Wednesday, October 26, 2011

EDNOR SCARDENS - From Semi-eulogy to Four Book Fiction Series

A cardboard box landed on my front doorstep yesterday.  As the UPS truck drove off, I felt a bit like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings...springing out the door, grabbing the box and withdrawing back into my house cave.  Opened the box and carressing "my precious", I sighed happily that the day I held my printed book in my hands had finally arrived.

The journey from first putting pen to paper - alright, hand to laptop keyboard - had been a long one, and I wondered how many writers had traveled the same road I had.  I was sure that none had started the same way.  Most begin with the intention of writing a short story, novella or novel.  They jot down ideas or carry a germinating story seed in their head for varying lengths of time until, like a baby, it just has to come out.  My own process didn't even faintly resemble that.  My creation was born of fear. 

Allow me to backtrack a bit in explanation.  Years ago, my parents began the sad journey from independent living to assisted living, to nursing facility, and I was afraid that I'd be called upon to put together a eulogy for one or both of them.  I'd been fairly self-centered as a teen, and when I married a military pilot and moved away from home, I missed alot of the everyday things that my parents did.  Long distance phone calls were expensive, and we didn't have the luxury of extended discussions.  The end result was that I missed the opportunities to delve into my parents' past lives, to understand how things really were for them growing up.  My mom had a penchant for spinning yarns about her life whenever she wanted to make a point or issue an obligatory parental warning "from experience".  My sister-in-law and I used to call it "The World According to Irene".  As an example, when she first entered an Assisted Living community, each new resident was welcomed in the facility's newsletter with a brief spotlight based on their answers to general questions.  Mom listed her favorite hobby as ice skating.  She was in a wheelchair, so you get the idea.  Even if I had gotten the time to delve into her past, I'm not sure the answers would have been dependable.

With each family member's passing, my original core of relatives grew smaller, and I had a recurring dream that when my turn came, there would be no one at the service other than my own children and grandchildren.  And they wouldn't know squat about my life before I became their mom.  The dream always continued with one of them standing at the lecturn, fidgeting, and then realizing that they knew very little about me.  It sounds selfish, but who can control their dreams?

So to save them this embarrassment and assuage my fear of an ignominious send-off into the great unknown, I sat down one evening in 2009, intent on typing out a half-assed autobiographic page or two that I could email them for safekeeping until the eventual time came.  What I hadn't counted on was how much I would remember.  As I wrote down little vignettes to keep the account from reading like a timeline diagram, I became possessed.  When I finally looked away from the computer screen, dawn was breaking through the window.  Without realizing what I was actually doing, I sat there, night after night, for three weeks straight, until more than 350 pages had been disgorged.  Surely, my kids never wanted to know that much.

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest caught my eye, so I edited like mad, changed the names of people and schools in the story and entered it.  Although I didn't make it to the final round, I wasn't willing to just let the manuscript sit, so I passed it around to family and friends, unaware that they were actually serving as beta readers. More changes came, adding and deleting to better suit a story that some would actually want to read.  It wasn't strictly autobiographical anymore, but the emotions of the main character still glowed in my brain.  I knew I couldn't let the story and the characters end there.  So I kept writing about them through  books 2, 3 and 4.  By the end of the Charm City Chronicles as I've dubbed them, the characters have matured into adulthood, some married, some living through tragedies and some succumbing to them.

I sent out query letters to literary agents and was encouraged by the number of requests I got for fifty page samples, but without magic, vampires and the like, I didn't find one willing to take a chance.  Then one day I got an email from the head of a nascent group...Fantasy Island Book Publishing, and the result is what you see in the photograph.  One journey has been completed, yet the most difficult one lies ahead:  marketing, media, social networking, and sales. 

And although they'll need to clarify which parts of the book are fiction vs. nonfiction, I don't think my kids will have as much trouble delivering a eulogy.  Just don't let let the opening line be, "The World According to Kathleen".         

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


A couple of weeks ago I took my seven-year-old granddaughter to Disney World for her birthday.  Yes, it was a ridiculously expensive present, but this past year has been all about the birth and cuteness of her new baby brother, so I decided that several days dedicated totally to her would be better than another box of clothes or the latest doll to hit the shelves.

She excitedly counted down the days before we stepped on the plane together, and she plugged herself contentedly into her iPod after the thrill of the rush down the runway.  As we sped through the clouds, I heard her singing to herself, “Baby, baby, baby……oh….” and knew that Justin Bieber was capturing her attention once again as he often does during our car rides together.  Her ability to memorize lyrics has vastly improved in the past year, and the result is often disconcerting as I hear her recite the rap streams that she and her friends practice while riding the bus to school.  She mimics Ludacris with, “She woke me up daily, don’t need no Starbucks.” 

Part of this is my own fault, as I often have music on when she’s in my house or car, and at times the lyrics are not always G-rated.  Some songs that sound so bouncy and fun turn into something rather different when the words come out of a teen-in-training’s mouth.  She LOVES Katy Perry, but I drew the line when she piped, “There’s a stranger in my bed, there’s a pounding in my head…I smell like a mini-bar….“  from the hit “Last Friday Night.”  Even I have sung along happily to songs like Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” without realizing it was about a kid taking a gun to school to shoot other students.

She has one foot in childhood, running full speed to the Mad Teacups ride and pining for an visit to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, while the other is planted in an adult society where she’s bombarded with suggestive television ads and songs with questionable lyrics.  She paints her nails and frets over whether she’s too fat to wear a bikini.  The child in her wants to hug the performers dressed in Disney character costume, but she declines when I ask her to stand with Minnie Mouse for a photograph.

At the end of one exhausting day at the Magic Kingdom, we wound down for sleep by watching one of the funny video shows with clips of babies and animals doing silly things.  A commercial came on with a scene promoting an upcoming movie.  A couple kissed and then the young man pulled off his shirt before proceeding to do the same for his girlfriend.  I managed to hit the channel selector before hers came off, and my granddaughter looked at me and asked, “Nana, do people always take their shirts off before they kiss?“  I quickly assured her that they do not.  Without skipping a beat, she added, “Did YOU ever take your shirt off when you kissed a boy?“

I’m all for giving truthful answers to kids’ questions IF it is appropriate, but I paused for a moment.  I knew that like most kids, she’d walked in on her mom and dad more than once in various stages of undress, so I flat out lied and told her I might have done it a few times but only with her grandfather after we were  married.  A cop-out, for sure.

As I watch her move in quantum leaps toward the awkward preteen years, I hope she keeps asking those questions.  As embarrassing as they can be, I want her to hear other voices….caring adult voices…to counter the too-much-too-soon culture we live in.  And I need to change the play lists on my iPod.     

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Every year during the month of October, we are bombarded by pink ribbon efforts to raise money for breast cancer research. As 1 in 6 women will be diagnosed with some stage of this disease in their lifetime, this is a much-needed effort to eradicate a disease that has touched so many families.
Updates from research teach us that by not smoking, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a schedule of regular checkups, we stand the best chance of surviving if we are one of the unfortunate people to develop breast cancer.

But have you ever wondered how different types of cancer compare in their funding? Lung cancer, which is the most common form of cancer, receives less than half the amount that goes to breast cancer. When I checked a chart with survival rates, the 20 year survival stats for breast cancer stand at 65%. That same rate for lung cancer is 6.5%.

Pancreatic cancer, one of the most devastating types of cancer, isn’t even in the top ten for funding as it affects fewer people....1 in 76. But the survival rate for these patients for even 5 years after diagnosis is a stark 4%. It is a virtual death sentence, because it is such a silent disease. By the time symptoms appear, the disease is so far advanced that most treatment has little or no effect on its progress.

Cancer is also the most common cause of death by disease in children. One in 300 children will develop some form of cancer before their 20th birthday.

So should cancer funding be focused on the most common or most deadly forms of this disease? And what makes fundraising efforts so successful in the case of breast cancer vs. other cancers?

The recent passing of Apple CEO Steve Jobs serves as a ugly reminder of how relentless this disease is. The lack of affordable methods to both screen for this disease and treat it effectively suggest that we should be asking Congress to pass the Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act for the funding necessary to make progress against this disease.

As a 16-year, stage 3 breast cancer survivor, I’m grateful for the research that contributed to saving my life. Let’s push for the same sort of support to fight forms of cancer that even the brilliant Apple innovator’s millions couldn’t save him from.