Monday, September 19, 2011

Lisa Mills: Holding On and Childhood Leukemia

Today I have Lisa Mills who just came out with her novel,  Holding On.  She decided that all sales for the month of September would be donated for childhood cancer, so this book has a special topic and a special purpose. While I would love for you to buy her book due to this reason and hope that you do, we are giving away a copy of this novel with the winner choosing the format--ebook or paperback. A random drawing will be held on Friday from those who comment. 

Lisa Mills spent ten years working as a freelance writer, penning devotions, book reviews, a biography, and much more. Her articles have appeared in magazines such as Today’s Christian Woman and Brio.She’s also contributed short stories to several anthologies aimed at encouraging families of special-needs children. Holding On is her debut novel and the realization of a dream to write fiction.

She lives in the Michiana area with her husband and their blended family of five kids, three cats, and a large dog with an over-abundance of personality.

Let's talk about writing! I asked Lisa some questions about the writing process and her personal life.

CM: What’s your favorite part of writing a book?

Lisa: I think I like brainstorming and plotting best. That stage of the book-writing process is so full of hope and possibility, and there are no wrong answers. I love taking subplots, themes, character arcs, and scene ideas and putting them together like a puzzle. In the outline form, it’s easier to see if there are holes, if something is missing, and to shore up the weak spots.

Writing the first draft is a labor of love. I struggle to get the ideas down without nitpicking my sentence structure and word choices to the point that I bring myself to a standstill. That takes constant adjustments to my mindset. “Just write, Lisa. You can adjust it later!”

Then I pore over the revisions. I take the book apart line by line and page by page numerous times before I’m satisfied enough that I will allow another human soul to see the manuscript.

CM: Do you keep regular hours in writing? What’s a typical day when you’re writing?
Lisa: I try to keep a fairly regular writing schedule, during the school year anyway. My kids leave for school and my husband leaves for work around 7, and the house is fairly quiet after that. I usually get a few chores out of the way, then go to my desk. I may answer some emails and check in on Facebook and Twitter. I allow myself a short while to goof off, then I get to work.

If I am writing a first draft, the primary focus of the day is getting down a word count. I try to meet a 1,000-words-a-day minimum during a draft. If I go over, and I often do, that’s a bonus. If I’m editing, I set a goal to fine-tune two or three chapters. Right after a new book release, I take a month to focus on marketing, so my tasks revolve around that.

I work through the day, interspersing chores, and occasionally a nap, into the mix. At 4:00, I set aside writing to cook dinner. Evenings are reserved for family and spouse time.

CM: Any special techniques for building your characters?
Lisa: I love to use an enneagram program that I discovered years ago to help build my characters’ personalities. It categorizes people into nine different personality types, outlining their major traits, defensive coping strategies, strengths, vices, and more. When I determine which personality type my character falls into, it really helps define how they will think, feel, and react to the conflicts in the story.

I prefer the enneagram method over other personality profilers like Myers-Briggs because the personalities are separated into more categories which are further defined and more specific. The better I know my character, the better I can write from his/her perspective, so I recommend the enneagram profile.

I also fill out a quick character chart with age, physical description, background, etc., to help me keep the details straight. Beyond that, I figure it out as I go.

CM: When the well runs dry, how do you recharge your creative energy?
Lisa: I am a firm believer that all work and no play makes a person dull.  So when I am feeling drained, I schedule some fun. That usually means a night out line dancing with my hubby. We take lessons and have so much fun dressing up in our jeans and boots and shuffling around the dance floor. I always leave feeling refreshed and full of creative juices. I also try to spend time with my girlfriends on a regular basis. I have the best friends in the world!

CM: The biggest enemy of my writing is….
Lisa: Fear! I don’t know why but I always feel a sense of anxiety before I sit down to write. I think I’m afraid the words won’t come, or they will come and they’ll be hideous drivel that no one wants to read. So I procrastinate and find a hundred other things that I “must” do first. 

When I finally make myself sit down to write, I usually get into the flow and enjoy myself immensely. It’s one of those mental hang-ups that creative people can struggle with. Thankfully, I am aware of this internal obstacle now, and I can usually bypass it by drinking a Diet Coke for fortification and giving myself a little pep talk. Chocolate rewards also help immensely.

CM: My writing world would be perfect if only….
Lisa: I recently remarried, in case you hadn’t heard! Between my husband and I we have five children. We have two houses until we can sell one and consolidate, so double the house and yard work. And a lot of adjusting to new schedules and circumstances, etc. So I’ve thought about the subject of the perfect writing life often of late.

I think I could write so much more if only my kids were old enough to drive themselves to sports and appointments. If only I didn’t have to shop, cook, and clean. If I didn’t have to pay the bills. If only weeds didn’t grow in my yard and elves and fairies would come and do repairs and improvements on my house. I could write so much more if the dog would quit shoving his tug toy in my hand and the cats would quit walking on my keyboard while I’m typing. If my friends and family members never had a crisis. If ... if ... if.

But then I think about what my life would be like if I didn’t have all these people and activities, and I realize, my life would be so boring. My family, my home, my friends, my pets, and even my responsibilities give me joy and provide comic relief. They inspire me. They challenge me and make me think. They teach me about life and love and being a friend. They help me to grow as a person and as a child of God.

And all that stimulus makes me a better writer. Sometimes they make me a frustrated writer—like during summer break when I can hardly get 20 minutes without someone interrupting my work time—but without them, I’d have little to write about. So I’m grateful for my imperfect circumstances. They are perfect for me.

CM: My best ideas come from…..
Lisa: I write Women’s Fiction, so I think my best ideas come from real life—mine, my friends, people I know or read about. My primary requirement is that it has to grab me emotionally. If I’m going to spend six months to a year living this subject through my work, I want to be passionate about it. So I usually look for topics that leave an impression on me, subjects that come to mind often and won’t let me go, like my experiences with children who had cancer that became the subject of Holding On.

CM: Is there anything in your book that intersects with your personal life?
Lisa: I had a son who seemed healthy at birth, but began experiencing health issues and developmental delays by age six months. He wasn’t gaining weight or doing normal baby things like trying to sit up or even holding up his own head very well. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. So we began a journey of four or five years going to nutritionists, physical therapists, and a wide range of specialists, treating his symptoms as best we could and trying to find a cause. Dealing with his medical needs soon became a full-time job for me. I learned what it meant to have a special-needs child and the sacrifices that parents and families make. Walking that journey with him helped me to understand the emotional roller coaster that parents go through in these situations.

We spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals. After an emotionally grueling and medically-expensive couple of years, doctors finally discovered my son had a heart problem and needed open-heart surgery. We drove to a children’s hospital for the procedure.

While my son was recovering from his heart surgery, we spent several days in the ICU alongside families with terminally-ill children. The scenes I witnessed there—an unforgettable mix of suffering, pain, courage, and hope—left a deep imprint on my heart. Many families in that ward were waiting out the final days of their children’s lives. My heart broke for those mothers and fathers. I could only imagine what they were feeling. The sorrow of knowing you only have days left with your child. They wept in the family lounge, exhausted and broken. But then they dried their tears and went back to their little one’s bedside to offer soft words of comfort and smiles full of love, showing so much courage and strength. Life is fragile and love is so precious. I learned a lot about both of those subjects that week.

CM: What inspired you to begin work on this book?
Lisa: My experiences with my son’s medical struggles and all the people I encountered along the way left such an imprint on my heart and mind. I wanted to write Holding On  to honor the bravery and courage I saw in the ICU of that children’s hospital. And I wanted the book to serve another purpose too. Those families in that hospital ward left such an impression on me. As I saw their tears and heard their sobs and witnessed their suffering, I felt so helpless.

Since that day, I’ve wanted to do something to make a difference so maybe other families wouldn’t have to endure that kind of pain. So when I wrote Holding On I decided to donate a percentage of my income from the book to children’s cancer research and charities. Since September is National Children’s Cancer Awareness Month, I’m donating 100% of all money I make on the book to charity. So if readers will buy it, I’ll donate it!

If you love kids and hate cancer, consider helping us raise awareness and funds this month. A Facebook post, a Tweet, or a blog could help save the life of a sick child somewhere. You are welcome to share a link to this blog or my personal blog and website with your social network. Every effort helps, and by working together we can make a big impact!

CM: Were you surprised at the outcome of the book when you finished?
Lisa: After I finished the book, I set it aside and didn’t look at it for at least a year. When I finally picked it up and reread it, I was very moved by the story. I’m sure that people think that writers, having written a book, practically know each line by heart. For me, that is completely not the case. When I finish a book, I’ll remember the general plot and major incidents, but I forget all the details, even main characters’ names sometimes. If I do a sequel, I have to go back and reread to refresh my memory and make sure that I get names, places, and descriptions right in the next book. So when I picked up the story after a year and enjoyed it from a reader’s perspective, I was very pleased.

CM: How do you feel about speaking about the topic?
Lisa: I have done my share of public speaking and I’m actually learning to relax and enjoy the experience. That’s not to say I don’t still get a few tummy flutters. I do! But it’s getting easier as I do more of it.

CM: Any advice to the readers who wish to publish a book?
Lisa: Follow your heart! Like any job, writing has its fun parts and parts that feel like work. Writing novels takes determination and persistence, but it is also very rewarding. It’s one of the few professions where you can be anyone and do anything. Your imagination is the limit.

CM: You offered to give away a copy of Holding On to a blog visitor. How can readers enter the drawing?

Lisa: Yes I am, and I appreciate Crystal’s willingness to host a contest for a free book giveaway. If you would like to enter, please leave a comment, along with your name and contact information, at the end of this blog. 

Crystal will be drawing a name from the people who comment at the end of the week. The winner will have their choice of an ebook download or a paperback version. I used to read paperbacks, but I recently received an iPad as a birthday gift and am beginning to understand the e-reader craze. So I will happily accommodate your preference. :-)

Lisa: Crystal, thanks so much for having me as a guest on your blog and offering me the chance to share about myself, my book, and a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. It is my hope and prayer that someday we will find a cure for childhood cancer and novels about parents and children fighting this disease will become obsolete. :-)


Lisa Mills

Author Lisa Mills

Holding On by Lisa Mills

When single mother, Danielle Jordan, discovers her seven-year-old son, Trevor, has leukemia, she is thrust into a desperate mission to save his life. Despite the best medical efforts, chemotherapy fails and the doctors inform her that a marrow transplant is his only hope.

But the search for a donor presents a new set of challenges. Because finding a match among blood relatives is his best chance, Danielle must return to her hometown to confront painful childhood secrets and people who have left deep scars on her heart.

Can she face her hurts and fears to save the son she loves so dearly?


Readers can purchase various ebook formats through Smashwords:

Print and Kindle editions can be found at Amazon:

(Winner has been drawn)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Posting at Two Places Today!

I am posting at two blogs today. The first one is a writing blog for the Indiana American Christian Fiction Writers Chapter website, Hoosier Ink.

Then, if you would, head over to the Midwest Writers blog where you can see all sorts of Midwestern thoughts from the writers at The Barn Door. 

Thanks so much for reading. I appreciate you all so much.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

On My Mother's Birthday

Lillian Pierson as a Toddler
My mother died in 1997. She had lived 39 years with only one lobe of one lung and raised two children. (She lived almost 65 years total.) She had 6 grandchildren when she died and she is missed greatly by all of us. She lived five years beyond what her doctor predicted, but hey, she lived beyond what anyone expected her to live back in 1958 when she was first diagnosed with TB. For someone who could barely draw a breath, she was very active, had a great sense of humor, was well read, and seemed to know everything.

She was tough and survived many heartaches and illnesses, but yet, almost always seemed to have a smile on her face, except at Christmas. She seemed depressed at Christmas time. I can't ever remember seeing her cry. I think I heard her crying in her room once, but when she came out, she smiled sweetly at me.

I remember another time getting her a yellow gold head scarf with my own money for one Mother's Day. I loved that color(one of my favorites,) but my mother was more at home in blues,pinks and pastels. It wasn't a flattering color for her (I don't think I ever saw her wear yellow.)I was thinking of my favorite color instead of hers (blue.) She still said she loved it and put it in her special drawer with the jewelry she kept but didn't wear. She'd get it out and admire it in front of me and I'd be satisfied.

I'm taking a few liberties here (and there's no one to dispute my answers) but here's what Lillian might say if she were the featured kid today on my When I Was Just a Kid blog (and I heard these stories many times):

Childhood Ambition: To be a librarian or a teacher and to also get married and have many children.I love children and really wanted to be a mother. I lost five children before I was able to have Crystal, right before I turned 30.

Fondest Memory: When my sister Mayme, who was 13 months older than I was, and I were little girls someone gave us a doll for Christmas.We had to share her, but it was so nice having something like that for Christmas.Mayme was my closest friend.I was also close to my sister, Adeline and brothers, Don and Grant.

I also loved it when someone in the house had a birthday. My mother would make a huge deal about it by making a crown for the birthday child, singing to him or her, and making special treats to eat all day--allowing the child to pick whatever they wanted. That person was King or Queen of the Day. It was so much fun.

I also loved it when she made lefse.

Proudest Moment: When I had my daughter, Crystal, and my son, Ricky. But that was when I was an adult. I was proud of my heritage and family, as a child, and of how I could take care of myself and the animals. I was proud of being able to draw pictures and read.

Biggest Challenge as a child or teen: When I was 5 years old, my mother died from TB. I was scared, but was told not to cry by my older sisters. I was afraid to go in where my mother was laid out on the bed and wouldn't go in there after the funeral. I was the youngest girl of five children that my mother had (I had five older half-siblings who were either living on their own, or getting ready to leave home.) My little brother was a baby of two and he went to live with one of the older sisters, so he was taken from us. My father had a farm to run and all of these little kids. He was in much grief--it was the second time a wife had died and left him with children to raise alone.He was 22 years older than she was.

She died in January, and my birthday was in September. When my birthday came, I went to the table and sat down. My older sister who was staying with us (she was a teen) looked harshly at me and said, "And just what do you think you're doing?"

I replied, "It's my birthday. I want oatmeal for breakfast." I fully expected my mother's tradition on birthdays to be carried on.

She glared at me, grabbed my arm and yanked me up to my feet. "Well, you might as well get used to being a big girl now on your birthday. You get your own breakfast. There will be no more birthdays. Today you grow up."

So, I grew up when I was 6-years-old. It was a cruel reality of what was to be for the next 12 years, and really, for the rest of my life. I really never remember being a child. I worked as hard as a man on the farm, and also had to keep house. I was the last child to leave home, though I did go four years to a private Christian academy for high school.
Lillian in the TB hospital in Ft. Wayne, IN

My First Job: Working on the farm and all of us had chores to do from the smallest (me) to the oldest. (The youngest boy,baby Don, was sent to live with my older married sister when our mother died, until he was old enough for my father to take care of him.) 

My favorite time of the year was lambing season. Almost always there would be a lamb or two who didn't have a mother, and I'd take care of them. We worked from sun up to sun down in the harsh elements of Minnesota, but always took Sabbath off from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday (though we took care of the animals every day and still did our chores.) We lived so far out in the sticks, as kids, whenever someone came up to the house, we'd run and hide because we were so shy! But we had lots of fun playing and making up games while we did our chores and work.

My second job was when I went to the academy at 14. I worked in the library. Loved the library. I also was a secretary at 18. I wrote in my boss' ledgers as she wouldn't allow anyone else to do it. She was extremely demanding, and I couldn't even leave an i undotted. She was a woman and an attorney, and I didn't realize how unusual that was at the time. She taught me quite a lot.

I also was a nurse's assistant in the nursery at the hospital at 19. I loved that job, bathing the babies and wrapping them tight, holding them. Nothing was more satisfying, except for being a mother myself,than that job.

Childhood indulgence: We didn't really get many "indulgences." Since we were in a family which worshiped on Saturday (Sabbath) and were strict about our diet, too, plus were living on a farm,our indulgences came in the form of reading. I spent a lot of my spare time reading. 

I loved to spend time outdoors, too, and watched all of the wildlife that thrived around the Lake of the Woods. One thing I do remember is making games out of daily life. We laughed a lot. 

One of the things I remember was sneaking into Papa's room while he slept to play tricks and listen to him talk in his sleep.
"Papa" Aaron Pierson on the left and his brother, Oscar, on the right who died in barn fire
He would talk in his sleep and his language was Swedish in his sleep. We were not allowed to speak Swedish at home, only English, so unless we were visiting a relative, I didn't speak it, just understood it. We would giggle and laugh, and once we brought in a bucket of cold water to stick his hand in. I'm sure he was awake, now that I am older and realize it, but back then I thought we were playing a good trick on him. He didn't even move when we plunged his hand in that water! And doggone it, he didn't do what we were told would happen if you put a sleeping person's hand in cold water. (Do you know what that was?? ha!) We were pretty pesky kids.

And he was rather indulgent of us, considering how cruel his father had been. He broke that cycle of abuse--and was a good man who loved the Lord--and he was our Papa. He had a great sense of humor. He was always giving us riddles, math problems, or telling us stories. I can tell the best stories that he told us!

Favorite Childhood Movie: Our religion forbade us to go to movies. I had never seen a movie until I was 19 years old when I left home and came to Indiana. I enjoyed seeing movies so much, I watched many, many movies after that. I particularly loved historical movies, like Gone with the Wind.

The illustration is from Girl of the Limberlost, and was done by
Wladyslaw T. Benda. (now that's a name!)
Favorite Childhood Book: A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. I imagined I was Elnora and thought the Limberlost must be a wonderful place. When I grew up, I lived within a few miles of the real Limberlost that Gene Porter wrote about. I loved Indiana and continued to spend a lot of time outdoors, fishing, gardening, observing nature and going to Indiana state parks.

All the Pierson children gathered at Papa's funeral in 1953
(Lillian) I am fourth from the left and Merlin is in the center of the brothers
The sister who told me "grow up" on my 6th birthday is to my right(your left.) When I grew up, I forgave her because her mother had died when she was young and she was having her own growing pains.
Mayme, my best friend/sister, is the last one on the right of the second row.
One sister is missing from this photo because her husband made her leave immediately

Childhood hero: My older half-brother, Merlin, who was a pastor. He was in the first family and his mother died when he was a boy. He was married by the time I came along, but was kind and loving. I was my father's 10th child and the fourth child of my father's second wife. My mother and her mother had taken care of the children from Papa's first marriage when his first wife died. My mother, Anna, allowed the older children from that marriage to name me. They had a baby sister who was the youngest of their family (the first family) and her name was Lillian Arlene Pierson--and that's exactly the name they gave me. She had died as a baby. It was really weird seeing my name on a tombstone next to their mother.

So, anyway, Merlin, was always kind to us, and particularly to me, or so I thought. He'd sit with me and draw pictures with me. I would do anything to please to him. One time I decided to draw a picture of the barnyard, so I was watching the chickens peck and cluck, and I drew them. I noticed that they were also making droppings as they went along, so I drew that into my picture, as well. I thought I was being particularly clever to include so much detail, and my, wouldn't my brother, Merlin, think I was great? He asked me about my picture, and I'm explaining in minute details about those chickens. He got this frown on his face, and told me I mustn't draw things like that--it wasn't a good thing to do. I was just crushed, as he was never displeased with me. It was a heartbreaking moment for me, but I loved him fiercely all the same.

When I was grown up and had children of my own, I saw him and his family less and less. He had two sons, one of whom was very ill and died as a child, and a daughter named Gwen, who was just a little older than my own daughter. He and his wife had a busy ministry in Minnesota. Where my brother lived there was a river and in the spring of 1965, it flooded. He, his wife and daughter got into a canoe, even though it was quite cold, and went downstream to see what damage there was to properties along the river and if there was any way to help others along the way.

When they got to a bridge, the water was flowing over the bridge. The water was going so rapidly, even though he was quite strong, he couldn't stop the boat. The boat overturned and witnesses say he grabbed onto the bridge, but his wife, Hulda, and daughter, Gwen, went under. He was a very strong swimmer, but he could not pull them up to safety and he could not overcome the undercurrent, not to mention the frigid temperatures. They all drowned and that was one of the hardest funerals I've ever been to--to lose my hero, my brother, Merlin, and his family.

They had one son who wasn't with them that day--he was away at school. That son grew up to be a dentist and was a missionary in Africa for many years (Kenya.) I was very proud of him.

Crystal here: It is a great privilege for me to have had such a wonderful mother. I hope that I am even half the mother to my boys, that she was to me.