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

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

Journey of a Novel – Step 5

The publishing process for a book involves many different people with various gifts. From the graphic artists who design the cover, to the copy editor to the publisher – all these people have a hand in printing the final product. As a self-publisher, I learned about each of these processes myself and worked hard to complete a credible product. Now, with my book at CrossRiver Media, I needed to do one other thing: let it go.

From the beginning of the creative process, only two individuals worked on my novel – the Holy Spirit and me. Together we wrote the words, revised the copy, then revised it again. Most of the time, I just listened and marveled at the words that erupted from my soul, traveled to my fingers and became visible on the computer screen. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit woke me in the middle of the night to add another phrase or correct something I had misinterpreted the day before. The notepad beside my bed became a constant reminder that we were partners in this endeavor.

The editor and former English teacher in me always wants to make it better – to correct syntax or find a more efficient way to express the rhythm of my sentences. The creative mind in me always wants to find that magic word that will produce an a-ha moment for the reader. While the Holy Spirit in me is also concerned about syntax, rhythm and a-ha moments – he basically has one goal – to save another soul. So we work together, but at some point – I have to let it go.

During the journey of this novel, I wrote the rough draft in about six months. Then I corrected that draft until I felt it was publisher-ready. Now, I have revised a few places and tried to find better action verbs to move the story along. Throughout each of these steps, the Holy Spirit has also been at work – inserting another piece of the Gospel, reminding me of another Bible verse or an ancient prayer I can add to the manuscript and praying through me for those who will read this book.

This weekend, we finished that process. My characters are now part of my family, as real to me as the flesh and blood people I see each day. The story continues within my plans for a second and third book, but this particular manuscript seems ready to move on. The Holy Spirit waits silently beside me as I save it one last time, burn it to a CD, then send it through cyberspace to the experts who will complete the finished product.

As I let it go, the miracle of the creative process expands. When the book is read by others, the Holy Spirit will once again speak His words of everlasting hope. He will use the sentences, the rhythm and those precious a-ha moments to touch a heart, bring a new thought to someone’s mind or comfort those who provide care for their loved ones.

As much as I enjoyed the process, I look forward to hearing from some of you out there when you read the finished product. Let’s rejoice together in the creative process and praise God for the determined way He continues to save us.

The Journey of a Novel – Step 2

In many ways, 2010 proved to be a difficult year for me. I was unemployed, downsized out of my job right in the middle of the recession. In fact, this blog began as a plea for all of us to stay in hope – no matter what the circumstances. My unemployment taught me several things about trusting in God’s provision, about the miracles that still happen in the 21st century, about giving when there’s nothing available to give. But right smack in the middle of that scary time, God interrupted my life with Step 2 of the novel journey.

For 40+ years, I wrote and published in the nonfiction genre. Tell the facts. Teach the reader. And even though God had whispered a different direction in my ear and provided me with a textbook (see the blog post about Step 1), I was not ready to change my entire focus for a mere fiction mindset.

But one morning, still without a job and wondering how in the world to buy groceries that week, I woke up with an idea. Floating in the middle of my forehead was a character, then several ideas about that character, then more ideas and a setting, then some conversation and a story line.

Not quite sure what to do, I sat down and started writing. This action, in itself, was completely out of character for me. As an organized, Type A personality, I never start writing without an outline or research or some idea of the topic I wanted to pursue. But I could not escape from this fascinating character in my head. It was almost as if I needed to move my fingers over the keyboard in order to discover more about her – like reading a book via my hands.

After a few hours, I stood up and stretched. “What am I supposed to do with this, God?”

“Save it,” he said. “Keep going.”

So I did. The next day I woke up with more ideas, more conversation and more of a story line. I kept going, sometimes laughing at my character and what she did – sometimes grabbing a Kleenex because I was so moved by what had just happened on the computer screen. The next day and the next and the next. No outlines. No research. No idea about what was going to happen until I woke up, turned on the laptop and started moving my fingers.

When an interview or a job fair interrupted the writing, I missed my characters. I wondered what they were doing that day and longed to get back to them, to peek into their lives, to hear their conversations. Definitely hooked by the process, writing fiction totally surprised me yet delighted the heck out of me.

I had no idea fiction could be so much fun. Writing fiction just wasn’t me. Yet, it seemed that writing fiction indeed was me. I was so engrossed in the story, I couldn’t imagine going back to the same old nonfiction facts. I wanted to find out more about Reverend G and Chris, about Jacob and Jessie, about life at Cove Creek.

After six months, I read my 53,000 words with no idea what to do next. Was this just something that God gave me to do, to survive the emotional trauma of long-term unemployment? Or did God have a more expansive plan? What did he want me to do with this novel idea?

The answer began to take shape in Step 3.