Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Much has been made of the death of Paul Newman over the weekend. Rightly so, I would say; the man was not only a film legend, a great actor, and a darn good-looking man, but he was also a class act off screen. He had a stable, loving, long-term marriage (elusive even outside Hollywood), he eschewed offscreen drama, and he oozed that aura that said, “This is one of the good guys.”
Now, all of these things in themselves are remarkable. But what made (makes!) Paul Newman truly remarkable is that he went above and beyond all these things and founded a mini-empire of various edibles, and that all of the profit went to charity. $175 million and counting, 25 years strong. Mr. Newman, with his strong sense of humor intact even when dealing with such an extraordinary deed, referred to the mission of Newman’s Own as “Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good.” (Look it up. It’s on their website.) But even with his tongue firmly in his cheek, Paul Newman’s good deeds affected thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people. Paul Newman, you might say, even while alive was a bit of an angel.
I don’t know if it’s just because I’m suddenly looking, but lately I’ve seen many, many people stepping into that kind of role in their everyday lives. They’re not movie stars, and the people they’re helping aren’t high-profile headliners, but they are decent, hardworking people making a difference in people’s lives. I am going to highlight three cases that I have been following for a while, to celebrate the goodness of people’s hearts and encourage you to contribute. If you can’t contribute money (and many of us can’t), contribute thoughts and prayers and deeds. If you can’t help these particular people (and yes, logistics get in the way) find someone else to help. Be an angel yourself.
The first person is a four-year-old boy with a rare kind of cancer, neuroblastoma. Read about this scary, deadly disease here. (http://www.acor.org/ped-onc/diseases/neuro.html –in case the link doesn’t work.) This cancer has a 30% survival rate. And then picture the terror of having your two-year-old child diagnosed with it. Picture being a child with it. Honestly, what do you remember about being four years old? I remember running and playing and learning to tie my shoes and read and starting kindergarten. Cancer had no place in my life, and shouldn’t have a place in any child’s life. Particularly for neuroblastoma, the survival rate is low; the treatments are excruciating. The blog I have followed is written by the parents of Liam Witt, found at: http://princeliamthebrave.blogspot.com . Liam is an active four-year-old who has been battling neuroblastoma for a year and a half, since before he turned three. He is brave, he is smart, and he knows a side of life no one ever should. Liam’s parents, Gretchen and Larry, write heartrending posts about the treatments, the crises, the ups and downs. They have formed a “Band of Parents” to try to get more money funneled into pediatric cancer (http://www.bandofparents.org), and they have begun a 501(c)3 of their own, Cookies for Kids Cancer, which has raised more than $400,000 for pediatric cancer research. You can find out how to get involved with that at https://www.cookiesforkidscancer.org.
Liam’s parents’ posts contain a lot of grim news, it is true. But they don’t hesitate to talk about the angels who have come into their own lives. Friends who occasionally bring dinner. The amazing nurses at the hospital, the local firemen who have befriended their son and sometimes stop in to cheer him up. Other parents in their same situation who offer invaluable support and friendship; other patients who buoy them, despite their own grim prognoses. It is inspiring to read about these people who have realized how important it is to play that role, the role of angel.
The second case is one that is out of immediate crisis, at least for the time being. A woman in Seattle named Carole Decker unexpectedly had a bout of sepsis in her 7th month of pregnancy and nearly died. They did a C-section and the baby is doing well, but Carole has been left with permanent damage: she lost both feet, her left hand, a finger on her right hand, and she is blind. Her husband Scott writes about this on his blog and gives updates on her physical condition. Now Carole needs prosthetics, rehab, and more time to heal. This story touches my heart for many reasons, and is personal because I had sepsis when I was two years old. I remember very little of the hospital stay (just memory flashes: my mom looking extremely tired and holding a Mr. Pibb; my dad walking into my room and holding up a little squeaky toy he’d brought for me; my sister running alongside my wheelchair when I was released) and for years didn’t understand the severity of what had happened. I am genuinely lucky (blessed) to be alive and whole. Another reason that this story affects me so deeply is that Scott has also written about the many angels who have stepped in to help him and his family. They have taken care of his children, and they have raised a great deal of money for the extra medical bills. A golf tournament was held that raised $18,000; a separate fundraiser netted them $60,000. A portrait photographer is going to donate 100% of her profits on November 1 to Carole’s medical bills. A silent auction fundraiser will be held at an art show. The list goes on. Amazing people are seeing a need and addressing it, saying, “My abilities are limited, but this is what I can do.” Angels, all of them.
The third case I originally heard about through the Today Show, of all places. A blogger named Stephanie Nielson was involved in a light-airplane crash with her husband and a flight instructor. The flight instructor was killed, and Stephanie and Christian were both severely wounded and hospitalized. Stephanie was burned over 80% of her body and has already undergone numerous skin graft surgeries, with many more to come. Both were in comas; Christian has come out of his, and his recovery is a little ahead of his wife’s. They are parents to four small children.
Stephanie too had a blog. She blogged about being a wife and mother to four rambunctious children and her daily joys. The big difference between this blog and other so-called “mommy blogs” is that she has celebrated the joys of her life. She focused exclusively on the positives of being a wife and mother. She actively tried to make life fun and wonderful and magical for her family and enjoyed doing it, and blogged about the results. She posted pictures of the little parties she held for her kids; of the dress-up games they all played together; of “acting crazy” for her daughter to take the shots. And her love for her life oozed through every word.
Stephanie got about a thousand hits a day when she was blogging. After the accident happened, and local media publicized it, the hits increased to about 20,000. Her sister Jane has taken Stephanie’s children home with her, to care for in addition to her own infant son. Jane has her own blog, in which she is now detailing how she has taken on angel duty for her sister, and others have also stepped in. On their fundraising site, www.nierecovery.com, Jane and others have listed various things people have been doing to raise money for Stephanie and Christian Nielson, whose hospital bills will exceed the lifetime maximum on their insurance, perhaps by a million dollars or more. You will see a dance night, auctions, a ski day, concerts, a race. Angels know what they can offer and are offering it, and making a difference in the lives of one family that stands in desperate need.
Perhaps angels have been on my mind lately because of my book. In Did I Expect Angels?, which I published a year ago, a young mother named Jennifer loses her husband and doesn’t deal very well. She has angels in her life, people willing to help her out, and she ignores them because all she can focus on is her own pain. On the night the book takes place, she has made a devastating decision and is en route to carrying it out, when a Costa Rican man, a passing acquaintance, named Henry decides that tonight is his night to help her—to be her angel. Henry tells Jennifer his life’s story, and the reader can contrast her inability to deal with Henry’s life, which has been a hundred times harder than Jennifer’s. But Henry has recognized his angels and his blessings and been grateful for them, and his intervention just might help Jennifer get to the same place.
I believe in angels, both literal and the kind I’ve been talking about with this entry. I’ve had my share, and they have helped me more than I can say—and certainly more than they know. I want to pay it forward, and to that end, I’ve decided to donate my own little bit to the Nielson fund, and am giving 40% of the profits of Did I Expect Angels? for the months of October and November to their hospital bills. I feel strongly that people need to give what they can, when they can, to whomever they sense might be in need. Now, my sales aren’t on the level of, say, Stephenie Meyer, but hopefully no one will begrudge me this widow’s mite. I find it interesting that in my book, my character absolutely doesn’t deal with her lot very well, not until it’s almost too late—and I’m donating the money from this book to people who have risen to their challenges and then some, and that the world is full of those people. I admire and respect them and hope to be more like them. In honor of the passing of a legend, Paul Newman, and in honor of these amazing everyday people, I hope you will be, too.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I have mentioned my screenplay before (many, many times), and tonight I’m going to mention it again. This is what I have been working on for the last few weeks.
It’s a great experience. I’m working with a producer in LA and collaborating, which I’ve never done before. So far it has been absolutely great. Collaborations can be wonderful but they can also be a nightmare; get two conflicting personalities, or one partner who doesn’t want to work, or conflicting ideas and inflexible people, and it’s a recipe for disaster. So it is really lucky that we’ve done so well.
It’s not done, but we’re really getting close. We have another draft or two to go—polishes, really, more than major rewrites. It is getting exciting. We turned it in to two competitions for grants, leading to my current stress. (My bedroom is a disaster. I did laundry on Saturday and still it sits, unfolded, in the bag. On my floor.) I have never outright won a competition before, but I’ve gotten to be a quarterfinalist, semifinalist, and an actual finalist. Anil, my producer, has actually won grants. I am hoping some of his awards karma rubs off onto me.
Meanwhile, the book blog tour continues. It has been wonderful. I will list the links to the various reviews shortly (not tonight; tonight is going to be short) so you can see for yourself how I’ve been all over the internet. Pretty wild. And it’s all been pretty heartening. It is true that not everyone loves it, but…not everything can be loved by everyone. (I always go back to the slapping down that The Lovely Bones received by the New York Review of Books. Horrible, awful, mean review, of a book that spent about a year as #1 on the bestseller lists and redefined the way I wrote fiction.) And enough people have, in fact, loved it that I am feeling pretty good. It’s really amazing to meet people all around the country and have them say that you’ve touched their lives in a small way. This is the best part of the whole experience.
More to come. Soon.
Friday, September 5, 2008
I was able to call a book group last night and discuss my book with them. There were 12 women from Herriman, Utah, who picked my book just off review sites etc and read it for this month's selection. I was super-excited to find out that they had picked it (thanks, Google Alerts!) and emailed the woman who'd blogged about it, Amanda Day (hi, Amanda!), to ask if I could participate by phone. (and how cool is it that my book cover occupies the same page as Stephenie Meyer's bestseller? Let's have some selling karma rub off onto me!) She said yes and last night I called and we had a *great* discussion. You always worry it's going to be a little weird, since you can't see faces and it's going to be a bit unnatural if you're just a phone presence, but it worked out really, really well. I was so happy to do it, and I think they hadn't had that experience before so it was great all around. (I did notice that I kept referring to September 11...a little too much. Maybe it's because of the anniversary coming up, and maybe because it really did have a strong impression on me and the writing of the book. Either way, I felt like Rudy Giuliani: a noun, a verb, and 9/11. Sorry!) I love getting insights that I hadn't thought of from readers; it's really a wonderful thing to gasp and say, "Yes, you're right!" And I had a couple of those moments last night. I think the best were when some of the women, mothers, told me that they wanted to hug their children a little more and appreciate their families more because of having read the book. That caused some serious warm-and-fuzzies. So thank you to all of you, especially Kristy Johnson (who hosted the group and emailed me--hi, Kristy!) and Amanda. Oh, and Rusti (I don't know your last name) who wrote an awesome blog entry today. Emily, who just left a comment on Rusti's blog, I'd love-love-love to call into your book group, too!!
They also asked to see a picture of chupacabras, so that's what's above. This is one that a young man from Costa Rica drew for me. His name is Edwin (the guy, not the chupacabra), and he was a lot of fun. At some point when I was in CR, in a little town called San Ramon, chupacabras started making headlines. I'm not sure exactly for what; I wasn't supposed to read or watch the news. All I knew was that suddenly a ton of little kids were asking me if I believed in chupacabras. The literal meaning of that word is "suck goat" -- they were supposed to be little noctural creatures that sucked the blood out of animals. "Do you believe in chupacabras?" Well, I'm sure I don't know. I asked Edwin what they were talking about, and he drew me the above picture (I've saved it all these years), which I describe as a mixture between an alien and a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I can definitively say I do not believe in THAT.
Anyone who reads my book from now on, this is NOT what I am picturing when Henry talks about making chupacabra toys. Please don't let me spoil that for you.
Much to talk about! I have started a monthlong Virtual Book Tour on 11 different blogs. We've had our first stops already: The Friendly Book Nook and Booking Mama. I followed up Booking Mama with a guest post the next day, about angels in my life, and I will do the same with TFBN tomorrow (no link yet because...well, I haven't written it. That's next.) Both of these blogs are terrific and I have bookmarked them for future reading. This book tour is being put together by TLC Book Tours, founded by the lovely Trish and Lisa. Info on my book tour is here. (look at me and my links today!)
So that's that. I'm sure there's more to talk about, but there are more days in which to do it. Until soon...