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