Friday, February 12, 2021

My Current Health Issues Still Have Me Seeing Rainbows and Unicorns

We tend to put the "rainbows and unicorns" parts of life on social media. It's understandable since we are more likely to take pictures of a birthday party or a hiking trip than we are of marital fights and stomach bug trips to the toilet.

In theory my close friends and family might think my 2021 experience thus far has been lacking rainbows and unicorns because they are aware of my recent health issues. It's no secret I've been dealing with chronic back pain since December 2018, but I've managed. I couldn't dance in the kitchen for my kids every day and sometimes had to empty the dishwasher on my knees, but there were also days I could make my kids laugh by pretending to be a ballerina and get in and out of the car without thinking about how to maneuver my body. Good days and bad days, but manageable. 

Enter 2021. Friday, January 1st I woke up fine but kept getting stiffer throughout the day. Jan 2-4 I struggled walking but was able to get around like a 99-year-old for necessary activities such as peeing. But mostly Joe held down the fort that weekend while I lived on the couch. Monday rolled around and I was feeling better and by Thursday I felt better than I had in two years! I was surprised by the extremes so close together, but tried to enjoy the days I could get down to Dua Lipa's Levitating (current favorite song). But Friday I got stiff again and by Saturday I was at my worst ever. I couldn't stand or walk on my own. If I had to move I had to grab the nearest countertop, door knob or even lean against a wall if there was nothing to hold onto to keep me from falling to the ground. By Sunday I couldn't even lift my hands to my head. I got a dose of feeling helpless and burdensome when my 3-year-old had to put on my sock that fell off and my husband had to bathe me, not to mention do literally everything else that needed to get done on top of his day job as the week continued. With three young kids and a wife to care for, that's a lot. My physical therapist of four months determined I needed something more drastic because PT obviously wasn't helping so she referred me back to my family doc who referred me to a spine specialist. After a consult and an MRI, two herniated discs were found (discs that are bulging and tearing) and some early onset arthritis between the discs were appearing. These issues are not serious enough for back surgery so we decided a lumbar spinal injection would be the next step. As my PT and the spine specialist both suggested "Let's get this pain under control so you can get on with your life." Good enough answer for me! Feb 2 I got the injection and left hoping for this miracle of pain relief in the next 1-5 days. At this point I had been mobile for a few weeks because of an oral steroid I was on to get me to the point of injection, so I was walking straighter and showering myself, but the initial dull ache in my lower left back I had been dealing with the past two years was still there. That was the reason I went to the PT in the first place before the herniated discs made their appearance. 

Seven days after the injection I wake to a dull ache in my lower left abdomen which I attributed to my poor late night snacking choices the night before. But the day added a fever that got to 102.6, a headache, lightheadedness and that abdominal pain continued extending all the way across my abdomen. Calling my doc with my symptoms they said I need to see urgent care that evening. Once urgent care took my vitals showing a very high heart rate but low blood pressure she suggested I go straight to the ER. My heart rate concerned her with cardiac issues and all my symptoms combined pointed towards serious infection. Oh, and my jitteriness caused me to drop my phone many times this day with the last drop cracking the screen. Yay! But wait, it gets better. 

At the hospital they ran so many tests that I literally kept seeing dollar signs in place of the ER doctor's face. Urine sample. 14 vials of blood (one taken on my wrist bone WTH). 3 brain-tickler nose swabs to test for Covid, flu and MRSA. Chest X-ray. EKG. Cat scan with dye to check for abscesses in my abdomen. MRI on my spine to check for spinal infection. Meanwhile fluids and antibiotics are being pumped into me, blood thinners are being shot into my belly (worst shots ever) and everything coming back empty. Cha-ching for nothing! Cha-ching for nothing! Cha-ching for nothing! That's the cash register I'm hearing in my head every time a new doc comes back in and says, "Well that didn't show anything wrong." Finally all that's left is possible blood infection, aka sepsis, but those tests take 24+ hours to culture. If it is sepsis it can be deadly or cause organ failure if not treated so I can't go anywhere without answers and antibiotics need to continue killing off any bacteria that might be in my body.

After 40 hours in the hospital the final doctor comes in saying my blood cultures are negative. They can't find anything wrong with me. They assume it was a viral infection that would have gone away on its own in 1-2 days. They are discharging me with not even a single pill to be prescribed. 

Let's see how many emotions we can put in a bottle, shall we? RAGE that I've gone through all of this poking and prodding and testing for what feels like nothing. HAPPINESS that I don't have anything serious. GUILT that I've put people in fear for nothing. GRATITUDE to the nice hospital staff for taking care of me. EMBARRASSMENT that my body overreacted to something so small. DREAD for the hospital bills that will start pouring in. EXCITEMENT to get home to my own bed and get all these cords detached from my body. EXHAUSTION from only getting a combined 5 hours of sleep over the last 55 hours. GRATEFUL to my sister-in-law for using words that somehow calmed my reasons for all of the negative emotions listed above. LOVE for my husband and parents and friends who were constantly checking in and taking care of us. But can we go back to the rage part because I'm having a hard time letting that one go. 

So yea, if I had been documenting all of this since Jan 1st with pictures on Facebook most would say, "She's having a shitty year." But my year has been filled with rainbows and unicorns because of all the parts I left out. The two times I lost most use of my legs were on the weekends when Joe was more available. When the spine specialist miraculously had an immediate opening for my consult and Joe had to drive me (because I hadn't been able to drive for days at this point), a neighbor watched all 3 kids so we didn't have to wait two weeks until his next availability. When our neighbors heard I couldn't walk they rallied and put together a meal train. I was luckily able to cancel most meals because I got put on those oral steroids and was able to move again, but they demanded a rain check on my next bad spell. When I was told to go to urgent care on the day Joe had just driven to Ohio, one neighbor brought us dinner and demanded she drive me to urgent care when she saw how miserable I looked...and then drove me to the hospital. She later went back to my house and packed a bag of essentials for me and dropped them off at the hospital, staying in the lobby until midnight even though she couldn't come back and see me. Another neighbor came over so the kids weren't home alone and stayed until 4am when the night turned into a hospital stay. Joe drove back from Ohio on the same day he went there and his company was cool with him being unavailable for the next couple days because he has a "family first" boss. Joe's parents were packed and ready to drive over from SC to help if we requested it. The day after Joe's round trip to Ohio/getting back at 1am/visiting me until 4am, when he was at home watching Ozzie, that kid fell asleep in the blanket bench at 11am which is completely unheard of, allowing Joe to catch up on some zzzzzz's. A neighbor sat at our house during night 2 in the hospital so Joe could come spend a couple hours with me, sending along flowers and an offer to bring us dinner the next night. My pharmacist sister-in-law kept us in the loop of all the drugs going into my body. The text string with my parents is miles long because we were in constant communication. Joe has a heart rate and blood pressure monitor at home (news to me, but if you know Joe of course he does!) so we can continue to monitor me. This new song by my favorite artist just came out and I'm loving it: Prayers were given, offers of help were endless and all I can say is we have the best family and friends. So although my recent experiences have me on a roller coaster of pain and being out of commission at times, I'm focused on the in-betweens because that's where the light shines. 

Ozzie passed out in blanket bench
flowers from neighbor cousin

God has a funny way of showing us we don't make the plans, doesn't he? In Feb 2020 I vowed to be in the best shape of my life on my 40th birthday this year. I was determined to spend the next year and a half making that happen. The very next month Covid hit and with 3 young kids at home for 165 days straight I "survived" although that included weight gain. So my New Years resolution was to get serious about that goal, but then my back went whack and after I thought I fixed that my immune system went whack, and now here we are. Six months from tomorrow I turn 40. Maybe I'll get the toned tummy I was going for, but I'm lowering my expectations. My focus now is to be healthy and continue to get my back issues under control. I've already missed out on holding my kids as much as I would have liked to the past 2 years when they were smaller and now they don't want to be held anymore. I want to go on hiking trips and roller coasters and adventurous vacations with my family and friends. But I can't do that with a whack back and and an overreactive dramatic immune system. So here is to a better 2021. And if life throws me more BS, I'll continue to find the rainbows and unicorns jumping through the cracks. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Neighbor Cousins: It’s a Small World After All

It’s going to take me a hot minute to get to the exciting point of this post, but I just want to start from the beginning of how life lead me from Alabama to ending up across the street from unknown family. After all, it’s not every day coincidences THIS BIG happen.

Our move from Alabama to Tennessee was very calculated and spontaneous at the same time. Joe's job, several jobs ago in 2005, is what brought us to Birmingham. It was chosen for us and made sense at the time, but we never felt like that's where we'd stay forever. It never truly felt like home even though we had made close friends and had all of our children there. A few years ago we began discussing where we'd want to live if we left Alabama. We were getting to a point where we could choose within a 9-state region where we'd want to go. We started making exploratory trips to some cities Joe could see us in based on his work travels. Charlotte, NC, Nashville, TN and Knoxville, TN became our Top 3. The Carolinas were intriguing, but that would take us further away from my parents; we wanted a place that would get us closer to both sets of parents. Tennessee would do just that and after visiting Knoxville 3 or 4 times we realized we got the warm fuzzies every time. It seemed right. Having been discussing this move and making these trips over a course of a couple years, my back thoughts definitely went to Is this really going to happen? Are we all talk and no action? If we were going to move I wanted it to take place before our oldest started Kindergarten and here we were with our oldest in 4K and me pregnant with #3. We decided the first step of no turning back was to begin packing up boxes for storage to declutter. We had also been looking at houses in Knoxville on Zillow, but we couldn't really do much about it because we were 4 hours away, Joe was always traveling and I was super preggers. The baby came earlier than expected (December) so we decided we'd put our house on the market in February or March. We had a realtor come out to appraise our house in February so we would be prepared for when we were ready. The next week he called us and said "I know your house isn't on the market yet, but I think it is exactly what one of my clients is looking for. Would you mind if I showed it to them tomorrow?" We spent the next day locking kids in bedrooms and cleaning furiously. We went across the street to the park while it showed and one hour later they put an offer on it. The only stipulation was they needed to move in 17 days later!! So we went from house not on market yet to we have 17 days to get out in the course of an hour. Looking back I have no idea how we made that happen, but with a 5-year old, a 2-year old and a 3-month old we packed up our house ourselves, got an apartment leased, moved stuff from a Birmingham storage unit to a Knoxville storage unit, packed up what we would need for an unknown amount of time in an apartment and took 3 trips with a moving truck. But we made it! What's crazy is as we pulled away from the first house we ever owned together, a house we had spent 12 years in, the house we brought all 3 kids home from the hospital to, I wasn't sad. I thought I'd be silently weeping as we pulled away, but when the time came it was more like "Bye house!" It was a sign to me that we were making the right decision. I wasn't sad about what we were driving away from; I was excited about what we were driving towards.

Once we closed on our old house, got the apartment feeling like a temporary home (first floor bugs and all) and got a better feel for Knoxville roads on a daily basis we began looking more seriously for homes. Between open houses, developing neighborhood builders and showings with our realtor we probably looked at 50+ homes. We were "those" people. But in our defense the first two houses we put contracts on fell through. The first one had a bad inspection so we backed out, not wanting to deal with all of its issues. The second one was in perfect shape, but I didn’t feel it was the right house and the appraisal came back way lower than the accepted offer allowing us to back out again. In this house-buying case the third time was the charm. We found a house that was on the same street as the first house we had a contract on and jumped on it. We felt like we had been in the apartment forever, but 4 months after moving to Knoxville we moved into our new home. Within days we had multiple neighbors come over and introduce themselves, bring baked goods and buckets of goodies. It was a nice welcome compared to our last house.

The first neighbor to ring our bell was a man named Tony. He introduced himself, let us know he was right across the street and offered to help us with anything right there in the moment.  I had one huge heavy box in my son's bedroom that needed to go in the attic so I asked if he could help my husband take that up. He obliged and as he was leaving, his wife, Monica, came over so we got to chat with her a bit. Super nice people and we found out she also used to live in our hometown. Small world! She was a few years older than us and moved to Florida during her childhood so we assumed we didn’t have any mutual connections. That was that. They walked back to their house across the street and Joe and I agreed they were very nice people and we should hang out with them sometime.

Two months later we decided to have a pool party during Labor Day weekend, inviting all the neighbors we had met, including Tony and Monica (who we hadn’t seen since that introduction). She texted me to say they’d stop by and for whatever reason, before I replied back, I decided to look her up on Facebook. Her name was listed with both her maiden and married names and my jaw dropped when I saw her maiden name. It was the same uncommon name as my grandparents. I checked out our mutual friends and we had two - my grandma and one of my step-cousins. My text reply went something like this:

That's great and all, but hold up. I just looked you up on Facebook and saw your maiden name. Was your dad or grandpa's name Bill? I think we're family! Let me know when you can talk.

She let me know that she had an uncle and a grandpa named Bill. It was at that moment we realized we had the same grandparents! We then shared our matching wedding photos where we were standing next to the same grandparents. Our grandma was even wearing the same dress to both our weddings 6 years apart! We were absolutely floored and in disbelief. At first I was trying to think of the term we would use for our newfound relation - step-cousins-in-law-once-removed, second step-cousins, step-cousins-twice-removed... Then it dawned on me how close we were  - we are just step-cousins! Her dad and my mom are step-brother/sister. Since our original grandparents divorced and remarried when our parents were older and starting families of their own there wasn’t much communication between the new step-siblings so we never even knew each other existed! And here we are living across the street from each other! If they had never introduced themselves I would not know their names, I wouldn't have looked them up on Facebook and we could have gone years living across the street not knowing I had a neighbor cousin! What a fortunate thing we discovered only months after moving in.

The reason I went into so much detail is to show how God works in amazing ways. There were SO many things that could have deterred this from happening. We talked for years about moving, but chose the most hectic time in our lives to go through with it...the decision to choose Knoxville over all the other cities in a 9-state region...the quick not-even-on-the-market sale of our home jumping our timeline forward...the 2 other houses we had contracts on that fell through that we almost ended up at instead...even the other house on our street was further down so they probably would not have introduced themselves...the voided contracts pushing our timeline back to a point that we were still looking when our current house went on the market. Add the fact that Monica was thinking about moving, partially due to the previous owners of our house...and her prayers for nice neighbors to replace them when they put up a sale sign...and the generosity of them being the first people to welcome us to the neighborhood. It’s hard to think this wasn’t meant to happen. Now we watch The Bachelor together, and play Bunco together, and her daughter babysits our kids, and she decorated pumpkins with my daughters, and we’ve hung out together with our grandma, and I’ve met my step-uncle (her dad) and she’s met her step-aunt (my mom), and we laugh together, and we complain together, and we wave through our windshields as we pass each other. And we still get goosebumps when we tell our story.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Path To Becoming An Author (Part 3)

It’s amazing how little I accomplish when Mother’s Day Out closes up shop for four months.  Although I meant to keep up momentum on getting my book published and blogging about it, the whole process pretty much went on freeze for the summer.  But I’ve got my 12 hours a week back to focus on me and I plan to cram what I can during those three 4-hour spurts of my week.

To catch up on my journey, here are Part 1 and Part 2.

Before just sending off my manuscript to publishers I found online, I wanted to be prepared and knowledgeable about this industry, which meant do some research and get involved.  First I signed up with SCBWI - Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.  It cost a bit of money (under $100/yr) but it includes a ton of resources, has regional chapters that host local events, features newly published writers and illustrators that are SCBWI members, hosts virtual book launch parties, discussion boards, contests, has informative podcasts and many helpful links.  At a membership of over 22,000 I am once again reminded that I am anything but alone in my ventures.  

After getting involved I needed to get educated.  I think it usually goes the other way around, but doing things backwards keeps things interesting.  I have some publishing books from forever ago, but given the ever-changing landscape of the publishing industry I needed some modern-era guidance, so I bought two new books - 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market and 2015 Guide to Literary Agents.  The purchase of these books also allowed me to get a free 1-year online subscription to the Writer’s Market.  (The only negative to that is they send at least 3 emails a day, which is kind of ridiculous).  The first of those books has been extremely informational and encouraging.  From telling you how to write a query to interviews with first time authors to an index of hundreds of publishers, it’s given me the resources I need to get started on my dream while keeping me inspired with other author stories.  Reading these books and listening to podcasts such as Brain Burps and SCBWI Conversations is helping to improve my industry vocabulary, get tips from professional writers and publishers, and keep me on track and motivated.

I have filed for copyright at

I have entered two contests with my book – one through Writers Market (didn’t win anything) and one through SCBWI (still waiting). 

I have sat in libraries and bookstores looking at #1 Bestsellers to see what’s hot right now in children’s book literature.  Some I like, some I don’t. 

I have also searched for books that are comparable to mine because I will need to list these in future queries and proposals.

I have created quite the spreadsheet of Publishers and all the information I could gather on them to see where I should start sending manuscripts and queries.  Who takes agented vs unagented, solicited manuscripts vs unsolicited manuscripts, response length, royalties, % taken from first time authors, publish time, # of illustrators they work with, # of titles they publish per year – all factors in my decision of who I send to first, second, third, and so on. 
Yes I eat candy while I work.

I have continued coming up with other book ideas, although I haven’t started writing manuscripts for them yet.  I’m really good at coming up with original ideas.  I’m really bad at sitting down and figuring out how the story should go.

I have a list of the top self-publishers in case it comes down to that.

I’m blogging about my journey in hopes other first-time writers may come across it so we can learn from each other.

I’ve started an ongoing list of questions for an editor or agent to answer.

I’ve studied legal and protection terms.

And this weekend I will be attending my first ever writers conference.  I am extremely excited to learn from authors, illustrators, publishers, editors, agents and other industry professionals as well as get to know some other people in my regional chapter of SCBWI who are just starting out like me.  I also paid extra for an editor or agent to critique my manuscript.  I will also get a free critique from the contest judging panel.  I’m very anxious to see what they say…I just hope they’re gentle with their words.

I realize this isn’t the most entertaining blog I’ve ever written, but I truly want to find others out there that I can learn from and connect with who are in the beginning stages like me.  I’ve put a lot of time into everything listed above and I hope these steps I’m taking can help someone else just getting started too. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

What Makes You Forget To Eat and Poop?

"What to do when you don't know what to do with your life."

That's the depressing phrase I typed into the Google search bar on a recent trip to Florida.  Don't get me wrong - I am loving my life.  My marriage is great, my daughter is happy and healthy, I don't have the stress of a professional job, I get to wear sports bras every day (or no bra if I'm home all day), we have food on the table, we see distant family fairly often, I have time to enjoy my hobbies...I really could go on and on.  I feel very blessed and happy.  But I still had this lingering question looming over me.  I was 33 and still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up.  One day our child (hopefully children) will be in school full time and at this point I plan on going back to work, but to what?  I put 10 years into media/marketing/advertising/sales and am not up for going back to that.  My degree in TV Production still excites me, but I'm afraid I'm too far removed from the technical side having not used that equipment and software for so long.  I don't want to go back into something that would make me miserable, nor do I want to start over in an industry where I had once climbed up many rungs of the ladder.  I know what to expect going back to the workforce after being a stay at home mom.  It's grim.  And if I'm going to start at the bottom I'd rather start in something new that I enjoy rather than something I've already done that stressed me out.  So back to my Google search.  I clicked on a few links that lead me to articles written by psychiatrists who asked ridiculously zealous questions like "what's your purpose on this earth" or "what were you meant to do."  These questions were too broad and the answers are what I was hoping the Internet could miraculously tell me.  Then I saw a link that read 7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose.  It wasn't much different than what a lot of other links said but I clicked on it anyways and discovered Mark Manson.

I've since read a lot of his articles but I want to focus on this one because it was a good one for me to land on.  Instead of asking me overly ambitious questions that I couldn't answer about even myself, he asked questions that were on my level of mediocre intellect.  Questions such as "What's your favorite shit sandwich?" and "What makes you forget to eat and poop?"  These were questions I could answer!  And I actually sat down at my computer and spent a couple hours thinking and typing out my answers.  Pretty much every one of my answers had to do with writing in some capacity.  But the questions are written in a way that would help anyone no matter their interests.  If you still ask yourself, "what do I want to be when I grow up," even if you're 60, spending quality time on these 7 questions may truly benefit you.  If you choose to check his link out and answer his questions I'd love to hear what you find out about yourself!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

My Path To Becoming An Author (Part 2)

If you missed Part 1, check it out here: My Path To Becoming An Author (Part 1)

Do you know what's really, really daunting when you're trying to become a first-time author?  Looking at just one publisher website that says, "We receive more than 1,000 submissions every month."  One THOUSAND...CHILDREN book manuscripts...every just ONE publisher.  That means there are 1,000 people just like me who think they've written this great book and expect this publisher to like it over the other 999 this month alone.  Except some of these other 999 people may already be published authors which gives them a one-up.  Some of them may have insider connections that I don't have.  Some of them may have started their publisher search long ago and they know submission tricks I don't.  Some of them may be using an agent which is a huge bonus in this industry.  And many of them probably have a way better book on their hands than me.  Competition.  Competition. Competition.  It's not stopping me from moving forward, but it sure as hell is intimidating.

Through all those years that my manuscript sat collecting dust, I imagined one day finally sitting down and searching online for children's book publishers, sending them my simple pdf document and waiting for rejections and hopefully one acceptance.  Simple as that.  Everything seems simple when you don't know anything about it yet.  Maybe it used to be that simple.  It probably never was.  All I know is I was way uneducated on this process.  As I've begun the research stage I am learning so many things which are elongating the process, but also finally making decisions that I've been contemplating for years.

Two of the biggest reasons I hadn't taken a step forward with all of this since college was indecisiveness regarding these two matters:
1. Traditional Publishing vs Self Publishing
2. Ask one of my many creative friends to illustrate vs hire someone unknown from an illustration company

These two conflicts literally kept me from doing anything at all with my book over the past 13 years.  I was always scared of making the wrong decisions.  But I finally told myself that making no decision at all is worse than making the wrong one.  I'd rather screw this all up and learn from it than always wonder "what if."  So before I did anything else I had to research and debate those two dilemmas, because the answers determined my next actions.

Despite the "1000 submissions" statement on that publisher site, it's actually really easy to get a book published nowadays due to self-publishing options.  Originally I thought this was the route I would take because it would be quicker and easier.  But as I did my research I started thinking harder about what I wanted out of this.  Here's a quick snapshot of the differences:

Traditional Publishing
I get paid
I pay
Helpful advertising/marketing
More credibility
Less credibility
Lots of work
Slow (as in years)
Fast (as in months)
Involves add’l writing (query, proposal, cover letter, etc)
No add’l writing
Publisher buys rights to book
I am the publisher
Little say on illustrations
Much say on illustrations
Distributes book for me
More exposure
Little exposure
Includes editing, formatting, art professionals
Find professionals myself; pay all those people out of pocket

There are pros and cons on both sides, but basically the fundamental differences are Time, Money and Control.  

After contemplating the two options I decided I'm not doing this just so my family and closest friends with kids buy my amateurly-done book off of Amazon.  I think my story is enjoyable, teaches a lesson and creates colorful imagery in your head even without illustrations.  I would love for young children and their parents whom I have never met to have the opportunity to read and buy and enjoy my book as a family.  Joe, Eva and I read books together every night and although I rarely notice the authors names on the covers, those men and women have created many happy memories on the couch, on the floor and in our beds.  I'd love to be that for hundreds, hopefully even thousands, of other families.
Considering the 3 fundamental differences, I don't mind if this takes a few years and additional steps if in the end I have a credible, professional-looking book with the prestige of a Publishing House inside the cover and help with distribution and marketing.  
I want to make money on it, not spend it.  I'd feel much more like a writer if someone paid me for my talent, than spending my money to make it happen.
And I don't mind giving up significant control considering I'm not a pro on every (any) aspect of making a book.  Professional illustrations, formatting and editing could only improve what I've started.
Should I choose to write more in the future I'll be the "submitter" with a one-up on others trying to do this their first time, because I can say I'm a published author by this publishing house.

So my first decision was made - I will exhaust all efforts trying to publish traditionally and only if that fails will I turn to self-publishing.  On to my next decision which quickly became a non-decision.  As I started researching about illustrations I learned that traditional publishers prefer getting picture book manuscripts without pictures.  Who woulda thought?!  Thank God for the world wide web!

If you send a publisher a manuscript with pictures, four things could happen:
1. They like neither the story or the art.  Both of us are rejected.
2. They like the art, but not the story.  They may hire my illustrator for other work, but me and my manuscript are rejected.
3. They like the story, but not the art.  I get accepted, but the publisher wants to use their own illustrator so I've wasted thousands of my own dollars on my illustrator.
4. They like both and both are accepted.  (Highly, highly unlikely)

So there's decision #2.  I won't even worry about illustrations unless I get accepted by a publisher or have to resort to self-publishing.

I've performed quite a few more steps but will leave those for further Parts to this blog series.  Thanks for following my path!