Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pity Party: Table For One?

Do you ever have one of those days where you just feel down on yourself.  The gunk in the air, a strange January thunderstorm may be to blame or it could be that I don't talk about it enough.  I've been staring at this blog post, cursor hovering over the 'Publish' button, wondering if I'm over-exaggerating or opening a can of worms that I should just keep sealed, but then I wonder if there is a woman somewhere like me who needs to know she's not the only one.  Maybe this can help.  I warn you, I'm about to host a pity party.  You're invited, but I'd understand if you didn't want to attend...there are no party poopers at a pity party.

For nearly two years, my husband, AJ and I have been trying to have our second child.  I know some may read this and think, 'two years, big whoop'.  I've spoken to women who tried to conceive their first child for four to nine years.  My two years is a blink compared to that. Some couples are still trying and like my husband and I, struggle with infertility.  In my mind, though it only took us about five months to conceive our first child, Landon, I figured it would take us just as long if not a little longer to have a second child.  In my mind, it happened once.  Why can't it happen again?  What's the big deal?

After about 18 months, I was urged to see an infertility specialist by my physician.  When you see an infertility specialist for the first time, you're basically entered into a pool of tests to go through.  I had to have blood work done, twice.  I had to have an ultrasound to check the consistency of my endometrial lining (the sides of the uteran wall) to ensure it was thick enough for an egg to attach.  I also had an x-ray to see my fallopian tubes.  Sometimes, woman who have c-sections, like I did (my son was 10lbs 2 ounces, 21 and three-quarters inches long when he was born...there as NO way I was pushing that beast out!), the fallopian tubes can get moved around, even pinched in the mix of things.  The x-ray determined that the tubes weren't blocked in any way.  I even took an at-home ovulation kit to ensure I had an LH surge (LH stands for lutenizing hormone.  It's the hormone that signals the ovary to release an egg during ovulation...Human Biology...I paid close attention to the reproduction system unit).  I came out looking good on ALL of the tests.  I have good uteran lining, I ovulate, my tubes aren't blocked, and my thyroid was fine, according to my blood work.

Oh, did I forget to mention AJ's little swimmers were tested and they passed with flying colors too?

So again, what's the big deal?

The next step were the infertility treatments.  They start off with a drug called Clomid which is a crap ton of estrogen in pill form.  Estrogen is a hormone that signals the uteran lining to thicken in hopes of implantation of a fertilized egg.  It also signals to the hypothalmus (the hormone control center of the brain) to increase the amount of LH being produced.  So the affect of Clomid is more estrogen = a bigger LH surge = more than one egg is released during ovulation, increasing the odds of fertilization/implantation, but also increasing the odds of multiples (bet you didn't know you'd get a biology lesson when you decided to attend my pity party).  So you take the Clomid for five days starting three days after the first day of your period.  Then, you start your ovulation kit shortly after the Clomid is done.  Most women ovulate on the 10th-14th day of their cycle, given the first day being the first day of your period.  When the ovulation kit signals an LH surge, artificial insemination commences.  They spin down the semen to help it reach maximum potential and then they take and very very very tiny tube and 'insert'? 'inject'? the semen in past the cervix.

Seems like a sure thing, right?  You're ovulating, which means an egg is making it's way to the baby-making factory.  The swimmers aren't deluded and can roam freely in search of the egg.  What could go wrong when there's nothing wrong with either of us to begin with?  Something obviously can go wrong because I'm still without child.  What it is exactly that can go wrong, I have yet to find out.

So here we are, one round of insemination failed, another coming our way, but what happens if that doesn't work?  Blow our savings on in-vitro which again, isn't a sure thing.  It's more than frustrating when you know something is working right, but it's not working.

An old classmate of mine was blogging about her journey as a surrogate.  She'd made plans to carry a child for a single male.  They were implanting the fertilized eggs, but she wasn't getting pregnant.  It wasn't working.  So they did an ultra sound and it turned out she didn't have any uteran lining at all!  Her and her husband had naturally conceived twin boys so they didn't think there would be any trouble with conceiving again.  They're in the same boat as AJ and I.  Secondary infertility.  She was devastated.  She'd met the man who's child she'd be carrying, they were all very excited about their journey, and then it was over before it even began.

I'm at the point where I'd be okay if I couldn't have another child.  I'd get over it if I could never get pregnant again; if they told me it wasn't possible.  Tell me what's wrong and why it went wrong and I'll wash my hands of it and move on, but when all signs to point to success and I only come up with failure, I go friggen crazy!  Isn't that the definition of insanity, performing the same task over and over while expecting different results?

The thing I have the worst time getting over is finding out my friends, family, or acquaintances are getting pregnant.  I know it's not fair to take out my frustrations out on a loved one during their time of excitement.  It's not easy.  It's not easy to watch someone celebrate what you're trying so hard to have.  I feel like a bad person for resenting their happiness.  I don't know how to get past it all.

I wrote a short story, semi-autobiographical laced with a bit of fiction, for a biggest fear contest on BookRix.  No, I didn't win, but I sparked some interesting perspectives in the comments.


Anyway, I'm going to shut down this pity party.  Hopefully, I'll be in a better mood next post.

- Jess

Monday, January 28, 2013

Today's the day!

After what seemed like months of reading, editing, re-reading, re-editing, and more reading and editing, Evol is finally ready for it's big release!  The word 'excited' doesn't even describe it.  I'm beyond excited.  Evol is about 3-years in the making!

My editor, Rebecca, a rockstar in my eyes, has set me up for a book-blog tour, which is another exciting endeavor in the journey of an amateur author.

The preparation process for publication is a taxing one, especially when you throw in the curve ball I like to call 'technology'.  It has it's positives and it's negatives.  On top of that, Rebecca and I live in different countries so technology was our only friend when it came to communication.

One tip I have for beginning the editing process, don't get ahead of yourself.  If you want it to be perfect, which you do, take your time.  In the end, it will be worth it.  As much as I would have loved to have had Evol published before Christmas, seeing all the progress Rebecca and I have made since the new year, I'm glad we were diligent and worked at a slower pace.  Evol  is perfect!

I will post the link to amazon when Evol is posted there.

More to come,

- Jess

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Three Golden Rules

I’m coming around to the idea of having a blog.  To me, blogs are a way to make people look more important than they really are and I’m not much into that whole ‘tooting my own horn’ thing.  Don’t get me wrong; if someone is educated and trained to give proper advice on the topic of their column, it can be very beneficial.  It only took me about an hour to set up my blog which means anyone can do it and that’s what I have a problem with.

I am not a best-selling author.  It’s still hard for me to consider myself an author because I’ve only written a handful of pieces, most being shorts.  It seems self-righteous (is that the right word?) of me to call myself something other people may not consider me.  I’m not even really that smart or witty.  I don’t claim to be at professional anything.  The only things I do claim are my own experiences.  That’s basically what I’m presenting here.  Whether it’s right or wrong, whether it works for you or not, take it or leave it.  It’s all just advice and a few pennies for your thoughts.  Personally, I would have loved to stumble across something like this when I first started writing, but again, I don’t want to talk myself up.  I’m not that special, contrary to anything my mother would tell you.

As a writer, I'm always struggling to make sure my stories touch on a few key points.  I always focus on relevancy, whether or not the plot/scenarios are believable, and ensuring to keep the reader's attention.  When it comes to relevancy, it's not hard to reach that goal, but it is very easy to be redundant.  I've had ideas for stories before and as soon as I start writing, I trash it because the idea has been done before.  I know there are no new ideas under the sun, but that doesn't mean I can't make an idea my own and present it in a way that no one else has.

If you say something in a way no one's heard before, they'll listen.

Keeping a story believable is probably one of the hardest feats to reach when writing.  I find it even more difficult when I write thrillers and action sequences.  On top of that, there is nothing worse than getting sucked into a good, solid story that is riddled with cheesy dialogue; the kind of dialogue that makes you cringe out loud "no one talks like that"!  And at that point, you've lost all desire to continue on, no matter if you're only a few chapters away from find out who the killer is or whether or not the ambiguous couple will finally reveal their feelings for each other.  If they don't hold real, relevant, and believable conversations, you've lost your audience.

This is where talking to myself comes into play or as I explained before, talking to my imaginary friends.  Talking out loud and converting verbal conversations to written dialogue is one of the best ways to sound believable on paper, or at least in my opinion this has worked wonders for me.  I usually talk to myself in the car or when I'm cleaning, even in the shower.  My problem was, I'd have a great conversation with myself, but I wouldn't remember exactly how it went so I started carrying two things with me at all times.  A tape recorder and a notebook.  I use the tape recorder primarily in the car, for safety purposes of course.  The notebook I keep in my purse. You never know when you'll be inspired, maybe by a conversation you have, a video you watch, something someone else says, anything can set my imagination off so I want to always have one or the other (recorder and notebook) at my disposal at all times.

Research is another way to stay believable.  In my story Evol, the first part of the story is set in London.  I've never been to London and don't know anything about it aside from what I've seen of it on TV so a lot of research was required to help make the story believable.  I used Google maps to get an idea of what the area looked like and proximity to certain real-life structures I referenced, I searched for certain businesses, laws, and even found a British English to American English slang translator online to help the dialogue between two Brits sound authentic.  I'm sure it's not spot on, but close enough to pass.  You can find almost anything you need to know if you just take the time to look for it.  Research is half the battle, but a very important part of the story-telling process.

If you manage to defeat the relevancy and believability road blocks, you've pretty much been able to keep the reader's attention.  The rest is using the roller coaster method, as my mentor Frank called it.  You want to go up and down and up and down with your action.  If you give the reader non-stop action, they'll get overwhelmed and exhausted by it.  If you give them too many lows, you'll lull them to sleep and eventually drive them to close the book and leave it that way.  There's a particular balance of these elements that keeps them interested, even in the slow moments.

One of the tricks I use for this is narration changes.  In Evol, I wrote most of the story from the heroine's perspective, but there'd be moments when you'd get a glimpse into the mind of the villain.  Even though these glimpses may not have been full of action, they're still exciting because in a way it's like getting insider information, without giving too much away.  It opens another dimension of anticipation.

Again, I will reiterate.  I was not taught these methods of writing by an accomplished author or some college professor.  These are my own tricks of the trade that helped me get to be the author I am today.  These may not work for you, but they’re something to consider if you’re looking at improving your writing.

Hope it helps!  Until next time, Angel Faces,

- Jess

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What's in a name?

I read somewhere an author said there's no such thing as writer's block.  I had to disagree.  I think there is writer's block and for me its when my imaginary friends stop talking to me.

It's true.  I talk to myself, but to justify it, I like to claim that I'm talking to my imaginary friends.  And by imaginary friends I mean the characters in my stories.  If they stop talking, I stop writing.  Simple enough.  So my stories, my books, they're all dictations of my imaginary friends.  They're just an account of the conversations I've have in my head.

You know, the more I write this, the more I wonder if I should seek counsel about these 'voices' in my head.

Names are very important.  Not only the names of the characters, but the names of books and chapters and sections of stories.  I struggle with names because I want them to be perfect.  When it comes to naming characters, I want the main players to have unique names.  Names you don't hear very often that will stick in the reader's mind.  I'm going to use my story Evol as an example a lot in my blog because I learned so much from writing this story.  In Evol,  the main character's name is Venna.  The villain is Merrick, and Venna's saviors are Dorian and Lane.

Unique, yes, but there's more to it.  The name has to fit the role.  It wouldn't be fitting to have the deranged stalker/killer be named George or Carl.  Merrick has that 'creep' factor.      Venna sounds like a song; is elegant yet a bit whimsical.  Dorian sounds like the name of an ancient Roman soldier.  It holds a bit of power.  Lane sounds young and fresh with a spot of athleticism.  All very befitting names given the characters, their personalities, and their situations.  For the less important characters, I don't worry about uniqueness as much.  I just try not to use the same name more than once.

*Spoiler Alert* Let's reference Evol again.  *Spoiler Alert*  In the story, there are seven parts and each part has an equally as fitting name given the contents of that section.  The first part is 'Dreams Do Come True' which holds meaning in more than one way.  Merrick's dream is coming true because he's setting his plans into motion.  Venna's dream is coming true because she's got her dream role and is closer to marrying the man she loves.  The second part is 'Hold Your Breath' because although Venna was reunited with her family, she's just waiting for something to happen again; something she's certain will happen.  The third part is 'Be Strong', a piece of advice Venna's father gave her that she uses to find safety in the arms of her estranged brother, Dorian.  'What Doesn't Kill You...' is the fourth part.  This part highlights the struggles Venna goes through after leaving her home, going into hiding, and depending on Dorian and Lane, Dorian's ex-wife's brother, for guidance and protection.  'What Doesn't Kill You...' is followed by part five, '...Only Makes You Stronger'.  In this part, we see a bit of a rebirth for Venna, who has put a few skeletons in her closet, but is still dealing with a few others.  The sixth part is 'Love Backwards' which explains the title of the book as well as brings a budding romance to the surface.  And finally, the seventh part is 'Sweet Sacrifice'.  That's all I'm going to say about that so not to give too much away.

When I first started writing Evol,  it was originally named What Doesn't Kill Me, but I quickly changed it when I saw a movie with the same title.  Evol came from one of the unlikeliest of places; an Eminem song, 'Space Bound'.  The song is actually quite haunting when you hear the lyrics.  It could be Merrick's anthem in all honesty.  In the song, there is a lyric that says, "And love is 'evol', spell it backwards, I'll show ya."  When I heard this song for the first time, it gave me chills.  If you've read Evol, you should YouTube the song and you might just get the same chills I did.  The song does have explicit content.

Now I've got the challenge of naming my next story.  I've had Evol done for so long, everything planned out from the get go, that I've forgotten how difficult is it to get things named perfectly.  I've already changed the name of my villain twice and this story might remain unnamed until it's completed.  Hopefully, I will find inspiration for the title within the story as it progresses.

Until then, I'll just keep talking to my imaginary friends.

- Jess

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


I thought I'd share some photos.

Here is my immediate family.  First is my baby sister Tayler, known as Aunt Lumpy to her nieces and nephew.  My Dad always called her Lumpy when she was a baby and the name stuck with her.  She's not a baby, as you can see, but she will always be my baby sister.  My parents, Tammy and Mark.  This was at their 30th anniversary party!  My mom has the biggest heart of anyone I know.  I'm a major Daddy's girl, but in a good way, not a spoiled brat kind of way.  My mom says my dad and I have our own language.  We have a lot of inside jokes and like the same stuff so we can just look at each other and start laughing.  The last one on the right is my older sister, Casserly.  Casserly is my grandma's (my dad's mom) maiden name.  She is the oldest of all the grandchildren on my dad's side so was the lucky one to get the hand-me-down name.  I'm the middle child and the only brunette.  My sisters used to tell me she I was adopted, which is silly because I look just like my dad...I think they're adopted...

My dad is an amateur photographer so he's always the one behind the camera.  We don't have many pictures of him with us, but a lot of pictures of us taken by him.  And yes, even though I'm the middle child, I'm the tallest.

Here are my two most favorite guys in the whole world.  Here Landon had just turned 3.  He'll be 4 in May.  This was taken at my cousin's wedding, along with the one above.

This is AJ and I at an Iowa Hawkeyes football game!  AJ and his dad have season tickets.  They're pretty amped about Hawkeye football, well except last season, but I get to use his dad's ticket on one game a year.

Oh, what a big schweetie!  Here is Titan.  He was just a year old in this picture.  Have you ever seen a more handsome fella?!  He makes my heart melt.

This is my cousin Danni, from my mom's side.  She's in the Air Force, living overseas in Germany, however, she volunteered to be deployed and is currently stationed in Khandahar fighting the good fight.  She can't ever tell me what her job is though because it's top secret!  I'm so jealous of her for that.  I wish I could use that excuse when people asked me what I did for a living.  "Sorry, I can't divulge that information.  It's classified."  Awesome!  Plus, Danni and I are Facebook official...sisters, that is.

And here is the cover art for Evol!  In case you're wondering, no that is not my hand.  That's my editor, Rebecca's hand and her boyfriends.  She was such a doll for snapping this pic for me and editing it to make it all fancy like.  It's all very exciting.

More to come!

- Jess

Status: Amateur

G'day! I'm Jess. Lovely to meet you.

I've never blogged before so let me start from the beginning.

I'm from small town Iowa, born and raised.  I love it here; love it so much that I've started raising a family of my own here.  I'm the mother of the funniest person I know.  Landon is 3 years old and does nothing but make me laugh constantly.  He's a great kid and the apple of my eye.

My husband, AJ and I have been married for five years, six in August.  We are opposites in nearly ever sense of the work, but we somehow manage to make it work.  He's a jock.  The most athletic thing I've ever done in my life is show choir and carry a ten-pound baby in my gut.  I'm the creative, artsy one.  He's a freshman boys basketball coach and fantasy football-er.  Like I say, opposites.

The third man in my life is my one year old Red Fox Lab named Titan.  He's a ball of energy and one of the most handsome dogs I've ever seen.  He's a Momma's boy and I find it impossible to say 'no' to his big amber eyes.  Call me a sucker, but they pull at my heart strings!

I'm currently a student looking to get my teaching license.  I did things a little backwards.  I got married, then had a kid, then decided I wanted to pursue higher education so things are slow going for me, but I'm making progress.  I'm going to teach high school English.

Writing is my passion.  I started out as a grazer.  Let me explain.  I remember being a tween, having an idea in my mind.  I'd write down events or conversations.  And when I say 'write down', I mean I quite literally got out a notebook and wrote in it.  I'd fill a notebook with the start of a story, when I 'd go back and read what I've put down, I was always displeased and didn't want to start over after all the work I've done.  So I'd ditch the idea for a minute and come back to it later, grazing over the same idea for months, sometimes years, never really getting anything accomplished.

It wasn't until my first semester of college that I was introduced to the idea of an honors project.  Honors projects are one credit hour of one-on-one time with a teacher working on a specified project and the grade goes on your transcript.  I worked with my speech teacher, Frank Sladek, on a story.  A short story.  I can't tell you how the story came to me, but within a matter of weeks, I had 90 plus pages typed and completed.  I was so proud of myself for actually completing a story.  It had a beginning, middle, and end, and it wasn't too shabby a story either.  It's titled Keep It Safe and I recently, after much urging from my family, published the story as an eBook and it's available on Amazon.

Not only was I proud of my first short, but I was inspired.  I'd tasted the sweet victory of completion and I wanted more.  From there, Frank and I worked on my first big project, Evol.  It took me two semesters to complete and turned out to be a monster of a story.  600 plus pages in eBook form, seven parts.  I originally projected a five-part story, but once I started writing, the story took life of it's own and grew.

After sharing the story with a few choice people, my parents, my cousin Danni, and my friends Kara and Alex, I was further inspired to pursue publication of the manuscript.  Trouble was, I'm a small town girl from Iowa with no ties to the publishing world and no clue as to what I was doing.  I googled until my fingers and eyes were sore.  I followed advice of budding authors through their blogs.  I made copies of my manuscript. I invested hours of my time and a small fortune in mailing and shipping costs and the only thing I have to show is a small stack of denial letters and emails.

Discouraged, my dad encouraged me to look into publishing as an eBook.  I guess I was a little snotty and thought my story was too good for something like eBook.  I had dreams of a hard covered novel that I could hold in my hands; one I could open and hear the binding crack.  I was also delusional to think I could so easily have that.  So I took his advice and found a lovely online community, BookRix.

BookRix has been the biggest factor in what little success I have as an amateur author.  I originally posted Evol on the site in parts.  I was approached by a site administrator, Rebecca, who had nothing but wonderful things to say about my story.  From there, she's prepared me and Evol for an upcoming publication date.  She is very passionate about the story and my writing and has been the most amazing person I could have ever met.  Rebecca sacrificed personal time to comb through my manuscript and edit it for me.  She's also created cover art and got my foot in the door with a book blog tour, which is what accounts for the inception of this forum.

So here I am, budding author with a blog of my own.  You're probably wondering what my story is about.  Well let me enlighten you.  Evol is the story of a young British stage performer, Venna, who, unbeknownst to her, has been stalked most of her life.  The story begins with her abduction and chronicles the trials and tribulations she has to endure after being rescued from her kidnapper. When her kidnapper returns to steal her away again, she flees the country and seeks refuge with her estranged half-brother.  It's a thriller with a bit of romance.  I don't recommend Evol for anyone younger than 16 years old, and I still wrestle with myself as to whether or not I should raise that age restriction.  There is inappropriate language in the story (not too much) as well as sexual/rape references that aren't suitable for children.

With the tremendous assistance from Rebecca, I've put the finishing touches on Evol.  We've got one more sweep to do before finally publishing and that should happen with a week.  I'm currently working on another piece that is yet to be titled, but is another thriller, still including the ever-popular element of romance.  With another semester of school starting, however, I'm afraid the story will have to be put on the back burner and may take longer to complete than anticipated.  I'm very excited about this story.  I'm projecting it to be two separate books, but it could be longer especially given my track record.  I don't want to give too much away because the story line could change more than once before I'm finished.  The idea is a story of a younger woman who meets an older man (don't think older like 50+ years; think older like 15 year age gap with the woman being 21 and the man being 36), a very successful man and they eventually fall in love and get married (here's the romantic reference I promised).  The woman discovers the man has been hiding a terrible secret from her.  That's it.  I can't share anymore or I'll give too much away.

With this story, I'm trying out a different formatting technique that I'm excited about.  The story starts in 2006 when the couple meets then, where there would be a chapter break, the story jumps ahead in time to 2013 and starts to give you little hints as to the man's secret and how the woman handles it.  The story jumps back to 2006, then to 2013, and so on, chronicling their first years together up until the revel of the secret, which is where I plan on ending the first book.  Again, these plans are rough, really rough.  Think sand paper rough.  Anything could happen between the first word to the 300th page.

I think I've talked about myself enough for one day, but I'll be back.

Till then, keep on keepin' on.

- Jess