I am honored to present Stephanie Collins. She is the mother of four children, wife, and "an unsuspecting author of a true medical drama/unconventional love story." Her book "With Angel's Wings" is inspirational, informative, and spell-binding. Please sit back and read about this most talented writer.
Tell us a little about yourself.
With Angel’s Wings is my story, so, along with the epilogue included on the book’s website and the blog posts that act as something of a continuation of the epilogue, the book pretty much sums up who I am. I am a mother of four. Catherine (“Emily” in the book), 23, has high-functioning autism with mild to moderate cognitive delay. Sarah (“Hannah” in the book), 20, has a rare genetic disorder (Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome - non-verbal, non-ambulatory, incontinent, exclusively G-tube fed, seizure disorder, cognitively approximately 6-9 months old, and a history of 7 heart defects). Will, 13, has severe ADHD and dyslexia, and Ellie, 9 – who I described for years as my [finally!] “typical” child [albeit with something of a princess complex] - was diagnosed with ADHD/dyslexia (although, a somewhat milder case than Will’s) just before she turned 8. I have a 4-year degree in psychology and a 2-year degree in nursing. I worked for approximately 10 years as a registered nurse on the medical unit at Seattle Children’s Hospital, but gave up my career to focus on the growing needs of my family. When I was 40 I set out to get rid of the 10 souvenir pounds I had collected from each of my 4 pregnancies. In the process, I found my inner jock, and I now love to run and I'm addicted to Zumba. Other than that, I read every minute I can.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was my favorite book (although it ties for first place with A Little Princess, also by Ms. Hodgson Burnett). Aside from that, I was pretty much the typical girl, getting my fill of the Little House, Judy Bloom, and Nancy Drew books…along with just about anything else I could get my hands on…which – oddly enough – generally consisted of Louis L’Amour westerns (I have a horse-crazy, country-loving mom; what can I say?).
Do you have any special memories attached to your reading when you were young?
Riding the bus. We lived way out in the country, and I had an hour + ride to and from school. I happily spent the whole time immersed in the wonderfully exciting worlds my books provided.
Name three of your favorite books and why.
She Dies At The End by A.M. Manay ~ This is a paranormal thriller/suspense. Romance is normally my go-to genre, and there’s a touch of romance here or there, but Ms. Manay just does such a fantastic job creating a vibrant world with 3-dimentional and intriguing characters that I instantly became her #1 fan!
Cherish by Catherine Anderson ~ This is a historical romance, so it falls easily into my favorite genre. I’ve read many, many romances (specifically historical romances) over the years, but when I think back, this book always pops up as one of my most memorable reads. I don’t think I can offer a specific reason why; I just really found the story well-written, compelling, and very memorable for me.
Nailgun Messiah (Micah Reed #1) by Jim Heskett ~ This is a thriller/suspense mystery. Mr. Heskett routinely publishes books that give me cause to step away from my romance comfort zone, and this is just one example of his great writing. The storylines are unexpected and exciting, the characters compelling and relatable. As with Ms. Manay, I’m simply a huge fan!
If you could sit down for dinner with three authors, who would you choose and why?
Well, no surprise after my last answer, but I’d definitely love a chance to sit and chat with A.M. Manay and Jim Heskett. Along with just getting to know them better, I’d love to hear what’s coming next! Then again, I’d almost rather just make dinner for Ms. Manay, and serve it to her at her computer. She is currently writing the 3rd book in her series, and I’m so anxious to read it that I wouldn’t want to disturb her writing for any reason! Another author I’d enjoy to get to know better is Pamela Clare. I read her historical romance “MacKinnon’s Rangers” series and loved it. I particularly liked the actual history included in the books, and would love to quiz Ms. Clare further about her research.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
Because I never set out to publish a book (I simply wrote therapeutically), I didn’t much care where my writing actually happened. I just wrote when the mood struck. That being said, between the times when my daughter’s seizure disorder was at its worst, when her sleep disorder was at its worst, and when I was working the 11 PM to 7 AM shift at the hospital, I most often found myself writing as a way to stay awake when staying awake was a particular challenge. So…I guess you could say that, while I didn’t really have a favorite place to write, I most certainly had a favorite time (generally around 3 AM)!
Do you prefer certain music or quiet when writing? If you prefer music, what are your favorite pieces?
I love my music, and would have loved to listen to it more when writing, but – alas - I found I was able to concentrate best without the music.
Is there any advice you would like give to other authors?
I don’t really feel like a writer. I’m just a mother with a story to share. Because of that, I would never pretend to be some sort of writing expert. That being said, here’s what I learned from my own experiences:
Write what you know and what you’re passionate about. If you’re not completely “into it” as you write it, readers probably won’t be all that enthused to read it. Parts of my story that I wrote “half-heartedly” ended up on the editing room floor. Don’t waste your time; just write what you can’t live without writing; your readers will thank you for it.
Write with complete honesty. This was easy for me, because when I wrote I didn’t realize I was writing for an audience, so there was no reason to be anything but honest. This is important, of course, in memoir writing (I have read a few memoirs where the writer comes off pretty “lily-white and innocent” in various parts of the book, and I found myself thinking, “Come on, reaaaallllyyy…”). I think, though, that honesty is equally important in fiction. It’s the only way you’re going to get well-rounded, 3-dimentional, intriguing characters worth reading about.
Find yourself an awesome editor. I thought I was a decent writer…until I got my first chapter back from the editor – covered in red ink. It made me wonder if I have a grasp on the English language at all! No matter your writing ability, it is always best to get an independent, honest, and critical evaluation of your work. You need to find a good one, though. There are lots of people out there who call themselves editors, but…
And start thinking NOW about your promotional plan. I am something of an introvert. I felt our story needed to be told, but that is not to say I wanted the focus on me. I wanted the focus on the subject of special needs parenting; I just happened to be a cast member in the telling of that story. Imagine my dismay when I realized I was going to have to get out there and say, “Hey, know what you need to read? My book – my book ALL ABOUT ME.” So…I avoided doing that…and made nearly no sales for the first 3 months of publication. Then I decided to make social media my friend. The beauty of social media is you can introduce your book to the world without having to look people in the eye and say, “Buy my book, please.” And as far as social media etiquette, I have lots of thoughts, but to keep things brief I’ll sum it up with a few rules I’ve set for myself. 1 – Follow the Golden Rule. You don’t like it when you find 2 dozen notifications on your Facebook page about one person? Neither does anyone else. Don’t post your book on every literary page known to man. You want someone to retweet your book’s ad? Retweet for others. 2 – Think of social media as a bookstore. You’re just setting your book on the shelf for folks to see. You want the display to be pretty (pictures grab attention – pretty pictures REALLY grab attention). You want the pertinent information to be clear (always include genre in your tweets, and always, ALWAYS include a 1-click link for folks to easily get to your purchasing page). And you want the potential “customer” to feel at ease (so no pleading, threats, pity-party about needing sales, etc. – just a nice, pleasant display for interested readers).
Please include a favorite excerpt from your book.
The office was quiet when she walked in, but Hannah broke the silence with one of her crying spells. She had recently begun crying that way almost any time she was awake. Even when asleep, she looked like she was crying because tears would be streaming down the right side of her face. Laura hadn’t worried much about that, since her eye didn’t look infected, and tears, at least, suggested that Hannah was hydrated.
Hannah weighed in at 5½ pounds. She should have surpassed her birth weight by then, so they weren’t off to a great start. Next the doctor inquired about her fussing. Laura explained that Hannah’s crying never equaled an all-out wail, but lately, she had been fussing constantly. Her cries were rather quiet, as if she didn’t have the energy for anything more strenuous.
Dr. Michaels got out his stethoscope and proceeded with the exam. He listened to Hannah’s heart. “Uh-oh…” he said.
What do you mean, “Uh-oh?” There’s no “uh-oh” at this point in the exam. This is just a formality before we get down to the real problem–her stomach and why she won’t eat!
The doctor continued. “We’ve got a problem here,” he said. “I’m hearing a substantial murmur.”
Feeling somewhat like a bad parent for not thinking, Oh God, my poor baby!, or No!, or What? You must be mistaken!, Laura found herself oddly relieved. She continued feeling tense and fearful, but she was glad the doctor had an answer. Oh, so there is an explanation. See? I knew it was something. Now…what’s a murmur? I know I’ve heard the term before…
Not wanting to appear panicked (or, worse yet, ignorant), Laura remained quiet. She assumed by the doctor’s tone that the situation was serious enough to warrant a detailed explanation.
Still listening with the stethoscope, Dr. Michaels explained that Hannah probably had a hole in her heart. Instead of a “lub-dub…lub-dub,” he was hearing a “whoosh-whoosh…whoosh-whoosh.” After a few more minutes, he handed the stethoscope to Laura. She was afraid she wouldn’t be able to pick up the subtle differences, but as soon she placed the stethoscope on Hannah’s chest, Laura was sure the heartbeat didn’t sound normal. Stunned and confused, she tried to focus as Dr. Michaels reassured her. Although this was a serious problem, he explained that it occurred quite often, and corrective surgery was often performed on infants this size. He also reminded her that they were lucky to live in New Hampshire.
“Children’s Hospital in Boston is right down the road,” he said, “and they have some of the best heart specialists in the world who handle problems like this–and much worse–all the time.”
Next, Dr. Michaels wanted to know about Hannah’s breathing. “How would you describe it?” he asked.
“Well…” Laura was searching for the right words. “Her breaths are…choppy.”
They took a moment to observe Hannah. After a few quick, shallow breaths, her breathing slowed, and even stopped, for a few seconds. Then she took a deep breath, followed by some rapid, shallow ones.
“Yep, you’re right.” Dr. Michaels confirmed his observations as he wrote on the chart. “They’re choppy. What about her color?”
Laura was thankful for the prompt. “Oh, yeah. I wanted to mention that. She seems to get cold easily. Her hands and feet get blue sometimes.”
“Dark blue-purple or more of a dusty gray?”
“Uh…a dark, dusty blue, I guess–oh, like that.” Laura pointed to Hannah’s foot.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. He was writing more notes on the chart.
Dr. Michaels quickly sent them next door to Littleton Regional Hospital’s Emergency Room with orders for an EKG, chest x-ray, and blood-oxygen levels. He said he’d meet them there shortly. Laura felt numb, as she and Hannah headed to the ER. This isn’t real. This isn’t how today was supposed to go!
The ER wasn’t busy, so the tests didn’t take long. The shocking results came quickly. The technician could hardly believe the EKG results, and the chest x-ray showed considerable fluid in the lungs. Plus, Hannah’s blood-oxygen saturation was in the mid 80s when it should have been 100%–or at least, in the mid-to-high 90s. The news caught Laura off guard by such an extent that she didn’t know where to direct the worry consuming her. She began obsessing about the fact that she hadn’t showered. I’m obviously going to be here for awhile today, she thought, and I’m not even showered…
Dr. Michaels soon arrived and reviewed the test results. He didn’t like what he observed, but he wasn’t surprised. While standing in the middle of the ER bay, he began stroking his beard and studying Hannah, who was half asleep on the stretcher.
“Well, I’m…I’m reasonably confident that she’ll be okay over the next hour or two…I think…” He sighed after a long pause and continued. “I don’t think we need the helicopter…I think I’ll just send for an ambulance.”
Hold on! What? Back up! Did he just say “for the next hour or two!” What happened to “This is a serious situation, but it happens all the time and can be corrected with no problem?” Laura’s mind raced, desperately trying to absorb the doctor’s words. She had pictured them making an appointment for Hannah to see a specialist the next day. She had pictured going home and having plenty of time to pack bags and so forth. Instead, things were happening too fast. She began to panic. Oh, God. What’s happening? Wait…wait...what’s…oh, God…what’s going on!
Dr. Michaels ordered an ambulance to transport Hannah to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s [DHMC] intensive care nursery [ICN] in Hanover. Intensive care. That term doesn’t sound right. Intensive care is a place for elders fresh out of surgery, or right after a heart attack, or people rescued from car accidents. Hannah just attended a birthday party yesterday! A few days ago, a nurse said she was doing fine! She doesn’t need intensive care…oh…wait…if we’re going there, we might not be home tonight. I’d better call Mom.
Minutes later, Dr. Michaels joined Laura, as she waited beside Hannah’s stretcher. After watching Hannah sleep for a few moments, he let out a heavy sigh. “They want us to get an IV into her, so she’ll be ready for transport. This is gonna be quite a trick.”
Laura uttered a determined sigh, herself. If an IV was needed, then she would help Dr. Michaels make the procedure as quick and painless as possible. Dr. Michaels picked up Hannah’s limbs, one by one, examining for potential veins. He wasn’t thrilled with what he found. He rolled over a spotlight to provide a better view. The area on top of her right wrist was a possibility, but not very promising. He decided to try.