When the Writing Cooperative announced their 52 Week Writing Challenge in January 2017, I thought long and hard about entering. I wasn’t fond of writing challenges and had problems sticking with some which were only ten to fourteen days.
But a year? Me?
I threw caution to the wind and signed up and figured any amount of time in the challenge would be good practice and help me work out a writing regimen I could stick with.
I sailed through the first three months.
I mentally reprimanded myself for fearing something which was too easy for words.
And then April happened. Hello Reality check!
Between my husband’s hospitalization for a serious infection related to his ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease) and me, getting hit with the mother of all Fibromyalgia flare-ups, I was done.
I had two submissions saved in Scrivener and decided after posting them, I was out of the challenge. I’d missed editing and publishing deadlines for my debut novel’s book two, no way could I also be stressed over a writing challenge.
That’s what I thought, anyway.
Writers can be a quirky bunch, and whether we’re burning the midnight oil editing or rising before dawn to flesh out characters and plots, we make our families (and close friends) aware of our projects and schedules.
So, they’ll understand missed appointments, preoccupations with fictional characters, or if dinner is late… or pizza… again.
But we also keep family and friends in the loop because they’re our first level of support… and our biggest cheerleaders.
Time passed, and I submitted the two completed pieces to the challenge with no plans to continue.
My family had other ideas.
Our three adult children took turns passing through and staying for a night or two with me until their dad was discharged.
(Told you guys I needed a supervisor!)
When the mister was finally discharged, I was ready to sleep for a week.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
The oldest blindsided me with, “Is your weekly writing challenge done?”
I was floored. This is the guy who thinks I write Victorian romances starring Fabio! God’s honest truth… I kid you not! Other than a couple of early story outlines, he’s never read a word I’ve written and probably never will. So, when he called me out, what else could I do but write?
That was the week I wrote Dumped, based on a true encounter I had with a homeless man when I was six months pregnant with HRH, the firstborn!
I won’t say it was easy, but I never considered quitting again after that.
And it paid off… even if the timing wasn’t the best.
Just hours after we lost my mother-in-law on January 12th, I received a congratulatory email naming me the winner of the 2017 52-Week Writing Challenge.
I was shocked, excited, and grateful… still am. But Life and family had to come first.
We’ve fallen back into our routines again, and it’s time to go to work.
My prize is a publishing package from the great folks at Standout Books, so I need to give them something to publish.
Wish me luck.
When I began writing Free, a Novella in early spring of 2016, it was supposed to be a 3-4 installment short story with Lenore Porter remembering the breakdown of her marriage as she finalizes the sale of her home.
Honestly, it was writing practice.
I was working on my debut novel, In the Best Interest of the Child and kept stalling out and hitting walls. So, Free was supposed to be a little pseudo-flash fiction to keep me writing.
I posted the second installment and had already began the ending of Lenore’s story, when on April 8, 2016, my mister went into renal failure. His kidneys could not be saved and everything changed from that day forward… the addition of hemodialysis, his employment status, his diet, his daily medication regimen… and my stress level.
As I sat in hospital rooms, dialysis units, and doctor’s offices over the next few weeks, Lenore Porter’s story changed too. Best Interest was still my focus, but Lenore would not be ignored.
I continued to post installments of varying lengths on my author page, but the once-a-week postings died a quick death. I moved the release date of Best Interest twice and attempted to push Lenore’s story to the back burner.
The mister’s fistula implant was a problem from the beginning, making dialysis difficult. By the time we’d made all the rounds for MRIs, ultrasounds and vascular procedures and found some semblance of normalcy, it was Halloween. Best Interest was published and I was exhausted. And… Lennie Porter was standing in the corner giving me the duckface.
I didn’t have much of a current word count for Free, but what I did have was sixty-one pages of notes!
As I organized and typed up the notes, the story continued to change.
It was clear by the time I had a working MS, oldest son Duncan Porter would need counseling to get past his issues with his absent father to avoid lasting emotional trauma.
As a character-driven writer, I generally sketch out characters before adding them to any story.
That wasn’t necessary this time.
While Free, a Novella is a work of fiction, the characters of psychologist James Richie and his wife/receptionist, Alice, are not fictional characters.
James ‘Pas’ Richie was my mentor, father-confessor, co-conspirator in epic pranks, and at one time, my boss. He and Alice were like family and can be seen as often in my family photo albums as my mother.
In Free, Pas, is a retired minister with a successful practice in clinical psychology specializing in treating men and boys.
In real life, Pas was a minister for the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. However, he didn’t receive the call to the ministry until well after his fiftieth birthday and put aside his career and degree in chemistry to enter the seminary.
It wasn’t long after Pas received his appointment to a Battle Creek church the community considered him “the city’s pastor.” (This was about the same time I gave him the nickname ‘Pas.’)
You didn’t have to attend his church… or any church… for Pas to lend a helping hand. Many who regularly attended other churches would find their way to his office when needing to talk.
And he would listen.
I don’t know if Pas solved any of their problems.
But I do know they left with a smile and a, “Thank you, pastor.”
He’d always respond with a hug and his trademark, “Peace & Blessings!”
Like Lenore Porter’s parents, Burt and Linda Kelimore, Pas and Alice were together over fifty years.
And the banter was epic!
In addition to his pastoral duties, Pas was the executive director of a local community outreach ministry, and Alice was a regular volunteer.
The days when Alice came in were the best days!
Staff would all suddenly find reasons to be near Pas’ office for another episode of what I dubbed “The Pas and Alice Show!”
Their banter was amazing, rocket fast… and hilarious.
Of course, Alice always won, but Pas wasn’t about let her have the last word and would always end with something like, “You’re adorable! I’m taking you to lunch!”
Over the years, through trials and tribulations in both our families, the Richie banter was an anchor for us all—as long as we could still laugh, everything would be okay–and their marriage was the model for couples newly married or married for decades.
After almost ten years, life broke up our small family circle, taking us in different directions, but the Richies and I stayed in regular—my children would say constant—contact.
Plans were put in motion for them to visit Arizona after Pas retired, which he did in January 2015. After a short search, Pas and Alice relocated to a small town in central Georgia which put them close to their three children and grandchildren.
Pas became ill while he and Alice were getting settled with what was first believed to be an upper respiratory infection.
The next year would see Pas hospitalized… and in a coma for several months.
But being the incredible man he was, James Richie came out of the coma, moved to a rehab center and learned to walk and talk again. He was discharged and went home to regain his driving privileges. He even went back to swimming three times a week.
Pas and Alice took a vacation to visit their children, and attended several social events, including one held by my family in Georgia.
I was encouraged. Alice said he still had a long road ahead of him to regain his strength, but they would get to Arizona.
Things in Arizona weren’t going as well.
Dialysis was still difficult for the mister and his blood pressure stayed at stroke levels despite several daily medications.
Alice called one evening and knew by my tone of voice something was wrong. We talked quite a while. I ended the call with a promise to call her in a couple of days after the mister saw a vascular surgeon.
Of course, she told Pas.
He called early the next morning.
Though the mass found at the base of his throat was benign, he still wasn’t strong enough for surgery to remove it. And it caused other problems. His voice was raw raspy and it hurt me to hear him speak. I tried to rush him off the phone. But Pas wasn’t having it.
He called to pray with me and the mister… and he did.
It was the last time I talked to him. Ten days later, he was gone… June 14, 2016.
Loss is a part of life and we all experience it. I’d already lost my father and a brother, but when Alice called me with the news, something inside me broke.
Suffice it to say, I managed to keep it together enough to take care of the mister, but I lost the fight with depression and spiraled for over three months.
This is why the release date for Best Interest was delayed… twice.
This is also why (and how) Pas and Alice became part of Free.
It took another four months to complete Free. Not because it’s long, in-depth or complicated. It was simply very emotional.
And it was cathartic.
I didn’t tell my family I’d added a bit of real life to Free until it was completed, and I still didn’t allow them to read it. I published it on May 30th and immediately began the formatting for print.
I received the proofs a week later. I signed a copy, stuck a note inside and sent it to Alice Richie.
I hadn’t told her what I’d done either. I was a little nervous with it being the first anniversary of Pas’ passing, but pushed it to the back of my mind and tried to concentrate on writing.
I was caught off guard a couple of weeks later when I answered my phone without looking at the caller ID… something I never do.
It was Alice…laughing… and crying, and screaming, “Girl, you nailed us!”
I laughed with her, and did some crying of my own when she said, “Richie would love it. And he would be so proud of you.”
It wasn’t an instant cure-all, but for the first time in a year, thinking of my dear friend didn’t cause me pain. Alice’s words were the best review I’ll ever receive for Free… and that’s enough for me.
So, if by chance you read Free, just remember James and Alice Richie aren’t fictional characters and their dialogue isn’t scripted or contrived. Their words were real, spoken in another time when life was a little easier and less burdensome.
Peace & Blessings.
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