with a TB vaccine.  Regardless, they screened me for tuberculosis.  And the blood draw and TB test happen to fall the day after I had my endoscopy, so one arm was a little tender from having an IV.  No problem, use the other one to draw vial after vial of blood and then dig a needle under the skin of my inner forearm.  (If my brother is reading this, he just fainted.  He can't even hear the words blood or needle without blacking out.  It helps to level the playing field of toughness between us because I could draw my own blood if I needed to.)

Then my doctor said, "While you're here, you should get the flu shot."  Now, I like needles as much as the next girl, but playing human pin cushion for a day isn't really my thing.  Yet, I didn't want to go back a different day, so "Okay."

She sent the nurse back in with another syringe and the nurse asked, "Which arm do you want it in?"

Ummm... "Yours?"  She laughed and jabbed it in my left shoulder.

I passed the physical and TB test with flying colors.  But there was one last hoop to jump through.  Substitute Teacher Orientation.  As with any "orientation", there were those of us there who came to get the information we needed and get out, and others who wanted to ask about every conceivable, and inconceivable, scenario and try to turn what could have been a three hour presentation into a three week hostage situation.  (You have been in classes or meetings with these people, I'm sure.  They have a story about everything and it seems like they've been planted there by enemy agencies to make sure nothing gets accomplished.)

I survived.  I'm an official substitute, and I worked exactly two days before going on vacation.  But in all fairness, this Disney trip has been 36 years in the making and I only decided to start substitute teaching a couple of months ago.

Tune in next time to see if I successfully smuggled a manatee out of Sea World.  It's gotta be easier than becoming a substitute.

Monday, October 28, 2013

There's Always Tuesday

Mondays are rough anyway, so why not have an endoscopy, right?  Especially if you are sick and tired of your esophagus revolting against everything you even think about eating.

An endoscopy, for those of you that don't travel in gastrointestinal health circles, is an INVASIVE procedure where someone runs a scope down your throat to look around in there, and, if they feel so inclined, scrape off some samples with a weapon of their choosing.  The scope is smaller than a hunting scope on a rifle, but still big enough that they have to knock you out to do it.

Anesthesia is a fun trip, assuming you come back from it.  One minute I was staring at a room full of people in scrubs and hooked to a bunch of machines, and the next someone was waking me up in a totally different location with nary a nose cannula in sight.  Where am I?  How did I get here?  When did I get here?  Where's the nice man with the drugs?

Once I got my wits about me, my first real question was "What did you find?"  Obviously, I wanted the answer to be nothing, for them to say I'm healthy as a horse with the silky mane of one too.  But because this procedure cost us hundreds of dollars, I did sort of want them to find something.  Something that warranted the expense.  Like maybe if they had found Jimmy Hoffa down there, it would have all been worth it.

They didn't find Hoffa, or gold, or anything worth the tools they sent down.  What they saw was a very angry and irritated looking stomach and esophagus.  I don't know what my stomach has to be irritated about, I'm the one who can't eat Mexican food or chocolate!

The doctor did take some soil samples on the way down, just like NASA does every time we visit the moon.  He won't know if my stomach can sustain lifeforms for a couple of weeks, but in the meantime he gave me a prescription to help with my symptoms.  And the nurses gave me a pamphlet on what not to eat.  It includes everything I've already eliminated plus TUMS fruit smoothies.  Apparently TUMS (a.k.a. extra calcium) can create more acid in your stomach.  Guess what I've been self-medicating with for weeks?  Reason #256 of why you can't get a medical degree from a cracker jack box.

Another nurse mentioned that stress can make my situation worse.  In my opinion, stress can make any situation worse.  But mine in particular, I guess.  She didn't have a prescription for that, but I do.  I've contacted my insurance company and suggested they send me on a Caribbean vacation with Jim Gaffigan.  I know, I know, you're thinking, Heather, you want Jim Gaffigan to be your companion on an island getaway?  Have you not seen Channing Tatum?  But here's the thing, laughter is the antidote for stress and Jim Gaffigan is the funniest person I can think of.  I'd be stress free with a fully-functioning esophagus by the end of the week.  (Even meeting Channing Tatum would only stress me out more.  I'd be checking to make sure I didn't have any food on my teeth every five seconds and holding my stomach in until it touched my back.  No thank you!)

So, I'm "recuperating" now.  It involves lying around in the new fuzzy socks my mommy bought me for my procedure, eating mashed potatoes she made me for dinner again tonight, and holding a small memorial service for the Halloween candy I won't be eating this year.

I feel okay, but not great.  My throat feels like someone shoved a rusty pipe down it and I'm not allowed to take the edge off with Sprite or Ginger Ale, which stresses me out, which creates more acid in my stomach, which is lighting my sore throat on fire, which is why, United Healthcare, I need a vacation with Jim Gaffigan!

yours truly,

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rain Balloons

I can't remember exactly when this rainbow loom fad came to my attention, just that several months ago these stretchy bracelets started showing up on my girls' arms.  They looked like a nicely woven mess of those colored rubber bands I used on my braces back in the 80s.  I don't think those were getting much mileage on braces anymore, what with the invention of Invisalign and good common sense, so I assume whoever was storing those sold them to patient zero of this infectious loom disease.

I don't succumb to fads usually.  I never once bought silly bandz, nor did I let my kids buy them.  Yet, we ended up with dozens.  Because my mom and most of my friends/friends' kids get into these kinds of things.  And, by the way, where are all of these must-have silly bandz now?  Wouldn't be caught dead in them?  (cough, cough...told ya so.)  I actually feel sorry for the silly bandz now, because they remind me of the salsa on the table after the queso arrives.  (Rainbow loom bracelets are the queso in that analogy, in case you didn't follow.  But, let the record show, I think queso is amazing and rainbow loom bracelets are silly.)

It might be more than I don't succumb to fads, I might be fad resistant.  Last year all the boys my son's age had to have Nike Elite socks.  And Brainy begged and he pleaded and he felt insecure about his regular tall black Nike socks, but those Elite socks are like fifteen bucks a pair and they just go on your smelly feet, so no.  And women have been wearing scarves around their necks as accessories for years now and I've yet to buy one.  I have a warm gray scarf I wear with my winter coat when it's freezing outside, but my neck doesn't stay cold year round, so I go without most days.  I don't know if I haven't gotten into those because I'm fad resistant or because I don't want to have to learn how to tie one properly.  I learned how to tie my shoes when I was four, shouldn't that be enough?

My girls are seven so of course they think they need American Girl dolls.  Correction, my girls are seven and they think they have American Girl dolls.  (Shhh!!  They are affordable Target alternatives.  And if you take care of their hair, no one can tell the difference without a blood test anyway.)

But this comeback of the loom is a surprising one.  Weren't looms popular hundreds of years ago, like pre-Industrial Revolution?  Is our economy in such bad shape that we're training child laborers to operate looms again.  Is this where we're headed when the bubble finally bursts?  Is a return to steam engines and blacksmiths far behind?  Will the whole country start to look like Colonial Williamsburg again?

For now I'm just going to keep my kids in school, working with iPads and Smart boards, gambling that I don't need to teach them to grind their own flour.  Whereas, apparently, the rest of you have already pulled yours from school to work in rainbow loom sweatshops all day.  How else can you explain some of these girls that have rainbow loom bracelets up to their elbows on both sides and hanging around their necks like to-go nooses?  I had a fourth grade girl sitting next to me in reading group this week who seriously had so many rainbow loom bracelets that I thought if she took it just a little further, she could have full body armor and therefore be able to repel spears if and when Native Americans throw them at her.

I also have to point out that this isn't just a trend with girls.  My son has had boys over here to play ball with him and they have to remove their "bracelets" before they go out for a catch.  Stretch and Reckless may always hold their lack of a loom against me, but my son will thank me someday.

And, finally, I will admit that with every fad I avoid, and I don't avoid them all, but with the ones I do, I run the risk of becoming out-dated.  I risk being that mom wearing the fuchsia, purple and white windbreaker to the mall with her kids in 2013, even though she bought it at the mall when she was a kid in 1983.  (Note, I don't have any clothes that are more than six years old because that's when I lost sixty pounds.)

I will also admit that for the first two or three months the girls were talking about these bracelets, I thought they were saying Rain Balloon bracelets, not Rainbow Loom bracelets.  I'm not sure there's a difference or if it matters; I'm not even sure they weren't saying Rain Balloon.  But I have started calling them by the right name, just in time for the next big thing to come along.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

This Will Sound Trivial...

Last spring, one of my friends posted on Facebook that she and her husband had just gotten their kids in bed and were about to challenge each other in Trivial Pursuit.  That's the kind of post that immediately snags my attention...What?  Trivial Pursuit, you say?  I love that game!  I haven't played in years.  (I'm not saying the posts of cats saying funny things don't get my attention, they do.  I mean, who doesn't like a sarcastic feline?)

The next time I saw them (my friends not the witty kitties) at church, I pleaded with them to come over for a couples Trivial Pursuit challenge versus me and The Voice of Reason.  It took about six months to make that happen, thanks to my perpetually busy schedule and chronically forgetful mind.  But we finally got together this past Sunday night.

Let me just say that I expected to win.  Unless I'm competing against my brother in something, I always expect to win.  It took me the better part of a decade to finally walk away with a Trivial Pursuit victory over my big brother, ditto the nightly Jeopardy match-ups we held in our living room.  But that's just the point, I grew up playing these games relentlessly.  We didn't have a lot of other things to waste our time on.  We had a TV with two channels, but unless sports, Jeopardy or The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, or Night Court was on, the TV was useless.  (And okay, I'm not gonna lie; I watched ALF.)

And we didn't have video games until pretty late in our childhood, and, to continue in a spirit of honesty, Duck Hunt and Mario Bros. were my brother's, not mine, so I technically never had video games.  And I think I'm the smarter for it.  I've been playing Jeopardy against my son this year and he knows next to nothing about Russian literature, world capitals, or potpourri, and I can only assume it's because he plays too much Madden on the Xbox.  (Though my husband thinks it's because Brainy is only nine.)

Back to Sunday night, when I lost Trivial Pursuit!  Well, actually my husband and I both lost.  But I feel my loss the most.  We were playing against a well-educated couple, so I knew it would be a tough fight.  And I'm not sure if we lost because we're intellectually inferior or because we make bad joint decisions (see also the comforter we had on our bed from 1999-2003).

More than once my husband and I would have the answer narrowed down to two choices, the right one and its doppelganger.  But every time, we went with the doppelganger and it was wrong.  The other couple beat us with six pies to our five.  Ultimately, I've decided that The Voice of Reason and I don't know enough about Fran Tarkenton or mixed drinks.

I do, however, know way too much about the cast of Cheers and can usually match an author to a book title with both hands tied behind my back.  But alas it wasn't enough.  Even though, and here is the victory within the loss, I got the science question right!  (I know, it surprised me too.)  I mean, that's the whole reason I married my husband, I needed someone to answer the science and technology related questions.  But on Sunday, the science question was, "Anthracite and lignite are forms of what fossil fuel?"

The first thing I said was, "I don't know what a fossil fuel is, honey, so you'll have to answer this one."  He was thinking silently and I piped up again, "This might sound stupid, but is coal a fossil fuel, because those two words make me think of coal."  Which makes me think of that great movie, October Sky, from when Jake Gyllenhaal was younger, he's one of my favorite actors, oh wait, doesn't he have a movie out right now, I need to see that.  My husband interrupted my derailed train of thought with, "Coal is a fossil fuel, and that actually sounds like a really good answer."  So, I looked at the other couple across the table and said, "Coal."

"That is correct."  Woo-hoo!!  Both of my fists shot up in the air victoriously.  Of course the game wasn't over, so that was silly.  Meanwhile, I'm gonna have to find another use for my husband now that I don't need him to answer the science questions for me.  I guess I can just let him continue to pay all of the bills and provide for our family.  That's better than nothing.