An Early Gift

Avery Birth RecordEvery now and then my book Holding Avery gets entered into a contest – the latest was the Foreword Reviews‘ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards.  It’s a well-known competition in the literary world, with other winners being the likes of screenwriter Zack Whedon and the infamous Dalai Lama, to name a few.

When I found out I was a finalist a few months ago I was thrilled; I know it’s entirely cliche, but, given the competition, it truly was an honor to be nominated. I knew that winning was a long shot. The awards were given out this past Friday night at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in San Francisco.  I wasn’t there – I was sitting on the couch watching House Hunters International with a very jet-lagged husband who had just returned from a work trip overseas. I was trying to convince him that it was completely practical for us to move to St. Croix when I got the email. The winners had been announced, and I had to blink a few times before I processed that it was Holding Avery that won the Gold in the Grief/Grieving category.   My little book, my little story, my little daughter – the big winner.

It’s exciting being a winner.  It’s incredible to have people talking about Holding Avery, to have people recognizing it not just for the writing but also for broaching an uncomfortable subject that is often ignored.  It’s not The Nobel Prize but it’s enough to make me feel special for a few days, to reaffirm that I made the right choice writing such a personal book in the first place.  Winning is also very timely.

Avery was born on July 2, just three days from today.  (It’s 1:32 p.m. as I type this; she was born at 1:43 p.m.) Surprisingly, July 2 doesn’t really bother me – it’s tomorrow, June 30, that puts the pit in my stomach.  If you’ve read my book you know that June 30 was a pretty boring pregnant day back in 2008.  I took a walk, I ate a sandwich, I went to Target. A few things happened that had me convinced Avery was on her way, and just past midnight my water broke.  Seven years later I still find myself doing a play-by-play of that day, wondering how and why things turned out the way they did.  I said it in my book and I stand by it today – as the years pass, it doesn’t get easier.  It gets different. I already feel the beginnings of that squirm in my stomach, that feeling of sadness and loss blended with the happiness of the beautiful life we’ve built post-Avery.  This year I can add the accolades of my book, Avery’s book, to that cocktail of confusion.

Yes. It’s nice to be a winner. But I’ll never forget that Avery’s loss is what made this all possible in the first place.  Happy Birthday, sweet girl.  This year you won the Gold.

I Write Books and Stuff

do-authors-write-booksYesterday, as I leisurely perused the garden section of The Home Depot, I overheard a woman in the next aisle.

“Would you like to take a one minute survey on water quality?” she asked another shopper.

I turned and saw a man way too overdressed to be shopping at The Home Depot at 11 a.m. quickly shoo her away.

She moved on to her next target, a lady clad in the suburban North Texas soccer mom uniform of yoga pants, tank top, and bedazzled baseball hat.

“Can I get you to take a one minute survey on water quality?” she asked politely.

“I would if I had an extra minute, which I don’t,” soccer mom lady quipped.

Then it was my turn.

“That Mandevilla is beautiful,” she nodded at my cart.  “Would you like to take a one minute survey on water quality?”

I had a babysitter for the morning in an effort to run errands without temper tantrums, and, while that minute was going to cost me an extra 17 cents, I really didn’t have a good reason to say no.

“Sure,” I answered.

“Would you say the water from your tap tastes good, fair, or poor?”

“Good.”

“Do you drink bottled water?”

“No. We drink it from our fridge.”

“What’s your occupation?”

My occupation. I hate this question.  Ever since I quit teaching and started writing I’ve been unsure of how to answer it. When do you actually become a writer?  When you’re born? In fifth grade when you write your first short story and realize that you’d never in a million years want to do anything else?  In college when you get your first poem published in some second-rate literary magazine?  When you finally sign a publishing contract?  It’s one of those questions without a definitive answer.

Last month I went for a massage, and, for the first time in my life, I actually had the balls to put “Writer” as my occupation.  The masseuse looked at it and got all excited.

            “Wow, you’re a writer? That’s so cool. What do you write?”

            “I write books and stuff.”

             “Do you have anything published?”

            “Yes.”

            “What’s it about?”

In that moment I wished I had written “Housewife” on that damn form.  It’s not that I’m not proud of my book, but I didn’t exactly want to explain my tragic life story of stillbirth and depression to this stranger that was going to be kneading my naked body for the next hour.

             “It’s kind of a sad story about a girl that dies.”

            “So it’s fiction?  What’s the title?”

I avoided telling her it was actually non-fiction and gave her the title. Unfortunately, this little omission on my part caused me to spend the duration of a spectacular massage wondering how confused this woman was going to be if she actually bought my book.

And here I was again, a few weeks later, facing the moment of truth with this lovely lady deeply concerned about the quality of my water.

“I’m a writer,” I finally said.

“What do you write?”

“I write books and stuff.”

“That’s so cool.  Do you have any books out now?”

“Actually, I do.  My first book comes out next week.”

“What’s it about?”

I paused, thinking of the easiest way to explain it.  “Well, my husband and I lost our first child, and it’s basically about how we dealt with that.”

“Really? I lost my first child, too.  That sounds like something that would really hit home for me. What’s it called?”

She wrote down Holding Avery and promised to go buy a copy.  I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to my shopping.

I don’t know if that woman will buy my book, but I do know one thing.  I think I’m finally a writer.  After all, I write books and stuff.