How to Celebrate a Character’s Life

Because characters are so essential to novels, writers spend hours developing character sketches, running personality assessments on pretend people and recording the information in a workbook or on a vision board.

Since 2010, I have developed the character of Reverend G. I have lived with the voice of this gutsy little minister inside my head and written from her viewpoint what it feels like to experience dementia and early-onset Alzheimer’s. Now that the final book is scheduled for release on August 21, I feel a sense of loss. Rev G 3 Cover

Reverend G fought Alzheimer’s with faith and hope, but she no longer wakes me up at four o’clock in the morning or reminds me that she wants to wear her long white braid draped over her left shoulder. She no longer scolds me when I am too tired to write down a piece of dialogue on the notepad beside my bed. She no longer challenges me to find just the right word that will describe how Zim – her word for Alzheimer’s – is stealing her away piece by piece.

Reverend G’s voice has gone silent.

So to acknowledge the loss and help me move on, my Saturday Sisters decided to initiate a memorial service.

Sat sisters - mem serviceThese sisters and I have done life together for over 20 years. We have prayed together, shared parenting tips and cheered for our Jayhawks. Except for me, they all live in Lawrence, Kansas.

A few weeks ago, I drove to meet them at our usual gathering place, to celebrate together the life and legacy of Reverend G. We began with an introduction and the Lord’s Prayer because this prayer provided an important plot twist at the beginning of Reverend G’s dementia symptoms.

Then I gave a summary of the character sketch, recalling how Reverend G has grown and changed since the first book and how readers told me they appreciated her strength, her faith and the way she honestly cries out to God with, “I can’t stand it!”

Each of the Saturday Sisters shared their favorite stories from the two previous books, then we read Reverend G’s favorite verses: Psalm 46:10, Psalm 43:5 and Psalm 91:1-2.

A sweet warmth permeated the room as we sang two of Reverend G’s favorite songs: “Let It Be” by the Beatles and the wonderful old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” To round out the musical selections, we harmonized through a few verses of “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Then we prayed for those who suffer with Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as the caregivers who patiently listen to the same stories repeated over and over and watch their loved ones regress into childhood.

We prayed for my mom and for the other moms represented around the table, sad that we can no longer “just call Mom” when we have a problem, grateful for the years we shared yet grieving for the fading away of relationships as our mothers now sometimes forget us.

After our prayer, it was time for the luncheon. Don’t we always follow the sorrow of memorial services with the sustenance and fellowship of food?

The menu included tuna balls (in honor of Gabriel, Reverend G’s cat), cowboy caviar, gluten free blueberry muffins, Reverend G’s blueberry salad, the choice of raspberry or plain lemonade and for dessert – of course – Chunky Monkey ice cream.rev g memorial lunch

My precious Saturday Sisters spent a day encouraging me, believing that the character God and I created had made an impact on the lives of my readers.

When we hugged goodbye – it was with joy and hope that someday Alzheimer’s will be defeated and no one will ever forget their loved ones again.

Although Alzheimer’s still destroys pieces of my mother’s brain and my family still walks through this journey of forgetting – I can now – as a writer – move on.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Reverend G Strikes Again

With the release of “Intermission for Reverend G” and the signed contract for the third book in the series, I thought the petite minister with Alzheimer’s might slip out of my subconscious. I’m already ten chapters into another novel, a completely different type of book where nobody struggles with Alzheimer’s – yet.

Intermission 3D Cover-1You never know what a character might do.

So the other night, I was minding my own business and just finished reading a Psalm before I laid down. I fluffed my pillows, petted the cat and checked to make sure the alarm clock was set.

Then I started my prayers, but there she was – interrupting my prayers no less. This sweet little woman minister as clear as a bell in my head, visited me again and demanded to be heard.

So I listened. Reverend G stood somewhere in that place in the brain where characters live – her long white braid slung over her shoulder and Gabriel in her arms. In the late stages of Alzheimer’s, I wondered what she could possibly tell me.

Maybe another phrase I could use in the rewrite of the third book in the series? Maybe a clue about one of the other characters – somebody she wanted to converse with? Or maybe she had some wonderful spiritual nugget she wanted to share, something that might help a reader and also might add value to my soul.

I listened carefully to my beloved main character and could hardly believe what happened. Maybe it was the Alzheimer’s pulling a trick on both of us. I don’t know.

But as clear as a bell, Reverend G sang, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run….”

The rest of Kenny Rogers’ hit song faded in the background as Reverend G turned around and carried Gabriel to – wherever characters go to wait until they visit the subconscious of the writer again.

Really. You just never know what a character is going to do.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

Does God Care About Characters?

We sat around the table at the house where my critique group met. Each of us took our turn, reading our precious words and waiting for responses from the other writers.

Intermission 3D Cover-1I knew my group liked my main character – Reverend G, that feisty little minister who struggles to find her purpose within the shadows of Alzheimer’s. But what about the writing itself? What about the content, the plots and the dialogue? Did I do it well enough to intrigue my readers?

I truly wanted to know how to make the book the best it could be. Caregivers needed it to be credible and practical yet also entertaining. The readers who followed the story during Book One deserved a Book Two that would interest them, draw out humor and pathos — a belief in the story.

I wanted my readers to believe that a fictional tale might be real.

So I waited for the critique of my words with anticipation. The man of the house, who is also a writer, suddenly appeared from another room and started to climb the stairs. As if he echoed instruction from the divine source, he said, “Make the Alzheimer’s a character.”

It was one of those moments in life when you know God has sent a prophetic message through another traveler. When you not only appreciate the message but you know that message must be obeyed.

When you feel that jolt of supernatural electricity that helps you believe God is present.

And so I rewrote the book. And as I recrafted each paragraph, I saw how right it was to make the Alzheimer’s a character. I experienced with my dear Reverend G how real this disease is and how it torments the mind.

My mother lives with this disease and daily fights the fear of losing her hold on memories and people. I imagine my mother, just like Reverend G, talks back to the Alzheimer’s and fights it with every mental muscle she can summon.

How right it was to add the Alzheimer’s as an antagonist who attacks beloved Reverend G and forces her to mentally and emotionally battle with an invisible yet imperative force.

Does God care about our characters? As surely as he designs the written word and breathes its creative nuances through writers. He wants this story to be an encouragement to caregivers and to remind us all that even when memory fails, God still abides within us.

So I thank that writer for being the voice of an idea, and I thank my critique group for helping me polish the manuscript.

I also thank the Holy Spirit who birthed this series in the first place and continues to pave the way for the story of Reverend G.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Why Write About Alzheimer’s

Someone recently asked me, “Why write about Alzheimer’s? Isn’t that depressing? What caused you to choose that kind of story?”

"The Unraveling of Reverend G"

“The Unraveling of Reverend G”

With the second novel in the Life of Cove Creek, “Intermission for Reverend G” soon to be released, I wanted to answer those questions.

Five million Americans live within the shadows of Alzheimer’s Disease. And with the progressive live-longer-and-fight-stronger attitude of the Baby Boomers, it is likely that many more BB’s will join that statistic.

Several nonfiction books deal with the subject, but why a novel and why write it in the first person, from the brain view and heart pulse of the main character?

Because it’s unique. My marketing research found one or two books about Alzheimer’s written from the third person – as outside observers of the destruction of a life.

But hopefully, my books are different. They invite my readers into the soul of this woman who struggles with the fear of losing memories and possibly losing contact with the God she loves more than anyone else.

This series reminds us that inside each person who sometimes forgets, there is still a soul and some type of thought process. Connections may be flawed, but communication is still possible.

These books needed to be written to remind caregivers to search for hope and believe that their incredibly difficult work has eternal significance.

Reverend G asked to have a voice so that all of us can look differently at Alzheimer’s victims, to appreciate the people they once were, to love the souls they still are.

Finally, these books are a legacy to all those people who so patiently care for those who forget. They are mirrors that reflect my family – my dad who died within the shadows of dementia, my mother who fades away daily within the plaque of Alzheimer’s.

But ultimately, I wrote this series because one day I woke up with a story in my head and characters who begged to escape.

I wrote these books for you, my readers – to enjoy, to learn from and to pass on so that the next generation never forgets.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

How Do Authors Work a Blog Chain?

I’ve been asked to participate in the Author’s Blog Chain. Sally Jadlow tagged me. Visit her blog at  www.sallyjadlow.com.

Sally writes poetry and devotions. Her book “The Late Sooner” chronicles the land run in Oklahoma while her “God’s Little Miracle Books I and II” describe the many miracles Sally has observed as a corporate chaplain. Her latest book, “Family Favorites from the Heartland” shares recipes and stories from Sally’s family gatherings. 

The Author’s Blog Chain asks four questions. Here are my answers:

What are you currently working on?writing4502.jpg

I just finished the first draft of my memoir, so in a couple of months I’ll go back and start those edits. I’m also doing the final edits on the third book in the Reverend G series. The first book, “The Unraveling of Reverend G” was released by CrossRiver Media in 2012. The second book, “Intermission for Reverend G” will be released in April, 2014. This series follows the fictional story of a woman minister who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Then I’m beginning to do some character sketches and plots for the next novel that I have in my heart. No name for that one yet, so I’m keeping it a secret.

How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?

Because my family is dealing with Alzheimer’s personally, through my mother’s struggle with the disease, I wanted to explore what the Alzheimer’s patient might be thinking and experiencing inside her soul. So I wrote the Reverend G series from the deep viewpoint. I wanted my readers to feel what Reverend G feels and think as she thinks, to understand how devastating this disease is but at the same time, find some nuggets of hope.

I’ve also included lots of funny stories with the other characters Reverend G meets. Because laughter is healing, I wanted my readers to understand that even in the midst of Alzheimer’s, it’s important to look for the humor.

Most books about Alzheimer’s are nonfiction, telling about the latest research. Rarely do any of them deal with the disease from the spiritual viewpoint.

Why do you write what you write?

Sometimes I write because the words just come pouring out of me, but other times – I have a definite purpose.

I wrote my memoir because I wanted my son to understand his roots and why his family does what they do. I wanted him to experience the security of our cozy Oklahoma roots in the 1950’s, the turbulence of the 1960’s and the insecurities of my world in the early 21st century. Although he can study these decades in history books, I wanted him to see them through my eyes.

I wrote the Reverend G series because of my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my father’s dementia. Whenever I visited them, I tried to communicate and wondered what they were thinking about, what they were trying to communicate to me yet couldn’t make any sense of the words. I also wanted to encourage caregivers who work so hard during those 36-hour days to take care of their loved ones.

I write mostly about hope, on my blog and in my books, because we all need to experience hope – especially when times are tough.

How does your writing process work?

As a bivocational writer, I work another job. So my writing begins after I come home. Although I feel as if I’m always writing, getting new ideas, forming characters in my mind, jotting down notes – the real grist of the work comes when I sit down and type out the words.

I follow a weekly writing plan of working on shorter pieces and my blog during the week. Then on the weekends, I work on the books because I have a longer period of time to devote to them. Each weekend, I try to finish a chapter and then go back the next day and work on some edits.

I write a bimonthly column for the Johnson County Gazette, and a monthly blog post for Trochia online. My own blog posts are scheduled for Tuesdays of every week and then I answer all the comments that come from those posts.

My editorial calendar keeps me on track, and that’s the first document I open every night. Once I get in the zone of writing, it’s difficult to stop and that’s when it’s really fun – until the next day when I realize I’ve missed several hours of sleep because I was spending time with my characters.

I’m tagging Author Nancy Kay Grace who has been published in four anthologies and speaks on the topics of grace and faith. She also writes regular devotions on line and in print, titled “Grace Notes.” Nancy Kay’s book, “Grace Notes: 30 Days of Grace” is scheduled for publication in September, 2014 by CrossRiver Media.

Her contact info follows:

Website http://www.nancykaygrace.com/

Facebook Author Page: Nancy Kay Grace/ GraceNotes
Twitter:  @nancykaygrace
LinkedIn: Nancy Kay Grace profile on Linked In

 

 

Finding Gabriel

Readers sometimes ask me, “Where do you find your characters?”

Usually, that’s easy. I find them in coffee shops, in airports, on college campuses – and I sometimes wake up with a character who invaded my dreams.

But one particular character lives with me and doesn’t mind that I used her as a major part of my novel, “The Unraveling of Reverend G.”

Years ago, I read about a cat who was on the staff of an assisted living facility in Rhode Island. This cat had the uncanny ability to sense when one of the residents was near death, allowing the staff to contact family members.

I just happened to read that article, but somehow God kept it cached in my memory.

So when my novel started to take shape, I knew I wanted a cat to be part of the plot line – a cat who had the same type of gift.

I did my research and contacted medical professionals. Yes, such a thing was not only possible but they had seen it happen. Yes, in their opinions, such a cat would make an interesting character.

But what breed of cat? As a farm girl from Oklahoma – where the wind comes sweeping down the plains – I have known and loved various breeds of cats. Everything from Siamese to calico to the mixed blood of the typical barn cat.

As I pondered Gabriel’s breed, my own cat jumped on the laptop and proceeded to type //////////// across the page.

Of course, right in front of me was the furry answer.

BetsyMy own cat, Betsy, is a beautiful tortoiseshell – a rescue cat who was given to me by my sister. She arrived on July 4th, hence the name Betsy Ross.

Although my Betsy, unlike her historic counterpart, knows nothing about flags, she knows how to curl up and snuggle for a 16-hour nap. She is smart and extremely verbal. She lets me know when she’s hungry and reminds me when it’s time to go to bed. She even has a different meow when my son comes home, so I know he’s safe.

As Betsy became my inspiration for Gabriel, I changed the gender of the cat in my book, to protect her anonymity. Oddly enough, when I haven’t included Gabriel in plot lines or chapters, Betsy is the one who reminds me.

She jumps on the laptop, signs in with her /////////////// or even *********** and once – she stepped on the power button and turned me off.

I guess she’s become not only a character, but also my feline editor.

©2013 RJ Thesman

Seeing My Characters

During a trip to a garden center, I saw them. Big as life and twice as wonderful. My two main characters. Who could have imagined they would suddenly surface while I looked for the latest varieties of petunias? They stood next to a shelf of geraniums, apparently waiting for me to discover them.

I barely paid attention to the people around me – a warning to writers everywhere. Pay attention to people! My mind focused on which annuals to plant and how many perennials I could afford. Spring is one of my favorite seasons, right up there with fall and summer. Forget winter. In the spring, God surprises me with wildflowers that somehow made it through the cold months and greet me with a morning, “Here we are. Don’t you love us?” Yes, I do.

During the winter, I save my coins to buy flowers in the spring. I carefully plot out where to plant the various colors and textures so that they accessorize the house and bring cheer to my neighbors. The perennials go in a special garden that returns each year and blesses me as it breeds. Container gardens on my deck make me smile each time I open the door or peer out the window. Did I mention how much I love flowers?

So the annual trip to the garden center is a treasured moment. I concentrate on buying just the right amount of blooms yet sometimes surprise myself with a brand new hybrid. But what a delight to run into my fictional characters – right in the middle of a sunshiny Kansas day.

There they were. Human clones of Reverend G and Chris. Okay, he didn’t have a mustache, but I easily imagined one thriving just above his top lip. His long white hair bespoke the bearing and eclectic genius of a college professor. Not quite as tall as my Chris, but hey – he wore sandals. In dress shoes, he’d be just the right height.

And Reverend G – a petite lady with white hair, bunched behind her head in a scoonchie, standing beside her man with a look of utter contentment. Obviously in the middle of one of her prayers to the God who understands why He allowed her to fall into the abyss of Alzheimer’s.

They looked at flowers, too, she with her arm in his – he, carrying one of those cardboard flats that hold the seedlings. My two main characters who go through several adventures in life and end up…well…you have to read the book to find out.

I looked around me and wondered, Am I the only person who sees them? Have I finally succumbed to the creative disorder of novelists who spend so much time with their characters that they dream about them, pray for them and see them in real life? Or are these two people in front of me actual human beings, deeply in love and enjoying spring as much as I?

They passed on, and I finished my shopping with a giggle in my soul. Only after I paid for my flowers, settled them in my trunk and started my car did I think about the camera on my phone. Why hadn’t I taken a picture? Why not boldly walk up to this couple and say, “You look just like two of the wonderful people in my novel. Would you mind if I took a picture of you among all these beautiful flowers?”

Of course by that time, they were no longer in sight.

I’ll just have to go back to the garden center, buy more flowers and search for Reverend G and Chris. If I find them again, I’ll take a picture. Then I’ll have proof that I’m not crazy.