Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Eleora: Upcoming Release and Other News

Map Designed by Misty McKeithen


I did it. 

After nearly four years and seven drafts, I turned in my manuscript to the typesetter/cover designer. Not that I'm finished or that it couldn't be better; but it's time to stop. 


My debut novel, Eleora, will release on Tuesday, May 2!

Printed copies will be available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The e-book will be available through Kindle. Independent bookstores may order the book through Ingram Spark. I hope to have an audiobook available in the fall. (More details coming soon.)

Genre: New Adult Fantasy*

*I originally wrote Mara, my main character, to be 18 years old when the story begins, which would have classified the book as "Young Adult." While the sexual content of my novel is considered suitable for young adults, I hesitated to market the story to that age group due to certain thematic elements in the story (i.e. sex trafficking). I raised Mara's age to 20-21, thus classifying the novel as "New Adult." Parents, I encourage you to read the book and decide whether or not your teen reader is ready for it.

Note: Sex trafficking is something all teens need to be made aware of. Traffickers don't discriminate based on gender, race, or socio-economic status. Please research this topic, if you haven't already done so, and discuss it with your pre-teen/teen.

The Blurb


I don't yet have a book cover, but as I'm unable to contain my excitement any longer, I present to you the blurb (a.k.a. the hardest 200 words I've ever written):


Three seek the stone of power:
One to win her freedom.
One to exact revenge.
And one to seize control of the kingdom.



Orphaned in childhood, Mara has always done what is necessary to survive—even pledged herself to a sinister spirit named Rivka. When Mara’s sister is struck by a mysterious illness, Rivka offers Mara a choice—watch her sister die, or become a slave in exchange for the medicine needed to save her.


Mara sells herself to Zev, an old friend who shares her sordid history with Rivka. Motivated by revenge and a lust for power, Zev coerces Mara into a life of prostitution and espionage in order to find Eleora, the magical gemstone necklace guarded by the Council of Ambassadors. Trapped in a tangled web of Zev and Rivka’s schemes, Mara’s life becomes a never-ending spiral of seduction and treachery until a kind young healer on the Council unexpectedly offers her freedom. In her new life, Mara finds healing, friendship, and even love but knows she must rid herself of Rivka to be truly free.

Now Mara must choose whether to fulfill her oath and betray her new friends or double-cross Rivka and risk losing her sister forever.


Those who think blurb writing is easy should audition to write my next one.

The Story 


I plan to write a post on how the story came about when I'm closer to the launch date. For now, it suffices to say that in many ways, it's my story. I wrote Eleora while I was sick. Many of the questions the story asks were my questions, and back then, my questions rendered from the blood, sweat, and tears of my journey with mast cell activation syndrome. 

Mara's struggle to accept love was mine. Many of the scenes, characters, and quotes are inspired by real events, people, and things I've thought or said. Honestly, it's a little scary to put that out there for people to do with what they please. Because let's face it--people can be mean.

That being said, I think I've produced a rip-roaring fantasy adventure that some people will really love--questions, themes, and other deep stuff aside. Also, my words sound pretty. 


My Map


I'm still fangirling over the awesome map Misty McKeithen made for me. She exceeded my expectations when she took my lame sketch and designed what you see above. Check out her work on her website: http://mmck.weebly.com/ 

More on Misty in an upcoming post. 

New Website


Sometime this month, I will launch my author site. In time, I will transfer the blog posts here to that website and eventually close this one down. Look for me at www.melissakeaster.com.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Case Study

 


Many of you continue to visit this website because of my history with mast cell activation syndrome. About a year ago, my mother, Melanie Chapman, a clinical laboratory scientist who currently serves on faculty at the University of Louisiana at Monroe in the medical laboratory science department, wrote an article about mast cell activation syndrome and my case study. The article was never published due to funding problems with the publication, but she later developed the information into a presentation, which she has presented in Monroe and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

I had the privilege of hearing her present the study last week at the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science/Louisiana and Mississippi Joint Annual Meeting in Baton Rouge. The information is very scientific and nerdy but also interesting and moving due to the human interest aspect.

I'm extremely proud of my mom and her work. If you would like to know more about the immunology of mast cell activation disease, you may view her presentation online here


Stay tuned for the latest information on the release of Eleora!





Monday, January 30, 2017

An Overdue Update



I'm stunned and a bit embarrassed by the fact it's been THREE MONTHS since my last post. I have nothing to say for myself.

It isn't that I don't have things to write about. Life is busy, rich, and full. I could post every day. I just haven't figured out how to manage everything. Exercise and blogging are particularly difficult to fit into my daily schedule. But that has to change. Soon. The blogging part, anyway.

It's platform building time.

But first, let's catch you up.


THE PHANTOM NOVEL

 

Back in December, my daughter came down with mono. Poor girl had a go of it, and I clocked lots of hours in the recliner holding her. Needing an occupation, I pulled out the manuscript of my novel, which I hadn't touched since September 2015.

The novel you either forgot about or gave up on because I haven't mentioned it in forever.

As with this blog, I hadn't meant for so much time to pass before picking it up again. But between an attempt to make the one novel into two (per the recommendation of three readers) and the inherent life changes which come with being miraculously healed of an incurable disease, it slept sad and alone in the files of my laptop for over a year.

I fiddled with a revised plot outline for the "first" novel two or three days before I realized I had no heart for that story. None. I couldn't make myself care.

I remember God saying, "Well if you don't care about it, no one else will."

Touche.

So I abandoned the 80k word NaNoWriMo draft I crafted a year prior and began the task of making my original novel work as one cohesive story. On January 6th of this year, I submitted my manuscript to an editor. She returned it last weekend. I'm now ready to make one last round of revisions before I'm done. And that, my friends, will be the easiest part of what's left of the process before my book is in your hands.


AAAAALL THE DECISIONS

 

Like most authors, I prefer to write my stories and leave the business side of self-publishing to someone else. Unfortunately, that isn't the way it works. When you self-publish, you ARE the business. For better or for worse, you make all the decisions.

Book title. Artwork. Blurbs. Biographies. Dedications. Cover design. Internal formatting. ISBNs. Publishing company title. Logo design. Budgeting. Marketing. Platform. Web site design. Core value statement. Wordpress themes. Photography.

Oh, and apparently I have expensive taste. Yikes.

Once upon a time, I needed to breathe into a paper bag when contemplating these things. Now I remind myself God's got this and it will all fall into place in due time.



HOW YOU CAN HELP

  

The next step is clear. I need my own online domain.

Very soon, my blog will undergo a change of address. I would LOVE for you guys to make the move with me. I need to build a following on the new website so I will have an audience waiting when I release my novel this spring. Everyone who signs up for my newsletter will receive a FREE unpublished short story. So that's fun.


MISCELLANY

 

Book stuff doesn't monopolize all of my mental real estate, believe it or not.

Superman and I are looking into starting another business this year. In addition to our day jobs. Don't worry, I fully realize the insanity of starting two businesses the same year, but we aren't getting any younger. If not us, who? If not now, when?

God has laid out a fresh vision for local ministry over the past few weeks. I'm stepping into more of a leadership role in our Personal Prayer Ministry in Ruston. There's also a new sister ministry in the inception stage. My future role in the new ministry is hard to guess at this time, but I suspect it will eventually be a significant part of my life.

I continue to enjoy my work at Geneva Academy, where my children attend school. The longer I'm there, the more I love the heart, the vision, and the people. My friend Jarrod Richey would like me to return next year as a part-time music teacher, particularly if I'm able to attend a Kodály methodology training this summer in Moscow, Idaho. I haven't yet decided what I'll do.

After I release my novel, I will write my autobiography, which will focus on my illness and healing. God says it's time to tell the whole story--a story most people haven't heard. I plan to finish the book this summer and release it in the fall. There's a possible children's book in the works as well.

Next month, my family and I will travel to Austin, Texas to spend some extended time with my best friend and her family and to share my story with their church community group. I look forward to our time there.


IN CLOSING


Feel caught up now? You're not. Not even a little bit.

I could tell you story after story about how God is working in my life, the lives of family members, the lives of friends and the various communities I'm a part of. The first church experience is my new normal. I see people healed, delivered, saved, and encouraged on a regular basis.

Over the past 14 months, it has been my delight to discover that God still works today as He did in the book of Acts. The very same way. I'm not a special case. God is actually as generous with healing now as He was in Jesus' day, if not more so. Nothing has changed except our expectations.

But even sweeter than the miracles I've seen is God's abiding presence in my life. He is everything, and without Him, miracles would be meaningless.

Today, I enjoy the intimacy with God I dreamed about as a young teen. On one hand, I'm satisfied. I don't need a thing this world offers. If on the off-chance I become rich and famous, okay. Great. If I don't, who cares? On the other hand, I know there's more of God to be had so I have to have more. And more and more and more and more. Like any good addict. I love that I serve an infinite God. Anything less would fail to satisfy.

Whatever happens over the next few months, sink or swim, He is all I need. It was true when I was sick. It's true now that I'm healed. That's the joy of serving a God who doesn't change in a world that never stays the same.



Friday, October 28, 2016

Musical Healing-Part 2

This post is Part 2 of a two part series. To read Part 1, click here

The Unlooked-For Thing


Not many days after my argument panic attack discussion with Brandon about the possibility of working at Geneva Academy, the Lord spoke to me. I was driving down the road, singing along to a favorite worship song on my way to pick up Micah from school.  

Ask for the unlooked-for thing.

I understood "the unlooked-for thing" to be the answer to our family's financial needs and the question as to how to use my musical skills and education.

God's word to me was the echoed encouragement of my friend Rebecca, who had prophesied earlier that year that God would find a use for my degree, but it may look differently than I thought.

Immediately, I prayed, "Lord, give me the unlooked-for solution. I'm watching." 

The next day, I ran into Jarrod Richey (my friend and the music teacher at Geneva; see Part 1 for history) when I picked up Micah from school.

His greeting would've been ominous if I didn't know him. "The time has come."

I smiled and waited for him to explain.

There were two open teaching assistant positions which needed to be filled for the following school year. One was for Pre-K. The other was for elementary music. Jarrod said he'd love to have my help in music class and suggested I speak with Ed, the headmaster of Geneva. I assured Jarrod I would talk to Ed. Just probably not that day.

But as things turned out, I had business in the office and when I finished, Ed appeared. I mentioned what Jarrod had told me, shared my reservations about assisting in Pre-K and expressed interest in assisting in music. We set up an interview for the following day.

I remember getting into the car thinking, "What did I just do?" But the expected fear didn't follow. Actually, I was kind of excited.


Facing My Fears


I left the interview the next day with a job and mixed emotions.

I'd work where my kids went to school...awesome! I would help my husband bear financial burdens which had been his alone for the past five years...yay! I'd just signed away my kid-free writing time for the following school year...oh. I would put that expensive and time-consuming music education degree to good use...woohoo! But I didn't know whether or not I still loved music or if I even liked it anymore...yikes. And was I still good with kids? My own are one thing. But with other people's kids?


Jubilate Deo


Over the summer, my mind was consumed with writing ministry training manuals for our Personal Prayer Ministry in Ruston—the prayer ministry which God used to bring spiritual, emotional and physical healing to me—preparations for my mission trip to Brazil and our family's return to The Island. I completely forgot about sign up for the annual Jubilate Deo Music Camp, which would take place the last week of July. Until Jarrod texted, asking why Micah wasn't signed up.

He graciously allowed me to sign up late, and then asked if I would be willing to help with the kindergarten and first grade class. I didn't think; I just said yes. Partly because I wanted to, but mostly because it terrified me. (I'm a strong believer in doing the thing that scares you.)

Would I be able to handle it physically? Would it reveal that I'd lost my touch with children? Would I realize that classroom music now bored me?

But I'd forgotten how Jarrod can scheme. He strategically placed me in the music classroom of Jo Kirk. This woman, y'all...

 



I have no idea how old Jo is. I'm not going to guess in case she reads this post. What I will say is that she has more energy in her left thumb at her age than I have in my entire being. I'm sorry I don't have a video of her in action. She's amazing.

Do you see the rapt attention of these young children in the photos? She maintained that level of command for the duration of the camp. And we were in class for a minimum of two hours every day.

Jo masterfully managed the classroom. In her hands, the material was almost a living entity, which made all of us more alive. In a word, Jo Kirk is anointed to teach music, which is something more than simply being skillful. Before assisting her, I'd never seen the Holy Spirit so present in a classroom

Through Jo, God called me awake again. It happened the first day of camp. The music teacher within I'd buried long ago heard her name through layers of soil, tears of grief and withered dreams and climbed out of the casket.

My eyes filled with tears as I realized I was still fit for this. It was possible I'd been made for it. Yes, I could do this. No one who felt so much passion for something could be entirely inept. Yes, I still loved teaching music. Yes, I still loved working with children. I gazed into their bright, captive faces, wiping away tears from my own before one of them caught me crying.

Back to the Music


About a month later, Micah, Sara and I arrived at Geneva for our first day of school. I knew that day God had led me to that particular job in that particular place for this particular time. I found that Jarrod was every bit as anointed to teach music as Jo. His manner is different but just as effective. I understood why my mom wept the day she'd observed him two years prior.

Jarrod possesses the balance of skill and passion I long for. He has a vision to shape students into skilled, joyful worshipers, and has the administrative support to be successful at it. His aim? Kingdom advancement.

This talented, visionary man is content to work in obscurity because he can do more for the Kingdom in a school like Geneva than he can in a more visible position at a university. And also because he loves children. I hope you let that melt you for a moment.

His program is what I dreamed of having as a student in college and realized I couldn't have when I student taught...at least not within the public school system. What I had desired and tried to do as a private music teacher, he's doing. Music is taught as a language. By the time they graduate, students speak, sing, read and write it fluently. The high-schoolers do things I struggled with in college.

In this environment, I find myself dreaming again. Dreaming and asking questions. What is the call upon my life? Does it include music long-term? Or am I here for a season to help Jarrod become more of who God has called him to be? Because this guy will produce his own curriculum, write his own children's songs and become a master teacher before it's over with.

In case I'm here long-term, should I go for that Level 1 Kodály certification this summer? How involved does God want me to be in the program? How does all of my gifting work together practically? I'm a wife, mother, writer and minister of the Gospel, too. Is it possible to have it all? Is that what's best? Is that what God wants?

For now, God remains silent, but I sense his amused smirk upon me. He has secrets yet to be revealed. I'm going to like them whatever they turn out to be because His plans are always good, but for now I must rest in the mystery of the in-between place.

Regardless of what the future looks like, my questions have been answered. My desires have been met. I still love music. I still love children. They like me okay, too. In a very real way, I'm leading worship because worship is a way of life. Worship is taking joy in all of God's good gifts. It's working heartily as unto the Lord. It's learning to sing in all circumstances, even when you don't feel like it, and discovering the emotion doesn't have to shape the doing but the doing can shape the emotion. When the Holy Spirit is in it, anyway. 

And yes...I can still teach. I began co-teaching with Jarrod this week in preparation for his absence on Thursday. I'll sub for him. So far, I've only spent a few minutes with each class, but I remember the motions. As Brandon told me months ago, I'll be fine. It's just like riding a bike.

I hate love it when he's right.


Look at me! I'm tuning fork official!

I know this is a long post, but may I just take a moment to mention what a humbling, marvelous year this has been? A year ago, God sent me to the Siegmund group who took me in as I was in my weary, broken state. They loved me, ministered to me and became my new family. (Here I go, getting all weepy about them again.) God used them to heal me—in body, soul and spirit.

The Lord renewed my intimacy with Him. He stretched and wrecked me and guided me into uncharted waters. He brought the dead places back to life. I was baptized and blessed by my Superman. I ate peanut butter again. Prophecies were fulfilled. Callings were answered. Friendships formed, renewed and developed. I wrote books! (Training manuals count.) God sent me to Brazil! I'm teaching music again!

And I deserve none of it.

It's all grace. Precious, reckless, limitless grace. Grace greater than sin, sickness, death and everything the devil threw at me to prevent this—abundant life.

Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you. All I am belongs to you. You've won me. Oh, how you've won me. Again and again and again. Whatever you ask, the answer is yes. YES! I will echo it back to you. "Yes and amen. Yes and amen. Yes and amen." Today, tomorrow and throughout eternity.





Monday, September 12, 2016

Musical Healing-Part 1

When I was a kid, my favorite game to play was "Teacher." Guess who always played the teacher.

*grin*

I took things pretty seriously. So seriously, in fact, the other kids stopped wanting to play with me. I may or may not have wanted them to do actual school work and pay attention to my lectures.

I also loved music. Listening, singing, performing. I played the piano for years. So even though I'd fallen in love with writing in high school and even declared English as my original university major, it was no surprise to anyone when I switched my focus to music education.

Not long after changing my major, I took a piano pedagogy class and established my own private studio. I began with six little girls and big dreams.


Around the same time, the leadership of our small Baptist church in Marion, Louisiana asked me to begin a children's choir. They wanted the kids to perform a musical at Christmas. The project wasn't my idea, but I threw all I had into it. We not only performed. I wrote my own productions. Plural. As in one at Christmas, another at Easter, and another at the beginning of summer.

 My first children's choir.

 Here, I'm modeling three of the props used in my original (and hilarious) children's production of Joshua and the Jericho Thugs—gold chains, plastic crowbars and kazoos. That's right. Kazoos.

After three productions, I decided I wanted the kids to learn to read music, so we worked during the summer using recorders. Because—obviously—I’m a glutton for punishment, but also because I didn't know a better way.

My students loved me, shortcomings and all. (I was pretty fond of them, too.) Most of my private students caught my passion for singing and acting. Carson Richman, the tall girl standing at my right in the photo below, has been involved in choir and theater since she was in my studio. She joined the LSU theater program this fall. Sarah Katherine McCallum, the little brunette on my left has also stayed involved in music and theater. She now takes lessons from one of my vocal instructors, Dr. Claire Vangelisti at ULM, is involved in the Strauss Youth Academy for the Arts in Monroe, and was the fourth runner up at the Miss America Outstanding Teen pageant this year. I can't take credit for how incredible she is now, but I can take credit for the seed. Almost all of the students who came through my studio still actively enjoy music. Which was half my goal.



Part of me knew there was more to give them, but I lacked the skill set to give it, I didn't know how to acquire the skill set, and I ran out of time to figure it out. I became happily distracted with the joys of motherhood in 2009 and scraped by until I became not so happily distracted with the grim realities of chronic disease in 2011. 

I kept hoping to get my disease under enough control to teach again, but after two years of frequent anaphylactic reactions, arthritis, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia, brain fog, and necessary isolation followed by a diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome—which is incurable—my hopes died and my inner music teacher with them. Like died died.

I laid her to rest in a locked box, buried her, mourned at the funeral, threw a few flowers on the grave and moved on. It hurt too much to dwell on the loss. Apparently, God wanted me to write. I wasn't supposed to teach music. I was never that great at it anyway, I told myself. So it was just as well. 

Meanwhile, my friend Jarrod Richey was doing some exciting things with music education. I met Jarrod in music school at Louisiana Tech. We sang in choir together and both earned our degrees in Music Education. 


He went on to earn his Master's in Choral Conducting at ULM and later his complete certification in Kodály methodology. A few years ago, he was hired as the music teacher at Geneva Christian Academy, a small Classical Christian school in Monroe, Louisiana.

Jarrod had been preaching the advantages of Classical Christian education since before Micah was born, so I became interested in the school. When the time came to make a decision about Micah's kindergarten year, I was too sick to investigate the school in person, so I sent my mom.

She reported the school would be an excellent choice based upon the educational approach alone. But when she observed Jarrod teach music to the little ones, she knew it was the right school. "I wept," she said. 

The summer before Micah started school, Jarrod put together a Christian music camp called Jubilate Deo. Excited about the opportunity, I enrolled Micah...who came down with viral tonsillitis the second day of camp and couldn't continue. But I heard great things. 

Micah began school at Geneva that fall. He would come home and absently sing the folk songs he learned in music class. I loved it. Because my Music Methods college professor was Kodály trained, I understood and appreciated what Jarrod was aiming to accomplish. Over the course of the year, Micah became a tuneful singer. I'd get papers every once in a while of dictated rhythms he'd copied down. Keep in mind—he was in kindergarten

Every now and then, I would run into Jarrod at the school. "When God heals you, you've got to come help me up here," he would say. 

I'd smile and think to myself, "That would be nice." 

The following summer, I sat in the back row of the Jubilate Deo Music Camp concert, my mask veiling my slack-jawed expression. I couldn't believe my ears. In five days—five days—Jarrod and his staff had put together an outstanding program. 

I, too, wept. 

And then about three months later, God began to heal my body. 

First, reactions to things I touched disappeared. Then my outdoor temperature reactions. Then my airborne triggers. Then my food reactions. Then my pain and arthritis. Then my energy returned. As much energy as can be expected of a 30-something mom of young kids, anyway. By April 2016, I lived like everyone else. Contrary to scientific explanation and medical prognosis. A miracle had taken place. 

God began bringing all of me back to life. I enjoyed renewed intimacy with Him. I was the healthiest I'd ever been. Everything that had died—my personality, my gifts, motherhood, friendship, community, ministry—wasn’t only coming back. It was coming back better.

Except for music. I was done with all of that. You can't be away from music for five years and expect to be any good at it. I didn't even know if I would like teaching music again. Besides, I was going to be a writer.

Sometimes, I think God gets his kicks by proving me wrong. 

This past spring, I was blindsided one night by an intense longing to lead others in worship. I'd never felt that before. What did it mean? 

My classically-trained, non-belting voice doesn't fit the current worship style of the Church. I sound more like a retro Disney princess than a pop star. Most worship choruses aren't even in a singable range for me. And I've always thought strong singers should be dispersed throughout the congregation to encourage and serve weaker singers. Because the congregation was never meant to be a crowd of spectators, but an army of worshipers. 

My call wasn't to the stage. I knew that much. But I couldn't make sense of it. 

Around the same time, I was wrestling with my future. I was well. There were expectations. What should I be doing? Writing, obviously. But I wasn't writing! Not anything that would make money anyway. And I was thinking more and more about music and what I was supposed to do with my gifting and education. A lot had been invested there.

One day, we were driving home from church and Brandon said something like, "Why don't you talk to Jarrod about the tuition discount for Geneva teachers and see what kind of deal they might make us?"

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but...I wigged. I totally wigged. 

"What are you talking about? I can't teach! I've been away from music for five years. Five YEARS!!! I don't even like it anymore. I'm a writer. If you need me to work, I'll write!"

I was terrified. Terrified to give up my writing dream. Terrified of trying to resuscitate something that was long dead. Terrified I wouldn't love teaching or music or the classroom anymore. Terrified to fail. Terrified that working would pull me away from the ministries I was involved in and had grown to love. Terrified, I tell you.

Despite my overreaction, Brandon remained calm. "Well...if you plan to make money by writing...you probably need to actually...write."

*a series of tiny explosions in my brain*
*eye twitches*

I'm not going to admit my response to that. But in summary, the truth hurts and pain makes me angry. 

Even though our conversation didn't end well that day, I continued to wrestle privately. Because here's the thing—God often speaks through my husband, and I never want to tell God "no" again. Not about anything. Not even the small things only He and I know about. All I want to say for the rest of eternity is "Yes...yes...yes."

Here's what I knew—Brandon would like me to work part time to help pay for the kids' tuition. I needed an occupation while the kids were in school. I felt an inexplicable draw toward music and leading worship. But I wanted to write, and teaching would interfere with writing. And who knew if Jarrod had been serious anyway?

"Lord," I remember saying, "I don't know what to do or what you're doing. But I trust you. I'll do whatever you say. Just make things as clear as I need them so I can obey."

And you know...He did. 

To be continued...