Friday, November 18, 2011

M&Ms and Apple Cores

For years a story has lingered in my mind. I didn't know much of it, but had a picture of a toddler huddled in the corner of a bare room. She was neglected, left to molder there and slowly draw farther and farther into herself. But one young man who passed occasionally through the house would do a small part to reach out to her. He shared his own favorite foods with her--a handful of M&Ms and the core of his partially-eaten apple.

In my mind and planning, that book eventually changed from M&Ms and Apple Cores to Above the Clouds, the sequel to my first novel, Reaching Sky. Then it made another metamorphose to become the sub-plot to my current work in progress, Voices of the Dark. This scene is part of what resulted from that original vision.

Excerpt from Voices of the Dark

“Jasper, I’m the one taking care of the little girl.” Jesse and I sat down and I pulled out the picture of Renee and held it out to the man. “You know her?”
He peered at it, his face so young and innocent, in glaring opposition to the prison jumper he wore. His eyes were dark brown and full of…. It almost looked like empathy.
“Yeah, that’s the boss’s kid.”
“She’s Garth Keane’s daughter? Who is the mother?”
“I dunno.” He shrugged. “I ain’t never heard no mom mentioned. I jest assumed she was either dead or didn’t want nothin’ to do with some crack-head baby.”
“How long have you known the toddler?”
“I been…” he looked away, “hanging around there 'bout a year, I guess. She was always there. She just stayed in the back room, away from everything.”
“Who took care of her?”
He frowned, his eyes boyish and uncertain. “Well, no one, really. She just stayed back there. If she come out in the middle of something the boss would yell at her to git back in.” He leaned forward. “He didn’t want her hurt, you know. Didn’t want the gang guys to mess with her.”
“So Garth loved her? Protected her?” I couldn't make that fit with what I'd seen.
He shifted his weight. “Loved? Well, I dunno. I never really saw him do much else with her.”
“What’s her name?”
He shrugged again. “I never heard her called nothing 'cept girl.”
He didn’t say it like she was a thing. Even in the middle of all the drugs and neglect, for some reason this kid had cared about her, just a little. I could sense that. I could see the title, not “girl” but an almost-name; Gurl.
“But who fed her and all that?”
“I brought her food sometimes. I would give her the core of my apple and once in a while, when the boss was passed out, I’d give her M&Ms. She loved those!” He grinned. “I’d set ‘em down and she’d grab a handful and stuff ‘em in her mouth and then play with the others, grouping them by color, you know? Then eating the rest one by one, a color at a time.”
That was good news. If she could sort things by color then she at least had a basic understanding of categories.
There was one other thing I had to ask. “With all the drugs and everything… Meth tends to…” How did I say it politely?
“Up your sexual drive,” Jesse came to my rescue, if bluntly.
“Yeah.” I tried not to flush. “But the doctor said no one bothered her that way.”
Jasper squirmed. “Well, I think maybe that’s why the boss kept her in the back room. You know, to make sure no one was bothering her. I was pretty much the only one he’d let in there.”
That explained that. So Garth at least had some kind of protective feelings for her. I wished I could talk to him, find out where she’d come from, why he had her in that situation.
“So you never saw the other guys interacting with her?”
“Well,” he squirmed again. “This one guy was sort of eyeing her. She was getting older, you know? That’s why I—” He broke off, his face paling. “I mean, I’m glad she’s safe now, that’s all.”
I made a mental note to mull over that response later.
“But there were plenty of other girls around. I guess that kept her safe too, you know?”
“Other girls?” Jesse broke in again. “Like prostitutes you mean?”
“Yeah, I guess.” He studied his hands like they were suddenly the most important thing in the room.
Something about how he’d said "girls" didn’t set right with me. “Other girls. Like what age?”
“I dunno.” He shifted again, his gaze darting from me to his hands to the floor.
A weight, a premonition, settled on my chest. “Jasper,” I braced a hand on my chair, “this is really important. Were these older girls, like your age? Or were they younger? Lots younger?”
His reply was barely a whisper. “Younger.”
It was just one word, but it hung there, draining every bit of air from the room. And with it, my secure world behind to fall apart.

© 2011 Amy Michelle Wiley

Joanne is hosting more Friday Fiction stories at An Open Book. Check it out for more great reads!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A 2 Z: Zany Madi

When I joined FaithWriters in 2005, Lynda Lee Schab was one of the first people to welcome and encourage me. (Back then I called her Ikab, due to a misreading of her all-lowercase username of LSchab.)

Lynda has stayed a few steps ahead of me, paving the way in this writing journey that started with freelance writing of smaller works that led to novels, agents, and publishers. In fact, her first novel, Mind Over Madi, was accepted by a publisher and is coming out in print TODAY!

I was thrilled to get an advance reader copy a few weeks ago, though I will admit that chick lit and romance fiction are near the bottom of my list of preferred genres. But as I expected, Lynda’s writing is stellar and I never once groaned over something too sappy and never got the least bit bored. In fact, I enjoyed the book a lot.

Lynda’s character, zany Madi McCall, grew up in a somewhat dysfunctional home. Now with a family of her own, she is haunted by the fears her mother instilled in her to never, ever trust a man, because all men will cheat eventually. Yet so far her own husband Rich is a patient, Godly guy, and she has gotten to the point where she finally feels like she can trust him.

Then her worst fears are realized. She finds another lady’s lipstick on his collar. Her mother was right! And she recognizes the shade of lipstick, too. Only that sleazy Fawn Witchburn wears dark, almost-brown like that.

Madi orders Rich to leave the house immediately. After all, no explanation can possibly be a good one, right? He packs his bag, leaving Madi to answer the questions of their three kids. She tumbles into despair, the way paved liberally with Edy’s Dibs, her favorite chocolate ice cream dessert. Well, if she’s honest, maybe they are more of a coping mechanism than just a dessert. That and hours of playing Solitary on the computer.

With sometimes-hilarious twists and turns, Madi begins the zany life of a now-single mom to a tween and not just two teens, but twin teens, both in the midst of their own relationship dramas. Then Madi’s best friend calls and somehow manages to convince her that going to their high school reunion is a good idea.

Madi keeps on the go with her kids, her friend, and even a few meetings with a new therapist, resulting in her effectively avoiding God during the busyness. Her therapist reminds her that she is a true princess—a daughter of the King—but Madi sure doesn’t feel very royal. And the extra pounds those Dibs added don’t help.

Plus, it seems like Fawn is showing up everywhere she goes, and things come to a head when a Michigan snowstorm traps them all—the high school reunion goers, Fawn, and even one of the kids’ friends—in the same restaurant for a few hairy hours.

Madi comes face-to-face with “the other woman” and she begins to realize that maybe, just maybe, not everything is how it seemed. Will she find the truth once and for all about her husband? Is her marriage salvageable? Or is her mother right that men can never be trusted?

You’ll have to read the book to find out! Lynda uses lots of humor and wacky characters, mixed with real-to-life situations, as she brings Madi on a journey to accept that she truly is a princess of the Lord. Order a copy today (just in time for Christmas gifts) by clicking here. Find out more about Lynda and her other published works at her website,

As always, check out other "Z" posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme at I can't believe we're already to the end of the alphabet! But keep checking back for weekly updates about my novel-in-process and other fun posts.

Monday, November 07, 2011

A 2 Z: Young Treasures

Yesterday I had the privilege of seeing my oldest niece in her acting debut as an Oompa Loompa in the musical Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. She did a great job! She has a wonderful singing voice, so it was cool that she got to use it and try out acting. I love the Willy Wonka story, so it was extra fun to see the Christian Youth Theater perform it. They were wonderful and the set was impressive.

I'm also focusing on Youth in my NaNo novel, Voices of the Dark, though as the title implies, the book looks at a darker aspect. My main character, Adria Kingston, is doing what she can to fight against child abuse.

Most of us would never dream of hurting a child, and indeed cannot begin to understand what could happen inside a person that they would allow themselves to so seriously abuse a little kid. Yet all around us there are children aching, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

But we do have the power to help. We can be aware of what is happening around us, aware of the children of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and strangers. Be willing to step forward and do something if we see inappropriate behavior and teach our own children or students how to treat those around us.

Now for a short excerpt from the rough draft of the book. I'm way behind on my word count goal and have been busy and not feeling well at all, so thank you for your continued prayer and encouragement.

By Amy Michelle Wiley

We passed through the clinic's waiting room and I noticed a man standing near the reception counter. His muscled arm wrapped around a fluffy brown teddy bear. He stepped forward. “Adria Kingston?”

“Yes?” I frowned and put a protective hand on the child’s head.

“I’m Chaplain Jesse Carmichael.” He held out a hand. “I was told Garth Keane’s living relative had been brought here?”

“Garth Keane?” I shook his hand automatically, my mind racing to connect the name with something.

“The man who was shot today.”

small teddy“Oh.” I looked down at the child, who once again had her arms hugged around her body, her chin tucked tight against her chest. Garth Keane’s living relative. I tried to wrap my mind around that, connect the tiny child with the bloody body.

The chaplian knelt before her, his tall body folding in on itself. A smile brought out a single dimple in his left cheek and suddenly he looked charming, almost boyish. “Hi. I’m Jesse.” He held out the teddy bear. “Look what I brought you.”

Her gaze remained on the gray carpet.

“His fur is really soft. He gives great hugs, too.”

Her head still didn’t move, but I saw her eyes shift, fastening on the bear.

“Isn’t he silky?” Chaplain Carmichael drew the stuffed animal’s fur across her arm, back and forth. “Here you go. You can have him.”

A tiny hand reached out. Slowly, hesitantly. A pale finger, stained with grime, touched the tan fur.

Her hand snapped back to her chest.

“Wasn’t that soft?” The chaplain didn’t seem phased. “You wanna touch him again?”

This time both hands reached out. She caressed him, her hand trembling. Then she took the bear and pulled him to her chest. A tiny sigh escaped her lips.

I couldn’t help grinning at the man, a stranger though he may be. He looked up at me, his eyes glowing.

“Thank you,” I mouthed. I handed him my business card, but my gaze strayed to the child. She was in my custody now, officially my foster daughter, but I knew so little about her. I knew only that someone hadn’t taken care of her, hadn’t had enough love even to share with a tiny, precious girl.

In their neglect they’d forgotten to feed her, clean her, or even touch her. Was it possible they’d even forgotten to name her?

© 2011 Amy Michelle Wiley
As always, check out more "Y" posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme at

Monday, October 31, 2011

A 2 Z: Xacwihlas (The Twining)

I wrote this story months ago as the third installment of fantasy stories of Kira's Saga. You can read "Kira's Challenge" here and "Lakira's Life" here, but this story is stand-alone enough that you don't need to read the others in order to understand it.

Xacwihlas ("The Twining")

Kira ran a hand down the softness of her gown, her heart soaring as high as the sky that mingled with the blue of her dress. Her little sister and mother fussed around her, but she did not hear their chatter, did not bother with their last-minute fluttering. For she was ready. Ready in her heart, where it mattered most.

Finally they let her free of the encumberments that held her away from him. Away from her love.

She stepped out of the hut. His eyes drew hers like magnets and she latched on. Her heart would burst any moment, exploding to send her careening in wild fragments to the sky, to the heaven that had created this match.

Her feet moved toward him. Faster, faster, she wanted to fly, but her sister traipsing before her forced Kira to slow. The child’s hands move delicately, dancing to music Kira did not hear; her heart sang a song of its own that filled her.

Yet the song was not a solo, for many other melodies flowed into it from around her. Her friend Sylan beamed, and ducked her head shyly toward her own young man. Pazayita’s baby gurgled and reached a chubby hand to brush the silky threads of rainbow colors that drifted about Kira’s head.

Mikot was waiting. Waiting, draped in a soft brown that matched his eyes. They would be the touching of sky and earth, and where they met the sun itself would explode in fiery glory of love. Together they would rise to march across time in a brief arch of history.

She stood before him and now had to open her ears. It was not hard, for her heart already beat in time to the melody of his voice.

“Te etqesia avon Tytagvan Xacwihlas, u tiiy ah.” His promise was beautiful, perfect. “The Creator has granted us union, so I pledge before Him that I will walk beside you through our life, though it bring plenty or famine, safety or danger, strength or weakness.”
Kira’s voice echoed his words, not lessening in the repetition, but strengthening with the union.

The family surrounded them, each holding a ribbon of color. They danced, weaving in and out to create a tent around the couple, formed of individual strands interconnected to form a whole.

Mikot reached out a hand and Kira met it, their fingers intertwining as they spoke in unison. “And so as blessed by the Creator, I will walk with you and only you, as long as breath shall fill my lungs, we shall be one.”

As always, check out more "X" posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme starting on Tuesday at I'm curious to see what my creative friends come up with for this difficult letter!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A 2 Z: Wiley Update

My family moved this week, from a huge house in the country to a small house with a wonky floor plan in the city--not something we wanted, but here we are. We're still in the process of sorting through all the clutter in the old house. It seems rather endless, but we're making slow progress. The cold we're passing around the family isn't helping much.

Can you see the raccoon
print in the foreground?
The good news is that my oldest sister and her family are buying the country house, and the acreage will be perfect for her kids and the rabbits they raise. And while I miss the mountain and foothill view, I'm pleased that at least our new backyard looks into mostly trees with lots of songbirds. We even have raccoons, according to the muddy footprints on the patio door.

I'm enjoying the scenic drive to work, getting to cross the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge everyday, and the added beauty of the fall colors. The eight hours a week interpreting at a community college is just about the right amount for my body.

Other news is that I finally got referred to a real sleep study. It should get set up soon. The specialist wanted to know what my plan is if the study doesn't show anything. Ummm.... not sleep? And isn't that kind of crossing a bridge before we have to? I'm glad he has such confidence that the test will be helpful, ha. But hey, at least he ordered it. I'm praying they'll find something that will help us find a way for me to stay asleep long enough to actually get healing deep sleep.

I didn't meet my goal of having the next draft of Reaching Sky done before November so the next beta readers can look at it while I'm doing NaNoWriMo, but I am entering it in FaithWriters' Page Turner contest and continuing to look for a publisher or agent. I'm really excited about my next book, Voices of the Dark, too, and hoping my health will let me participate fully in NaNoWriMo. Check out my FaceBook author page to hear updates on the book during November.

Next week I'll be taking the written part of the National Interpreter Certification test. It's suppose to be fairly easy (unlike the performance part, which I plan to take in December) and will have questions about Deaf culture, disability laws, and interpreting techniques and ethics.

So, I guess that's the update for this youngest Wiley. :-) As always, find more "W" posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" at Patty's blog, Ordinary Lives.

Oh, if you have a blog roll, feel free to add my button that Mari made for me. Just copy the html in the box and you'll get a button like this. Thanks!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A 2 Z: Voices of the Dark

Can you hear them? The voices echo from the darkness. Pleading. Sobs of young girls, crying for help. They call from the shadows, hidden right behind you. Locked in your neighbor's house. Abused by the people you rub shoulders with everyday. Used like a thing, void of worth.

They cry out, but no one notices. Life moves on around them, leaving them behind in forgotten brutality. We do not hear, do not pause to listen because we do not know they are there. They cry until they can cry no more, all hope, all goodness fled, drowned out by the dirtiness of the suppression smothering them.

Only if we cross paths, if it's our daughter who is stolen, only then do we take note. We listen, we hear them cry, but stand helpless. What can we do? How can one person stand against such a flood of evil? Is it too late? These children have their innocence stripped. They are old now, worn in a way no human should be. Old beyond our imaginings.

But one woman hears. Adria Kingston works as a trauma counselor and stumbled by chance across that line. Life, goodness, worth on one side; death, abuse, and horror on the other side. What can she do? Can she risk everything--her life, her new foster daughter, her innocence--to step across that line?

Once, years before, she'd faced that darkness. That time she'd run away, clapping a hand over her ears, her eyes, to drown out the silent call, the desperate pleading gaze. She had turned away once. Had almost forgotten.

But never again.

This time Adria will face the darkness and win. She'll reach a hand across the line. She will save a life, one girl at a time, and rebuild hope. Adria Kingston is listening to the voices of the dark.

Will you?


Voices of the Dark by Amy Michelle Wiley is coming soon to a bookshelf near you. To get involved today in the fight against human trafficking and sex slavery happening right here in the U.S. and around the world, check out Shared Hope International.

This is the book I'm preparing to write next month for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It's an idea I've had for ages enhanced with a new plot-line about human trafficking. Though the topic is very dark, I have ideas of how I will write it so it is powerful and suspenseful, but not too dark and not explicit at all.

As always, check out more "V" posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme at Ordinary Lives.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A 2 Z: Unmatched

My friend and amazing writer, Jan Ackerson, has a flash fiction blog where she posts stories that are each exactly 100 words long. Last month she held a contest inviting people to take one of her stories or a character from a story and expand upon it. I used post 26 for mine. My original title was "Just Like You" but I decided this title would go with the story and make it fit this week's post. Here's my version:


By Amy Michelle Wiley

Her skin is a rich chocolate brown. She coos and waves a dark fist at me, her cheeks plumping, almost smiling.

He won’t get to see her first smile.

I look at her, really look for the first time since the funeral. She has his skin, his dark hair that will surely turn into a curly, tangled mess when it gets longer. And his eyes. Hers are still the dark blue of newborns, but I can tell already that they’ll darken. Will they ever hold the same expressions as his? Like that twinkling brightness he would get when I’d done something he found amusing, but didn’t dare laugh aloud at. Or the darkening that let me know he felt my pain, felt my hurt, whatever it might be.

What minor heartaches they were back then. Only weeks ago I had no idea what true pain was. Those twinges were nothing compared to the shattering blow I now know is possible.

I pick the baby up and hold her by the mirror. My face looks shockingly white. Even the dark circles under my eyes are pale compared to the newborn I cradle. She is so much of him. I should feel thankful, happy I have this constant part of the man I lost.

But something selfish in me wants to see myself, too. If I have only him in my thoughts I will drown, lost in the sea of grief. I need something that is both of us, mixed together, making perfection in a tiny bundle that is equally me.

Her face turns up, curious at the mirrored reflections, and I search her features, looking for something in her bone structure, in the shape of her nose, anything. My shoulders slump and I turn away, settling her into the stroller. We leave the house and the cold wind bites through my jacket, a chill seeping all the way to my bones.

I tuck the blanket more tightly around her and walk toward the subway station. My hands and feet move without me, leaving my heart—my soul—far behind.

Someone helps me close the stroller and stow it. I settle on the cold train bench, the baby’s body a warmth against my chest. I notice nothing until a voice breaks through. I look up, focus my eyes, and see a young girl watching me, her body straight and eyes alert.

“Hey.” She points toward us. “That baby looks just like you.”

The baby picture was photographed by Simon Gray and the stroller by Kriss Szkurlatowski .

As always, find more "U" posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme at and feel free to jump in with your own blog.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A 2 Z: Terping your Thoughts... or "Life as an interpreter"

Note the solid, dark shirt. We have to
wear tops that contrast with our
hands so the signs can be seen clearly.

Okay, so I'm cheating a little on this letter, but we interpreters do nickname ourselves "terps" (and yes, we're aware that it sounds a lot like "twerp") so I thought I'd Take the opportunity to share a little about my job.

I'm a professional sign language interpreter. I work in college classrooms (but I am not a teacher or a teacher's aide and I don't know braille, just to get the common misunderstandings out of the way first thing). When there is a Deaf student in the class (not "hearing impaired," please), I interpret the lecture and any teacher or student comments into American Sign Language, and I voice into English any of the Deaf person's comments.

They say it takes about seven years to become fluent in a language. I've been playing around with signs since I was young. I studied ASL formally for about seven years, including training to be an interpreter for about four years, and since then have been interpreting professionally for 15 months.

The actual skill of interpreting is, perhaps, harder than it might seem at first thought, especially since sign language is silent and therefore often interpreted simultaneously. We have to hear the message, break it down into ideas/concepts, switch it into the grammar and syntax of the other language, make any cultural adjustments necessary, and produce the thought. All of this has to be done in seconds while still listening or watching to retain the next thing the person is saying. This is one well-known interpreting teacher's diagram of what all has to happen for an accurate interpretation:
Researchers have found that interpreting takes so much brain power that it's most accurate if a person only has to do it in twenty-minute segments. In most settings we work in teams with two interpreters so we can switch off every fifteen to twenty minutes. I find that my body is very happy about the breaks as well as my brain, given my physical limitations. We also have to juggle issues with location in the classroom so we can maintain a sight-line with the client but not block the hearing students from seeing the teacher or blackboard, hold information if our student is looking at notes or diagrams, deal with accents, etc.

Like my determined expression as I'm
showing a pig running away? hehe
ASL is a very visually expressive language.
Okay, I feel like I'm making this out to be the hardest job ever, haha. It's not that bad, though as a student, interpreting seemed impossibly difficult. Something like an idiom that took longer to figure out the meaning could completely derail me. But as I've gained experience I've found that yes, it's always hard work, but it's not so impossibly challenging anymore. And it's actually really, really fun! One hard part for me now is not getting to join the conversation myself, which those of you who know talkative me will find amusing. ;-)

I've always loved words and people and I find languages and cultures fascinating. Interpreting has proved to be the ideal job for me. I love it! It requires the presence and interaction of other humans and I get to use words all day--perfect. My physical limitations mean I can only work a few hours a day, so college interpreting works very well. I interpret about two classes each term and that time is spent alternating between resting (though still staying aware of what's happening so I can help my team if they need it) and gentle movements of signing.

I also volunteer interpret at my church and especially love interpreting music. It's like worshiping with my whole body. You can see a video of me signing "Blessed Be the Name" here.

Speaking of my "team" (another T word!), even though it's only one person, we still call our co-worker a "team" like it's a whole group of people. Funny. Another term is a "feed" which is when the interpreter misses some information and looks to their team to feed it to them.

That's my job in not so much of a nutshell.

As always, check out more "T" blogs in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme here

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A 2 Z: Safari Snapshots

A few years ago I read a submission to one of my Peculiar People projects and fell in love with the characters and the writing style. The author was Lisa Mikitarian and that encounter began what became a friendship between us. I still think of her story in that book as the one about the two “small brown boys” finding forgiveness, because that phrase of it has stuck in my mind all these years.

I’m now thrilled to announce that Lisa has had a whole book of her short stories published. I’m proud to take credit for being the one who "discovered" her talent and published her first, and was excited to get a copy of this collection. She weaves the most delightful stories; ones that are powerful because of the truth and real-to-life experiences woven through them all.


Her Safari: Snapshots Along the Way, is focused on women characters in all stages and walks of life. You’re sure to find a story that resonates with your own, as well as getting some chuckles and maybe even tears. She even wrote one character who has fibromyalgia, the same disease I have. The short story format is perfect for reading one before bed each night—though be careful because if you’re like me you’ll stay up late reading “just one more” because they are so engaging.

I read Lisa's book in entirety last month but now as I've skimmed it, looking for my favorite story to share with you, I'm finding quite a number of "favorite" stories. Her book is worth reading several times, apparently. Here's an excerpt from one of the stories, "You Are No Dachshund," about a mom getting a puppy for the family. They've decided that, objectively speaking, a dachshund would be the best choice (though the mom had sort of dreamed of a bigger dog).

puppy 1But a funny thing happened en route to the breeder, who lived out in a barely populated countryside. Frieda was driving along, minding her own business, when her eye veered off the side of the road, caught by a gigantic cardboard sign outside a ramshackle gas station and convenience store. FREE PUPPIES, it shouted. She pulled into the parking lot, suddenly thirsty. There would be no peeking at the puppies. Under any circumstances. 
They called to her from a box next to the cash register, but she ignored them. 
Back outside, in the Indian summer air, she found an ultra-smooth bench that appeared to have been a church pew in an earlier life. She sat down and twisted open the Coke she'd just purchased, feeling slightly guilty. Simon didn't approve of carbonated beverages. It burned going down her throat, but she let it. Her pipes weren't going to become corroded from one bottle. 
That's when she heard the muffled yelping over the fizzle of her drink.

Read the rest of the story by ordering a copy of Her Safari here. While you're at it, get some for the women on your holiday shopping list, too. And wait, there's more! If you comment on this blog, you will be entered into a drawing to win a $5 Starbucks gift card. The drawing will be held on September 28th. The winner will be announced here, so be sure to check back.

As always, read more "S" posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme at and feel free to jump in with a post of your own.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A 2 Z: Research

Old West 1Research tends to be viewed by writers as either a necessary evil or a wonderful labyrinth of time-consuming knowledge. I fall into the latter category and love all the little facts I pick up doing my searches. One favorite of my own short stories is "Lo Ikwithltchunona, The Cloud-Swallower." The story idea began with a comment in a sermon about a missionary who prayed the rain would hold off until the  roof he was building was completed. I typed a few keywords into the search engine and stumbled across a fascinating Native American legend about a stone column in New Mexico.

The Zuni people believed the stone was once a giant named Lo Ikwithltchunona, that is, the Cloud-Swallower. To quote my story, "this giant had once roamed New Mexico, drinking of the clouds that drifted about his head and killing all men he came across. But the gods had grown weary of him and defeated him, tossing him over a cliff where his body turned to stone. Now the clouds dropped rain as the gods pleased."

That wonderful find led to learning about the Zuni's rain dances and native language. Their rich culture lent a backdrop to my story that was so much more wonderful than it would have been if I'd done no research and wrote only the simple story of a Christian missionary praying for no rain.

On the other hand, I've had times when research made me realize my premise was completely implausible. But I've learned even that can be used to my advantage. Indeed, when researching my current novel Reaching Sky I discovered a law was quite different than I'd thought. Instead of completely revamping the story, I let the main character have the same misconception I had--until almost the end of the book where a twist reveals the truth. I think it's strengthened the story and made it more realistic, without a tied up with a bow ending.

Another thing I've learned about research is that many busy professionals are much more willing to take time to answer my research questions than I ever would have expected. Certainly I've sent out some letters that were never answered, but I've been very surprised and pleased at some that were answered.

When researching that same novel, I filled out one of those automated online contact forms on the Washington State's Child Administration page (social services/foster care). I doubted I'd get any answer at all but within a few days I not only got an answer but was given the direct phone number to the woman in charge of the whole administration. She answered the call and spent thirty minutes talking to me, answering questions and giving a wealth of information I hadn't even known to ask for.

Likewise, while writing a historical fiction novella set during WWII in Ravensbruk, a women's concentration camp, I emailed a historian who'd authored of one of the books I was using for research. I asked if she'd be willing to read my rough draft to check for accuracy. She agreed and followed through, giving me feedback on my story.

So don't be afraid to go directly to the source by approaching professionals to ask for research help. Here's a sample of what a letter like that might look like. Note that I didn't just ask for help for myself, but mentioned how it might be beneficial to them, as well.

Dear Sir,
I am an author working on a novel about two foster children. Is there someone in your office who would be willing to take a few minutes to answer some questions about the foster care system in Washington? I would like to ensure the basic facts about the system and the way the children are handled in the book are true-to life. I can communicate through email or telephone, whichever is more convenient. I think the conversation would be of value to the Washington CPS department to help make sure the organization is portrayed accurately to the public, as well as being a help to me.
Thank you for your time,
Amy Michelle Wiley

Now I'm on to researching the next book I plan to write, Voices of the Dark, which is a little more intensive than for the last book. I've already been in contact with someone and gotten some of my initial questions answered, just in time to be able to revise my main character's role accordingly.

Have fun with your own research and as always, check out more "R" posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme at and feel free to jump in with an "R" post of your own.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A 2 Z: Queen of the Universe! Or not....

This week is National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness week about spreading awareness of diseases and conditions like Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Lyme Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and many others. For my "Q" post I'd like to answer some common questions and comments I get about my own life living with invisible chronic illnesses. Feel free to skim or jump to the ones that look the most interesting if you don't have time to read them all. I've included website links to helpful resources, as well.

But you look so normal and healthy! Yes, that's why it's called an "invisible" illness. The most common symptoms of these types of illnesses are things not easily visible like pain, fatigue, and cognitive problems (brain fog).... Please don't assume that if I look normal and if I'm smiling, then that means I'm feeling perfectly awesome.

Aren't you too young to have all these health problems? It's actually quite common for many of these conditions to develop in the early twenties, or even younger. Others are genetic issues that are present from birth. It can be difficult for those of us assumed to be in the prime of our lives to be so limited in work and pleasure activities. We often find we have a lifestyle more in common with people of our grandparents' generation than of our own. (social networking site for young adults with chronic illnesses)

How do you accomplish so much if you are that sick? Honestly, I feel like there is so much more I want to do that I haven't been able to. Someone (Cori) once said of me that I could take over the world if I wanted--sometimes I jokingly wonder if this is my "handicap" to keep me from dominating the known universe! haha! But to be serious, I do have to spend a majority of every week resting in bed or on my recliner couch. Sometimes I'm able to do writing or other computer-related tasks while resting, by using my laptop on a special bench my dad built to take the heat and pressure off my legs. Other times I'm too worn out to even do that. So I guess my answer would be that my projects get done eventually out of pure determination to keep working at it in the little bits of time when I can.

What controls your symptoms? I have dietary limitations and some prescriptions and supplements that help slightly, but the only thing I've found that significantly decreases my symptoms is getting lots of rest. I can do very little housework or cooking and I work under ten hours a week with lots of breaks.

What's the hardest thing about living with these conditions? I have to consider each and every thing I do carefully to determine how much of my energy it'll use up, how much pain it'll put me in, and how it will affect the things I have to get done later that day or week. This includes everything from the little things like when I take a shower or if I can load the dishwasher, to bigger things like whether I can meet a friend for lunch, attend a church event, or take on another hour of work. I hate having to say no to things I want to do, especially the things that would make a difference in the world like volunteering my time to help others. However, by learning to pace I've been able to lower my pain and brain fog levels considerably, most days.

(The Spoon Story is an analogy to help us understand what it means to pace yourself all day.)

What are some blessings you've found in the midst of everything? My limitations force me to rely on God's strength for everything I do. All my accomplishments are so clearly things I couldn't have done on my own, so all the glory goes to Him. Also, I find that I'm able to have empathy with others and reach out to help people who wouldn't otherwise have let me if I was a normal healthy person.

Why hasn't God healed you? I believe God can and does perform miraculous healings. However, God has never promised that He will always heal us physically. In fact, just the opposite. The Bible is clear that while we are on this sinful world, we will  have suffering. For now I've heard a clear "no" or at least "not yet" when I've asked for healing. I rejoice in the knowledge that in heaven I will experience a perfect body and in the mean time I know God is using my challenges for His glory.

(My Journey is the answer God gave me to my "Why?")

Have you tried _______ (this special diet, these supplements/vitamins, this exercise program, this treatment, or this medication)? My friend was CURED by doing that! Yes. I've tried pretty much everything. I have to live with this disease every day, so am very invested in keeping up on all the research, theories, and other patients' experiences. Every person's body responds differently, so what may significantly help one person could do nothing or even harm another.

I see you walking around and talking animatedly at church or the writing conference or other gatherings. How do you have so much energy to do those things? I am a bubbly and happy person and my disease does not remove my personality, so I still can seem bubbly and excited even if I'm not feeling well. Also, I'm able to do a lot more for a brief time than I can do for an extended time. Adrenaline and saved-up rest can get me through a few hours or weekend doing pretty well. I then crash at home for anywhere from several hours to several days or weeks. I've also learned little tricks like bringing a little pillow to support my back, parking near the door (handicapped spaces) if I have to carry anything, not carrying a purse, and not standing for too long.

What exactly are your conditions? I've been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a heart condition, frequent subluxation (joints partially dislocating), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Raynaud's (circulation disorder), IBS, and a vision processing disorder, plus all the things that go with those like insomnia, allergies, digestion problems, muscle weakness, and low blood pressure, etc, etc. That's an awfully long list of things to go randomly wrong and I'm now convinced that I actually have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome III. It's a genetic connective tissue disorder that can affect your muscles, joints, skin, and organs, and would explain pretty much every single one of my symptoms all from that single disease. I'm working on finding a specialist to confirm the "maybe" diagnoses I've gotten so far.

Sometimes you refer to your limitations as an illness and sometimes as a disability. Why?  What I have is an illness but what I am is disabled. Changing my thought process over to thinking of myself as disabled was a huge step for me in accepting my disease. To me, the word "illness" means something that has an eventual end (either by getting well or by passing away). I found myself putting my life on hold, waiting to do this or that "until I'm all better." When I came to realize that I likely will never be "all better," I grieved for my dreams that were gone, and then eventually I had to get up and go on with the life I have, making new dreams or adjusting old ones. A disability is something that will be there forever, but that can be overcome to some extent. For me, labeling myself as disabled gives me permission to learn to live the life I've been given to the fullest extent possible.

I am so thankful for the internet that allows me to be so much more connected to the world than I can be just physically. Thank you to each of you who support me prayerfully and with encouragement through this journey of life. Please remember as you interact with the rest of the world that some of the reactions or actions you wonder about in others may be because they, too, have an invisible illness causing a problem you can't see. Feel free to ask me questions any time!

Check out the other "Q" posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme in the link at the bottom of

Monday, September 05, 2011

A 2 Z: Peculiar People

White Planet cast members who attended the first
FaithWriters Conference in 2007
In 2005 it occurred to me that one way to get very strong fictional characters with clearly different voices would be to have a different writer focusing on each one. Now, much of my life I've come up with fantastical ideas for fun and involved projects, but had a difficult time persuading my friends to go along with it. Once I got connected with online writing groups, I suddenly had an abundance of friends who were not only as wacky and creative as I, but more than willing to jump into crazy projects.

Thus we started Chat-A-Book and Assignment to White Planet 8069. A handful of us made up a fictional character for ourselves and I laid out a basic outline of the opening part of a story. Then we met weekly in a private chat room and "acted" out a story, ad lib. We wrote actions and dialogue for our characters with the setting allowing for real-time reactions and realistic conversations. The storytelling spanned seven months.

It was so much fun! The transcripts, now called Secrets of the Ice, are set aside, waiting for me to transform them into a screenplay and/or radio drama. But that initial project was successful enough for me to continue trying out similar things.

Thus it was that at some point during those months I decided to make an official organization and dubbed it Peculiar People. The name was perfect. We all know writers are, indeed, a little peculiar. This group's goals were even more peculiar than most. Plus, we were Christians, and as such are called to be a little different from the world. Titus 2:13-14 says in the King James Version that we should be "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."

Since then I've had nearly one hundred writers and artists from at least eight different countries jump on board to submit entries to books. Each project has been unique and written in a slightly different format. I'm still playing with what works most effectively.

Two books are published and available to buy in print and e-book versions. Struggle Creek is a small town mystery. Each chapter is written by a different author and told from the view-point of a different town member, yet the whole thing ties together to tell a consecutive story.

Delivered is a collection of fictional short stories about postcards sent throughout the world saying, "Let me pray for you." Each story is about someone who found a card and how letting a stranger pray for them impacted their life.

The orphan plane project is in progress right now. This story is a twist on the real-life orphan trains in the 1800s that sent children from inner-cities to find safer homes in the west. Our book is set in the future and the children are being sent to live on a space station. Each section is about a different one of the children or workers. The rough draft of that book is almost one-third of the way done.

drawn by
Mid Stutsman

Also in progress is the Heirloom Chronicles book, I Will Be Found, a collection of novellas that follow a fictional wooden box carved by Jesus as it's passed down through history. The book starts in Jesus' time and ends with a futuristic story set in 2020. The rough draft is completed and waiting for us to get back to critiquing and editing.

If you are interested in being a part of PeP, I will add you to the mailing list to be updated about future projects. Send an email to: contact (at) peculiarpeoplebooks (dot) com

Hmmmm, once again I managed to write a ginormous post. Sorry. As always, check out more "P" blog posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme at 

Monday, August 29, 2011

A 2 Z: Orphan Opportunities

The other day I was talking about a project and a friend asked me, “Is that the book about the orphans?” The question gave me pause because I suddenly realized that phrase could describe every one of my current writing projects: Peculiar People’s orphan plane project, “I Will Dance”—my section of PeP’s Heirloom Chronicles book, and my solo novel, Reaching Sky.

I’d never realized I was so obsessed with orphans until that moment, and discovered upon reflection that a number of my other past or future writing projects also include parentless children. At first it seems an odd topic for me to be focused on, because I have such a strong and loving family myself. But perhaps that’s exactly why—my heart goes out to those who do not have that support I’m blessed to have.

Thinking back, I realize my heart has always been drawn toward orphaned children and I often dreamed that when I was an adult I would go to Mexico to work in an orphanage as well as possibly adopting children of my own. Though my health will likely prevent that particular mission field, I find that at times I now work with children who, though they technically have parents, are often separated from them by a language and cultural barrier caused by the child’s deafness and the parents’ unwillingness or lack of knowledge to bridge that gap.

As I’m now pitching my novel (and its continuing Elements of Light series focused on foster children) to an agent, I’m thinking about ways to promote those books and the orphan plane project. I’m praying about whether or not God is calling me to become more involved in advocacy for the foster care system in the U.S. and the world-wide orphanages and adoption systems, including their strengths and weaknesses. It would possibly mean volunteer and research time, which would require a gift of my energy—a limited and cherished commodity and therefore a serious decision.

I’d love prayer and advice. I want to wait to see if this is something God is calling me to do rather than just something that would make sense from a promotional viewpoint that has the added benefit of something that would aid society. It could even mean speaking engagements and perhaps a partnership with existing organizations that minister to foster children locally and orphan children globally.

I will only move forward if I’m confident this is indeed a calling from God, but sometimes it can be hard to know if I’m hearing Him or just my own brain talking. Thanks for your prayers and feedback!

Monday, August 22, 2011

A 2 Z: Novels past and pres—hey, look! an idea!

I could cover all three of the next weeks’ blogs in one slam dunk post about Novels about Orphans by Peculiar People but I’d rather spread those all out, so this week I’ll talk about my novels, past and present.

My first novel was Marissa, a historical fiction book I started as a teen and got about 10,000 words into. That’s my longest uncompleted work. It is about a young girl in 1854 who stays with a neighbor family while her mother goes to care for her parents who are battling Scarlet Fever.

Ironically, a few years later I actually came down with Scarlet Fever myself. These days they call it “strep throat with a scarletina rash” and it’s easily treated with antibiotics, but let me tell you, that was a horrible three days! I was literally writhing in pain every time I had to attempt to swallow.

But back to the point. Here is a clip from that story, exactly as I left it in 1998. (you should have heard me snickering and snorting as I looked for cute excerpts)

"I'm so glad you all are coming over! I know we'll have so much fun! We always do." Tanya smiled at Marissa and then gasped. "Caroline Thoger! Don't lean over the side of the wagon like that. You'll fall out."

"No I won't," protested little Carrie. "Du wagon weels looks neat tun'n wound an wound like that, when you looks at dem fwom du back. An du gwound movin by so fast."

"Well, you still can't hang over the edge like that." Insisted Tanya. "You mite fall out."

Since then I’ve opened a menagerie of documents that each contain anywhere from three pages to three chapters of a novel (and that's not counting all the short story starts). I get ideas faster than I can write them and that's resulted in...well, nothing. I guess I’m a bit ADD when it comes to writing and I get distracted by the next shiny idea before I’ve hardly started the last one. It took NaNoWriMo to keep me focused for long enough to actually write a whole rough draft—and that was only because it was over in four weeks!

In a file from 1998 I have a couple thousand words of a period piece, Changes in a Family, about a stuck-up rich family. Also in that year I wrote about some kids who got locked in a school bathroom over the weekend. Then there was the story from 1997, about a kids’ club, that got a whole page and a half dedicated to it. Another file from ’98 contains exactly fifteen words.

In 2003 I have files for a book about a girl with amnesia and a story about a cowgirl whose far-away aunt sends her porcelain dolls for her birthday every year until they finally meet and find a way to bridge the gap between the frilly aunt and horse-loving girl. Another file is called The Shimmer and begins a sci-fi futuristic story that is still high on my list of books to be written soon.

A file from 2005 contains notes and scenes from a story that eventually became Reaching Sky, the one novel I have completed to date. There I also found My Real Father from 2005 about a girl whose biological father suddenly came back into her life when she was fifteen. Her adopted father who raised her is Deaf. This is the opening scene:
The imaginary enemy agent hot on her trail, Adriana braked her bike hard and skidded around the corner. Leaning over her handlebar she raced the last few feet until she reached the safety of her driveway.

She screamed and swerved to miss the strange man standing in the middle of her driveway. Sticking a foot out, she managed to keep from toppling to the ground and gaped at the man, debating whether or not she should run.

Finally she managed to gasp, “Did you need something?”

The man smiled—or was it a smirk? “Yes. You’re Adriana, I presume?”

OK, this was freaking her out. How did he know her name? She climbed off the bike, keeping it between them. “Uh, yeah.”
A file from 2006 contains three chapters of a fantasy book, Beyond the Valley, about two boys on a quest to find a fabled treasure, as well as Threads of Pain, a novel about a young girl needing a kidney transplant.

One file simply has a list of fifteen book ideas or titles, some the same as the above stories. One of those is Reaching Sky and another is my completed novella, “I Will Dance,” which will be published in the Peculiar People's Heirloom Chronicles anthology.

Now that I’ve actually finished a book and a novella, I firmly believe I can keep myself focused and continue that trend. That list also shows M&Ms and Apple Cores, which has now become Above the Clouds and part of the Elements of Light series. I plan to write the rough draft during this year's NaNoWriMo. Over the next several years, once I've completed the third and final book (a new idea) in that series, I hope to write Threads of Pain and then start the Shimmer series.

I'd love you all to help hold me accountable and keep me focused!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A 2 Z: Me!

I had planned to write about myself for the "M" post in this meme and didn't even realize it would fall on my birthday. How perfect! :-) First of all I'll mention that I posted my "L" one late due to being busy with the FaithWriters' Conference, but it's there now so you can look down at the next post for the second part of Kira's story.

Starting at a very young age I had a love for words, a passion for people and stories, and an imagination to match. Before I could even form written words with a pen myself, I dictated stories to my mom, who wrote them down and let me illustrate them. Those early stories were all about the escapades of Amy and Jamie—me and my imaginary twin sister.

I began developing my own fictional language at the age of twelve, with the help of my best friends Megan and Jeff. Eventually I created a culture to match it, and someday will write the novels set on that Island of Enelee.

Yet as easy as language and stories came to me inside my head, writing it out on paper or reading it off paper was a surprising challenge that first manifested itself when it came time for me to learn to read. Eventually we discovered I have a visual processing disorder—my eyes don't work quite right with each other or send quite the right signals to my brain. I had to have extensive therapy and training before I was able to comfortably do common tasks, and it's rather a miracle that today I am successful at writing and at interpreting a visual language.

I'm the youngest of three girls—a surprise baby trailing behind the older two by several years. My mom was an only child and taught us that siblings and family were something to be cherished, so the three of us have always been close friends.

Maybe the rest of "me" is best told by some pictures.

My sisters and friends and I loved playing outside in the creek,
ponds, and woods. We were very much tomboys and were often seen
climbing trees, playing with snakes and frogs, and digging in the mud.

But I was also a frilly girl and loved
dress up and tea parties with my girl friends.

When I was seventeen, my next-oldest sister
and I started figure skating. We took lessons,
competed, became informal mentors to the
younger regular skaters, and eventually
were assistant teachers to the beginning
levels. When I had to stop skating due to
expenses and increasing health issues,
I could do one of the lowest sit spins at the
rink (though my lay back was awful) and
could land all my single jumps. I was
working on my axel and double sal cow.
In this pic we were The Lone Ranger

and Tonto (me) for a special skating event.

A few years ago I got to go to Australia to stay
with FaithWriter Chrissy Siggee for a month.
In 2010, I graduated from a sign
language interpreting program
and now work as a professional
interpreter in churches and at a college.

In 2007, I became assistant
coordinator and emcee for the
first FaithWriters Conference.

Last year and this year I also had the privilege
of teaching a workshop at the FW conference.
Today on my 29th birthday I'm feeling pretty content. So far I've had a great life and God has accomplished some cool things through me. I have a college degree and a job I love, have had short stories and articles published nearly seventy times, have a completed novel, several group books published through my collaborative fiction organization, and as mentioned, am an emcee and presenter at an international writing conference. Plus I'm an aunt to three beautiful girls and have been to at least seven different countries besides the U.S.

That's not bad for just under thirty years of life!

My hopes for this next year are that I'll get:
- increasing answers to my health issues (though I've come to accept my health itself likely won't improve much)
Reaching Sky accepted by a traditional publisher
- a rough draft of Above the Clouds written
- at least a start on putting together The Master's Touch: then and now, an anthology of my Biblical fiction and current event fiction short stories
- my national interpreting certification written and performance tests taken and passed

I think that's a pretty good list for now. Thanks for all your love, support, and prayers this year. As always, check out links to more "M" posts in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme at and feel free to jump right in if you're a blogger who would like to join us.