A Funny Story from the Writer’s Conference

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a writers’ conference in Atlanta. I filled my brain with a wealth of information that was particularly useful concerning my future as a writer. See, I have graduated from considering myself an aspiring writer to a full-fledged author even though I haven’t been officially published yet because I am constantly working on my craft. Though, let me assure you, it would be amazing to finally get published. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so I trudge on, slowly erecting my legacy. Before I continue, I want to express a truly special thank you to Chuck Sambuchino and all of the agents, speakers, and editors in attendance at the Atlanta Writers Conference this weekend who have been expert architects in helping me build my Rome. These conferences are invaluable to all of us whose goal is to be published one day.

I promised everyone a funny story from my trip to Atlanta – and boy, can I deliver. I had my eye on a particular shirt, one absolutely perfect for the occasion, and picked it up on my way out of town Friday. I finally arrived in Atlanta, feeling a surge of confidence as I switched roles from “mom” to “author.” I grabbed my chic new shirt to lay it out for the next day, but staring back at me was the glaring, hideous plastic security tag. I was disappointed but determined to strut my stuff in that shirt the next day. Fortunately, any problem can be solved by a good old YouTube video. That magical website once again pulled through, so off I went to my host for the weekend, a good friend in Atlanta. When I off-handedly asked her for a knife and lighter, her eyebrows just about raised enough to touch her hairline as she confoundedly replied, “Well, I guess it depends what you need it for.” Maybe I should have phrased that a bit more eloquently, but hey, hindsight is 20/20.

As I reflected on that question, I had to laugh. I explained my plight and she graciously went to retrieve my contraband items. Now I am equipped with the indispensable knowledge of how to remove a security tag. Disclaimer: I will only be using this for items I purchase – I am not a criminal. If you too find yourself in this predicament, I have graciously included the YouTube video that helped me out of this weekend’s predicament.

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A New Name-Same Site

Due to technical issues, I have changed the name of my blog to Writing With A Side Of Life and you can find me at writing-with-a-side-of-life.com however you can still reach me at thismamawritesandreads.com too.

My Facebook page has been changed but if you are already following it, no changes need to be made for Facebook or blog followers!  Thanks everyone!

-Leigh

Book Review # 5

The Woman in Cabin Ten

By Ruth Ware

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The name of this book detoured me from picking it up for months. I’d continually see it displayed at Costco, but I simply didn’t want to read about a woman in a cabin in the woods.  The only reason I ever actually looked into this book was when, a few months later, this book was selected as the next read for my book club. I grew more excited about the book after I actually read the synopsis. I could get behind a book that took place on the water. Somehow I got the vibe of Girl on a Train meets the water. Before I’d finished the first chapter, I was hooked and the author did her job of reeling me in like a fish on her line.

Right away Lo, the heroine, is thrown into a dangerous world when her flat becomes a target of a burglary. She is locked in her bedroom and hurt but is eventually able to pick the lock and get to her neighbor’s flat downstairs and call the police.

Needless to say, the attack leaves Lo petrified of the world around her. She decides to leave her flat for the seeming safety and anonymity of her boyfriend’s place. Awoken in the middle of the night by Judah, her boyfriend, she lashes out in a bid to defend her and winds up breaking his nose. The burglary and assault she suffered has truly rattled her more than she could ever expect or articulate and acts as the driving force for the premise of the book.

Fast forward a couple days and Lo, a journalist by trade, finds herself on a ship headed in search of her next story. An unintended result of the burglary is that with the loss of her purse, Lo has also lost a number of items that she has trouble piecing together.   Needing mascara, Lo goes to the cabin next to her own and asks the young woman there if she can borrow her mascara. (That in itself seemed weird. There are just some things you don’t borrow. Borrowing mascara is worse than borrowing someone’s underwear!). This woman resides in the Cabin Ten from the title. After their brief encounter, Lo leaves and doesn’t see the woman again for the rest of the night.

Later, after Lo recounts that she has had too much to drink, (something she often says she won’t do the again) she hears a splash from the side of the boat. Looking over the rail, Lo sees the woman from Cabin Ten sinking to her death. Lo notifies the security team on the lavish boat of what she saw, but they are quick to inform her that no one is registered to Cabin Ten. As a result of this revelation, Lo conducts her own investigation leading to questions no one wants to answer.

Lo, as a main character, is a relatable person that feels real at many points. Her personality has its blemishes, but Lo is able to work beyond her limitations to make her a life successful. Openly suffering from depression and anxiety is just one of the many marks of Lo’s character that many readers may find relatable.  I would say depending on the reader, she is either likable or not likable.

This book rivals others such as Gone Girl and Girl on the Train. I liked this book so much more than I initially expected I would. I did feel it missed a couple marks and didn’t really touch on or take advantage of the suspense that was built during the opening burglary scene. This detail was somehow never tied in with the rest of the book. I really enjoyed this book and it kept me guessing until the end, however, I’m starting to feel that this genre of “girls meets disaster” is becoming a bit over played. As far as The Woman in Cabin Ten goes, I would give it 4 out of 5 stars. It was not the most obvious of choice for my next book, but certainly turned out to be a great “who done it?” read.

Proud to be called a Veteran

 

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If you have ever read my blog or know me personally, you know one of my proudest accomplishments is that I get to share every day of my life with my amazing children and the man of my dreams. Seconded only to this, my most rewarding achievement is having served in the military.

Although I only served for a touch less than five years, this is one triumph that really helped to shape my life. You see, the service taught me to grow up. Sure, at eighteen I thought I was an adult and was ready to conquer the world. Oh, how wrong I was! Life really changed for me the day I landed in Florida and had my first real encounter with humidity. This West Coast gal had no idea what humidity was and it only took two days of choking on the air before I was sick and on bed rest.

After I got “classed up” with a company, I realized my company commander (they are called DI’s now) was the hardest of hard Asses in all of boot camp. She wasn’t known for her subtlety and pointed out every misstep we made along with way.

However, I made it through boot camp with just a few bumps and bruises. When I finished the final run, I ran with the men in our brother company and her exact words were, “Snook, you actually can do something right!” I can look back at those nine weeks as a defining factor in how I lead my life today.

I then made my way to Charleston, South Carolina, and loved it. (Funny how eighteen years later my family happened to move to the same city and spent an additional five years there.) I had thought I would finish my remaining time in Charleston, however the naval base in Charleston was shut down during the Clinton Administration. Next thing I knew I was given orders to ship out to La Maddalena, Italy.

The thought of going over seas was both awesome and scary. Within two months I was dating a guy that I would later refer to as the Hubs. Being stationed in Italy was by far a highlight of my life and an experience I wouldn’t change for the world.

I met some of my best friends while in the Navy. These people were my family, especially when I was stationed overseas. We spent holidays, birthdays, and all our free time together. Thanks to Facebook, catching up with most of these people made it seem like we had never been apart. Whenever we get the chance to catch up face to face, it feels like we just saw each other yesterday.

I have a respect beyond measure for those that serve their country. Military members and their spouses are put through the ringer and are forced to make a lot of sacrifices daily. An active duty member often misses holidays, the birth of their children, and about a hundred other occasions that the normal civilian takes for granted. Don’t even get me started on the pay that an active duty member makes! They risk their lives for a menial paycheck that barely helps them get by. It is a very selfless job and I appreciate more than I can express what they do for our country.

I only served a short amount of time compared to other veterans. However, the military will always be in my bones. It is a part of my being and I am a better person for the time I spent in the Navy. I can only offer my thanks to everyone who has served or is currently serving and hold a special place in my heart for those families out there that have had to bear the ultimate sacrifice.

 

Face Book Give Away

For any of my blog followers that are not on This Mama Writes and Reads Face Book page:

I now have 100 followers on Face Book.  If you want to enter, go to my Face Book Page and comment below on This Mama Writes and Reads:

Thanks to everyone! In honor of those following me, I have a give away for you all! It is my favorite thing too! On my blog is a list of all the book reviews I have written. (All of them are listed under the book review tab-I will even include the next three books I plan to review) Pick a book from that list and comment below what book you would like to win and why. The winner will be picked at random on Monday the 27th. 

Understanding Melanoma

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You know the saying, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”? Well, I feel like my middle name should be freaking Super Girl after undergoing the year of hell that I have. It all happened two years ago when, out of the blue, the hubs had a mole removed from the back of his knee. That was the day my world was turned upside down. The usual procedures that happen every time you have a mole removed was done, but this time the doctors came back and uttered the C word to us. I remember this like it was yesterday and still carry the same fear with me today that I was blanketed with then.

The surgery was much harder than you would think necessary to remove a mole and so we thought we were in the clear. The surgeon initially thought it was benign stating he had seen similar moles like this before. When the pathology came back and the mole was found to be cancerous, there was now cause for concern. A CAT scan showed that the cancer was not necessarily in the body, but the surgeon stated that he needed to remove a few lymph nodes to determine if the cancer had spread further.

The news following the next surgery was not what we wanted to hear at all. I was out of town at the time and had decided to take the kids to a children’s museum to pass the time. I had a friend take the older kids to another part of the museum, when she recognized that I was going to need a little time alone. I took the one-year-old Mister Monster to the ball pit and sat and cried. I’m pretty sure I scared off the other parents that day! All I could think to do was to call my mom because that is what you do when you are sad, scared, and unsure of what you should do next. Even at thirty-nine years old, this made me feel better. I was out of town and wasn’t sure how I was going to break this news to the hubs since the doctor had called me instead of him.

After removing all the targeted lymph nodes, the hubs started an anti-viral protocol that is standard with a diagnosis of melanoma. It was not traditional chemotherapy, but it is a tough treatment all the same.

This was my reality. All too soon, I had become the wife of a cancer patient. I was not the first one that was scared to death of losing her husband and unfortunately I won’t be the last either.

This whole thing made me think about having to grow old without the man I married. It made me think further, “Will my husband be there to walk our three girls down the aisle? Will he be there to teach our son how to play baseball?” The idea of my children not having their father in their lives was more than I could take.

 

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(Pictured above) Our kids were confused.  They knew that their dad was different and though the older ones understood, it still scared them.  They spent many nights on the couch snuggling with him for peace of mind. 

Our first trip to the oncologist was a nightmare. We sat there in disbelief as the doctor informed us of our options. None of them seemed all that great and I was stunned to hear that his cancer had been diagnosed at stage three. The doctor continued to shatter our world when he said that, in all likelihood, it wasn’t uncommon that even with treatment, cancer like this had a good chance of coming back.

After all, your skin is your largest organ. It isn’t possible that a cancer like this can be cut out and life can go back to normal. Melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers out there. I soon learned more than I ever wanted to know about skin cancer. Melanoma is just as serious as any other cancer. People think it is just a topical cancer. It can be “cut” out, but it is still one of the leading killers in the world of cancers. Not only that, once it gets into the blood stream, it metastasizes quickly. The doctor said once it was in the blood, it was hard to cure.

My husband was prescribed a month’s worth of this drug and had to take it every day. It drained him and made him feel as if he had the flu. On top of that, he also had to receive shots from me (Yes, I gave him shots!) three times a week.

It was probably one of the hardest times in my life seeing my strong husband weak and struggling like he was. I felt like a single parent for that year, as he was down and out. On top of raising the kids and taking care of the house, I was also responsible for all of his care. Please know I am not complaining, but rather painting a picture of how bad it truly was. (Anyone that watched me through that year knew I was a certifiable nut job!)

I have learned over the past two years we must live in the here and now and treasure what we are given. I urge anyone who is reading this to protect your skin. Protect your children’s skin. Be careful in the sun. Please go to your dermatologist for scheduled skin checks.

My husband was just forty when he was diagnosed with this and thankfully has had successful results from the treatments. This last year has taught me to live without regret. We are never guaranteed tomorrow, but we can prepare to expect it.

 

(Pictured below) I made him this shirt after a year of Chemo.  His doctor said he was the first under his doctor’s care to finish an entire year of this particular treatment.

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Book Review

The Professor (McMurtrie and Drake Legal Thriller Book 1)

By Robert Baily

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This is certainly a must read for anyone with a love for Alabama Football or the University in general. Thomas McMurtrie was a graduate of both the University of Alabama and the Alabama Law School while also playing football for the famous Bear Bryant. After only a few years out of law school, Coach Bryant, referred to as the Man by McMurtrie, recruited the young lawyer back to the University to work as a law professor. Feeling honored by the request, Tom readily accepted the offer as a personal favor to his old coach.

Forty years later, Tom still works as a professor at the University and has written a highly respected book concerning evidence. This is a book nearly every lawyer has used in case evidence at one time or another throughout their career. When a new Dean of Law decides to set his sights on the older professors, Professor McMurtrie, by now known as simply the Professor, finds himself on the Dean’s list of potential targets.

The Dean’s confidence is first bolstered by an altercation he witnesses between the Professor and one of his students. When it is caught on video and uploaded to You Tube, the Dean finally feels he has the evidence he needs to push McMurtrie into retirement. The Dean enlists one of the Professor’s former students as lead council to force the Professor out of the University for good.

Feeling as if he caused the young law student, Rick Drake, whom he’d had the altercation with to lose out on several lucrative offers; Tom reaches out to Drake to give him a case. An old friend has asked Tom personally to take this wrong death case but for health reasons, Tom refers the case to Rick Drake. After the Professor promises to stay our of Rick’s way, Tom soon realizes what Rick is really up against and secretly sends his former assistant, Dawn, to assist Rick in any way she can.

As the case takes off it becomes one that incorporates dangerous elements and threatens both Rick and Dawn. Before long Rick comes face to face with the former famous lawyer who had stabbed the Professor in the back and was working alongside the Dean to force the Professor out of his job at the University.  Rick is in the case of his life and working against the best attorney in the state of Alabama and operating with only a fraction of the resources he needs.

If you like a suspenseful thriller with a tender-hearted edge to it, this is a great choice to add to your reading list. This book showcases that second chances sometimes become the stuff that dreams are made of.

This is only the first book in the series and the second book, Between Black and White, works to expand the story further by taking a minor character from Robert Baily’s first book and giving him the spotlight. I enjoyed The Professor quite a bit. It was well written and used easy to understand legal jargon that made it sound very official and kept me guessing throughout the entire story.