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Viewing Blog: Kat's Eye, Most Recent at Top
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Native Chicagoan, raised in the suburbs, married to my college sweetheart, Vermont College grad, former journalist, newsletter editor, public relations/ marketing consultant, newspaper columnist. Now, an author, advocate, and mother of three active girls, two with special needs.
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1. In the News!

I was interviewed about my latest short story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen. Here's the link if you want to take a look. Love and thanks to my beautiful, courageous, middle daughter Elena for inspiring me to tell her story.

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2. Chicken Soup, anyone?

Thrilled and humbled to be featured in the Joliet Herald-News today.

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3. Old Friends, New Friends, and the Joys of Sitting Butt in Chair

In the spirit of the New Year, I joined up with a group of fellow writers who all had writing goals like I did. One of the most notable goals we all made was to write a minimum of 100 words a day for the entire month. Compared to the high word counts I achieved when pursuing my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults for Vermont College, it seemed a small goal, one I almost felt guilty about. Almost. But based on the current demands on my life as a full-time (and then some) family caregiver for my middle daughter, Elena, I owed it to myself to be realistic.

Long story short, I didn't make my quota. An unexpected hospitalization got in the way. So did my oldest daughter's wedding. Granted, I knew about the wedding ahead of time. But unfortunately, I'd underestimated how much time it would take, especially as the amazing day drew near. As for the ER visit and hospital stay, it comes with the territory when there's a loved one at home with chronic health issues. You just can't plan for those.

The unexpected "excitement" didn't keep me from signing on with the writer's group for another month. So what if I didn't get as far in my writing? I accomplished something much more important. I reclaimed a writing routine, roused old characters, and met new ones. And at the risk of jinxing it by talking about it, I managed to sit butt in chair more times than I had in a very long time. And the trend has continued!

So far this month, I've written daily (or very nearly so). My focus has been a middle grade novel, one that's been in the discovery phase for years. It's a curious little project. The idea arrived in the form of a little girl's voice when I pursuing my MFA in Writing at Vermont College. I didn't know her name or story, but what she had to say was insistent and powerful. I knew as soon as I heard it that I didn't have the skill sets or emotional distance to to tell her story. Not yet.

Unlike other projects this one hasn't come all at once. Nor has it come on my terms. The main character is shy and elusive. She appears at the most inconvenient times. She starts talking. I fumble for a notebook and attempt to take notes. Sometimes she stays for an hour, sometimes a few minutes. Then she disappears and no manner of bribery will coax her out.

This month, she appeared again, and this time she took form on the story stage. For the first time since I began recording her thoughts, hopes and dreams, the shape of her story is coming to the fore. I'm not sure how long she's going to stay this time, but I plan to keep working at it as long as she allows me to do so. Will she remain long enough for me to discover the whole story? Only time will tell. Until then I'm striving to keep the faith and trust the process.

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4. Dusting off the Keys, Sitting Butt in Chair and Trusting the Process

It's embarrassing how long it's been since I last blogged anything here. The bottom line is that my butt in chair time has been quite limited, and my time updating this blog has been--well--non-existent.

This is not what I intended. By now I should have published all three books in my Tide's Turning series. By now, I should have published my contemporary middle grade novel. But life had other plans.

You see, I'm not just a writer. I'm a mom and caregiver, too. I was reminded of this fact a year ago last November when I was called to wear the caregiver hat full-time.

If you follow this blog, you're probably aware of my middle daughter Elena's story. She's a brain aneurysm survivor. At age nine she stood at death's door, but by God's good grace she returned to us and learned how to walk, talk and be Elena again. The road to recovery was a rocky one, but we managed to find a new sense of normal. And I managed to keep my writing a priority.

But things changed a year ago last November. We learned that Elena's kidney's had failed and that she was in urgent need of dialysis. Since Elena needs assistance with the simplest of things, I stepped up to be her healthcare manager and caregiver. I was unprepared for the toll this role would take on me personally.

Twice a week, we awake before dawn, pack our food, blanket, activities, and Elena's service dog Sonny, and drive to Chicago where Elena undergoes a three-hour dialysis treatment. In the beginning, Elena took well to the process; but, unfortunately, this didn't last. She needs more time to recover after dialysis, activities take a lot out of her, and I've lost track of how many times she's gone to the hospital after treatment.

On non-dialysis days, Elena spends a lot of her time on doctor's visits, medical testing and therapies. I am her healthcare manager, chauffeur, personal assistant, activity coordinator, advocate and cheerleader. Free time, when I have it, is for errands and planning for and cooking the kidney friendly meals Elena must have in order to keep as healthy as possible as she awaits a transplant.

On paper it looks like I should have plenty of time left for writing after everyone goes to bed. But in reality sleep is what happens, and there never seems to be enough of it.

Keeping the faith that my fantasy stories will be read one day is one of the hardest things I've been called to do. Time marches on. I wonder if my characters will recognize me when I sit butt in chair and ask them to play. I worry that I won't find the flow when I finally carve out time to work on my story.

But every once in a while life lifts up a reminder to trust the process. Like today for example. Last year life handed me enough precious time to write "Elena's Angels," a short story for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen. They bought the story! And beginning today, the book is available in bookstores everywhere. Today as my daughter marks her one-year anniversary of being on dialysis, the timing couldn't be more perfect. Patience. Perseverance. Trust the process.

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5. Traditional Publishing Vs. Indie? Read This link Before You Decide

Contemplating whether to publish your book with a traditional publisher or do it your self? Before you decide, consider this food for thought from best-selling author Joe Konrath.

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6. Looking for Inspiration? Check Out This Video

Hope, humor, grace, strength. I've witnessed my daughter and others summon these attributes and more in the face of adversity. Kudos, Chris Rumble! Your video says it so well.

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7. Writerly Report from the Trenches

Each month nearly a dozen teens join me around a library table to talk about books, hone their craft, and share their work. Each month, I'm blown away by their honesty, creativity, willingness to share, and eagerness to play. This month was made even more awesome when group regular, J, arrived with her guitar over her shoulder and announced she wanted to play for us. We moved the meeting outside, and sat beneath the oaks along the canal path, where J treated us to a public concert. And held us spellbound. Writers often begin their stories with a character, snippet of dialogue, or setting, and then must discover the rest of the story. When writing a song, J said she often begins with a whisper of music. Then she seeks the story that belongs to it. Fascinating how the creative process works! Thanks for sharing, J!

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8. My Latest Short Story is in the News!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers is getting some really nice buzz since its mid March release. Check out this link for the latest feature on my involvement in the book.

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9. Must-Read Interview On the Secrets to Epublishing Success

This interview with indie author Ruth Ann Nordin is the one if the best I've read about how to ride the eBook wave.

Smashwords: Ruth Ann Nordin Shares Her Secrets to Success

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10. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers In the News

Check it out! I just learned that Trib Local, a local web version of the Chicago Tribune, featured an article about my story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers recently. Thanks to good friend and fellow author Kate Gingold for secretly making it happen.

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11. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers is Here!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers is available at a bookstore near you. And Joan Lunden is talking about it! Check out her interview about the book on Good Morning America earlier this week.

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12. The Year That Went to the Dogs, Part Deux

Time and again, writers, editors and other folks in the industry say that if you want to be published, you should "Write what you know." So, in between Elena's first and second brain surgeries last year, I managed to sit butt in chair long enough to write a short story for an upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul book. The beginning drafts were painful. I'd been away from the process for so long that slogging through my prose felt like an exercise in futility. But in the end, the hard work paid off. The Chicken Soup folks bought my story! Getting the news in the midst of our family drama was a highlight of my Year That Went to the Dogs, and a reminder to Trust the Process, wherever it takes you. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers hits bookshelves nationwide on March 13th. Check out this link for a look inside and to pre-order.

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13. The Year That Went to the Dogs

Is anybody out there? There? There? There? There?

This is my first post since last April, and as I type this entry, I can't help but wonder if even my most loyal followers have moved on. But for those of you who are still out there; for my characters (who most likely have disowned me); for my loyal muse (who has been starved for attention for far too long); and for my fellow writers (who wrestle daily with the challenge of balancing work and family, and sitting butt in chair to give your stories a voice), this post is for you.

2011. In our Christmas letter, we called it the Year That Went to the Dogs . It's an apt title for a crappy year, one I would never wish on anyone, not even my enemies.

Detailing what happened would take too much space and energy for a post here; so, I'll give you the Cliff Notes version. My middle daughter Elena ended up needing three brain surgeries last year. By the grace of God she came through them all. But between all the hospital stays, tests, therapies, doctors visits, and follow ups, there was little time left for writing.

Probably my biggest accomplishment in 2011 was launching and maintaining a webpage where friends and loved ones could read Elena's story, keep track of her progress in an online journal, and leave notes of encouragement in a virtual guestbook. If you're looking for details about Elena's journey and mine, visit it here and search for elenawinters. It's an ongoing story, one that's still unfolding. So be sure to visit regularly for updates.

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14. Prayers Needed, Pass It On

Many of you are familiar with my daughter Elena and the journey she's been on with her health. Elena's travels have inspired my own, reminding me daily to trust the process and to have faith that where we are now is where we are supposed to be, whether it be in our personal or professional lives.

In recent weeks, we've entered a new and challenging chapter in Elena's care, one that requires two neurosurgeries in the near future. Both are considered life-saving. The first surgery will happen as early as this coming week. The second two months or so later depending on her recovery.

We need prayers. Lots of them. Please share this news with anyone you think might need to know.

To follow Elena's journey and write a note in her guestbook, sign on to www.caringbridge.com and search for elenawinters.

Consider checking out Elena's new web page, too. It's a reminder of who she is outside of her illness and a testimony to the true power of living each moment.

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15. Dorothy was Right

There really is no place like home. E was released from the hospital after her imaging studies yesterday. We returned late last night, exhausted after our week-long visit but so very happy to be back. The first thing E wanted to do after hugging her service dog Jewel was unpack, as if doing so would prove she was home to stay. Spent today acclimating to the real world while she caught up on the sleep she lost at the hospital. Looking forward to returning to a regular writing schedule. Hoping my muse joins me.

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16. A week and counting

Didn't expect E to be here this long, but there you have it. A week and counting. I'd forgotten about the little things that gnaw away at you the longer you're here. The constant beeping from all the monitors. The stale antiseptic smell of the hallways. The fact that while the rest of the world is racing by you're on hospital time where the passage of time is marked by the next blood pressure check. Then there's the reality that even when you're away from the room the parent bracelet around your wrist is a constant reminder that your life is not your own. E has an MRI this afternoon. Planning to escape to Ronald McDonald House until she's out of recovery and back in the room. Maybe I can catch some uninterrupted sleep. I need it.

Writerly report: Closest thing I've done to exercising my muse this week is reading. Losing myself in A Discovery of Witches.

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17. Unexpected Journey

Posting this from the Starlight Family Room on the 6th floor at Children's Hospital in downtown Chicago. E was admitted Tuesday. Kidneys were acting up. She's responding to treatment but the going is slow. Thankfully E is viewing this latest admission as yet another adventure in her journey. For example, she loves the fact that she can order her meals off a menu and have the food on her tray 30 minutes later. She's also enjoying the volunteers. She's working with an artist right now, role playing, story boarding, and doing backdrop design for a video he is putting together with help from inpatients on the floor.

Writerly lesson from all of this:

Trust the process and look for creativity and inspiration in unexpected places.

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18. Nanohoho Report

Day 15 of Nanohoho. Word count to date: 16,660. Discovered along the way: a working title, several promising throughlines, characters who continue chatting with me after I've made my daily quota.

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19. Reading & Writing by Candlelight: Interview & Book Giveaway with Author Becky Levine!

Wondering if you're in the right critigue group? Don't miss this excellent interview with Becky Levine, the author of The Writing & Critigue Group Survival Guide. Reading & Writing by Candlelight: Interview & Book Giveaway with Author Becky Levine!

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20. Checking In

The school year started out so well. E was finally plugged into a promising program, one with a talented team committed to helping her reach her goal of going out into the community to tell her story and talk about service dogs.

Unfortunately, a couple of weeks into the school year, something caught E and she ended up with the horrid cold everyone else on the planet got. It wasn't so bad at first. Her spirits were high and her fever was manageable. But then the stupid cold morphed. Suddenly, the sinuses took center stage. Then a virus came to roost, and then bronchitis and another sinus thing.

If you've been wondering why this journal has stayed silent for so long this is why.

Days of illness turned into weeks. I tried keeping up because after all, I'm the point person on the homefront. It's my job to keep up, right? I wrote, revised, advocated, juggled, planned, prepped, coordinated, you name it. Until lack of sleep and the stress of the on-going illnesses made it impossible to do anything well at all.

Out of necessity, I cut my to-do list down to the most critical tasks. At the top of the list: getting E well enough to go back to school.

It's probably no surprise to anyone on the outside that my writing suffered during this couple-months-long-and-then-some period. Days went by without a chance to write. Other days I sat down at my keyboard, but my characters refused to play. Or I was interrupted by thoughts of all the things I should be doing instead of writing. Laundry. Dishes. Meals. Bills. You name it.

Then doubt came to roost, courtesy of the mugwump, the matted, hate-filled monster that serves as my inner critic. In recent months I had managed to cage and muzzle it. But it found a way out, and on my rare writing days, it perched in the corner of the office, whispered in my ear, eroded my confidence even further.

One day in particular, the mugwump nearly got the best of me. Rather than perch atop one of the bookcases, it alighted on my shoulder.

Seriously? it said. You're still working on that book? I hate to break it to you. It doesn't have a chance. But you know that already, don't you? You know how I know this fact? Your fear. It permeates the room like a sweet perfume.

By now my fingers had stopped typing. My characters had fled and my train of thought derailed.

The mugwump purred as it rubbed its quills against my cheek. You've been at this how many years? Through how many revisions? Why do you persist in torturing yourself? Think how much easier your life would be if you didn't have this book hanging arond your neck like a noose. Give it up. Do it now. No one would fault you if you stopped. Give. It. Up.

The truth is it almost had me that day. E was no stranger to illnesses, or hospitalizations for that matter. But this latest round of illnesses was different. I can't tell you why, but this time around I came closer than I've ever had to giving up on my writing.

I saw the line. I nearly crossed it. I was convinced that doing so would make life so much easier.

I didn't cross it. For reasons I bless, but don't yet understand, I couldn't do it.

There was no epic battle between good and evil. There was no divine intervention. To this day, I can't explain why I didn't do it.

E returned to school a couple weeks after that. She eased her way into her day, a few hours at a time. I eased my way back into a routine. I reaquainted myself with my characters. I determined their story was still worth telling. Along the way, the mugwump lost its voice and toddled back to its cage, its barbed tail between its legs, suffering me to lock it back in.

So here I am. Back in the saddle. It feels good to be typing again.

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21. NaNoWriMo Report

Did I mention I'm doing NaNoWriMo again this year? The last few months have been so crazed that I didn't intend to do it. I mean seriously. Why add more stress to my life when between illnesses, school IEP "adventures", and attempting to navigate the very broken adult disability services system in Illinois, I have more than enough to go around?

But then as November 1st drew near, some fellow critique group members (you know who you are) encouraged me to go for it. In a moment of weakness, I jumped into the deep end, thinking that even if all I managed to write by the end of the month was a couple of thousand words I'd be content.

To win Nanowrimo, a participant must write 50,000 words (the equivalent of a novel) by November 30th. Today, I passed the 30,000 word mark! As much as I dread dragging myself out of bed at o-dark thirty every morning to meet my quota, it feels SO good to have made it this far.

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22. Nanowrimo, Thanksgiving and More

Seriously? Based on the current count on my Nanowrimo novel, I'll be finished with my requisite 50,000 words by Wednesday! I honestly didn't expect to get this far. Blessing the Powers that Be, pinching myself, and praying that Elena's temp doesn't go any higher, which would mean a break in the momentum. But even if I have to take some time off, things might work out. Technically, the contest goes until the 30th.

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23. NaNoWriMo Interrupted

E's temp worsened. So did her cough. Instead of finishing up Nanowrimo yesterday, E and I spent the majority of the day in the doctor's office, doing tests at the nearest hospital, juggling barf buckets while driving, following up with various physicians, and visiting the pharmacy. Operating on three interrupted hours of sleep max. Spent a good part of the night with the baby monitor plastered to my head, straining to hear E breathe after giving her the first dose of a heavy-duty cough med labeled with all kinds of warnings. Fortunately, the med kicked in blessedly fast. Unfortunately, it did nothing to silence my writer's brain which, in hyper drive by then, conjured up countless scenarios of how things could go wrong. Need sleep.

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24. Giving Thanks

1. For the fact that we celebrated our extended family Thanksgiving the Saturday before the actual holiday; otherwise, E's most recent illness would have cancelled yet another celebration/holiday/activity/fill in the blank.

2. For the power of antibiotics.

3. For the fact that E felt strong enough to venture out of the house on Saturday for an afternoon showing of Tangled.

4. For Nanowrimo which gave me a gold ring to strive for and capture!

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25. NanoHoHo Anyone?

I gained so much momentum during Nanowrimo last month that I'm embarking on another writing push this month. In deference to the holidays, my goal is more modest (and realistic): 25,000 words. I'm calling it NanoHoHo.

Word count after this morning's butt in chair time: 1,446.

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