I first learned about October 15 in 2007. I posted a hurried message about it, encouraging proud angel mamas to spread the word and light their candles at 7 p.m. their time. I didn’t know a lot about the day or the founder, but I knew it was a good thing, the sort of big event I was looking for.
My own web site was already nine years old, the time when you start to try and shake up what has become routine. I wanted to keep growing and moving us forward. I remember feeling frustration (and I still do) that mothers felt they had to “hide” their losses and that talking about their babies was still such a taboo. We’d gotten nowhere.
And along came Robyn Bear and her site for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. She and a team of volunteers took the measure to the legislatures of all fifty states and got it passed federally as well. I was amazed at their effort and the years they spent making this happen.
Naturally I reached out to Robyn pretty quickly. Someone with that much staying power, already seven years post-loss and still going strong, was going to be a big part of the baby loss community. Turns out, she was also very generous and friendly.
This year I decided ENOUGH, and packed my family in the car and drove four hours to where Robyn lives to deliver a box of books she had ordered from me personally. We had lunch in a little restaurant in her home town, and she was amazingly just as wonderful as I thought she would be!
Our miracles babies (okay, tweens and teens) sat at one end, and the husbands chatted about work and weather, while we reviewed our two journeys through loss and the determination to actually get involved in the lives of other grieving mothers, and to carve businesses from this so that we could continue working with the community full-time.
I think our partnership in making sure the needs of baby loss moms are met has only grown stronger by meeting face to face. We may have our separate web sites and support groups, and she may focus on Oct. 15 candle lightings as well as remembrance items and jewelry (and man, does she find some beautiful stuff), while I focus on books and information and support groups, but we are definitely united in one thing — making sure women facing these impossible losses have a place to go, a community to talk to, and ways to memorialize and remember their babies.
I see a day twenty years from now when we’re little old ladies, and still holding the virtual hands of the young women who need us. We’re here for the long haul. We’re here for all of you. I can’t imagine a more perfectly suited partner or a more beautiful person, inside and out.
I’m not a television watcher whatsoever. I’m often clueless about major TV events. I never saw a single episode of Survivor or The Office or even Friends.
But Glee had such an intense online push that even a small-screen luddite like me had to notice. It showed up in my Facebook sidebar, on banner ads, invading my web space. Finally, I clicked.
And I was hooked. The concept was amazing and the pilot spot-on perfect. I was reminded of my own days teaching high school and admiring the amazing talent that sometimes came through my doors.
Cory Monteith played a character that fit him. He did not come to the show with mega-singing chops. He was everyman, and watching him perform with a talent like Lea Michele made us all feel as though any of us could hold our own on stage.
Learning that someone like Cory died so young breaks my heart. I’ve enjoyed reliving some of my favorite Gleek days, in particularly this one below. I remember how hard I cried my head off during this episode when Cory’s character Finn has been told he will be a father, and he sings to this sonogram.
Today, watching it again, I realize how full-circle my Glee fandom has come. Fans of my upcoming book Forever Innocent voted Finn as the name of the baby in the story, which features a young high school father much like Cory’s character, trying to do the right thing by his girlfriend and his son, but messes up spectacularly. This song and this moment was just perfect, so I share it with you all one more time.
I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable during your exercise regimen, really.
See, I got up today and things were so totally normal. 6:20 alarm. Made lunches for my two girls. Set out outfits. Got Child 2 to show choir rehearsal. Got Child 1 to the bus. Tracked down missing item for talent show and took it up to school.
I mean, all was well, right? I arrived at the running path and set off like normal.
Except that at some point, 2 miles in, everything went wrong. One minute I’m zipping along, darting around muddy spots, and the next minute I’m bent over, sobbing my fool head off.
People of the Trail, I know this was disconcerting. I beelined for a bench, a little off to one side. I meant to sit ON the bench, really, but missed and ended up sitting in the mud with my head in my arms.
I’m sorry that it might have caused you concern.
See, today is a little harder than I’m letting on. Today Child 2 gets yanked from school, taken to the hospital, and wired up again. She is taking this too well, with a little too much shrug in her shoulders, and I hate that her sunny little life has gone so gray this year. Anti-seizure meds not working? Shrug. Failing school? Shrug. Hates her practical hair cut for the wires? Shrug. Missing the yearbook staff party, the culmination of a year’s work? Shrug.
Maybe I was crying for her, for the kid who didn’t really deserve all this disaster, who got a “bucket” from her fifth-grade class yesterday that was full of “You’re nice and kind to EVERYONE” and “Great smile, britens my day.”
But among the people trying to keep their pace up and avoid the crazy crying woman, there was that man, the one I’ve seen on the trail every day, and worried over actually. Seventy, easy, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and baggy khakis with a funny old-timey cap pulled low over his dark eyes. His sun-worn brown face always shifts into a big bright smile when we pass each other, his shabby Hush Puppy loafers shuffling in front of the other. “Buenos dias,” he always says with a nod. “Good morning,” I answer.
He thinks I didn’t know who he was when he walked up, but I knew his shoes, the pants, the shuffled step. I waited until he was gone and pulled myself together. He’d left a rose on the wet bench. When I looked either way on the trail, I didn’t see him.
I do what we do in these moments, pulled myself up and brushed dirt and wet mulch from my legs. I recognized the rose from the bushes in front of the bank, plucked, no doubt, but I had a feeling where this guy comes from, forgiveness is stored in buckets by the door.
Maybe you don’t believe in guardian angels, but I’m pretty sure I do now. Whether they are celestial beings or real people, doesn’t matter, but I know they are out there. And those of us going through whatever we are forced to endure, sometimes it just takes looking to see them, and sometimes it just takes having faith that they are there.
In late 2011 I joined the Kboards, an online forum that had become a hotbed of information for indie authors trying to make inroads in selling digital books. At the time, Amanda Hocking’s books were just about to hit brick-and-mortar stores, and everyone was abuzz with what was possible. Getting a traditional deal from indie sales was considered the pinnacle of success.
Fifteen months later, the world has turned upside down again. Many of the Kboarders I am friends with have turned DOWN traditional deals, raking in tens of thousands of dollars a month they know they couldn’t get from old-school publishers. Stories about rights grabs and bad contracts have made everyone skittish, and only a handful of literary agents have the indie seal of approval for truly caring about independent rights.
Into the mix comes Hugh Howey, the newest indie hero, about to start his US hardcover and paperback book tour after securing a landmark deal — after turning down dozens of publishers who wanted his digital rights, he signed a paper-only deal with Simon and Schuster.
Hugh is waking up in Austin today, and last night he met with my Austin Java writing group for a little down time before his US book tour gets grueling. He’s speaking at SXSW on Sunday and will launch his hardcover edition of Wool on Monday at BookPeople at 7 p.m.
It’s always a treat to meet in person someone you’ve only known online. Hugh got on my radar right away, as his little short story had just taken off and he was writing serial sequels as fast as he could in December 2011. As one of the personalities on the forum that other writers could appreciate and laugh with, his hilarious videos for milestones reminded us not to take the journey too seriously, including dancing in clown fish slippers when he hit 100 reviews in February 2012.
The 100-review landmark seems funny now that he has over 5000, but many of us watching Hugh’s rapid ascent were thrilled. If anyone could join the ranks of John Locke and Amanda Hocking and still come back to tell us about the highs and lows of the journey, Hugh could.
As he completed Wool and created an omnibus edition, he ordered paper copies of his new work I, Zombie. Live streaming video showed him opening boxes and signing the copies (sometimes in blood!) Hugh knew how to work a crowd, and his fan base went from appreciative to increasingly intense and ready to buy anything he offered up.
His journey hits an apex today as he is featured in the Wall Street Journal. When we talked last night over decaf, he said he kept thinking everything would slow down, but the sales and invitations and new heights just keep coming. He’d just gotten back to the States from Europe, and after a few weeks on the US tour, heads to Australia (where super fan and fellow KBoarder David Adams is anxious to meet him too!) No doubt if the film rights snapped up by Ridley Scott become an actual movie, Hugh will find himself on another wild ride.
If I’ve learned anything from my friendships on the KBoards, it’s how easily energy created in the digital world can translate to real life. Meeting someone like Hugh, whose journey I had followed for so long, and with whom I’d had numerous posting and commenting conversations with, was just an extension of the fun and sharing that happen in online communities.
And for those of us publishing digital books, Hugh is paving the way for our next journey — navigating from ebooks and pure independent control to one where we rely, at least in part, on publishers for the packaging and distribution of paper copies of our work. Hugh has paved the way, and it’s up to the rest of us to stand our ground for better rights and royalties. Because when it’s done right, when it’s done the way Hugh has managed to do it, we really are in control of our own destinies.
Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sometimes when I look around, I see a lot of lost people. Some are justifiably sad—tragedy is happening to them right now. Some have had past losses, and they look to those dark days as the reason why they are still living without joy.
Others are just taking life day by day, waiting for something, the One Big Thing they’ve always imagined, and regularly seem to sink when another night comes, and it hasn’t happened.
I had lost years myself. I spent my twenties in pursuit of nothing special. A whole decade of stumbling around, switching jobs, always wanting something else. The not-now. The better-down-the-road.
Then something big DID happen. Not a book deal or a lottery or sudden fame. The worst sort of thing. As I rolled down what would be considered an ordinary life—marriage-first-house-pregnancy, my baby died. Just died.
This is where my road divided. I had three choices:
- Feel stuck and bitter and grief stricken.
- Pretend it never happened and move forward.
- Turn this moment into my personal call to a life that mattered.
Everyone who is reading this blog knows what I did. I changed everything. Since then I’ve given speeches, run web sites, written books, and made myself as available as possible to any Baby Loss Mom who approached me. It’s been 14 years—coming up on 15 very soon and I haven’t slowed down one bit.
I was lucky. I recognized when life handed me a purpose. Loud and clear I got the message that this terrible event was the thing that could save me. And while I’d certainly trade my life now for the life I could have had with Casey, I made sure, absolutely sure, that I never doubted why I had been brought on this planet, and why he had, so briefly, made his small appearance.
I can tell you — there is a reason for you too. Somewhere in your life there has been or will be a Call to Action. My hope is that everyone sees it when it comes. And that it not only gets you through whatever is happening — life, death, poverty, oppression, bullying, loss, overwhelm — but that you grow so much from it that you expand and envelop others who can learn from what you have endured.
My wish is that you too can take your experiences and turn them into action, mold your life into a passion, review what you have survived and bring about change.
It’s in everyone. The tall and the small. Elizabeth is only ten and she gets it — she made her whole class study epilepsy last year and over half of them chose the Epilepsy Foundation as their non-profit to support in the community service. One purple scarf given to her last month means dozens more will be made in her Knitting Club to give to other kids.
Look around you. Look at yourself. Take what is difficult and turn it into good. Learn from what you did wrong and lift a stumbling block from someone else.
Be the change you’re looking for.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
While we were there, the Nurse Practicioner came in with several hand-made scarves in varying shades of purple, the color chosen for epilepsy awareness. “Pick one,” she said.
Elizabeth was shy about it, but eventually selected a simple solid purple scarf with an intricate weave. On it was a round sticker that read “The Purple Stitch Project.”
The meeting went on, about her sudden weight loss (10% of her body weight in three months), her sudden downturn in school (we sign failing papers almost daily), and her overall feeling of tiredness and well, just blues.
We’re not giving up on the medicine, as it’s the last one they’ll give us. We’ve been through others, and while sometimes they work for a while, the seizures return, often more frightening than the last. Elizabeth, now 10, has been medicated for three years. We’ve been through seizures in the swimming pool, at the top of playscapes, in restaurants, at parks, many at school, including one during a whole-school assembly.
Life isn’t easy.
But she held on to this scarf as we left, puzzling over the stitches. She had joined a knitting club last year and wondered how hard this particular pattern was to follow. I asked her if she wanted to make scarves for the Purple Stitch Project herself, and then she had the brainstorm that maybe the whole club would.
I wrote the mom who runs the club, who thought this was a fantastic idea–the girls making scarves as community service. They’re going to stock up on purple yarn when they start the club up again in the spring. The one scarf given to Elizabeth will keep on giving–both in providing gifts to other children with epilepsy, but also making sure the thing that makes her different from her friends is something they can talk about, to bring them together rather than set her apart.
I don’t know everything that goes on inside Elizabeth’s mind, the changes in weight and self-image, going from from manic energy to lethargy, from seeing the silver lining everywhere to feeling surrounded by doom, to doing well in school to having trouble concentrating on anything.
We do the best we can.
If you knit, we encourage you to join in. Make something purple and send it in to the Purple Stitch Project. The child who gets it just might be someone you know, someone like Elizabeth, who will take your one scarf and turn it into something much, much more.
Writers who are thinking of self publishing, please, PLEASE do your research before you write a check to anyone. Even the once-trusted names are stepping into the Vanity Publishing zone, this time Simon and Schuster.
These packages are overpriced, managed by a third-party company known for poor work (Author Solutions), plus S&S takes HALF of what you earn, after CHARGING you to publish it. And for nothing–the S&S name is nowhere on your work and they have nothing to do with it.
The farther you go from working directly with the cover artist, formatter, and editor, the worse your experience can be. Hiring direct and uploading your work yourself is always in your best interest. Need a list of who to hire? Here’s a great one: Helpful Links for Indie Writers
And never, EVER, pay to have your book formatted and prepped and then ALSO give that company part of your earnings. It’s one or the other, not both.
Realize many authors learn these steps themselves and have ZERO cost to publishing their book.
But if that is not you, here’s current rates for getting a book out in the world if you hire out every single step:
- Digital book cover design: $50 to $300
- Wrap around book cover design for paperbacks: $145 to $450
- Ebook formatting: $50 to $100
- Interior paperback formatting: $150 to $800 (depending on complexity of book, novels on the low end, nonfiction with graphics are more)
- Copy Editing an 80,000 word novel: $500 to $3000 (proofreading for grammar on the low end, line editing for content on the higher)
- Proofs and miscellaneous: $50 to $150 depending on if you get your own ISBN or run several proofs
Total for getting your book in the world if you don’t do anything but write it:
Ebook only: $600 with editing
With paperback: $950 with editing
If you have a grammar Nazi in your family, then you can probably do it for as little as $100 for cover and formatting.
What Simon and Schuster will charge you for these same services:
And take half of your earnings.
I’m sure all those years ago, when you and a few friends cooked up the crazy idea to write 50,000 words in a month, you had no idea the impact this new event might have on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the world.
Let me tell you how much it changed mine.
In October 2005, I had a broken heart, two small children, and no idea how to find the time to write the book I wanted so much to get on paper. As a self-employed single mom who lost most of her friends in the divorce, I struggled in every way.
But a librarian had told me about NaNoWriMo, and I wondered if I should try it. Somewhere between diapers and custody hand offs and school pick ups and photography clients, I would make it happen.
So I got myself to the Midnight Write that year, organized by the incredible Austin Penguins, a well-established local chapter. I didn’t know a single person but sat at a table in a 24-hour cafe, surrounded by other determined writers, typing the opening words to a novel I’d been thinking about for a year.
About a week in, at a writing meet up at a coffee shop called Austin Java, I sat down by two women, who let me know it was cheap wine night and to avail myself of a glass. They introduced themselves as Ivy and Audrey. A few minutes later, a fourth person, a guy who went by Fool, joined us.
The evening, greased by red wine and a sense of hilarity in trying to write novels on such a short timeline, caused us to laugh and joke and try to out-wit each other with ridiculous scenes.
We became tight friends, and on the last night of November, I made my word count, as did Audrey and Fool. I had done it. 50,000 words. A novel more than half finished. And friends.
We celebrated the next Saturday at a party hosted by the Penguins, then made our way to a jazz bar called The Elephant Room. We were met by a man named Kurt, a friend of Audrey’s, who wrote me a few days later to ask if he could read my work. With the encouragement of the Austin Java crew, Kurt and I began dating.
This last June, we were married.
The Austin Java group, now bigger and even more amazing, still meets every week for wine and writing. Many of them flew to New York for our destination wedding. We held it in a bookstore, of course. Both Kurt and I do NaNoWriMo now. It’s something we always make time for.
Three of my NaNoWriMo novels have been published. I am living my dream of being a full-time writer, and I have a following now who signs up to read my NaNo excerpts as I release them during November.
My life is amazing.
So Chris, maybe you had no idea that your idea would have such an impact. But the trajectory of my life completely altered by what you started.
And so, thank you.
It’s been an amazing year with Baby Dust. Thousands and thousands of copies out in the world. So many new friends. So many bloggers featuring the book. I have to pinch myself almost every day.
If you’re attending the book festival in Austin, you can find me easily at two times:
- The Writers’ League of Texas is sponsoring a book signing at their booth in the festival tents for me on Sunday, Oct. 28 from 3-4 p.m. I will have all my books there.
- I wil be hosting the Writerly Lunch on the Lawn from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday on the lawn of the Capitol behind the food tents. I’ll have signs up, plus my pink pigtails are hard to miss. Come say hello!
At the Texas Indie Authors booth I will have Baby Dust and In the Company of Angels, the memorial book for recording details of your pregnancy. I might end up doing a signing over there too, but right now I’m planning to step aside and let all the other awesome TIA authors have their moment since I will already have a signing time.
It’s exciting and amazing! I hope you say hello if you are there!
For those of you in the US, this post is going up a bit early due to the international nature of my site, but Oct. 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This day was designated by all 50 states in the US through the efforts of Robyn Bear (a lovely fellow-Texas girl!)
On this day, at 7 p.m. your time, grieving families light a candle for their babies lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, or early perinatal death for one hour. As each time zone extinguishes their candles, the next one will light theirs, creating the continuous Wave of Light across the world.
Some families opt to do this alone at home. Others will invite friends, family, or fellow baby loss moms to come over. Across the world, official walks and candle lightings are formed. To see if there is one near you, check this page: http://www.october15th.com/activities-walks/
Here in Austin, Texas, I have hosted the candle lighting for many years.
We will be down at the pond behind the Long Center. (This area is called Butler Park and is near the lighted fountains, at the base of the hill.) We will light our candles between 7 and 8 p.m.
Parking is easiest along Riverside or in the lot off Dawson Road. Most of the runners are leaving, so you can usually find a spot if you see someone heading to their car. You should be able to spot us by our candles and signs. I will have candles for everyone, and many parents will bring theirs too.
Here is a map.
See the Facebook page for more info.
If you need music to play during your hour, I have compiled a list of YouTube videos that will play in order and be long enough for your hour.