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Hat Trick

29 May

THE HARVESTERS-medium

 

While listing all of my published work for a new contract, I released how much that list has grown in the past few years. Perhaps my list is shorter than other authors’ lists, but it is significantly longer than the one I had three years ago.

This will be my third novel released – all of them dear to me, in different ways. This one stands alone, not part of a series, nothing to fall back on. Just pure sci-fi, no ghosts or bats or gothic themes. A true product of the ‘80’s influence: different in tone and theme and voice.

A Hat Trick is when you score three goals on the same game – and that’s what this release date feels like: the culmination of a lot of hard work, a significant event, something that should be celebrated.

 

The Harvesters will be released on May 31: my personal hat trick.

 

99 Hours in Joanland – Part Two

21 Aug

This is part two of my real-life experience with surgery.

Down The Rabbit Hole

When I was a kid, I had read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. They had been called classics, highly recommended, and I was a voracious reader. Sounds like the perfect combination. But I didn’t like those books. Not at all. I remember thinking that the stories had a surrealistic dream-like quality that was eerily unsettling. As an adult, I re-read the books and did some research on the author, and found out why those stories were so odd and uncomfortable. There is no mistaking that altered state. And I knew I was in an altered state now. Waking up was weird and disorienting. First I could hear, then I could see, but I couldn’t respond or move my body. I’d woken up from surgery before, so this effect didn’t freak me out. What did freak me out was the amount of time that had gone by – like maybe eight hours?

I was so happy to be through the successful reconstruction, and very very alive. I ran my tongue over my teeth – yup, all still there and no damage (another possible effect of surgery). Another reason to be happy. The recovery nurse told me that my room wasn’t ready yet. I laughed and replied “I’ll just wait here.” Like I could do anything else – I was stuck on that stretcher, tubes and IV’s connected to my body. My husband was waiting outside the recovery room, joining us in the hallway as the porter wheeled the stretcher to the elevators. I was so happy to see him. Things like this test your relationship, and we’d been through so much already, but when you really know you can trust somebody, that you can let yourself fall and they’ll catch you – that’s special. As the hospital corridors flashed by, I fisted my hands. They felt like they had woken up, too. I could feel all my fingers, no numbness, no pins and needles. I hadn’t felt them in their entirety for years. I wondered what medication they had given me, because to have your hands wake up like that was weirdly delightful. Everything was weirdly delightful. Let’s face it – being high is grand. I was so happy to be alive, that I got to keep my kidney, and now on the road to recovery. Happy, happy, happy. Yeah, cue the ominous music.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that evening. Just wheeling to my room, the blip of machines, the pulsing of some contraption that was wrapped around my lower legs so I wouldn’t get blood clots. I was hooked up to a narcotic painkiller pump so I could push a button when the pain got to be too much. A catheter had been inserted so I didn’t have to get up to go pee. Oxygen was vented into my nose. A drainage tube had been inserted into my abdomen, hooked up to a circular bag. The IV kept me hydrated. Both incisions were covered, and they both felt fine. My husband told me that my spleen had been nicked during the surgery, but fixing it wasn’t a problem. You don’t need your spleen anyways; other systems will take over if it’s gone. After I got settled, my husband went home. I wasn’t really there anyways, kept drifting in and out of sleep. Blink, I was gone. Blink, I was back. Somebody came by every hour to check on me. Morning light. Fade out, fade in. Breakfast. Tick tock goes the clock. Fade out, fade in. Lunch. Tick tock. The surgeon came by, checking the incisions. He read the chart on the pain pump, telling me I had a good pain tolerance and that the pump was addictive and he wanted to get me off of it as soon as possible. I agreed – his recommendation seemed logical, a good idea. It made sense to give it up. I knew the stuff was bad for me, so I had used it sparingly and sucked up the rest of the pain. You’ve got to expect some pain after surgery, right? If only I’d known what I was going to be up against. Maybe it is better that I didn’t know. Somebody came in and removed the pump. The catheter went, too – no pain, no problem. Until I actually had to get up to go pee.

I couldn’t get out of bed. It was like going to sleep normal, and waking up nine months pregnant. My abdomen was distended to the point where it was pressing into my diaphragm, making breathing awkward, a deep breath impossible. I’d been through natural childbirth twice, surgery three times before – I thought I knew something about pain. I would have to invent a new scale; my previous “ten” had been chewed up and spit out by this monster. My legs were wrapped in those claustrophobic bindings, and I had no abdominal muscles to help me rise. Just sitting up became a huge problem, such pain rippling, cramping, hammering. I was counting the minutes between oral painkiller doses, and the nurses wouldn’t give me the meds off schedule, not even ten minutes too early. Supper came, but I had no desire to eat. It made me nauseous just to think about food. My brother and his wife dropped by to visit. I wished they’d come by a few hours earlier, when I was still high and happy. I must have looked bad, as she kept talking about patient advocates and how patients needed someone on the outside to fight for their needs. But I never once felt like I wasn’t getting the help I needed, and I didn’t want somebody sitting beside me all day, watching me sleep. It would have been too exhausting to pretend that I was okay, to put on that false front, to act like I had my shit together when clearly I didn’t. My husband came by, bringing our daughter with him. I could see the tension and shock in her face, that her mom would be such a mess.

That night I was in such pain, I wanted it to be over. The logical part of me knew that the meds were taking over my thoughts. The emotional part of me wanted to give up. Which side would win? While I was wrestling with this dark mood, a man appeared, standing at the foot of my bed. I didn’t know him. I wondered if he had wandered into the room by mistake, or had come to visit my room-mate. He was wearing a weird hat, the big brim shadowing his face. His clothes were odd too, from a different era. The strange hat tipped me off, that and the fact that nobody else was reacting to his presence. What I saw wasn’t at all like a dream – there was too much reality injected in the details. It didn’t have the weird, altered state that goes on in a dream. He asked, in an impatient, bored tone, if I was going to cross over. I always figured that when I crossed over, somebody I knew would come to get me, not this indifferent stranger. If this was a hallucination, why didn’t it contain someone familiar? It really shook me up, that the afterlife would be so different to how I thought it would be. Maybe I’d seen too many episodes of The Dead Files. Or maybe this was just the way things were going to be. Logic claimed he was a hallucination. Emotion claimed he was a ghost. Both sides agreed that he was scary. Months later, the creepy image of that man in his wide-brimmed hat still haunts me.

No way did I want to cross over. I had too much to live for, a beautiful family that was counting on me. Many people, some of them strangers, had invested their time and effort to get me here.

I told the man “no!” Adamant, final, determined. He left, drifting backwards to dissipate through the wall. He came back again later but never said anything, just stood there and waited as if I might change my mind. I closed my eyes, trying to shut him out. Eventually he left again, right through the chair and the clock and the shelf and the wall. I couldn’t fall asleep after that happening. To sleep meant that dreams may come, weird unsettling surrealistic illusions, and I had had enough of that altered state.

Morning couldn’t come soon enough.

99 Hours in Joanland

23 Jul

I barely ever journal. Usually I prefer to take my life experiences and camouflage them into fiction so the emotions are true, if not the details of the events. This time though, I felt compelled to write it all down before the experience faded. I don’t want to forget. The pain can fade, gladly, and the scars too, but not the other truths. You need to understand one thing: when a writer stops writing, it is serious. I had used writing to purge my soul; it ended up in my fiction. But for many months that internal drive fell silent, and I didn’t have the energy to miss it. I’m glad that it woke up again, even if it’s not what I’m accustomed to. So this is what I want to write about, my life-altering event.

Letting Go

Nobody likes hospitals. Especially the one in which your mom died while you held her hand. Sad memories surround this building. This is where my surgery would take place. Everybody there calls me Joan. I’ve never used my first name. Not even my mother ever used it. Joan became my alter-ego, a depersonalizing label that cloaked my real self from that invasive world. After a while, I just embraced the alternative name. Being called by the wrong name used to piss me off, but somewhere along the way I stopped caring.

I’ve had surgery before, but nothing on this scale, never on an organ. My kidney wasn’t working properly, like a kitchen sink with a clogged drainpipe with possibly damaging repercussions. I had an UPJO, an ureteropelvic junction obstruction. Sometimes my kidney wouldn’t drain, which caused painful swelling. Like puke your guts out, curl up in a ball and involuntarily cry kind of pain. Most of the time I would ride it out, down some painkillers, but sometimes the pain would go on for hours, requiring another trip to the ER. An ultrasound would confirm whether that kidney had ruptured. UPJOs can be corrected by robotic surgery. The machine is named DaVinci, an apt label for something so inventive. My surgeon is top-notch, a pioneer in the robotic laparoscopic field. He’s the co-director of the multi-organ transplant program. A Google search brings up plenty of positive information. And he’s been on the news. If anybody can fix me, he can.

It’s no wonder that after the long, long wait for this very specialized surgery, I couldn’t sleep that night. The clock finally showed 4AM. Good enough. My husband couldn’t sleep, either, getting up when I stirred. We quietly got ready to go, not wanting to wake our kids. I peeked into their rooms. My son was out cold, sprawled across his now too-small mattress, the blanket thrown off like usual. My daughter was tucked under her blanket, her exposed face tempting me to plant a kiss, so I did. This could be the last time I saw either of them. One of the possible unfortunate effects of surgery can be death.

The roads were clear that early in the morning, the sky gradually lighting as we drove across the city. We arrived at the hospital, well before the assigned time, but we were not alone. Another patient was already there, lugging the crutches he would need later. After a quick visit to pre-admit, we were directed upstairs. A long wait in a soon-crowded bland waiting room was followed by another long wait for just patients in another room, followed by a trip to the intermediate destination: a stretcher in a curtained cubicle. I removed everything that made me unique, changing from an individual to a patient when I donned that hospital gown. IVs were inserted, one in each hand. An injection of blood thinner went into my thigh. The anesthesiologist introduced herself. Somebody told me (her?) that I would be given medication so a pre-existing problem wouldn’t flare up, another possible effect of the stress of surgery. I’m not sure who said this – I had met lots of medical staff that morning and everything was a blur, lost in tension and anticipation and the literal blur of not having my eyeglasses anymore.

I said goodbye to my husband – my rock – wondering if I would ever get to see him again. He’d taken me to ER many times, seen me through visits to the oncologist when cancer was a consideration, and managed to remain positive through the months-long wait for surgery. I devoured the details of him, just like I’d stared at my kids earlier that morning.

The surgery room wasn’t at all what I expected. I’d had surgery three times before, yet this was completely different. The room was huge, with lots of people working inside. They all said hello, a friendly greeting to somebody who would soon be carved up by this team. I expected to see my surgeon, have him say something, but he wasn’t there. They helped me onto this weird bed, lie on my right side, raise my arms, wiggle so my head was on this odd platform that felt like a bean-bag.

And that was it. Blank. No nothing. No winking out. No sensation of fading, like I’d experienced with the other surgeries. Just one second I was on the operating table, and the next second I was gone.

Trust is a conditional gift. You break it, and it’s gone. I had to trust that this team would fix me, wake me, see me through. Letting go of control of your life is a hard, hard thing to do.

The Psychology of Failure

28 Jun

Today I want to talk about something that nobody really wants to talk about: failure.

If you’re looking for some inspiration quotes, some clichés to soften the blow, then read another blog. There’s not going to be any rose-coloured glasses handed out to sugar-coat the issue, just the simple fact that failure sucks.

When you fail, you’ve got two choices – quit, or try harder. That’s it. That’s all. It’s not complicated at all.

Unpublished writers don’t have any way to judge how close they are to success, if maybe this next revision will be the one that works. There aren’t any statistics to measure how far you’ve come, how far you’ve got left to go, or how many more plateaus are left to conquer. And the more time you invest in something, the harder it is to quit.

So what has failure done for me? It’s shoved me out of my comfort zones, dragged me over multiple plateaus, and brought my writing up to a higher level.

Better? Yes. Good enough? We’ll see.

Are you a Genre Snob?

11 Apr

Are you a genre snob?

Do you stick to your favourite section of the bookstore, never straying into the other aisles? Do you dutifully purchase volume after volume of your favourite author, regardless of the reviews? Do you hunt down the latest craze, the hottest best seller that everyone is raving about?

Or do you exist somewhere between these extremes?

Have you ever walked into a bookstore and wondered who was responsible for placing horror in the general fiction section, or who placed your favourite sci-fi writer on the fantasy shelf? How does a chilling true-life thriller end up in the sports section? And what happens when there are so many new sub-categories that you just can’t find anything, anymore?

I’ve heard over and over:  I don’t read science fiction, I don’t read horror, I don’t read romance, I don’t read… fill in the blank.

I don’t “read” biographies, but I discovered I’m a Jon Krakauer fan when I was given a copy of Into Thin Air. I don’t “read” young adult dystopia, but I gobbled up Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.  I never heard of John Scalzi until a friend hooked me with The Android’s Dream. When my to-be-read pile got dangerously low, a copy of Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice was lying around the house, so I read it. Now I’m six books into the series, and loving every minute of it.

None of this magic would have happened, if I’d stuck to my tried-and true.

It’s natural to want to categorize things, to fit them into neat compartments. That’s how our brains work, to make sense of the bombardment of information tossed at us every day. But can we take a step back from this habit, and stop forcing everything into a spot on the shelf?

I love facing the challenges of working in different genres. Maybe I haven’t found my niche, that sweet spot where everything flows. Maybe I’m a bohemian spirit, and will never settle down to one genre. But I’m sure having fun in my wanderings.

So I challenge you to break out of your mold, try something new, break away from your comfort zone and read something different. Or if you’re a writer, try writing something in a new genre. Let me know where the adventure takes you.

Answers to The Monster Match

3 Nov

And here are the answers to the Monster Match!  How many did you get right?

 

D B Reynold – Rajmund     “It was totally dark.”

Charlaine Harris  – Dead Until Dark     “I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.”

Kelley Armstrong – Men of the Otherworld     “Antonio.”

Victor Hugo – The Hunchback of Notre Dame     “On January 6, 1482, the people of Paris were awakened by the tumultuous clanging of all the bells in the city.”

Bram Stoker – Dracula     “Left Munich at 8:35 PM on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but the train was an hour late.”

Robert Louis Stevenson – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde     “Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.

William Shakespeare – Hamlet     “Who’s there?”

Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre     “There was no possibility of a walk that day.”

Mary Shelley – Frankenstein     “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”

Anne Rice – Interview with the Vampire     “I see, said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.”

John Wyndham – The Chrysalids     “When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city – which was strange because it began before I even knew what a city was.”

Steven King – The Stand     “Hapscomb’s Texaco sat on Number 93 just north of Arnette, a pissant four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston.”

Gaston Leroux – The Phantom of the Opera     “It was the evening on which MM. Debienne and Poligny, the managers of the Opera, were giving a last gala performance to mark their retirement.

Do The Monster Match

31 Oct

Classic or modern, these stories all contain monsters of one form or another.  Can you match up the opening line to the author and story?  First line of chapter one – thirteen matches.  Stay tuned for the answers!

Authors:  Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, Charlaine Harris, Charlotte Bronte, D B Reynolds, Gaston Leroux, John Wyndham. Kelley Armstrong. Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Steven King, Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare.

Book Titles:  Rajmund, Jane Eyre, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Men of the Otherworld, Dead Until Dark, Hamlet, Interview with the Vampire, The Chrysalids, The Stand.

 First Lines:

“Who’s there?”

“Hapscomb’s Texaco sat on Number 93 just north of Arnette, a pissant four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston.”

“On January 6, 1482, the people of Paris were awakened by the tumultuous clanging of all the bells in the city.”

“Antonio.”

“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”

“I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.”

“When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city – which was strange because it began before I even knew what a city was.”

“It was totally dark.”

“Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.”

“There was no possibility of a walk that day.”

“I see, said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.”

“It was the evening on which MM. Debienne and Poligny, the managers of the Opera, were giving a last gala performance to mark their retirement.”

“Left Munich at 8:35 PM on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but the train was an hour late.”