The Storm

Greetings, Friends!

I hope you’re all doing well! According to my most recent blood tests a couple of weeks ago, I’m still in an active flare that has been going on since “at least September” according to my rheumatologist. She’s had me on a couple of rounds of major steroids on top of the daily steroids I already take, and they seem to be helping somewhat. At least my sed rate number is getting lower and closer to “normal” (which means less inflammation).

Since May is Lupus Awareness Month, I wanted to share a quick bit of info as well as a poem I wrote which will explain what I’ve been up to behind the scenes (besides completely overhauling my blog — Please feel free to take a look around and tell me what you think of all the changes and new stuff.)…

Lupus Awareness Wolf

Lupus is Latin for wolf. In the 18th century when lupus was just starting to be recognized as a disease, it was thought that it was caused by the bite of a wolf because of the distinctive rash characteristic of lupus. (Once full-blown, the butterfly-shaped rash heals from the inside out, leaving a bite-like mark.)

“THE STORM”
By: Rachel Carrera

Streaks of light stagger across ebony space,
Jagged lightning followed by the crash of thunder,
The roaring, rolling, rumbling sounds race;
In their wake, remnants of life split asunder.

The storm that rages often spins out of control,
It’s a fiery, ferocious, fierce beast,
A tsunami that crashes and crushes the shore
And demands to be free and unleashed.

All signs of life seem to be gone from within
As the cyclone swirls showing no mercy,
Causing an emotional collapse and tailspin,
The result of internal controversy.

This storm that I speak of is not in the sky
But within the confines of my person;
The disease that ravages me can’t justify
Why it causes my symptoms to worsen.

Whoever said once that life is unfair
Really did quite a disservice
To all who suffer this hellish nightmare;
I can’t think of one soul who deserves this.

Just getting through a day is so stressful
And feels like I’ve been fighting a war,
And looking in the mirror has now become dreadful;
I don’t recognize my own face anymore!

The pain with each step shoots fire through my limbs
As I place one foot in front of the other;
And the throbbing that causes my head to spin
Leaves little hope that I’ll ever recover.

But the pain is nothing compared to the dread
Of the horror that could be in my future,
Of organ failure causing my life to ebb,
And disfigurement from my abuser.

I throw up each day, though I never lose weight,
And my hair falls out by the handful;
I just want this storm to not be my cruel fate
And not extinguish my hope’s flickering candle.

This beast steals my sleep so I can’t even rest
While this battle continues inside;
My immune system is now in a state of protest,
Like an avalanche causing a landslide.

Even the slightest cold now kicks my tail
As germs stay with me like a cloud cover;
A sniffle, a cough causes a vicious gale
And I take weeks, sometimes months to recover.

I haven’t even mentioned the rash that I get
From where my disease gets its name;
It resembles a wolf’s bite, not letting me forget
To add something else to my shame.

But the thing that propels me through each passing day
Is knowing so many more have it worse,
And the lost prospect of their illnesses going away
Makes them feel like victims of a curse.

Their neuroblastoma, their Alzheimer’s, and
Their Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis,
Their aortic aneurysms, swollen lymph glands,
Their Huntington’s and cystic fibrosis,

Their cancers, their famine, their anguish and sorrow
Make my lupus feel suddenly diminished;
If they can dare dream of waking up tomorrow,
Then maybe my life’s not yet finished.

So I hold tight to my flickering hope’s candle in the wind
As I seek out a ray of bright sunshine;
And far in the distance and around the bend,
I can almost make out a dark coastline,

Where the waves come crashing as they roll on the beach
As they beat on the shore with their fury;
Suddenly, the horizon feels almost within reach,
So I force my broken body to hurry.

When I get to the dark shore, the sun starts to rise,
And the waves relax some of their mad thunder;
The faint glint of sunlight that now shines in my eyes
Gives me hope that I won’t be pulled under.

A slight brightness follows the gloomy eclipse
As the downpour now wanes to a drizzle;
No longer does life seem like an Apocalypse;
It renews hope that my symptoms might fizzle.

Despite my sore muscles and pain in my bones,
My frequent fevers and inflammation,
And the many medicines that mess up my hormones
Yet promise to be my salvation,

I am told by my doctor when this flare goes away
That I’ll soon have more good days than dreadful;
And blue skies will at that time replace all the grey,
And I can finally slay this cruel devil.

So I’ll take cover now as I wait out this monsoon,
Keep my vigil even if I collapse,
Keep my eye on the sunlight instead of the moon
And have faith that the squall will elapse.

*~*~*~*~*

So let’s talk: Did you know where lupus got its name? Did you notice I’ve been working behind the scenes to revamp my blog? What have you been doing?

#LupusAwareness

A New Set of Bullies

Happy New Year, dear friends.  As many of you know, 2016 was a roller coaster ride for me, both physically and emotionally, because of my health.  I puked nearly every day and absolutely every week, no less than twice a week, with the exception of a very few times when I found intermittent relief with one gimmicky pill or another.

I developed what I thought were more food sensitivities, as I had increased swelling and pain after ingesting certain ingredients.  For nearly all of 2016, I almost exclusively ate grilled cheese sandwiches because that was about all I could hold down.  (I used to say the only thing better than cheese is more cheese.  Do you know how sick I am of cheese now?)  And I got sicker.

I had my intensely infected gallbladder removed which provided temporary relief, only to find out that the surgeon left an extremely calcified and diseased gallstone in me which made me sicker than ever for nearly a month until it worked itself out.    And I got sicker.

I literally ate acid before each meal to help it digest before I vomited it.  And I got sicker.

My energy was ebbing to the point that I barely was able to stay awake for work hours only.  I was losing big clumps of hair everywhere.  Every. Single. Day.  My vision was blurred, and I was dizzy most of the time.  And I got sicker.

I put up with asshole “friends, acquaintances, and family” calling me a hypochondriac, telling me I didn’t “look sick,” doubting that I vomited as often as I claimed because I hadn’t lost much weight, telling me I needed to see a psychiatrist, and advising me to seek mental help.  I became the butt of their jokes, either by claiming, “Oh, we can’t serve that food; we might as well serve cardboard or Rachel might throw it up,” or “Maybe instead of visiting the toilet, you should visit the psychiatrist’s couch.”  I tried to force a smile.  I tried to shrug it off and not be a bad sport.

But I was boiling inside!

Can you imagine how stressful it is to not know what’s wrong with you, to want to eat like normal people, and to select a meal not based on price, availability, or taste, but rather solely on how it might taste when I throw it up later? The simple question, “What’s for dinner?” literally reduced me to tears on more than one occasion.

I feel that most of these so-called “friends” were no less bullies than the jerks on the playground when I was a kid.  I know they thought they were funny or cute, or they didn’t know what to say, or they were the type that needed to “fix something” and because they didn’t know how to “fix me” they had to just say something.  But the sharpness of their words stung just the same.

After over 6 months of tests with no real answers, I was disgusted by doctors, and just fed up with life in general.  And then my hair started falling out even more.  Since I’d already been diagnosed as anemic, I made an appointment at an entirely different clinic, hoping I could just get an iron infusion and not have to wait for the pills to kick in.  As I mentioned in my last post in October, this doctor was awesome!  He’s the epitome of what a doctor should be.  I kept the focus of my issues just on the low iron anemia because I didn’t want to go through the same intense GI tests that I’d already had to no avail.

I accepted that hugging the toilet was a way of life, and I just wanted my energy and hair back.

He kept asking different questions, and I kept my answers vague because I only went there for the infusion prescription.  I got annoyed when he asked if I was “regular” (because that’s none of his business, right?), so I rolled my eyes and dismissed the question with, “No, but I’ve been that way for years because I feel swollen inside after I eat most foods.  It’s just how I react with food sensitivities…”

The word “swollen” caught him, and he started writing so fast, his pen was a blur.  He went from ordering a couple of tests to more like fifteen.  When a couple of those results came back irregular, he repeated them then sent me to a specialist when they came back irregular a second time.

So, apparently, I’ve been wrong for years.  The swelling I get after certain foods is not a sensitivity or allergy.  The pain and swelling I get after eating or upon waking the day after I eat a “no-no ingredient” is also not from a sensitivity or allergy.  My dizziness and exhaustion is not necessarily from having low to no nutritional value to my diet.  And my chronic vomiting is not from a sensitivity or allergy.

I was diagnosed with lupus.

I’ve tried to avoid telling people so far because I wasn’t ready to have to deal with the stupid comments from the same jerks that made me the butt of their jokes.  But there were certain people I had to inform, and, yes, it’s left me just as angry and pissed off as before!

Lupus kills!

It can cause excruciating pain in any part of your body.  It can destroy your organs, including robbing you of your eyesight, your hearing, and even your brain!  (I now wonder if that’s why my gallbladder was so filled with infection.)  You often have to avoid the sun with lupus because sunlight can cause a flare.  Stress can cause a flare.  Food can cause a flare.  Colds or infections can cause a flare.  Exhaustion or an injury can cause a flare.

If you’re unaware, lupus is an overactive immune system which causes your immune system to attack everything, even healthy cells and tissues, organs, etc., within your own body.  So just being around someone with a simple head cold means I can get their cold, take 3 or 4 times as long to heal, and possibly even get a worse infection from it, and then of course, deal with a flare.

I always thought I had a poor immune system.  I never realized I actually had an overactive immune system (which results in the same thing: slow healing time, easily infected, etc.).  So everything I’ve done to try to boost my immune system has been counter-productive, actually causing my immune system to work even harder and fight against my own body even more.  {I’ve already dealt with this since my diagnosis, having had bronchitis since Thanksgiving weekend, and I’m just now starting to get over it!}

During a flare, you can expect, pain, inflammation, swelling, vomiting, migraines, hair loss, facial rashes, fatigue, dizziness, memory loss, cognitive skill loss, and organ damage.

It’s scary as hell!

Yes, it is true that between 80% to 90% of people diagnosed with lupus can have a normal lifespan with the appropriate medication and monitoring, and I pray to God that I’m one of them.  But so far, the medicine I’m taking also causes hair loss, muscle loss, dizziness, water retention, brain fog, and it can cause a dreadful sounding condition called “moon face” where your face grows and flattens out from fluid (Thank God I haven’t had that yet – and thankfully it is reversible if you stop taking the medicine).  But I have had increased loss of hair, loss of muscle, a lot of forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, and worse yet, the loss of speech!  It is so frightening to be in the middle of a conversation and know what you want to say, yet not be able to make the words leave your lips!  (Oh, and by the way, I’m still puking regularly, but the doctor says once one of these medicines kicks in some six months from when I started taking it, that should level out.)

The Impact of Lupus of the BodyI now feel stupid and ugly!

I’m angry because I’ve already dealt with a world of shit, and despite that, I’ve still tried my best to refrain from complaining, but I don’t deserve this (not that anyone does!).  I’m pissed because the idiot doctors I saw since 2015 never once sent me for any of these tests so I could get a handle on this sooner.  And I’m scared to death!  Because while there are plenty of people with a long lifespan, there are also plenty of people who die from this awful disease long before they should, and their only solace from it is that they’re finally out of their excruciating pain.

I know I probably sound like a wimpy whiner.  I know many of you probably have lupus and are living just fine.  And I’m sure I’ll “settle in” to my diagnosis soon enough.  I just wish I had  a better “support system” in place to help me deal with the scariness of all the unanswered questions I still have.

That being said, do you know how many of the same assholes who played me off as their joke have had the nerve to tell me, “Well, at least you finally got a diagnosis,” or, “Oh,  my aunt died of that,” or, “Oh, that’s nothing.  I knew someone once with that, and she lived a normal life.”  But the absolute worst has been, “What’s lupus? [Then I explain as above…] Oh, I know what you mean!  Once, I took a medicine that made me lose my hair for almost six weeks, and it drove me crazy…”

Reactions such as this make me want to scream! 

So while these friends of mine are probably well-intentioned, their comments throughout my journey have hurt me no less than when my arch nemesis in grade school used to pick at me relentlessly.

I’m stepping down from my soap box now.  I appreciate your allowing me to vent and kick and scream and cry on your shoulder today.  That being said, now that I’ve gotten it all out, I hope to be able to, in true Rachel fashion, pick myself up, dust myself off, and get on with my life and the act of living with this diagnosis only being a little hiccup.  I’ll definitely appreciate each and every encounter much more as I walk my journey.  When I next see my doctor (in February), I’ll get tested to see if it’s one of the medications or the disease itself that’s causing my recent brain problems, so I’d appreciate your prayers and good vibes until that time.  And I’ll keep you posted as I rearrange my bucket list and hope to have some wonderful adventures.

Let’s talk:  Have you ever received scary news from the doctor?  How did you cope?  How would you deal with people who joke at your expense to the point of being cruel or who blow off your ordeal?

East Meets West

Greetings, Friends,

As you know, I’ve had more than my fair share of health issues for the last several months.  I vomited daily for almost a year.  I had a severely infected gallbladder that had to be removed.  I had a calcified gallstone dropped inside me during surgery which caused some horrific aftermath.  I had every test known to man to find the root cause of my digestive issues.  And I had some of the rudest, most unhelpful doctors I’ve ever had the displeasure of treating with in my life.

I’m now happy to report that I finally have some answers.  I was diagnosed with idiopathic gastroparesis.  Of course idiopathic means there’s no known cause.  For those of you who don’t know what gastroparesis is, it mostly occurs in people with diabetes, which I do not have.  (Hence, why it’s idiopathic in me.)  Basically, it’s when the vagus nerve is damaged and your digestive system is sort of “paralyzed.”  (It’s actually more complicated than that, but essentially, that’s the short version of what’s going on.)  (Also, although it’s technically idiopathic – or of unknown origin — my personal observance tells me it’s stress induced.  My whole life, I’ve tended to get physically ill when under extreme stress.)

(WARNING: If you have a weak stomach, skip this paragraph.)  So essentially for the past year, when I’d eat, I would not get that queasy, nauseous feeling like when you have a stomach bug.  Rather, the food would sit like a hard lump in my stomach for hours, causing a lot of pain unless I made myself throw it up.  So, since vomiting was the only thing that felt better, I had to make myself puke after most meals.  And it would come back in “layers.”  i.e., if I ate, for example, a grilled cheese sandwich, French fries with ketchup, and chocolate pudding, I’d first throw up the pudding, then the ketchup, then the bread, then the cheese, then the potatoes.  And no matter how long after the meal, the food was always recognizable as whatever I’d eaten, even if it was the next day.

(The weak stomached can continue reading now.)  The doctor who diagnosed me really gave me no advice other than to eat several small meals rather than three big meals, puree my food or eat baby food or have liquid shake meals when possible, and avoid fat and fiber.  However, because I have so many “idiopathic food allergy symptoms” (meaning I have food allergy symptoms even though the blood tests say I’m not technically allergic) likely because food was sitting undigested in my gut for so long, I can’t even have much of a variety in the first place.

So, I was left to research my condition on my own.  Now normally, I’m a believer in Western medicine.  But there was no known Western help for me that I could find in my research.  However, what I did find was in the Eastern medicine world.  Basically, I deduced that I have a condition only known in the Eastern medicine world known as hypochlorhydria, which means that my body doesn’t produce (enough if any) stomach acid.  (Quite coincidentally, the symptoms for too little stomach acid are almost identical to those of too much stomach acid.)  Having little to no stomach acid means that my food can’t digest, and therefore, it literally sits in my gut until it rots or until I vomit.  (I still have no idea if the hypochlorhydria caused the gastroparesis or the other way around, but there’s definitely a connection, at least in me.)

gastroparesis cureSo the Eastern “cure” for this condition is this magic pill called Betaine Hydrochloride with Pepsin, which is basically artificial stomach acid coupled with a digestive enzyme (the Pepsin).  A person should start off taking one with each meal.  If, after the meal, your gut burns like hell, then you don’t have that condition, and you should not take any more pills.  But in my case, I was to then work up to increasing the pills by one per meal each week until I’m digesting well.  I’m now up to eight pills per meal.  But even though that’s a lot of pills (and I HATE swallowing pills!), I’m so happy to not be hugging the toilet every night.  I still have to puke roughly two or three times a month, but being as I was at that much per day, I’m not complaining in the least.  (And the few times a month this has happened lately, it’s been when I’ve been at the end of my rope with stress.)  Because I’m at least for the most part able to eat and digest food again, my B12 and iron deficiency anemia has gone away, my color is back, my hair isn’t falling out like it was, my vision has improved, and I’m not nearly as tired as I was.  I still don’t feel one hundred percent yet, and there are still a ton of foods I still have to avoid or else I swell, but I feel incredible compared to how I felt earlier this year when I was at death’s door.

I also want to thank you all for all your sweet emails to me checking on me and for your prayers, kind thoughts, and warm wishes.  Your concern means so much to me.  I love and miss you guys, my blogging family, and I hope to be able to return to blogging regularly soon!

So, that’s what’s been going on with me… Now tell me, what’s new with YOU?

It finally happened!

Enough talk about my failing health!  I want to share a cool story with you…  A couple of years ago, I shared a story about my close encounter of the presidential kind.

Since it’s an election year, I thought it only fitting to recap that story and give you the more recent follow up…

In 1980, I was ten years old and in the sixth grade.  That year, the presidential election was between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican Candidate Ronald Reagan.  In my Civics class, we had to draw campaign posters for our favorite candidate and write a speech that they might have used in a campaign debate.

I had an instant affinity for Jimmy Carter from the first time I saw him.  I don’t exactly know why, but I loved that he had the warmest, friendliest smile and I liked that he was a former peanut farmer.  (The fact that he was born in a mental hospital also didn’t hurt my affinity for the psychological thriller genre of which I write.)  I think I also liked him because his daughter, Amy, was only a couple of years older than me, and I thought it was so cool that she got to live in the White House.

So, on the campaign trail, President Carter was scheduled to come to my town to speak.  My school was on the corner of two main roads that led to the Civic Center, and back then, the newspaper always published the President’s motorcade route.  Imagine my surprise when, only hours after my grandparents read me the newspaper over breakfast and told me the President was coming to town, all the students of my small private school were called out of class that Halloween morning, and we lined up by the fence to wait so we could wave at him.  I was ecstatic!

At the time, I was a short kid, so the two boys on either side of me told me I should climb up on the fence so I could see better.  As the motorcade rounded the corner, the limo window went down, and the driver slowed.  President Carter grinned and waved as he rode slowly past us, and when he saw me standing on the fence, he pointed at me.  I was thrilled!

When I got home after school, I begged my grandparents to change their votes to Carter, then I sat right down and wrote President Carter a letter and asked for his autograph.

Less than two weeks later, I received a reply from The White House which said that the President was very busy and couldn’t accommodate all the people that personally asked for autographs, but they still sent me an autograph card as well as a booklet about The White House.  It didn’t matter to me that the autograph wasn’t official.  The man just lost an election, yet his office still had time to reply to a little girl.  I was overjoyed!

Looking back thorough an adult’s eyes, I appreciate this pseudo-autograph more than ever.  I mean, between a hectic schedule campaigning for re-election, and dealing with the hostage crisis (among other things), the staff at The White House had to have been crazy busy at the time, yet they still managed to reply to a little kid’s letter, and in such a timely manner, too.

So, the follow-up to my story is this:  I caught a fleeting glance of President and Mrs. Carter (along with the Secret Service) at Epcot on New Year’s Even in 1998.  Between that close encounter and my admiration of their work for Habitat for Humanity, my love for this former President only grew.

Fast forward a few years.  I’d heard that President Carter taught Sunday School classes that were open to the public.  At the time, I had two autistic kids at home, and with no child support, finances were tight, so I put that dream on the back burner.  But having learned more about the work of The Carter Center and how it affects the entire globe, I was even more impressed with this incredible, awesome man.

A few years later, my kids were close to grown, and I mentioned the Sunday School class to a trusted source.  The friend told me that President Carter didn’t do that anymore.  I was crushed that I’d missed my chance.

A couple more years passed.   President Carter was diagnosed with cancer, and, again, I was heartbroken.  But only a short time after that, I was elated to hear that he’d gone into remission.  In fact, I went out of my way to read more than the one news report I would have normally read, and that’s when I found a link to his church’s website along with the information that he never, in fact, stopped teaching his Sunday School class!

That was last December.  I wanted to go immediately, but President Carter didn’t teach every Sunday.  I then planned to go the following month, but then my own surgery was scheduled for the beginning of February, so I had to push things off again.

Jimmy Carter 2016But in March, I finally got to go to Plains, Georgia, and sit four rows from the front while President Jimmy Carter taught Sunday School!  This was the thrill of a lifetime!  You have to get there early (and by early, I mean while it’s still dark outside) to line up.  My sister and I got there around 4:30 AM. (I know I didn’t want to discuss my failing health, but this 6 hour drive and no-sleep weekend, while exciting, was literally a spur of the moment decision as to the timing, and was meant to make me feel better after all my post-surgical woes. Mentally, it did wonders, though physically, those two days set me back about two weeks.)

Once they open the doors, you’re searched by Secret Service then escorted to your seat.  (If you’ve never been around the Secret Service, that’s exciting in itself.)  You’re allowed to take photos all during the introduction period, then you have to turn your cameras off during the lesson.  If you sit through the church service following the Sunday School lesson, you can then get a photo taken with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.  WOW!  {The photos are very rushed, and you have to be in a group shot with everyone who rode in your vehicle, but, still, it’s so generous of the Carters to donate their time like that.  (As such, my photo is not good [we’re all blurry], and I won’t be sharing it, but I will be returning soon to try again.)}

Rosalynn Carter & Jimmy Carter, 2016As if that’s not enough, there’s a museum just down the road from the church.  In the museum is a bookstore that sells nearly thirty of the books that were written by either Jimmy or Rosalynn Carter.  The most amazing part of this journey is that if you purchase any of their books there (which are no more expensive than if you purchased them on Amazon), they give you a form to mail, along with the book and a SASE, and between four to six weeks later, you get President Carter’s autograph!  Yes, really!  (Have I mentioned yet how much I love Jimmy Carter?)

So, that’s exactly what I did.  I purchased two books and mailed them as soon as I got home, and close to five weeks later, I received them back, autographed by President Carter!  Only thirty-five and a half years after I first requested Jimmy Carter’s autograph, I got two of them!  SQUEEEEEEEEE!!!!!  (For those who don’t know {as my sister didn’t}, squeeeeee is about ten times better than Woo Hoo, and about a hundred times better than YAY!)Jimmy Carter's books

Jimmy Carter's autograph

Let’s talk:  Have you ever seen a President or other world leader up close and live?  What’s the best autograph you’ve ever gotten?

P.S. Dear Writer,

A while back, I took a survey and asked if any of you would be interested in sharing some of your editing secrets here on my blog.  For people who have never written anything longer than a college thesis, the thought of actually writing a novel may seem daunting.  But to those of us who have thrown our hat into the authors’ ring, we know that writing the first draft can actually be the easy part.  We’re creative.  There are a lot of brilliant stories spiraling around in our heads.  But what we want is a brilliant story told magnificently.

So if you’re interested, what I’d like to do is feature one of you every Tuesday from the second through the last Tuesday of each month until I run out of willing victims participants.  The topic will be your editing process, and I’ll ask you to answer the following:

  1. Please share one to three* tips or tricks that you use when editing your work, how specifically you use them, and why they work for you.
  1. What was your biggest repeated mistake when you first started writing?  What is your weakest point of editing and why?
  1. Have you used any editing methods previously that just didn’t work for you? If so, what were they, and why didn’t they work?
  1. Please tell us something about your current work in progress or your most recent completed work (or both), and tell us where we can purchase your book(s).
  1. If you have any other news to share with us, please feel free to do so now.

I’ll then provide a link to your blog (as well as link[s] to anything else you want included), and if you send me a photo of yourself, and/or your book(s), I’ll be happy to include those as well.

If you are interested in participating, please email me at the link in the picture below:

email(*I asked you to share only one to three tips or tricks to keep each post short enough that people will read it in its entirety.  If you have more helpful hints that you’d like to share, I’ll be happy to feature you more than once.)

Time to talk:  Is this a feature that you’d be interested in reading on my blog?  Would you be willing to participate?

The Secret’s Out!

So you’ve all heard me talk about my good friend and blogging brother, Craig Boyack, before.  Craig is an awesome writer, and when he named his blog “Entertaining Stories,” I wonder if he knew just how right on the money that name would be.

Well, Craig and I have been sharing a secret that I’ve been dying to let out of the bag!  Now if your mind is in the gutter, get it out.  It’s not that kind of secret!  This secret has to do with an edge-of-your-seat story that Craig wrote called Will O’ the Wisp.

A few months ago, Craig graciously allowed me to beta read for him.  At the time, I really didn’t know that a will o’ the wisp was an actual thing, but rather, I thought it was a term he made up himself.  Knowing how much I love working with Photoshop, around the same time he sent me the book to read, he also asked if I wanted to design the cover.  He didn’t have to ask me twice!

So he told me he wanted a dark forest with a shallow creek, a will o’ the wisp, and certain hardwood trees with autumn leaves.  He also wanted a simple font that could be read easily as a thumbnail.  Being as I’m a professional photographer, I was planning to alter a photograph to make this cover.  The only problem was that we don’t get autumn colors here in Florida.  I immediately put in some calls to all my photographer friends to the north of me, but sadly, they all reported back that their leaves had already fallen, and their trees were bare.

My next problem was that I really didn’t know what feel the image should have until I read the story.  So late that evening, I started reading.  I actually don’t think I ever made it to sleep that night because the book was that good!  Seriously, once I got started, it sucked me in right away, and I couldn’t have put it down if I’d wanted to.

The story is written in first person which I don’t usually care for, but in this case, it really worked, and I loved it.  In fact, once you read the story, I think you’ll agree that Craig made the best choice in this, his first time venture in writing first person.  It’s set in 1975, and features a teenage girl named Patty and her best friends, Laura and Pete, who help her solve a family mystery.  There’s a lot of action and adventure, as well as goosebump moments that leave you on the edge of your seat.  I don’t know how much Craig will allow me to share with you here, but let’s just say The Wonder Years meets The Exorcist, and it leaves you wanting more.  Seriously, the only complaint I had with Craig over this book is that he hasn’t already written a sequel!

So by the next day, after a good long nap and a shower, I clearly envisioned the cover I knew Craig wanted.  I scoured the internet and found the perfect photo which was taken by another blogger (who we didn’t know) who is a fisherman and actually took this on one of his fishing expeditions.  Craig contacted him, and he was happy to allow us to use his photo for the book.  The only problem was, the photo had no autumn leaves, it was the wrong size and shape, and it was taken during the daytime.  But for me, that challenge was the fun part.

What I did to the original daytime photo was as follows:  I flipped it to make the stream go in the other direction; I made it vertical instead of horizontal without cropping any important elements; I removed some stones from the creek bed; I burned the edges and darkened the sky to make it look more like nighttime; I added fog to make it look eerie; I took moss off of some of the stones; I removed some boulders from the ground; I changed the green leaves to have some autumn colors; I added some autumn leaves to the ground to cover the dead, brown leaves that were there previously; of course I added a will o’ the wisp and the title and author name; and I added a subtle “cracked” overlay to the words to add to the feel of  spookiness.

Anyway, while I don’t know if I did the story justice, I sure had fun helping Craig with this project.  I do happen to know that Will O’ the Wisp will be published and on sale very soon.  So please hop on over to Craig’s Blog and ask him how you can pick up a copy.  (And if you need a cover for your book and would like my help, feel free to contact me.)

“Will O’ the Wisp” by C.S. Boyack

My First Blogiversary

Well, today’s the day!  Today, I celebrate having been an active member of the Blogisphere for one year… 12 months… 365 days… 8,760 hours… one trip around the sun…

One year ago today, I begrudgingly set up a blog because the You-Must-Do-This-To-Be-A-Successful-Writer-Rulemaking-Powers-That-Be dictated that if I didn’t blog, I could already consider myself a complete failure in the world of writing.  They told me that without a blog, I was a nobody, and I should not waste my time writing and killing trees as I contributed to the slush pile of the rest of the losers like me who resided there.

So I set up my blog and made my first post.  Okay, technically that was less of a post, and more of an introduction.  My first real post about anything was the following day, and it featured a cool photo of my son Jeremy.  At that point, I had no idea what I should or shouldn’t say on a writer’s blog, and I thought if anything, it would be a boring part of my day that was necessary if I hoped to do anything with the manuscripts I’d written.

Here’s what did not happen:  I did not find fame and fortune on the internet.  I did not have tens of thousands of people contact me and ask for advance copies of my books because they just couldn’t wait to read them.  I did not meet my future literary agent (or future husband), and have him beg me to send him my work so he could represent me.  And I did not get Freshly Pressed.

But something else also did not happen:  I did not let much time pass before I found something to write about.  I did not mind coming back every day and finding other people to follow.  I did not regret one moment I invested in blogging.

Here’s what did happen:  I “met” a plethora of wonderful people who I believe genuinely have a good heart and a beautiful soul.  I now look forward to interacting with so many of you, and I miss when I’m not available to be here or when you aren’t here.  I got the amazing opportunity to become a beta reader for a few of you, and a few of you also became amazing beta readers for me.  I learned a lot about the new rules of writing, and was able to fine-tune and polish my manuscripts which I feel took them to a whole new level.

During this year, my blog has received over 28,000 views, over 6,500 visitors, over 20,000 likes, and nearly 9,000 comments.  Furthermore, I now have over 1,400 followers.

And me?  I’ve made more new friends than I can count.  Actually, for many of you, I now think of you as family – Not like the family I was born into – If you’ve walked this journey with me this past year, you know that I don’t have the best family support system.  However, I love my blog family more than you can know.  There are several of you that I have no doubt, if we lived closer, we’d be fast personal friends.  I have no doubt that if I was passing through your town and my car broke down, many of you would come to my aide and offer me a place to crash for the night.  I know in my heart that if I announced I was going on a trip near you, many of you would either ask me to lunch or even ask me to visit you while I was there.  I’m confident that if I were dealing with a personal crisis, many of you would offer your shoulder for me to cry on or even attempt to help me solve the problem.  And I would do the same for so many of you.  Of course, I’d still like to be Freshly Pressed, but even without it, I’m happy.

Thank you, blog family, for taking me into your arms and making me one of your own.  I love you! ❤

~Rachel