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. 

 

Happy Thanksgiving week!

Hi friends! It has been a while! What's taking up my time these days, you ask? Here's a quick visual.

Sela and Kate on Hero day at school.

Sela and Kate on Hero day at school.

Kate's 8th birthday party!

Kate's 8th birthday party!

Sela at Christmas/Frozen/Cinderella madness at the mall.

Sela at Christmas/Frozen/Cinderella madness at the mall.

But what's been taking up my free time the most? 

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This friendly little chart is keeping me on track to finish this draft of book 3 by the time my kids get out of school for something like three weeks for Christmas. I made up the schedule when I realized that having to squeeze writing time into the days while my kids are home through New Years would make all of us fairly miserable. Especially the days leading up to Christmas. It's always a bit of a struggle to keep things peaceful and restful in the midst of Christmas frenzy, trying to remember what and who we're celebrating, but much more so if I'm trying to wrangle words as well. So, deadline to the rescue. And I have to admit, as I near the end of this story, I'm starting to feel a teeny bit excited about it. I'll put it aside after the 13th and hopefully not pick it up again until at least after Christmas, if not when the kids are back in school. Then it'll be a last push to reread, ask a few people to read it for me, and do final revisions before turning it in Feb. 1. 

HURRICANE SEASON
I can't wait to get this book out into your hands! It releases April 3, 2018. In short, it's about marriage, motherhood, sisters, daughters, cows, photography, and hurricanes. I'm a little biased, but I think you'll like it ;)

THE HIDEAWAY
This sweet little thing has stayed on the USA Today Bestseller list for 8 weeks! Amazing. And thank you for helping it make it to the list! I've had so much fun talking and Skyping with books clubs over the last several months, and I have several more on the calendar in 2018. If you're part of a book club, I'd love to come visit--or Skype if you're not in the Birmingham or Mobile area! Shoot me and email and let's talk!

WHAT I'M READING THESE DAYS
 

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I recently finished this little gem, The Longest Night by Andria Williams. It's her debut novel but you'd never know it by its beautiful prose and tight tension. It's centered around the country's only fatal accident at a nuclear reactor (in the early 60s), and the marriage of one of the reactor's operators and his wife. I really enjoyed it. 

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This was another fascinating read, about the man who led the exploration of a portion of Alaska; his wife Sophie who stayed behind; and a wonderfully crotchety old man writing letters to a young staffer at a museum in Alpine, Alaska. Eowyn Ivey wrote The Snow Child, which I haven't read, but it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, so I'm assuming it's pretty good ;) This one kept me up many nights until I finished it. It was beautiful.

COMING UP
If you're anywhere near Mobile, AL, I'll be signing copies of The Hideaway at LUSH Home and Garden during the Christmas at the Loop holiday open house! It's Friday Dec 1 from 5-8pm. I'd love to see you there! Remember BOOKS make great gifts! Especially signed ones. And I can personalize them for anyone you want. 

I hope you all have a restful Thanksgiving with family and friends!

Love,
Lauren

 

 

 

Parenting, zombies, and cussing: The Friday Five (on Saturday!)

*This Friday Five installment is brought to you on Saturday because of the utter craziness of my Friday.

1. Y’all, parenting feels like a battle these days. Yes, good is mixed in too, but with a 6 year old who is learning to be quite sassy and a 3 year old who loves both her sister and pestering her sister (and neither of whom love to listen to parental guidance), I feel like I’m coming up against a wall over and over. I pulled this book out a few days ago—time for a re-read.

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I love this book because it’s not a how-to manual for parents. It doesn’t give Five Steps to Make Parenting Easy, or Ten Things to do to Make Your Kids Listen to You NOW, or Here’s What You’re Doing Wrong in Your Parenting World. Instead, it basically tells you how to manage *yourself* during parenting. It’s good to remind myself that my job as a parent—the purpose to having kids—is to raise little people who love Jesus. When I think of it that way, it’s a little easier to get my own selfishness out of the way. (ie, it’s not all about me and how if I could JUST get five seconds of not being asked a thousand questions and breaking up a dozen silly arguments about how she stole that toy from me, that toy that came from Chick Fil A four years ago and has been under the couch since the day we brought it home…then I’d be a sane woman.) Newsflash: they are little humans whom Jesus loves fiercely and who deserve respect, not just a mama at the end of her rope.

2. This book.

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Read it. (Sorry for the doodles across the front--courtesy of my 3 year old.) I think you could glean oodles of wisdom out of it even if you’re not a writer. It has such beautiful nuggets tucked in on every page that apply to life as a whole. It blows me away with its wisdom and grace every time I pick it up. I mean, listen to this: “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 challenges 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 in the process. Just as in life.” See what I mean?

3. Lest you think I’m always reading such fine self-help books that show me how to “love my kids with the love of Jesus” or how I must daily summon “stamina, optimism, discipline, and hope,” I’ll let you in on a secret. Every Sunday night, after a beautiful church service, my husband and I watch zombies. We’ve been doing it for years. In the crush and chaos of feeding and bathing the kids in the half hour we have between getting home from church and the kids’ bedtime, one of us will remember that it’s Walking Dead night, meaning as soon as the kids are down, we get our cups of ice cream and land on the couch for an hour of something my mom would be shocked and awed by if she knew I watched it. I binge watched the first several seasons on Netflix over the course of one summer. I was so deeply engaged with the Walking Dead world, I’d find myself out in our backyard, hear a rustle in the bushes, and for just a split second—half that, really—I’d think, “Zombie.” It’s not like that now though. This season is lagging, slow and uneventful. However, on Thanksgiving day, we were at my husband’s aunt and uncle’s large spread of land outside of Birmingham. We were in a truck riding through his wooded property—nothing but trees and leaves and hills—and we both thought it’d made a good place to escape—you know, in case of a zombie apocalypse. It’d be a little hard to protect, but we could make it work.

4. I’m writing this post in an incredibly quiet house. It’s just me, my fingers tapping on the keys, and the heater clicking on and off. My kids are at their grandparents’ house! And Matt and I had a fun date last night with another couple who we really love. We met for drinks first at this swanky bar downtown (What?! Meeting for drinks before dinner? Whose life is this?!) then ate guacamole and quesadillas at El Barrio, a hip, cool Mexican place that’s not really Mexican, more like fresh Latin/Mexican foods with cool ingredients and a good beer list. It was an outstanding night. I love my kids, but man, did I love getting dressed without being interrupted eighty-two times, driving downtown with my handsome husband, slipping into a dark booth, and having good drinks, good food, and fun conversation.

5. I saw a button on someone’s Facebook page that made me laugh. I tried to cut and paste it here, but since I'm super non-techy, it wouldn't work for me. It said, "I love Jesus but I cuss a little." I think it sort of, in a way, describes me—I love Jesus but close your ears if I stub my toe or if something startles me. I love Jesus, but I’m not gonna lie—some days, I can hardly wait for 5:00 when I can have a drink and not feel guilty. (Sometimes the early winter darkness bumps that time up a bit.) I love Jesus, but I’m not a beautiful, shining thing, untarnished and gleaming. I have some dirt around my edges. He doesn’t let me stay in my dirt—I have to wrestle with it and over and over drop it in His lap—but He loves me anyway and for that, I’m thankful.

FYI, I plan to add some Spotlight posts on authors, readers, other bloggers, and book reviewers in the coming months. If you'd like to be included, let me know in the comments!

See you next week, friends.

A little bit about rest

My children have an uncanny ability to sense the exact moment I try to squeeze in even a few seconds of rest. They know when I open a book, when I sit down with my (warm for the moment) breakfast, when I dare to prop my legs up on the ottoman. Mind you, I only attempt these incredible feats when I know the girls are playing happily, either together or separately, and there isn’t some other pressing chore I need to accomplish. They can be in another room entirely and if they get even a whiff of Mama’s moment of rest, they come running. All of the sudden, she took my toy, or she came in my room without asking, or she yelled at me. As an adult, it can be hard to find time for real rest. Either we are surrounded by little people who demand our time and energy, or we’re at work facing deadlines and customers, clients and budgets. We have meetings, obligations, exercise schedules, lunch dates. We strive to make sure our kids get all the sleep they need while neglecting our own bodies and minds that need rest as well. We push ourselves to get just a little bit more done before work, before the kids get up, before we go to sleep.

For me, at least, a mental break, if not a physical one, is crucial to my ability to get through the day in one piece. If we’re going-going-going, I find my attention and patience wanes the farther I get from rest. This rest doesn’t always come from actual sleep, because who can really fine extra hours to sleep? A few mornings of “sleeping in” instead of my usual 5:15 wake-up time is nice, but the rest can also come from other things—things either added in or taken away.

A month ago when school started back up, our schedule was packed with Meet the Teachers, Parent Nights, and figuring out how early we all had to get up and go to bed. There were decisions galore—what to make for school lunches, whether to let my new kindergartener go through the lunch line, how not to lose my mind if my sweet, tiny 5 year old cried at drop-off. Not to mention some big book news that occurred at the beginning of that very packed week that sent my already frazzled mind in a zillion different directions. (I’ll have details soon!)

By Friday of the first week, my brain was shot. I had one of those “if I don’t get to the couch right now, I will fall asleep standing up” moments. I successfully got my youngest tucked into bed for her nap, then I collapsed on the couch until time to pick up my oldest. That crash made me realize that during a time of extra-busyness—perhaps especially when it’s mental and emotional busyness—it’s so important to be gentle with ourselves. To let ourselves take a mental break when necessary. To not beat ourselves up for skipping out on something in order to arve out time for that rest. For me, it meant taking a break from the rigid early-morning writing schedule and letting myself sleep in a little, then just read for a week or so. In any down time at home, I picked up a book and let myself get lost in another world, instead of feeling like I had to Get to the computer! Fold laundry! Clean the bathtub! The extra hour or so of sleep in the mornings and the blank space in my head helped soothe my mind so I didn’t feel so frayed. Then slowly, I found myself back on solid footing again. Not with feet slipping here and there, but more confident and in control. Still emotional at random times, but that probably comes with the territory: my kids are growing up (although I know 3 and 5 doesn’t sound grown up to many people!), good things are happening in my writing life (good things can cause stress too, right?), it’s a new season of life, and I’m trying to hold it together and do what I can to be a good wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend. As we all are. Just forgive me if you find me conked out on the couch for a hour with a book in my hands.

Embracing the Chaos of Life

I've learned something crucial about myself over the last few months, and I think it all stems from writing. I have a very hard time letting myself rest and relax, even when my body (not to mention my mind) needs it. Starting in August, both my daughters have been going to preschool three days a week. I was so excited about having the four hours, three mornings a week to write and read. Do you know how many of those hours I've spent actually writing or reading? Less than five, I'm sure. Granted, I have to take advantage of that time to do some of the things that are easier to do without kids in tow, but that still leaves some hours left to fill however I choose. I thought it would be much easier for me to fill those hours working on writing or editing projects. Instead, I'm finding myself "busying" my way through the hours--cleaning those crumbs off the floor, tackling the bathrooms, organizing everyone's fall clothes, making a grocery list--things that need to be done and are easier to do without the kids around, but things that totally zap any "me" time I thought I'd get. Then BAM, it's time to pick up the kids and continue with the busying and scurrying--putting away their school stuff, folding laundry, playing with blocks, preparing dinner, eating dinner, cleaning up from dinner, bath, etc etc etc, then finally bed for the kids. That leaves me about an hour and a half to take a shower, eat some ice cream (because, come on), talk to my husband, catch up on a TV show and/or read a bit, then fall into bed.

This process has drained me! I'm feeling pretty ragged and fidgety, and it's stemming from this apparent inability I have to let myself to relax. So I'm on a mission to force myself to STOP the scurrying, and do what's necessary to let myself sit down, have some minutes to do whatever the hell I want to do--whether it's catch up on Project Runway, read a book, take a nap--whatever. I'm trying to see these three kid-free mornings a week as a teeny bit of reward of "working" at home with two very small, stubborn, and sweet bosses. I need to take the rewards when they come.

As I said, part of this craziness in my brain stems from writing. I think part of the fidgety-ness, part of my inability to focus, is that I'm not in the middle of a big writing project, and that makes me feel a bit rudder-less. I've finished The Hideaway, and while I have played around with a few different beginnings to stories, nothing is holding my attention, so I haven't been able to really dive into a new story. The Hideaway came at me almost fully formed--or at least a rough outline did--so I'm waiting for that to hit me out of the blue again. In the meantime, I'm trying to keep my rear in the writing chair so my fingers are moving and my brain is working in that direction. When the "muse" comes (or whatever happens), I want to be in front of my computer so I can catch it. Or at least have a scratch piece of paper lying around so I can jot it down!

This antsy feeling when I'm not in the middle of writing a novel shows me that writing is a part of my life--a part of me--that's not likely going to go away. On the one hand, I'm thankful that it's a part of my life--I love creating stories and writing them down (even though Good Lord, it is so hard)-- but it also scares me a little because of this present feeling of purposeless-ness. I don't particularly want to spend the next fifty years of my life either feeling like I need to rush to the computer all the time to write just a little bit more, or feeling like banging my head against the wall because the words JUST WON'T COME! I'd like to be a little more even-keeled! I may look even-keeled, but usually, what's going on in my mind is anything but that. But I'm trying to rest in the waiting, rest in the chaos, embrace all that is in my life--good and bad writing days, messy floors, crumbs on the table, Frozen music blaring out of my daughter's room at all hours. After all, just living life--embracing it, savoring it, paying attention to it--probably gives the best fodder for stories.

And now my day begins. My two-year-old daughter just crawled out of her crib and is likely pulling the clothes out of her dresser drawers (I can hear her on the monitor.) My almost five-year-old daughter just ran into the "baby"s room saying, "Hey there!" Their sweet voices mingle together, making me smile. But if I don't hurry, the baby will find her way into the diaper rash ointment--again--and decide to taste it, even though she found out the first time that that wasn't a great idea.

Obligatory First Post

Since this is probably the fifth or sixth blog I've started in my life, I won't wax poetic about all I'm going to do here and all I hope to accomplish, because it may or may not happen! With an extremely active two year old under foot and another baby due in about three months, I don't have super high expectations of writing in this blog all the time.However, I would like to keep it up, because I'm on a mission of sorts. I've accomplished one of my lifetime goals--to write a book. More specifically, a novel. It's fiction, and I like it. I'm in the editing/revising stage now, and I'm guessing this stage will take a while. Especially once I send the manuscript out to a few readers and get their feedback. My goal is for this blog to be a place where I can talk about my journey (futile attempt?) to finish it, find and agent, and get the thing published. And who knows--maybe one day I will get it published and this little blog can be where readers can come to find out what I'm reading and writing about. So, welcome!