Return to Regular Programming

There's well over a month left of summer, but for those of us with small kids, specifically in Homewood, Alabama, summer ends this week. Though it's still steamy hot outside, the minute all our kids begin the trek to the little red brick building, the lazy, carefree days of summer are over. (That cacophony you hear is a combination of parental sobbing and celebration.)

I've been both dreading and anticipating this week for a while now. It's been a mostly glorious summer, full of late bedtimes, sleeping in (by the kids), reading, puzzles, lots of beach and pool time, hanging out with friends, and porch time. In the last few weeks, however, things have started to unravel a bit. My oldest daughter's inquiries as to "What are we doing tomorrow? What are we doing after lunch? What's for dinner? What will we do after that?" have begun to wear away at my patience. My youngest daughter spent the first month and a half of summer contentedly traipsing through the backyard in search of bugs and treasures, but it seems our yard's treasure trove has been emptied. And where the two sisters played so beautifully together for the majority of the summer, they're now bickering over things so ridiculous, when I ask them about it a few minutes later, they can't even remember why they're mad, just that they ARE. I think the return to routine and structure will be good for sisterhood, for imagination, for patience, for world peace. 

Another thing--this summer, I *haven't been writing* and it's been such a welcome break. I told everyone (and by everyone, I mainly mean my agent and my editor) that after turning in the GLORY ROAD manuscript back in February, I didn't plan to start writing anything new until the kids go back to school in August. I needed the mental break, time for creative juices to flow again, and I wanted time to read for pleasure. Which I've done. A lot. But now that school is starting (in two days!!), it means I'm staring the blank notebook in the face. (I actually have a new blank notebook. I bought it about a month ago in anticipation of THIS week, when the kids start back and my time turns back to brainstorming and writing. It's purple, and cheap, and this time has 3 subjects instead of just 1. More room to write and scratch out, write and scratch out.)

I admit it, I'm a little scared. I worry, "What if I can't do it again? What if another story just won't come?" I worried about this after THE HIDEAWAY and again after writing HURRICANE SEASON and both times, another story came. But here I am worrying about it again. I do have some ideas. I have several pages in another ratty old notebook where I've jotted down ideas and thoughts about various story possibilities. Yes, one is rising to the surface a little more than the others. But I've purposely held off on doing any serious plotting or outlining until after August 8, because I know once I get going, I'll want to really get going, and I can't do that until I have a chunk of time that's mine all mine. And I haven't had that since May 24th. 

So it is with fear and trembling, and celebration and rejoicing, and yes, plain old sadness that my babies are getting older, that we enter into this important week. We meet our new teachers today, then tomorrow we are having a lemonade stand with some friends, then school starts Wednesday. Wednesday morning, I will take pictures of the girls holding their handmade "First Day of..." signs, hold back my tears as I walk them to their new classrooms and kiss their faces, then go across the street and have a mimosa with other moms who've just done the same thing. Then I'll probably spend that first day wandering around my empty house wondering what to do with myself. 

Maybe Thursday I'll buckle down and start that book. 

 

Hi friends! 

Lots of things are happening these days in my book/writing world, so I thought I'd give a little update.

The Hideaway

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This continues to be the little book that could! Bookpage called it a "word-of-mouth surprise hit," which means so much to me because it shows people are continuing to read it and tell their friends about it! It's nice to know its success isn't just because of a publisher's money or connections (though those are nice too!) but it's in large part due to people like you spreading the word. So thank you!! 

It recently reached #27 on the USA Today Bestseller list, its highest position yet! It was also sitting at #13 on the Amazon Charts Most Sold list, and #10 on the Wall Street Journal eBook bestseller list. Whew!

I'm continuing to meet with book clubs and library groups to discuss The Hideaway. My head is two books past this (working on book 3) so it's really fun to go back to these original characters and relationships.

Hurricane Season

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Friends keep asking me how this one is going, and it's wonderful to say it's totally out of my hands at this point! All edits are complete, the final cover is complete, endorsements are in. Release date is April 3! 

My experiences with The Hideaway and Hurricane Season have been so different. From the very beginning, I was in love with the world of The Hideaway and the characters. I knew it was a special story and I really had a deep feeling that people would like it. Hurricane Season felt different as I was writing it. It felt like an important story, but I had a lot of fear that it wouldn't live up to the first book and that I wouldn't feel as proud and confident as I did with The Hideaway. Well, I can honestly say those fears were unfounded, as I am so proud of this book. I've already told myself I'm going to avoid reviews like the plague because I don't want negative words to taint my own feelings about this book, but I have a feeling many people will empathize with the characters and situations in this story.

[Note: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about a book, whether they think it's amazing or completely terrible. I just wish they'd remember that an actual human wrote the words and could potentially read the review. The anonymity of the internet doesn't excuse cruelty!]

Bottom line, I love it and I can't wait to share the world of Betsy and Ty, Jenna and her girls, Franklin Dairy Farm and Rosie, and all the other characters with all of you! 

Others are getting excited about it too. It was recently listed on Bookpage's list of 2018 Most Anticipated Fiction! It was also listed in the Spring/Summer 2018 BuzzBooks from Publisher's Marketplace!

The book is available for preorder from anywhere you buy books. You can even ask your local bookstore to order you a copy. If you prefer to do it online, here are a few places: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Thomas Nelson, Indiebound

Book 3
This one will release in February 2019! The titling process is underway, so hopefully it won't be too much longer before I can reveal the official title. I have my working title, which I hope they'll settle on, but we'll see. A few weeks ago, I finished reading through my draft of the story. Here's an idea of what the manuscript looks like after a couple rounds of reading and Post-It-ing:

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My process in revisions is to read the entire manuscript on paper, make my corrections there in pencil, then transfer all those changes to the Word doc. Then I read through it again on the computer. Then I tinker. Then I usually I send it to beta readers then--a few trusted friends who will read it and give me feedback before I sent it to the editor. However, this time around my timeline is tighter so my only beta readers are my mom, my husband, and my agent. Pretty great crew though. I'm a little nervous BUT I'm loving this story and I feel really good about it. 

Reading

I've read some good books lately: 

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I'm on a major Sarah Addison Allen kick right now. Garden Spells was my first introduction into the genre of magical realism. Magical realism is different from fantasy in that it's set in a totally normal world--not something like the world of Harry Potter or Game of Thrones where it's obvious it's not the world we live in--but touches and hints of magic are thrown in. In Garden Spells, the main character Claire Waverly can change the course of someone's life (or at least their day) by baking particular ingredients into her food. There's also an apple tree in the backyard that throws apples at people it doesn't like, and if you eat one of the apples, you'll see the most important event of your life. The sequel, First Frost, is equally as dreamy and lush, and it continues the story of Claire, her sister Sydney, and Sydney's daughter Bay. I reread both these books in the last couple of months and I wish I were still in the Waverly world.

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I read Jenny Colgan's The Bookshop on the Corner over Christmas when I wanted something light and fun and easy, something that wouldn't tax my brain too much while I took a break from my manuscript, and this book totally fit what I wanted! It follows a young woman who loses her job and instead of taking another job she doesn't love, she moves to Scotland (from England) and opens a library-on-wheels. The book is laugh-out-loud funny and has charming Scottish people, a gorgeous landscape, and lots of books. 

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I read Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren over about six months because I wanted to savor it. I read it almost as a sort of morning devotion. It's about slowing down enough to see the holiness in even the most mundane moments. Chapters are broken down into things like "Making the Bed," "Brushing Teeth," "Losing Car Keys." (And they're not just about those specific things--she doesn't spend 20 pages talking about actually brushing teeth, trust me.) Good for anyone who feels caught up in the rush of life. But more than just a caution to slow down (because life doesn't really slow down, does it?), she helps us see the theology of every day by looking at the small moments and habits that form us. Really, really good. 

Book Clubs

I've had such fun with book clubs lately! Sometimes I forget to take photos, but here are a few recent ones. 

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                                                                               BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society) book club

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                                                                                           Basketweave and Books!

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                                                                    Bossypants Book Club (through Homewood Public Library)

 

Odds and Ends

Next Wednesday, I turn in my Book 3 manuscript to my editor and then Thursday head to Nashville to meet that editor for the first time, along with everyone else on my publishing team AND my agent, who I've never met in person. I'm really looking forward to it! It should be a great day of introductions, questions, and learning more about each other. 

Friday, I head to a huge cabin in north Alabama with fifty awesome and interesting women from my church for a long weekend of rest, eating, drinking, chatting, laughter, and more rest. I really can't wait for it. 

THEN I'll be on an official break from writing. For the first time since I started writing The Hideaway (FIVE YEARS AGO--WOW!!) I won't be jumping from one story right into another one. I think it'll be good for my brain and my creativity to take some time off before beginning my next one. (Although the idea for Hurricane Season and book 3 both came to me out of left field when I wasn't expecting them, so who knows when the idea for the next one will begin to materialize? When it does, I'll just take notes for a while!)

I hope you're all doing well and hanging in there while this chilly weather continues to cling. I'm so very ready for warmer weather. I can feel the heat and my toes in the sand!

Take care, 

Lauren

 

 

 

USA Today Bestseller!

So, THE HIDEAWAY had a bit of a good week last week! Wednesday I learned that the book made it on to the Top 20 Most Sold list on Amazon, coming in at #17. This on its own was exciting enough. 

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THEN, oh but then, on Thursday, I returned home from dropping my kids off at school, started scrambling eggs for breakfast, and saw an email from my friends at Thomas Nelson informing me that THE HIDEAWAY debuted at #39 on the USA Today bestseller list!

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I'm not exaggerating when I tell you I sobbed over my plate of scrambled eggs. My brain was total mush for the rest of the day. It's crazy that we keep getting good news about the book--making it onto these lists, seeing numbers continue to rise, etc. But honestly, the best part of it is that daily, I'm receiving email messages from readers telling me how much they enjoyed the book. Those messages are so precious, and I've saved every single one in an email folder. I plan to pull them back out and read them on difficult writing days or when a particularly stinging negative review comes in. So THANK YOU to all of you who've read the book and THANK YOU for spreading the word to your friends and family. I love knowing Mags and Sara (William and Crawford, Dot and Bert, Glory and Major, and of course Allyn) are having such an effect on readers. 

**Sidenote: The eBook was on sale for $1.99 for all of August, BUT in case you missed out or know of someone else who did, the sale has been extended for all of September! Please spread the word to your book-loving friends. Here's a link to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks.

READING:

I just finished reading an advance copy of Billy Coffey's STEAL AWAY HOME. 

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I loved this book. Here's my review of it: During the course of one fateful night--his first game in the Major League--Billy Coffey's main character, Paul Cross, is confronted by his childhood love, aspirations, and regrets. Baseball fans will love the behind-the-scenes peek into a night game in the Major Leagues, but even non-baseball fans will be pulled into the beauty and tension of Coffey's writing, the lovely and tragic Blue Ridge Mountain settings, and his compelling characters who make both selfless and heartbreaking choices. This is a powerful story of grief, love, forgiveness, and holy mystery, and I loved it. Billy Coffey is a master storyteller. 

Next, I'm reading Patti Callahan Henry's THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END, Emily Beck Cogburn's AVA'S PLACE, and Johnnie Bernhard's A GOOD GIRL. The four of us are going to be on a panel at the Louisiana Book Festival at the end of October. 

WRITING:

I've started going through my rough draft of book 3 (which I'm tentatively calling Glory Road). I'm about 5 chapters in and relieved that I still like the story! I think the three women in this story will resonate with readers and fans of Sara and Mags, as well as fans of Betsy and Jenna, the main characters in next April's HURRICANE SEASON. Right now, I'm trying to parcel out my day to include a decent chunk of writing/revising, reading, and "adulting" i.e., keeping the laundry from overtaking the house, making sure dinner gets on the table, making sure Kate does her 20 minutes of reading a day and keeping Sela from bringing cicadas inside the house. 

Speaking of HURRICANE SEASON, I just received the designed pages of the book and I have my last chance to read through and catch any last hiccups before production begins! So exciting. I can't wait to get this book out to everyone. I love it. 

Hope y'all are well and finding time to do things you enjoy. And if any of you are in Florida, please be safe and careful. 

Lauren

Back to School (aka the most bittersweet day of the year)

Hi friends! It's been a while. First, a little housekeeping:

It feels pretty self-serving to direct you to my Facebook page, but since you're here to see what's going on in my world, I guess it's not too much of a stretch to think you might be interested to know I post more frequently (but hopefully not enough to be annoying ;) on my author Facebook page. If you haven't stopped by there, feel free--find it here.  You can also find me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, if you're so inclined. 

What's going on with me:

My babies went back to school today!

 

As expected, I feel both relief and sorrow in equal measures. I loooove summer and really enjoyed the freedom of this summer--not having to get up and get going any any certain time, letting the kids stay up late, loose schedules, etc. But there was also the bickering. And the "I'm bored"s. So going back to school is a relief because my kids (especially my 7 year old Kate who LOVES to know the EXACT plan for the day) will have a schedule for their days and I will have time on my own. . . but I really will miss them. And my baby Sela (just turned 5 in July) is in kindergarten now, sniff sniff. I could go on and on about this, but suffice it to say, I'm a little heartbroken. 

However, my time opens up so much now--from 8 until 2:45 I am on my own, which feels like a ridiculously long amount of time, though I fear I could waste a bunch of that time if I'm not careful. I had to be so careful with my four hours a day of preschool last year, and I know i need to be on my guard to not think, "Oh, I have pleeeeenty of time for writing. I can do that later". . . and find myself at 2:45 picking the kids up with nothing to show for it. I want to make the most of my time and do the things I need/want to do, so that when I pick the kids up, I'm not still thinking of all the things I didn't do. I feel like that happened a lot last year and I was always operating with a tiny bit of frustration in the afternoons because my writing/alone time for the day was over and I left things unfinished. Sending *both* my kiddos off to big school makes me more than ever think I don't want to waste time with them feeling frustrated by things I need to do. As everyone says, kids won't notice a dirty floor or unfolded laundry (or an unfinished chapter), but they will notice a totally distracted mama. 

Speaking of writing:

Hurricane Season is mostly wrapped up and edited. Soon, I will receive page proofs--essentially the book all laid out nice and pretty for one more read-through before it goes into production. It's crazy to think I'll be doing this whole shebang again next April! (April 3, 2018! And shameless plug, you can preorder it anywhere you buy books! Here's the link to Amazon.)

After I get over the shock of this quiet house and my brain settles down, I will be hitting book 3 hard! I have a very rough draft of it already written, but it needs a lot of work. I'm excited about it but also slightly terrified. There's this feeling of, "I know I've done this before (twice now) but what if I just can't make it happen again?!" But I trust that I can. 

Events coming up:

I am meeting with various book clubs this fall--some in person, some over Skype--to discuss The Hideaway. I'll also be in Greenville, SC, on August 28 at M. Judson Booksellers. I'm part of their event called Page Pairings, which pairs books with wine--not sure how they do that, but I'm all for it! I know of one author who's going to be there, Joy Callaway, and I'm so excited to finally meet her in person. 

I'll also be in Baton Rouge, LA, October 28 for the Louisiana Book Festival. There are a ton of awesome authors coming, so if you're anywhere near Baton Rouge, come check it out. 

What I'm reading:

First Frost is the sequel to Sarah Addison Allen's first novel, Garden Spells. If you've never read anything in the magical realism genre, this is it. It's not super magical, a la Harry Potter, but it's our normal, everyday world with small touches of magic/mystery thrown in. I love it. And I'm loving this book. It's delicious. 

On my list to read next (ish):

Ann Kidd Taylor is the daughter of Sue Monk Kidd, also known as the author of one of my very favorite books, The Secret Life of Bees, which was the book that made me think, "Maybe I want to try my hand at this fiction writing thing." I admit I checked the book out just because of who her mom is, but the story is really intriguing and I'm hearing good things about it. 

This is another WWII novel, but different in that it's not set in Europe. A woman learns her Jewish father was a sergeant in charge of a platoon of black soldiers in 1940s Alabama. 

 

That's about it from me. I'm going to keep myself busy for the next hour before I run out the door and dash down the street to meet my kiddos at school pick-up. Never have I wanted 3:00 to get here more than today! After today, I probably won't feel as out of sorts (and that fresh new Word document will start calling my name) but today I can't wait to see their faces!

Good luck with school if that's your thing. If not, enjoy the rest of your summer!

Lauren

Bookish People--Emily Carpenter

It's been a while, guys! I'll update on life and books very soon, but today is the next installment of the Bookish People interviews. I'm excited to feature Emily Carpenter, author of Burying the Honeysuckle Girls (available here!), a Southern Gothic romp full of suspense, secrets, and mysteries. Much of the book takes place in the Mobile area and Birmingham, my two homes, so it was especially fun for me!

1.     Give us a quick overview of the book(s) you’ve written.
Burying the Honeysuckle Girls is a southern gothic suspense novel set in Alabama and The Weight of Lies is…a southern gothic suspense novel set in Georgia. They don’t sound different but I promise they actually are!

2.     What’s the hardest or best criticism you’ve received, either after your book was published or as you were editing, revising, or getting feedback.
Somebody called Honeysuckle Girls misogynistic and said I must hate men, because the villains happened to be men. That stung because I was trying to tell a very particular story that did involve abuse—and trying to be unflinching about it. I never thought someone would think I approved of the abuse, so that was disappointing. But it’s part of being an author. Sometimes you’re misunderstood.

3.     Funniest (or best or worst) thing that happened during a book signing or book tour?
This isn’t funny really, but it is the best. For my launch party, my sister made all the food. And she did this incredible centerpiece modeled after something from the book—an old cigar box with all these clues passed down from generations that Althea uses to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. It was fabulous. Made me cry.

4.     Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night, gimme-a-piece-of-paper now? Or something in between?
It’s generally pretty orderly. I’m a creature of routine, and I typically like to write while my kids are in school, after I’ve done some sort of exercise. But I do love those moments at home, over the weekend, when I happen to have some time and everybody is otherwise occupied, and I can just hang out on the sofa and pound out some words. Those have ended up being some of my most productive times.

5.     Is there a topic/theme/setting you’re particularly interested in that you’d like to write about in a future book?
I’d really love to do a ghost story one day. Really, really, really. Set in a spooky house. I’m obsessed with spooky houses.

6.     What’s the strangest/most inappropriate place you’ve ever brought a book? (Example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc.)
I think I probably smuggled a book into church a time or two when I was a kid.

7.     Tell me a few recent books you’ve read that you really liked.
Kate Moretti’s The Vanishing Year and Becky Albertalli’s forthcoming The Upside of Unrequited. Two books that are vastly different but both fantastic.

8.     Can you name a book you liked that you didn’t think you would? Maybe because of the subject matter, or an author you didn’t think you enjoyed, or a genre you weren’t used to reading.
I had no idea I was going to love the Twilight books the way I did. I mean, I don’t consider myself a literary snob or anything, but a YA vampire book? I thought I was going to be hate-reading it or something, you know, like oh, this silly book that everybody likes…. As it turned out, I was ridiculously into every one of them. I cried on a plane reading one of them because apparently obsessive love really speaks to me. Also, gorgeous, self-sacrificing vampires.

9.     What are your pet peeves as a reader—something you read in books that really bugs you?
In his craft book Thrill Me, Benjamin Percy calls it “feckless pondering.” In his words, “momentum killing emotional fuss.” Readers absolutely need to understand adequate backstory and some of the main character’s inner thoughts, but it has to be employed strategically. If there’s too much stopping so the main character can ponder, I can’t get into the swing of the story, and I’ll put the book down. I’m getting more conscious of it in my own writing too. I think it takes a lot of skill to boil down the necessary information that a reader needs to just the right amount. It’s much easier to go on for paragraphs, explaining how everybody thinks and feels. But it’s deadly.

10.  Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?
I prefer print book, but I do read a lot of e-books. They’re just so convenient, easy to access in a pinch. I’m back to a paper calendar and I love it.

11.  Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate all the way.

12.  Coffee or tea? Or something else?
Grande two-pump mocha no-whip from Starbucks. Dark roast Community coffee on my Keurig at home.

13.  Tell us what you’re working on now.
Another southern gothic suspense novel, this one set at a couples’ therapy retreat up in the north Georgia mountains where nothing is as it seems. 

You can find Emily on all the usual social media spots and on her website here

Thanks Emily for playing and thank YOU for reading!

Bookish People--Ella Joy Olsen

It's the second edition of the Bookish People interviews, and today I'm featuring author Ella Joy Olsen. Ella and I were matched as critique partners through WFWA (Women's Fiction Writers Association). She read The Hideaway for me and I had the privilege of reading her second book that will be published next year. Her debut, Root, Petal, Thorn, is out now (and available here!) Check it out if you love a blend of contemporary and historical fiction and old houses filled with heaps of history. 

 

1.     Give us a quick overview of the book(s) you’ve written.
A quick summary of my debut, Root, Petal, Thorn is: The braided stories of five fascinating women who inhabit the same historic home over the course of a century –love, heartbreak, and courage entwine each woman, and each generation, to the next.

My sophomore book Where the Sweet Bird Sings will be published in September 2017. The teaser is: Though she has a loving husband, Emma Hazelton is adrift, struggling to rebuild her life after a tragedy. But one day, a simple question and an old black-and-white photograph prompt Emma to untangle the branches of her family tree, where she discovers a legacy of secrets. What connects us to one another? Is it shared history? Is it ancestry? Is it blood? Or is it love?

2.     What’s the hardest or best criticism you’ve received, either after your book was published or as you were editing, revising, or getting feedback.
After processing the thoughtful feedback from a critique partner, I realized I have to keep my characters out of their own heads. Sometimes they (meaning I) spend too much time explaining why they are upset, sad, happy (and so on). The reader should be able to figure these things out if the rest of the story is told well.

3.     Funniest (or best or worst) thing that happened during a book signing or book tour?
I have a stalker who shows up to all of my events. He’s actually a nice old-ish guy and has a fair amount of time on his hands, apparently, because he goes to the readings of many local authors. The creepy thing is that he tags himself in all of my event photos on Facebook. I’ve had to change my settings.

4.     Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night, gimme-a-piece-of-paper now? Or something in between?
When I’m actively creating a story I write my best stuff between about 6:00am and 10:00am. After those frenzied hours I can still work on editing, playing with language, and social media because it doesn’t require so much brainpower. I plan the days I’m going to write based on a weekly schedule and try to stick with it.

5.     Is there a topic/theme/setting you’re particularly interested in that you’d like to write about in a future book?
Dreaming of new book ideas is one of my favorite things! Every idea at conception is so perfect and lovely. A new one I’m toying with is set in the Gilded Age in NYC when scientific exploration was occurring at a rapid clip via the American Museum of Natural History. Science and conspicuous consumption all in one story.

6.     What’s the strangest/most inappropriate place you’ve ever brought a book? (Example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc.)
Until I had a Kindle (with backlight) I spent many pre-dawn hours in hotel bathrooms reading. I’m not a great sleeper so on family vacations I’d sneak into the bathroom, flip on the light, and read propped against the bathtub for hours.

7.     Tell me a few recent books you’ve read that you really liked.
I’m trying to read as many books as I can by my writing buddies. Last month I finished The Memory of Us by Camille DiMaio, Echoes of Family by Barbara Claypole White, Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner, Sweet Carolina Morning by Susan Schild, Thought I Knew You by Kate Moretti. I am surrounded by talent. I loved them all!

8.     Can you name a book you liked that you didn’t think you would? Maybe because of the subject matter, or an author you didn’t think you enjoyed, or a genre you weren’t used to reading.
My book club read In Love and War, a memoir written by Admiral James Stockdale about his time as a POW during Vietnam. It was long, detail jammed, and written in the 1980s, so the style of writing was a little antiquated…but after getting into the story, it was fantastic and illustrated a time/political climate I knew little about. I’d read about the protests during the Vietnam War, of course, but this was written by one of the soldiers who believed solidly in country and duty.

9.     What are your pet peeves as a reader—something you read in books that really bugs you?
I’m a pretty forgiving reader and look to find something I love in every book that I read. I guess I’ll give up on a book if the characters act too often in ways that defy logic, meaning their responses are too extreme, or not justified. I also don’t love a bunch of preaching/religion in a book.

10.  Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?
I always have both a print book and an e-reader and an audio book going at the same time. I love the feel of print, the backlighting of an e-reader, the multitasking option of audio. Calendar: paper. Hands down.

11.  Chocolate or vanilla?
I feel like I’m not an either/or kind of girl. Both.

12.  Coffee or tea? Or something else?
Again, both. Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.

13.  Tell us what you’re working on now.
Currently I am taking time to “fill the well”. My debut published at the beginning of September and right after that I worked long hours on content edits for Sweet Bird. I need a little time to cross a few things off my real-life list, including Christmas prep and planning a family vacation. I’m also taking time to read like crazy. However, my brain is constantly churning through new story ideas. I’ll be eager to write fresh words after the New Year.

You can find Ella on all the major social media hangouts and at her website

Thanks to Ella and to you for reading!

Odds and Ends

It's morning and the house is momentarily calm. Granted, everyone in the house is looking at a screen--the girls are sharing a Launchpad (but they're SHARING it!); Matt is catching up on a show on the computer downstairs, earbuds in place; and I'm upstairs in my cozy bed. I just started a cute new book and my mug of coffee is full. It's like a respite before next week starts. I know it's only October 30th (my parents' 40th wedding anniversary!!) but it feels like things really pick up next week, so I'm letting myself enjoy this slow Sunday. 

Here's a recap on what's going on:

THE HIDEAWAY: In case you missed how I plastered it on Facebook and Instagram (sorry, I was and am excited), I received the final PDF from my publisher last week.  The pages are designed and basically look like they'll look in the book. I think some of the typesetting may change, but other than that--and any proofreading errors I or anyone else finds at this point--it's pretty set. I have until 11/21 to get back with them about any errors I find, as well as turn in my acknowledgements and back-of-the-book discussion questions. Advance reader copies will come later this year, hopefully before the holidays. I can't wait to hold the thing in my hands. The cover is so pretty, I can't wait to see what it'll look like "in person" and not on the screen. 

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BOOK 2 (working title HURRICANE SEASON): I gave myself a deadline of 11/23 (the day before Thanksgiving) to finish this first draft. The idea is to have the holidays (T'giving through New Years) to take a break from Betsy, Ty, Jenna, and these other characters I'm spending my days with. Then when I go back into it in January, I'll be a little fresher and can look at it a little more subjectively. I do love revisions, but I think this time around, the revisions will be a little deeper than they were with THE HIDEAWAY. Still though, easier than pulling words out of the air! With the 11/21 deadline for THE HIDEAWAY, making my 11/23 self-imposed deadline may be a little trickier, but that's what I'm shooting for. 

BOOK 3??? I keep having these bits and tendrils of an idea for my next book. For lack of creativity and to be as vague as possible ;) I just call it SILVER. Before I started HURRICANE SEASON, I wrote another book called GLORY ROAD, but I got really super stuck about 3/4 of the way in. My mom was sick, life felt unsteady, and everything was chaotic--no wonder writing was really hard. I made myself stick with it long enough to give it some sort of an ending, but it was super rushed and didn't do justice to the characters I really loved (and still think about.) So for my next book, I go back and forth between thinking I'll clean up GLORY ROAD and make it something lovely...or dig into this SILVER idea that keeps reaching in and tapping me on the forehead. We'll see. Can't do any significant thinking about it until at least next summer.

LIFE IN GENERAL: Tomorrow we're off to the ENT at Children's to see about my youngest daughter Sela's nose. In her adventurous, no-fear way, she somehow pulled a table on top of herself a few days ago, fracturing her nose and giving herself a concussion. I won't go into details, but it was terrifying and terrible. She is so brave though and so tough. She feels fine physically, says nothing hurts, but her face is quite a sight. I'll keep her home for at least a few days until the swelling goes down and the bruises aren't so...colorful. And I'm sure the ENT will tell us when she can get back to normal. She's chomping at the bit to ride on her scooter and her bike, play on the swingset, etc, and it's hard to tell her no. On the other hand, I want to wrap her in bubblewrap and walk right next to her with my hands around her head, making sure nothing comes close to bumping her face. 

Coming up, we have birthdays, a trip to Gatlinburg with family, and those deadlines I mentioned. I'll be spending as much time as possible during the morning hours at the library cranking out the end of HURRICANE SEASON. At home, I get way too distracted with laundry, dishes, etc. I'm also walking as much as I can these days--walking to and from Sela's school, walking in the morning on my own, etc. I've been missing my regular YCross class at the gym, so I'm trying to fit in as much activity as i can, which is hard when I spent a lot of time with my rear in a chair and a computer in front of me. Natalie and John, don't give up on me--I'll be back after Thanksgiving!

READING: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. It's very good. It's nonfiction, which I don't read a lot of, but this book pulled me in from page one of his author's note at the beginning, and that was before hearing him speak at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville a few weeks ago. I just saw that the book is 3 or 4 on the NYT Bestsellers List and I felt so happy for him and proud of him, which is strange since I don't know him at all. He was just so down-to-earth and humbled and shocked by the attention his book has been getting. It's a really good, important book. 

I think I'm giving up on a YA book I was trying to get into. Sometimes I crave a good angsty YA book, with all the romantic feelings, the "I love him but can't have him" drama, and whatever life disaster that's throwing these kids into a tailspin. This one is called Delirium, by Lauren Oliver. I've heard her speak a couple of times in Nashville and she's so cool and interesting and smart. I really wanted to like this book, but I'm just not getting into it. I realize though that it's likely me and not the book. 

I just pulled Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'Easter by Lisa Patton off my shelf. I bought it at a library book sale and thought it sounded cute (despite the title so southern, it might as well be dripping honey and sweet tea). I'm only a few pages in, but I like her humor. I'll see where it goes. 

I have Maria Semple's new book Today Will Be Different on hold from the library and I cannot wait. Bernadette is one of my favorites and I've only read good things about this new one. The woman can write a funny book.

I'll be back soon with my next Bookish People interview and hopefully a report that I made my two November deadlines!

 

Going to try something new...

I used to read a lot of blogs. I mean, A LOT. It was back when I worked full-time, and now that I think about it, it's kind of funny to me that I had WAY more time to read blogs when I had a full-time job than when I lost my job and came home. I had a list of blogs as long as my arm and checked each of them daily. Once I had kids and stayed home, not to mention started this book-writing thing, my time to read blogs spiraled downwards. These days, my "downtime" is limited so I have to be careful about the ones I do read. And I choose blogs that are either extra funny, entertaining, encouraging, or informative. I wonder how my little blog ranks on those criteria??? 

I've been thinking about what to do with this blog--how to make it worth your while to come here and check things out. One thing I love on other blogs I read is when the blogger interviews other people. Most of the blogs I read are reading or writing related, so those interviews tend to be with authors and readers. And if you're reading this blog, it likely means you know I have a book coming out soon (April! And another one coming the next April!) and you are probably at least somewhat interested in books and writers. (Or maybe you're just interested in me, and that's okay too!) 

My point is, I'm thinking of including some interviews with bookish/writerly people here. I love interesting questions, not just the run-of-the-mill "When did you start writing?" and "How did you come up with your idea?" If you'd be interested in interviews/highlights like this, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Or if there are specific questions you'd like me to ask future interviewees, let me know that too. 

I think this could be fun! 

Hope y'all have a great weekend.

Update on books!

THE HIDEAWAY
I received my editorial letter in mid-June with a deadline of July 29--two days from now. But I returned it to my editor Karli about a week ago! Her letter was lovely, truly. It was four pages of comments, kind praise, suggestions, and questions. I was incredibly relieved because I've heard of huge editorial letters with pages of changes to be made, including big things like plot points, characters, whole POVs, etc. In contrast, Karli's edits were light. AND YET, the changes/additions she suggested were so sharp and insightful. As I read her letter, I kept nodding, thinking, "Well, of course, this is a great suggestion. Why didn't I think of this?!" In the end, THE HIDEAWAY is even stronger than it was before and I couldn't be happier. I'm SO excited about getting this story out into the world!

Next, Karli will read through the manuscript with my changes, then hand it off to the line editor. If Karli has more suggestions for me, she'll lump them in with the line edits, and I'll get those all back somewhere around the end of August, I think. 

My sweet friend Sara Beth Cobb of Nimblee Design (designer of this website!) creative a super sharp little brandmark for me to use on bookmarks, notecards, whatever needs my "stamp" on it. I'm excited about being able to use it, and the logo (my name) along with it. The thought of self-promotion feels weird and foreign to me, but I know it's part of the job. And Sara Beth has provided me a really classy way to do it ;)

BOOK 2 (tentatively titled HURRICANE SEASON)
I am about 72K words into the manuscript, which is actually pretty far. By comparison, THE HIDEAWAY is about 88K words completed. So, by that word count, you'd think I'm pretty close to being finished. And I am pretty close to being finished...with 2/3 of the story. But that last third has been royally kicking my butt. The story has 3 POVs, and I essentially got really stuck in the weeds with one of the POVs, so I put it on hold while I wrote the other two. I am really liking the rest of the story, but that one character's POV has been beating me in the head these last few months. Thankfully, I'm back with my wonderful writing workshop group and they are helping me untangle the knots in my head and sort this character out. And I think it's working.

My goal is to finish the book by the end of the year. Then I'll have basically 3 months for more revisions. But because of this awesome group of writers I hang out with on Tuesday nights, when I get to the end of the book (before Christmas, please Lord), it won't be a huge mess--it'll actually be in pretty decent shape. 

Other things going on:
School starts, unbelievably, in two weeks. I'm excited about first grade for Kate and 4K for Sela. I think this time next year will find me a little teary, with my baby going on to kindergarten. Time marches on and that's a good thing, but it doesn't mean I don't want to hold onto the reins a little tighter. 

I'm split on how I feel about school starting back up. On one hand, I'm ready to have some of my time back--time to myself after having the kids with me basically all day, every day, and time to write for longer stretches of time. But I'm also really not looking forward to the early morning time crunch: "Hurry, hurry, hurry! Eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, where's your bag" etc etc. And just the chaos of the school year. Summer is a nice break from all that. But there's something to be said for routine and structure--for all of us. 

 

The Friday 5: Books, Josh Ritter (again), and scrambled eggs

1. As I've said above in my "About" section (#9 to be specific), I am generally a bad scrambled egg maker. As my husband likes to say, I tend to leave about whole egg stuck to the bottom of the skillet, and when I'm only cooking two eggs, that's a problem. Enter The Green Pan. It's my new very good friend in the kitchen.

Here is my Green Pan after I scrambled two eggs.

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Oh wait, you don't see anything? That's because there's nothing there. The eggs slid out and the pan was clean as a whistle. I've also cooked meat and veggies in it and it works just as beautifully and cleans up super-easy. They come in a couple of sizes and you can find them at Target.

2.

josh
josh

Y'all. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you've never heard Josh Ritter's music, look him up and listen. If you've heard him but have never seen him live, he's on tour across the south and other places right now and into the fall and I promise it will be worth it.

On second thought, maybe just skip the live shows. We love seeing him at small venues like WorkPlay, the now-closed Bottletree, and Saturn, this cool little coffee shop/bar/music venue where we saw him a few nights ago. If too many people find out about him, he may skip these small places and this man was born to play music in small crowded places like this. Saturn was packed with happy people because Josh is such a happy guy on stage. Seriously, my cheeks hurt at the end of the night. And he ended with Kathleen, which was perfect. And I got to video him singing Henrietta, Indiana and Getting Ready to Get Down (two of Kate and Sela's favorite Josh Ritter songs).

3. Update on The Hideaway: We're getting really close to a cover! I'm so excited because the one we (me, my editor, my agent, and others on the publisher's marketing team) are all leaning towards is soooo pretty. It would make me pull the book off the shelf just by cover alone. That's what I was hoping for. I wish I could show it to you now, but stay tuned...

We're getting close to my new author website too! The talented Sara Beth Cobb of Nimblee is designing it. Everything she creates is beautiful, so I'm so excited to see what she comes up with. Again, stay tuned...

4. Update on book 2: I'm about 3/4 finished. I got really close to the end, then stopped because I have to go back and rework one of the three points of view. My goal is to  get through that one, then have all three of them join back up and come to a (hopefully satisfying) ending. I start back on my fiction workshop in July, so hopefully by then I'll be almost finished. (I say that, but with Sela already out of school and only four more days of school left for Kate, it'll take a lot of creativity and good time-management skills on my part!)

5. What I'm reading these days:

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Having grown up in Mountain Brook, Katherine Clark writes very honestly about both the good and the bad associated with the beautiful, secluded suburb of Birmingham. She wrote this book about a larger-than-life (both physically and personality-wise) teacher/mentor she had at Altamont in the 80s. In the book, the school is called Brook-Haven and the teacher is Norman Laney. At first, I was unsure I'd be able to really get into it or connect with this character but I was pulled in immediately. Everyone should be so lucky to have had a teacher like this in your corner trying to push you to be your best, fullest self through education and "civilization," as he calls it. And his insider view of the mannerisms and quirks of the Mountain Brook set (NO offense to friends who live there now!) is hilarious.

I've also just requested these two from the library.

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download
hannah
hannah

I've been hearing about The Nightingale for months and it's finally time to get my hands on a copy. I generally enjoy reading books about WWII, and I love that this one is about women in the war. The Kind Worth Killing isn't a book I'd typically pick up, but after my friend Anna mentioned how good it was, I've been hearing about it all over the place. I've heard the ending comes out of now where and is a big surprise. I'm going to give it a try.

Have you read any of these or anything else good you'd like to share? I love recommendations!

Have a great weekend!

The Friday 5: book news, difficult middles, and waiting for summer

1. In The Hideaway news: I finally turned in the manuscript to my editor! It has been sitting on a flashdrive untouched since last summer when I began talks with HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson, and I've been dying to send it off to get the process started. Unfortunately, it'll still be a couple of months before I get the editor's letter back, but at least it's out of my hands. I'm very curious to see what Karli (my editor) has to say about it when she finishes reading it. I re-read it a week or so ago just to double-check everything and make sure I hadn't left any misspelled words or punctuation errors. I was happy to find I still love the story! Only a year to wait for it. (**Release date is April 11, 2017.**) 2. In Book 2 news: I almost abandoned it. And frankly, that option isn't totally off the table. I probably won't, but it was close there for a few days. See, I got to the dreaded middle. It's the same thing that happened with the previous book I wrote (the one I thought was going to be my book 2, but I got to the middle and completely freaked out and lost the thread. Maybe I'll come back to it one day.) I probably hit the rough middle in The Hideaway, but I just don't remember. (Honestly, I look at The Hideaway through rose-tinted glasses. In my head, the process was smooth as lake water without any middle-of-the-night panic attacks over how much I still had left to do. It's probably because that book is FINISHED and it's easy to think happy, loving thoughts about a book that's finished.)

Anyway, about middles, Dani Shapiro says: "Middles are where you have to tough things out. Ideas fall apart. All that promise vanishes when facing the cold, harsh light of making something out of it. Middles challenge us to find our tenacity and our patience, to remind ourselves that it is within this struggle--often just at the height of hopelessness, frustration,  and despair--that we find the most hidden and valuable gifts of the process. Just as in life."

So, onward with whatever thin strands of tenacity and patience I have. I will (try) not (to) abandon this story for another something else shinier, easier, lighter. Because this is the story I'm telling now. It's possible I just found my way into the a difficult character in my story--a character I'm having a hard time figuring out. If I go down this new path, it'll probably mean trashing several thousand words, but it may be worth it. I won't know unless I try it.

Y'all, writing a book is HARD. What was I thinking, getting myself into this? (I'm kidding. Mostly.) I read yesterday that success (when writing books, at least) is writing the book you meant to write. I truly believe I did that with The Hideaway--it is just what I wanted it to be when I first started writing. Now, to do it again with another book? In the words of Miracle Max, "It'll take a miracle."

3. Looking for something good to read? 

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Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon. Fictionalized story of the Hindenberg. Historical and funny, sensual and suspenseful. I couldn't put it down.

Anything you've read that you loved? Tell me!

4. In other book news, my 6 year old is learning to read and it is such a joy. She sat at the breakfast table this morning, a stack of library books next to her, and said, "I just love books. Don't you love books?" Proud mama moment. I've grown to love picking out children's books at the library almost as I love picking out my own. Trying to pick something new--a new topic, a new author, one with amazing pictures or a super funny story--it's such a treat to introduce her, and little sister Sela, to the worlds waiting for them in books. Here are some of our recent favorites (she doesn't necessarily read these--she just picks out the words she knows--but we read them together):

Really, anything by Kate DiCamillo is a treat. We love all the Mercy Watson books. Bink & Gollie is a new favorite.

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bear

Daniel Pinkwater has several Bear and Bunny books. They're sweet and funny. We love when they think the frog croaking up in a tree is a kitty because only kitties climb trees.

 butterfly

butterfly

For a long time, Kate avoided Magic School Bus books because they'd read one in school that was all about germs and it happened to be while she was in her germ-phobia phase. Finally, we've found some Magic School Bus books she likes. This one was fun--Mrs. Frizzle turned the kids into butterflies.

If your kids have favorite books, I'd love to hear about them!

5. I've always loved summer and wait for it impatiently through the cold winter months. (And chilly springs, like this week.) But this year, our first year in "big school," I'm waiting for it with a new impatience. Spring Break was a little taste of slow, non-rushed mornings, and it was really nice. The 7-7:45 timeframe is such a chaotic crunch, as I know it is for most people with kids. I'm looking forward to not having to rush through "Eat! Eat! Eat! Brush your teeth! Get shoes on! Where's your bag? Do you have your lunch?" We are not scheduling much for the summer--a couple of VBSs, a short session of tennis lessons for Kate, and lots of pool time. That's about it. Here's to not overprogramming for the summer! (Ask me again in August, and maybe I'll be singing a different tune.)

Hope y'all have a great weekend!

Why I Write

I went to the Hoover Library Southern Voices festival a couple weekends ago and heard a bunch of authors talk about their books, their writing processes, and their paths to publication. It's always such a boost to be in a room full of other people who understand how hard it is to write--to say what you want to say in the way you want to say it--and how hard the road is to getting those words out to people other than your family and critique readers. Thinking of how hard that road is and how long it takes (or at least, how long it took me), I started wondering--why do I want it? Why do I write in the first place, why did/do I care about getting my stories out into the public? Why not just write for myself? Plenty of people do that--work for years or their whole lives on stories that no one will read but them and they are satisfied with that. Why did I feel the need and desire to push my stories out into the wider world?

It's not vanity--trust me on that. The fact that my stories going out into the world will require me to actually go to places and talk about them--in front of other people...well, let's just say I'm forcibly pushing those thoughts out of my head until it actually happens. I'm thrilled at the prospect of people maybe actually liking my book when it comes out and wanting to talk to me about it, or hear me talk about it, but at the same time, it kind of makes me want to throw up. I'm not super comfortable talking in front of a small group of people, much less a roomful of book clubbers I don't know!

Suffice it to say, I'm not in this for vanity or glory. The only way I can explain it is connection. I want to write stories that make people say, "Me too! I feel that too!" and maybe even "I'm not alone in this." That's what I love most about reading. That moment when I'm reading a book and the character's words echo something deep inside me--maybe even a feeling I have but haven't figured out a way to put it into words. It makes me say, "Yes! That's it!" It's that moment of connection, that thought that I'm not alone in feeling whatever it is--that someone else feels it or notices it or has experienced it too. THAT is what I want for readers of my books. I want my stories to translate to people who haven't necessarily gone through the same experiences in my books, but who've had the feelings that go along with the experiences.

So that's why I write. On hard writing days, or days when I get difficult feedback, or when I realize I'm going to need an extensive revision, or when I want to shut my computer and walk away--on days like those, it's helpful to remember why I'm doing it. No woman is an island, so these experiences and emotions I pour into my stories aren't just for me. Yes, there are 33 million books available on Amazon (a staggering number I just heard recently), but there is a place for mine, and hopefully readers for them.

 

Friday 5: Books, Pizza, & Gloria Steinem

  1. Hoover Library's Southern Voices book/writing festival is this weekend. It's a dream for writers and book lovers. I'm excited about all the authors, because even if I'm not familiar with their books, they are always great speakers who talk about their books and writing processes in ways that interest and engage both writers and non-writers. I'm most excited to see husband/wife team Tom Franklin (author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) and Beth Ann Fennelley (they wrote The Tilted World together), and debut author Laura Lane McNeal (author of DollBaby.)

pizza
pizza

2. I made homemade pizza the other night for the first time. Well, homemade in that I bought fresh dough from Publix. I was so excited--my neighbor made pizza with the fresh dough a few nights before and it was a big hit. I bought the ingredients, things the girls would eat, the right kind of pesto and pizza sauce, let it proof for the specified amount of time, poured my beer (pizza and beer, right?) and rolled that baby out.  

Seriously. I couldn't get it any bigger than that. My neighbor halved her dough (the same amount I got) and it made TWO pizzas. Yes, I did something wrong but for the life of me, I still don't know what. I eventually got it a bit bigger, added the toppings and baked the thing, and it actually was really good. Next time, I'll buy two bags of dough.

3. Apparently, Lands End is in some hot water for a photo spread in a recent catalog that featured Gloria Steinem talking about women's rights. I saw the catalog and didn't think anything of it. It's not that she was indecently dressed or anything--it's just that by using her image (and I think offering to monogram tote bags with the ERA (equal rights amendment) logo), shoppers saw Lands End as endorsing Gloria and myriad other things she stands behind, such as abortion rights. Well, cue irate shoppers vowing to cancel Lands End orders and pledge their allegiance to competitor L.L. Bean.

Seriously.

Lands End offered this as part of their statement/apology: "It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue."

Newsflash Lands End--you couldn't have chosen a MORE divisive or polarizing person to include in your magazine. Did you think all of America would love it? Half love it, half hate it. Now, instead of backtracking and apologizing, thereby offending all the people who you just made happy by including Gloria, now they are mad at you too! Pick a stance and stick with it.

The whole thing just seemed so ridiculous to me. And for the record, I am a pro-life Christian and I am NOT returning the gorgeous swimsuit I just ordered from Lands End. Do you know how hard it is to find a flattering swimsuit that fits right, can actually get wet without doing something weird, and doesn't cost a million dollars? (Such an un-feminist thing for me to say, I know.)

4. On to other things.

Y'all, writing is so hard. I don't know why I chose this as my THING. Why couldn't I have chosen knitting? Or origami? Or tennis--I could have gone back to tennis! Or even ghostwriting--I could figure out someone else's plot holes all day long, but my own?? Impossible.

If you can't tell, I'm having a wee bit of a struggle in my manuscript. It's called "the dreaded middle." Apparently, this is my thing. I steamroll through the first 100 pages or so, then get stuck, then have to fight my way out. It happened to some degree with The Hideaway, but it doesn't make it any easier the second time. I care about this story and the characters and I really want to get it out and polish it and send it out into the world, but the getting there--oh man, it's such a fight. As someone (maybe Anne Lamott??) said once, "I love having written." I don't always love the actual writing, but I do love it when I'm finished.

5. Lastly, clearly my daughter is a genius.

math
math

Have a great weekend!

Neither plotter not pantser be

I realize that I run the risk of offending and/or alienating some readers by what I'm about to say, but I'm feeling strongly about it today, so I'm just going to go ahead and say it. I think outlines, especially rigid ones, can hurt the writing process instead of help it. There. I said it.

Now, a caveat to that: I know there are tons of authors in the world of publishing who have a concrete outlining process that works for them. And that's just it--it works for them. It may not work for someone else, but it helps them crank out books, and I'm all for that. I suppose my issue today is with the myriad (it seems) programs and people out there who promise that if you follow their 40-point outline or their all-inclusive "get to know your characters" regimen, or the "ten steps to a writing bestseller" program, you are all but guaranteed a knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark novel.

Pssst. It's never that easy. 

Sure, there are the James Patterson's of the world who churn out a book or more a year--I'm sure he and others like him have a set process that (obviously) works. But as a relatively new author, I know how tempting those programs are. "I can use this outline and it'll result in a full, complete, all-plot-holes-tied-up novel? Sign me up."

I've yet to find one that works for me. They all begin to seem too rigid, too set in stone, sometimes even formulaic. In most of the outlines I've glanced through, there are pretty similar plot points you have to hit, at the same points, and with a similar number of characters. I agree that certain things need to happen in a novel to make it a good story--rising action, climax, falling action, all that. (A "denouement" is in there somewhere--I remember that from high school English, although it's probably called something else now.) Yes, these things make a novel. But everything else is up for consideration, as far as I'm concerned.

I was just telling a friend the other day that before I sit down to write, the story is clear in my head. But, like a dream that dissipates as soon as you try to talk about it, that crystal clear vision in my head goes up in smoke as soon as I start to write, and I feel like I'm fumbling, trying to tie shoelaces while wearing thick gloves.

It's a similar thing for me with outlines. I know in my head what's going to happen in the story because I've spent time thinking about who these people are and writing random notes about them. (As an aside, these notes are everywhere--in the 'notes' section of my phone, on the back of receipts in my purse, on post-its on the kitchen counter, in the margins of my calendar.) I know who the characters are, what the main conflict is, the characters' desires, what's thwarting those desires, and how it all wraps up. But as soon as I start to fit that information into one of those formulaic outlines, all the goodness and spontaneity and magic goes out the window. I'm shoving a foot into a glove or a hand into a sock. Fumbling with the light off.

So, I'm not a total outliner (or "plotter" if you will), but neither am I a total "pantser" (i.e., flying by the seat of my pants, or opening a fresh Word doc and just seeing what happens.) I like to know where I'm going. I usually have a pretty good idea (if not the exact idea) of how the story will end before I write the first word. I don't outline, but I do pre-plan. To that end, I recently read an article by Laura Drake on the website Writers in the Storm that has helped me tremendously with that pre-planning. If you're a writer, I heartily recommend reading it.

In it, she summarizes a Michael Hauge conference she went to, so I suppose much of the credit goes to him, but I love how Laura explains it all. Instead of being an outline, it includes "12 components of a good story." There's no "you must hit this plot-point by page 100 of your novel or else" business. It's not an outline so much as it is a list of points to keep in mind as you are thinking through your story. It's loose enough that I can hang with it, but it also serves as a sort of connect-the-dots. With my current WIP, I'm finding that the more I reflect on my characters and figure them out, the more I can connect the dots. Hopefully that'll help me bring the reader with me on my main characters' journeys from where they started to where they will end--not too tied up with a pretty bow, but satisfying, nonetheless.

 

Tempering my Excitement (aka Good Things are in the Works!)

When I was pregnant with my first daughter Kate, I refused to register for baby things until I absolutely had to. I waited until I had a baby shower coming up, when I knew friends and family would want to buy us things we needed. I’m not sure I ever said it out loud to anyone, but I couldn’t allow myself to get too excited. Not when I felt things were still so not-guaranteed. So much could still go wrong—you heard sad stories every day of mamas losing babies, miscarriages, stillbirths, etc. I didn’t even write the due date on my calendar. At all. I couldn’t stomach the thought of turning to the November page and seeing “Kate’s due date!” staring up at me all covered in hearts and stars if in fact something bad had happened and she didn’t make it to her due date. Instead, I wrote it in after she was born. I can see how this hesitation to allow myself to feel excitement could look like pessimism or “the sky is falling” or a glass-half-empty outlook on life. I don’t think that’s it though. Much of this hesitation was likely due to the fact that we went through a couple of years of fertility *stuff* before getting pregnant with Kate. There were oodles of disappointments, and through that process, I learned to temper my excitement. It hurt to get my hopes up and allow myself to start thinking pink and blue thoughts, then have it turn out just like the month before. I found it was easier to expect the worst, then if the worst didn’t happen, it’d be that much better.

Now, before you think I missed out on all the excitement of the birth of my first child, rest assured, I didn’t. There was plenty of excitement, laughter, and happy tears before she was born, at the hospital, and after we got home. But there was something about having physical things—written or tangible—associated with her before she actually came that made me quiver with nervousness.

I have a similar feeling these days about my book and the possibility of its publication. It’s why I’ve waited a couple weeks before even attempting to write this “I Have an Agent!” post, and why it still may be weeks before I actually hit “post”: I’m afraid to get too excited about the possibility because I know things in publishing fall apart all the time.

I know, I know, usually it would be too early to worry about anything falling apart when nothing has actually happened to fall apart. Usually, when an author signs with an agent, the agent starts from scratch sending out letters and proposals to editors. My story is a tad different in that there was already an interested publisher (can't say who) before I signed with the agent (Karen Solem of Spencerhill Associates!) I was able to send my query to Karen with the subject line: *editor interest*, and she got back with me within a couple of days instead of my query getting warm and cozy in the slush pile as usual. I queried her in particular because I saw that she was the agent of another book similar to mine, and when I looked her up, her agency website said she was looking for the exact kind of story I had. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t found her and queried her earlier. She offered to represent my book pretty much right away, and since then, I’ve been mystified as to everyone’s interest in the book and me as an author!

Now, it’s not that I don’t think my book is good or worthy of anyone’s attention, because I do. I love the story, the characters, and the setting. It’s the kind of book I’d like to read, filled with sights and sounds and voices I’d love to sink into. I’m thrilled my agent believes in this story and me, and that the publisher in question does too. It’s just that a big part of me is sitting here waiting for the bad news (or the shoe to drop, the sky to fall, or however you want to say it!). Maybe the interested publisher backs out and no other publishers are interested. Maybe Karen says she can’t sell the book and for me to just work hard on book #2 and we’ll hope for that one. Honestly, I’ve prepared myself for all these eventualities. Not because I’m expecting them to happen, but as I said earlier, it’s easier for me to prepare for them, then enjoy the surprise and fun if they don’t happen. Even if something bigger than I can imagine happens. Because, despite all the doom and gloom I’ve set up here, I do believe big, exciting, wonderful, hopeful things can happen—even to me!

Stay tuned…

On dejection and preserving the light

I'm writing to admit something. I am in the middle of a significant writing slump. Although slump probably isn't the right word. It's a writing brick wall--but not writer's block persay, because I'm not writing much. You'd have to be writing to be blocked. Maybe it's more writer's dejection. You see, I got The Hideaway to a place where I was really happy with it. I'd edited and revised it to the point that I didn't think I could do any more--or I didn't want to do any more--without some professional intervention. (I mean an agent, although a professional for my mindset might be helpful too!) I didn't want to blindly take advice from well-meaning folks who had subjective suggestions about what I might want to think about changing. Like I said, it's all been well-meaning, and earlier in the process it was *crucial*, but I got to a point where I didn't think it was wise to make changes at whim, not knowing if it was a change that would further my chances at a "publishable" novel and securing an agent. I queried a lot between the end of the year and February. I think at this point, I'm at about 45 queries. So that means about 43 rejections. (I think I may still have a couple partial or fulls out right now, I can't remember without looking at my color-coded spreadsheet!)

I've had many partial and full requests, several personalized rejections which are great, and a couple of agents who said they'd like to see more of my writing down the line. But no takers, and honestly, I thought by this time, I'd have an agent. Maybe it was naïve of me to think like that, but there it is.

I found another reader through WFWA to read my manuscript. I thought someone with fresh eyes who knew nothing about the story would be helpful--and it was. It just wasn't what I wanted to hear! She was so detailed in her analysis of my story--really, exactly what you want in a beta reader. I think part of it was that we discussed her concerns and suggestions for the story in the middle of a week where almost everyone at my house was sick, including me, and I was already at a fairly low place. After our conversation, I was like a balloon with a hole, all the air leaking out. (And this was in NO way her fault! I'm still glad for her analysis!)

So those couple of sick weeks coupled with the disappointing story comments really put the brakes on my writing. You usually hear writers talking about contemplating stopping writing because of all the rejection. That's not my problem. I knew there would be a lot of rejection from the get go. I was prepared for it. I know I still have dozens and dozens of agents left who rep what I write and who I could potentially query. I haven't exhausted the list yet. No, the rejection isn't the problem. The lack of confidence in my writing skills is the problem. It's a new problem for me, and frankly, it puts me in a pretty scary place. I worry I don't have the storytelling ability to create a story that will appeal "to the masses." I know I'm a good writer. And no, I don't think I'm being egotistical to say that. I can write, but am I a good storyteller? There's a difference, and these days, there are so many books that zoom to the top of lists, books that *everyone* is talking about (at least on Twitter) that (in my humble opinion) aren't very well-written, but have the *hook* everyone wants. So the story trumps the writing.

Now, obviously there are books out there with both the great writing and the great storytelling. I crave those books. In fact, I tend to lose patience with (and be snarky about) books I read that are full of cliches and stereotyped characters and poor writing but that have those jump-off-the-page hooks or jaw-dropping cliffhangers, etc etc.

And I know you need both. I don't want to read 300 pages of beautiful sentences about nothing, just like the average reader doesn't.

I think I'm rambling now. And I'm on a soapbox, so I'll step down. Suffice it to say, I've lost confidence in my ability to write a compelling story. I feel like I've lost that drive I had at one point to write the kind of stories I like to read. I love reading Southern fiction, stories about families, friendships, marriages, humor, the Southern world that is so familiar to me. I used to think I could add to what's already out there, but now I'm not so sure. Part of it is the fault of Twitter, I think. I use Twitter to follow writers and agents so I'll know what's going on in the industry, and it's been very helpful. It's introduced me to agents I otherwise wouldn't have known of or cared about. But it's also worn me down. All the posts about books that zip up the charts, the cover reveals, posts about writers getting "the call," agents railing about this type of story or that type of query. Helpful stuff, but somehow, it's gotten tangled up in my mind so much that it's buried my original desire to write. I don't know what I want to say anymore or how to move forward with writing another story.

I started my next novel during the querying process of The Hideaway. I got about 60 pages in then got stuck. My damn indecision (and this is a recurring problem for me that shows up in many areas of my life) has glued my feet to the ground. Or glued my brain. I have about ten different directions the story can go and instead of being able to just pick the one that sits well with me, that feels right, I'm stuck worrying about whether it has the hook agents (and readers) want. When I was writing The Hideaway (and the bad novel before that), I didn't yet know enough to worry about the hook. I think that was very freeing. I wish I could clear my mind of all the clutter and just write the story I want to read. That's what I did with The Hideaway--I wrote the story I wanted to read. And I still love the story. But my ability to choose a direction with this next story (or the other one I started when this one stalled) has me glued down and it is so frustrating. I just don't trust myself or my writing. And I wonder about all the time I've spent working toward something that truly may never come to fruition. Yes, I write because I love it (or I did before all this started) and it feels like a part of me, like another arm or something, but my goal isn't just to put words on the page and feel good about it. It's to have my books on a bookshelf. To be a writer of books. To add, in some small, insignificant way, to the world of literature. To scratch out my own little corner of The Library of Congress!

I'm coming off about a three-week break of writing. It started when the kids got sick, then I got sick, then the slump/brick wall hit. It just wasn't fun, I needed the sleep instead of the 5am wake up call, and I felt like the writing was a pointless endeavor. Truly. So I didn't open my computer for a little while. Then I went to the Southern Voices festival at the Hoover Library. I heard six or seven authors talk about their books and their writing journeys. It was inspiring, as usual, to be around so many book people. One writer in particular said he was rejected by 100 agents. He finally found success with a small press. The festival renewed me a bit. Enough to crack open my computer again this week. I still felt like I was pushing against that brick wall, but I suppose it may feel like that for a while. If I submit to the brick wall and quit writing, what will that prove? Only that I let the voice of the world around me silence my own inner light. (That's what my desire to write stories feels like sometimes--like a candle burning deep inside me somewhere.) And that applies to other parts of my life too. Our impermanent, flighty, short-attention-span world tries to snuff out all kinds of lights. "You're too fat, too thin, your breasts aren't big enough, you don't wear that quite right, you have wrinkles, your books are too "quiet," I don't want to keep turning your pages, I'm uninterested in you and your quiet self, you don't have enough friends, you should join this group or that group, you're in the wrong group..." If I submit to that brick wall, it'll just be one more way of giving in to the loud voices of the world around me. Instead, I should fight to keep that inner candle glowing and try as much as I can to transcribe that light onto the page.

So that is what I'll try to do. It may be a while before I get back to a place where I'm willingly up every morning at 5 to write. (That actually was a glorious place and it's what helped me crank out The Hideaway and stick with it through the editing and revising.) But I cannot ignore the siren call of the blank page. I'll try to meet it when I can and get down the words and fictional worlds that roll around in my head. Maybe it'll all come together sometime into a cohesive story, maybe not. But I can't submit. It feels too much like a failure on my part. That I'm failing me--the Lauren who years ago stuck her stake in the ground and said she wanted to be a writer of books.

Put it to bed (better late than never)

I've started querying again. But the difference is, this time around, I'm not running to the phone every time my email dings and I'm not waiting with suspended breath for those responses to come in. The first time around was exhilarating. When I got my first request for a full, I ran into the bathroom where my husband was taking a shower, blurted it out to him, then promptly started crying! I don't think that will happen again! (The crying, not the full request--I do hope that comes again.) I think I was so raw the first time around, it being the first time I'd send my little "baby" out into the world--kind of like the first time you send your child off to school, hoping she is happy and makes friends and people like her. SoI sent the original batch of queries (10-12 in all, over a period of about 4 weeks) and waited. It didn't take as long to get responses back as I thought it would. That's part of why I went ahead and sent a big handful out--I'd heard over and over how it can take months to hear anything back. My novel was finished, but I admit, there was still a bit of fine-tuning to be done. I was counting on those agents taking forever to get to my little query in the slush pile! When the first agent asked for the full less than 48 hours after I sent it, I was so elated, I didn't pause to think about the fine-tuning in the back of my mind. I was satisfied with my story as a whole.

But the feedback she gave me was so valuable. Among the good things she said, she pointed out that she thought there was too much backstory at the beginning. My first thought was, "Man, if she thought this had a lot of backstory, she should have read my first (under the bed) novel!" That thing had pages and pages of unnecessary backstory, and I used that novel as a lesson to myself to not include as much in The Hideaway. Except that once I started thinking about what she said, and browsing through my ms, I realized, "Sh*t! It's here too!"

So I did a revision. I printed the whole thing out, highlighted blocks of unnecessary backstory, and cut chunks of explanation and character histories. Nothing about the plot changed, but I ended up CUTTING OUT the first two chapters of the novel. Now, the novel starts with what was chapter 3, and it has *6,000* fewer words! It is mean, lean, and ready for action. I thought the novel was in a finished state before, but now I truly know it is. I do think you can edit a thing to death, so I have stacked up my two-and-a-half-inch thick stacks of paper, added a title page with the completed word count, and resumed querying. This time, I am more confident in my story's potential. I sent a revised 50 pages to the agent who had originally requested them, and another agent has a partial as well.

I will say this though--it was HARD to cut out most of those 6,000 words. Probably 2,000 were easy to lose, but cutting the rest really taught me the meaning of "murder your darlings." I thought I knew what it meant, but cutting some of  my favorite parts of text was super hard. I saved them all in an "unused stuff" file, so if I ever want to reread it, it's there, but it was hard to take it out of the story. But I do think the book as a whole is better for it.

So, onward. I sat down at the computer this morning and wasn't sure exactly what to do. In the waiting period after sending my first batch of queries and before I did the revision, I'd started writing something else, but I'm finding it hard to get back to that. My past experience is that once I start a story, I have to keep rolling with it every day or I lose steam. Hopefully I can find some tendril of steam to pick up on and get back to that story. My fingers itch to write, not just edit and revise.

Good writing vibes to everyone!

Lauren

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor..."

I've just spent a whole precious hour of early morning writing time typing a few words and deleting them. Type, delete. Type, delete. Nothing is coming out the way I want it to. These days, it seems the only time I can get any clarity on what I want to write about is when I'm outside walking. If I can get away for a walk by myself, without pushing the stroller and my two daughters, my brain starts clicking along and ideas come rapid fire. It happened a few days ago. My husband got home early, so I escaped for a solo walk. I wasn't too far down the street before I started seeing my story a little clearer. That's the thing--I think I know what I want to write about--I even have some scenes worked out in my head--but as soon a I sit down to start writing, nothing works! If I could just hook a voice recorder up in my head to catch the brain waves, I'd have my novel written in just a few days worth of walks.

I've been reading through Bird by Bird again. Yesterday, I read about the sh*tty first drafts. (On a side note, I wrote "First Drafts are Sh*tty" at the top of the first page of the first novel I wrote.) This morning I read about perfectionism and how it keeps us writing in "tight, worried ways." That so describes me. I write in worried ways--I worry that I don't know the entire story yet. I worry that if I start this page in this way, what if I get to the next page and realize I should have started it a different way? I worry about a million different things related to the story, when what I should be doing is mindless writing--especially here at the beginning. After all, who knows where, in all that mindless writing, something great will come out and that'll be the nugget that actually starts the story.

That's much easier said than done though, especially for someone who likes structure and order. Messy bits of writing here and there, fits and starts, twenty opening paragraphs--that all makes me feel tight and worried.

Update on THE HIDEAWAY: You can't be a real writer and not experience rejection, right? I have three rejections under my belt--one form rejection from my query, one nice rejection that came from a full request, and one extremely nice rejection (also from a full) that made me feel like the story had a chance. I have about 12 or 13 queries out there floating around in various agents' email in-boxes. And one 50-page partial. I think I've decided to hold off on sending any more queries until more responses roll in. I wasn't even going to send out this many--I was going to start with 6 or 8 then see how they responded to the query. The early 50-page partial and the full request from the one of my top-choice agents (that came less than 48 hours after I sent the query) told me at least my query was good, which gave me confidence to send it to more agents. But I think it's time to hold off now. I feel antsy about it, but I just read yesterday that impatience is one of the biggest hindrances to a writer, and I think that goes for the querying process too.

Good writing vibes for everyone out there sitting in the same place as me, staring hard at the screen, trying to pull the words out of the air. May we all ditch the perfectionism and find the words, even if they're imperfect.

Querying

I've finally starting sending some query letters out! It's exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. My goal was to have my queries sent by the end of the summer, so come fall I can concentrate on my new WIP. At least I'm on track for that. I think I'm going to send them out in batches. I'd hate to send out 50 queries at once, only to make a big change to my query or something and shoot myself in the foot with all 50 agents. If I start with 10 or so, I can wait a little while, see how those go over, then send out some more. And speaking of my new WIP, I'm pretty pumped about it. Pieces of it are coming to me all the time. I have notes all over the place--in my car, my purse, on my phone, in notebooks here and there. I know it's a good story idea when scenes are coming together in my head and I start to get a feel for who the characters are. I'm thankful another story has found its way to me. I was starting to worry, "What if I can't do it [write a complete novel] again? What if the story just doesn't come??" Thankfully, it has.

I have a full few days ahead of me with freelance editing, my parents coming into town, and my baby's second birthday party this weekend. I hope I can give myself the freedom to not obsess about how much I need to get done on the computer and just enjoy myself.

Take care!

Synopsis III (Yes, really) and my two cents on women's fic

So the synopsis is supposed to be 1-2 pages, right? I have whittled this thing down from 4 pages to 2.5, and now it's down to the *very last line *of the 2nd page! That counts as 1-2 pages, yes? Just kidding (partly.) Yes, it's down to 2 pages, but I still need to tighten a bit more. And the strange thing is, I think this has been a helpful exercise. It's possible most of the agents I query might not even request it, but it's helped me condense the story down in my mind to its main parts. I've been able to see what's most important--those parts I just cannot cut out of the query. Sure, I've cut out parts I wish I could include--parts that are essential to the story--but I think I've covered the story well enough to at least cause someone to say, "Hey, this is interesting, I think I'll read more." Which is really the whole purpose, right? The thorn in my side is still the fact that it only tells one timeline of the story, and I have two. But it's proved impossible for me to write the synopsis succinctly AND cover both timelines/POVs. Just won't work. So my hope is that the agent remembers from my query that the story is told in alternating POVS, and the synopsis just covers one. I've alluded to the other MC's story in the synopsis, so hopefully that is enough.

Whew, this thing truly is a beast.

In other news, I had a dear friend--who's also a reader, writer, and editor--read my manuscript. She loved it. She even got a little teary telling me what she thought--and not because the story itself made her cry, but just because she was really proud of me. That made me feel good. She said she thought all the storylines worked, the pacing and voice were spot on--and it kept her up late reading!

And another friend (who is also the big trifecta of reader/writer/editor--I seem to have a few of those friends!) has offered to read the manuscript. I'm giving it to her Monday when I go to HER BOOK SIGNING at the Alabama Booksmith! (Anyone who loves good music should check out her book Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music!)

I'm feeling good about THE HIDEAWAY's prospects, to tell you the truth. I just feel like it needs to land in the right set of hands--but that's always the case with any author's work, isn't it? I'm feeling more and more these days that I need an agent really works a lot with women's fiction--not YA, YA, YA, and a little women's fiction on the side. YA is so hot right now, but it's just not anywhere close to what I write. The bells and whistles of YA (dramatic cliffhangers, world-ending choices, evil dictators, etc) can lead people to look for those things in queries and manuscripts--even for women's fiction. My story (and much of women's fic) is about a woman's journey. If THIS doesn't happen, the world won't end, the bad guys won't win, and no one will be banished forever. Most likely, the woman's life will go on, just maybe not as good as it could have been. I guess you could stay they tend to be quieter stories. (Yes, women's fic can have humor, cliffhangers, exciting things, etc. Of course it can! It just lacks the THE WORLD WILL EXPLODE IF THIS ONE THING DOESN'T HAPPEN! storylines.)

All that to say, I hope I can find an agent who who loves women's fiction and *gets* my story. It'd also be nice if the day she reads my query, she's not suffering from indigestion from a double-decker cheeseburger she had at lunch, which makes her uninterested in anything she reads. (Ha! Just a nod to the subjective nature of this whole process!)

Take care!