Release Week! And a Facebook Live Chat!

Hi friends, today is the day-before-the-big-one! Although it's funny to even say that--tomorrow won't necessarily feel like a big day because not much is happening (other than people finding my book (my book!) on their doorstep). I'll take the kids to school, probably go for a walk, and swing by a bookstore to check out HURRICANE SEASON on the shelf. The kids will come home and it'll be business as usual. But I'll have a second book out in the world! The magnitude of that is not lost on me. I still feel like such a new author, like THE HIDEAWAY is still fresh in the world, yet here's another one coming along. I love this story, love these new characters, and I'm so excited for people to be able to read about their world. I really hope you love them as much as I do!

As far as I know, I will be doing a FACEBOOK LIVE event tomorrow night (Tuesday 4/3) at 7pm CST on my author page.  It'll be a chance for us to chat about whatever you want--any questions you have about either THE HIDEAWAY or HURRICANE SEASON, anything about books or writing or publishing or how ready we are for summer! I'll talk more about HURRICANE SEASON, my inspiration for the story, and what got me interested in writing a book set on a dairy farm! I'd love for you to stop in if you can. If you go onto my author page tomorrow at 7, you should be able to see me chatting away!

If you're not following me on Instagram or Facebook, that's where I've been posting a lot of goodies like behind-the-scene Pinterest boards and quotes from the new book. I'll be listing some giveaways soon too! But don't worry, if you're not a social media person, I'll post about giveaways here too. (If you do want to follow me, click the links above or click the FB or IG buttons at the bottom of the page.)

What I'm Reading

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I recently finished two really good books, News of the World and The Hidden Light of Northern Fires. It was interesting to read them back to back. Hidden Light takes place in a small town in New York (actually a town that seceded from the Union, despite being so far North) during the Civil War and News of the World takes place during Reconstruction, although this time in Texas. Both have a type of outlaws--Hidden Light has bounty hunters looking for runaway slaves and News has Indians and a wave of ruthless cowboys in a basically lawless land. I really enjoyed both stories. 

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I stumbled on Anne Morrow Lindbergh's The Gift from the Sea in a used bookstore in Bryson City, NC, on our spring break. I've been wanting the book for a while and was so pleased to find it. Now I have to decide if i'm going to start it now or wait until I'm farther south near the water. 

LAUNCH PARTY

We're putting finishing touches on the launch party for HURRICANE SEASON! It'll be this Saturday, April 7 (also known as TRP's birthday ;) at Little Professor Book Center in downtown Homewood. 6-8pm. If you're anywhere close by, I'd love to see you! 

I'll be updating my EVENTS page very soon with new book signings and appearances (including Page and Palette in June!) so check back in!

Hope to "see" you tomorrow night on FB Live and/or at the party Saturday night! Have a great week!

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

Catching up...

I've received my first award for The Hideaway. My seven-year-old Kate brought this to me a couple days after the book came out.

 

Naturally, it's the best kind of prize. Done novel. Check. 

In case you missed it, I posted photos of the book release party on Facebook--you can find them here. It was a great night, full of new and old friends and great conversation. 

 

On book reviews: 
My general rule for myself regarding reviews is DON'T READ THEM! I do read them if I'm tagged in them however, and I've been tagged in many lately because The Hideaway is the focus of a blog tour right now through TLC Blog Tours. You can see the whole schedule here. It's been really fun to hear people's thoughts of the book, and a few of the reviews have been especially nice to hear because the reviewer picked up on a theme or idea that I hoped would come through to readers. Here are a couple...

"This particular plot has become a classic for a reason – in the hands of a good writer, it makes a powerful (and lovely) story, as it does here in The Hideaway." From Marlene Harris's review at Reading Reality

"The Hideaway and Sweet Bay, Alabama were like additional characters. They held such prominence and beauty in the book, and I loved seeing the history The Hideaway B&B had through the years–first for Mags, then for Sara with Mags, and finally for Sara without Mags." From Heather's review at Bewitched Bookworms.  

I've also had a few late-night texts and early-morning emails from people I know and don't know telling me how much they enjoyed the story and various reasons why. These are so wonderful because usually the person has just finished reading the story and I get their immediate thoughts. One sweet friend who had just closed the book said The Hideaway made her grateful for the beauty and brokenness in her own life. That my story could lead someone to reflect on her life in that way is the highest praise I could get. 

Upcoming events for The Hideaway:
I'll be on Talk of Alabama (Birmingham's ABC 33/40) the morning of May 25 to talk about the book. My first TV appearance! Not nervous at all. (Bites fingernails.)  I have a signing and talk at the Homewood Public Library on July 13, and hopefully another signing or two around Birmingham. I'll let you know details when and if I figure them out. I'll also be talking to a few book clubs either in person or through the magic of FaceTime or Skype. (I'm really excited about doing these!) I'm also working on setting up a signing or two in the Mobile area, so I'll keep you posted on that and any other signings as they come up. 

Hurricane Season:
I turned in my manuscript for my second book a few weeks ago and just received the letter and notes back from my editor! I wasn't expecting it so soon, so it was a total surprise, but a really good one. As soon as I got the email yesterday, I quickly scanned the first part of the letter and was so relieved to see that she liked it! She had only read about 100 pages from a very early draft of the story, and it was a really long time ago, so I had no idea if the story would sit well with her. I've felt a whole new kind of pressure with this one, being the sophomore book. You always hear about authors writing a great first book, then people not being happy with the follow-up. Not that I have any control over how people react to my books, but the goal, obviously, is to continue putting books out there that readers can connect with and that fit together well as a whole. (We want the body of work to be *cohesive* as Tim Gunn would say.) 

Book 3:
I've been thinking ahead to what book I'll do next after Hurricane. (I know, it's crazy to think that far ahead, but since we're already into edits with Hurricane, it really is time to be thinking about what comes next. Plus, I'm getting the itch to write again.) Back in 2015, I was working on another book that I thought might be the follow-up to Hideaway. I decided to go with Hurricane as the follow-up, so this other book is still here with me, and I think I'm going to submit it as my book 3. These characters have stayed in the back of my mind these last couple of years, and I keep thinking about the setting and the premise. I just sent a summary of the story to my agent, and I thought I'd be digging back into the draft of the story, but now it looks like it'll have to wait a few weeks while I work on edits for Hurricane.

Suffice it to say, I'm seriously going to need to work hard these next few weeks of school to get as much done as I can before summer hits and the kiddos are out of school. I long for summer for so many reasons (hello not having to make school lunches at 7am every day) but it's also hard because of the small amount of time I have during the day to write. I think I saw something a few days ago that said my youngest Sela has 17 days of school left. So I have 17 school days to crank out as much as I can! If I can just get myself off Homewood Trading, that'll be a good first step toward not wasting so much time...

Lastly, what I'm reading.

I'm loving Karen White's newest book. And isn't that cover gorgeous? It came out the same day The Hideaway did. She's such a master of telling a great southern story. 

 

I think this will come next. I've read her first two books, The Historian and Swan Thieves, and I've been waiting for another one from her. (The Historian is SO good.) I've read great things about this next novel. 

Hope you all have a great rest of the week as the countdown to summer gets underway...

 

 

 

Release Day!

I don't know what I expected this day to feel like. Way back when, when I first started writing and dreaming of publishing books, I imagined the life of a writer to have a touch of glamour. I guess I was hanging onto images of writers as sitting in cafes, congregating together to talk about the art of writing and their place in the writing world. I imagined what it would feel like to hold a printed book with my name on the cover and what it would feel like to see it on a bookstore shelf. I know now that the writing life isn't glamorous, that some write in cafes (or anywhere with free wifi and preferably free refills of coffee) though I prefer my own quiet house or the library. I also know writing is mostly a solitary pursuit and you're lucky if you find other writers (in real life and not via the internet) who you can talk to about the craft and difficulty of writing, and maybe laugh about it a little. Incredibly, I know what it feels like to hold a printed book with my name on it, and I guess today I'll know what it feels like to see my book on a bookstore shelf. (Little Professor, here I come.)

So all in all, at one point, I probably expected this day to have a little more pomp and significance--but that was back when I still thought the writing life was glamorous. Not too long ago I heard an author talking about release day as an incredibly normal day (other than the fact that all over the place, people are seeing the book in stores and seeing their pre-ordered Amazon box on their doorstep containing your book). After all the build-up--the writing, editing, revising, hand-wringing, beta readers, query letters, rejections. After more edits, editor phone calls, marketing information, cover reveals, excitement, line edits, proofreads, more proofreads. After all the articles and essays you write to get your name out as much as possible, after the reviews start coming in...release day is pretty much a normal day, just like that author said. At least I imagine it will be. I have no essay due today, no signing, nothing I need to do except drop off the kids at school, buy some plastic Easter eggs, have lunch with Matt (and spy on my book at the bookstore!), call the oven repair people, and pick the kids up. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, as my daughter Kate would say. 

Except that now I'm a published author. And man, that's just completely wild. I'm not crazy about a lot of attention on me--I get nervous and awkward and sort of forget how to sound like a normal person, but I'm not nervous about attention on The Hideaway. I still, after all this time, love the story and I'm really excited about people I know and don't know meeting Sara and Mags and everyone else. I'm a tad nervous about the follow-up coming next year, but I'm sure after my editor Karli gets her hands on it and makes her careful, insightful suggestions, I'll end up in this same place--loving a group of people and a little place in the world that doesn't exist outside my imagination and the confines of 350 pages of paper. 

Huge thank you to those of you who've been on this journey with me from the start. And for newcomers, I hope you like The Hideaway enough to stick around to see what comes next. 

 

3 months from today!!

What my life looks like these days (although imagine more cardboard boxes and dust. Lots of dust.)

A few days ago I was cleaning out stacks and drawers of papers (writers have LOTS of random stacks of paper hanging around) and I found my very first draft of The Hideaway! It was like finding an old friend I'd lost touch with. Along with it was the first timeline I drew to figure out Mags's life and random notes I jotted down on a piece of construction paper because I couldn't find real notebook paper. 

I threw a lot of unnecessary papers away (like the foot-tall stack of edits from THE CARTEL (you know who you are...) but I'm not getting rid of these. It's good to keep reminders of all the work that went into The Hideaway. As if I could forget! 

I'm going through all these papers (and closets and kitchen cabinets and under beds) because we are moving. As if digging into revisions on book 2 isn't enough chaos in my life, we decided now would be a good time to move. Just kidding--a little. It is a good time to move--we are outgrowing our sweet little house and want more room to spread out--but I have to work to keep from panicking that I'm spending my time working on the house and not on revisions. I have started revisions though--the break from the story over the holidays was wonderful and I'm kind of excited to be getting back into the story, even though I know I have a lot of hard work ahead of me. Three months until this second book is due to my editor.

And three months until release of The Hideaway! I'm still waiting on the advance copies and can't wait to get them in my hands. If you have preordered the book, it'll land on your doorstep on 4/11. I have no idea what life will be like as the day approaches, but I'm excited to find out. I have heard from other authors, however, that the actual release date is quite anticlimactic. You've worked so hard to reach that day then it comes...and your day looks pretty much like every other day! But I'd imagine it will still feel pretty unbelievable. 

A few links I've stumbled across recently that I enjoyed or that made me laugh:

This woman lived quite a life and had an extraordinary career (including seeing the start of WWII from under a flapping sheet of fabric that delineated the border between Poland and Germany.)

This article features authors talking about how you can write a bestseller and still hardly make any money--or at least, not for a long time. "At times, the entire fiction-writing profession resembles a pyramid scheme swathed in a dewy mist of romantic yearning." 

Chris Stapleton? I'm way behind the times. I just discovered him today on Amazon Music and wow--he's pretty great. I'm not generally a country fan so when I hear about a new male country artist, it tends to go in one ear and out the other because they all seem to be part of the "bro-country" trend (yes, that's apparently a thing, and it perfectly describes the type of country music that really grates on my nerves!) But this guy isn't that at all. He's the real deal, a throw-back to great country-rock artists from decades ago , but also really fresh and new. Here's a video of him performing on SNL. 

 

Lastly, Matt and I have been rewatching The Office and loving it all over again. I leave you with Jim and Dwight. 

End of the Year Round-up

Here in Birmingham, we are sitting at about 50 degrees outside, but word is tonight an arctic front is blowing though, plunging us into the 20s. As a certifiable "cold person," I'm already cold just thinking about those temps. In fact, I'm pretty darn cold here in the 50s, so there may be no hope for me come tomorrow morning. The upside is that it does help foster the Christmas spirit, since it just feels like it should be chilly around the holidays. In the deep south, we know all about Decembers when we run the AC like it's September, so the crisp air is (sort of) nice. 

Since I last posted here, I finished the first draft of book #2...twice. I finished it a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, but a few days later decided I wasn't ready to let it sit just yet. I went back in and reworked a couple bits that I knew needing fixing, then officially typed "the end." My head has still been partly in that story since I was still in my writing workshop the last couple of weeks, but that ended last night so now I can have a true break from Betsy, Ty, and Jenna until January. 

What have I been doing with the extra time on my hands? Reading--a lot! And it's been fabulous. Since I don't have to be up at the crack of dawn with my brain firing on (mostly) all cylinders, I've been waking up to read. (I still have to wake up early. Even though the kids are in school, I love the early morning quiet hours. Plus, I don't want to get out of the habit of waking up early since I'll be back at 5am in Jan.)

Right now, I'm going through a couple different Advent readings. One is Come Thou Long Expected Jesus 

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I'm also really enjoying the Advent readings in this month's selections in Seeking God's Face. 

Other books I've read the last several weeks:

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The Last Days of Night--Graham Moore. I never knew the battle surrounding the invention of the lightbulb and AC/DC current could be so fascinating. This is fantastic historical fiction about a time/subject rarely covered. I couldn't put it down. 

Ah, this book. Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton. First book in a long while that's kept me up reading til the wee hours. All I'll say is it's about a spaceship carrying 6 astronauts home to Earth after a two-year trip to Jupiter. (Two years there and back.) It's also about a man and a young girl stuck in the Arctic tundra. Something big and cataclysmic/apocalyptic has happened on Earth but the characters are so isolated, they have no idea what it is (and neither does the reader). I cannot overstate how much I loved this book. Here's a link to my review on Goodreads. 

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I just finished Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. I don't read much YA, but this was an unexpectedly charming story. The short chapters (sometimes just a page) made reading "just one more chapter" really easy, and Madeline and Olly are adorable. Almost Rainbow Rowell-adorable. It was a quick read, full of loss and life and longing. Smartly-drawn characters, witty, sweet romance.

Next up is either The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield or Leave Me by Gayle Forman. Unless I find something tempting on the library shelves this afternoon when I go with the girls.

Lastly, quick update on THE HIDEAWAY--we've finished all proofing and editing and I'm waiting to receive advance copies from the publisher. Talk about a great Christmas gift! Can't wait to hold it in my hands. April will be here very soon. Also, I met Jake Reiss of the Alabama Booksmith a few weeks ago, and he's just as nice and lovely as everyone said he was. Birmingham is lucky to have him, and book people in general are lucky he's in business. 

This may be it for me here until after Christmas. I'll try to get another Bookish People Interview up, but it may be January before we have hte next installation, so stay tuned!

 

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!

 

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: 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.

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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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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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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.

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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!

The Hideaway comes out in just a little over a year!!

Seriously. I've been throwing around "a year and a half" but really, it's only about a year and two months. That's crazy. So I need to stop saying a year and a half. Closer to one year sounds much closer. In the interest of full disclosure about how this whole publishing process works, I'll tell you about my first official "work" for my editor! (Other than, you know, writing the book.) She, Karli, emailed me the Advance Marketing and Sales Information sheet. This document will help with the titling and packaging meetings the team will have to discuss, well, how to package my book. The title and cover are so important when selling a book. How many times have you pulled a book off the bookshelf (or the virtual bookshelf on Amazon) just because you like the title or the cover is amazing. That's what we're aiming for. The title has to carry just the right amount of weight, has to hint at the story inside without being too on the nose and giving too much away. On the other hand, you don't want it to be so vague that it doesn't mean anything.

Similarly, the photo and design on the cover needs to evoke the emotions you want the reader to have when they read the book. It has to strike the right chords and mesh with the title well so that the reader has a sense of what they're getting into, but again, it's not so specific that it gives the story away. (Sort of like a movie trailer that tells you way too much. I've seen book covers that show two people hand in hand, kissing, in love--then read on the back cover that the whole book is about whether or not these two people will end up together. Well, thanks, you just showed me on the cover that they in fact do end up together, and happily, so no need to read the book.)

So in this information sheet, they had me brainstorm a lot of title and cover ideas; dig into the themes and ideas in the story; talk about the main characters, their physical appearances and personalities; and think about what emotions and "takeaways" I want the reader to have and feel when reading the story.

I realize this can all sound a little silly--brainstorming emotions--but it was really fun for me to get back into the story and put into words what I actually want my book to say, what I want readers to think of it. I'm so very excited to get The Hideaway (which may not remain the title) out into the world and into your hands!

I gave lots google images of what I have in mind for cover possibilities, as well as other book titles I like that could be similar to what we want for mine. Also, because I tend to be a little long-winded (my 30-second "elevator pitch" for the book is currently at about three minutes), I gave Karli about thirty title possibilities. They said I could use the space to brainstorm, and boy did I. I wasn't sure if it was going to be helpful, or if everyone in that titling meeting would look at each other and think, "what have we got ourselves into with this girl?" But Karli said it was a great jumping-off point and that it'd be a big help. Whew.

So, first assignment done. I'm not sure when the meeting is, but she'll let me know how it goes and what ideas they come up with for title and cover. Hopefully, we'll be thinking along the same lines.

 

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.

How It All Went Down

Everyone knows the process of publishing a book is a long slog. Even I know that and I’m still at the bottom of the hill. Maybe a few steps up from the bottom, but significantly closer to the bottom than I am to the top. I always like to read about how a person goes from hopeful writer to published author—who was a slush-pile standout, who had an awesome connection, who got their agent through a writers’ conference or other face-to-face meeting, who won a contest. Because there may be someone reading this blog who also likes to know the order in which things happened to catapult a hopeful writer into “the publishing world,” I’m going to outline what happened to me. (This is also to have a record for me, so I can look back and remember how all this came about. Because details tend to fly out of my head sometimes.) And first, let me say I always wanted to be one of those slush-pile standouts. I wanted to be able to tell other hopeful writers—“See?! It happened to me, it can happen to you too!” I can still say that (because what happened to me really is sort of random and unorthodox), but it didn’t involve the slush pile. (Although I can’t even count how many query letters I wrote that no doubt languished in slush piles all over New York City. In fact, I still get random rejection emails from agents who are really behind on their query letter reading.)

So, without further ado…

February(ish) 2013—I began writing The Hideaway.

June (ish) 2013—got sort of stuck in the middle and panicked because I loved the story and the characters and I really didn’t want to lose the story, so I enrolled in a Fiction Workshop class at Samford University, taught by the wonderful Denise Trimm. I took two courses of this workshop, which was priceless. Through the workshop (and the writers’ group that came out of this workshop), I was able to hone The Hideaway into something worth sending to agents. I honestly think if it hadn’t been for this group of people, I wouldn’t have had a novel worth anything.

December 2013—finished first draft.

January 2014—began process of editing and revising. Some of this was on my own, but a lot of it was with the workshop/writing group. They gave such valuable feedback at every level. Also sent manuscripts to beta readers—some were other writers, some were just readers.

June 6, 2014—I entered a query critique contest through Writers Digest. I had just barely begun tinkering with a query letter (since I knew I was nearing the end of my revisions). I won the contest and hurriedly went over my query letter, taking out unnecessary words and streamlining it as much as possible, and sent it off to the agent. All she had to do was read the query and send some feedback—that’s all the contest offered—but she said she wanted to see it again once I made her changes. Then she requested the first 50 pages. (Cue mic drop.) I sent them.

June 24—With a burst of excitement due to the first agent’s enthusiasm, I decide to query my TOP CHOICE AGENT! I’d researched her, knew she liked and had repped Southern fiction, and I liked her demeanor and humor on Twitter. I crafted an awesome query personalized just for her (I mentioned something she’d recently said on Twitter), and sent it off. The NEXT MORNING at 6 am, she emailed me back asking me for my full. I ran to the bathroom where my husband was showering, told him she requested the full, and then burst into tears. Happy tears, mind you, but I was elated like nothing I’d experienced in quite a while. (Other than my wedding, the birth of my children, etc.)

After spending a day finetooth-ing the manuscript, I sent it to her. Or I thought I did. I actually sent her a blank email without the manuscript attached. Then I realized it the next day and sent it to her for real. Then I sat back and waited for my ship to come in.

August 6 2014—Top Choice Agent sent a very nice rejection email. She gave helpful feedback that I ultimately, as in several months later, took, but she was kind, and I appreciated that.

August 15 2014—Hadn’t heard anything back from Contest Agent about the requested 50 pages, so I asked if I could send a revised 50 pages (I did this a lot—asking agents if I could send revised partials. Rookie mistake.) She said yes.

Between August and end of the year, 2014—I queried a whole bunch of agents. I started off with the ones I really wanted, as evidenced by my querying my TOP CHOICE AGENT first. I went down the list querying the ones I’d starred as ones I really thought would be a good fit for my type of story. Some people tell you to start with your top choices, others (many others) say to start somewhere in the middle so you can use their feedback to finetune, then query other higher-choice agents. I went with my top choices first because I figured I might as well get them out of the way first, then I could move onto other, more likely agents. I don’t know—I had to pick a route, so I chose that one. Hindsight, and all that, but that’s what I did.

October 2014—I had coffee with Patti Callahan Henry. She is the author of a large handful of lovely Southern novels, and she happens to live in Birmingham. I’d been keeping track of her (in a very non-creepy way) for a while, and finally met her at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. We made plans to meet for coffee. We chatted about life and writerly things, then she asked about my book. I gave her the rundown, and she asked me to send her the query and synopsis. I did, and she emailed and asked if she could send the query and synopsis to an editor friend of hers, Ami McConnell, at Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins. Obviously, I said yes.

November 2014—Patti connected me and Ami. Ami read my query and asked for the full manuscript. I sent it.

November 2014—Contest Agent finally sent a rejection email. She gave feedback similar to what my Top Choice Agent gave.

December 2014—participated in PitMad, a pitch contest on twitter where agents request manuscripts based on a short Twitter-sized pitch. I got several requests. I highly recommend these because they give you a chance to hone your pitches, query letters, and manuscript.

February 2015—Participated in SunVsSnow, another Twitter pitch contest. An agent who requested my manuscript during PitMad (and ultimately rejected it) requested it again. I’d made some revisions, so I sent it on with a note saying she’d read an earlier version. She rejected it again but gave me a key piece of advice—she suggested I cut the first two chapters entirely and start with chapter 3, because that was where the action really started. This resonated with what the very first two agents had told me—so I did it. Manuscript now begins with chapter 3. Much tighter and makes a lot of sense.

Early part of 2015—querying, querying, querying. Never heard back from Patti’s editor friend. I read in Publisher’s Lunch that she moved to another publishing house. I assumed my manuscript had gotten lost in the shuffle.

April 2015—I got an email from Karli Jackson, an editor at Thomas Nelson. She told me the editor friend of Patti Henry had gotten had passed my manuscript on to her before she left the company, saying she liked it and wanted another set of eyes on it. Karli said my manuscript was still bouncing around their offices and she wanted to know if I’d have any luck in the agent department. (Cue mic drop #2.) I told her no agent yet but that I had several partials and a couple fulls out and was hopeful. I asked if I could send her my revised manuscript, since what she had still had those first two chapters I’d decided to cut. I sent her the revised ms.

May 2015—Got a rejection from an agent who had been very promising. Emailed Karli to ask if she had any suggestions for agents she knew who might be interested in my type of novel. (Usually I would never ask an editor that, but this was already an unusual situation and Karli had been super helpful and encouraging. I figured I had nothing to lose, but possibly a good deal to gain by asking.)

June 5 2015—Karli emailed to say my novel would be discussed at the next week’s acquisitions meeting. EEEEKKKK! I got on the horn (as an old boyfriend used to say) and emailed all the agents who had a query, partial, or full and let them know of the development. I put *Editor Interest* in the subject line to get their attention. A couple passed right then, and a few thanked me for letting them know and said they’d read what they had asap.

June 6—I looked at some of the Thomas Nelson authors who write women’s fiction and looked up who their agents were. One name, Karen Solem, stood out, and when I looked her up, I was shocked to find that she was looking for the exact type of story I had written. I didn’t know how I hadn’t run across her in my agent search. So I sent her a query and first three chapters, explaining that my story would be in TN’s acquisitions meeting, and that I was still hoping to find an agent who believed in me and my story.

June 8—Karen wrote me back saying she was very interested in the story and would read asap.

June 9—Karen wrote saying she loved what I sent and set up a time for us to talk the next day.

June 10—we spoke on the phone. She told me she loved the synopsis and first three chapters and offered to represent me. (Eeeekk!) I did what I had been advised by every writer’s blog and discussion thread from here to the moon and told her I needed time to let the other agents know and said I’d give her my answer in two weeks. I could tell she wasn’t too pleased with the wait time! (In hindsight, I should have said I’d give them a few days. If they wanted the story bad enough, they could have made their mind up very quickly!) I also told her I was thrilled she loved the first three chapters, and that I was even more excited to know how she felt after reading the whole thing.

In next two weeks, I waited for answers from agents who had queries/partials, particularly one agent who had a full and who I also thought would be a good fit for me. I’d originally queried her back in May but never heard from her. I’d written her again with “Offer of Rep” in subject line.

June 22—spoke on the phone to the other agent I’d been waiting for. She offered rep. We spoke for an hour and clicked really well. She liked my book a lot, had some suggestions, and hoped to work with me.

(FYI, I was at the beach with my family at this time. Totally freaking out.)

2:00—phone call with Karli and two others at Thomas Nelson. Discussed how my book would fit into their audience and vision. Told them I was trying to decide between Karen and the other agent who had offered me rep. Great conversation that left me super excited. They had not yet made the decision to offer me a contract, but things were looking good.

After a LOT of pacing and thinking and making an actual pro/con list, I decided to work with Karen—she’s been in the business a long time, she’s worked extensively with Thomas Nelson and knows the editors, and everyone I talked to about her (other writers) thought it was a BIG deal that she offered me representation. Called her and gave her the news—she was super pumped. Called the other agent and told her the news—she was disappointed, but said good luck. I decided I did not like being on the other side—the one actually giving the rejection.

July 9 2015—Karli emailed me and Karen telling us the team at Thomas Nelson had decided to move forward with The Hideaway. The next step was to talk to the sales team.

July 29—Karli emailed saying they received all the feedback they needed and everyone was in full support of my little novel! (Eeeeekkk!) They would begin circulating all the necessary paperwork and hoped to send an offer soon.

August 11—morning of both of my kids’ meet the teacher orientations at school and I got a phone call from Karen saying she’d gotten the offer from Thomas Nelson—a two-book deal with the first book coming out spring of 2017, next book a year after that. My brain was fried for the rest of the day.

August 12—spoke to Karli on the phone and had a great conversation. She’s super easy to talk to, very excited about my book(s), and we totally clicked. Couldn’t be more excited! (Thinking back on this conversation even now makes me smile.)

Between August and November I tried to be very patient. Emailed Karen once a month to check in (which means I tried not to sound like a bothersome nag but I really wanted to get my signature on the proverbial dotted line!)

November 9 2015—finally got the actual contract. Read through it, talked to Karen about it, then signed four copies and mailed them back to Nashville. Woohoo.

So where am I now? I am not writing! To be more specific, I’m taking time off from writing—time to enjoy the holidays, read, watch Friday Night Lights, notice Christmas before it passes by and is gone for another year. Just before Thanksgiving, I finished a supremely rough draft of what I’d originally thought would be book two, but now I’m thinking I will work on something else in January—a story I previously started but paused because I thought it was too heavy for a second book. Now though, in light of the pain and grief I’ve seen people go through over the last little while (including my own family as my sweet mom has been diagnosed with the beast of cancer), I’m thinking a book with teeth and meat on its bones is what’s in order. It’s tentatively titled Hurricane Season, and I love the idea of it. (And I’m experienced enough with this sort of thing to know that part of the reason I love it is because I haven’t yet really gotten into it, and any book seems bright and shiny and full of hope and promise before you actually begin writing it.)

Until next time, folks.

 

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.