Friday, March 31, 2017

Patients that Changed My Life: Carol

As a nurse, I have the chance to meet a lot of people from all walks of life. Some are fun, some are not so fun. Then there are those that change my life, and changed the kind of nurse I am. For privacy purposes, I won’t use real names, but I want to tell you their stories.

To read about previous patients, click here.

In one of my first ever nursing jobs, I worked in a facility specifically for Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I found that I loved working with them. They kept me guessing, and usually laughing. We had this one lady, who I will call Carol. She was active, even though she was declining rapidly. She used a merry-walker, which kept her safe when she would suddenly get tired and need to sit down.

She had almost no short term memory. You could have a conversation with her and seconds later, she wouldn’t remember it.

That doesn’t mean that she didn’t remember anything.

She had an issue with me almost immediately. No matter what I did, she got angry, and she would scream at me. It wasn’t that unusual, since she had a temper, but she did seem to single me out more often than not. I had no idea why until a few months into the job when she said something that surprised me.

“Get off my husband!”

I wasn’t sure how to respond, but I let her know that I wasn’t on her husband. Over time, she kept making comments that made me believe that her husband must have cheated on her with an Asian woman. Comments like:

“Get out of my house!”

“Get out of my husband!”

“They’re my kids, not yours!”

“Tell me it didn’t mean anything and you didn’t enjoy it.”

Most people don’t really think about it, but it’s the emotionally traumatic events that seem to stay with Alzheimer’s patients. They may not remember that they just ate, but they remember how people made them feel. Those memories stick with them longer than anything else, even if they don’t even know my name.


Just because they’re confused, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there, and that they don’t notice what’s going on around them. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Self-Published Vs Traditional

I participate in a lot of writing groups online. I guess the right phrase is that I lurk in a lot of writing groups online. Depending on the group, I may or may not write anything, or participate, but I always learn. It’s a great way to interact and build relationships with other writers. Most are super positive and helpful. We’re all learning the craft after all. There’s always something new we can gain from the interactions.

A little while ago, I read a post that just floored me. It was deleted pretty quickly by the admins, but the commenter asked if there were writers in the group who were serious about their craft or if they didn’t care and planned on self-publishing no matter what.

Over the past few years, I’ve interacted and met multiple self-pubbed authors, and I’ve got to say, they know what they’re doing. They’re putting themselves out there without support of a publisher, and all on their own. They’re brave, and they’re definitely serious about their craft. If they weren’t, then they wouldn’t bother.

Of course, that doesn’t apply to all self-published authors. Years ago, I gave away free critiques, and one of the girls I gave a critique to asked me what she should sell to make the most money. This was around the time that dystopias were big, and she made the comment that she should probably write that because she heard vampire stories are out.

It’s pretty easy to tell which author is serious about their craft, and it has nothing to do with traditional or self-published. It has to do with the effort they put in. Whether or not they’re willing to learn about the craft, and whether they’re willing to take criticism. Those are the authors I admire, no matter which path they choose.

Last month, I read a book by a self-published author, and I was very impressed. In fact, I had no idea it was self-published. The cover was professional, the writing solid, and I fell in love with the story. For those of you interested, it was the Unfortunate Fairy Tale Series by Chanda Hahn.

Professionalism has nothing to do with pathway. It has to do with the end result.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Learning from Point of View

A few weeks ago, I posted about dealing with racism in nursing. It’s something I have to deal with on a regular basis, and I wanted to share my own experiences.

I’ve been quite lucky. I don’t deal with too many overtly rude comments. Most of them are done quite innocently. After sharing that blog post, I had someone make a comment that just floored me. He identified himself as a white male and then told me that he doesn’t see racism where he works. He told me that I’m being overly sensitive and that my patients were trying to make small talk.
Which might be true, I’m not negating that. Except there have been enough situations where I’m positive that’s not what they were trying to do.

I’ve never had someone tell me that I’m not experiencing racism. That I’m being too sensitive. To be honest, I’m one of those people who’s grown so accustomed to it that I didn’t even notice it until it was pointed out to me. But for someone to tell me, as a white, male, that it doesn’t exist just felt wrong. And it made me wonder how many times I’ve done the same exact thing without realizing it to someone  of a different culture, race or gender than me.

Here’s the thing. I may not agree with you. I may see things through a different lens, but from here on out, I’m not going to negate your situation. I’m not going to say that you’re not feeling what you are. Because here’s the thing, I don’t know what you’re feeling.

As a nurse, I’m taught that pain is subjective. A patient may look like they’re in no pain, but if they’re telling me that they’re in pain 5/10, then that’s what their pain is. I can’t tell them that they’re not in pain. I’m not qualified because I don’t know. I’m not them.


I love learning about other people’s experiences. That’s why I share my own, because I want people to see from my point of view. So please, no matter who the naysayers are, please share your stories. There’s always someone out there who needs to hear it. Someone who can learn from you.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Hospice

After working for years in long-term nursing, I’ve become very familiar with hospice. In fact, my first nursing job was on the hospice floor of a facility for Alzheimer’s/Dementia. Not all of our patients were on hospice, but there were quite a few that were. I loved the hospice we worked with. They were involved, and they always worked with the nurses on the floor to make sure that we all agreed on the plan of care.

Often, we had a patient who would go on hospice and would be diagnosed with ‘failure to thrive,’ especially if they suddenly lost weight, or wouldn’t eat.

Here’s the thing though, they didn’t stay on hospice until they died. Often, the doubled effort between the facility and the hospice caused the patient to have increased care and as a result of that, their health usually improved. As a floor nurse, I let the hospice nurse know whenever I had concerns, or if I thought something would be more beneficial. Increasing their protein shakes, or switching them to finger foods.

More often than not, after a few months on hospice, the patient would start to improve to the point that they no longer qualified, and hospice would discharge them into our care.

For me, hospice wasn’t an end of life kind of thing. Of course, it’s for those who have a poor prognosis, or who have been given a short time to live, but that doesn’t mean that they will die within weeks of going onto hospice. Hospice was an assist for the patient and the family so that they could cope, and, most importantly, to make sure that they were comfortable.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that my first experience with hospice was the exception rather than the rule. I’ve worked with multiple other hospices since then, and it often feels like the program is created to transition into death. Too often, they’re cut off everything they might need to extend their life because they’re just going to be ‘comfortable.’ All blood pressure, thyroid, or even heart medications are discontinued. They’re cut off because those medications aren’t necessary if they’re going to die. I’ve even seen hospice nurses hurry the process because they want to go home for the night.


Hospice was create for the patient and family to have support. So that they’re not alone in the experience. I’ve been there, and it can be scary, especially when you don’t know what to expect. But in the rush to help with death, I fear that too often they forget to allow life.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Critique Partners

I know I’ve talked about this quite a bit, but I just want to talk about it a little more. I love my critique partners. They’re really just some of the most awesome people I work with.

Here’s the thing, I love what I write. On most days. There’s also the days where I think I’m writing just plain crap. On both kinds of days, I need someone to pull me to reality. I need someone to pull me off my pedestal and point out my shortcomings, or pull me out of my funk and help me see my strengths.

Writing is an art. It’s a very subjective medium, and at some point, there’s going to be someone who hates it. There’s going to be someone who loves it. To be honest, that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that I create the best kind of art that I possibly can. Most of the time, I’m so involved in my story and in my characters that I don’t necessarily see all of the flaws.

I’ve had some amazing critique partners over the years who have pointed out character inconsistencies, or plot holes or even just a lack of voice. Seeing my manuscript through someone else’s eyes is so absolutely essential and I appreciate them so much for putting in the time and effort.

I’ve been thinking about this recently because one of my critique partners, Valerie Bodden, posted something on Facebook that I absolutely loved. She commented on how she appreciated my critique and feedback because I get her book.

It’s true. There’s been many critique partners over the years, but not all of them have been long term. I need someone who can see the end goal. Someone who loves my story as much as me, and is willing to let me bounce my ideas off them.


So for all my critique partners, thank you! You’ve made me the writer I am today.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hello Kitty

Growing up, I never really dealt that much with Racism. People knew I was Asian, but they didn’t mention it that much, and they didn’t use a lot of stereotypes around me. Probably because I wasn’t raised as an Asian.

When I moved to Spain, all of a sudden, I was treated very differently. People came up to me on the metro and started speaking to me in an Asian language, and I would have no idea what they were saying. I earned the name “Chinita” among a lot of my friends because that’s how I looked to them. Like a little Chinese girl.

I think the most bizarre situation though, started a few months after I moved to Spain. I walked to school every day, and halfway there was a newspaper stand. The guy who worked there was very friendly and would wave to me, and often make odd and suggestive comments. After a few weeks, when obviously I wasn’t responding to his advances, he started yelling at me every time he passed.

“Hello Kitty! Hello Kitty!”

After our multiple interactions with one another, I knew that he didn’t speak English, but I think he’d figured out that I did. Except it didn’t feel like an English thing, it felt like him trying to get my attention by calling out the only thing he knew from Japanese culture.

I started taking a different route to school soon after that.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Never Enough

This week, I'm talking about Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things, a book about a nurse who was sued because a family member saw her performing her job and didn't understand what was happening. They saw what they thought was abuse and because they had already asked for her not to touch his son (because she was black), they thought she was hurting him on purpose.

On Wednesday, I talked about how this book made me think from a racial standpoint. Today, I want to talk about the nursing side of it. Ironically, this is the side that I'm more nervous talking about. Not because I don't have anything to say, but because I'm very cautious about what I say online about work. I'm very conscious about HIPPA, and about protecting the integrity and reputations of where I work and where I used to work.

Here's the thing, I've worked in multiple facilities, mostly long term, as a nurse and CNA. When people are sick, they're not themselves. I understand that. Patients are dealing with pain, dealing with a new diagnosis that has flipped their lives upside down, or with loss that they can't quite accept yet. In a way, it makes sense to lash out at the people taking care of you. They're right there, after all. But in many other ways, it doesn't make sense.

At least, not to me.

My typical workday consists of a twelve hour shift. I usually get to work half an hour early so that I can read up on charts. So that I can prepare myself and know the information necessary to properly take care of my patients. After my shift, I give report to the next nurse, so that they know what's changed, and to promote the best possible care for my patients. Some days, things get hectic. I might have to stay late to chart, or to finish my responsibilities. Maybe one of my patients had a sudden change in status right before I leave. Either way, my typical shift tends to be closer to thirteen and a half hours -- on a good day.

I'm there all the time. It may not seem like it, especially if I'm in someone else's room, but that doesn't mean I don't see what happens.

The problem is I'm only one person. Just one nurse, and even though most of the places I work have great support systems, a lot of the responsibility falls on me. I understand that and I accept it.

There are just too many days when I feel I'm not enough. With my knowledge, with the skills that I'm still perfecting, I'm still never exactly what my patients need. There's so many instances in my shift when I have to make a decision, when I have to choose between two patients who need me. Maybe it's more than two. I can't count the number of times I walk out of a room to see the entire hall lit up with call lights, and know that no matter how fast I work, no matter what I do, I won't get to them in the time that they want.

That's when it sometimes feels like it's too much. When I already know I'm doing everything I possibly can, it's hard to hear patients and families complain that I should be doing more. I'm not allowed to tell you what I'm already doing, or what the other patients need. There's no way for me to tell them that I have a patient next door that's going septic and might need more serious intervention in the next few minutes. Or a patient who's confused and jumping out of their bed, and I want to keep them from falling and getting seriously injured. I can't tell them about the patient who broke my heart because no matter what I do, I can't seem to control their pain. Or the patient who's detoxing from drugs and hasn't stopped screaming at me since I arrived on the floor.

Nurses carry a lot of what they experience in their hearts. I've seen it in so many coworkers. It's a taxing job, and there are times we snap. I know I have, though I've been fortunate that it's never been in a patient's room. There are moments when I have to leave the floor because I can't deal with it anymore. It's frustrating, and often not because of the patients but because of the situation.

My husband often tells me that either you cry or you laugh. He tells me that whenever I'm angry or annoyed. He says "Do you want me to cry or laugh?" That's how it is with nursing too. We have to get these emotions out. Often, it comes out in the form of jokes, in a way of relieving the pressure that we feel. It has nothing to do with what we're really thinking, it's a coping mechanism, one that helps us to be the best we can be with the circumstances around us.

I think the hardest part is knowing that often, the most memorable experiences are the bad. If a patient is upset with their care, it doesn't matter how much we've done for them. It's what more they wanted us to do. Often, I feel like I'm measured by my shortcomings, rather than by my actions.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Racism in Nursing

On Monday, I mentioned how I wanted to talk about Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things this week.

When I first started the book, I honestly thought it was from the 50's. The white supremist family felt off to me, because I don't deal with it on a regular basis. Ruth seemed to take offense with everything, and acted like people treated her differently because of her race.

The more I thought about it though, the more I realize that it still happens. I don't deal with the same kind of racism, just because I'm Asian, not black. Even so, I do deal with prejudice from my patients constantly. Not just my patients, but from my workplaces as well.

I honestly can't count the number of times that someone has said something that I've blown off. I heard them, and I always assumed that they didn't mean any harm by it. I've had patients call me the 'Little Chinese girl' and 'that Asian one,' and I even had one sweet patient call me his 'Little Indian' every single night. For me, it almost felt like a distinction. I am Asian, I'm not going to deny it. If they don't remember my name, then it's an easy way to describe me.

Then there's the ones who aren't quite so nice. I've been screamed out of a patient's room and as I left, her closing comment was "Get out of here... Yoko!" Which for me, didn't hold quite the same impact. I wasn't alive during the Beatles' time, and I have no idea if people actually hated Yoko Ono, or if it was the only Asian my patient knew. I've been called a Jap before, which, again, because I was exposed to very little racism growing up (I think in large part due to my parents), it doesn't sting the way I know it should.

I had one patient who was very sweet to me, but when I returned to work the next day, I was given all the same patients back -- except for her. Her family had stated that no Asians could take care of her. It wasn't put in the chart, I don't think, but it felt a little strange to me. She'd let me take care of her the night before, and I felt I had done a good job. Her family took me aside and told me that I didn't need to feel bad, because for some reason, seeing me gave the patient flashbacks to WWII.

Here's the thing. I never feel guilty. If someone has an issue with my race, or the way I look, I'm not going to apologize. I'm not going to assume that it's my fault. It's such an odd way to look at things, to think that the person who's receiving the prejudice might feel guilty.

Along with the obvious signs, there's also some odd things that have happened with some of the management that I've worked for. I remember very clearly arriving to work one night when a patient had been admitted. No one had started the admission, and they decided to give the patient to me. The reason? He didn't speak English. Which is fine. I speak Spanish, but it turned out the patient didn't speak Spanish, he spoke a very rare dialect from a South Asian country. He couldn't mime because he was blind, and it was assumed that I would have an easier time doing his admission.

Why?

Obviously because we're both Asian.

I'll admit, I joke about it a lot. I don't get offended. I tried, about a year ago, and it was exhausting. To assume that everyone has an ulterior motive, or to assume that everything that someone says is a jab at my race or said to be rude. My husband and I enjoy being different, and we accept that we are. I believe that's why, when I started Small Great Things, I was confused. I didn't see racism because I didn't focus on it, even though it's all around me.

I'm sure there's a fine line. I do need to recognize when it's inappropriate, but in the workplace, a lot of times, there's nothing I can say or do to change it. My patients... well, they still need care. In a day or two, I'll probably never see them again. Besides, I need them to like me, just so that I can get good reviews and avoid the situation that played out in small Great Things.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Small Great Things

This week, I want to try something new. In February, I started reading a book called Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. When I was in college, I read her book My Sister's Keeper, and I was quite fascinated.

My tastes tend toward fantasy and science fiction when I read or watch movies. I also like crime shows, like Bones and Criminal Minds. One thing that I don't tend to read or watch is anything medical related.

That's what I do on a regular basis. I've been a nurse for six years now, but even before that, I was a CNA and I was in nursing school. I know what it's like behind the scenes. I deal with death and sickness and on really difficult days, the whole spectrum of human emotions. I know what it's like to be talked down to -- by family members, by patients, even my coworkers at some point. I understand more than I want about the politics behind every decision made.

When I read, or when I'm watching a movie or TV, I want to escape. I want to leave the world that I know and enter a world that I don't.

When I read the description for Small Great Things, I was intrigued. It sounded like something I would be interested in, and after some recent misses in books, I wanted something I could connect with. I just didn't expect to connect quite so well. Small Great Things is a book about a nurse who is black and has to deal with prejudices of a family who is incredibly racist. At first, while I was reading, I thought the book was set in the 50's or 60's. Ruth speaks about racism in a way that made it feel real, that made it feel like it still happened. But then there were small references -- to Tiana from the Frog Princess, and even to Elsa from Frozen.

Suddenly, instead of reading an interesting book, I felt like I was reading about my life. I've been in her situation before. Not to that extreme, but I've been 'fired' by patients before -- just because of how I look. Because I'm not white. I've never stopped to think about what could have happened if an emergency had arisen like the one that Ruth faced.

I'm going to be honest, I had to stop reading. It was horrific to read, and mostly because I'm a nurse, I'm a minority, and I know exactly how she felt. I know what it's like to be treated like that by patients, and I've lived with the terror that maybe I didn't do enough, or that a family member would take me to court for something that I did. I didn't want to know how it ended. Good or bad, I knew that it could be me, and I didn't want to live it if I didn't have to. Maybe that's the coward's way out, but I'm okay with that.

But it made me think, which is exactly why Ms. Picoult wrote the book in the first place. It's supposed to make us reexamine our lives, and the society that we live in. So this week, I want to look at myself, at my race and at my profession, from the eyes of this book. I'd love to hear your comments, especially if you have stories to share as well.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Being a Patient

As a nurse, I deal with a lot of sick people. In fact, I don’t deal with people unless they’re sick or unless they have something going on with their body that they can’t control on their own. As a person though, I’m fairly healthy. I don’t tend to get sick very often, and when I do, it’s not bad enough that I feel the need to go to the doctor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about that, not by a long shot, but sometimes I wonder if it makes me less empathetic with my patients. I understand nausea, and I’ve dealt with it on a personal level, but other things – pain, broken bones, etc – I haven’t experienced, so I can’t exactly know what my patient’s feeling.

That’s not to say I don’t try. I know that pain is a very subjective thing. We have no right to tell someone when they are or are not having pain. Someone who never deals with pain might have a lower threshold than someone who has chronic pain. I understand that, and I try to put it into practice.

Last year, I had my first chance to be a patient in a long time. I had a UTI, and after several days not being able to pee, I finally went to the doctor. He gave me antibiotics, and I figured that was it.

Several days later, I ended up with a rash. It was one unlike I’ve ever experienced, and it covered every inch of my body. Behind my ears, between my fingers, on the bottom of my feet… it was excruciating. I tried ice packs and hydrocortisone cream, but nothing worked. I ended up going to the doctor again, and he gave me a steroid shot, and as much as I hoped it would work, it didn’t.
I still had to go to work. I wasn’t contagious, and I couldn’t find a good reason to call off. If I was going to be miserable and itchy at home, I might as well be miserable and itchy at work, right?



The only thing that helped was time. After a few days, the rash started to disappear, and the itching subsided. It was excruciating, and it was eye-opening to me as a nurse. We give meds and treatments, but they won’t always work. I understand the impatience when you just want it to stop hurting, or burning or itching, and nothing seems to work.


Unfortunately, time is the only key in some instances, and as well intentioned as we are as healthcare workers, sometimes, all we can do is empathize. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

No More Lonely

In February, I went to LTUE, which is a writer’s conference for science fiction and fantasy writers. It’s an amazing conference, but the best part is the human interaction.

For some reason, a lot of people think that writing needs to be a lonely thing. Sure, I have to sit and write the words on my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t interact with others.

Last year, when I went to LTUE, my writing partner and I were planning on going together, and we had someone ask if she could go with us. We ended up bonding through the experience, and now all three of us get together to write as often as we can.



This year, we had two of our friends from our writing group going, and they had a mutual friend who asked if she could join us. The best part about being with other writers at a conference is that you can be yourself. You can talk about the stuff that makes other peoples’ eyes gloss over. Plot and story structure? There’s actual classes on that. You can analyze your own with your friends and work out the kinks in your own story.



Writing is a private thing, and you always put a little bit of yourself in your writing, no matter what it is. When you share your writing with someone, you’re sharing a part of yourself. The other great thing is that they’re a natural support group. They know what you’re going through. Writing queries? Pitching to an agent? They know how nerve-wrecking that is. Finally figuring out your villain’s motivation? They know what kind of a breakthrough that can be.




I love my writing friends, the ones I’ve had for years, and the ones I’ve made recently. And I know that each one of them has influenced the kind of writer I am now.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Accents

Today, I want to talk about accents.

Hubby is still learning English, though he’s definitely picked up quite a bit. A few weeks ago, we were talking to my uncle about hubby’s difficulty finding an internship. (Side note: If any of you know if any electrical engineering internships, we’d love to hear about it!)

After talking to hubby for a while, my uncle said something we hadn’t actually thought about. He mentioned that hubby’s accent might still be too thick for people to understand. I don’t really notice his accent anymore, mostly because I live with him, and I have to communicate with him on a regular basis. But my little bro, who just moved into town, still has to have him repeat some of his words.

Then there’s the whole issue with rice. Hubby loves rice, but whenever he orders a side of rice, he inevitably gets a side of fries.

Every single time.

I’ve been thinking about accents a lot because of it. When I first started taking Spanish in high school, my dad came home from a parent-teacher night looking a little concerned. He didn’t say anything until near the end of the year, when he heard me practicing Spanish.

My dad knows Spanish, and he served a Spanish-speaking mission for our church. He heard my Spanish teacher talking, and he was worried I would pick up her accent, which was, admittedly, quite bad. He was right to be worried. There’s a tongue twister that I learned from her, and even though I lived in Spain two years, and learned Spanish from hubby, if I recite it, her accent comes out.

It annoys hubby so much that he’s asked that I stop saying it. It’s not that I don’t know how to say it correctly, but it was ingrained into my mind, and it’s muscle memory at this point.


Which means that right now, hubby and I need to work on his English accent. We need to make sure that his muscle memory is one that people can understand. It’s not a question of whether or not he can speak the language. It’s a question of whether they can understand him.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sleep Deprived

Earlier this week, I mentioned that things had gotten a little crazy.

One of those things that got me all out-of-wack was my work schedule. I’m a nurse, which means that I work 12-hour shifts, three days a week. Plus, I live about forty minutes away from where I work, so added to arriving early to read charts and prepare myself for my shift, and finishing my shift at the end of the day, my shifts end up being close to fifteen hours.

Before working at my current job, I’ve worked night shifts, mostly because it’s hard for a nurse to start a new job and get a day shift. People like working days more than nights, which I guess makes sense. I’ve never had an issue with working nights, mostly because I hate mornings.

Waking up early in the morning makes me want to cry. Actually, it has made me cry on multiple occasions.

I love working night shift because it lets me live on less sleep. I don’t know how it works, but I can survive on five hours of sleep when I work night shift. I have to have at least seven hours of sleep when I work day shift. I don’t know why, but it just works that way.



When I started my current job, I let my boss know that I wanted to work nights. He was okay with that, except he wanted me to get to know the doctors, which mean that the last eight months I’ve been working what is called ‘mixed shifts.’ Basically, I work two months of night shift and then a month of day before doing it all over again.
February was my month of days.

It’s interesting how sleep deprived healthcare workers really are. We work long hours. When there’s not enough people, we pick up shifts. We work overtime and we work weekends and holidays. If we have something during that day or that night, then we just go without sleep.

It’s almost natural for me to go without sleep, at least until my body gets mad at me and forces me to collapse.

But that doesn’t happen… often.

When I was in junior high, my sister did a science fair project where she had people go 24 hours without food and then 24 hours without sleep and then take a math test and see where they failed. Every single person required sleep over food. Every single person except for the nurse. She did much better, even while sleep deprived.

I don’t know how it works, or where we learn it, but we know how to do our jobs when we’re half asleep.


I’m proud to be part of that profession. I’m proud to be able to repress my own needs to be able to care of my patients’ needs. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Writing Conferences

Last month, I had the chance to attend LTUE, which stands for Life the Universe and Everything Symposium. It’s a writing conference, and whenever I try and describe it to anyone, they say it sounds like comic con for writers.

That’s probably true. I don’t know, I’ve never been to comic con.

Last year I attended the same conference for the first time, and it was my first conference ever. There were so many classes, and I was so excited, that I planned my day down to the minute. Which classes I was going to attend, and I didn’t plan for a single break. I was going to make the most out of the conference.

It was a great experience, but by the end I was absolutely exhausted.

This year, I had a different goal. I wanted to get what I needed. If there was a class that I needed, I would go to it, but if there wasn’t one that jumped out at me, then I didn’t go to one that I didn’t want to go. I spent my time interacting with other people. On attending critique groups. On actually working on my own writing.

I got to meet and talk with so many writers. I ate dinner with friends. I loved spending time with my friends, and exchanging information after.

Writing conferences can be whatever you make it. As I talk to others who attend other conferences: Storytellers, WIFYR, etc, it sounds like you get whatever you put into it. If you’re willing to put yourself into it, and if you’re willing to make an effort, then you gain so much. I learned a lot last year, but this year, I experienced a lot. I made lasting friendships and I became a better writer.

And in the end, isn’t that the whole purpose of a writers conference?

Monday, February 27, 2017

Decisions

Hello Everyone!

It’s been a total month of crazy. Well, I should say it’s been about two months of crazy. There’s been work and health issues that have popped up and I had to choose something to step away from. That thing was my blogging. I love getting my thoughts out and interacting, but there’s sometimes a need for a breather.

That being said, I’ve heard a lot of people mention that they haven’t heard from me recently.

2017 has been an interesting year for me. A year of decisions, which I guess I wasn’t expecting to start out.

Hubby and I made some important decisions regarding our infertility, and which direction we’d like to go with starting and raising a family.

Hubby is still in the midst of making a decision about schooling and graduating.

Work-wise, I made the decision to take straight night-shifts for reasons very obvious to me. They’re not so obvious to other people.

Writing wise, now that I’ve finished the entire Commissioned Series (first drafts of the later books), I’m looking at what I want to do with it. My writing partner and I founded a writing group in our area, and we’ve had to make some decisions about what direction we wanted our activities to go. We also had to decide what was too much, and what would be fun for our writers.

I’m starting to see things calm down, but that doesn’t mean that life won’t throw another curveball or two. For now, I’m writing, I’m working, and I’m staying happy.


How about the rest of you? How’s 2017 treating you so far?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2016

For the past two years, I’ve made reading goals, and I still haven’t quite reached my goal. Last year, I was close. I wanted to read 45 books in the year 2016, and I read 34 published books, and 4 nonpublished. (Beta reads for other writers). Many of them were really fun reads, and I thought I’d let you know the top in my list!

Also, this is in no particular order.


Shades of Milk and Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal

I hadn’t heard of Mary Robinette Kowal. I knew of Writing Excuses, but I didn’t really listen to their podcast. Last year, I went to a writing conference with a friend, where Mary was on multiple panels. I thought she was hilarious, and I really wanted to read her book, especially since my friend highly recommended it. I loved the Austen feel with magic, and I’m pretty sure I read the whole thing in less than a day.


Ian Quicksilver – Alyson Peterson

Alyson was another writer I met at the writers’ conference. She hadn’t published Ian Quicksilver yet, but after meeting her, I was dying to read something she’d written. Let me just say, Alyson knows how to write teenage boys. Ian was a character who jumped off the page and kept me laughing through the entire book.


Healer’s Apprentice – Melanie Dickerson

I discovered Melanie Dickerson last year when one of my sisters recommended her books. Apparently, I was in the mood for a lot of historical type books last year. I actually read a lot of her books, but this was the first one that I read, and I loved her style of writing. I’m also a sucker for fairy tale retellings, so it was just the perfect balance for me.


Passenger – Alexandra Bracken

I love Alexandra Bracken. I devoured her Darkest Minds series, and when I found out that she had a new book, I just had to read it. This book was completely different, but I still loved it. She addresses so many issues in a way that made me want to keep reading. She addresses gender and race as her characters time travel to different times and different areas of the world.


The Originals – Cat Patrick

I have no idea how I discovered this book. I got a notice from the library that my reserved book was ready, and I couldn’t remember reserving it. It was definitely a happy accident though. Cat Patrick writes light science fiction, and I think she’s the reason why I tried writing science fiction last November. I read several of her books, and I loved that there was a slight mystery to everything. She’s the one who turned me on to contemporary science fiction.


Winner’s Kiss – Marie Rutkoski

This is the final book in the Winner’s Trilogy, and after several disappointing final books to series, I picked this one up with not very high expectations. But I shouldn’t have worried. Marie Rutkoski knows her characters, and she made me love them even more. It’s one of the best final books that I’ve read in a really long time.


Grave Mercy – Robin LaFevers

I had randomly downloaded this book before going on a writers’ retreat. I had spent the day writing – probably close to ten hours, and I wanted to relax before going to bed. This book wasn’t really what I would call relaxing, mostly because I had to find out what happens next! It’s such a unique idea, and I loved the execution. Plus, the romance was slow burning and just awesome.


Monday, January 30, 2017

One Day at a Time

Years ago, back when my husband and I first got married, we spoke Spanish at home. We met in Spain, and we spoke Spanish over there. In fact, he was the one who taught me Spanish. So it seemed natural to keep speaking Spanish once we came to the US.

Hubby started taking ESL classes through the community, but even with that, it seemed like his grasp of the language was very slow. He was having a hard time adjusting to the new culture, and even finding a job. We went to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving, and she gave us advice that really changed our lives.

She told us to speak English at home. We’d tried before, but I became impatient with him, because he couldn’t express himself well. He also found it easier to switch to Spanish if he couldn’t figure out how to say it in English. We told her that it was too hard to just switch to English.

Her response was:

Just do it for one day. For one day speak English at home. And when you’ve done it that day, then do it the next day. Take it one day at a time until it becomes natural.

We were a little skeptical, but we decided to try it. She’s a very wise woman, and we wouldn’t lose anything by at least trying. We tried for one day. It was a long, exhausting and frustrating day, but we got through it. At the end of that day, we realized that we’d spoken only English for one day. Then we tried the next day. We spoke English for the second day, reminding ourselves that it was one day at a time.

After a few weeks of our ‘one day at a time,’ Hubby started to have amazing progress in his English class. Suddenly, he started shooting through the levels, passing the tests, until he took the TOEFL. (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and did well. Six months later, he was attending classes at the community college, and then a year and a half after that, he transferred to a university.


It was amazing to see the results of one day at a time. It was work, and yes, it got frustrating, but we worked through it. Baby steps sometimes makes a huge difference.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

NaNoWriMo Research

One of the reasons why I love writing is because I get to learn about so many different things. Research is a real thing, and I feel that the more I write, the more I get to learn. Last November, for NaNoWriMo, I had three separate books planned, which mean that in October, I was in full-blown research mode. Here’s just a few things that I got to research while I was preparing for NaNoWriMo:

Prosthetics (focusing on climbing prosthetics and materials)

How to play poker

Origin of Gargoyles

Native American Smoke Signals

Hunting techniques of foxes

How to escape quicksand

Types of screwdrivers

The Walking Dead TV show

Popular Bing Crosby songs

Pearl Diving

Sirens/Harpies

Prophecies

Climbing Competitions

It’s so much fun to research, and even more fun when you’re able to apply it into your writing. I’ve fallen down several black holes of research where I find such random and wonderful things to learn.
What are some of the things that you’ve had to research for writing recently?




Monday, January 23, 2017

TV Accents

I’m a huge fan of crime shows. I love getting into the heads of the criminals, and trying to see if I can figure it out for myself. Usually, I can’t solve the crime, and a lot of small details fly over my head, but I love watching it come together.

Another reason is because they bring in so many supporting characters. There’s always a new criminal, a new murder, which means a new list of suspects and family members. The other day, I was watching Criminal Minds, one of my favorite shows, and they were investigating a serial killer who was following migrant workers. The entire camp of workers was Spanish speaking, and several required a translator so that the agents could question them.

Then they questioned the suspect’s brother. He was an older man, Mexican, but as I was listening to the interrogation, something stuck out to me. The man’s accent was almost non-existent. Every once in a while, it would come out, but for the majority of the time, he spoke clearly, in full, English sentences, without hesitating, and with confidence.

Now, I’m not saying that that’s impossible, but I have several friends who are Latino. My hubby’s from Bolivia, and he still has a super thick accent, eight years after coming to the United States. And he speaks English fairly well. He’s almost got his bachelor’s degree, so he’s in an English speaking environment almost all of the time. Yet there are still times when I struggle to know what word he just said, and there are times when he doesn’t find the exact right word to express himself.


When he’s nervous, his accent gets even thicker. He struggles to think, just like anyone in a stressful environment. So for me, watching this Mexican immigrant, who lives in a purely Spanish speaking community, speaking full, completely, barely-accented sentences in a different language, while under investigation of the FIB, I didn’t believe it. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Communicating with the Doctor

As many of you know, about six months ago, I made a transition in my career. I’ve loved geriatrics, but I started to feel like I needed to try new things, and push myself as a nurse. It’s been quite a transition, and I’m pleased to say that I’m starting to feel like I’ve got my own pace now, and things are great.

What’s been most fascinating is the transition from thinking like a long-term nurse to thinking like a hospital nurse. There’s still a few habits that I need to drop, but I’m definitely doing better.
One of the biggest adjustments has been my relationship with doctors.

In skilled nursing, your patients are fairly stable. Even those who are on the TCU or rehab side of things, they aren’t critical. You’re not going to be doing blood draws on them every day, and you aren’t going to be monitoring for a catastrophe. You’re really in the mindset of reporting any abnormalities. Along the same lines, most of the patients in a skilled facility are going to be the patients of the same doctor. One who usually has several other jobs, which tend to take priority. The biggest decision a nurse can make is:

Is this worth bothering a doctor for?

Usually, the answer is no. Especially when you’re working night shift. Even then, I’ve worked in enough facilities that I’ve had multiple doctors give us the instructions that anything he needs to be contacted about should be given to him in bulk. A patient wants eye drops? Hopefully you can wait until the doctor comes in… in three or four days. Patient’s weight fluctuating? Well, the doctor will be in on Wednesday. Hopefully they don’t lose too much more. We’ve had doctors request that we don’t call them for anything, except an emergency, and even when a patient dies, half of the time, we can’t get a hold of their doctor.

In the hospital, that’s not how things work. You’re always communicating with the doctor. If you’re wondering if you should report something to the doctor, you’d better stop wondering and just report it. Any small changes could be an indication of something bigger. Suddenly, I have doctors actually asking me about a patient, asking their latest labs, their vitals, how much they ate, things that they need to know to make sure the patient can heal enough to get back home.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Christmas Hallmark Cliches

December is over, which means that with Christmas, we’re now done with the Hallmark holiday movies. I can’t be the only one who binge watches those over December. Hubby thinks that it’s hilarious, since I hate the terrible dialogue and obvious plot holes, but it’s like I can’t look away. I get frustrated by the story, but I want to keep with the ‘feel good’ experience.

That being said, there’s definitely been several clichés that I’ve noticed pop up in various movies, so I thought I’d share my top Christmas movie clichés with all of you.

1.       Santa’s helper, or the angel, or random person who interferes with a person’s life without any warning at all. Or explanation.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would be really annoyed with some random person if they suddenly turned my life back ten years, or forced me to relive a day over and over until I finally got the Christmas message. I mean, who gives them the power to decide that this person needs to learn a lesson? It almost makes me think of Krampus, the evil elf, who comes and punishes children who were naughty. Just let them learn the lessons on their own!

2.       Everyone is in a broken and irreparable relationship.

Holidays are apparently for finding love, but there’s no way to do that if you’re already in a relationship! So cue the controlling, domineering boyfriend, or the clingy, over the top girlfriend, just ripe for dumping! And why would you want to dump him/her? Because the love of your life is just around the Christmas corner. I mean, I get that the holidays aren’t fun to spend on your own, but seriously, why is everyone is such a bad relationship in December? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

3.       The workaholic, focused-on-her-career woman who just needs to understand that love is around the corner.

And obviously, she should stop focusing on her career because that’s not within the Christmas spirit. It always seems that there’s a story focused on a woman whose boss is over the top and forces her to work Christmas with the promise of a promotion if she just gets this one thing done. And of course, it can’t wait until the holidays. Enter the love interest who shows her that a career isn’t everything. In fact, it’s probably not important at all. Cue the happy Christmas music. I actually yelled at a movie because a woman chose to completely leave her job because she could have a family. Why can’t you do both?

4.       Insta-love. Boy meets girl, boy and girl have an amazing night together, and now their lives are intertwined for forever.

I’m not a fan of insta-love in general. The holidays are short. Three, four weeks max? That’s not enough time to decide that you’re destined to be together. Maybe you should spend some time… I don’t know… when you’re not hopped up on candy cane sugar? Real relationships are about compromise, and dealing with the world, not avoiding it because it’s Christmas. Once the lights are put away, and the songs in the department stores are back to normal, the magic could wear off. Then you’re back where you started, in that broken, irreparable relationship that only blossoms in the Christmas season.


So those are my top clichés for Christmas movies. And don’t get me wrong, I still love them, even though I don’t always know why. What are your top clichés for Christmas movies? 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Watching Gender Inequality

I feel like we hear a lot about gender equality. How women deserve to be equal to men, how they deserve equal wage, or better job opportunities. I’m definitely not one who’s against gender equality, but I guess I’ve never really been a recipient of inequality. Not enough to make me sit up and notice.

But a few months ago, I went to two banquets with hubby. They were back to back, and both for soccer leagues. Hubby played in the men’s soccer league and he coached one of the girls’ soccer teams, which meant that he was invited to both.



The first banquet was for the men. It was in a very nice, beautiful dining area of the school, where there were matching dishes, and plenty of chairs for all the players and their spouses if they had any. An hour later, we ran across campus for the women’s banquet, which was in a crowded gym, and they had to cram as many people as they could around a table, since there wasn’t space. And my husband’s friend (another coach) had to find a chair because they didn’t have any.

At the men’s banquet, they had a microphone, and they had the sports chairperson talk to them, and answer any questions they had about future seasons, and the future of soccer. During the women’s banquet, they didn’t have anything to cut out the noise, so the assistant chairperson had to shout, and she didn’t open it up for questions, probably because she wouldn’t have been able to hear them even if she did.

At the men’s banquet, they had trophies for the top six players and the MVP, all engraved with their name and their award. At the women’s banquet, the top six players and MVP were all awarded mini-soccer balls with their name written with sharpie on it. And they weren’t even brought up to the front and awarded it, the balls were thrown to them.


As an outsider, it was astounding to watch. I wasn’t in the girl’s league, or in the boy’s league, but I was one of the only people that went to the banquet for both. None of them knew the difference. The girls seemed excited to be celebrating together, and were happy with the general experience, but that may be because they didn’t know what had happened an hour earlier. For the first time, I actually saw the gender inequality that I’d heard about so much. It’s so easy to live in ignorant bliss of what you’re missing out when no one tells you what the other side is getting. And it’s so easy to believe the others are getting the same thing as you when no one talks about it. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Patients that Changed My Life: Donna

As a nurse, I have the chance to meet a lot of people from all walks of life. Some are fun, some are not so fun. Then there are those that change my life, and changed the kind of nurse I am. For privacy purposes, I won’t use real names, but I want to tell you their stories.

To read about previous patients, click here.

This patient was back before I became a nurse, when I was a CNA working in an assisted living. Assisted livings aren’t nursing homes, they’re mostly for people who need a little bit of assistance but can mostly survive on their own. As patients grow weaker, or sicker, they move to nursing homes.

I didn’t really understand the nuances or differences. In an Assisted Living, you’re supposed to encourage them to be independent for as long as possible. One of my patients, Donna, had early onset Parkinson’s, and she had a difficult time eating. For those of you who work in the medical field, and especially in long care, you know that we have all sorts of tools to help people like Donna. There’s the weighted silverware, which makes it so that the tremors are more offset, there’s the lip plates, which are almost like bowls, so that you don’t have to scoop the food, you can push it against the lip, and there’s nosey cups, which makes it so you don’t have to tip the cup back so far. There’s obviously much more than that, but those are the basics that I’ve seen used.

Now Donna had been working with different therapies, and she had weighted silverware and a lip plates, but even with that, she would spill food all over the place because of her tremors. She sat at a table with three other women, and I noticed that after a while, she stopped eating. She was so embarrassed by the fact that she made a mess that she refused to eat.

I served them their food every day, and we all noticed as she became more frail and weak. Finally, one of her tablemates asked me if I would be willing to feed her. Of course, I said yes, and I sat down with her, and she was able to eat almost half of her meal, which was more than she’d eaten in weeks. 

Later that week, I heard one of the other CNAs talking about it, and how Donna was now dependent on someone to feed her, and that if I hadn’t done it the first time, she would have done it on her own.
It kind of broke my heart to hear that. In a therapy standpoint, and looking back at it, yes, she probably would have kept trying at least a little more, but the fact was that she would wait until the dining room was cleared to even try. And by that point, the CNAs were eager to clean up so they could get on with their next chores. She always felt rushed, and she was so embarrassed that she put aside her own health, her own needs so that she wouldn’t annoy the people around her.

I started bringing snacks to her, little things that she could eat without using silverware. Now I know that they’re called finger foods, and I worked in a facility that actually had that as an option for those who had a hard time using silverware. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it in any other facility that I’ve worked in. It’s an inconvenience for the kitchen to prepare a meal purely of finger foods, even if it makes it so that the patient is able to eat better.


It’s still hard for me to see patients who struggle to eat, or healthcare providers who are so busy looking at the bottom line or the health side of things to realize when dignity is being compromised.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Giveaway with Valerie Bodden

Hey everyone! I want to introduce you to my wonderful critique partner, Valerie Bodden, who just barely signed with Jane Dystel of Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret!


Hey Valerie! Let’s start off with a generic question. Tell us a little bit about yourself!

That should be an easy one, right? But somehow, it never is! Let’s see. I’ve been writing children’s nonfiction for the school and library market for 12 years now and have written more than 200 books about everything from history and biography to bugs and roller coasters. I’m also a mom of four and a wife. So busy times – but I love it!


I love that you write children’s nonfiction! How did you get into that market?

I always loved writing both fiction and nonfiction, but I actually kind of stumbled into the nonfiction market when my husband and I were newly married. There happened to be several publishing houses in the area, so I decided it was time to go for my dream of being a writer/editor. I will always be grateful to that publisher (Creative Education, which I still write for) for giving me my first chance in publishing.


You’ve been doing nonfiction for quite a while then. What’s the biggest difference you find between that and writing fiction?

Both offer their own rewards and challenges, but I think the biggest difference lies in voice and intent. With my nonfiction, I’m working to present facts in a compelling manner that will keep readers interested, without ever losing site of the information I’m relating. But in fiction, even though there’s still plenty of research to do, I want the facts to be woven in so seamlessly that readers don’t even notice them. That, and the fact that I can completely make things up in fiction, of course.


Tell us about the book that you’re hoping to publish.

It’s called DROWNING IN AIR, and it’s a young adult contemporary novel told from dual point of view. Calli is a swimmer trying to do everything while taking care of her dying mom. Noah is a heart-transplant survivor taking risks to prove his life isn’t some cosmic mistake. I think the story is a little bit heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful, and I hope it shows that sometimes our greatest strength comes in making ourselves vulnerable to others.


How long did it take you to write and revise before you started querying?

I started this novel for NaNoWriMo 2014 – my first NaNoWriMo! I finished the first draft by early 2015. Then I set the book aside as I was swallowed with nonfiction deadlines. I came back to it in the summer to revise, and somewhere during that time, you read it and gave me great feedback (including keeping me from making a really embarrassing mistake about heart monitors!) and I revised again. By early 2016, I thought I was ready to query, so I sent out a small batch but then got sidetracked again by deadlines. The first queries didn’t result in an offer, but based on feedback, I did another revision this past summer. By fall, I was ready to query again, especially after polishing my query letter and first 250 words in the Nightmare on Query Street contest. So about two years, on and off.


I was so excited when you had me read through it! I thought you did such a great job of showing teenagers trying to figure themselves out, especially when they have to deal with illness too.

Thank you!


Did you base it off real experiences, or were your characters inspired by someone you know?

Fortunately, I have not personally gone through the struggles my characters face. But I’ve known teens who have cared for sick parents, sometimes without much help. So that really sparked Calli’s storyline. And Noah’s storyline occurred to me when my daughter’s class made gifts for a young boy with cancer from another school. I started wondering what that boy would be like when he grew up – how does a childhood illness like that impact the rest of a person’s life? And what would happen if they ever met? Of course, I took those initial seeds and expanded them into something completely different and unrecognizable, but that’s how it all started.


I’m so excited that Noah and Calli’s story is going to be out there! How did you react when you finally got an offer for representation?

Thank you! Reading that email took my breath away. And only my preschooler was home to confirm that the email really said what I thought it said. I kept telling her I couldn’t believe this was happening. Fortunately, she just went along with it, giving me big smiles and nods, like Mommy acted like this every day. After I talked on the phone with my agent (which still feels a bit surreal to write) it took a while for everything to sink in – I mean, like days. But then my family took me out to dinner to celebrate and that made it feel a bit more real. It’s been really fun to see how excited my kids are about it. I didn’t think it would matter much to them, but they’re so happy for me, which is sweet!


So I guess the biggest questions is: How do you find time to write with four kids?

Haha! I do a lot of juggling around naptime, bedtime, and any time I have to take them to practice or somewhere I’ll be waiting a while. Plus, my husband is incredibly supportive and takes care of things around here as much as possible when he’s home so that I can have time to write. It’s gotten easier in the past year or so with my daughter in preschool part time, but it’s still a challenge. Fortunately, I love what I do, so that makes it worth the missed sleep.


I’m glad, because you definitely wrote something I think a lot of people are going to love!

Aw, thank you! I hope so!


Congratulations on finding your agent! I hope we hear more good news in the near future!

Thanks so much Krista! You’re the best.


And it looks like you have something planned to celebrate too, right?

Sure do! I was helped by so many people in making my query and manuscript shine, and I’d love to do the same for someone else. So I’m giving away a query and first 10 pages critique to one lucky winner.


I can speak from experience. Your critiques are fantastic!

Thanks for taking the time to do this, Krista! I’ve had so much fun!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Our Lucky Winner is Megan Cutler! We'll be sending you an email with the specifics! Thanks to everyone who participated! 



Valerie Bodden is the author of more than 200 children’s books. Her books have received favorable reviews from Booklist, Children’s Literature, Foreword Magazine, Horn Book Guide, VOYA, and School Library Journal. Valerie lives in Wisconsin with her husband, four children, one dog, two cats, a growing collection of fish, and miscellaneous bugs that her children have ‘rescued’ from the outdoors. She spends most of her time writing or wrangling children and animals. Visit her online at valeriebodden.com