Back to School (aka the most bittersweet day of the year)

Hi friends! It's been a while. First, a little housekeeping:

It feels pretty self-serving to direct you to my Facebook page, but since you're here to see what's going on in my world, I guess it's not too much of a stretch to think you might be interested to know I post more frequently (but hopefully not enough to be annoying ;) on my author Facebook page. If you haven't stopped by there, feel free--find it here.  You can also find me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, if you're so inclined. 

What's going on with me:

My babies went back to school today!

 

As expected, I feel both relief and sorrow in equal measures. I loooove summer and really enjoyed the freedom of this summer--not having to get up and get going any any certain time, letting the kids stay up late, loose schedules, etc. But there was also the bickering. And the "I'm bored"s. So going back to school is a relief because my kids (especially my 7 year old Kate who LOVES to know the EXACT plan for the day) will have a schedule for their days and I will have time on my own. . . but I really will miss them. And my baby Sela (just turned 5 in July) is in kindergarten now, sniff sniff. I could go on and on about this, but suffice it to say, I'm a little heartbroken. 

However, my time opens up so much now--from 8 until 2:45 I am on my own, which feels like a ridiculously long amount of time, though I fear I could waste a bunch of that time if I'm not careful. I had to be so careful with my four hours a day of preschool last year, and I know i need to be on my guard to not think, "Oh, I have pleeeeenty of time for writing. I can do that later". . . and find myself at 2:45 picking the kids up with nothing to show for it. I want to make the most of my time and do the things I need/want to do, so that when I pick the kids up, I'm not still thinking of all the things I didn't do. I feel like that happened a lot last year and I was always operating with a tiny bit of frustration in the afternoons because my writing/alone time for the day was over and I left things unfinished. Sending *both* my kiddos off to big school makes me more than ever think I don't want to waste time with them feeling frustrated by things I need to do. As everyone says, kids won't notice a dirty floor or unfolded laundry (or an unfinished chapter), but they will notice a totally distracted mama. 

Speaking of writing:

Hurricane Season is mostly wrapped up and edited. Soon, I will receive page proofs--essentially the book all laid out nice and pretty for one more read-through before it goes into production. It's crazy to think I'll be doing this whole shebang again next April! (April 3, 2018! And shameless plug, you can preorder it anywhere you buy books! Here's the link to Amazon.)

After I get over the shock of this quiet house and my brain settles down, I will be hitting book 3 hard! I have a very rough draft of it already written, but it needs a lot of work. I'm excited about it but also slightly terrified. There's this feeling of, "I know I've done this before (twice now) but what if I just can't make it happen again?!" But I trust that I can. 

Events coming up:

I am meeting with various book clubs this fall--some in person, some over Skype--to discuss The Hideaway. I'll also be in Greenville, SC, on August 28 at M. Judson Booksellers. I'm part of their event called Page Pairings, which pairs books with wine--not sure how they do that, but I'm all for it! I know of one author who's going to be there, Joy Callaway, and I'm so excited to finally meet her in person. 

I'll also be in Baton Rouge, LA, October 28 for the Louisiana Book Festival. There are a ton of awesome authors coming, so if you're anywhere near Baton Rouge, come check it out. 

What I'm reading:

First Frost is the sequel to Sarah Addison Allen's first novel, Garden Spells. If you've never read anything in the magical realism genre, this is it. It's not super magical, a la Harry Potter, but it's our normal, everyday world with small touches of magic/mystery thrown in. I love it. And I'm loving this book. It's delicious. 

On my list to read next (ish):

Ann Kidd Taylor is the daughter of Sue Monk Kidd, also known as the author of one of my very favorite books, The Secret Life of Bees, which was the book that made me think, "Maybe I want to try my hand at this fiction writing thing." I admit I checked the book out just because of who her mom is, but the story is really intriguing and I'm hearing good things about it. 

This is another WWII novel, but different in that it's not set in Europe. A woman learns her Jewish father was a sergeant in charge of a platoon of black soldiers in 1940s Alabama. 

 

That's about it from me. I'm going to keep myself busy for the next hour before I run out the door and dash down the street to meet my kiddos at school pick-up. Never have I wanted 3:00 to get here more than today! After today, I probably won't feel as out of sorts (and that fresh new Word document will start calling my name) but today I can't wait to see their faces!

Good luck with school if that's your thing. If not, enjoy the rest of your summer!

Lauren

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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josh

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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hannah

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!

Neither plotter not pantser be

I realize that I run the risk of offending and/or alienating some readers by what I'm about to say, but I'm feeling strongly about it today, so I'm just going to go ahead and say it. I think outlines, especially rigid ones, can hurt the writing process instead of help it. There. I said it.

Now, a caveat to that: I know there are tons of authors in the world of publishing who have a concrete outlining process that works for them. And that's just it--it works for them. It may not work for someone else, but it helps them crank out books, and I'm all for that. I suppose my issue today is with the myriad (it seems) programs and people out there who promise that if you follow their 40-point outline or their all-inclusive "get to know your characters" regimen, or the "ten steps to a writing bestseller" program, you are all but guaranteed a knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark novel.

Pssst. It's never that easy. 

Sure, there are the James Patterson's of the world who churn out a book or more a year--I'm sure he and others like him have a set process that (obviously) works. But as a relatively new author, I know how tempting those programs are. "I can use this outline and it'll result in a full, complete, all-plot-holes-tied-up novel? Sign me up."

I've yet to find one that works for me. They all begin to seem too rigid, too set in stone, sometimes even formulaic. In most of the outlines I've glanced through, there are pretty similar plot points you have to hit, at the same points, and with a similar number of characters. I agree that certain things need to happen in a novel to make it a good story--rising action, climax, falling action, all that. (A "denouement" is in there somewhere--I remember that from high school English, although it's probably called something else now.) Yes, these things make a novel. But everything else is up for consideration, as far as I'm concerned.

I was just telling a friend the other day that before I sit down to write, the story is clear in my head. But, like a dream that dissipates as soon as you try to talk about it, that crystal clear vision in my head goes up in smoke as soon as I start to write, and I feel like I'm fumbling, trying to tie shoelaces while wearing thick gloves.

It's a similar thing for me with outlines. I know in my head what's going to happen in the story because I've spent time thinking about who these people are and writing random notes about them. (As an aside, these notes are everywhere--in the 'notes' section of my phone, on the back of receipts in my purse, on post-its on the kitchen counter, in the margins of my calendar.) I know who the characters are, what the main conflict is, the characters' desires, what's thwarting those desires, and how it all wraps up. But as soon as I start to fit that information into one of those formulaic outlines, all the goodness and spontaneity and magic goes out the window. I'm shoving a foot into a glove or a hand into a sock. Fumbling with the light off.

So, I'm not a total outliner (or "plotter" if you will), but neither am I a total "pantser" (i.e., flying by the seat of my pants, or opening a fresh Word doc and just seeing what happens.) I like to know where I'm going. I usually have a pretty good idea (if not the exact idea) of how the story will end before I write the first word. I don't outline, but I do pre-plan. To that end, I recently read an article by Laura Drake on the website Writers in the Storm that has helped me tremendously with that pre-planning. If you're a writer, I heartily recommend reading it.

In it, she summarizes a Michael Hauge conference she went to, so I suppose much of the credit goes to him, but I love how Laura explains it all. Instead of being an outline, it includes "12 components of a good story." There's no "you must hit this plot-point by page 100 of your novel or else" business. It's not an outline so much as it is a list of points to keep in mind as you are thinking through your story. It's loose enough that I can hang with it, but it also serves as a sort of connect-the-dots. With my current WIP, I'm finding that the more I reflect on my characters and figure them out, the more I can connect the dots. Hopefully that'll help me bring the reader with me on my main characters' journeys from where they started to where they will end--not too tied up with a pretty bow, but satisfying, nonetheless.

 

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor..."

I've just spent a whole precious hour of early morning writing time typing a few words and deleting them. Type, delete. Type, delete. Nothing is coming out the way I want it to. These days, it seems the only time I can get any clarity on what I want to write about is when I'm outside walking. If I can get away for a walk by myself, without pushing the stroller and my two daughters, my brain starts clicking along and ideas come rapid fire. It happened a few days ago. My husband got home early, so I escaped for a solo walk. I wasn't too far down the street before I started seeing my story a little clearer. That's the thing--I think I know what I want to write about--I even have some scenes worked out in my head--but as soon a I sit down to start writing, nothing works! If I could just hook a voice recorder up in my head to catch the brain waves, I'd have my novel written in just a few days worth of walks.

I've been reading through Bird by Bird again. Yesterday, I read about the sh*tty first drafts. (On a side note, I wrote "First Drafts are Sh*tty" at the top of the first page of the first novel I wrote.) This morning I read about perfectionism and how it keeps us writing in "tight, worried ways." That so describes me. I write in worried ways--I worry that I don't know the entire story yet. I worry that if I start this page in this way, what if I get to the next page and realize I should have started it a different way? I worry about a million different things related to the story, when what I should be doing is mindless writing--especially here at the beginning. After all, who knows where, in all that mindless writing, something great will come out and that'll be the nugget that actually starts the story.

That's much easier said than done though, especially for someone who likes structure and order. Messy bits of writing here and there, fits and starts, twenty opening paragraphs--that all makes me feel tight and worried.

Update on THE HIDEAWAY: You can't be a real writer and not experience rejection, right? I have three rejections under my belt--one form rejection from my query, one nice rejection that came from a full request, and one extremely nice rejection (also from a full) that made me feel like the story had a chance. I have about 12 or 13 queries out there floating around in various agents' email in-boxes. And one 50-page partial. I think I've decided to hold off on sending any more queries until more responses roll in. I wasn't even going to send out this many--I was going to start with 6 or 8 then see how they responded to the query. The early 50-page partial and the full request from the one of my top-choice agents (that came less than 48 hours after I sent the query) told me at least my query was good, which gave me confidence to send it to more agents. But I think it's time to hold off now. I feel antsy about it, but I just read yesterday that impatience is one of the biggest hindrances to a writer, and I think that goes for the querying process too.

Good writing vibes for everyone out there sitting in the same place as me, staring hard at the screen, trying to pull the words out of the air. May we all ditch the perfectionism and find the words, even if they're imperfect.

Querying

I've finally starting sending some query letters out! It's exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. My goal was to have my queries sent by the end of the summer, so come fall I can concentrate on my new WIP. At least I'm on track for that. I think I'm going to send them out in batches. I'd hate to send out 50 queries at once, only to make a big change to my query or something and shoot myself in the foot with all 50 agents. If I start with 10 or so, I can wait a little while, see how those go over, then send out some more. And speaking of my new WIP, I'm pretty pumped about it. Pieces of it are coming to me all the time. I have notes all over the place--in my car, my purse, on my phone, in notebooks here and there. I know it's a good story idea when scenes are coming together in my head and I start to get a feel for who the characters are. I'm thankful another story has found its way to me. I was starting to worry, "What if I can't do it [write a complete novel] again? What if the story just doesn't come??" Thankfully, it has.

I have a full few days ahead of me with freelance editing, my parents coming into town, and my baby's second birthday party this weekend. I hope I can give myself the freedom to not obsess about how much I need to get done on the computer and just enjoy myself.

Take care!

Obligatory First Post

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