Feel Me Brave

Yesterday, I wrote about this incredible book that I’ve been honored to help along the path to publishing. It is called Feel Me Brave written by Jessica Stout and her father, Walter Horak.

What is it about? I’ll let Jessica tell you. This is an excerpt from her introduction. The drawing of the dancing little boy was created by Walter.

Introduction to Feel Me Brave
©2015 Jessica Stout

Illustration © 2015 by Walter Horak
Illustration © 2015 by Walter Horak

Parenthood universally ushers in surprises, discoveries, unforeseen challenges and delights. With that said, my initial experience as a parent seemed to fit within the bounds of “normal” expectations.

Even with the perilous delivery of our second child, my husband and I ultimately found ourselves grateful and content with a healthy daughter, Jane, and son, Ryland, roughly two years apart as planned.

Our life course changed dramatically, however, soon after Ryland’s second birthday. We observed subtle yet progressing weakness on his left side and following the advice of his pediatrician, we brought him to the hospital where an MRI revealed the cause as a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a tumor in the brainstem.

This was a devastating discovery, as the prognosis for DIPG is poor: Most children die within nine to twelve months and very few survive past two years.

The location in the brainstem threatens vital functions and renders this tumor inoperable. Treatment choices are limited and non-curative, and the typical progression of this disease and the way it steals functioning cast a horrifying shadow over the future.

Clearly, my husband and I had had altogether different plans for our future as a family. We had moved to Vermont with the intention of creating a healthy lifestyle with strong connections to nature and the outdoors. As parents we made choices with the overarching goals of security and stability for the family.

I suppose that from this place of deliberate planning came a certain assumption that life would unfold in a way that cohered, at least loosely, to our vision. This vision stretched well beyond our home. It included relationships with extended family members who were experiencing the joy of welcoming first grandchildren into the family fold.

Certainly for these loved ones too, there was a powerful vision for how this chapter of life should look: joyful visits and holidays together, a steady parade of milestones to witness and celebrate, from walking to biking to reading to hitting a baseball.

We also had close friendships with other young families, and in those relationships too were the shared expectations of many fun times together and the hope for lasting bonds between our children.

So this relatively small yet overwhelmingly powerful tumor struck our family at its core, with a profound and far-reaching impact outward.


In my “other life,” the one that doesn’t include the hands-on creation of my own prose, I construct books for other authors through my book production company, Full Circle Press LLC.

I have met and worked with some amazing people over the years and have proudly produced a wide variety of books from novels to memoirs to non-fiction that ranges all over the map.

But on a personal level, I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a book that moved me like Feel Me Brave by Jessica Stout and Walter Horak.

This book, as they will both tell you, should not be published. Not that it’s a bad read. It isn’t. The words and poetry are riveting in their stark beauty.

It’s because its subject matter is so hard to bear. Feel Me Brave is about a little boy, Jessica’s son and Walter’s grandson, who died of cancer just after he turned three years old. (Cue the tissues. Even writing this makes me cry.)

Feel Me Brave started as a blog on Caring Bridge, written by Jessica, as a way to tell her friends and family what was going on with little Ryland. At some point, Walter (who is a sculptor) spontaneously began writing poetry as a way to cope. Writing is good that way.

In the best tradition of word-of-mouth, Jessica and Walter found me through a friend who knows of my book production habit and must think well of me because he trusted that I would give Feel Me Brave the respect it deserves. I hope I have earned his continued trust.

I’ve never wept while typesetting a book before, and I get teary just making the small corrections we have left to do. I cannot imagine the footsteps in their journey.

The last time we met, I asked Jessica and Walter if they would allow me to talk about Feel Me Brave online because the sense of hope in their book is so strong.

Hope when they lost a beloved child, an event that all too often crushes families? Yes, because the bonds among these folks are so strong, they are almost visible to the eye.

That’s the hope they hold out, that our commitment to one another is strong enough for us to endure together.

I’m going to share snippets of Feel Me Brave over the next few days, starting with one of Walter’s poems called “Touch.” It was written approximately six months after Ryland’s diagnosis when the little guy had been through radiation and had started some further treatments.

Touch by Walter Horak

String Theory Progress

I’m currently working on a quilt book that accompanies my first Carding novel, The Road Unsalted. Its working title is String Theory I and it will make its debut during the Vermont Quilt Festival as a premium for folks willing to make a donation of $20 or more to our little-nonprofit-that-can, the Parkinson’s Comfort Project.
Cotton Candy-whole for web
The Comfort Project accepts the occasional fabric donation and a couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a lovely woman who used to be a member of my quilt guild, Northern Lights.

She no longer quilts because of arthritis and was looking for a good home for part of her stash. Since I knew she was a quilter, that meant she knew what kind of fabric is best for our project (something I’ve learned to be careful about) so I said yes.

When I opened the boxes she’d sent, I found parts of a couple of projects she’d started making. One of them was  in pink fabrics. I have no idea what her ultimate plan was for these pieces but they are now part of a quilt in String Theory I.

I love repurposing.

Just Sittin’ Here Watchin’ the Fiddleheads Grow

After a long stretch (for Vermont) of very warm, very dry weather, rain moved in on Sunday night.
Fern in sun for web
Well, maybe “moved” isn’t quite the right verb. It was more like the rain came lookin’ for a fight because the wind accompanying it tore up trees along Route 14 in Sharon and uprooted two HUGE maples near Route 4 in Quechee.

But last night and today, we got the soaking we really needed. (Red flag warnings for fire danger are pretty rare around here but we’d been in one since late April.)

The green of our northern New England world grows more intense by the hour, and the riverside plants that we walk among just needed a good shot of H2O to take over their flood plain home.

At this time of year, my favorites are the ostrich ferns, the ones we eat as fiddleheads when they are barely out of the ground. They should be shoulder high today!

What’s the Best Way to Publish my Book?

Not that long ago, the only path a writer could take to get herself published was a murky trail through a wilderness of gatekeepers known as agents and editors. That wilderness, now known as traditional publishing, grew up around printing technology that not only made the mass printing of books possible, it made the mass printing of books necessary.

In other words, it was economically impossible to print a single copy of a book from the time of Johannes Gutenberg’s many inventions (around 1440) all the way through the end of the 20th century.

Like so many other industries, the staid world of book publishing has been completely upended by digital technology. No author has to bow before the tastes and vagaries of agents and editors if he doesn’t want to. The ability to publish one’s own books is now back in the hands of authors where, in my opinion, it belongs.

Now the question isn’t “May I publish my book?” but “What’s the best way to publish my book?”

The best way to figure out your answer is to understand how you intend to use your book. Is it genre fiction? Ebooks only might be best. Is it an art book full of imagery? Then a full-sized coffee-table, full-color book may be the best option to suit your material. Is your book going to be used to teach? Then it might be best to do both an ebook as well as a print book.

Of course costs are a consideration. Books-on-paper are far more costly to produce than electronic books, more time-consuming as well.

So what are my intentions for String Theory I?

It’s primary purpose is to provide easy-to-use patterns for folks interested in making lap quilts for people with Parkinson’s disease. It is also going to be used as a fundraiser for the Comfort Project.

There’s also my intended audience—quilters. What works best for them?

Quilters are, by nature, a tactile lot. We stroke fabric, rub batting between our fingers, move blocks around on design walls as we create our masterpieces.

Yes, many of us use online video tutorials to learn certain techniques, look at photographs on the web, learn patterns from bloggers. But we still love our paper, our books.

In addition, it is much easier to provide a premium for a donation in physical rather than digital form. Not that we can’t do both paper and electronic versions of this book. Chances are good that we will. But with a fundraising opportunity coming up at the end of June, the print version is the most pressing.

So that’s where we’ll begin.

Book Construction 101

Now that my Thieves of Fire project has moved from production to publicity, I have cleared production space in my days to produce a quilt book for the Parkinson’s Comfort Project.
Chloe's quilt top-2015
The working title is String Theory I but that could change.

I do a lot of workshops on publishing which give me the chance to realize how much of the process I take for granted because I’ve been doing it for so long. So I thought this would be a good time to capture the ABCs of creating a book from start to finish.

I chose a how-to book as my sample because it is relatively short, it is easy to illustrate and it covers all the basics in a single package. And when this series of blogs is complete, I will have an ebook to share.

When I start to work with a client, my first question is always: Why do you want to publish a book? What are you going to do with it when it’s done?

Answering these questions determines a book’s path through the production process so the answers are key.

My thinking about String Theory was sparked a year ago with a question from someone who does not quilt but would like to participate in the Comfort Project. “Do you have a pattern for something really simple that I could follow?” he asked.

Not really, at least not at that time. But his question lingered with me because I figured there had to be an answer.

The second genesis event was the Comfort Project’s first Piecing for Parkinson’s Day. I was so busy organizing the event, I never stopped to think about its results—a stack of quilt tops that had to be finished.

For the un-quilters among you, quilts are basically three-part sandwiches—a top (usually of several pieces of fabric sewn together in a pattern of some sort), a backing fabric (most often a single piece of fabric) and a middle layer of insulation, most often cotton or cotton blend batting nowadays.

When you sew the three layers together, you have a quilt. (This sewing-together process is called quilting, by the way.)

So the Piecing for Parkinson’s Day was great but the end result was a tsunami of unfinished tops flooding my quilting inbox.

What I needed was a simple pattern and process that gave folks the opportunity to make an entire quilt from start to finish.

That’s where String Theory began.

And who is my audience?

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.