I'm Still Here!

Friends! Hello from Birmingham! It’s been a minute since I’ve posted here on the blog, and I’m sorry for that.

**I’m going to take a quick minute to suggest you follow me on either Instagram or Facebook—I update those much more regularly than this blog, although I do want to keep you updated here as well. For better or worse, social media tends to be a quick and easy way to get information out and stay connected to everyone. I’d love to see you there!

https://www.facebook.com/LaurenKDentonAuthor/

https://www.instagram.com/laurenkdentonbooks/?hl=en


Okay, now, where were we? Oh yes, there’s been a lot going on over here! Glory Road came out in March and I’ve so enjoyed hearing from readers who are really loving the story. As any good parent will say, I love each of my books the same, but this story felt extra special to me. It’s set on the red dirt road in part because my grandparents lived on a similar red dirt road for all of my childhood and it remains in my mind as one of my very favorite places. It felt removed from the rest of the world and I knew I wanted these three ladies to enjoy that same sense of peace and quiet. If you’ve read the story, I hope you enjoyed getting to know these women (and the men that come along with them)—and if you haven’t, I hope you pick it up soon!

Some highlights this spring:

Glory Road was named one of Southern Living’s 25 Beach Reads Perfect for Summer!

I wrote a little essay called Lessons I’ve Learned from my Children…(I Mean My Books)

I had a lovely release party for Glory Road in my hometown of Mobile! My sweet college roommate was the host and it was a blast seeing new and old friends and celebrating Glory Road’s entrance into the world!

My childhood bestfriend Laura, my roommate from Auburn Eleanor, and a good friend from high school Tracy.

My childhood bestfriend Laura, my roommate from Auburn Eleanor, and a good friend from high school Tracy.


I went to Atlanta the week of the release for the SIBA spring show, where booksellers from across the southeast come together to discuss books. I had the absolute pleasure of getting to know Jolina Petersheim while we tooled around Atlanta visiting bookstores and had a signing at Foxtale in Woodstock. She’s in a similar stage of life as me, although her children are younger than mine. We talked a lot about how we make writing work with our family lives and how we want our daughters to see us as moms who love them and also love writing stories.


Jolina’s newest book, Where the Light Gets In, came out just before mine did. It’s her 5th book!

Jolina’s newest book, Where the Light Gets In, came out just before mine did. It’s her 5th book!

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A beautiful crowd at Foxtale Book Shoppe!

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I’ve been meeting with local book clubs too, and Skyping (or FB chatting) with those who aren’t local. If you have a book club and you’re interested in reading one of my books and discussing it, let me know and I’ll try to make it (in person or online) if the schedule allows! I really love book clubs!

WHAT I’M READING:

I recently finished an early copy of Rachel Linden’s next novel, The Enlightenment of Bees. Rachel is another Thomas Nelson author, and I got to meet her in Seattle in January at the ALA Midwinter conference. If you like strong female protagonists, descriptions of luscious food and drink, and international stories, you need to snag this one.

I’m reading Susan Meissner’s A Fall of Marigolds and really enjoying it a lot. It’s set on Ellis Island in the early 1900s, and I’m loving seeing the inside workings of the hospitals there that helped incoming immigrants. She has several more books, including the recently released The Last Year of the War.

Over the winter and early spring I read the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden. This was a case where I’d never heard of the book or the author but the cover jumped out at me. I started reading despite the fact that the subject matter—medieval Russia, in the middle of winter, with fairies, forest spirits, and winter demons—was not what I’d normally want to read. But I LOVED it. I mean, really loved it. The main female character is so strong and brave and flawed, and Arden’s writing is such a joy. Talk about flawless.

WHAT I’M WRITING

One month from today I turn in my manuscript for BOOK 4!

Oh, I guess I forgot to mention—I signed a three-book contract with Thomas Nelson, so I’ll be sticking around for a while ;)

Back to book 4. It’s set in the Bon Secour area of Gulf Shores, Alabama, in an active living community for seniors called Safe Harbor Village. Lily, a young woman whose husband has walked out, takes a hairdressing job in the Village, throwing her into the lives of the people in the community, including Rose, the cranky owner of the Village. The book is complete, but I’m still working on revisions before I turn it into my editor. Then I’ll take a mental break for the summer, then jump back in in August with book 5! Life goes on.

ODDS AND ENDS

Wednesday, April 24, I’ll be taking over the Bloom Facebook page all day, with some fun giveaways and lots of good conversation. I’d love for you to join us! You have to be a member of Bloom to participate, but don’t worry—all you have to do is click to join. it’s FREE. Areyouinbloom.com

If you’re in Birmingham or close by, I’m having a book signing at Homewood’s Little Professor, Thursday May 9, 6:00-8:00pm. I’d love to see you if you can swing by!

I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying these beautiful spring days. I’ll be back as soon as I can to let you know of new events and happenings in our world.

Love,
Lauren

GLORY ROAD, a giveaway, and other odds and ends

Friends! Hello!

It’s been tooooo long since I’ve updated this poor blog and I’m sorry! I have random bits of news, so I’ll start with the biggest (for me, anyway!)…

My next novel, GLORY ROAD, is coming sooooon! It releases March 19, 2019, and I’m so very excited to get it in all of your hands! Of course, it’s available for preorder now, wherever you like to buy books. And in case you haven’t seen it, here’s the cover in all it’s, well, glory ;)

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My editor Kim and I went back and forth and back and forth with the design team a whole lot, all of us trying to get just the right look and—most importantly—feel for the cover. I’m so thankful for a team that not only asks for my input, but is willing to go back to the drawing board when necessary. I think we all won on this one! It’s just so pretty.

Here’s a quick summary of GLORY ROAD…

At thirty-eight, garden shop owner Jessie McBride thinks her chances for romance are years behind her and, after her failed marriage, she's fine with that. She lives contentedly with her fiery mother and her quiet, headstrong daughter. But the unexpected arrival of two men on Glory Road make her question if she's really happy with the status quo. Handsome, wealthy Sumner Tate asks her to arrange flowers for his daughter's wedding, and Jessie finds herself drawn to his continued attention. And Ben Bradley, her lingering what-could-have-been from high school days who's known her better than anyone and whom she hasn't seen in years, moves back to the red dirt road. Jessie finds her heart being pulled in directions she never expected.

Meanwhile, Jessie's fourteen-year-old daughter, Evan, is approaching the start of high school and trying to navigate a new world of identity and emotions--particularly as they relate to the cute new guy who's moved in just down the road. At the same time, Jessie's mother, Gus, increasingly finds herself forgetful and faces a potentially frightening future.

As all three women navigate the uncertain paths of their hearts and futures, one summer promises to bring change--whether they're ready for it or not.

I can’t wait for y’all to meet Gus, Jessie, and Evan. I really had a lot of fun creating and developing these three women.

WHAT I’M WRITING:

Next bit of news…I’m working on book 4! It’s so early in the process, it doesn’t have a title, and it’s still in a pretty fluid form, but I have a feeling about this one. This one takes us back to the water, in south south Alabama (yes, that’s two souths), and so far, there’s a charming older gentleman who goes by Coach and rides in a golf cart decorated with Hawaiian leis and fuzzy coconuts, a young mother in need of a do-over, and a hair salon. That’s all I’ll say for now, but I’ll keep you updated as the writing progresses.

WHAT I’M READING:

I’ve read some good books this fall. Here are just a couple I really enjoyed…

Loved this road trip of memories and music. I felt like I was learning a lot about Elvis, although the Author's Note in the back tells you exactly what she fictionalized and what came right from history. I loved the way she structured the novel, telling one story as a road trip from Beaufort to Memphis, and the other story the other way, from Memphis to Beaufort, but in reverse order. (It sounds confusing, but it's not. The two stories flow together beautifully.)

Loved this road trip of memories and music. I felt like I was learning a lot about Elvis, although the Author's Note in the back tells you exactly what she fictionalized and what came right from history. I loved the way she structured the novel, telling one story as a road trip from Beaufort to Memphis, and the other story the other way, from Memphis to Beaufort, but in reverse order. (It sounds confusing, but it's not. The two stories flow together beautifully.)

This book gets all the stars from me. It hooked me quite literally from page 1 (with that amazing phrase "the tinnitus of technology") and I looked forward all day to the time when I could pick it back up and read more. I loved Eunice and Bomber and Anthony and Laura and Sunshine and Freddy. I loved the touches of magic, which will appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen. Loved her use of alliteration! And her English wit! (The humor reminded me a little of Abbi Waxman's The Garden of Small Beginnings.) Utterly charming and original.

This book gets all the stars from me. It hooked me quite literally from page 1 (with that amazing phrase "the tinnitus of technology") and I looked forward all day to the time when I could pick it back up and read more. I loved Eunice and Bomber and Anthony and Laura and Sunshine and Freddy. I loved the touches of magic, which will appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen. Loved her use of alliteration! And her English wit! (The humor reminded me a little of Abbi Waxman's The Garden of Small Beginnings.) Utterly charming and original.

Right now, I’m reading two books—All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy and the follow-up to Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea. When I need the silence and stark beauty of the wide-open southwest, I go with the horses. When I need something charming and light, I pick up Anne. ;)

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GIVEAWAYS COMING!

Y’all keep your eyes on my blog around December 12—I’ll be posting a special blog entitled “My Favorite Christmas Disaster” as part of a blog tour I’m doing with eleven other authors. If you participate in the 12-day tour, (December 10-21) you’ll be entered to win TWELVE signed books! One from each of the authors (mine will be HURRICANE SEASON)! That’s a huge prize, friends. (Plus, it’s possible I may add a separate giveaway of my own, for an advance copy of GLORY ROAD!!)

I’ll pop back in here soon with details about the contest so everyone knows what to do. I’ll also mention it on Instagram and Facebook.
And speaking of Insta and Facebook, if you don’t follow me there, just know I post there much more frequently than here on the dear blog.

Find me on Insta here: https://www.instagram.com/laurenkdentonbooks/

And on Facebook here:
https://www.facebook.com/LaurenKDentonAuthor/

I’ll be back soon with contest details and maybe some info on a GLORY ROAD giveaway. Thank you all for reading and may all your Christmas trees stand proud and your to-do lists be short!

Love,
Lauren

Return to Regular Programming

There's well over a month left of summer, but for those of us with small kids, specifically in Homewood, Alabama, summer ends this week. Though it's still steamy hot outside, the minute all our kids begin the trek to the little red brick building, the lazy, carefree days of summer are over. (That cacophony you hear is a combination of parental sobbing and celebration.)

I've been both dreading and anticipating this week for a while now. It's been a mostly glorious summer, full of late bedtimes, sleeping in (by the kids), reading, puzzles, lots of beach and pool time, hanging out with friends, and porch time. In the last few weeks, however, things have started to unravel a bit. My oldest daughter's inquiries as to "What are we doing tomorrow? What are we doing after lunch? What's for dinner? What will we do after that?" have begun to wear away at my patience. My youngest daughter spent the first month and a half of summer contentedly traipsing through the backyard in search of bugs and treasures, but it seems our yard's treasure trove has been emptied. And where the two sisters played so beautifully together for the majority of the summer, they're now bickering over things so ridiculous, when I ask them about it a few minutes later, they can't even remember why they're mad, just that they ARE. I think the return to routine and structure will be good for sisterhood, for imagination, for patience, for world peace. 

Another thing--this summer, I *haven't been writing* and it's been such a welcome break. I told everyone (and by everyone, I mainly mean my agent and my editor) that after turning in the GLORY ROAD manuscript back in February, I didn't plan to start writing anything new until the kids go back to school in August. I needed the mental break, time for creative juices to flow again, and I wanted time to read for pleasure. Which I've done. A lot. But now that school is starting (in two days!!), it means I'm staring the blank notebook in the face. (I actually have a new blank notebook. I bought it about a month ago in anticipation of THIS week, when the kids start back and my time turns back to brainstorming and writing. It's purple, and cheap, and this time has 3 subjects instead of just 1. More room to write and scratch out, write and scratch out.)

I admit it, I'm a little scared. I worry, "What if I can't do it again? What if another story just won't come?" I worried about this after THE HIDEAWAY and again after writing HURRICANE SEASON and both times, another story came. But here I am worrying about it again. I do have some ideas. I have several pages in another ratty old notebook where I've jotted down ideas and thoughts about various story possibilities. Yes, one is rising to the surface a little more than the others. But I've purposely held off on doing any serious plotting or outlining until after August 8, because I know once I get going, I'll want to really get going, and I can't do that until I have a chunk of time that's mine all mine. And I haven't had that since May 24th. 

So it is with fear and trembling, and celebration and rejoicing, and yes, plain old sadness that my babies are getting older, that we enter into this important week. We meet our new teachers today, then tomorrow we are having a lemonade stand with some friends, then school starts Wednesday. Wednesday morning, I will take pictures of the girls holding their handmade "First Day of..." signs, hold back my tears as I walk them to their new classrooms and kiss their faces, then go across the street and have a mimosa with other moms who've just done the same thing. Then I'll probably spend that first day wandering around my empty house wondering what to do with myself. 

Maybe Thursday I'll buckle down and start that book. 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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!

 

My first Bookish People interview!

I told you I wanted to try something new, and today's the day! This will be a series of interviews, hopefully coming about once a month. I've come up with a list of questions I think are interesting, but if you have an idea of something you'd like to ask the featured writers and readers, feel free to let me know in the comments. (Which are turned on now, by the way. Just in case you've tried to comment in the past and haven't been able to.) I'm calling the series "Bookish People" because they won't all be writers, but likely all will be readers, and I think "bookish" covers everyone pretty nicely!

So, without further explanation, please meet my first featured guest, author *and* reader Carla Jean Whitley! 

1. Give us a quick overview of the books you've written.
I'm the author of "Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City" and "Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music." In other words, I'm interested in history unlike that you've seen in your textbooks! 

2. What's the hardest or best criticism you've received, either after your books were published or as you were editing, revising, and getting feedback.
Even a very good editor needs an editor. A reader noticed I wrote "Buffalo Springsteen" instead of "Buffalo Springfield" in my first book. Oops. Don't worry, I requested a correction in subsequent printings.

3. Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night gimme-a-piece-of-paper-now? Or something in between?
When I'm in the midst of a book project, I have to set aside daily time or else I won't meet my deadline. I typically wrote an hour or two each evening and seven hours a day on weekends. I work a full-time and several part-time jobs, as well, so this meant lots of planning! Typically, I would take an hour away from any screens or work obligations when I got home from the day's activities. That would leave me at least partly refreshed and ready to write.

4. From what I understand, your publisher came to you and asked you to write your first two books. If you could choose the topic of your next book, what would you most like to write about?
That's true, but I had some say in both cases. Beer and music are both topics I've written about a lot in the past, and so it was fun to delve into them more deeply through these projects.
However, you're also right to think I might do something a little different next time. My passion is telling people's stories. Both of these histories touched on that, but each individual's role was portrayed in necessarily short glimpses. I'd like to dive deeply into a single person's compelling narrative.

5. Because I know you are a *major* reader, what's the strangest/most inappropriate place you've ever brought a book? (For example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc)
Are there inappropriate places to read? Really?! Growing up, my sisters and I were often allowed to bring books to restaurants. I am all too acquainted with the act of reading in the bathroom. But perhaps the incident most people found surprising was when I read John Green's "Paper Towns" during a Stevie Wonder concert. (You can find the full story at carlajeanwhitley.com.)

6. Tell me a few recent books you've read that you really liked.
Have you read any of Brad Meltzer's Ordinary People Change the World series? I encountered these while researching children's books that deal with Alabama history, and I adore them. Meltzer, who also writes adult thrillers, profiles historical characters and emphasizes how we all can make a difference. The books are easy to read, accessible and include resources for additional learning. I want them all! 

7. Can you name a book you liked that you didn't think you would--maybe because of the subject matter, or an author you didn't think you enjoyed, or a genre you weren't used to reading.
Short story collections rarely resonate with me, but I thoroughly enjoyed Helen Ellis' "American Housewife." The collection started with a series of tweets, and the resulting stories are hilarious.

8. What are your pet peeve as a reader--something you read in books that really bugs you? (For example, one of my reading pet peeves is when someone misspells y'all. Especially if it's a southern author!)
I'm with you on the incorrect punctuation of y'all--it leaves me batty! I have put down books before when author misused semicolons. I'm not kidding; I feel strongly about this punctuation mark, and I recently got it tattooed on my right wrist. There are several layers of meaning, but for me, it started with this pet peeve.
My latest pet peeve, though, is an overuse of -ing words. My students and I have discussed this at length this semester, and I'm guilty. Now I can't help but see the same in others' writing!

9. Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?
Today I updated my e-reader with a couple of library books. But truly, I'm a print person; today I also bought seven books at my favorite used bookstore, McKay in Nashville. As a professional, I'm platform agnostic, but personally, print please. The same goes for calendars. I tried going digital for a few years, but it never felt right.

10. Chocolate or vanilla? 
Vanilla. 100 percent.

11. Coffee or tea? Or something else?
I'm a coffee addict! But many people are surprised that I average a cup-and-a-half a day. I guess I express my feelings so strongly that people expect I drink pots at a time. I also love herbal tea, though, and could go for a cup right now.

12. Tell me what you're working on now. 
Besides the aforementioned cup of tea? I'm not in the midst of a big writing project. Rather, I'm trying to create wider margins so I might be better attuned when the next big story comes along. Because I keep so many balls in the air and I'm a people pleaser, I'm prone to focusing on obligations rather than my dreams. I want to not only dream more, but also chase those pursuits.

You can find Carla Jean on all of the major social media hangouts and her website

Thanks Carla Jean and thank you for reading! 

 

Going to try something new...

I used to read a lot of blogs. I mean, A LOT. It was back when I worked full-time, and now that I think about it, it's kind of funny to me that I had WAY more time to read blogs when I had a full-time job than when I lost my job and came home. I had a list of blogs as long as my arm and checked each of them daily. Once I had kids and stayed home, not to mention started this book-writing thing, my time to read blogs spiraled downwards. These days, my "downtime" is limited so I have to be careful about the ones I do read. And I choose blogs that are either extra funny, entertaining, encouraging, or informative. I wonder how my little blog ranks on those criteria??? 

I've been thinking about what to do with this blog--how to make it worth your while to come here and check things out. One thing I love on other blogs I read is when the blogger interviews other people. Most of the blogs I read are reading or writing related, so those interviews tend to be with authors and readers. And if you're reading this blog, it likely means you know I have a book coming out soon (April! And another one coming the next April!) and you are probably at least somewhat interested in books and writers. (Or maybe you're just interested in me, and that's okay too!) 

My point is, I'm thinking of including some interviews with bookish/writerly people here. I love interesting questions, not just the run-of-the-mill "When did you start writing?" and "How did you come up with your idea?" If you'd be interested in interviews/highlights like this, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Or if there are specific questions you'd like me to ask future interviewees, let me know that too. 

I think this could be fun! 

Hope y'all have a great weekend.

Interstate podcasts

With my parents living in Mobile, my brother and his family in Atlanta, our beach house in Florida, and us in Birmingham, I spend a decent amount of time driving on the interstate. I used to listen to music, but at some point, I made the switch to podcasts. I thought I'd share some of my favorite podcasts--the ones I always download before hitting the road for a trip. In fact, I will be doing just that in the next day or so as we prepare for our last beach trip of the summer. (Sniff, sniff.)

Writers on Writing--interviews with authors, literary agents, editors (although mostly authors.) 
**Last weekend, I listened to one of the best author interviews I've ever heard. They interview Marcus Zusak, author of The Book Thief. He talks a lot about his writing process, how he decided on the unique narrator of The Book Thief, and how his books (and this one in particular) fits into the culture of the day. It's so, so good and encouraging for writers. And if you're not a writer but have read The Book Thief, a great insight into the mind of the man who created such an amazing book. (It's # 18 on the link above.)

Between the Covers--more author interviews. **I recommend starting with the interview with Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins

A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment--Conversations between authors Jess Walter (see above) and Sherman Alexie. They talk about everything from books and authors to music, dating, and formative childhood and teenage experiences (usually hilarious and embarrassing). There's a lot of humor, bad language, and heartbreak. Unfortunately, they've taken a hiatus while they're working on other things--at least I hope it's a hiatus and not a permanent break--but you can still listen to all their old episodes. They're so good. 

NPR Fresh Air--Most everyone knows what this is, so no explanation needed. Some of the best I've heard recently: John Krasinski, Tom Hanks, and Bryan Cranston, aka The One Who Knocks.

Elizabeth Gilbert's Magic Lessons. Try starting with the interview with Brene Brown. The only problem is that listening to Brene Brown talk--about anything--makes me want to pull the car over so I can scribble down everything she's saying. 

Beautiful Writers--I have to say up front, this one can get a little hippie-dippie for my taste (don't ask me to explain hippie-dippie) but the interviews with writers and book-people are really good. The one with Brene Brown is fantastic (I swear, everything that woman says about creativity and pursuing passions makes me want to pump my fist. Or cry, depending on the day.) So is the one with Robert McKee (king of screenwriting, writer of Story). Actually this one should be required listening for writers. Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) is great, as is Dani Shapiro, one of my favorites.

Lastly, for the non-writers, the folks just looking for a good time, a few laughs, and maybe a recipe for great cake pops, check out The Popcast with Jamie Golden and Knox McCoy. If it sounds familiar, it's because I've written about it before. They're hilarious and heartfelt and irreverent (but not too much.) They told me once that they were taking seriously my suggestion to dive into the world of The O.C for an episode. I'm still waiting, just saying.

If you know of others I should add to the list, please let me know! I'm always looking for new ways to distract myself on boring interstate drives. 

 

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. 

 

Why I Write

I went to the Hoover Library Southern Voices festival a couple weekends ago and heard a bunch of authors talk about their books, their writing processes, and their paths to publication. It's always such a boost to be in a room full of other people who understand how hard it is to write--to say what you want to say in the way you want to say it--and how hard the road is to getting those words out to people other than your family and critique readers. Thinking of how hard that road is and how long it takes (or at least, how long it took me), I started wondering--why do I want it? Why do I write in the first place, why did/do I care about getting my stories out into the public? Why not just write for myself? Plenty of people do that--work for years or their whole lives on stories that no one will read but them and they are satisfied with that. Why did I feel the need and desire to push my stories out into the wider world?

It's not vanity--trust me on that. The fact that my stories going out into the world will require me to actually go to places and talk about them--in front of other people...well, let's just say I'm forcibly pushing those thoughts out of my head until it actually happens. I'm thrilled at the prospect of people maybe actually liking my book when it comes out and wanting to talk to me about it, or hear me talk about it, but at the same time, it kind of makes me want to throw up. I'm not super comfortable talking in front of a small group of people, much less a roomful of book clubbers I don't know!

Suffice it to say, I'm not in this for vanity or glory. The only way I can explain it is connection. I want to write stories that make people say, "Me too! I feel that too!" and maybe even "I'm not alone in this." That's what I love most about reading. That moment when I'm reading a book and the character's words echo something deep inside me--maybe even a feeling I have but haven't figured out a way to put it into words. It makes me say, "Yes! That's it!" It's that moment of connection, that thought that I'm not alone in feeling whatever it is--that someone else feels it or notices it or has experienced it too. THAT is what I want for readers of my books. I want my stories to translate to people who haven't necessarily gone through the same experiences in my books, but who've had the feelings that go along with the experiences.

So that's why I write. On hard writing days, or days when I get difficult feedback, or when I realize I'm going to need an extensive revision, or when I want to shut my computer and walk away--on days like those, it's helpful to remember why I'm doing it. No woman is an island, so these experiences and emotions I pour into my stories aren't just for me. Yes, there are 33 million books available on Amazon (a staggering number I just heard recently), but there is a place for mine, and hopefully readers for them.

 

Friday 5: Books, Pizza, & Gloria Steinem

  1. Hoover Library's Southern Voices book/writing festival is this weekend. It's a dream for writers and book lovers. I'm excited about all the authors, because even if I'm not familiar with their books, they are always great speakers who talk about their books and writing processes in ways that interest and engage both writers and non-writers. I'm most excited to see husband/wife team Tom Franklin (author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) and Beth Ann Fennelley (they wrote The Tilted World together), and debut author Laura Lane McNeal (author of DollBaby.)

pizza
pizza

2. I made homemade pizza the other night for the first time. Well, homemade in that I bought fresh dough from Publix. I was so excited--my neighbor made pizza with the fresh dough a few nights before and it was a big hit. I bought the ingredients, things the girls would eat, the right kind of pesto and pizza sauce, let it proof for the specified amount of time, poured my beer (pizza and beer, right?) and rolled that baby out.  

Seriously. I couldn't get it any bigger than that. My neighbor halved her dough (the same amount I got) and it made TWO pizzas. Yes, I did something wrong but for the life of me, I still don't know what. I eventually got it a bit bigger, added the toppings and baked the thing, and it actually was really good. Next time, I'll buy two bags of dough.

3. Apparently, Lands End is in some hot water for a photo spread in a recent catalog that featured Gloria Steinem talking about women's rights. I saw the catalog and didn't think anything of it. It's not that she was indecently dressed or anything--it's just that by using her image (and I think offering to monogram tote bags with the ERA (equal rights amendment) logo), shoppers saw Lands End as endorsing Gloria and myriad other things she stands behind, such as abortion rights. Well, cue irate shoppers vowing to cancel Lands End orders and pledge their allegiance to competitor L.L. Bean.

Seriously.

Lands End offered this as part of their statement/apology: "It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue."

Newsflash Lands End--you couldn't have chosen a MORE divisive or polarizing person to include in your magazine. Did you think all of America would love it? Half love it, half hate it. Now, instead of backtracking and apologizing, thereby offending all the people who you just made happy by including Gloria, now they are mad at you too! Pick a stance and stick with it.

The whole thing just seemed so ridiculous to me. And for the record, I am a pro-life Christian and I am NOT returning the gorgeous swimsuit I just ordered from Lands End. Do you know how hard it is to find a flattering swimsuit that fits right, can actually get wet without doing something weird, and doesn't cost a million dollars? (Such an un-feminist thing for me to say, I know.)

4. On to other things.

Y'all, writing is so hard. I don't know why I chose this as my THING. Why couldn't I have chosen knitting? Or origami? Or tennis--I could have gone back to tennis! Or even ghostwriting--I could figure out someone else's plot holes all day long, but my own?? Impossible.

If you can't tell, I'm having a wee bit of a struggle in my manuscript. It's called "the dreaded middle." Apparently, this is my thing. I steamroll through the first 100 pages or so, then get stuck, then have to fight my way out. It happened to some degree with The Hideaway, but it doesn't make it any easier the second time. I care about this story and the characters and I really want to get it out and polish it and send it out into the world, but the getting there--oh man, it's such a fight. As someone (maybe Anne Lamott??) said once, "I love having written." I don't always love the actual writing, but I do love it when I'm finished.

5. Lastly, clearly my daughter is a genius.

math
math

Have a great weekend!

Learning to Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IMG_2038

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

2. This book.

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IMG_2037

Read it. (Sorry for the doodles across the front--courtesy of my 3 year old.) I think you could glean oodles of wisdom out of it even if you’re not a writer. It has such beautiful nuggets tucked in on every page that apply to life as a whole. It blows me away with its wisdom and grace every time I pick it up. I mean, listen to this: “Middles are where you have to tough things out. Ideas fall apart. All that promise vanishes when facing the cold, harsh light of making something out of it. Middles challenges us to find our tenacity and our patience, to remind ourselves that it is within this struggle—often just at the height of hopelessness, frustration, and despair—that we find the most hidden and valuable gifts in the process. Just as in life.” See what I mean?

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

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

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

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

See you next week, friends.

Writing as a balm for real life

I began this blog as a way to document my journey to what I hoped would be publication of my first novel. Things are good in that realm, and while I wait for the official okay to give more details about that, I need to write about something in my non-writing life, because of how it will affect my writing life. I’ve just found out my mom has cancer. And it’s likely pretty advanced. To say it’s heartbreaking is a profound understatement. I was thinking about it yesterday on a long solo (as in stroller-less) walk I took yesterday afternoon. So far in my life, probably the hardest thing that’s happened to me is our “journey” (sometimes I hate that word) through infertility. But that process was a slow dawning of realization, a creeping acceptance that took time—months, years—then finally, it was over. But this? A kick in the gut that came out of nowhere. We were all tra-la-la,-ing through life, then BAM. We all (the four of us and my brother and his family) dropped everything and drove home to see my parents on Friday forty-eight hours after hearing the news. We don’t know many details yet—hopefully more will come soon. Because if waiting for fertility procedures and waiting for publication news is hard, it’s nothing like waiting to hear your precious mom’s diagnosis and prognosis. It’s excruciating.

Interestingly, ideas for both my current story and the one I’ve put on pause until I finish this one have been coming fast and furious over the last few days. I’ve been scribbling notes hither and yon, little bits of conversation, small snapshots of life in these places I’ve created in my mind. Little things I don’t want to forget, so I can run back to the computer and type them up. I’m also thinking of books I want to read. It’s like I’m mentally stacking them up, saving them for later when things are hard and shutting my brain off is preferable to real life. I’m making a list in my head of very non-scary books—things like The Rosie Project. A Walk in the Woods. Maybe rereading Where’d You Go Bernadette. Good books, but nothing that will make me cry.

I realized this weekend that reading and writing—two of my favorite things—may help get me through this. They, along with copious amounts of prayer, may serve as my coping mechanisms. Yes, I realize it’s unhealthy to shut down when things get hard, but it’s also a form of self-preservation. Reading has always been a form of escape for me—a way to shut out real life or a long day and let myself get carried away with someone else’s story. Writing is my way of creating those stories for other people. Additionally, the thought of giving my mom something great to read while she’s in treatment gives me even more motivation to keep my butt in the chair and write as much as possible. Finish this draft of my WIP so I can polish it, then start on the next. For me and for her. Keep them coming, so she’ll have fun things to read and I can have this imaginary dream world to escape to when my own world is too harsh and jagged. Keep writing and keep praying—not just for healing and faith, peace and strength, but also for the real end—for Jesus to return to get us all out of this mess. Life is beautiful, but sometimes it feels like walking on broken glass with bare feet—hopping around trying to dodge the pain, but knowing it’s coming sometime. It’s also not home. I long for home more and more every day. Reading stories where things mostly work out in the end, and writing those same stories, is a way to bring a little bit of heaven to readers—and to myself. The books I read and the ones I write aren’t heavenly by any means, but they speak of love and family, community and hope. We surround ourselves with those things to stave off evil in the world—evil that comes to us through news reports of faraway places, and evil that comes to us through an innocuous phone call on a Wednesday morning about something, someone very near to us that changes our world.

I’m not always very good at dealing with emotions—especially hard ones, like grief and sadness. I don’t like to cry, especially not in front of other people. But right now, say the wrong thing to me, and the tears come faster than I can blink them away. It may be like that for a while. Who knows, I may be like that from here on out! But I also know things that help. Prayer is one. That’s where I find hope and peace, so it is—He is—where I go when I need to drink from water that heals—or at least band-aids—my broken heart. My husband is one—he’ll likely be the one who takes the brunt of my pain so I can put on somewhat of a brave face for the world.

And reading and writing will help too. Discarding my own life for even just a few minutes and putting on someone else’s, dealing with someone else’s hardships, humor, and mysteries instead of my own. Being choosy about what I read. Creating stories that end just how I want them to. Life doesn’t give us that option, so I’m thankful I have a “job” that allows me to choose how to things work out in the end. I’m also thankful that ultimately, things will work out—there will be peace, joy, healing, and no more tears. A gut-punch like this reminds me even more to pray for that day to come swiftly. While I wait—for all kinds of news—I’ll keep creating stories that give other people a chance to lay their burdens down and escape.

On Life-Balancing and the Social Media Vortex

I have a very inconsistent relationship with social media, in all its forms. I love the people-stalking aspect of Facebook—it’s how most people relay information: new babies, weddings, career changes, what they had for dinner last night. I love the lack of status updates on Instagram. There’s no “your friend Sheila liked this,” followed by a random news article from a site called “The Realest News on the Planet—Seriously.” I love the tiny snippets of info on Twitter—bite-sized nuggets my mind can take in and spit out, with not much making a lasting impression. What I don’t love about social media is the addiction. Yes, I said addiction. If someone is addicted to alcohol or marijuana or whatever else, don’t they often say something like: “I can handle it. Just a little bit won’t hurt this time”? Ever said to yourself, “I’ll just take a peek for a few minutes while I wait for the oven to warm up/the kids to get their shoes on/the mechanic to change the oil” then find yourself still scrolling half an hour later? When that happens, can you honestly say you read something that changed your world? That altered your views on something? That made a change in your heart that is real and lasting? Or does it just make you compare yourself to all the slick photos, the peppy status updates, and the celebrations of accomplishments?

I’m asking these questions rhetorically, of course, and I’m not even really asking you. I’m preaching to myself. I slip into the internet vortex all the time, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. It’s a way to turn your brain off, to go slack, to tune out. The problem for me is when I find myself tuning out when my family is around. When the kids are around. When I should be doing other things. Oftentimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it—it’s not until someone calls my name that I realize I’ve slipped. And then comes the guilt. All at once, all those articles I’ve read about unplugging and hands-free parenting come flooding back to me and I feel like the most miserable speck of a mother, wife, human.

“My mom didn’t have to deal with this addictive distraction!” I’ll think, wishing I were parenting back before the internet. But I suppose those parents probably had their own means of distraction. TV? Books? Who knows? (Speaking of books, I don’t feel nearly as guilty if I’m “caught” hiding in the kitchen with my nose in a book. I figure if my kids see me so enthralled in reading a book, maybe that’ll push them even more toward a life of books and reading, something that would thrill me to no end.)

As a writer, social media is important. Twitter, especially, has been very valuable to me over the last couple of years. It’s a fantastic way to hear from other authors, to learn about what agents and editors are looking for, and to keep up with trends and changes in the publishing industry. Authors use Facebook as a way to give updates on upcoming books, book tours, and their writing lives. Can you be a writer and not be on social media? Of course you can. It might even be advantageous, to some degree. For example, writing my first two novels was easier, in many ways, than the one I’m working on now. Reason? I wasn’t on Twitter very much, therefore I didn’t read all those articles on the importance of the first line, the first five pages, and the first chapter; the hook, logline, and elevator pitch; the narrative arcs, inciting moments, and plotting devices. However, now that I know these things, I can’t un-know them. They inform my writing, but they also hinder the almost stream of consciousness writing that’s no necessary in a first draft.

Yet I think Twitter and FB are too important for me to cut them completely out of my life as a writer. With the book news that’s coming soon (I know, I know, annoying vagueness—details to come, I promise), I’ll just have to figure out a way to absorb the necessary information (while filtering out the junk) and connect with readers as much as possible while not letting it take over my life and all my time. How I’ll do that, I’m not sure. But I have to try. I’m an adult raising children—if I’ve learned anything, it’s how to balance several things at once. I don’t always do a good job, but it’s the trying that counts, right? Isn’t that what we teach our kids? Don’t throw in the towel, don’t be satisfied with a half-hearted effort. This life-balancing stuff definitely requires a full-hearted effort.

I was reading Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing this morning and she again wrote something that made me pull out my pen and take notice. She talks about being present both in the life you’ve created in your mind (in whatever story you’re writing) and in the life that’s happening all around you. She says, “Because if I’m present, I will miss nothing.” My mind amended that to say, “If I’m in my present, I will miss nothing.” Slipping into the social media vortex and absorbing all those photos, status updates, and tweets only results in me being present in someone else’s life. I’d rather be present in my own, thank you very much. What’s so important about anyone else’s life that it keeps me from living my own? Even if at that moment, living my own life means waiting patiently while the oven warms, the kids get dressed, or the mechanic changes the oil. That’s my life, and if my eyes are open to what’s around me (instead of down at what my fingers are scrolling through), I will miss nothing.