The Friday 5

1. First things first. Unbelievable, shocking, knee-weakening, heavens-opening-up-and-shining-down news hit us out of the blue yesterday. We all cried tears of disbelief and relief and thankfulness. As my mom said, the English language doesn't have enough words to explain how we feel. "Thankful" falls pitifully short.  

FullSizeRender

FullSizeRender

That above is my mom. This is how she's feeling right about now. It's how we're all feeling.

On to other things...

2. It is snowing. In Birmingham. I know this because I am at home, not in Tennessee, where Matt and I were supposed to be today. He was going to be running in a 12-hour trail race tomorrow in a little town outside Murfreesboro, but we made the call late this morning to not go, due to the general messiness of Tennessee today. We were a little concerned about icy roads. Our girls were already prepared to spend the weekend at their grandparents' house, so we went ahead and took them out there. As such, right now, Matt and I are huddled in blankets, watching a movie (the wonders of Joe Versus the Volcano) and reading (I just started The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler.) I'm happy to be watching the snow from inside my warm nest instead of gearing up for spending all day tomorrow in a tent, possibly reading and writing, but probably huddled under a down sleeping bag, teeth chattering, mumbling under my (frozen) breath about the Black Toe Run. 

(That was a little dramatic, but as I've said before, I'm a certified cold person.)

3. The book I've mentioned here a few times, Voyage to the Star Kingdom, is now available to order.

star voyage

star voyage

An incredible amount of people have already bought it and passed it around. If you're interested, find it on Amazon here. The author is putting all proceeds into a fund for the family this book is based on.

4. I just finished reading a wonderful book called Margot, by Jillian Cantor.

margot

margot

It tells the fictional story of what life may have been like for Margot, Anne Frank's sister, if she hadn't died in Bergen-Belsen, as records show she did, but instead escaped the Nazis and fled to America. It's a great story, and I sunk completely into the character of Margot (or Margie, as she calls herself in her new American life), but what made it really important and tense and dramatic was how it portrayed life for Jews who immigrated to the US in the 40s and 50s. They had escaped the horrors of being a Jew in Nazi Europe, but then arrived here to find that people still nailed flaming torches to synagogues, taunted Jewish schoolchildren, treated them unfairly in the work place. It was a quiet book, but like I said, tense and important. In fact, I think it could be as important a read as Anne Frank's diary. It just portrays a different direction someone's life could have gone after hiding from the Nazis for so long, and the farther we get from the atrocities of the Holocaust, the more important it is to keep telling those stories. Anne was a real girl with a head full of dreams and hopes and desires, as we all know because of her diary that was found and published. But Margot was a real girl too, and because her diary was never found, we know virtually nothing of her. She was snuffed out too soon. This book gives her a life, even if it's a fictional one.

5. I had lunch at a new little place downtown this week called Feast and Forest, owned partly by Kristen Farmer Hall. If you live in Birmingham, check it out. It's just off 2nd Avenue North on 24th Street, sort of behind Urban Standard. I had the "Ham Sammich" and potato soup and it was lovely. And the whole vibe of the place is perfect--it's really tiny inside, but warm and cozy and inviting. Here's more on Kristen and her partner opening Feast and Forest.

Have a great weekend, play in the snow if you get some, and don't buy all the bread.

The Friday 5: Blurbs, Books, and back to regular life

The kids went back to school this week--woohoo! It was a "short" week, meaning four days of school instead of five (and two instead of three for my preschooler) but the parental readjustment to making lunches and getting myself dressed before 8 more than made up for whatever shortness the school people intended. I have to say though--at the end of this holiday break, I wasn't as at the end of my rope as I have been in the past. The girls (age 6 and 3.5) played together more and better than ever before. Sure, they were often dancing on the fine line between total contentment and total angry hysteria, but they stayed on the right side of that line more than the wrong side. So for that, I was hugely thankful. Anyway, end of babbling. The Friday 5...

1. Nothing is really happening yet with The Hideaway (book #1), but in February, I think we (me + my "team" at HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson) will start to talk about preliminary marketing things. My agent suggested I come up with a list of authors we could contact for blurbs and/or endorsements for my book. This is a wee bit uncomfortable (basically asking for praise) but I think it'll be part of the job, so I better get used to it. And all authors do it, and probably all authors get asked to do it, so it won't be anything new. I've put together a list of people I'd like to contact--some are total pie-in-the-sky authors who could possibly just sniff at me, and some are a little more accessible, and hopefully more likely to be willing to help. Or who knows, maybe those big-time authors will take it as a chance to help out a little writer like me.

Every since I heard a writer tell the story of how she asked Fannie Flagg to write a blurb for her book and Fannie basically told her to write the blurb herself and she'd sign off on it, I've been sort of wishy-washy about blurbs. They don't necessarily make me buy a book, but I know they are important to some readers, as in, "If Danielle Steele/John Grisham/E.L. James says this is a good book, then by golly, I'm gonna read it." For those readers, it'll be nice to have some authors who write similar types of southern fiction to say nice things about my book. And if, I don't know, let's say Rick Bragg happens to read my book and has anything even remotely positive to say about it, that'd be okay by me.

2. I just today signed up for Hoover library's Southern Voices book festival. If you've never been and you like books and you live anywhere bear Birmingham, you should come to it. They have a handful of authors who speak every year and I promise you, it's interesting whether or not you're a writer. These are great writers, but also great speakers. I'm most excited to hear Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, the husband/wife team who wrote The Tilted World, about the 1927 flood in Mississippi. Beth Ann is a poet and Tom is a novelist. (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is one of my favorites.) I'm also looking forward to hearing Laura Lane McNeal, author of Dollbaby. I haven't read this yet, but it takes place in New Orleans, so that automatically makes me a fan. (I love New Orleans and part of The Hideaway takes place there.) But the cool thing is, after Katrina came through and wrecked things, Laura took a different direction with her life and decided to pursue her passion of writing. Dollybaby is her debut and it's gotten a LOT of attention. I'm hoping to glean lots of wisdom and inspiration from her.

As a side note, I planned to attend the Friday night talk with Erik Larson. He writes nonfiction that reads like fiction--like supercharged, edge-of-your-seat fiction. Pick up Dead Wake or Devil in the White City (or probably any of his others) and you won't be able to put it down. I got online at 9:02 to order tix (they went on sale at 9.) I went through the whole payment system on my phone, entered my info, got all the way to the end, then got a message that said payment didn't go through due to a problem with the system and to please try again in a few moments. Well, a few moments later I was working my rear off in YCross, so I waited an hour until class was over. And Friday night was sold out. (Sad face.)

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3. For those of you following what's going on with my mom, she's just finishing up her fourth out of six week-long chemo treatments. She'll go home tomorrow for what we hope and pray is two weeks of rest, good food, relaxation, and visits with friends and family before she goes back in for her fifth week of inpatient chemo. Cancer is bad. Chemo is bad (I mean, it's good, but seriously, it's so bad). But I read something today that offered some calm:It's really hard to not worry, not FRET, not be anxious. But that's what Jesus tells us to do. DO NOT worry. DO NOT be anxious. It's hard, but we try.

4. My friend Anne Riley has written a children's book based on the story of a family friend of hers. It's beautifully written and illustrated, and it will be released in the next couple of weeks. As Anne says in her press release, "Inspired by a real-life family, Voyage to the Star Kingdom is a vivid reminder that our stories don't end in death, and that the King is indeed making all things new."

star voyage

star voyage

Here's the gorgeous cover: 

This is her blog post that tells all about the book and the family that inspired it. Rather than me paraphrasing everything, just read it from her. Heads up, you may need some tissues.

(And PS, Anne is also a YA writer and her second book PULL is coming out in FEBRUARY! I've already preordered it on Amazon!)

tami-and-eric-taylor

tami-and-eric-taylor

5. Eric and Tami Taylor have the best marriage that's ever been on TV, I'm convinced. A real, honest, loving, patient, selfless, imperfect but hardworking marriage. That's not common. Long live Mr and Mrs. Coach Taylor. (And the Dillon Panthers.) 

See y'all next week.

The Inaugural Edition of The Friday Five!

And without much ado at all, I give you the very first edition of The Friday Five, in which I tell you about five things I like, don’t like, am obsessing over, think you should look into, think you should avoid, want to know more about, wish I’d never heard about, or generally think are worth your time. Or maybe they’ll just be five random, disconnected thoughts that are floating through my brain and want to come out in some way, shape, or form! At any rate, it’s a way for me to share a bit about myself and hopefully connect with you, dear friend. So, here goes.

 

  • Today I found a Christmas card on the side of the road in a pile of leaves. It was during my morning walk, and my eyes were on the ground because I’d been picking up random sale papers that had fallen out of a newspaper bag (see—more Black Friday mess. The sale papers were littering our neighborhood!) So the red and green of the card caught my eye, so I picked it up. Here it is. I just thought it was such a throw back to how Christmas cards used to be. No smiling, picture-perfect family, no professional photographers, just “Merry Christmas from the four of us.” Inside was a handwritten note from the family. I love seeing those smiling faces of my friends and family, but there’s something about the simplicity of this card that I like. Even if decorating a tree is nothing like this. Here, the kids are all, “Here’s the wreath, Mom,” all calm and well-behaved. At our house, we’ll be trying to keep the kids from climbing the tree and breaking all the ornaments.

 

  • This is a picture of our three-year-old. She was sent to her room to “cool off” after frantically fighting gently bickering with her older sister over a Black Friday sale paper depicting a Barbie in various states of undress. This is her tiptoeing out of her room dressed as a “horseowldinosaur,” according to our nephew. Obviously, “time-out” doesn’t mean much to her. At least not when her dress up box is in her room.

 

  • This is my beautiful mom. She has cancer and spent Thanksgiving week in the hospital for her second round of week-long chemo treatment. I am driving to my hometown of Mobile today to visit her and my dad. I’m going to make them dinner, help them get the house in order, and generally make as much merriment and offer as much peace as I can. Because they deserve it and cancer stinks. (But God is still good.)

 

  • This was the sky yesterday on my morning walk. I hope it was as beautiful and clear wherever you were, or are today.

Thanks for reading, friends. Let’s do this again.

Writing as a balm for real life

I began this blog as a way to document my journey to what I hoped would be publication of my first novel. Things are good in that realm, and while I wait for the official okay to give more details about that, I need to write about something in my non-writing life, because of how it will affect my writing life. I’ve just found out my mom has cancer. And it’s likely pretty advanced. To say it’s heartbreaking is a profound understatement. I was thinking about it yesterday on a long solo (as in stroller-less) walk I took yesterday afternoon. So far in my life, probably the hardest thing that’s happened to me is our “journey” (sometimes I hate that word) through infertility. But that process was a slow dawning of realization, a creeping acceptance that took time—months, years—then finally, it was over. But this? A kick in the gut that came out of nowhere. We were all tra-la-la,-ing through life, then BAM. We all (the four of us and my brother and his family) dropped everything and drove home to see my parents on Friday forty-eight hours after hearing the news. We don’t know many details yet—hopefully more will come soon. Because if waiting for fertility procedures and waiting for publication news is hard, it’s nothing like waiting to hear your precious mom’s diagnosis and prognosis. It’s excruciating.

Interestingly, ideas for both my current story and the one I’ve put on pause until I finish this one have been coming fast and furious over the last few days. I’ve been scribbling notes hither and yon, little bits of conversation, small snapshots of life in these places I’ve created in my mind. Little things I don’t want to forget, so I can run back to the computer and type them up. I’m also thinking of books I want to read. It’s like I’m mentally stacking them up, saving them for later when things are hard and shutting my brain off is preferable to real life. I’m making a list in my head of very non-scary books—things like The Rosie Project. A Walk in the Woods. Maybe rereading Where’d You Go Bernadette. Good books, but nothing that will make me cry.

I realized this weekend that reading and writing—two of my favorite things—may help get me through this. They, along with copious amounts of prayer, may serve as my coping mechanisms. Yes, I realize it’s unhealthy to shut down when things get hard, but it’s also a form of self-preservation. Reading has always been a form of escape for me—a way to shut out real life or a long day and let myself get carried away with someone else’s story. Writing is my way of creating those stories for other people. Additionally, the thought of giving my mom something great to read while she’s in treatment gives me even more motivation to keep my butt in the chair and write as much as possible. Finish this draft of my WIP so I can polish it, then start on the next. For me and for her. Keep them coming, so she’ll have fun things to read and I can have this imaginary dream world to escape to when my own world is too harsh and jagged. Keep writing and keep praying—not just for healing and faith, peace and strength, but also for the real end—for Jesus to return to get us all out of this mess. Life is beautiful, but sometimes it feels like walking on broken glass with bare feet—hopping around trying to dodge the pain, but knowing it’s coming sometime. It’s also not home. I long for home more and more every day. Reading stories where things mostly work out in the end, and writing those same stories, is a way to bring a little bit of heaven to readers—and to myself. The books I read and the ones I write aren’t heavenly by any means, but they speak of love and family, community and hope. We surround ourselves with those things to stave off evil in the world—evil that comes to us through news reports of faraway places, and evil that comes to us through an innocuous phone call on a Wednesday morning about something, someone very near to us that changes our world.

I’m not always very good at dealing with emotions—especially hard ones, like grief and sadness. I don’t like to cry, especially not in front of other people. But right now, say the wrong thing to me, and the tears come faster than I can blink them away. It may be like that for a while. Who knows, I may be like that from here on out! But I also know things that help. Prayer is one. That’s where I find hope and peace, so it is—He is—where I go when I need to drink from water that heals—or at least band-aids—my broken heart. My husband is one—he’ll likely be the one who takes the brunt of my pain so I can put on somewhat of a brave face for the world.

And reading and writing will help too. Discarding my own life for even just a few minutes and putting on someone else’s, dealing with someone else’s hardships, humor, and mysteries instead of my own. Being choosy about what I read. Creating stories that end just how I want them to. Life doesn’t give us that option, so I’m thankful I have a “job” that allows me to choose how to things work out in the end. I’m also thankful that ultimately, things will work out—there will be peace, joy, healing, and no more tears. A gut-punch like this reminds me even more to pray for that day to come swiftly. While I wait—for all kinds of news—I’ll keep creating stories that give other people a chance to lay their burdens down and escape.