To be honest, no. I have never taken any writing classes, and as much I hate to admit this, I never really liked English class in school (sorry Mr. Donnelly and Mr. Leugers), and I almost failed it my eighth grade year because I was spending way too much time daydreaming and not enough time studying. (The irony!) But, I have always had a creative imagination, and I can easily think up a story, from beginning to end, in no time at all. I decided to write down some of my ideas in 2004 and these thoughts turned into And I Believe.
I have always loved to draw and paint. I didn’t know I could draw until one day when I was maybe nine or ten years old, I saw one of those “Can You Draw Me” pictures in a magazine. I remember drawing the pirate and being amazed by how much it looked just like the picture. From then on, I was a drawing and painting maniac. So to answer the question, after high school I wanted to be an art teacher or an interior decorator, but I didn't want college debt, so I got a job instead. This is why I made Kate an art teacher in my story.
No, the story is completely made up, although many people have asked if the story is about me and my personal life. For the record, IT IS NOT in any way, shape, or form. :)
There are a few scenes, so to say, I put in there that are real though. When I was a senior in high school, I would go to the art room during one of my study halls. My art teacher was Mrs. Blinn (I had her as Mrs. Lynn in the book), and she was an amzing art teacher. There were 7th graders in there, and a group of boys (Chad Groff, Ryan Garrison, and I think also Cory Griesdorn) would chat it up with me. They were very funny. This is how I came up with the idea for Kate and Matt to meet. I made Matt a freshman so there was less of an age gap between them.
A long time ago, I remember a friend of mine telling stories from high school where him and his buddies tied up one of their friends to some old lady's front porch, rang her doorbell, and ran. (I made this a story Barb tells about Matt in the book.) The same guy and and another one of his friends picked up a girl in the hallway (literally), put her in a cardboard box, and slid the box into studyhall, which was in our cafeteria. This is how I came up with the idea of Matt and his friend, Chad putting Kate in a box and shoving her into the hallway.
All of the characters are made up except for one and that is Holly (McEldowney). Holly is a good friend of mine, who at the young age of 38 was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her fight at beating the odds against cancer was something I wanted to share. During her battle, her many updates on Care Pages opened my eyes to the hell a person with cancer goes through, and I wanted to relay this message to my readers.
Being a first time writer, it was easy for me to write about people, surroundings, and events I’m familiar with. Since I have never lived anywhere but Versailles, I picked it to be the town for my book. As far as other characters go, Beth (Didier) Simons has been my best friend since before kindergarten, so this is why I made Kate's best friend Liz (short for Elizabeth). I also have friends Megan, Tina, and Shelly, so when I needed names for Kate's friends, I chose them. The bar Creekside and its owner Tony are real, and when I was in high school, we really did go to open air dances like Kate did when she first met Aaron. (These dances were so much fun!!) Versailles puts on a Relay for Life (cancer relay) every July similar to what I mention in my book, and the annual Labor Day weekend party at Carl and Linda’s cabin is real too. My sister-in-law, Elaine Bohman, used to work for Hospice, so when I needed a nurse from Hospice, I named this character after her.
As far as the other main characters, this is who I had in mind: Aaron is Josh Turner, Aaron's mom, Joyce, is Susan Sullivan, Matt is Ben Affleck, Barb is Sally Fields, Luke is Casey Affleck, and Jen is Alexis Bledel.
I just published Mattie in March of 2019, which is a sequel to And I Believe. This story picks up nineteen years where And I Believe left off. There are new characters, and somethig big is going to happen might leave some readers not liking me. (Sorry! I went back and forth on this "something big" and knew I needed to keep it in there in order for my story to evolve the way I wanted it to.)
I had no intention of writing anymore stories connected to And I Believe, but the idea came to me one night while I was teaching Zumba. No lie. I was up on my stage doing some dance routine when I had one of those "Aha" moments. I have had another story in mind for about seven years now, and I decided why not connect it to And I Believe and Mattie. It's called Bottle Full of Demons, and parts of it will be told by Aaron's sister, Carey, who is only mentioned a few times in And I Believe. There is also a new character connected to a another new character in Mattie. Did you follow that? :)
Definitely!! I love music, and I would listen to these songs over and over again when I was writing certain parts of And I Believe. Crazy enough, I only had one song I would listen to for Mattie and that was "When You Come Back to Me Again" by Garth Brooks.
You’ll Think of Me = Keith Urban
Tonight I Wanna Cry= Keith Urban
Gotta Be Somebody = Nickelback
Fishin’ in the Dark = Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
High Enough = Damn Yankees
Outside My Window = Sarah Buxton
Somebody Like You = Keith Urban
Can’t Hurry Love = The Supreme’s
Say I Do = Kyle Jacobs
Do It Anyways = Martina McBride
You are My All in All = Point of Grace
Long Trip Alone = Dierks Bentley
I’m Gonna Love You Through It = Martina McBride
To Where You Are = Josh Groban
Amazing Grace = Susan Boyle
Believe = Diamond Rio
When I Get Where I am Going = Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton
I Can Only Imagine = Mercy Me
I like to compare my writing to the way I draw. For example, if I am drawing a face, I sketch a rough draft of the eyes, nose, mouth, etc. I then go back and add a little more detail here and there until it’s finished. Same goes for my writing. In an instant, I can have a story thought up in my head from the beginning to end. I first “sketch” out my story, and then I will add a little detail here and a little more there until I finally come up with my full story. I jump chapter to chapter and usually have the ending finished way before the rest of the story.
With Mattie, I went with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), which is through Amazon. I would suggest this for anybody who is wanting to publish a book. You do all of the work, but you are in complete control of everything and the only money you have invested are in the paperbacks you purchase yourself to sell. You earn royalties on any paperbacks and Kindle versions purchased through Amazon, and they also give you your ISBN number (this is like social security number for your book) at no cost.
The whole publishing process consisted of this: I had to find my own editor, which I found on Upwork. The editor did a good enough job, but I still found quite a few typos, so I asked Amy Hoying, an English teacher, to proof it. She did a fantastic job of cleaning up typos and punctuation. After this, I had to format it myself for print. KDP gives you templates in Word to use, so I basically cut and pasted everything from my original document right into the template. After this, I was still nervous about typos, so I asked Beth Simons, Kelly Voisard, and Vicki Cost to read it. Once they finished, I uploaded this and my cover and requested a proof. I read over the proof one more time and was satisfied with everything, so I hit the "publish" button and here we are.
One more thing, KDP also allows you to create your own Kindle version of your book. You download a free program called Kindle Create and upload the Word template of your manuscript. There is a little bit of formatting to do, but I had each book done in less than an hour.