My NMOSD Diary

What the heck is this NMOSD anyway?

It stands for Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorder, or as I like to call it Alphabet soup disease, or Not My Option to have this Stupid Rare Disease!

I probably should have started this blog in November of 2012, when my life changed forever, but I procrastinated, kind of hoping it would all go away. (in other words, DENIAL!) I’ll give a quick overview of the disease and  timeline, and add to the past as this thing progresses and things come to mind.

I’m envisioning  part written blog, part video blog, part sharing information and resources from the experts in the field, and mostly interaction with you, the readers. I’ll answer any questions you might have, although I might add a TRIGGER ALERT specifically for my kids, if the subject might not be something they want to know about their mother, and since I’m hoping they’ll pop in from time to time and add their observations, opinions, and feelings as family members. NMOSD impacts entire families.

In general pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, pull up a comfy chair, and we’ll share the highs and lows, and even some laugh out loud crazy things that goes along with having a body that seems intent on playing nasty jokes on you.

The Clipper Game: Also known as the Decathlon of Dog Grooming

 

Andre before the Clipper Game

At least twice a year, I play a little game with my Brussels Griffon, Andre. It is really more of an endurance sport than a game, and is devised of several mandatory events, and a few optional penalty selections, that you can hopefully avoid. Some people try to offer the dog treats between events as a reward. I would strongly discourage this. Treats equal energy. The goal is for you to have this in abundance, not the dog.

Event One: Avoiding the first penalty starts the game off. You need to round up your supplies and prepare the game field without arousing suspicion of said dog. If you fail at this event, you’ll be forced into a delay of game while you chase him around the house, and heaven forbid—have to fish him out from under the bed. I suggest closing all doors to make the penalty round as short as possible.

Event Two:  AKA, the Marathon: This is the most difficult part of the game. The actual clipping. First of all, in your planning stages, I hope you located all supplies, and have them within easy grasp. If not, expect a few penalty rounds of Chase the Dog, and Fish the Dog from Under the Bed. Also, the actual equipment is important. Those clippers with the detachable comb things? Horrid. Interchangeable blades are the only way to go, but those clippers are on the pricier end of the spectrum.

I like to start with the areas both the dog and I hate the most. In Andre’s case, this is the paws. In between the toes? Nightmare. Trust me, much like an Olympic ice skater, you will appreciate having your triple axles and quad jumps out of the way in the first half of your program. Legs, belly, nose, and butt all use the short blade, so I get them out of the way first. Then it’s off to the races with the nice long back strokes. It’s a toss-up as to whether he really hates the face or the paws more, but since the face requires some scissor work, I save it for last. It’s always my hope he’s tired out enough by that stage of the game to give up.

Opportunities for penalty points during this stage of the game are plentiful. The bad news is that all penalty points are assessed against the clipper, not the clippee. Anything that involves blood—yours or the dog’s. Losing your grip on the dog, and having a delay of game while you once again play the Chase the Dog and Fish the Dog out from Under the Bed Game. It’s your own fault, you should have closed the door. Hair up the nose, or into the eyes. Expect at least one of those. The good news is there are only two ways you can lose this game, even with penalty points. One is if you forfeit, throw in the clippers, and cart the dog to the nearest dog groomer. The other is if blood penalties end up involving medical attention, be it emergency room or veterinary hospital.

I could go into great detail about each step of the clipper game, but suffice to say, this round was a challenge with my loss of vision and limited mobility. I still won, without any penalty rounds or blood points. Go me. While it is possible to earn style points, my give-a-shit meter was pretty low on this one. Give it a week or so, and all the blend lines I missed will have grown out enough that no one will notice.

 

Holy pile of dog hair!
You could make an entire second dog out of this.

Event Three: The nail care round. I prefer the Dremel tool method, myself, after a nearly disastrous episode with Andre lunging his paw forward as I squeezed the guillotine nail clipper. Unlike humans, dog toenails have a healthy blood and nerve supply. Cut too short, and you have a bloody mess, and a dog in pain. No bueno. Having styptic powder in your arsenal of tools is important to avert many kinds of blood penalty points.

Event Four: The dreaded B.A.T.H. I should note, Andre knows what this is even if I spell it out. Good news is that short hair is easier to bathe, and takes a lot less doggie shampoo and conditioner. After this event, I would suggest closing the dog into the bedroom that was off-limits earlier. Very important for the next round of the game. You want him out of the way for this one.

Event Five: Clean up the mess. It is everywhere. Trash bags for the inevitable hair pile, copious amounts of vacuuming, scrubbing the bathroom, and cleaning the Clipper Game equipment. I usually add laundry to this list, since I have to change clothes and vacuum the worst of the hair from them anyway. By the end of this, you’ve finished about half of your spring housecleaning, so there is a bonus prize—I guess?

Those dog treats I told you to avoid earlier? Once you’ve finished Event Five, you can reward the dog—if and when he decides to make his way out from under the bed. Expect it to take a while. Cuddle time is important, especially if there have been any blood penalty points. It probably benefits us as the clippers more than the clippees, but I do it anyway.

Now you can also reward yourself. Alcohol, chocolate, general anesthesia… whatever works best. Just think, you’ll have at least a good two or three months before you have to play the game again, and if you let your dog go au naturel during the winter, you might not have to think about it for six months—half a freaking year!

Yeah, I know I called this a decathlon and only listed five events, but I’m calculating for at least a couple of Chase the Dog/Fish the Dog out from Under the Bed/Blood Penalty occurrences, and the fun little after-game ruckus called Canine Revenge. If you survived without any of those, congratulations, you get bonus points, and a cookie. Canine Revenge round? I hope Andre’s digestive system can handle the full cup of Kefir I left for all of thirty seconds. Well played, Andre.

Andre after the Clipper Game
Andre’s opinion of the Clipper Game

 

Ghost Stalkers: Being Part of a Television Show

Image of GHost Stalkers Farrar banner

It’s been a few days since the Season Finale of Ghost Stalkers, the Destination America paranormal show I was fortunate enough to be part of, aired on November 20th, 2014. Now that I’ve had a bit of time to reflect upon the experience, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the events that led up to my being asked to participate, the filming itself, and the experience of watching the show.

First of all, why me? I have been a paranormal investigator for several years, and with my ENLiGHT Paranormal team, traveled to Farrar, Iowa, to investigate a purportedly haunted schoolhouse now owned by a couple who lived in a converted apartment within the schoolhouse. I did some background research on the location beyond what was available on the Haunting at Farrar website, and really found myself scratching my head, as there didn’t seem to be any deaths or public documentation of traumatic events associated with the property. It was a huge building with no power beyond the second floor, and we’d never taken on a location with those types of challenges, so if nothing else, we looked at it as a great training opportunity.

After we set up our base, the early parts of the nights were pretty quiet. The discussion of spirit boards came up. My background is in the sciences, so religious and philosophical thought processes aside, I don’t believe in the use of a spirit board as a means of investigation. I want objective data. Stuff I can show you, that we can dissect, look for alternative explanations, rule in/rule out… You know, Science. However, if you died from the early 1900’s through the heyday in the late 1920’s – 30’s, you would expect the living to attempt communication with a spirit board or séance, not a series of electronic devices. Having one present might encourage interaction, and if so, we might be able to document this on our instruments. That was the setup for our experiment. Not what was happening with the board, so much as any changes using the board might create that we could document.

There were only the four of us in the building. Beth and Lacey were seated on the floor and had their hands on the spirit board planchette, while Sandy, also on the floor, recorded the responses as they called them out. I had the EMF, K2, and other recording devices, including a very pricey high-end digital camera, and I was the only team member standing. What happened I can best describe as the sensation of two hands shoving me between my shoulder blades hard enough to send me and my equipment a good six feet across the room. Then it seemed like something cold and heavy pressing down on my back, as if to keep me on the ground. If something wanted to get my attention, it had most definitely succeeded by knocking the wind out of me. We took a few minutes to regroup, as my teammates attempted to photograph the two red marks on my upper back, but then it was right back to investigating. I’ve stayed in contact with my now friends, Jim and Nancy Oliver, the owners of the Farrar School, and have been back a couple of times to participate in special events at the school, including a fundraising event for Stop the Abuse Next Door.

Fast forward to July, 24, 2014. I was contacted first by Nancy, and later in the day by the producer of an as of yet unnamed new paranormal television show for Destination America channel, and asked if I would be interested in coming to Farrar to film for an episode on Tuesday, the 29th. I had surgery scheduled for that day, so they made arrangements to do my interview on the 28th instead. Mind you, I live in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Farrar is a good three plus hours away, near Des Moines, Iowa. Seemed like a great way to keep my mind off the impending operation. Due to the chemotherapy I was also taking at the time, an amazing friend offered to go along and actually do the driving. Nanette Day, thank you again from the bottom of my heart, and the Thai food was sooo good! The plan was to film my portion around 2:30 pm, and I’d be home and in bed before sunset. But the weather had other plans. Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms created flight delays, and we actually started filming at 10:30 pm. My portion involved standing on a mark and answering questions for about an hour and a half. It was hot, and I was weak from chemo, but all in all, the interview went great. The producers and everyone involved with the show were wonderful, and so apologetic for the delays. I was also thrilled to discover that John Tenney and David Rountree, two of the stars of the show, were people within the paranormal community that I knew and respected. The production team kept offering to arrange for us to stay in Des Moines, but I had to be at the hospital for surgery at 6 am. I made it home at about 3 am. Good thing I already planned on sleeping most of the day.

I couldn’t talk about the show until things got close to the actual airing. And that’s a hard thing when you’re excited about a project, and a writer to boot, but when I was notified that the Farrar episode would be the season finale for Ghost Stalkers, I set out to make it a gala event in Lincoln. There wasn’t any advanced screening, so I watched it for the first time live at Down The Hatch, a nearby bar and grill, surrounded by my friends from the writing world and my current paranormal team, the amazing Paracon Investigations. We participated in live Twitter discussions, and had a signature drink, “The Cherry Portal Scream” created for us by Cheri Loughlin, aka, The Intoxicologist.

Cherry Portal Scream

http://journalstar.com/entertainment/tv-radio/local-paranormal-expert-on-ghost-stalkers/article_9305f1e6-2fcf-5aa3-8c18-1a1d0c91f29e.html

As for the show itself, I was on massive steroids when we filmed, so worried about how horrible and puffy I would appear on television. I ended up not looking nearly as terrible as I’d envisioned. Television and film are highly collaborative processes with multiple visions coming into play. Did I agree with everything presented by the show? No. I don’t think I summoned a dark force by using the spirit board. The reports of this male spirit pre-dated our investigation. But, that’s the difference between “Reality,” and “Reel-ity” as we say in the film industry. I’ve even gotten a couple of stalker-ish hate messages over the whole deal. As a writer who delves into the darker sides of gritty fiction and horror at times, having a new title of “The Entity Summoner,” could actually work out fairly well, or at least be a fascinating character in a book of some sort. That being said, the experience was overwhelmingly positive. I got to be part of a nationally broadcast television show with great friends, both those I knew from before like John, David, and Johnny Houser, those I met directly as a result of filming, like Chad Lindberg and the production team. I can’t say enough good things about the people involved.

In an ironic twist of fate, I ended up needing admitted into the hospital the day after the show aired. Since then, I’ve also made countless additional connections within the paranormal community. Most have been positive, although I do have to weed through a few that are rather scathing in blaming me for the haunting at the Farrar school. Those aside, here is where the strength of the field lies. In our ability to share what we’ve learned about the afterlife. The scientist in me loves this quote from David Rountree. “What if someday, the paranormal is just an area we didn’t have the science and technology to define at the time?”

David Rountree, in a Lisa Kovanda and Brian Thomas signed Modified Flight Plan hat, no less!
David Rountree, in a Lisa Kovanda and Brian Thomas signed Modified Flight Plan hat, no less!

What’s Your Instrument?

As long as I can remember, I dreamed of taking the arts world by storm. I envisioned myself an artist, a prima ballerina, a concert pianist, actress… usually all before noon. My childhood was spent searching for the perfect instrument. Gymnastics, clarinet, clay, painting,  theatre… You name it, I did it. My mother sang in a band, so music was never an optional program. I was on the forced-entry list every time she needed a performance partner. Never minded a bit, I might add. Although my voice never matched her range, we both agreed I could throw in a whole lot more rasp. Yes, I gloated over this, and took every opportunity to belt out a Janis Joplin tune to prove it.

I took a lot of lessons. Spent hours practicing. But never quite found my instrument. The pictures in my head never rendered quite the way I wanted on a canvas. There is a lot you can do with technique and practice, but at some point, the definition of a true artist is the ability to transcend the medium, and I just didn’t have it.

Same thing with music. I am in awe of those people who can coax a tear from a guitar. I took lessons in my teens and twenties. Practiced until my fingers bled and then some. My teacher, a wonderful life-long friend, Renee Rowell, finally shoved me out the door. “I have taught you everything I know.”

Technique does not equate art. It elevates everything to make it possible, but doesn’t create masterpieces.

Spent a long bleak spell where nothing in life seemed to go right. Made every mistake possible, and lived to tell the tale. Ended up with four amazingly wonderful children, and that makes every moment of it worthwhile. So, I wouldn’t change a thing, even if I could. But, my lofty dreams were buried under the distant sands.

Then something incredible happened. I got bored.

It was on a vacation with no cell phone reception, and since it was one of those “Get away at the cabin in the woods with your in-laws, and nothing at all to do,” things, with far too much emphasis on the nothing to do. (Those of you familiar with my cell phone addiction are laughing, so stop it.) In any event, I did have a laptop, although interwebz was iffy at best. And… a word processor. Once upon a time, I enjoyed writing stories. It might kill some time. Or at least keep me from killing anyone.

I wrote the majority of a first draft of a complete novel in ten days. No plot, completely by the seat of my pants, just writing the ideas as they came to me. It’s still sitting there on my production list, because I clearly didn’t have the technique to really create anything more than a passable first attempt. But, I finished the damn thing. And three days after writing THE END, I signed up for, and completed my first NaNoWriMo challenge. That’s where you write a 50,000 word novel in the space of thirty days. Now I had two complete manuscripts. Well, huh. Now what?

Bingo! Talk to some writers. Learn how to turn those rough lumps of clay into something. I sought out writing groups, and soaked up a lot of information. Listened. Read. Wrote. Revised. Submitted. Won. Published. Produced. This did not happen overnight, it took a lot of time and effort. There is no substitute for actually doing the work. Practice until your fingers bleed, and then some.

My health did some wonky things in the past six months, and due to treatment, the limited filter I have between what I think and what I share seems to have gone away. And, that might be the best thing in the world. I say this, because after some rather unflinching posts to social media, I’ve gotten a flood of messages and emails from people who tell me my words moved them to tears. I will forever be in awe of those who can bring me to tears with the power of their movement in a dance, or a song, or a perfect photograph. Until this moment, it hadn’t hit me. Never in a million years would I have guessed that in my quest to find an instrument, what I would end up with was my mind.

Love you all!

Just a couple of the dances that have inspired me to tears recently. I still wish I could do this.

Hellfire

A few days ago, I had a really weird nightmare. This in and of itself isn’t so uncommon. However, I posted about it on Facebook, and in the ensuing conversation, several people suggested it might be story fodder. And… it got stuck in my head. Those of you who are writers know exactly what this means… You have to write it out. Or else.

This is completely unedited, and I have no idea if I will actually do anything with it, but since I do have frequent nightmares, you just never know. In the mean time, Charlie Volnek, this one is for you!

Hellfire

The phone fell from my fingers and landed with a soft thud on the carpet. Dead? Not Mom…I bent down and picked it up. I wasn’t even sure if I’d said goodbye. The thick accent of the consulate minister still filled my ears. Something about an accident—I stopped hearing his words at some point in time. Dead. There was always a mission trip or disaster somewhere, it was hard for me to grasp that this time, she wasn’t coming back.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur of calls. More apologetic voices, and after the standard platitudes, wanting me to make decisions. Where to send her effects. Why didn’t they just say luggage? Tons of details to transport Mom’s body back to Nebraska. I had no idea there were so many regulations. Memorial services. Even though we hadn’t really talked about it, I knew she’d want her remains scattered in the ocean—or from the top of the Himalayas. That’s how she was.
So many questions I didn’t have answers for. I hadn’t been back home much since college, even though I only lived a couple hours away. It had nothing to do with my relationship with Mom, we were good, but honestly, I don’t know why she even kept a house, she traveled so much. In any event, I grabbed a change of clothes and headed out. Maybe I’d find something in her roll top desk to help me sort things out.
By the time I hit the city limits of Dover, dusk clung thick and heavy to the sky. The old streetlights did little to pierce the gloom. I turned down Fifth Street and for a brief moment, forgot the reason for my visit as I remembered learning to ride my bike along the well-tended sidewalks. The Honda sputtered a few times before surrendering as I turned off the ignition and headed up the walk. No cheery lights came from the windows, no soft sound of television or music, just an overwhelming sense of empty. I scrubbed the tears from my eyes and shoved the key I had for this kind of emergency into the lock.
It was hard to resist the urge to call out, even though I knew there was no point. A horrifying thought crossed my mind. I flipped the light switch, and breathed a sigh of relief when it worked. She’d been known to have the power turned off for longer travels. Everything was like I remembered it, right down to the ugly circa 1979 plaid tweed recliner in the corner. I tiptoed to the desk and rolled the hardwood cover up to reveal Mom’s belongings. Suddenly it seemed like I was four years old, and getting into things I wasn’t supposed to touch. I shook my head and steadied myself. I was a grown woman, and as Mom’s only child, the only one who could take care of the arrangements.
Everything was so neat, so organized. I smiled, imagining what Mom’s face would look like if she saw my cluttered desk. Or worse yet, my closet. Bills marked paid and a note from one of her church friends were the only things on the blotter. A quick flip through the neat file folders in the drawer revealed little more than tax returns and appliance warranty booklets. There had to be something. I needed a birth certificate, life insurance policy, and what seemed like a hundred other documents. She had to keep them somewhere. Lockbox?
The faint scent of Mom’s perfume came from the closet in her bedroom as I stood on tip-toe to reach the top shelves behind the pile of faded quilts. Aha. I pulled the aluminum box down and sat on the foot of the bed with it clutched to my chest. I didn’t have a key, but either it wasn’t locked, or the mechanism had worn away to the point it no longer held, because it opened easily.
What had to be hundreds of tattered photographs faded to soft pastels filled most of the box. I was in most of them. Fat cheeks, ruffled panties, and black patent leather Mary Jane’s and all. Dad bouncing me on his lap. He’d died in a car crash when I was five. Now they’re together. The finality of the thought hit me like a bus.
I was alone. Really alone.
***
I don’t know how long I laid there curled up in a ball crying before I fell asleep. But I do know what woke me up. Lightning flashed outside the yellowed lace curtains and the house shook with the subsequent crash of thunder. I didn’t remember there being rain in the forecast, but then again, this was Nebraska. A soft plop of something cold and wet hit my head and ran down my cheek. Great, the roof leaks. I made sure the lid on the strongbox was closed before I headed out to hunt for a bucket.
Not only did the roof leak, it leaked a lot. By the time I reached the door, my hair and clothes were wet, and my socks squished in the carpet. I caught sight of my reflection in the window and gasped. I looked like something straight out of a horror movie. The combination of rust and tar-water running down my face looked almost like blood. I had no idea what time it was, but staying at Mom’s the rest of the night was clearly out of the question.
I grabbed the strongbox and ran to the living room. The door slammed behind me a little louder than I would have liked, but thankfully, the roof here seemed fine.  Where did I leave my purse and keys? I retraced my steps to the roll top desk as the sound of driving rain echoed through the empty house. I lifted the drapes and peered outside. As I expected, the maple tree in the drive swayed with each gust of wind. My little Honda sat unmolested under the carport. As I contemplated how much wetter I would get if I made a dash for it, something caught my eye.
Mom always stops the mail when she’s gone… Our mailbox was on the opposite side of the street, so the opening faced me. The door was open, and what appeared to be packages filled it. Why hadn’t I noticed this earlier? I glanced up at the sky, and back across the street at the manila-wrapped boxes that were surely going to get ruined. Dammit. I flung the door open, hurdled the raging river along the curb, and grabbed the boxes.
My teeth chattered as I ran back across the street. Surely there was a coat or umbrella somewhere inside, and why I hadn’t stopped to grab it was beyond me. I saw the hole right before I stepped in it. I grew up here, so I should have remembered where the storm drain was, and where the slope began. The packages flew out of my arms and landed somewhere in the grass ahead of me, but I hit the concrete hard enough to knock the wind out of me. If I wasn’t wet before, now I was soaked. Icy water flowed over the top of my head and made me cough. I couldn’t seem to get myself righted. Cold fingers of water surrounded me as my chin sunk below the surface and I fought to breath. I’m going to drown in six inches of storm runoff. It wouldn’t be all that bad would it? I wouldn’t be alone, I’d be with Mom and Dad.
“Get up.” Mom’s voice whispered somewhere inside of my head. “Now.”
Even in my imagination, her voice had that tone of voice you didn’t argue with. I managed to pull myself onto the grass and made it to my feet. As if to mock me, the flow of water reduced to a gentle ripple. I snatched the now wet packages from the grass and ran back to the house.
A pang of guilt washed over me as I peeled the wet paper from the first box, even though I knew with Mom gone, it would have to be me that opened them. Carefully sealed inside the bubble wrap was a thick leather book. No note or shipping invoice, just the book. It was so old I couldn’t even make out the title. Latin. Even though I’d taken two years in high school and another in college, I’d need a dictionary if I wanted to read the thing. I flipped through a few of the thick parchment pages before setting it aside.
If an anonymous Latin tome was odd, the contents of the second package only served to further confuse me. Two matching boxes. The first held a pendant. The medallion reminded me of a cameo, but instead of the usual woman’s profile, this lady held a dagger in a backdrop of flames. I opened the second box and my jaw dropped. Not just any dagger, this dagger. I almost didn’t want to take it from the velvet lined case. The ornate ivory handle fit perfectly in my grip as a flash of lightning from the window glinted from the blade. Words were etched along the metal surface. More Latin. Again, there was no note of any sort.
The final package was more like an overstuffed envelope. I slid the folded pages from the padded mailer and read the first page. “My dearest Charlene,” I drew in a ragged breath. Only two people in the world called me by my given name. Mom, and my grandmother—her mom. Everyone else knew me as Charlie. “If you are reading this letter, I must assume something horrible has happened…”
I dropped the pages to my lap and grabbed the packages. They were addressed to me. All of them. I turned the soggy wrappings in my hands. No return addresses—and even more odd, none bore any sign of a postal marking. How was this possible?
A rattle from across the room caught my attention. Seriously? Now what? I sat the papers aside and stood up. The plaid tweed recliner slid a few inches closer to me with a screech of legs against hardwood. I had to be asleep. The whole day was nothing more than a horrible nightmare. I pinched myself just to be sure. Hard enough to make me gasp. I was very awake, or everything I’d ever heard about pain and dreams was a big fat lie. I picked up the knife and stood up.
The bedroom door flew open and spray of thick red liquid blew everywhere in a torrential rain. I wiped a drop from my face. It wasn’t tar or rust, this was blood. Real blood. The chair shook to the point the legs came clear off the floor. Then it rose a few inches into the air and spun. Forget dreaming, maybe I’d gone crazy. The recliner hovered a few moments as I stared, frozen to the spot and my mouth gaping. Then it hurtled toward me. Without thinking, I threw my hands out in front of me and screamed, “Stop it!”
The recliner exploded in a brilliant flash of flames and the acrid heavy stench of sulfur filled my nostrils. Something screamed from the smoke. As bits of wood, foam stuffing, and singed, blood-soaked plaid tweed rained down around me, the smoke coalesced into a beast-like form. It writhed a moment, then fell from where it hovered near the ceiling into a heap near my feet.
Hellfire!
I stared at my shaking hands in disbelief. The Latin script on the steel blade still held tight in my grip glowed a deep amber. I’d grown up hearing whispered tales from my grandmother, a frail wisp of a woman who could take down grown men with a single stare. She spent her twilight years traveling the country in a beat-up Winnebago, and stopped in a few times a year to visit. I used to listen as she told me fantastic stories of the Chosen Ones who wielded Hellfire against unearthly foes—in spite of Mom’s protests.
Surely they were the same type of legends and myths we’d all grown up hearing about, weren’t they? I crept closer to the still-smoking figure, kicked it with the toe of my shoe, and tried to remember what I could about the Chosen Ones.
All of a sudden the pieces slid together, and a sense of cold filled me from head to toe. It was a gift passed from mother to daughter—upon the death of the mother. Grandma’s Winnebago…Mom’s sudden interest in traveling after her death… it all made sense. Somewhere in the distance, a police siren sounded.

I had no idea what I was supposed to do next, but I did know two things.  First, I was going to either need to get the hell out of here, or try to explain to the cops why I was in Mom’s house in the middle of the night with blood on the walls, fire marks on the ceiling, a blown-up recliner and a dead—whatever this thing was—in the middle of the living room floor. Secondly, from what I knew about Hellfire, this was only the beginning of my problems.      

Out With the Old, In With the New–Year that is. 2013, You Shall be Missed…

It’s that time of year again, you know what I’m talking about…the time when you look back on the year we’re about to usher into the past, and prepare to welcome a brand-new one, full of infinite possibilities. I’m going to start right out and say I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. Waste of time. In the words of the immortal Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

So, in lieu of resolutions, I’ll set a list of goals. Then go make them happen. Sometimes things work out the way I want, sometimes not so much, but the end result is always more than I could have imagined the year before. Here’s a trip through my 2013, hope you enjoy it as much as I did living it. To write this post, I spent some time looking back on Facebook. It is a great time capsule of information, buried in between cat memes and apparently a lot of spiders.

January 2013 started cold…very cold. How do I know this? I was on the set of “Remission,” a feature-film by Midnight Frights I had to wonderful opportunity to be associated with. Filmed in the old Fischer Foods building in downtown Lincoln. It was…cold. I got to work on a script re-write, made some amazing friends, watched a film come to life, and froze my ass off. Not a bad start to the year.

In February, “Til Death Do Us Part,” racked up another screenwriting nod as a finalist in the Omaha Film Festival. (It also took the Bronze in the Oregon Film Festival, and made the top 25 Feature Scripts at Slamdance.)

March brought on the actual festivities of the Omaha Film Festival, and although I didn’t win for TDDUP, I did get to sit in a theatre and watch trained actors bring the opening sequence to life as part of the Writer’s Theatre. I’d call that a win. Survived the blizzard of OFF, resulting in an extra night at a posh hotel in downtown Omaha. Tragic turn of events, right? Met some awesome-cool filmmakers from all over the country, and generally had a great time. Meeting David Greenwalt, show runner for one of my favorite shows, “Grimm?” OUTSTANDING!

April was when things really started getting busy. “Modified Flight Plan,” had an editor deadline, the Nebraska Writers Guild had a conference, and I’m the President, so it was a busy month. One of our speakers, incomparable agent, Lee Hough, made a lasting impression on so many. He lost his fight with cancer later in the year.  I was blessed to count him as a friend. Spending time with my friend, horror writer, Jonathan Maberry, and self-publishing guru Joel Friedlander, made it a conference I’ll never forget.

Looking back over the year on Facebook, I notice a lot of airplane photographs. In planes, from planes, fixing planes… just a lot of planes. I lost a family member in a small aircraft crash in the late 1990’s, so if you had told me a few years ago that I would be spending this much time around planes, I would have laughed. But, Brian Thomas, my co-author and all-around favorite person has introduced me to a whole new way of looking at the world. In more ways than he probably realizes.

I’m also looking at photos from a kick-ass group of paranormal investigators from Paracon. My brothers and sisters, love them so much, even though my work and writing schedule seems to get in the way more than I want. Got to cheer on my Paracon buddy, Brian Kent, as he brought not one, but two books into existence this year. GO BRIAN!!!!

In the midst of the publishing fury surrounding “Modified Flight Plan,” I was also contacted about working on a feature script. “Lost in Oblivion,” is currently lost in pre-development, but I hit my deadline. On to the next—or until they’re ready to move forward.

May 16th was THE day. “Modified Flight Plan,” unleashed on the world. Book #4, first with a print release. Thus began a whirlwind of speaking engagements, television interviews, and book release events. The response to the book so far has been more than I could have imagined. We topped Meredith Vieira’s book on the bestseller chart for an entire week, and hit the #33 overall on Amazon. It was awesome.

Scrolling through Facebook… spiders, dogs, grandbabies, spiders, woodchippers, Minions… more spiders. What the heck is it with the spiders??

In September, “Modified Flight Plan,” made the quarterfinals of the Austin Film Festival. Not a win, but making the top 300 out of 8,700 entries, yeah, that’s pretty cool. Even more cool is when your screenwriting mentor asks you to come help teach his screenwriting colony. I was blown away that he’d even ask. (Side-note, THE winner of the Austin Film Festival? One of the students in the colony. Great guy, well-deserved win!)

October brought the Fall Conference for the Nebraska Writers Guild, and a re-election to my second (and last, thank you term limits!) term as President. Good friends, amazing speakers, yay!

November brought the first ever Prairie Lights Film Festival. Nebraska filmmaker heaven in Grand Island, Nebraska. Cool just for that reason, even better because “Remission” had a sneak-peek screening. Still some sound issues and story tweaking to be had, but I got to sit in a theatre and watch a film I worked on play in front of a live audience. It was awesome. NaNoWriMo happened, and I managed 56,000 words on “Walk Me Home,” which hopefully will debut in 2014. I also had the opportunity to do something every self-respecting child of the 80’s dreamed about, and star in a music video. Okay, so star might be too strong a word, but I acted in a music video. The fact that it involved fire, a big knife, a mask, and blood, was bonus.

Mid-December, time to go out on a high note, right? My health decided to take a nose-dive, but a really cool opportunity came of it. My wonderful-awesome friend from Dead Lantern Pictures, Mat Kister, wanted to talk screenwriting. At the end of the day, I got to write a short film script for “Last Breath,” and be on set while the amazingly talented Jazmyne Van Houton and Will Griffey brought the roles to life. I honestly don’t even have the words to describe the experience, and can’t wait to share this one when it comes to BluRay/DVD next year.

To make it even sweeter, my son and his wife welcomed baby #3 (grandbaby #10) on HIS birthday, Dec 20th. Little Wesley also shares a birthday with his grandfather, three generations!

Well, year recap:  Books:  1.  Movies: 2; one feature, one short. Music videos: 1. Interviews:  14.  Television appearances:  5.  Screenwriting nods: 4.  Grandbabies, kids, general friend mayhem? Beyond measure!

It’s been a great year, and I can’t wait to see how I can top it in 2014. Buckle up, it’s likely to be a bumpy but fun ride.

Delivering the Promise of the Premise

I’ve been in love with the written word as long as I can remember. In fact, my grandmother had me writing and illustrating stories since before I could even pen the words myself. I grew up with a voracious reading appetite—something that is essential to become an adept wordsmith. When you hear people talk about books, they usually say they liked it, or they didn’t like it. As a writer, I make it a point to spend time thinking about what it is that either attracts or distracts me from a story.

So, I recently started reading a self-published book by a journalist/college professor. Man, this thing has prose that jumps off the page. Great characters, and a compelling plot-line. I was absolutely hooked…

Then I saw it, looming on the distant shore.

A fin.

You know what I’m talking about, a story that was about to jump the proverbial shark. Maybe it was when a beer-drinking Jesus showed up saying things like, “Bztt,” while poking himself in the forehead, and suggesting that extramarital sex was fine with him. I wanted to yell at the book, “Don’t do it! Get out of the water, NOW!”

Instead, the story bore down on it like the Titanic heading for an iceberg, and the collision ripped the entire plot apart.

One thing writers are admonished to avoid is called “Deus ex machina,” or “God in the machine,” which is a plot where something or someone shows up at the end and magically solves all the problems for the characters. In this case—well, Jesus showed up, and the plot fizzled.

My disappointment mounted with each turn of the page. I understand the message is that Jesus can fix anything, and that ultimately, he’s in charge, but I had the same problem with the popular “Left Behind,” series. Loved the characters, loved the unique way the authors gave a relatable face to the book of Revelation, right up to the point that Jesus showed up and marched around the sky singing and chanting in everyone’s head at the same time. It was a letdown, when the story I’d signed on for was that of a small band of people I was emotionally invested in. The addition of the divine minimized those characters I cared about to the point of making them inconsequential. I simply quit caring what happened to the characters, and when a reader stops caring, that’s the kiss of death for a story.

The ending of this book now seemed rushed. Solutions to the apocalypse kept popping into existence with little setup, since now that Jesus in on the scene, we’re good to go. I want characters locked in a life-or-death struggle until the bitter end—do or die, sink or swim. I want to raise my fist in triumph when they win, or grieve when they fail.

So, that’s my lesson to myself today. Delivering on the promise is as important as the flow of the prose. Life—and writing—is the journey, more than the destination.

 

Birthday Blues

I have a confession to make. I’m not fond of birthdays. Well, not all birthdays, just my own. Birthdays remind me I’m a year older, and it’s another year I haven’t accomplished even a fraction of the things I want to do before I die—and every year that passes, I realize the opportunities will only diminish.
Honestly, I believe my thing about birthdays goes back a lot further. I was adopted, and somehow, even though I know the parents who raised me loved me with their whole beings, a little voice still whispers in my ear things like, you weren’t wanted. You aren’t good enough. Well-meaning family members deepened those thoughts by introducing me as, “Roland and Nelva’s adopted daughter.” My mind always read that as adopted second-rate daughter.

As much as I’ve tried to silence that stupid voice, it has spilled over into nearly every aspect of my life. I was also ruthlessly bullied growing up. (Even within my own extended family) I lived on the wrong side of town, and my parents didn’t have a lot of money, so I was the somewhat geeky girl with messy hair, pop-bottle thick glasses and weird hand-me-down clothes. Might as well have painted a big red victim target on my back. I remember trying to tell a teacher in grade school about a classmate who pushed me down on the playground. Her response? “Someday, he’ll be a big football star, and you’ll like him a whole lot more.” Guess what? That guy ended up playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It did nothing to improve my opinion of him.
These subtle messages played in my head while I was growing up, and I consciously and subconsciously tried to drown them out by trying to be the best I could at everything. I became the girl who would get a 99% on a test, and argue the one point, because I wanted to be perfect. I ended up in doomed relationships, because in my need for acceptance, I was unable to formulate healthy boundaries.
I don’t want anyone to think I’m going off the deep end into depression or anything, because I’m not. But, when people asked what I did for my birthday, and I say, laundry, cooked dinner, and cleaned my apartment a little, they act surprised. My daughter asked me last night why I didn’t have a cake or anything. Because I didn’t want to bake a cake for myself? I still have a few nightmares about graduations when I was a cake decorator. That might have something to do with it as well.
I have four wonderful grown children, and an equally amazing step-daughter that I love dearly. All but the step-daughter have their hands full with spouses (equally awesome people) and at least two small children apiece. (My kids have made reproducing a competitive sport) Having raised those four children, I know exactly how difficult it is to balance the demands of work, family, and self. But, it’s hard to not allow those same stupid voices to creep into my thinking. Sometimes those kids remember my birthday, sometimes not-so-much. (This year was half and half) I’m not always the “cool grandparent.” I live in a one-bedroom, unbaby-proofed apartment littered with books, and writing implements. And dogs. Don’t forget the dogs.  Plus, between work, writing, ghost hunting, and the special people in my life, I live a rich and full life. Time is always a challenge.

I’m sharing my thoughts, because I have a suspicion I’m not the only person in the world who has a love-hate relationship with birthdays. Oh, as for my personal boundaries, they are fine, thank you very much. Test me at your own peril. I write, which is an area where one can excel, but never master—and I’m okay with that. I bleed a bit of my soul onto the page in hope that it resonates with someone. I’m proud of my Iranian heritage, and my German/Czech small-town Nebraskan upbringing. I have amazing friends and family, and a new book release to boot. Life is good. But I will probably always get at least a little introspective around June 10th. 

Lessons from a Movie Set

Amazing graffiti art on the walls on the set. 
Last night, at nearly 11 pm, I made it home from the first day of filming a feature film entitled “Remission.”  One day on set makes me an expert, right?  Okay, not even close, but since I am participating in this project, I thought I would pass along any random wisdom I manage to glean from the process.  Here goes the lessons from Day 1:
 Leave your ego at the door.  As a writer, my job is to take a story idea, and show it in words on a page.  It’s for the most part, a rather solitary endeavor.  Movie making is more like a hive-mentality.  Every person on the set has a vision for what the story should look/sound like. Writers, directors, actors, effects crew, sound technicians, and they guy who brings the donuts.  (They were great, by the way, along with the Mulligatawny stew)  The goal is to meld all of those visions into one cohesive whole.  It’s the director’s job, and a lot like herding cats.  For the process to flow, everyone needs to be willing to work together, and if your ego gets in the way, the whole thing can derail.  It doesn’t take years of set-work to see how a Diva can develop the relationship where no one wants to work with them.  A “What can I do to help?” attitude will take you much further.
Contrary to popular belief, movie making is not glamorous.  Yeah, the big Hollywood stars may get posh trailers, and pampering assistants. But even then, stars have to do things like stand around for countless takes in freezing weather clad in totally weather-inappropriate attire to get the perfect scene. Get used to no heat, and the nearest bathroom being a gas station four blocks away. It’s dirty, cold/hot/wet work sometimes. My respect for actors who can film scenes while hiding their shivering.
Follow direction.  “Quiet on the set,” basically means “don’t breathe, unless given permission.”  Nothing worse than getting nearly through a difficult scene, with near-perfection, then having it ruined by noise contamination.
Make friends!  It’s not about name-dropping, or shameless self-promotion.  True networking involves forging relationships.  If you can’t be genuine, you’re going to struggle.  It goes back to the whole ego thing.  In a line ripped right from the script… “You know what happens if you bite the hand that feeds you? Eventually, it will let you starve.”  Let’s face it, whether it’s Hollywood, or Nebraska, the film community is pretty small.  You want to make a name for yourself, make it be that you add value to a production.  That you’re to be trusted.  That you’ll be a supporter, cheerleader, and a hard worker.  
Fist-bumps to my fellow cast and crew from Remission.  We rock!
 On the set, after about 10 hours of filming in single-digit temperatures. 
More uuber-cool graffiti art in the background. 

“Look”, It’s a Hook for a Book!

My friend, and fellow Nebraska Writers Guild author, Brian Crouse,  invited me to post an few paragraphs of what I’m working on. The rules of this game say the word “look” has to be in the sample. 

I’ve been working on the novel adaptation of my script, “Modified Flight Plan,” co-authored with my good friend and writing partner, triple-amputee pilot, Brian Thomas. I typed “look” into my search box, and the first section that came up is one of my favorite passages, a pivotal moment from early in the story, before Brian became an amputee.  Without further ado, here is an excerpt from “Modified Flight Plan,” due out in 2013. 

Brian threw his book bag, keys, and motorcycle helmet, on the kitchen counter. Mom turned from the sink. Soapy water dripped from her hands as she reached for a towel. He knew the look on her face. Distant and sad. She knew something–and whatever it was, he most likely wouldn’t like it. She picked up an envelope from the counter and handed it to him. Her voice caught. “I’m so sorry, honey.”
His hands shook as he pulled the sheet of paper from the envelope. His ears rang and heat flushed into his face. “We regret to inform you that due to uncontrolled platelet counts related to your Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura, your medical certificate has been revoked. Please return any certificates to Federal Aviation Administration, Aerospace Medical Certification Division, AAM-300 , CAMI Building , 6500 S. MacArthur Blvd, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73169
He threw the paper on the counter, grabbed his helmet and keys, and stormed out the door. Somewhere his mind registered Mom’s voice calling after him, but all he could think was he had to get out of there.
At first he just rode, not even mindful of where he was. Nothing but the growl of the engine, the vibration of the pavement beneath him, and the rhythmic swirl of wind as it whipped past him. Eventually, Brian found himself at the marina overlooking the wide sprawl of the upper Missouri river before it reached Gavin’s Point Dam. He parked the bike and wandered out to sit. The cool breeze off the water brushed against his hair as he stared out over the water and surveyed the Nebraska bluffs on the other side.
The thought flashed across his mind that it wouldn’t take much to let the rushing water pull him under and drown what remained of his soul. They can’t take flying away from me. It was all that kept him going through the bleeding, the chemo, with all the horrible side effects. Knowing that for those precious few hours, he’d soar with the eagles. His dad was a pilot. So was his mom. His oldest brother, Dana, had left home for the Air Force when he was in second grade. It wasn’t fair.
He absent-mindedly picked up a rock and tossed it a few times in his hands, then threw it as hard as he could into the river. His eyes stung with tears, but even alone, he refused to let them fall. Brian took in a deep breath. He knew where to go. The only place in the world he could go.
By the time he reached the Springfield Airport, darkness had already fallen. His headlight cut a deep cone into the moonless night. He slid the corrugated steel hangar door open and caressed the side of the plane as he approached the cockpit door. He reached inside, turned the master switch on and flipped a couple of switches on the dashboard. Behind him, the runway lights turned on, two long rows of white cutting the surrounding corn field in a swath. He walked out to the airstrip and sat in the center of the asphalt runway.
 He had no idea how long he’d been there, nothing but the gentle breeze rustling the cornstalks when something disturbed the air beside him. Dad patted his shoulder as he sat down beside him. His deep voice softened. “You can’t keep a good pilot down.”
Brian scoffed. “Tell that to the FAA.”
Dad shook his head and laughed. “Not like I’ve ever known you to follow the rules.”
“This time, I might have to.”
Dad’s big palm clapped his shoulder again. “You’ll beat it. If anyone can find a way, it will be you.”
“I’m cursed. We hoped one day I’d outgrow it, and I’d be normal. Now I’m older and things keep getting worse.”


I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from our upcoming book!  Now, head over to check out another friend, author Ron Heacock, who will share some of his upcoming book as well!  Ron is a man of many talents and artistic endeavors, and I can’t wait to get a “look” at what he’s working on!  If you’d like to share a “look” at your work in progress, join in, and post a link to your blog post in your comments below!  I’m “look”ing forward to seeing what you’re working on, too.