Category Archives: writing

My Path To Publication: The Cenote


It is September, 2010.

I am standing at my sink washing the dishes, thinking about two things: a good friend with a troubled marriage, and a National Geographic article about Mexican cenotes (say-no-tays). While these two unconnected ideas are swirling around in my head I am also listening to my daughters playing upstairs (women can think of many things at one time, research shows). “Let’s pretend that these people can hear something, but these people can’t,” I hear them say. Suddenly, deep inside my brain there is a brilliant flash of light. I have an idea!

October: I type out a few sentences. Then a first chapter of sorts. I read it to my little sis over the phone. She says, You are going to change the world! Which is exactly what sisters are supposed to say.

October-December 2010: I check out and read every book about Maya and Aztec people that I can find from my library. I read a lot. I take notes. I start writing.

Christmas 2010: Husband gives me my first laptop. He might as well have given me my very own rocket.  I blast off.


Jan-June 2011: I write. I write. I write.

Summer 2011: Kids are home from school. Writing stops.

September 2011: Kids start school. Writing resumes during the baby’s naps.

January 2012: Finish Draft 3, I print it out for the first time. I revise like mad. I am obsessed, burning the candle at both ends of the night. I never sleep. I’m never tired. I never have any “writer’s block” either, only floods of inspiration flowing from my brain and out of my fingertips like beams of light as they dance over the keys. I write, I write, I am like lightning. I am like thunder. I am a blazing chariot of writing fire!!

January 24: Not one friend remembers my birthday. I acknowledge that it is a direct result of the hermit-life I have created for myself.

Later in January 2012: Husband says, “Who is more important, here? Me or the book?” The chariot of writing comes to a screeching halt.

Husband and I pow-pow. A plan is formed: he makes breakfast in the morning, and I never write at night.  We kiss on it. All is well. But now I realize a dilemma: No one will ever believe my story unless I go to Mexico myself and research. Don’t you want to go to Mexico and swim around in a cenote, Husband? Husband says no.

February 2012: I receive an email from my aunt, addressed to all of her nieces. It reads:

Aging aunt seeks short term female traveling companion in the time period of March 2-9, 2012 in Merida, Mexico. Will provide lodging and all the fresh fruit smoothies you can drink. Must be able to walk 8 miles a day, endure temperatures of 80+ degrees daily and be willing to immerse yourself in the climate, culture and customs of Mexico. Inquire or respond immediately.

Coincidence? I think not.

March  2012: I go to Mexico with my sister to visit my aunt. She takes us to temples, ruins, pyramids, lost cities, jungles and three cenotes. I savor every moment. I write down every detail. I swim in a cenote.





March-May: Added details from research in Mexico. My book is “finished,” but I keep working on it anyway.

June: School’s out. Writing stops. Instead I do research by planting my own “Three Sisters” garden: Maize, beans and squash.

July: I discover I am pregnant.

August: My Three Sisters garden becomes a Two Sisters garden since my corn dies. I would not have survived long in pre-columbian Mexico.

September 2012-October 2012: School is back in. I start revising again. I’m on draft 7 now.

October 2012 Danny stops taking naps. No more writing for me for a while. Sad.

Sometime in early 2013: Breakthrough: my mother finally reads the book. She calls me. She says, Chelsea, this actually reads like a real book! This is a good sign. 🙂

April 7, 2013: Levi Scott Dyreng is born. (Best decision ever.)

April 2013-Jan 2014: No writing. Queried a little bit. Collected some rejections.

January 2014: A writer friend asks if I want to submit anything to her start-up publishing company. I say YES. I submit. They say KILL YOUR DARLINGS, so I get out my ax.

February 2014: I hack away at my beloved manuscript, taking it from over 100,000 words to 78,000 words. I send it back to the fledgling publishers. They accept my sacrifice.

March 2014: One of the editors of the fledgling publishing co. has to call it quits. The other editor (my friend) kindly tells me it would be wise to start querying again, so my book is once again homeless.

October 2014: I attend my first writing conference. I learn. I meet writers. I make a fool of myself in front of agents. I have a great time.

January 2015: Feeling daring again. I send my manuscript to a publisher called Cedar Fort.

March 2015: I get a phone call, “Hi, my name is Emma Parker from Cedar Fort Publishing . . . ” after which I have a heart attack and die.

March 2015: “My” editor says I need to do some revising. I say, Yes, ma’am!  By now I’m not sure what draft I am on any more… 9? 10? 25? One character is troubling me, so I kill him.

April 2015: Editor sends me the cover of my book. I am actually sitting under the moon by a campfire when I receive her email. I can’t open it. I hand my phone to my husband. “You look at the cover first. I can’t.”

He looks at the cover.

And grins.

cenote cover

I look at it all night while I swing in my hammock under the stars.

May 2015: The cover has to be modified a little because there is no seaweed in cenotes. They find a different aquatic plant and send a new cover:

cenote cover final


May 2015: Editor sends me the substantive edit. I have one month. Lucky Scott is back to making breakfast for everyone again!

June 2015: I finish the sub edit the day before school gets out. I find out my book is ready for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. They even say how much the books weighs. (Don’t tell anyone, but the book doesn’t even exist yet!)

July 1, 2015: I meet my editor in person. She is just as nice in real life as she is in her emails!

August 2015: I go over several different copy edits. I add the dedication and acknowledgements (perhaps your name is there!)

Sept 2015: I approve the proofs and finally the book goes to press.

October 10th, 2015: After a long day of waiting this man finally shows up in my driveway:



It’s been a long, wonderful ride. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this experience. Hopefully it is not once in a lifetime!


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Cenote Tutorial

My book has been sent to press!

While I wait for it to be printed I wanted to give those who were interested some background info on cenotes.

Even though my book is based on a fictional culture in a fictional village, I still had to do a lot of research. Even the most fantastic fiction has to have a foundation in truth.  I had already read a lot about the Maya culture and about the Yucatan, but after I had completed several drafts I realized I would not be able improve my novel anymore unless I had a chance to go to Mexico and learn some things for myself. So I packed my bags, left my husband and four small children (this was pre-Levi) and went.

For fun, and to keep me safe from bandits I brought along this person:


My sister and I standing on top of a pyramid in Ek Balam

We stayed with my aunt who has a winter home in Merida, Mexico.


This is my aunt. (That is not her winter home.)

My main objective on this trip was learn more about the Maya culture and and to visit the cenotes.

Yes, the word “cenote” is hard to pronounce or describe. Spellcheck doesn’t even recognize it. But when you consider that the original Maya word for cenote is dzonote, I think the word isn’t that hard after all, don’t you?

Dzonote means “well” as in “water well.”  Basically, a cenote is a sinkhole that exposes the ground water, and the Yucatan is filled with them. Some are “mature” cenotes like the one in my book, others are “young” cenotes or “old” cenotes  depending on whether or not they have collapsed yet and if there is any water left in them. Here is a diagram to give you an idea of what I mean:

Cenotes were significant to the ancient Maya people because it was the only place to get fresh water during the dry season. You might say cenotes were kinda important. Vital, actually. Because of this, cenotes also played a huge role in rituals and sacrifices, and many ceremonial artifacts–including human bones–have been discovered in cenotes. All of this plays into my book.

Zaci Cenote

This is the entrance to Zaci cenote.

You take these spooky steps into what you think will be cave.

But then it opens up into a huge pool, surrounded by a stone walkway. We would have gone swimming there but we were there on a Sunday, so alas, we did not. But it was beautiful. Nice that they have a rope across the pool in case you start to drown. 🙂


Loltun Cave

Since cenotes expose the groundwater, many cenotes are connected to each other underground. Sometimes they even have passages to the ocean, if they are near the coast. The Loltun Cave is a cave that connects several cenotes. These are “old” cenotes, so they are no longer filled with water (although they do get a lot of water in them during the rainy season, our guide told us. But then, he also told us that the reason why Mexican men have very little facial hair is because when they are infants their mamas take boiling-hot cloths and lay them on the places they want hair never to grow, so I cannot verify if the man is trustworthy.) If you ever go to Merida, you don’t want to miss this place. This cave was GIGANTIC and breathtaking. I would show you the photos of the inside but they are all too dark. This is the exit:


Those long rope-looking things are roots of banyan trees. Banyan trees love water and they often grow near cenotes with their roots “dripping” down to the surface of the water. 

Sacred Cenote

This is one of the most famous cenotes, probably because it is in Chichen Itza, one of the biggest tourist stops in the Yucatan. On the day we were there they had it roped off so I couldn’t get a good angle with my camera. Too many tourists had been falling in, I suppose. Imagine trying to get someone out a cenote. Wow, that would be tricky. Someone should write a book about that.


Dzul-Ha Cenote at the Sotuta de Peon Hacienda

Finally, toward the end of our trip we got to actually swim in a cenote. The Dzul-Ha cenote is totally hidden underground. It was part of the Sotuta Hacienda and they had convenient outdoor stalls where you could change into your bathing suit (under the bright blue sky!) and then you go down the stairs into this cave where the cenote awaits, refreshing and cool. I am sure my sister is thrilled that the only photo I have of this cenote is of her. I was too busy swimming to care about posing in my bathing suit for ya’ll. 


If you want to see some truly wondrous photographs of cenotes you should check these out:

I hope that gives you a little more insight into what my book is about. Stay tuned!

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My Top Ten Favorite Biographies

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

What made this book excellent for me was not that Louis Zamperini survived through what seemed like a conveyer belt of continuous suffering, but his unexpected Miracle in the last chapter. Sadly, the movie adaptation only dealt with the suffering and ended with a strange, artificial climax of Zamperini lifting a railroad tie above his head. The Great Miracle–the the reason the book filled me with wonder and hope as I closed the last page and held it to my beating heart–was omitted. That is why the movie was a disappointment and the book was absolutely brilliant. If you saw the hopeless movie don’t let that stop you from reading the book . . . which is full of Hope.

2. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

mandelaI decided to read this book when I learned that my mom was going to serve a mission in South Africa, almost a decade ago, and I still remember what a great impression Mandela’s story left on me. Apartheid in South Africa was a world of which I was completely ignorant, and I was grateful to learn more about him, his country, and his hopeful persistence. I wrote this quote down to remember: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

3. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough


When the Wright Brothers came to North Carolina with their wood, muslin and dreams, the people of Kitty Hawk first thought the brothers were just a couple of “poor nuts.” When they weren’t working on their flying machine they stood on the beach, their arms outstretched, mimicking the wing movements of birds.  In the end the Ohio boys won the respect of the Outer Banks natives who said that Wilbur and Orville were “two of the workingest boys; they had their whole heart and soul in what they were doing.” For these two brothers, flying was not an impossibility, but merely a puzzle to be solved.  Although neither married, they were devoted family men, and they never worked or flew on Sundays, making even large crowds wait until Monday. They were never haughty or belittling to other inventors of the time that had failed before them. This is not the first biography I’ve read on these two men, and it won’t be the last.

4. Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt
black elk

By the late 1880’s, it was clear to Native Americans, who were being squeezed into reservations, that success in defending themselves against the waves of white men was all but hopeless. But in 1890, one last united effort to reclaim their lands and dignity was kindled by a mystical dance called the “ghost dance.” The purpose of this dance was to plead to their ancestors for help and to summon them fight against the white men. The story of the Ghost Dance movement is described by Black Elk, a healer and a survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee Massacre, and dictated by him through an interpreter to John G. Neihardt.  This book was recommended to me as a teenager by a Native American friend (Thanks, Dan) to help me understand the Native American way of shaman and visions, and the great faith they had in their ancestors.

5. Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel


I thought that I knew something about Galileo before I read this book, but I found out after reading this that I knew as much about Galileo as the Catholics at that time knew about the universe. (Very little.) This is a book of correspondence between Galileo and his devoted and loving daughter, Maria Celeste. Few, if any of Galileo’s letters to her survive (she was a nun, so many of her personal belongings were destroyed), but he carefully saved many of hers. Through these letters we learn how she patiently supports her father as he tries in vain to convince the world that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the universe. She continues to minister to him, through letters, as he enters and undergoes the trial of his life. Notwithstanding his perilous position as potential heretic, Galileo always had great respect for the religious beliefs of his church and wanted to show others that Catholics were not being ignorant or stupid, but steadfast.  Although Galileo was at odds with the church, but he was never at odds with his Maker. As Sobel wrote, Galileo felt that “To imagine an infinite universe was merely to grant almighty God His proper due.”

6. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder


From this book I learned about the power that one determined physician can have when he uses his talents to serve the poorest people on the earth. It is also a book that makes you extremely uncomfortable, because your conscience jabs you and whispers things like “what more can you do for those that are suffering?”   As Tracy Kidder, Dr. Paul Farmer’s biographer said  “ . . . I can imagine Farmer saying he doesn’t care if no one else is willing to follow their example. He’s still going to make these hikes, he’d insist, because if you say that seven hours is too long to walk for two families of patients, you’re saying that their lives matter less than some others’, and the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.”

7. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrandimages

When you get tired of reading biographies about people, read this biography (zoography?) about a horse.  This read was excellent. Hillenbrand is not only a thorough biographer but also a great storyteller. And, incidentally, the Seabiscuit movie, unlike Unbroken, is wonderful. 

8. Endurance by Alfred Lansingendurance

The odds were against Shackleton and his crew from the beginning. The odds usually are when you are planning an expedition to Antarctica, and this triumphant story was all but hidden from the world’s headlines since most of the attention was on the Great War in Europe.  Only later did Shackleton’s amazing adventure story get the attention it deserved. I’ve read this book twice and loved it both times. My favorite part is when they cross the open ocean to South Georgia in a small lifeboat, relying on a sextant and the stars. Soooo exciting.

9. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman


This honest biography of Joseph Smith depicts his successes, his failures, and the parts of his history most church historians like to skip, like his role in early polygamy. I enjoyed this open and candid perspective written by a firm believer in the faith, who demonstrates that we do not need to be ashamed of the history of the Prophet, and that only by understanding history as it really was that we can gain insights into Joseph’s character, purpose and his vision for the eternal destinies of his people.

10. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzaimalala

The Moonlight Bookreader’s Guild (the book club I am a part of) read this when it first came out and we loved every word. There is something about the courage of a young girl that sparks a fire in the hearts of older women. We either hope we could be as gracefully brave or we pray our daughters can. The earth can never have enough Malalas.

Other biographies I want to read:

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario


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Five Favorite Poems

My eleven-year-old came home the other day telling me that her English teacher is starting a really boring unit. For the next few weeks they are going to be studying poetry. She said the word poetry in the same tone she says the words clean the bathroom.

And this is my child?

I, the lover of all types of poetry? I, collector of great books of poems? I, the woman who hosted wild, ruckus Poetry Nights with my friends for years when my daughters were wee babes?  This is my child?

I wanted to explain to her that poetry is how people put love and hate and fear and hope into words we can feel. I wanted her to understand that good poetry, really good poetry is like a secret code that you have to decipher, and the best poems have a last line that hits you straight in the heart. I wanted her to know that reading good poetry outloud is like having your mouth filled with chocolate.  Poetry is about passion, child! Passion!

But all I could muster up at the moment was a flabbergasted, “But poetry is so cool!”

My daughter shrugged. “If you say so.”

Okay, so it will take some time for me to convert her. In the meantime, April is National Poetry Month so let’s get the party started! Here are some of my favorite poems:

1. I Stop Writing the Poem by Tess Gallagher

I once told a very wise woman that I had a dream to write books but that I planned to dutifully wait until all my children were in school. She laughed at me and said that if I did that I would loose all my inspiration. She was right. Since then I have tried to weave my writing in with my mothering and wifer-ing and it has worked out better than I had hoped. There are plenty of times I have to stop writing to fold shirts. Or do laundry. Or listen. It is all part of what women do. But without those children tugging at our sleeves and asking questions, what would there be to write about?

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.


2. Master Speed by Robert Frost

I think about this poem when I think about the power of marriage.

Master Speed

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still-
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.


3. When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman

I read this poem when Facebook gets too much for me to handle.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


4. Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Every poem by this woman is phenomenal. This one is my favorite.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.


5. Ode on Imitations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth

This is just a bite of a much longer poem (but it is the best bite).  I taped this (and other poems) to the kitchen cupboard while my daughter Naomi had colic and memorized them while I held her and walked back and forth, back and forth. Can’t remember them now, though, so that is why I have to keep reading them…

Ode on Imitations of Immortality

 Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting 
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 
From God, who is our home.


Thanks for reading. I feel much better now.cropped-vitamin-c-nicole2.jpg




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Chelsea Sits Down to Write a Novel. Five Years Later . . .


It took me 2 years to write, 2 years to rewrite and 1 year in the middle to have a baby. Last week, on my 37th birthday, I signed my first writing contract. My book, The Cenote, will be published by Cedar Fort, a publisher based out of Utah.

For me this is pretty much mind-blowing.

What is the book about? It is about an ancient village in Mexico and a large pool of water called a cenote (say-NOH-tay).

And that is all I’m going to tell you, for now.

Suffice it to say that it is kind of a romance, kind of a mystery, kind of a coming-of-age story, and fortunately is not autobiographical.

The current schedule puts the release date as November 10, 2015.

I’ll give you more info as the time approaches.

So excited. Still pinching myself.


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Good Things to Come

Good things are coming this way! I can’t spill the news just yet, but suffice it to say that a small dream will soon become a reality in the next coming year. This will necessitate adding a new exciting page to my blog. (Probably more exciting for me than anyone else!)

It has been a long time coming, and now that it is finally happening I wonder if most of the fun is in ancipating events like these and not so much in the culmination. Well, we shall see.

But it has been a very exciting journey, one that has made a huge impression on my life and the lives of those in my home. I can’t wait to share it with you.


For only for a few more days, I hope! It is a good thing I have plenty to do in the meantime . . .


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