Living life, Loving life…
Once in a while, we are lucky enough to experience an event that will stay with us for a long time. Let’s face it; most of us have that same routine, monotonous life with a million responsibilities. We get up every morning to go to work, pay our bills on time, make sure the kids are safe, take care of our family, do the chores in the house, make sure we have enough gas in the cars… ok, the list is endless. But you get the point.
This is why I think it’s so important to make the most of our lives. We’ve got this one opportunity to do things we want to do. Don’t wait for the right time. That right time is now.
Recently, I’ve discovered my passion for writing. I absolutely love creating stories from this crazy mind of mine. So, every evening, I stay up at least until midnight working on all my literary endeavors. I love being able to provide my readers a little bit of escape from this confusing world we live in.
It’s especially nice to be recognized for all the hard work. Nothing describes the feeling of walking across the stage to receive a medal for your book. To think that somebody felt your work is worth the recognition is truly a humbling experience.
Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards in Miami. I was lucky enough to be joined by my two beautiful best friends. Oh, by the way, don’t let three ladies loose in Miami. There’s no telling what kind of trouble will find them.
Being in Miami with my best friends was phenomenal enough. To top it off, I was honored to meet other award-winning authors. You know what’s cool about fellow authors? They all are a bit like me! I love the sarcastic sense of humor, the positive energy around them, and the approachable, friendly personality. Oh, did I mention I met Landau Eugene Murphy Jr from America’s Got Talent and Kevin Daley from Harlem Globetrotters?
For a second year in a row, I ended up attending the Readers’ Favorite Award Ceremony. Last year, Chaysing Dreams and Chaysing Memories won gold medals for Romance Suspense category. This year, Chaysing Destiny was awarded the bronze medal for Fiction Thriller Terrorist category. What an honor!
I hold onto memories such as these. Yes, life is full of same monotonous routine. But, it’s up to us to make sure we make the most out of our days…and our lives. So here’s to our dreams coming true, to creating amazing memories with fantastic people, and to living life to the fullest.
Don’t forget to follow your dreams. Find your passion and go after it. If you fall, stand back up taller and stronger. Just keep moving forward. As one of the authors said to me in Miami, “If not now, then when?”
The 2015 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award results are in! Chaysing Destiny just won the Bronze Medal in Fiction Thriller Terrorist. Wow! Apparently, I’m a diverse writer. 😉
I am truly honored and humbled that all three books in the series have been awarded medals. Last year, Chaysing Dreams and Chaysing Memories had won Gold Medals in Romance Suspense category! I can officially say that The Chaysing Trilogy is now an award winning series.
The award ceremony is in Miami every year. Miami, here I come! 🙂
Here’s the link to purchase the books on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Jalpa-Williby/e/B00EN2ZDCQ
The distant, shrilling screams and the deathly scent of smoke in the still of the night have me springing off of the tiny cot. I swiftly scan the small hut that’s been my home for the last couple of weeks. Snatching the clothes from the plastic container that’s placed in the corner, I quickly change into my baggy black pants and shirt. After putting on the ghutra around my head and wrapping the black scarf around my face with my hair pulled back, I’m confident that I can easily pass as a man.
The screams grow louder, and the footsteps scatter in panic. There’s something terrible happening out there, but I’m not too worried yet.
I’ve prepared for this.
I grab my knives and stick them in my boots and the side of my pants. As the stench of smoke invades me, I seize my gun and soundlessly slither out of the hut.
The small homes and huts of the village are engulfed in angry flames. The villagers are screaming and running, trying to save their loved ones. I quickly assess the scene, suspecting that the fire must have been deliberately set.
Who the hell would do this?
And then I see them. Men in their Jeeps are yelling at the villagers, their guns drawn. I’ve heard of attacks like this. These men may be part of the radical rebel group that has been terrorizing the villagers and robbing them of little they possess. My gut tells me it must be the group, FILO, which Tom Sterns has warned me about. Sterns is still the leader of our special operation forces and my mentor, so I trust him completely. Instantly, my blood boils at the possibility that these rebels may have some direct or indirect involvement with Chayse’s death.
Don’t lose control, Tess.
I have to remain focused. I can’t let my emotions push me into making poor decisions.
My mind drifts to the little boys and girls I’ve been helping in the small medical clinic, and I silently sprint toward the homes to save the kids. I think about little Akbar and Sheyla, who have already gained a special place in my heart. The brother and sister’s hut is not too far from me. As I move closer, I helplessly watch the blaze consume their home. My heart crashes to the floor, and I pray they escaped.
Don’t panic, Tess. Think!
I hear wailing of a child. As my head spins toward the sound, I see a stranded little girl standing in the middle of the chaos, crying by herself. Where is her mother? And then I notice her. The mom is lying on the ground unresponsive and not too far from the toddler. I race to the girl and grab her, trying to bring her to safety. Holding her securely under my arms, I rush toward the clinic.
The girl is terrified, probably thinking I’m one of the men who attacked them. Unfortunately, I can’t stop to reassure her right now.
When I kick the door of the clinic open, somebody tries to hit me with a stick. Luckily, I block the strike easily and take the stick away with one arm while still holding the child with the other. Just as I’m about to pull my gun out, I notice it’s my assistant, Tanveer. I yank my scarf down to show him my face.
“It’s me! Dr. Johnson!” I yell. Sterns, who sent me on this mission, didn’t want me to use my real name. My identity in Iraq has been Dr. Karen Johnson.
He takes a step back in shock. “What is happening, Doctor? Why are you dressed like one of them?”
“I can’t explain right now. But you must trust me, okay? You have to take this little girl out of here. Her mother is no more. You can’t stay in here. I think you need to take as many people as you can and try to flee into the woods. Maybe you need to escape to the next village. They will probably set this clinic on fire as well. I’ll try to save as many people as I can, but you need to get a group going and get out of here. Do you understand?”
Staring at me in disbelief, he finally responds. “Yes. Okay, I understand. I will wait by the edge of the woods and see if more people come. They can meet me there, and we will escape together.”
“Okay, go now. I’ll tell whoever I can.”
“Wait, what about you?”
“I have to help them, Tanveer. I’m not leaving.” I then turn to the little girl who is still crying. In her native language, Arabic, I gently say, “Hey, sweetie, this is my friend. He will help you, okay?” I’m not sure if she hears anything I say to her, but at least the gentle tone of my voice calms her a bit.
Placing the scarf back on securely to cover myself, I sneak back out of the clinic and sprint toward the madness. To my horror, I see a man on the ground, dead, with a woman hovering over him, screaming. One of the attackers approaches her and pulls her off of the man. He takes his gun and shoots the man again, as if rubbing his death in even more to the woman. A shrilling sound escapes her as she yells something to him. He turns around and strikes her across the face. She tumbles to the ground, her face buried into the dirt. The man points his gun to shoot a fatal shot to her head. As if accepting her fate, the woman lies still, not resisting.
Without hesitating, I aim my gun and shoot straight through the man’s heart before he can pull the trigger. Making sure none of his men has witnessed my kill, I rush to the woman and pull her up. I instruct her in Arabic to head toward the woods to make her escape. She has no idea who I am since I still have my face covered. Luckily, she realizes that I just saved her, so she follows my instructions.
Before running, she turns to me and grabs hold of my arm. “Kill them all!” she whispers fiercely.
As I find more villagers, I give them the same instructions. I try to avoid calling attention to myself from the terrorists, but at times, I do have to use my gun or my knives. There’s no way I can take on all these men. There are at least ten Jeeps here, so from my estimation, there are probably forty to fifty men, all heavily armed. Although, I’ve already killed eight of them, it’s impossible for me to get them all. The best I can do is to try and save as many people as I can.
As the fire swallows the small village, I bring the last batch of people to the edge of the woods. Tanveer is still waiting with the small crowd, all of them crouched low behind the trees.
To my relief, I notice Akbar and Sheyla standing with Tanveer. Happy to see them, I give them a quick hug. At first they are frightened, but when they hear my voice, they recognize me and hug me tightly. Feeling their tremors, I assure them everything will be okay.
Shifting my attention to Tanveer, I direct him on the next move. “I think you need to start taking everybody out of here before those bastards realize what’s happening. I’ll go back to the village. If I find anybody else, I’ll bring them with me. Start heading toward the east. There’s a village that’s about seven or eight miles from here. Hopefully, they can help.”
“Okay, doctor. You going to be okay?”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.” I give Tanveer a quick nod and turn toward the burning village again.
As I sneak back, I hear many of the men yelling in Arabic.
“Who the hell is killing our men?”
“And where are all the villagers?”
“Somebody dare to challenge us? I want them found. Do you hear me?”
I stay hidden. The men scatter about to search. Damn it, I’ve been hoping they wouldn’t find any of the dead bodies of the men I’ve killed yet. I have to remind myself to stay focused on my mission. What I need to do is try to capture one of the men and find some information about Saheim. My instincts tell me he is the missing piece of the puzzle.
I’m confident these men know about Saheim. He’s one of the main leaders of groups like these. If I obtain some information on him, then he can potentially lead me to Chayse’s killers.
Sterns has warned me about him—Saheim is a wanted criminal. He’s ruthless and one of the most dangerous leaders of FILO, Future Iraq Leaders’ Organization. None of the villagers have been willing to talk whenever I’ve brought his name up. I’ve gotten the feeling that some of them have heard his name but have been too afraid to say anything.
I suddenly notice that some of the men are heading toward the woods where the villagers escaped. Running out of time, I have to think quickly and stop them. Moving swiftly and silently like a predator about to zero in on its prey, I pursue them.
Briefly scanning, I notice twelve men going toward the woods. They all have their bandanas on and have their guns drawn. I have to distract them. It’s now or never. I leap in the opposite direction and shoot toward them. When they hear the shots, they yell and race toward me. I’m confident they don’t have a visual on me, but they know the general direction of the shots. I’m not worried about being caught because I can easily outrun them. My sole hope is that they all follow me, so I can steer them away from those innocent people.
I don’t run too fast initially, making sure they continue to pursue me. I purposefully go toward the west, luring them as far away as possible. When they’ve been on my tail for at least fifteen minutes, I speed it up and try to lose them. With enough distance between us, I climb up a tree to hide out. I’ll head back toward the village once everything settles down a bit. I’m bound to bump into some of them since they’ll probably still be searching for me. At the first opportunity, I plan to take one of the men as my captive and make him talk about Saheim.
As I wait in the tree, I think about all of the innocent people who lost their lives tonight. Shit, what is wrong with this world? To make matters worse, everybody is afraid to stand up to these groups that go around terrorizing.
I’ve already been here for two weeks, searching for answers. Tonight is the closest I’ve come to finding some information. But damn it! Saving the village was not part of the plan. I had no idea these horrid men were going to go on a killing spree and burn everything down. At least it gives me some pleasure to know I took out quite a few of them tonight.
But not enough.
No, they all have to pay—every single one who’s responsible for Chayse’s death. I don’t care if they’re involved directly or indirectly. They will pay.
Two weeks away from my son. My Jace. My heart and soul. Oh how I miss my baby. I promised him before I left that I would be home soon. And it’s already been two weeks.
I can’t believe he’s going to be two years old in four more months. With a head full of dark hair and big gray eyes, Jacen reminds me of Chayse every day.
As I hide in the tree, I think about my life since Chayse’s death. I remember my pregnancy, the birth of my son, and how every day and night, Chayse has been on my mind and in my heart.
Who remembers that line from St. Elmo’s Fire? For all you young folks, this movie was out in 1980’s. I remember seeing it in high school with my friends. Of course, we all loved it. I it was one of the movies from the Brat Pack genre. And who didn’t love the Brat Pack?
As teenagers, we were all trying to find our way in life. You know, figure out what we’ll be doing when we grow up. Basically, what was the meaning of life for us. So often, we found ourselves asking one another, “Quick, what’s the meaning of life?” Sure, we were trying to be funny, but in reality, we were just a bunch of lost kids, trying to figure out where we fit in this world.
Now, years later, I find myself asking the same question. So many times, I wonder if I’ve done everything that I’m supposed to do. Did I make a difference? Did I leave my mark with anybody? Am I supposed to do more than what I’m doing? Am I just stuck in the” cycle of life” and not doing enough soul searching?
We’ve all been there. How many times have we asked ourselves if we are doing what we love. I mean, what if we made wrong choices? What if we had taken the other path when we reached the crossroads in our lives?
Ah, so many what ifs. I guess we can’t really worry about the what ifs. But I still think it’s important to do some real soul searching. It’s easy to just get caught up in all of our responsibilities; we go to work, pay our bills, get some sleep, wake up, and go to work again. Yep, that vicious cycle we loath so much. Don’t get me wrong. It’s imperative that we are responsible and make a living. Obviously, we have to pay our bills on time. Sorry, we can’t get away from that. And of course, if we keep our jobs, we can take care of our family and perhaps afford the nicer things in life.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if this is all there is. Is there more I should be doing? Sometimes I think that because of that vicious cycle, we forget to live. I mean really live. We forget to do things that make us happy. That’s what I mean by soul searching. We all have to find our own happiness.
I’m not whining at all about my life. I do believe I’ve accomplished quite a bit actually. I’m quite content, if not proud of many things. I’ve practiced physical therapy for over 20 years. And truly, I’ve learned so much from some pretty amazing patients.
I’ve been married for almost 20 years to this crazy but amazing guy. That’s pretty damn awesome!
Oh and did I mention that I have three beautiful children? They’re my everything.
And lastly, I’ve published three books. I mean to be able to say that I’m a published author is pretty cool, not to mention all of the awards and recognitions they have received.
And yet, I still find myself wondering… what’s the meaning of life?
“Don’t judge the book by its cover.”
We’ve all heard this a million times. But the reality check is that people do judge the book by its cover. Since I’ve published three books, I’m slowly learning different tricks of the trade, and a good cover for a book is a must.
I really think long and hard on what kind of cover I want. Colors are very important to me. I also like the covers to look unique. Unfortunately, the stock photos have already been used on other book covers many times. So, I used a professional photographer and a model for the covers of the Chaysing Trilogy. I’m very picky about the vision I have for my covers, so it’s imperative that both the model and the photographer understand what I’m looking for.
Chaysing Dreams Cover
In the first cover, Chaysing Dreams, the model is wearing a white dress. Tess, the main character, is young in this book, innocent and even naïve. It’s mostly a coming of age tale where she’s forced into situations, and she has to find inner strength to grow up. The white dress symbolizes her innocence. At the same time, the woods are dark and have a bluish tint to them. There is some suspense and mystery to this story, so this is portrayed through the dark coloring. In this first book, Tess is haunted by nightmares of being chased through woods. In the cover, the woods appear mysterious and intimidating, just like her dreams.
Also, the model’s pose is an important aspect of this cover. She seems like she’s lost and searching for something. At the same time, her posture is confident. She’s not timid or scared. She looks like she’s trying to find some answers. Athough Tess is a teenager in most of the first book, she’s still a strong young girl.
There are tiny stars scattered throughout the cover. For me, these shiny stars symbolize hope—light through the darkness.
Chaysing Memories Cover
In the sequel, a lot happens. Tess is growing up but has lost much of her memory, especially of the man she once loved. Although Tess is much stronger in this book, she is still lost, searching for answers. For the cover, I wanted to show this through her expression.
Also, the male character is added in this book cover. However, he is mysterious and we still don’t know much about him. Hence, in the cover, he’s hidden within the fog.
Tess is haunted by dreams of a man with gray eyes. To make the eyes stand out, the male model on the cover has glowing gray eyes. Again, this adds to the mystery and suspense of this strange man from her dreams.
Also in this cover, Tess is wearing a red dress. The color red symbolized love and passion. In this particular story, she learns to truly love, and the relationship eventually becomes passionate.
There are stars again around her, symbolizing hope through the despair.
Chaysing Destiny Cover
By now, Tess has gone through a lot in her life. She is a strong, confident woman by now. Tess has hardened herself and is fiercely protective of her loved ones. Oh, and she’s out for revenge.
It was imperative to have a fierce and confident pose in this cover (head/chin up, fists clenched, strong legs). The cover shows how much Tess has matured, and she’s not backing down from anything. And although it’s hard to see, the model is wearing a necklace with a heart and teardrop. This is the gift she had received from the man she had fallen in love with and eventually lost in Chaysing Memories. This necklace is a reflection of their relationship.
Color again is very important. She’s wearing a black dress in this cover because black symbolizes strength and power.
In the background, the sun is setting. I like the symbolism of this. As the sun sets, the light fades, overcome by the forces of darkness. This last book is a lot darker, so the setting of the sun is the perfect background. Also, the sun looks like an enormous fireball, which represents the fire that has been growing inside her through the years.
There’s a creek right behind the model. Again, this creek has a special meaning… it symbolizes perseverance. How? Well, you have to read the story to find out.
Oh and how can I forget? There’s that beautiful guy in the background. Yeah, about that… Who is he? What is his role? Is he one of the good guys or the epitome of evil?
So that’s my hard work on the covers. I’ve never been a director of something like this, but I did have a lot of fun directing these photo-shoots and eventually picking the cover shots. I think it forced me to work out of my comfort zone and really brought out my creative side. Besides, I had a fabulous model and photographer who did a fantastic job doing their magic and creating my vision.
Although the covers may not be like the big publishing house covers, they’re not bad for a little indie author like me. Besides, nothing beats the feeling of creating something yourself and having complete control over it. Now that’s priceless!
The images flash by at a lightning pace…
The pain sears through me, but the reward makes it tolerable. I have to push harder to bring my baby, my everything, into this world. As the fear for my baby’s safety engulfs me, an overwhelming sense of sorrow sends tears cascading down my cheeks.
The sound of the explosion has me running toward the source. I have to save him.
Screams and cries of women and children urge me to run faster. Blood everywhere. Too many dead, mutilated bodies are all around me. No, please, no! I’m too late.
Suddenly, I’m running through the field of beautiful wild flowers. I’m playing with Gem, and while I laugh, she barks with excitement. I glance over my shoulder to see Chayse running after me. He tackles me, his weight holding me down. I laugh.
When he turns me over to face him, his eyes are not happy. Without any warning, the force of his knuckles land hard on my face.
Everything goes black.
The nightmares continue to haunt me. The dread of not knowing if these nightmares are a part of my past, present, or future consumes me.
Too many questions. Not enough answers.
But the truth is out there.
I won’t back down. I will find my answers.
I can’t believe 2015 is almost here. How can that be? I still remember listening to Prince’s song “1999” and I used to think that 1999 seemed so far away. Man, if there was only a way to slow down time.
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that. But as I’m getting older and hopefully a bit wiser, I’ve learned to force myself to slow things down. I’ve promised myself that if there’s a moment in time I want to remember, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and just feel. It could be somebody singing a beautiful song, or my kids opening their gifts, or my dog playing with her toys, or welcoming the birth of my beautiful niece, or finishing my manuscript…
Memories are very important to me. Since time is slipping away, I at least want to try to remember things that touch me—you know, just to internalize it all and live for the moment.
I know, I know…we all try to come up with a New Year’s Resolution, promising ourselves that this new year will be different. We all work hard on it for the first couple of months and then we fall back on our old habits. Trust me, I’ve been there many times!
But this year, I challenge you to come up with realistic goals. It could even be simple things that are easy to achieve. You just really have to look within yourself to see what’s important to you.
Somebody once told me that nobody is responsible for my happiness but myself. I thought about it for a long time, and I realized that the person was right. At the end of the day, it’s up to me whether I see the cup as half full or half empty. I’m in charge of my own happiness—not my family, not my friends, not my work. It’s up to me to find where my happiness lies. So guess what? I decided to laugh more, to appreciate the little things in life, to just live my life to the fullest. Because before I know it, things could be taken away from me in a heartbeat. Yes, life is moving that fast, folks.
What are your dreams? What are some things you always wanted to do? What is your calling? Only you can answer these questions. The only way to do that is to really do some soul searching. Sure, you may not be able to drop all that you’re responsible for and pursue your dreams. Unfortunately, that probably is not very practical. But maybe you can come up with some sort of compromise.
Let me explain. In my case, I wanted to see if I could write a novel. Granted, this has nothing to do with my career field. I’m a physical therapist for heaven’s sake. But I wanted to just challenge myself. And do you know what? I realize I absolutely love it. I enjoy creating my own world through my books, my characters, and most of all, I love bringing these books to my readers. Who would have thought that this was something that would be my passion? But does that mean I’m going to drop my job, go to other countries to do my research for my books, and just focus on my writing? That’s just not very practical for me. So what do I do? I compromise. I try to focus on my writing/marketing on evenings and weekends. Instead of writing two or three books a year, I write one every ten months. It’s the best I can do and that’s good enough for now. Like I said, I enjoy creating stories, and it’s a nice therapeutic escape to lose myself into my fictional world.
So don’t sell yourself short…just go for it! Don’t wait for the right time because it’ll never come. 2015 is YOUR year! Embrace it and take control of your own happiness!
As you think about what you want out of 2015, I’ll leave you with a little excerpt from Chaysing Dreams. This is actually New Year’s Eve party and Tess and Jack are nineteen years old in this scene.
Chaysing Dreams Excerpt (New Year’s Eve)
Jack takes my hand and leads me under the mistletoe. He lifts my chin up to look at him and says, “Ok, Tess, don’t freak like you did last time I tried to kiss you.”
“What? I didn’t freak. I didn’t know…” Before I can finish my sentence, he leans forward and plants his lips on me. It’s a brief kiss, but full of tenderness.
“See, not too bad, right?” Jack asks.
“Shut up, Jack,” I say, laughing with him.
Jack takes my hand, leads me to the rest of the guests, and we begin mingling.
Right when midnight is about to strike, we start the count down.
All of us yell, “10, 9, 8….4, 3, 2, 1!” We all jump around, hugging one another, and screaming, “Happy New Year!”
As I embrace everybody, suddenly my phone buzzes. I glance down at my phone and notice a text that says,
“Thinking about you as this new year starts. Happy New Year!”
I don’t recognize the number. So I reply:
“Thank you. Who is this?”
“Come on, Tessnia, you know who this is.”
Oh my god, it’s him! My heart skips a beat.
“How did you get my number?”
“You gave it to me, a while back.”
“I don’t remember giving it to you?”
I know I hadn’t given it to him.
“I guess where there’s a will, there’s a way. Have a good night, Tessnia.”
And that’s that. The conversation ends and I’m left wondering if that really happened. I quickly save his phone number, purposefully ignoring my shaky fingers and erratic heartbeat.
Many of you have been waiting anxiously for the final installment of the Chaysing Trilogy. Let me assure you that I work on it every evening and every weekend—literally, every spare moment. Trust me, I’m dying for my closure too. 🙂
The good news is that the story is done! Man, does that feel good! I’ve gone through it once already, but I’m going through it again. It’s just what I do. I have to go over it to enhance the scenes, work on proper wording, the sentence structure, grammar…you know, just get it right.
For me, it’s imperative that my readers are “there” with the characters. I want my readers to feel the joy, the sorrow, the pain—everything that my characters are going through. So, as a writer, the emotional piece is priceless. I truly get inside my characters’ heads and try to portray what they’re going through.
That being said, what’s next? Well, when I’m done going through it a few more times, I will send the manuscript to editor(s). Then, I’ll revise it some more. When I’m completely satisfied with it, I’ll send it to the publishers. There, the publishers take another couple of months to format it and make it available to the readers on all major sites. Yeah, it is a long drawn out process, but my goal is to send it to the publishers by the end of this year.
So hang in there! I promise it will be worth the wait! I absolutely can’t wait for you all to read it because I love how the story developed.
In the meantime, here’s a little prologue for Chaysing Destiny. Enjoy!
The pain is unbearable, but the reward makes it tolerable. I have to push harder to bring my baby into this world. As the fear for my baby’s safety consumes me, an overwhelming sense of sorrow sends tears cascading down my cheeks.
The sound of the explosion has me running toward the source. I have to save him. Screams and cries of women and children urge me to run faster.
Blood everywhere. Too many dead, mutilated bodies are all around me. No, please, no! I’m too late.
Suddenly I’m running through the field of beautiful wild flowers. I’m playing with Gem, and while I laugh, she barks with excitement. I glance over my shoulder to see Chayse running after me. I feel him tackle me, his weight holding me down. I laugh.
When he turns me over to face him, his eyes are not happy. Without any warning, the force of his knuckles land hard on my face.
Everything goes black.
The nightmares continue to haunt me. The dread of not knowing if these nightmares are a part of my past, present, or future petrifies me.
Too many questions. Not enough answers.
But I won’t back down. I will find my answers.