Time flies when you’re having fun…

CheerstoSummer1As a former teacher, I’m always amazed by the end of the school year.  You’re just chugging along, teaching, learning, and BAM!  Just like that it’s over.  In two short weeks I’ll have a kindergarten graduate, and then it’s time for me and my boys to embark on the lazy days of summer. Or the rainy days of summer, as we’ve experienced so far in the Dallas Area! (See ya later, drought!)

I always have a hard time when summer vacation starts.  Right now I have a fabulous writing schedule that I’ve done a great job of sticking to this year. I’ve been working on lots of guest posts for blogs and organizations, and I’m also nearing the end of my first piece of fiction. (I’m biting my nails just thinking about it.) Now, with two little boys in the house all the time, I’ll need to make some adjustments. But as we all know, time files, and before I know it I’ll be taking first day of school pictures of a first grader and a preschooler (who really thinks he should be a kindergartener).  I’m also hoping to have that pesky book finished – but Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I’ll cut myself a little slack.  For now.

If you have time, be sure to stop by the blog Beautiful Mommies and read the latest review of my book Holding Avery!

 

 

Why I Do What I Do (Blog Tour)

WritingWhen we’re young we have dreams for our future. Not just any dreams, either, but BIG dreams. Take my 5-year-old, for instance. Sure, there are days he wants to be a garbage man, but he also wants to build robots for the Pentagon, own his own trucking company, and fly rockets into space in search of aliens. And he truly believes that he can. Because when you’re five, anything is possible.

Somewhere in the process of growing up dreams get blurred by “reality” and tend to slip further and further away. When I was five, I wanted to be a writer. I actually had visions of penning the great American novel for many years, until meetings with academic advisers and advice from teachers and professors steered me in a different direction.

You can’t just be a writer. You need something to fall back on.

Writing is more of a hobby. You need a real job, too.

Being a writer is hard. You have virtually no chance of ever getting published.

And so I became more of a realist. I got a degree in journalism with a specialty in English. I worked in advertising for a while, where I learned I didn’t want to work in advertising. I got a teaching degree. I taught high school for a while, where I learned that I actually kind of liked teaching high school. At one point I truly thought I’d be a teacher for the rest of my career.

But then my daughter Avery died, and my world imploded. Up became down, black became white, and, through my mourning and healing, the way I viewed life drastically changed.  I taught for one year after Avery’s death, and then the 5-year-old in me, a precious voice I hadn’t heard in many years, began whispering. “Is this what you want to do for the rest of your life? Is this what truly makes you happy? What about your dreams?”

So I quit my job and started writing. But why? Why do I write? Fellow author and blogger Colleen Story gifted me this question as part of a recent blog tour. Colleen is an award-winning author of novels, poems, and short stories who writes imaginative fiction in both the young adult and adult literary genres. She’s also the founder of Writing and Wellness, a phenomenal site for authors and creative types that focuses on mental and physical wellness in the creative lifestyle.

So, after much speculation, here are the top five reasons I do what I do:

Reason #1: I write for Avery.photo

At first I started writing for myself, to make sense of the new normal I was faced with after losing Avery. Holding Avery began as therapy, but it soon turned into my daughter’s legacy, an assurance that she would never be forgotten. I also do a lot of writing to bring awareness to stillbirth. Before I lost Avery, I didn’t even know what stillbirth was because no one ever talked about it. In a way I feel like I was chosen to make some noise, to tell our story and make people start listening. And now, even though her story is published and told, she is still the inspiration behind my work.

clarifying-clarity-603x415Reason #2: Writing helps me feel like me.

I equate writing with exercise – if I don’t do it for a few days, I feel all out of sorts. Just getting words out on paper, whether it be a blog post or a few pages of my new novel, gives me clarity and makes me feel happy and alive.

Reason #3: Writing lets me touch people.

It’s one of the best feelings in the world to know that my words have the ability to touch others, to invoke emotion or promote change. Whenever I get an email from a reader about Holding Avery, it’s validation of my place in this world.

7-Ways-to-Improve-Your-Writing-in-30-Minutes-a-DayReason #4: Because I have to write.

Writing is in my blood. I know that sounds a little crazy, but it’s true. Writing is a hunger I’d suppressed for many years, an innate yearning that I simply need to do. My husband always jokes that he’d love to crawl inside my brain for a day, because it’s stuffed full of plots and characters and ideas that I can’t wait to turn into stories. I used to think everyone’s brain worked like this, but apparently not!

Reason #5: I write for my boys. photo 3

The boys are still young, but as they grow up and face disappointments and cynics telling them you can’t do that, I want to be the person that lives yes, you can. I want them to know that there is nothing wrong with following their dreams, whatever they may be, and that anything is possible if they try.

And now, since this is a blog tour, I’d like to toss the torch over to my fellow author Elizabeth Brooks.  Elizabeth grew up in Chester, England. In 2001 she graduated from Cambridge University with a first class degree in Classics. Since then she has lived on the Isle of Man with her husband and two children, where she writes and paints. Her first book, Montefiore’s Goddaughter was published in 2010. She is currently working on a historical time-slip novel called The Weir House.

Elizabeth BrooksCheck out Elizabeth’s blog here, and find out why she does what she does!

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.

 

 

I just wrote WHAT?

photo_21Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself.”

I’ve always loved writing fiction.  My mom has a hard time throwing things away, and for the last twenty years or so nearly every time I’ve seen her she’s graced me with a box filled with my past.  Report cards, pictures, stories…Oh, the stories.

As a child I had a very active imagination. I was always reading, mostly things I probably shouldn’t have been reading at such a young age, like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and low-budget novels about vampires and serial killers and things that went bump in the night.  I was an avid writer as well, and, as I thumb through the words of my former self, my literary tastes are well represented.  There’s the fifth grade story about whiskey-drinking vampires, the sixth grade tale of the cat bitten by the mysterious bug that turns into a flesh-eating psycho beast, and the tenth grade creative writing assignment where I introduced the world to the Schwan Man serial killer that goes on a murderous rampage at a prom after-party.

Over time my literary tastes became a little more diverse, and, while I still enjoy my sci-fi stories and mysterious thrillers, I’ve come to appreciate classics and love stories and all of the other genres that previously made my eyes roll.

Yep, as a kid my (rolling) eyes were filled with stars, envisioning a future writing amazing stories. Someday I would pen tales like the ones that kept me up until the wee hours of the morning, using a flashlight to read so no one would know, telling myself that “After the next chapter, you’re going to bed” and then finishing that chapter and saying “Just one more” until, hours later, the book finished, exhausted eyes burning, I passed out thrilled and satisfied from the power of words.

Then adulthood happened and reading and writing became solely academic and almost unenjoyable.  I continued to write my stories here and there, but life got in the way.  Too much “real” work, too much time with friends and family…I just couldn’t make it work.  And though unfortunate happenstance made my first published work a memoir, the desire to write fiction has always been there. While I still struggle to find the time, that desire is burning stronger than ever.

If you’ve read my blog before you’ve heard me complain about finding balance, about how my two boys make it really, really hard to get anything done.  (As I type this they are currently rolling around in headlocks screaming like banshees.)  I can complain all I want about not having time to write.  Complaining doesn’t write books, and if I’m going to do it, I need to shut up and write.

I started my current project months ago, when I was hit by the sudden inspiration to tell the story of this make-believe person that had somehow crept into my head.  I wrote a few chapters, then the kids had spring break, family came to visit, etc.  But the last few weeks I’ve been a writing machine.  I’ve been focused and excited and eating and breathing and loving every word that comes out of my head. Today I sat down and read some of last week’s efforts, and I found myself blushing a bit.

The first thing to pop into my head: Did I really write that?

Then: Yikes.

Then:  That’s pretty damn awesome.

And finally:  Is anyone else going to think this is awesome?

But that’s why I love writing fiction.  Perhaps some of what I’m writing is my own truth, in a way.  Perhaps there’s a part of me in my characters; perhaps there are parts of my friends, my family, my enemies…

And that’s what makes it interesting. Right, Mrs. Roosevelt?

bal·ance

Strange+Pull

bal·ance

noun

1. a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.

Balance.

Lately it’s been my Achilles heel, though I suppose for a stay-at-home mom of two preschoolers, I actually have quite a bit.  I find time to exercise, for date-nights with my husband, for wandering aimlessly around Target. I have time for the park, to haul the kids to birthday parties, to have BBQs with our friends.

But when people ask me how my next book is coming along, I hang my head in shame.

Because it’s not coming along.

Actually, it’s been stuck on page 46 for over a month.

And when people ask me why I haven’t posted much on my blog lately, I change the topic of conversation.

I’ve been too busy focusing on the book I’m not writing to worry about blogging.

I don’t have to write, but I want to write.  I love to write. It’s who I am.  And even if I’m never a super-duper famous author or the featured book in Oprah’s elite little club, at least I’m doing what I love.

Anyway, I started writing my second book back in January. I was actually working on a totally different book when this new idea hit me like a 300-lb linebacker.  I don’t know how other writers do it, but I was washing dishes on a lazy Saturday morning, the Bubble Guppies serenading me about monster trucks in the background, and the thoughts just started pouring in.  It was brilliant. A New York Times Bestseller for sure. I ran to the bathroom, locked the door, and sketched out a detailed plot complete with character traits while my children banged on the door demanding more milk.

And for a while I magically had the time to write.   I had balance.

And then, like the blue Matchbox car we’ve been futilely searching for the last two weeks, it disappeared.

I love my boys.  I love them so much.

But they are needy.  I don’t know if all little kids are this needy, but mine literally suck away ever last ounce of time in the day.  They need help with the computer, they can’t find the small garbage truck, they’re fighting over the big garbage truck, they need their heinie wiped, they need a snack, they need more milk or juice or water or paint or Play-doh….

You get the idea.

Sometimes they just need me to stare at them. Seriously.

The boys go to preschool, which, when you include drop-off and pick-up time, leaves me exactly nine hours and thirty-eight minutes of “Me” time each week.

That seems like a lot, but by the time I do all of the chores on my list, I end up with about 45 minutes to write.

And, unfortunately, my brain doesn’t work that way.  I need at least two hours of uninterrupted time to accomplish anything worthwhile, and I’ve been having a really hard time finding it.

But I know it’s there. It has to be.

And by golly, I’m going to find it.

So, in the writerly spirit, I’ve decided to keep a journal of my attempt to find two uninterrupted hours of writing time twice a week.  I know, it’s not a lot of time, but baby steps, right?

It will keep me accountable, and, if nothing else, I’m getting some writing done.

And, since we live in the magical age of technology, I figured I’d share my quest with the rest of the world and post my journey on my neglected blog.

Check back every now and then to see if I’ve actually accomplished anything!

Here’s my last attempt.

April 9, 2014

Woke up at 6 a.m. with every intention of running a few miles.  I prefer to exercise in the morning and get it out of the way, especially on school days, so I can hopefully find time to write.  Unfortunately, my husband leaves for work by 6:45 a.m., and, thanks to that godforsaken Daylight Savings Time, that usually means I’m running in the dark. And that scares the crap out of me.

I keep waiting for the sunrise to come a little earlier, but today wasn’t the day.  In fact, it seems like it’s actually getting darker in the morning.

Damn you, Daylight Savings Time.

I decide to run after I drop the kids off at school.

I shuffle around the house with the boys for a few hours, kicking myself for not running earlier and getting it out of the way.  I put on my running gear and drop the kids at school with every intention of immediately driving home and running.

After a trip to Target to get a present for this weekend’s birthday party, of course.

And after a trip to Market Street to get bananas and milk and a piece of chocolate cake so my boys can celebrate my Dad’s birthday via Skype after school.

I finally run around 10:30, which puts me back at home at 11:15.  I immediately jump in the shower, whereupon I realize I’m sweating profusely.

I emerge from the shower clean but still sweating, my face the color of a tomato.

I’m starving. I make a turkey and avocado sandwich. I notice a message on the answering machine from my mom.

I call my mom back.

Now it’s noon.

I check my email, make a few phone calls and appointments, and check Facebook.

I look at USA Today and realize there are all these important things going on in the world today that I didn’t even know about, but now I’m a little depressed because I know about them.

I wipe a tear from my eye.

I realize that I forgot to buy chocolate cake at the store.

It’s suddenly 1:30 p.m.  I need to put on pants, buy some cake, and pick up my kids.

My husband has a “work thing” tonight, which means I’m single-parenting dinner and bedtime, which means my time is up.

Today’s Grade:  FAIL

f-school-letter-grade-600x400