“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14
Life is wonderful and fragile. That truth hit home on Monday, March 9th, more so than ever. There are others out there that can speak to the truth of this better than I can. They have experienced pain and hurt at such a deep level that it is hard to fathom.
For the past year and a half, my family, and more specifically, my wife has battled cancer. That is such a fearful disease that it will change anyone who experiences it. When someone is confronted with death in times like that it is, unfortunately, to be expected. While that is difficult in and of itself, there are other times when the threat of death comes upon you most unexpectedly. Last Monday was one of those times. Though countless women have faced death through the ages while giving birth, it is not as common in this country in this day and age.
“It won’t happen to me” is the typical thought.
While I rejoice the birth of my fifth daughter, Madeline Jane, I want to share with everyone the miracle and near tragedy of Monday, March 9th, 2020.
Liz, my wife, has faced many painful procedures over the past year and a half due to her cancer diagnosis in the fall of 2018. She has also given birth to four girls: two with an epidural and two without one. In all, she was tired of pain and procedures. To be honest, I cannot blame her in the least. Being poked and prodded, even if it’s for your own good, is tiresome. So, with baby number five, Liz was sure she wanted an epidural.
The last five months, she had battled ICP, a disease of the liver that affects pregnant woman. It is a difficult malady to endure for that long. Knowing this, and with the increase in her liver levels, she had a scheduled induction so that the baby would survive. (A stillbirth can be a consequence of ICP.) So, this was no light matter.
Now, before an epidural is given, the anesthesiologist goes through the list of possible side effects. We understood them and agreed to the risks. Liz has had two previously and neither one had been a problem. Unfortunately, this is where it all began.
Around 12:30 PM, the anesthesiologist entered the room to begin the epidural. I stood in front of Liz to support her, as there might be times that it was painful. She had done it before and handled it really well. During the procedure, the anesthesiologist and nurse would ask her a series of questions to make sure that everything was okay.
“Can you wiggle your toes?”
Liz assured them that she could. I glanced down and watched as she did so. This whole time, I was standing next to the heart monitor. Her heart rate was consistently in the 70-80 range. I watched as the paper printed the the beats.
By this time, the anesthesiologist had some trouble threading the epidural and asked the attending doctor to assist. By the time the attending doctor entered the room, the epidural was done and completed.
Liz could still wiggle her toes.
The anesthesiologist said that her legs will start to feel heavy, and that that was normal. The sensation soon spread through Liz’s legs. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there.
Soon, she began telling us that it was difficult for her to hold herself upright, and Liz began to tip over involuntarily. The nurse assured her that we had her, which we did. When Liz began to tip over, I grabbed her in my arms and held her upright.
Mere seconds passed and Liz said that it was becoming difficult for her breathe. The nurse tried to calm her, but Liz was calm. In fact, she was too calm. She could barely speak.
Again, Liz said she couldn’t breathe. This time, the words were barely audible. The nurse asked, “Are you all right?”
Liz, whose eyes were closing, shook her head, “No.”
I can literally start feeling my heart thumping in my chest.
Once again, Liz says, “I can’t breathe.”
Her eyes close. The nurse says, “Stay with me, Liz. Liz!”
Liz’s eyes snap open, but she isn’t there. Her eyes are open, but she is gone. I’m not sure if she sees me. According to the nurse later that afternoon, Liz looked at her with an “I’m dying” look.
By this time, Liz is mouthing that she can’t breathe. The nurse pulls out an oxygen mask and cups it around Liz’s mouth. It says that Liz’s oxygen is 97 percent, but in the next second it begins dropping rapidly. I watch the monitor. 96. 95. 93. She is quickly losing oxygen.
The nurse hits the emergency button.
In the next second, the door slams open. One after another, doctors and nurses rush in. Mere seconds pass and twelve to fifteen people are already in the room.
My heart feels like it is going to break through my chest. “Is this real? Am I going to have to tell my children today that their mom is dead?”
I’m trying to think. I say quick prayers. “Please, God. Don’t let her die. I can’t do this alone. Please God.”
Then I hear a word that, by the grace of God, I didn’t fully comprehend at the moment. One nurse said, “She’s flatlined.” My eyes went to that same heart monitor from before. I can see it now, just as I did then. The squiggly, scribbled line was straight. There was no movement whatsoever. There was no electrical activity in her heart. Liz was lying lifeless on the hospital bed.
Liz went into cardiac arrest.
I’m trying not to cry. Why? I don’t know. For all intents and purposes, my wife had died. The full impact of this was not known to me at this moment. I almost became stupid. I never had felt so powerless, so impotent. I couldn’t even be near her to hold her hand.
Epinephrine was the next word I remember hearing. The doctors were talking to me at times, but I don’t remember what they said. Even now, I can remember their looks, but not their words. At this point, what could I do? I could barely even pray.
A nurse looked to me and said, “Do you have a family or friends here?”
I remember saying shaking my head and saying, “No.”
I then saw a text on my phone from a friend that said, “How are things going” (Don’t answer if you don’t want to.) Praying for you guys.”
I text back, “Pray. Somethings happening. Something not good.”
I shoot this text out to some family and friends. Even that was difficult.
One nurse says that the baby’s heart rate had dropped in half. She is losing oxygen because Liz is losing oxygen. They talk to me and tell me that they are taking her to the OR. One nurse says that she will stay with “the husband.”
How stupid I must’ve looked. How confused I was. I did not know if I would ever see my wife alive again. I did not know if I would ever see my baby alive at all.
I can feel the adrenaline. My hands are shaking. The nurse is asking me questions. It is difficult for me to answer without my voice shaking.
Is my wife dead? Is my baby dead? These are the thoughts I have to deal with. These are the possible realities that I must face. On a day I should be celebrating life, I may have to mourn death instead.
Even now, it sometimes becomes too difficult for me to think about. I can still hear my wife’s gasp, “I can’t breathe.” I can still see her shake her head when she is asked, “Are you all right?” I can still hear the nurse’s declaration, “She’s flatlined.”
Despite all that, the Word of God says, “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10.
It is only a matter of minutes before I find out that Madeline Jane is born. It is over an hour and a half later when I find out that Liz has truly recovered and is breathing on her own.
The Grace of God is exceedingly rich! He gave breath to my wife, Liz, and my newest daughter, Madeline Jane.
Praise the Lord!
As we enter the Thanksgiving holiday, which, if I’m honest, is my favorite holiday behind Christmas, I thought I’d give a few updates to what’s been going on and what to expect.
On November 20, 2019, the audiobook, Scar of the Downers, was released on Audible. It’s definitely different listening to your own book through someone else’s voice. Scar of the Downers is being read by someone very talented named Stephanie Richardson. I encourage everyone to download it and listen. Of course, I would, right? It does cost money, but you have a chance to win a FREE promo code if you enter the giveaway below. Read the rules below the rafflecopter.
Note: To be eligible for the giveaway, you must click on "Leave a blog post comment," answer the question posted, and leave an email address to receive the promo code. Once you do that, click on the "I Commented" button to enter the giveaway.
This brings me to another subject.
They are the lifeblood of authors. You see, it is a wonderful thing if someone reads your book and likes it. It is even more wonderful if they share the love of the book with the world. That way, other people can decide whether to purchase and read your book.
This isn't about money. Authors make very little money when a book is purchased. This is about future books. Reviews are the only way publishers and agents can see if your work is being read. It sort of stinks, but there really is no other system at the moment.
Coming up next week is a blog tour hosted by YA Bound Book Tours. You will be able to follow me next week as I and my book make the virtual rounds. So, stay tuned!
On another note, I am working on finishing my fourth novel. It is called The Society of the Watchers. I am really excited to be working on something else. I do not have any other information on it other than what I will post below.
When the beasts came, the world we knew had ended. Now, 150-years later mankind has found refuge inside the walled villages, where life continues just as it always had before the beasts came. For Jarvis Graye that means his days are filled with all the normal things of a 12-year old boy: school, friends, dreaded homework, and his new internship as courier.
However, when someone attacks the animals and people inside the village, Jarvis’ tranquil routine is upended. Not to mention that he suspects his neighbor, founder of the strange group called The Society of the Watchers, is the one behind the attacks. With his life and the safety of the village on the line, Jarvis goes to great lengths to find the culprit.
Spurred on by his irritable best friend, Aron, and the new girl, Nan, Jarvis and his friends embark on a mystery that will expose the danger that prowls around Kilhaven. It may also answer the question: Do the beasts still lurk beyond the walls?
So, that is a brief summary of what's been happening in my little world of writing.
As a quick reminder, if you'd like a chance to win a FREE audiobook of Scar of the Downers, don't forget to follow the rules to enter the giveaway.
Click on "Leave a blog post comment" and answer the question posted. Then click on the "I Commented" button to enter the giveaway.
And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to say, "Thank you to all those who have left reviews, liked my Facebook page, and continue to support me through this novel adventure.
On October 25th, I was invited to speak to the students of Sackets Harbor Central School about my third book, War of the Downer King, which was released in July of this year. I was also asked if I could speak about perspective and understanding others. This did get me thinking about the idea of perspective and how it relates to my book.
The following is an adaptation of the speech I gave on perspective and the case for it in the Scar of the Downers Series.)
First, here is some background.
The Scar of the Downers series centers on a group of slaves that are in desperate fight for their freedom. The books follow several people. One is Crik, a Downer, a slave, and the other is Durgan Gryndek, Captain of the City’s Watch, a non-slave, a freeman. These are two people with vastly different perspectives, which is an idea every author must embrace. To write from a different perspective, you must see it first.
This is the scenario.
Crik, one of my protagonists, along with several other Downers, attempt to escape from the dark city of Ungstah. This is the plot for the first book. The result of this is that the city descends into chaos, and Durgan Gryndek is one of the characters that reaps these consequences. He loses his family, his job, and his freedom.
Why did this occur? Well, in Durgan’s mind, it’s because of what Crik and the Downers did – they tried to escape with no thought of the repercussions. They openly defied a king in an effort to leave their life of slavery to pursue a life of freedom. This in turn created devastation in their wake.
Because of this, Durgan is reluctant to join the cause of the Downers. He holds them responsible for the situation in which he finds himself. You see – there are two differing perspectives at odds within this moment. You have the perspective of the slave and that of the freeman. In this case, the freeman, Durgan, cannot fathom the perspective of the Downer. He does not understand, nor does he care about, the situation of the Downer.
In the book, Rise of the Branded, Durgan is confronted by another character about his lack of understanding regarding the Downers’ plight.
“What is it you want from me?” he grumbled.
“I want you to help me,” she said.
“Freeing those people they have caged like animals. Or has Ungstah hardened your heart that much?”
“What do they have to do with me?” snarled Durgan. He spun on her. “Frankly, I’m here because of them. If they never escaped, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in. My son would still be alive. My wife wouldn’t be alone in the Waste. I’d still be one of the Watch. This is their fault! Now I have to deal with it.”
Aniel’s cloak fluttered and a gust of wind struck Durgan against the wall. “It’s because of men like you they are in the position they are in. You turn your head and ignore their plight. For years they had to deal with your cowardice. Now it is your turn to deal with their bravery.”
Perspective allows you to see things in different ways, and as an author it is imperative to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes. You must be able to relate to the characters that you create, but more than that, we must be able to relate to the people we meet.
You see, in the book, it wasn’t until Durgan was brought face-to-face with the life of a Downer, with the reality of their situation, that he began to change. Now that he was branded a Downer, he saw the world through a different set of eyes. It was then, and only then, that their cause became his cause.
Changing your perspective changes the way you see the world.
In Scar of the Downers, Crik gets beaten, loses his home, loses his best friend, Jak, and is always searching for food and fighting for survival. For most of his life he has viewed his life as a series of hardships, filled of encounters with people who cared little about him. But as he moves through the Rise of the Branded and War of the Downer King, he discovers that events in his life that appeared dark, hopeless, and meaningless, were actually necessary in his struggle for freedom. The moment that began this transformation was his encounter with Aniel in the first book, Scar of the Downers.
After discovering that Aniel, his newfound friend, had been watching him and Jak for ten years, doubt creeps in. He asks Aniel.
If you had watched us for ten years, why didn’t you free us then? You could’ve saved us a lot of pain.”
"Even if I freed you back then, you still had the mind of a slave. You still thought you belonged to Kilvar. What you don’t understand is that you have to want freedom. I can offer it to you. I can even hand it to you. But freedom is nothing if you don’t take it with your bare hands.
Crik viewed his hardships one way, but as we see him proceed along his journey, his perspective begins to change. What he thought was dark, brought him light, what he thought meaningless, gave him purpose, and what he thought was hopeless, was the very thing that made hope possible.
Because his perspective had changed. You see, perspective is not only related to how we view others, but it is also related to how we view ourselves, and our circumstances.
I will give you an example of a personal nature. I worked at a full-time job temporarily, hoping I would be hired full-time. When the time came, I was passed over and the job went to someone else. At the time, I was disappointed. I felt rejected, upset, even cheated. But when my wife was diagnosed with cancer a few months later, it was only then did I understand how hard a new job would’ve been for my family at a time of crisis. That is perspective, and time has a way of changing it.
I will end this blog post with a quote from War of the Downer King. Aniel, one of the people who fought alongside the Downers, was explaining to Crik why she chose him to be the leader of the Downers. It was all because he was able to see the world through someone else’s eyes. He walked in a young boy’s shoes and rescued (Jak) him. This is what Aniel said.
“If ever you wonder why I have chosen you to lead the Downers, it is not because of your strength. You will always find someone stronger. It is not because of your wisdom. You will always find someone wiser. It is not because of your bravery, though you are very brave. It is because of your heart. You care for those around you. That is what kind of leader I needed… It is what I first saw many years ago when you first took in Jak. After everything you’ve been through, after all that Kilvar had done to you, you have never lost that part of you. In fact, it has only grown stronger.”
You see, it was perspective that made Durgan a hero, and it was perspective that made Crik a leader.
The end of the journey is approaching. The seed of the story that formed in my head over 14 years ago is in the process of being finalized. Since I started formulating these characters and their journey, many things have changed: my family has grown in number (from 2 to 6), we experienced many blessings, and we faced many challenges. Through it all I’ve always known Crik; I’ve always known these characters. In a sense, they were with me at the beginning of my marriage, and I will be putting their story to rest for now, and perhaps, forever.
I know it doesn’t seem like much to others, but this is huge for me. I remember watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy and experiencing the sense of “sadness” when the credits rolled for the Return of the King. But this, as strange as it may sound, runs deeper than that moment. I can’t recall all the conversations I’ve had with Liz (my wife) about the Downers, about their journey and the turmoil they encountered. There have been too many. I’ve breathed and dreamed about these characters. I’ve experienced heartbreak, anger, joy, surprise, sadness, disappointment all in the name of these made-up people.
They are fictional, yes. They inhabit a fantastical world, which many people “don’t understand.” But they have been a part of me and, in many ways, they are me. I see myself in some of these characters: the hesitation in Crik; the fear in Durgan; and the hope that clings in Aniel.
This story, despite its fantastical setting, is my story. I’ve always seen myself as a Downer; I’ve always felt that feeling of desperation, that deep desire of freedom.
From everything that has enslaved me. In truth, we all bear those scars. We all have them. They may not be on our flesh, but they are engraved in our hearts.
For those who have read this story, I’m so glad that you’ve joined me in this part of my life. I hope that as the story comes to a conclusion you, in time, will feel the same about these characters as I do. So, now that this part of my life is coming to an end, I want to share with you the cover and title to the final book of my Scar of the Downer Series set to be released in July 2019 by WiDo Publishing.
Please check out the final version of my Scar of the Downer Series Book Trailer below.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.