Friday, December 22, 2017

Happy Holidays!

In the cold darkness of winter, I hope you find your light.  See you in the New Year!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christmas Cookie Tour Book Event

This Saturday, Nov 25th
11 am – 2 pm
Mount Pleasant Public Library, Mount Pleasant, PA

I’ll be joining other area authors at this Cookie Tour stop.

Going to be in the PA Laurel Highlands this weekend?  Come say hi and get a book or three.

There’ll be cookies!

The Borough of Mount Pleasant’s 4th annual Cookie Tour supports local businesses.  Tour starts at 10:30 am.  Get tour information, map, and a chance to win a $100 Visa card at the Gazebo in Veterans Park (corner of Diamond [PA 819] and Washington Streets).

See you there!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Halloween Flash

Letter to Nowhere

By: IE Castellano

Agostus Hoverall
Hillside Village Cemetery
Hillside Village, USA

1 November 2017

Haunt Council
Congress of Ghosts and Ghouls

Re: Mountain Top Inn

To whom it may concern:

The Mountain Top Inn accommodations have been quite unsatisfactory.  I have had the worst Halloween in three centuries during my visit.  This so called hotel needs to be stricken from the logs immediately.

In the rooms, the beds have too soft a mattress, allowing one to fall asleep easily and stay slumbering throughout the night.  Precise controls keep water at a constant warm or cool temperature regardless of fiddling.  The wide corridors lack tables, mirrors, vases, or other items, which could fall in front of, on top of, or behind guests as they traverse to and from their rooms.

Common areas have plenty of coffee cups, snacks, and scalding beverages.  Chairs and tables abound.  However, guests only look at their phones at all times.  They do not look up.  They do not see me, let alone pay attention to my haunting ways.

Consider this letter a formal complaint.  I fully expect the Haunt Council to send me elsewhere next Halloween.

Eternally yours,
Agostus Hoverall
Agostus Hoverall

Monday, October 2, 2017

Best Laid Plans

A view of the lake

I attempted a writing weekend earlier last month (September).  It went…

Since it was a beautiful fall-ish day, my hubby-to-be and I packed our writing and a picnic lunch and traveled to a county park.  We found an empty pavilion and spread our stuff across the tables.  After eating, we strolled while collecting our muses.

We sat on a bench near the lake.  Puffy, white clouds dotted the clear, azure sky.  A breeze rustled the partially turning leaves.  My mind tried to turn over the story for picking apart.  My tummy sabotaged it all.

Writing didn’t happen.  At least not at the park.  Later that evening, I did break out my pen and paper.  What I discovered was that the story idea I mulled would not work as a short story.  It wanted to be longer, much, much longer.

“Oh, but, IE,” you say, “had you’d planned your story in an outline first, then you’d know it would take more words than what you wanted it to be.”

Well, yes and no.

I do plan out my stories.  All of them have some sort of outline, a goal.  However, I never really know how my main character (or characters) want to get there or if I’ll even stick to the script until I begin writing.  Sometimes, I need to write a little to know.  Sometimes, a lot.  Sometimes, the whole thing.

In this instance, I wrote a page.  My main character didn’t want to do easy or tidy or short.  He wants to explore all angles, speak with as many other characters as possible.  He like details, no matter how small.  Then, he thinks long, complicated thoughts.  It took me a page to get into his rhythm.  And then, I knew he couldn’t be confined by 3,000 to 5,000 words.

Another story will have to do.  I wrote a quick synopsis for a new one.  Maybe I’ll get it written.  Maybe I won’t.  The latter seems to have seeped inside my brain lately.  I missed my deadline for Dreamweaver (The World In-between, 6) with spectacular success.  It’s coming along, just much more slowly than I would like.  Unfortunately, it won’t be released until next year.  Not what I planned, but, sometimes, the outline gets thrown away and something better blossoms.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Ode to the Blank Page

*THE* Blank Page

Blank Page

Oh, blank page
why, oh, why
do you taunt me so? 

Do you not know
I have things
things in my mind
words that must pour out
out from my fingers?

If they stay
my mind may
explode all the words.

Then the words
would leave me
and may never return
not in the same manner

Allow me
if you please
blank page
I implore you
let me splatter
splatter the black
across your white.

These words
in this order
across and down
down the page
and perhaps
to the next.

Blank page, we may never
be friends
deep down
you have a desire
to not be blank
let my words
fill this space
and be blank
blank never more.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Flash Fiction for Freedom

This year, my writers’ group wrote flash fiction or poetry or whatever for July 4th about freedom and liberty.  The writings get framed and displayed in the local library.  Since, although it’d be a fun trip to the country, visiting my small town library isn’t in your summer plans, I’ve posted my flash here.

They Came

By: IE Castellano

I was a small child when I witnessed their ship land—war torn and ragged.  These people emerged from malfunctioning airlocks not all that different than us, only where it mattered.  They knelt in the soft dirt, crying.  When they rose, they asked for sanctuary—a place to start over—a place to live their lives in peace.  Their elders had seen peace.  Their young knew it not.  They relayed stories of war and ravaging, of death and destruction.  They wanted better—to provide a future for the next generation.

We sympathized.  We offered them the chance to make new lives on our planet.  However, we also gave them a counter offer—help repair the ship and provisions to leave, if they preferred.  They chose our hospitality and stayed.

They kept to themselves, but they sent their children to our schools.  I cultivated friendships with them, or so I thought.  My “friends” learned our ways and enjoyed what our planet afforded them.  They grew to know two lives—ours and theirs.  We encouraged them to keep their home traditions.  They responded by sharing with us.

I wish I could say that our lives were richer because of them.  I wish.  But, I can’t.

I don’t remember when it all went wrong.  It just did.  There was no one big thing.  A series of little, inconsequential issues led to—boom—knives in our backs and guns to our heads.  The more I reflect, the more I realize that we were not intolerant.  They had this plan all along.  From the moment they landed, they set their scheme into motion.

They took over everything.  Squished our freedoms like bugs caught in a stampede.  Many of us kowtowed to their demands.  They killed us anyway.  Our blood washed the streets.  Those of us who assimilated became their slaves with short, albeit, gilded chains.  Those of us who bow to no master, they hunt.

A couple of my childhood “friends” found me.  They knew exactly where to look.  Ironic that I kneel in this same soft dirt on which they came.  Because we’re “friends,” they’re giving me another chance to embrace enslavement.  I’d rather die.

The barrel parts my hair.  Their cold authority presses right where my head and neck conjoin.  One soft squeeze and I will purify the ground of their tears.  I’ll die as I lived—free.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Hope, Now in Paperback

What exactly is a Wood Listener?

Beyond being able to communicate with the trees, no one seems to be able to tell Hope what a Wood Listener does, nor can anyone tell her why someone wants to steal her Listener magic and leave her for dead.

The fifth book in the epic fantasy series shifts the focus from Berty to his niece, seventeen year old Hope, as she comes into her own, magically speaking.

Since she first crossed the portal ten years ago, Hope learned to straddle two worlds—the mundane modern world and the magical world in-between the portals.  As the only Wood Listener in centuries, she struggles to find her place in life.  Unbeknownst to her uncle, her parents, and her innocent friend trailing her, Hope stoles into the magical side only to find her place fraught with danger.

Hope (The World In-between, 5) now has a paperback edition available (in addition to the hardcover and ebook editions) where they sell paperbacks (Amazon and Barnes & Noble).

Also available at Kobo, Google Play, Apple, and Smashwords

Friday, May 5, 2017

Weavin' the Dream Home

A blue Victorian similar to the one at 727 Oak Street

While Hope (The World In-between, 5) gets ready for its paperback debut, Dreamweaver (Book 6) plows forward.  The beginning of the sixth book in the epic fantasy series takes place in a dream world modeled on Berty’s world—the day Silvia introduced him to the world in-between the portals—however, he has no memory of the past ten years.  Like in Book 1 (The World In-between), Berty goes to 727 Oak Street to interview the mysterious Silvia.  Unlike Book 1, Berty’s brother, Jon, magically appears to aid his journey.  Or does he?

An excerpt from Dreamweaver (The World In-between, 6) Chapter One Dream Home

Something moved in Berty’s peripheral vision.  When he looked towards the opened door, the old woman had gone.  “Where’d she go?”  He stepped closer to the door.  “Hello?” he called.  Crossing the threshold, he stepped under a brass chandelier.  He stopped himself in the foyer to let his eyes search for the woman.  Unfortunately, they found nothing beyond wood paneled walls, a staircase, and beveled glass doors partially concealed in their pockets.  “Hello?” he called again.
“I don’t think anyone’s here,” said Jon, following him into the house.
“She couldn’t have just disappeared,” said Berty.
Jon shrugged.  He stayed in the foyer while Berty entered the room behind the beveled glass doors.
Eight tall-backed chairs protected a dining room table, free of its cloth.  He strolled around the table, pausing in front of a not-so-Victorian, room warming, stone fireplace.  He imagined the red headed woman sitting across from him as they sipped coffee.  His mind’s eye pictured a delicate cloth covering the wood tabletop.  When he found a swinging door in the back of the room, children’s laughter filled his ears.  He envisioned two girls and a boy running through the door, lapping the table, and through the swinging door again.  Smiling, he pushed the door into a small butler’s pantry.  In a few steps, he found the kitchen.  The redhead walked from the table to the old-fashioned range.  His arms reached for her.  She was only air—a figment of his imagination.
Through another door, he reached a wood paneled hallway that led back to the foyer where Jon waited, muttering to himself.  The first door on his left brought him to a cozy sitting room with book-stuffed shelves and a roll top writing desk.  In front of a window, he pictured a Christmas tree whose top hit the tall ceiling.  Under that tree, the same three children tore off bows and wrapping paper.
When he returned to the hall, Jon nodded to him.  He entered the second door.  In the more formal sitting room, he imagined having drinks with his parents, Jon and Teresa, and Matt with a woman who was definitely not Rachel.  The redhead returned with a tray of snacks.  She placed the tray on a table, then caught Berty’s eye.  He wanted to dive into her pools of brown and kiss her smiling lips.  When she faded, he wanted to tell her to wait, to come back, that he loved her.
Finding himself alone with the couches and tables, he rejoined his brother.  “Find anything?” Jon asked.
“Not the old woman,” Berty answered.  He kept his imagination to himself.
“What do you want to do?” asked Jon.
Pulling his cell phone out of his pocket, he said, “Going to speak to my editor.”  He hit call next to the office number, but nothing connected.  His eyebrows scrunched.  The top corner of the screen showed no bars.  He walked towards his car.  Still no bars.  “I can’t get a signal,” he said.  “What about yours?”
“I don’t have my phone on me.  Don’t exactly need it here,” his brother answered from the porch.
He walked out to the middle of the street.  Nothing.  Returning to the porch, he asked, “Have you seen her?”
Jon shook his head.
Berty sat on the swing tucked into the side of the porch that began its wrap.  He studied Jon leaning against the railing—casual and familiar, as if he knew the porch well.  “I’d feel weird searching upstairs,” he told his brother.
Jon said nothing.
Any earlier anger ebbed, but he still wondered if his brother and father conspired.  “Why are you really here?”
“So, my big bro wouldn’t be alone,” said Jon.  His head tilted.  “If I keep telling you this is a dream, will you eventually believe me?”
Berty rolled his eyes.
“We’d like you to wake up now, Berty.”
His hands raked through his dark hair.  “If this is a dream, how are you in it, telling me to wake up?”
“Fair question,” said Jon.  He took off his glasses, looked at them, then placed them back on his face before continuing.  “It all hinges on you remembering what really happened from the time you arrived for this interview until the time you fell asleep.”
“Uh-huh.”  He did not know what to make of his brother’s tale.  Looking at the empty space on the swing, he imagined the redhead sitting next to him.  When she leaned against his chest, his arms wrapped around her.  She felt like home.  He kissed her dark red hair, breathing in the aroma of summer berry pie.  Who was she?  His eyes flicked to stare at his brother, who, in turn, watched him.
“What?” Jon asked him.
Did Jon know her?  Why did the house affect him so?  Jon knew something, but held back.
“What?” Jon asked again.  “I can see your mind turning.”
How could he be sure that Jon was not also a figment of his imagination?  “I can’t believe Mister Hunter would send me on this interview,” he told Jon.  “The lady is obviously off her rocker.  Since I can’t call anyone, I’m going to head out.  Wanna ride home?”
Jon gave him a weird smile.  “Sure.”
Rising, he said, “I’m just going to stop at the office first.”
Berty dropped his messenger bag in the back seat of his silver sedan.  Joining his brother in the front, he turned the key in the ignition.  Nothing.  He turned it again.  No sound from the engine, not even a grinding noise from the fly wheel.  “Great.  Now, the car won’t start.”  Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Jon’s smirk.  He banged the steering wheel.  “What?” he asked his brother in clipped tones.
“I’m no expert, Berty, but I think you’re meant to be here,” Jon answered.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jon removed his glasses, looked at them, then placed them back on his nose.  “Somewhere deep inside, you know you’re dreaming and you’re telling yourself what to do.  Listen to yourself.  Go back inside the house.  Explore it.  Maybe… maybe, there’s something there you’re supposed to find,” he said.  His hand covered his mouth, stifling a yawn.  “I’ll be back later.  Unless, of course, you’ve decided to wake up between now and then.”  He disappeared.
Staring at the empty passenger seat, Berty shook his head.  “That,” he said, pointing, “did not happen.”
After running his hand through his hair a few times, he retrieved his bag then marched back towards the house.  By the time he reached the porch, he half convinced himself that his brother’s appearance was a figment of his imagination.  The front door stood open.  He could have sworn he closed it.  “Hello?” he called into the house.  No answer came.  He stepped over the threshold, closing the door behind him.
He knew no answer would come.  The empty house felt like it waited for someone.  For him?
Having already explored the first floor, he climbed the stairs.  He said, “Hello,” a couple of more times to reassure himself that he was alone.  Children’s laughter echoed in his ears as he peered into bedrooms.  The final bedroom looked to be the master with its large four poster bed and sitting area near the stone fireplace.  The relief design on the stone caught his eye.  He examined the stag in a woodland scene depicted in the fireplace.  It felt significant.  Why?  He sat in one of the wing chairs in front of the fireplace.
Through the windows, sunlight streamed onto a dresser with an attached mirror that rested against the opposite wall.  He could see himself studying himself in the mirror.  His back.  A tattoo.  Why would he get a tattoo?  He shook his head.
Across from him, he imagined the woman with those brown eyes sitting in the second wing chair.  She smiled at him.  He wanted to reach for her hand.  Who was she?  How could he meet her?  He almost heard her laughter.
Perhaps, the house was haunted.  Perhaps, it was all in his mind.  “Ghosts aren’t real,” he told himself.
His eyes rested on the soft looking mattress.  Thoughts of that woman with him in that bed flooded his mind.  His cheeks flushed while other parts of his body tingled.  He rushed out of the room.
Opening a door, he found a back staircase with flights up and down.  He galloped down, then entered the kitchen.  Trying to shake thoughts and calm feelings about that woman, he crossed the room to the back door.  It led to a porch where he surveyed a good-sized, private lawn that stretched beyond a two-story detached garage.  For a second, he wondered if it housed a car he could borrow.  He immediately dismissed the thought, but decided to check anyway.
Berty entered the garage through a side door.  Instead of cars, it held carriages and horse tack.  Curiosity brought him up the stairs that ran along the wall.  Upstairs, he exasperated, “Really?”  His eyes scanned bows, swords, axes, and other weapons from centuries past.  “What’s the point of all this stuff?”  He glanced at a golden field out of a small window.  When he walked to the window to get a better look, a green lawn sprawled to a woodsy boundary.
“Having fun yet?” asked Jon behind him.
He spun.  His brother examined a sword on one of the racks.  “You’re back.  How’d you know where I was?”
Taking the sword off the rack, Jon turned it over in his hand as if admiring it.
“You don’t even know how to use that,” said Berty.
Smiling, Jon answered, “Sure I do.  Pointy end goes in the other guy.”  He chuckled, then returned the sword to its holder.
Tilting his head, Berty scrutinized his brother.  Why did Jon not act like Jon?  Or maybe he did.  Maybe Jon was also a figment of his imagination—a figment who spoke and interacted with him.  Maybe Jon’s words were supposed to help him understand everything.  He wanted to take advantage of his brother’s appearance.  “Question,” he said.  Ignoring the junk in the room, Berty walked towards the stairs.
Jon followed him down the steps.  “What’s up?” he asked.
“I keep,” he began, but paused when he stepped outside the garage.  Berty glanced at the lawn—still green.  “Does golden grass or a golden field mean anything to you?”
Jon froze.  Expelling a breath, he ran up the steps to the porch and held the back door open for him.  “I think we should sit.  Inside.”  Once Berty entered the kitchen, Jon continued, “I’ll explain what I can.”
Shutting to door securely behind them, Jon ushered him into the sitting room where Jon took a seat across from his brother.  Jon removed his glasses, rubbed between his eyebrows, then replaced them.  “Okay.  So,” he started, then adjusted his glasses on his nose.  “This is a dream.  But not just any dream.”  His eyes darted into the hall.  “You fell asleep after walking through the Field of Gold.  In fact, you’re perched over the field.”  His palms pressed his knees.  “I think it might mean you’re remembering.”
“Remembering,” Berty repeated.
“Real life.  Before you fell asleep.”
Berty’s thumb ran along his jawline, stopping at his chin.  “I keep seeing this woman.  She doesn’t say anything or stay around like you do.”
“I’m not in…  Well, actually, I am.  I’m not a product of your mind.  Describe her.”
“Brown eyes.  Dark red hair that’s cut super short.  Beautiful smile.”  An automatic smile swept across Berty’s face.  “Who is she?”
“This is good.”  Jon sounded excited.  “You’re fighting.  You’re trying to break free of this dream.”
“Then, I know her?”
“Very well.”
Tingling ran through his body.  “Good.  Can you tell me her name?”
Jon bit his lip before answering, “Silvia.”
“The woman I was supposed to interview?”
“That’s how you met,” said Jon.  “Ages ago.”
Both hands raked through his dark hair.  Silvia—the woman he loves.  The children he kept seeing throughout the house—theirs?  He wanted to bombard his brother with questions.  “If this is a dream—”
“Which it is,” said Jon.
“How do I—”
The doorbell rang.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

All the Creatures in All the Land

True or no, makes for good stories

Every now and then, I need to introduce a new “creature” to my fantasy series, The World In-between.  Where do I find them?

In the past, I have used European established myths like Griffins (Hope) and Frost Giants (Bow of the Moon) or I created my own like the Faematask, Night Golems (both in Bow of the Moon), Fire Walker, and Vindalf (both in Secrets of the Sages).

For this book (Dreamweaver), I am tapping into Native American mythologies.  “Native American” and “American Indian” are umbrella terms that encompass the many different cultures of North America.  Unfortunately, much of the histories, mythos, and lore of the peoples of the Americas were destroyed and American archeology is nowhere as extensive as other parts of the world.  With that said, a lot is being preserved and retold within tribal communities and by tribesmen (and tribeswomen) on the internet.

Personally, I am interested in learning about the pre-Iroquois peoples of my region.  The history of the Americas and its people are fascinating.  And there is plenty of lore to tap beyond Big Foot.  In my research, I found an entity common to a multitude of cultures for who each had their own name.  Translated from the various native names: Stone Giant.

Stone Giants were said to have covered themselves in dirt and stones which made their appearance rough and their “hide” impenetrable to weaponry.  In some cultures, they had settlements and were able to converse with the people.  In others, they were as dumb as the rocks of their hide.

I am using a combination of traits for my Stone Giants, who I call Thunenhyarhen.  They will have formed settlements, be vicious, and seem mentally slow, but that might just be the language barrier.

Some speculate that Stone Giants originate from the early Vikings who traversed the Atlantic to settle in North America.  Others say that giants did walk across North America and that the Stone Giants are memories from early Native Americans passed down through the generations in their story telling.  Or that the people created stories about giants after finding enormous bones.

Many cultures around the world have versions of giants.  Not unlike dragon myths found across the globe.  From where do they stem?  It could be from an array of sources.  Without a time machine, however, I doubt we will ever know for certain.  What I do know is that I enjoy pondering lore from everywhere and using it in my fiction.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dos and Don’ts of Naming Characters

If I only had a name

Writing has been coming along well.  The only impediment: mandatory research.  Most research, for me, starts with the big G.  I research names, images of places that I have in my head, and, this time, history.

Without giving too much away, Dreamweaver (The World In-between 6) is about Berty being stuck in a dream world.  Once he escapes his own dream, he goes from dream to dream, rescuing dreamers.  Dreamers mean new characters.  New characters mean names, which, in turn, means research.

I love learning about name meanings, history, famous namesakes, and name origins.  Yes, sometimes, I take all this into account when naming characters.  Other times, I just like the name.  Or this character feels like a so-and-so.

Soon, I’m coming up to naming a new Dragon character.  Most of my Dragon names in The World In-between series mean some form of fire something-or-other or ancient or serpent/dragon/etc.  Because many cultures around the world believed in dragons or dragon-like creatures, I have many choices in many languages.

However, I also need to take other aspects beyond etymology into consideration when naming characters.  I look at how many characters have names that start with the same letter.  How many of the characters will be in scenes together.  Also, how similar the names in the story and potential names are to each other, so that the reader doesn’t get confused and lose track of who is who.

In real life, you can know five Mikes, three Jens, and a handful of Jasons or Stephen and Stephanie might get married.  Fiction shouldn’t be like that, unless your character has two brothers named Darryl.  When I choose names, I look at a character’s background.  What type of name should this character have that will make it seem realistic in the reader’s eyes?

One of the Dragons is named Paul.  Does it match with the others?  No.  But, it matches him.  And I do explain in the books that he changed his name from something more Dragon-y to Paul.

In the series, different groups have names that originate from different places.  Pixies tend to have Finnish names, while Fairies, at least the Royal Family, have Welsh name origins.  The Elves have mainly Norse/Germanic names and the Dwarves, given their history, can be from anywhere, but the Prince and his family have Eastern European names.

Ideally, names need to reflect the tone of the story.  And the reader should be able to remember the names of the main characters, especially the character for whom the reader roots.  There is nothing worse than reading a story and asking yourself, “Now, who is that?  Who are they talking about?  Is that the main character or someone else?”

What about the ability to pronounce a name?  Somewhat important.  In my notes, I write out the name phonetically so that I can pronounce it properly.  When I read, words come alive in my head.  If I can’t pronounce a name or place, I just take a wild guess.  I’m sure I’ve butchered plenty of names whilst reading.  I’m also sure people butcher names in my books, heck, even my own surname.  Perfectly acceptable, because we all make up pronunciations when we read.  The problem lies in a name that the eye stumbles over.  Like names with too many apostrophes or odd characters.  (I’m so guilty of the latter when making up words for things, but I don’t put them in names.)

No, I haven’t named the Dragon yet, but I know what she looks like.  Her character will develop in my head and perhaps on the page.  The name will come.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Vicious Journey

I buried my mother last week.  Somehow, it doesn’t seem real.  I can’t believe she’s gone… so soon.  Cancer took her.

Rewind six months or so.  She started having mobility issues.  She needed assistance going up and down the steps and with getting her socks and shoes on and off.  Sciatica shot pain from her big toe to her hip and back again.  Tylenol helped ease the pain.

Then, it did nothing for the pain.  If you suggested she go see a doctor, she balked.  The pain made her irritable and affected some of her thinking.  Eventually, she sequestered herself to her two room bedroom suite where she had her bed, a couch and chair, a tv, and the bathroom.  Her bathroom going became more frequent.  She would get up every hour to go and then spend about a half hour there.

In November, she no longer slept in the bed as it was too far from the bathroom.  She slept in the chair closest to the door.  We exchanged the bed and sitting rooms so she did not have to walk as far.

My brother, father, and I would run up and down the stairs bringing up meals and the like.  I lost a fair amount of weight doing all that.  And worrying about her.  As her mental state and appetite waned, we discussed what to do.

Monday night during Thanksgiving week, the decision was made for us.  My mom had gone to the bathroom and my dad and I had trouble holding her up and helping her walk to her chair.  Blood filled the toilet and elsewhere.  We laid her on the carpeted floor right outside the bathroom door.  My brother dialed 9-1-1.

I knelt next to my mom, telling her that she had to go to hospital.  She didn’t want to go.  Within minutes, two EMTs entered the bedroom.  I told her that those nice men were going to take her to the emergency room and we’d be right behind her.

As they strapped her to the stretcher, I put on some shoes and a coat.  We followed the ambulance in the car.  This is a small town.  No one was out that late at night.  The hospital is only blocks away.

It was 1:30 in the morning and I sat in the ER waiting room next to my brother in an old sweatshirt, too big jeans, and the first coat I found.  When my dad came out of the ER, we helped him sign her in at registration.  Moments later, the doctor came to find us.  Although the waiting room was empty, he brought us to a private room.

The ER doctor told us that she had lost a lot of blood.  Her hemoglobin was a 2.  Normal women are around 12.  He gave her blood and called for a helicopter to take her to the city.  We followed him back to the curtained area where two helicopter nurses readied her for her flight.  After watching them work, we told her that she was going on a flight and that we’d see her when we drove there.

Out of her view, the three of us cried.

We drove back to the house.  While my brother took out the dog, I changed into real clothes and brushed my hair.  Then, we piled into the car and drove the forty plus minutes to Pittsburgh.

The ER at Magee Women’s Hospital was also empty at that time.  After handing my purse to the security guard and walking through the metal detectors, I enquired about my mom.  They brought us right back.  The nurses and doctors asked us a few questions.  They entered info into a computer.  She was stable and sleeping.  They were ready to move her to the ICU.

We waited in the ICU Family Lounge for what seemed like forever.  The sun peeked from somewhere.  I sipped the worst coffee before switching to water.  An ICU nurse came to get us.  So much was thrown our way.  It was only 7 or 8 in the morning.

We got to say hi to my mom before we left to get some sleep.  They had to do tests and all that anyway.  ICU is a locked ward, so we needed visitor badges.  At the main hospital entrance, they print them using your driver’s license information and picture.  I happened to grab a purse without checking to see if my wallet was in it.  To give me a badge, they had to take my picture from a web cam.  Visitor badge pictures are worse than driver license pictures, especially when you’ve had no sleep.

At 1:30 in the afternoon, the ICU nurse called.  The doctors wanted to see us.  Could we get there right away?

Back at Magee, we sat in this huge ICU hospital room with all its equipment and its beeping.  A barrage of doctors came into the room.  The doctor I remember the most from that day was the gynecology-oncology doctor.  She gave my mom the news—uterine cancer.

But first, they had to stabilize her blood levels, the low platelets, the high heart rate, and deal with the blood clot in her lungs.

For Thanksgiving, the four of us ate the special turkey dinner from the cafeteria in her room.

The days melded into one another.  Magee allows someone to stay in the room with the patient.  We took turns staying over while the other two went home.  The oncology team came in between 5:30 and 6 every morning.  After them, hematologists, cardiologists, and the ICU doctors.

My mom wanted the doctors to talk to us about her situation.  And they did.  We were taken aside to be told about her stage four advanced and aggressive cancer and the tumor that pressed against her nerves, causing her pain.  The doctor did make a point to tell my mom that she couldn’t operate nor could she cure her cancer, but they could treat it, they could stop its spread.  My mom was okay with that.

For the month that my mom spent at Magee, the nurses and doctors and others were wonderful.  My mom received four targeted radiation treatments.  They shrunk the tumor, lessening the pain.

She came home before Christmas with an appointment to see her oncology doctor after the New Year.

Between home nursing, physical therapy, and occupational therapy, someone came to the house about four times a week.  We never decorated for Christmas, but we didn’t care.  My mom was home and she was doing well.

Until the morning she forgot how I was related to her.

Luckily, the nurse was coming to take her blood later that morning.  My mom knew something was off in her head.  She would catch herself… sometimes.  I had to tell her that Grandma and Grandpa had been gone for a long while.  That afternoon, the doctor’s office called.  Her blood count was low again.  She needed two units.

Because of all the antibodies in her blood, it took two days to find compatible blood.  We brought her to the local hospital.  They, too, were great.  After six hours, Mom came back home.

A few days later, we drove back to Magee to see her oncology doctor.  The doctor said that her platelet levels were not rising to where they needed to be for chemo.  She wanted my mom to see the hematologists to get her platelets up.  Before we left, we had new pain medication prescriptions, appointments for a hematologist and follow-ups with her and the cardiologist.

However, her confusion didn’t really subside.  She began having trouble getting around.  Her physical therapist didn’t understand the regression.  We speculated about the new medications.  Opioids can affect people mentally.  Plus, we had to keep increasing the amount she took to squelch the pain.

When one of the home nurses came to take her blood, she called the doctor right away.  She knew something was very wrong with my mom.  The doctor had us go to Magee’s ER to have her evaluated.

It took all we had to get her to hospital.  Her mobility became more limited by the day.

The ER only allowed one with her.  I got to go back.  I spoke with the nurses and the doctors.  I helped my mom change into a hospital gown.

They did an EKG, an x-ray, and an ultrasound of her heart all in the ER room.  By the time my dad and brother were able to come back, they had ordered a CT scan of her abdomen.

Hours later, we were back in ICU.  My mom had sepsis, an infection in the blood.  Turns out, the infection causes mental confusion.  They took cultures and waited.  Meanwhile, antibiotics coursed through an IV.

When the cultures matured, they showed no infection.  That meant that the infection stemmed from the tumor in the uterus.  The oncology doctor came to see my mom when I stayed over.  She told her about the infection and since they could not operate on the tumor, an infection could return.  And that her platelets were very low again.  My mom told her to take care of the pain.  The doctor placed a hand on my mom and said, “That, we can do.”

I spoke with the doctor outside the room about my mom’s rapidly increasing pain and lack of use of her one leg.  She promised to look at the CT scan to see what could be done before she left that evening.

Each night we stayed over, she worsened.  My night, my mom didn’t know where she was or why she couldn’t get out of the bed.  Finally, she told me her name and mine.  I got the nurse and she gave my mom more pain meds and anti-anxiety medication.  It helped.

The next night was my brother’s turn.  His was pretty bad, too.  He called in the morning to tell us that the doctors wanted to talk to us.  My dad and I showered and left.

When the doctor came, she brought the three of us down to the empty family lounge.  Her fellow closed the double doors.  We were soon joined by the ICU doctor team.  Seven of us sat around a round table not too far from the machine that makes the terrible coffee.

I can remember the doctor’s face when she told us how fast the cancer had spread in the past month.  Her expression as she sat across the table from me held such sorrow.  Her eyes wanted to cry with mine when she said that everything in my mom’s body was going and there was nothing she could do to stop it.  She asked us what we wanted to do.

We had talked about it prior when we would walk through the hospital to take a breather.  Mom would come home unless she medically could not.

That night, they moved her out of ICU to one of the larger, private oncology inpatient rooms.  My dad stayed.

He called us the morning to tell us she was being released into hospice care.  My mom was coming home again.  This time, by ambulance transport.

My brother and I waited for the new hospital bed to come.  We signed for the medications and equipment that arrived.

When my mom came home that evening, she hugged my brother and I so hard.

A hospice nurse and nurse aid came every day.  The nurses explained what was happening and did all they could to help her and us.  Every day, my mom lost a little more.

Watching this vicious disease ravage the body, snuffing out the life… there are no words.  No words.

Within a week of coming home, my mommy was gone.

I apologize for any typos or mistakes or rambling or crappy writing in this post.  The computer screen gets a bit blurry from time to time.  This is the first post since I started this blog that my mom won’t read. 

Knowing the inevitable makes nothing easier.  It prepares you for precisely jack squat.

My mom was who I went to for advice about men, fashion, cooking, etc.  She knew everything.  She was my friend.  She was my editor.  As a former teacher, she looked at my manuscripts with a fair eye.  She loved my series and its characters.

I see my mom in Kate, Berty’s mother, in Teresa, Hope’s mother, and in Silvia.  It pains me to know that she will never get to read how the series completes.  Writing this last book has been slow, given the situation.

Last week, I told myself that I’d start working this week.  And I am.  I have things to read and I am acquiring a new manuscript from a new author client who got my name from a current one.  Writing will come.  My characters have been patient with me.

Next Tuesday, I turn _9.  My dad, brother, and I will be going out for Chinese.  When I was little, before my brother was born, my mom and I used to go to lunch at this place, now torn down, where she taught me how to use chopsticks.  I hope my fingers remember how next week.

Cancer is a cruel, brutal, painful disease.  I wish there was a better way to treat it.  I wish that my mom could have had a chance.  I wish for so many things.  As I sit here, eyelashes stuck together, nose sore, I know only this: I could use a hug. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review of Poetry and Ponderings by Diamante Lavendar


Poetry and Ponderings: A Journey of Abuse and Healing Through Poetry


Diamante Lavendar




In this rare collection of nonfiction Christian poetry and prose based on real life experiences, Diamante Lavendar, a victim of abuse, shows the reader the raw emotions of pain, hate, and denial that occur before a victim of abuse can find a way to heal from the pains of assault. Knowing herself the very difficult journey of being a victim, Diamante was abused as a child, and turned to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. Many years later, she started to heal under God’s watchful eyes and was able to find love in her life again. She shares these truly inspiring, religious poems in the hopes that it may help other victims heal their hurts, as she did while writing the poetry collection.

How I came to review this book:

I posted one of Ms. Lavendar’s poems for Poetry Wednesday.  She emailed me to review her chapbook.  I received a pdf of the print book for this review.


These poems have a Christian spiritual theme.  Raw emotions fill the pages.

My thoughts:

I know I should just review content, but I need to say something about the book formatting because it influenced my reading of the author’s poetry.  Many of the poems span a couple of pages, being broken by images of branches (like the one on the cover).  I found the breaks distracting.  When I noticed the branch on the bottom of the page, my mind believed the poem to have ended.  However, a couple of stanzas remained on the following page, sometimes underneath another branch.  The branches interrupted the poetry’s flow, impeding my reading.  Perhaps in the printed form it flows better.

With that said, I can continue to the content.

As you read through the book, the poetry transitions from dark to light, from pain to healing.  The poems themselves are a mix of powerful, beautiful, profound, raw, emotional, succinct, and rambling.  Some speak to me, some are silent, and some remind me of other poems I have read over the years.

After reading the last page, I felt as though Ms. Lavendar brought me with her on her emotional journey.  Her poetry is personal.  Writing it probably aided her healing process from the abuse in her life.


A woman breaks free of her past to revel in the goodness of the present.

Other Info:

Publication Date: Coming Soon
Pages: 122
Print: $14.99
Ebook: $8.99

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Happy 2017


On the docket this year is Dreamweaver, Book 6 of the World In-between fantasy series.  Already the beginnings of the book have used a good portion of a ream of paper and a new pen.  Dreamweaver brings the series back to Berty’s point of view.  Unlike the previous books, it continues exactly where Hope ended.  The sixth installment should be the last novel in this series.  I say should because although planned, sometimes my characters decide otherwise.

Once Dreamweaver is finished, different options wait in the wings.  Which book to continue next?  I may just write them all and see which one the pen flows over best.  Or one may beg to be brought to the forefront.  I have some time to contemplate what comes next.

In the meantime, I read.  And, I am starting to post book reviews on my blog.  Look for the first one this month.  If an author wishes to have a book reviewed, email me with a review request at IECastellano (at) zoho (dot) com.  Include genre, a book description, and the publication date (previous or forthcoming) in the email.  While my read list is fantasy heavy, I read most genres. Review guidelines will be posted soon.

This year, I am also accepting new editing clients.  I do comprehensive editing, looking at everything.  Email me at the above address to discuss your work.  Longer works are charged per estimated word while shorter works are per work.

Poetry Wednesday will end since I haven’t posted any poems for a long while.  Taking its submission page down will be a part of my blog revamp.

Follow me on Twitter to read lines from my current work in progress (Dreamweaver).  Follow or Friend me on Goodreads to see my thoughts about what I’m reading for pleasure.  Add me to your circles on Google+ for some cool and cute posts.

Here’s to a new year full of new possibilities and a lot of writing.