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

 

 

 

To not falling asleep during spelling homework

A few days ago, I fell asleep at the kitchen table while going over spelling words with Kate. Chin propped in hand, eyes closed, sank into sleep, and jerked awake. All while Kate carefully wrote out "germ" and drew a little googly-eyed creature next to it. (The assignment was to draw a picture of the words.) It was 3:30 in the afternoon. I'm not proud of this, but I'm not surprised either. Sometimes when my brain hits total overload, it just shuts down. It was like my eyelids were telling my brain, "You better find some place to land because I'm coming down in three...two...one..." 

The day before, I'd spent a couple of hours in our new house with our decorator (who's also such a nice, fun person, so major bonus) and deliberated over everything from paint colors to how to hang a glass shower door here without cracking it on this awkward corner ledge. And do we do a built-in desk here or a separate desk? Should the girls' beds be arranged this way or that way? And wait, does that ceiling look a little bit pink to you? Then there was the backing of more boxes (we fit packing into the margins of the day), working on finding a good balance for the social media aspect of being an author, keeping Kate and Sela from bickering over the white blanket, and analyzing Sela's eye to see if it's red from pink eye or just because she has a cold. The next day, I spent an hour with the wonderful Jake Reiss from Alabama Booksmith talking about my book, which sent my head spinning in a million different directions ("Wait, did he just say he liked my book? I wonder if I can ask him to say it again."), worked on the guest blog posts that are due soon, researched mattresses (what's the deal with this Casper mattress that comes in a box and unfolds over the course of a couple days?), and kept Kate and Sela from fighting over the white blanket (see a pattern here?). 

That's when my brain gave up the fight during the spelling of "germ."

I've been overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion before--funny how our brains can be exhausted just like our bodies can after a lot of exercise--but this time, all the things swirling around are really good things. I've been waiting on both of these for a long time--moving into a bigger house that we get to decorate and settle into, and my book making its way into the world--so it's all pretty darn exciting. My brain just has to take a breather now and then. Though hopefully not at the kitchen table again. 

I'm trying to do things that allow me little bits of mental break and relaxation, even though there's not much free time these days. Most "free" time is spent packing boxes or responding to a question over email or refereeing yet another fight over that white blanket. But I'm trying to keep a book with me at all times--in the car if I'm early for pick-up, in the kitchen while I'm waiting for water to boil, etc. Reading is my go-to stress relief and it helps turn down the buzz in my brain. I'm also trying to save the the first bit of my early-morning work time for this little book called "Seeking God's Face." It's a way to pray through the Bible in a year through fixed, common prayers. I don't always fit it in as regularly as I'd like, but when I do, it calms and reorients me before I start another day. And exercise. Yesterday, I found pounding out Natalie's 9:30 YCross was a great way to tamp down the nervous energy. And sleep. Getting in bed at 9:00? Sign me up.

The move happens two weeks from today, and the book comes out in 40 days. We have about 100 more boxes to pack (though Matt says we have about 30 empty boxes in the garage and once we fill those up, we're not moving anything else ;), a launch party to plan, several more articles and guest posts to write, another book to polish and send to my editor, a new house to figure out, and two little girls to entertain and to hide from a lot of this chaos so they don't get nervous or sense that things are changing as quickly as they are. And probably many other things I'm forgetting about. Whew. Hopefully we'll all stay healthy through all this and by the time May rolls around, all will have gone...well, I was going to say smoothly, and while that's a good goal, I'm sure there will be things that go terrifically awry, because that's life. So I'll say hopefully by the time we get to May, we can look back and enjoy the good parts and laugh about the crazy parts. And then move on to whatever else comes our way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Housekeeping, rest, and multi-tasking, oh my.

Yesterday, I cleaned the downstairs of my house for two hours. Not too farfetched a story until you consider we'd just gotten back in town twelve hours before. We were gone for two weeks. How, pray tell, does a house (specifically the floor) get so dirty when no one is home?? This is what I was asking myself as I swept, vacuumed, mopped, and straightened each room. Then I remembered that in the three weeks leading up to our two-week vacation, we had three other trips out of town PLUS me trying to squeeze in as much writing (read: hand-wringing and panicking) on book 2 as I could before the editor's letter came back for The Hideaway. So suffice it to say, not much housework had happened in about a month, save for quick sweeps with the broom and some surface cleaning when necessary. 

Fast forward to yesterday morning when I was doing all this cleaning. Kate and Sela were playing together happily, thank the Lord, and I had unhurried time for the first time in what seemed like forever. We didn't have anywhere we had to be, nothing to pack for, no trip to plan. It finally felt like summer. Even as I write that, it sounds sort of silly--after all, since school let out, we've spent a decent chunk of time at the beach, which is the epitome of summer (for me at least). But trips out of town also can be hard--everyone off regular schedules, kids' bedtimes all screwy, early morning writing time interrupted by early wake-ups, etc. It's always nice to getaway, but sometimes it's nice to come home too. 

I'm glad that after trips galore, we've finally reached that part of summer where we can rest. Or maybe it's just me who's finally resting. I usually have a hard time resting when things are messy. For example, I'll spend 45 minutes of the kids' quiet time straightening up and getting my "nest" all set up, only to find ten minutes later, it's 3:00 and the kids pour out of their rooms ready to rock and roll. To show you my progress, right now, this is what my living room looks like: 

That's the leftovers from a morning campsite, complete with about 45 stuffed animals and dolls and every blanket in the house. And a tent. There's a tea set somewhere in there too. Instead of cleaning it up before I sat down for a few minutes of my own quiet time, I just stepped over it, poured myself a drink (no, not that kind), and put my feet up. I have about 20 minutes before we're up and moving again, but I'm determined to take these minutes for myself. (Remind me of this in the (probably near) future when I'm hurtling through my house trying to make it all neat and organized and wasting precious sit-down time. I need a lot of reminders.)

The first month of summer I felt like I had my hair blowing back all the time by activity. These last 5 weeks (really?!) will hopefully be slower. I'm a multi-tasker at heart (reading while cooking, checking Facebook while watching TV, thinking about plot holes while washing my hair) but I just recently heard a great quote: "There's a temptation to multitask everything but you can't multi-task presence." With a house that gets ten times dirtier in the summer, a book to write (and one I'm quite perplexed by), and another one to edit, I'm going to try to not be such a multitasker--especially when it comes to my kids. This morning, after the camping session on the floor and staying in pjs til 10, we stopped by the library and left with our arms full of books. After quiet time, we have a bag of flower seeds to plant and pink hydrangeas to cut and bring inside. Then maybe popsicles. I think that's a good start.

Learning to Rest

I often have a hard time resting when things around me are messy or chaotic. How that plays out in real life is that in any small amounts of time during the day I have to rest (few and far between, actually), I find myself cleaning or straightening so that everything is neat before I can sit down and rest. Folding clothes, picking up toys, sweeping crumbs--this all takes precedence. Now, I know sometimes house chores do need to come first, but sometimes a mental health break is more necessary than the to-do list. And I have such a hard time getting this across to myself. I do all those things to make the environment around me neater and less messy, to make my nest a little cozier so I can rest (usually read or write) better, but what actually happens is that I squander that rest time so that when I do actually sit down, I have five minutes until I need to wake Sela up or start dinner or pick Kate up from school. It happens time and time again, and honestly, it's so frustrating. This plays into my writing life as well. I tend to get to a place in my stories where things are flowing well, then all of the sudden, it feels like I hit a wall. The usual culprit is that I've been listening too much to the "rules," to the illusive "they" who say you have to pack the story with action, stay out of the characters' heads, use cliffhangers, ratchet up the tension, use third person, no, use first person, keep it light, add more depth. It all adds up to me freaking out and thinking I've written 114 pages of total crap that no one is going to want to read. So I usually start going back through the story and picking it apart, thinking I need to change the tense, use more or fewer POVs, maybe change the setting, add an extra character to add conflict, anything to make things work better. I can spin my wheels for weeks trying to make everything in those beginning pages perfect so I can make forward progress. "Only when everything is perfect and clean can I go forward with the rest of the story."

It's not a way to go through life and it's not a way to write a novel. Well, it's a way, but not a very good one. Sometimes, in both life and in writing, it's necessary to forget about the mess and just press forward. Let yourself rest even if things around you aren't perfect. Let yourself feel your way through a story--even stream of consciousness, if that's how it comes--and worry about the fine-tuning and following the "rules" later.

(I put "rules" in quotation marks because there really are no hard and fast rules. Follow them, break them, it doesn't matter as long as you tell a good story well.)

I recently read a quote by Anne Lamott that I LOVE: "Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns." This reminds me that nothing is going to be perfect in this broken world. There will always be mess, emptiness, and discomfort. What matters is the constant pushing forward to the light. Trusting that the light will come, and it will illuminate all our dark corners.

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.