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. 

 

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

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. 

 

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.

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? 

download

download

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.

bear

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!