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I wrote this on my Facebook page the day my voice awakened. I have something to say and will no longer be afraid to say it. Thank you, Kate, for showing me what courage with the pen is all about. Letting the world into my mind will, I hope, help the world understand what it means to be a teacher, coach, martial artist, writer, chronic pain survivor, and whatever other voices might come to mind.. So, let us begin…

 

I was told on Friday that I might have to switch the classes I teach because I am not a “good collaborator.” You see, teaching in a California public school is no longer about what happens in the classroom but what you do on Wednesday afternoons when the kids are home playing video games. Let’s ignore for the moment that my doctorate in learning psychology gives me a pretty good understanding of how students acquire knowledge, and that this understanding has become ingrained in my delivery system, to ask what I would have to do to be considered a “good teacher” under the new paradigm. I detailed in my doctoral dissertation about this paradigm shift that began with the No Child Left Behind act, where politics and commerce decided that holding parents and students accountable for performance were no longer viable. Instead, we began to pump money into technology and teacher training. It was easier to blame teachers for poor student performance (forget that I am the same teacher for one student who fails and the next student who is accepted into Stanford University). Here we are twenty years later and we are still wasting billions of dollars a year on new computers and software platforms that delight us with pretty colors and fancy integrated functions but do little to change the fact that learning comes down to encoding and processing information then storing it for later retrieval. The decision makers have entered my classroom maybe five times this year for a total time of no more than ten minutes. They have little knowledge of my curriculum or how I teach it. They have no knowledge of the life lessons my lectures impart that go way beyond the classroom. I doubt they’ve spoken to one of my students. And yet I must be a “bad teacher” because I am hesitant to jump through their hoops on Wednesday afternoon when I am home recharging because my schedule has me teaching five periods straight without a break (ignoring the restricted work conditions the district and I agreed to when I began suffering from chronic nerve pain). So, I am seriously frustrated here and questioning my decision to even be a teacher at all. If it weren’t for my amazing students and their parents who continually share with me their gratitude and appreciation, I would walk away right now. I hesitate sharing this, but I am tired of being accused behind closed doors of not doing my job and could use some support and encouragement here.

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I did it! I surpassed the 200k reads mark on wattpad.com. The bright red numbers should draw readers to my book like moths to a flame (forgive the overused cliche). Ok. Not really. But it does look nice. I also passed 1,000 followers this week. Not a bad showing for nine months of hard promoting, interacting, shamelessly self-promoting in the most clandestine way possible.
Really, it’s a game. You have to advertise without advertising. You have to circumvent the trolls and ignore the know-it-all’s professing they know the publishing industry in spite of the fact that they’ve self-published novels no self-respecting publisher would touch if their manuscript was the one left following Fahrenheit 451 like apocalyptic massacre200K of every other book. It’s a game of shadows trying to make one’s dreams into substance.

What has been the key? I believe my understanding of my market has propelled my recent success. One of my cohort members from Stanford recently said, “Girls buy books.” How true she was, and how lucky I that I wrote THE FRUIT OF THE FALLEN with the teen female in mind. Women are much better communicators and, frankly, share much more about their lives than men do. We all know this. Sure there are exceptions to the rule, but if one wants to be successful outside of the fantasy and perhaps spy-espionage genres, the teen girl reader must be considered. I can share an example from a recent trip to Europe with a group of teens. One girl was reading THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Before we had boarded the plane, every other girl in the group had their own hardback copy for which they payed premium retail at the airport book store (and they got a nice bag to boot). Word of mouth. Being a part of the group. Not being left out of the conversation. These are key points to understanding why girls buy books. Guys just don’t talk as much about what they are reading (unless Khalessi is involved, over course!).

manuscriptI can’t tell you how hard I tried to write a butterfly theme into my novel so I could use the beautiful blue butterfly on the cover. Why? Because girls like butterflies. They’re pretty. Girls will click on my book just because of the beautiful cover. That’s the first step. The writing is the second step.

So, it has been a week of milestones. 200K readers. 1,000 followers. Plus, I finished the extended version of the novel and am doing a final proof before submitting it for republication. A chapter in my own writing story is closing. Thank goodness! I can’t wait to start the next one.

195,013

Almost to 200,000 reads on wattpad.com for THE FRUIT OF THE FALLEN! Why is this significant? 200K is the threshold for the bright red number indicator. In short, the change in color will mean my book is HOT!

What a journey it has been since first hearing about wattpad at a publishing seminar I attended at Stanford University. The publishing industry is changing, at least different doors have been opened, or holes busted through the walls if you have some publishers, and wattpad is providing writers an opportunity to squeeze through one of these new openings. Sitting in the seminar taking notes with one hand, my other hand was creating an account and uploading my first chapter.

Jul27Done. I had a page with my first chapter and a profile pic the same as my book cover, well almost, at least as much as I could fit. I’d change this later. I was one of two million plus aspiring writers with a story I was willing to give away in order to build a “platform” and gain the attention of an agent or publisher. Ha! It seemed like one might as well skip a rock across a pond and have a baseball scout offer a major league contract. Hey! It’s going to happen to someone, so it might as well be me, right? And It had already happened to a couple writers, even a teen girl not even out of high school.

Where does one start? By waiting. And waiting. Then, one begins to interact, write, share, write some more, make corrections, leave reviews, join book clubs, interact, adding a chapter a week, all the while building a small network of readers. It was hard work getting a foothold, but I made it. THE FRUIT OF THE FALLEN became a featured book. I’ve befriended accomplished writers, most notably Lauren Kate, author of the FALLEN series.

Now I wait for those beautiful scarlet red numbers to appear. Less than 5K more reads. What a journey. What an accomplishment, But, it is only the beginning.

http://www.wattpad.com/27993722-the-fruit-of-the-fallen-chapter-01

Read THE FRUIT OF THE FALLEN on wattpad for free!

https://www.goodreads.com/event/show/928355-feature-celebration-for-the-fruit-of-the-fallen

Mangos, finger bananas, pineapples cubes and fresh papaya scooped out with your fingers and eaten so that the juice dribbles down your chin and hand. What’s culinary protocol when you’re sitting in a canoe six degrees above the equator with a basket of handpicked fruit at your feet and a wriggling fish in your lap that you speared just minutes before? No need to cook him either. I made five slices down his side and the tore his flesh away from his bones, rinsed each morsel in the ocean water and enjoyed the best sushi I’d ever tasted.

This was Ponape, a small island in Micronesia six degrees above the equator north and slightly east of Australia.  If you take a flight to Hawaii from Los Angeles and keep going another three thousand miles you’ll be there. I was in between my second and third years in college taking seven months to be a student missionary. I taught music in a church sponsored elementary school children, which basically meant I played the piano an hour a day while they sang nasal renditions of summer camp favorites. It was a good gig. I was young, in love with a fellow missionary, and fearless. Well, almost.

My roommates and I had decided to go snorkeling in a place where the water was so warm you needed to get out to cool off and so blue that it was made transparent. I could see the colored coral below our canoe and my roommates’ snorkels bobbing up and down and their fins splashing as they motored around.

“I’m going across the channel,” I yelled when a mask appeared. A thumbs up was the response.

The channel looked no wider than maybe a hundred feet, as if I knew what a hundred feet looked like back then. I spat in my goggles to keep them from fogging, rinsed them out, slipped on my flippers and rolled out of the canoe.

Talk about HD clarity. Colors blended with colors- fish and coral, little Nemos peeked out from within their anemones, parrot fish with kissing beaks played chase, some blue, some yellow, some green, and some striped all colors of the tropical rainbow.  Breathtaking. So beautiful.  But I left them behind and swam towards the channel watching the bottom fall away.

When I was half way across I paused to consider how far I had come. Everything seems farther away when you’re in the water, and I thought I must have already come at least a hundred feet. But I was half way. No reason to turn around- except that I couldn’t see the reef ahead. Fearless. I swam on.

The water was not so warm all of a sudden. The bottom had disappeared completely. I couldn’t see the other side nor the reef from where I’d come. I was alone in the open channel feeling small and insignificant. But I wasn’t alone. Oh, no. I was definitely not alone.

From the direction of the open ocean I caught a glimmer moving towards me. I wiped my goggles and peered into the darkness. It was enormous. Then, it …they, were all around me. Hundreds, even thousands of tuna swimming under me and in front of me, behind me. I could reach out and touch them, they were so close. Then they were not close at all. They were scattering.

I’ve scared them, I thought. But it was not me they were afraid of. It was the shark swimming through the open channel directly towards us. I saw him. Black eyes on gray skin. He was big. Six feet? Thirty? I froze. Couldn’t move. My mind told me to swim. My legs froze? I was to be the sushi.

But he did not eat me. He turned and followed the tuna, leaving me alone floating in my own pee. I forced my legs to kick like I never had before until I reached the highest bit of corral I could crawl upon. I yelled for my friends to pick me up. They laughed nervously when I told them what had happened. The locals rolled with laughter when I told my story. They said it was only a reef shark. Not dangerous unless you have a string of fish hanging from your waist, and then a bite is only an accident. But it did not matter.  Reef shark or not, that moment changed me.

Hemochromatosis would have killed me had I not been so persistent with my doctors…

I’ve been really good about keeping my life’s problems to myself, so you probably had no idea how difficult the past five years have been. Typical of most men, I lowered my head and pushed forward stubbornly refusing to reach out for help. I became withdrawn, depressed, overweight, fatigued, and was plagued with a plethora of seemingly unrelated health problems and random pains in my abdomen and chest radiating to my arms and fingertips. I knew something was wrong, very wrong, but my doctors told me I was young and healthy. They asked if I was stressed. I told them, “of course.” They said I needed to lose weight.  I told them, “duh,” and tried to explain how active I was with volleyball, photography, travel, and how I walked my Labrador Retriever regularly. They nodded and smiled.

from cdc.gov

from cdc.gov

My journey has been fraught with doubt and disbelief. No one believed I was sick. I put on a happy face and went on with life feeling a little worse each day. I went to the doctor five years ago complaining of pain in my chest. She ordered the regular tests to check heart and lungs. She also gave me an inhaler and ordered a series of allergy tests. I learned I was allergic to dust mites (who isn’t?) and bought a new mattress, covered it with a special hypo-allergenic case, and filled my rooms with hepa-filters. A year later, I went back complaining of the same pain and also generalized fatigue. I required a nap every day and was sometimes too tired to leave the house. No amount of sleep helped. Still I went to work and continued to coach volleyball several nights a week. I went on with life, trying all the while to hide how bad I felt on a regular basis. I kept telling myself that I would feel better if only I was in better shape. This is what my doctor had said after all.

Another year passed before I changed doctors and presented my symptoms again. By this time I had added fifteen pounds and persistent dark circles under my eyes. On the worst of days, people would actually ask if I had been in a fight, so discolored was my skin. I would wake in the morning and tell myself I needed to change the lights in the bathroom because they were so unflattering. My doctor ordered a sleep study. I spent the night wired up and was told I was had chronic sinusitis and a mild case of sleep apnea. They gave me a c-pap machine to help me breathe at night and prescriptions to help with the sinus issues. Finally, a diagnosis, I thought.

from celticcurs.org

from celticcurse.org

Depression was the next symptom. I found myself withdrawing from my friends, short tempered, stressed, and focusing on negative thoughts. I was becoming more and more frustrated with the fact that there seemed nothing I could do to change the way I was feeling. Here is when I should have reached out for help. But I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. If only I had known that depression was a common symptom of the soon to be diagnosed disease.

Another year came and went and my symptoms increased in severity and frequency. Add shortness of breath, dizziness, and an irregular heartbeat to the mix, and I was sure my heart was the problem. A blocked artery would explain the fatigue, shortness of breath, and sharp pains in my chest and left shoulder. I went to the emergency room and came home with a normal EKG. I was told I was having a panic attack. Then I had an episode in Paris where I was staying for the summer and sought out a British doctor. He said the same as the others – I was healthy, but also suggested that it could be an ulcer. He gave me the equivalent to Nexium to get me through the summer.

from celticcurse.org

from celticcurse.org

Back home, sharp pains in my chest again sent me to the hospital and an x-ray, MRI and ultrasound were ordered. I also had a tube stuck down my nose clear to my stomach (worst test ever) to check my esophagus and then a separate GI endoscopy later. Esophagus negative. Yes on gastritis (pretty common).  Then the ultrasound came back positive. My doctor told me there was sludge or a stone in my gall bladder and suggested I have it removed. I was referred to a surgeon who confirmed the diagnosis. But I wasn’t convinced. A gall stone only explained some of my symptoms. So I tried a holistic approach. For three months I changed my diet and took gall cleansing supplements without any relief. The pain increased. Seeing no other option, I scheduled the surgery and had my gall bladder removed. The sharp pains were gone, but not the shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, and heart palpitations.

This is when I asked for a new doctor, my third. He was skeptical when I first saw him, but ordered a slew of tests to pacify my insistent requests. Tubes were filled with blood and sent off to the lab. Weeks later, I visited the doctor again for results and was referred to another specialist because I had an elevated enzyme in my liver which suggested hepatitis. Really? Hepatitis? The specialist asked some very personal questions and ordered another series of tests. Years after my first visit to the doctor, the results were in. No, I did not have hepatitis, but I did test positive for Genetic Hemochromatosis.

What is Genetic Hemochromatosis?

Genetic hemochromatosis is disease which alters the body’s ability to regulate iron absorption. Too much iron is absorbed and stored in the organs and tissues, particularly the skin, heart, liver, pancreas, and joints. The excess iron poisons the organs and causes organ failure if untreated. The excess iron and iron carrying proteins, mainly ferritin, also thickens the blood so that organs have to work harder to process the blood. The potential for stroke is a serious side-effect. In my case, the gall bladder was the first casualty. How lucky I am that it was my gall bladder that failed first. A nurse shared the story of a recent patient who had lost two brothers to hemochromatosis before he had been diagnosed with the disease. The tragedy is that hemochromatosis is a very common genetic disease and is easily treatable. So why is it so often missed?

from runkle-science

from runkle-science

The inherent problem with genetic hemochromatosis is that the disease hides like a cloaked ninja deceiving observers and masking its identity. Symptoms are created by stressed organs, so these organs are treated. The iron continues to increase until the next organ is affected. The patient then goes to the doctor with these symptoms and receives treatment for that organ, not the underlying cause. It is only a matter of time before a critical organ fails.

from yourdiagnosis.com

from yourdiagnosis.com

Treatment for hemochromatosis is simple. The patient goes on a weekly basis for a phlebotomy where blood is withdrawn from the body to (1) dispose of excess iron and ferritin and (2) so the body will use iron to make new blood. It can take months to drop iron and ferritin levels to normal. In my case, ferritin started at 3,700 ng/ml (200-300 ng/ml is normal). After two months, I am at 570 ng/ml. Only one or two more to go! Then, I’ll have to have my blood tested a couple of times a year and repeat the phlebotomy as necessary.

My health has yet to return to normal. The biggest issue I face is the excess weight that I have gained. The good news is I have more energy now and should begin to see the benefits of routine exercise.  I have also found that my personality has been altered by the  illness. I have all the side effects of depression and a type-A personality. I know it will take some time. Seriously! It’s been years in the making – these bad habits and thinking patterns that have come to rule my life. But I have found the silver lining and am making progress.

I hope you will read and share this with your friends and family. Genetic hemochratosis is the most common deadly genetic disease, a silent killer that can lie dormant in your genes and be passed on to your children even if you have no symptoms. And it is so easy to test for if you ask for it. One simple blood test is all it takes.

I am thankful that I was insistent with my doctors that something was wrong. I have been given a second chance on life. God willing I’ll be able to make the most of it!

– J. C. Burnham

Flotsam_Jetsam_Dec_2013

Which stories stand out among the flotsam and jetsam that is wattpad?

I have sifted through the profiles and complied a list of stories I find worthy of your attention. These authors have written words others might have overlooked without having realized their merit. So, I intend to give them their due attention.

These are not professional authors. Their stories might not even be complete. But, I will assure you, they are worth a moment of your time.

Why have these stories been selected? They show promise in one of the five following areas:

Voice – Individuality is timeless. Clichés die young.

Plot – Turn me on my head and spin me until I’m dizzy and giddy.

Artistry – Poetry in prose.

Technique – Some writers just know how to do it right.

Title/Cover – Catch my eye. Draw me in.

DIRECT LINKS TO STORIES:

“Angel of Fire – the Breath of Immortality”

“That Story Untold”

“My Poems”

“Popularity for Dummies”

“Sammuel Pickett”

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