Changing Direction

Yesterday I wrote about my ongoing frustrations with… well… everything.

Which is understandable considering that my life is taking a sharp left turn. Change can be painful. But the final destination will be worth it.

For the last few years, on New Year’s Eve, I’ve written my intentions and goals for the year on a glass votive, and burned a white candle inside as one year passes into the next. I like the white color because white candles represent cleansing, healing, protection, and joy. The first year I did this, I wrote very specifically about the type of man I was looking for and the sort of relationship I wanted. Lo and behold, six months later I met Jeremy. You all know how that turned out :-). The next year, I stated my intention to finish my novel and get my health back. I did finish my novel, and as the year ended, my health was certainly improving, but not where I wanted it to be. This year, my intentions were really simple. 1) Find a literary agent. 2) Lose weight and get in shape. 3) Finish the other two novels I have kicking around in my brain.

These are not things I expect to magically happen for me. I may be lighting candles and setting intentions and acting all New Age-y about things, but I get it. My intentions will live or die based on the work I put in to making them happen.

So about those intentions, and the growing pains as a result:

INTENTION #1: Find a literary agent.

My search for a literary agent is going well. I’m getting requests. There are some agents out there who have requested more pages of Good Medicine, so I’m bolstered knowing it doesn’t suck. The first query batch was a testing ground to see if my query was working. It is and I’m planning to send out a new batch of queries just as soon as I’m done researching agents and their current wish lists.

It feels good to do what I need to do, even while it’s distressing to put myself out there and face a potential tsunami of rejection. If I get a literary agent out of this, it will have been absolutely worth all the grief.

But it’s the kind of thing that would cause a person to stress eat. Which brings me to intention #2.

INTENTION #2: Lose weight and get in shape.

Something weird has been going on with my body for about 11 years. After John was born, I had this all over doughiness to my body and even though I lost weight initially, I never looked thin again. Then, the weight started creeping back up. I would diet, lose the weight, and gain it right back. I don’t eat much, and certainly no junk food, but my body didn’t get the memo. I also started feeling like I had adrenal fatigue or hypothyroidism. None of which ever showed up on a blood test. Plus I also had chronic stomach problems, a hold over from a sub cutaneous strep infection I had when I was 17. Then I started getting a yearly episode of bronchitis, and became intolerant to over the counter cold and allergy medicine (stomach issues). I went to the doctor over and over again for all of this. So many tests. They found nothing. So I’ve had to go out on my own and muddle through figuring out these issues on my own.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, I developed osteoarthritis in my lumbar spine, and developed such excruciating IT band and knee pain that there were points when I couldn’t walk up a handicap ramp without having to stop and take a break. This while I was alternating between two chiropractors who failed to find the source of my pain.

I finally found a good chiropractic neurologist who brought me 90% relief. I still have some pain because that osteoarthritis isn’t going anywhere, but I can deal with that. I can shovel snow and rake leaves and travel and walk again. I trust my chiropractor completely now. He’s helped me tremendously in getting my health back on track.

For starters, he turned me on to fenugreek for colds. It thins mucus naturally and my stomach doesn’t mind it. Between that and an inhaler from my doctor, I’ve been spared bronchitis for a while now.

Taking large doses of vitamin D has been hugely helpful for my energy levels.

Spanish black radish has calmed my stomach. As have probiotics.

I tried the Keto diet last year and lose some weight, but not the body puffiness, and after a while I stalled on Keto, too. I complained to my chiropractor who told me the puffiness was accumulating mucin in response to inflammation all over my body. I’d never heard of mucin before, and good luck googling it. It’s nearly impossible to find any mention of it, so I’m guessing it’s not something the medical community at large agrees with. Since I don’t completely agree with those tests saying I was fine, we’ll just agree to disagree on that point. It made sense to me that mucin was causing the puffiness, and that meant I had some kind of whole body inflammatory response to something I was eating. Since it hadn’t calmed down with the limitations of Keto–and Keto is very dairy and nightshade heavy–I figured I needed to go further to get to the bottom of things.

I started researching inflammatory foods and came across the Autoimmune Protocol Diet. It’s an extreme elimination diet of any and all potential causes of inflammation: grains, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades, certain spices, etc.

I figured, why not? Eating only meat, fruit, and vegetables wasn’t going to harm me. So I started the diet on January 6th. It’s been a challenge to figure out what I can eat, and surprise, surprise, my stomach that is never happy with anything, hasn’t been happy again. I’ve been Spanish black radishing and probiotic-ing my stomach. I also added in some white rice (technically not allowed, but I found it soothing), and things have gotten better as I adjust to this new way of eating.

Pro tip: a burger with coconut aminos, avocado, and slices of pineapple is AMAZING.

I’m managing, and I’m starting to see some results. I feel good on the diet and the puffiness seems to be minimizing. I know I need to give it more time. I’m hopeful that if I address the inflammation and the weight gain, I’ll feel good enough to start exercising regularly again. First, it feels right to allow my body to rest and recover.

And in the meantime, I’m working on intention #3.

Intention #3: Finish two more novels.

I have two books in mind that I’d like to write. One is middle grades historical fiction that takes place in 1690. I have some research to do on that one, and although it’s an exciting project, I needed a break after writing Good Medicine. This story will be even more intense to write, and I’m not quite in the headspace for it.

So I’m writing a fun contemporary romance. Although I’m struggling to find a groove writing something modern, I’ve still written 13,000 words so far. Since I have a long weekend (yay for school holidays), I’ve set a goal to double my word count by Tuesday. That seems doable if I focus.

All of this is a lot. But I keep telling myself that the end result will be worth it.

January Thoughts

I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe it’s winter. I’m still a southern girl at heart, and New York winters always put me in a funk. I’m always cold. I rarely go outside. Lack of vitamin D makes me feel grumpy and brittle and out of sorts. I don’t see much of my friends, or anyone else for that matter. Then the existential crisis creeps in.

Or maybe I’m just exhausted by the world we live in. It seems to me that whatever we’ve got going on in 21st century America is the pits. I see people work really hard and never get ahead. The solution, people say, is to work even harder, be persistent, chase those dreams. But once you achieve your dreams, you don’t get the kind of peace you wanted. You just enter a different kind of rat race.

I want to be published. I want to be a teacher.

The more I learn about publishing, the sadder I feel. My girlhood fantasies of writing a bestselling novel and being a full time writer just aren’t realistic anymore. It sucks when your fantasies are pulled up short and given a stern talking to. The best I can hope for at this point is bestselling author. I will always have to work. Even if I get published. Which, from my perspective at the moment, feels like a long shot.

And I (finally) love what I do. Substitute teaching has brought me back into the classroom and reminded me how much I love education. I would have become an English teacher years ago if my mother, a teacher, hadn’t threatened to cut me off financially the day I signed up for my first education class. Her career suggestions (waste management, police dog handler, and CEO of a fortune 500 company) were laughable. I got the MA in English, and then worked a series of soul sucking, personally unfulfilling office jobs, with a brief stint as private school teacher sandwiched in between. I’ve always wanted to teach again.

Now, with my boys half raised, and time on my hands, I could do it. I have heard from other teachers that there is some rumored way I, with a masters degree, could get certified quickly, by only taking a few courses, but literally nobody knows any details about this mythical certification pathway. So I googled it, and yes, such a program exists… however, in order to initiate said program, and become accepted into one of the two overseeing programs in the state, a school district would have to agree to employee you provisionally for three years…

I have watched my friends, who graduated from acclaimed teaching colleges in NY, with fancy. shiny, perfectly-acquired certifications struggle to find a job in local schools. What do you think the odds are that I, with no certification whatsoever, am going to convince those same schools to hire me for three years?

But let’s say they do? Then hello stress. Right now, I waltz into school in the morning and waltz right back out at the end of the day, happy as a lark. And free to go do my life. I don’t have to grade any papers, go to any meetings, call any parents, think about the curriculum, plan any lessons. Nothing.

It’s all of the fun, and none of the stress.

I just can’t stop the nagging feeling I get that I haven’t achieved anything… And being a substitute is a mere half life for those who like teaching. It’s all the teaching without the relationships with the students, the sense of accomplishment and pride, the sense of community in your school, the friends on staff.

I am an all or nothing type of person, so not going whole hog into something feels all wrong to me.

I usually can transfer that can do attitude into a craft project–make something pretty and feel that welcome sense of thorwing myself completely into a project. But even that has fallen short lately. We have a tradition in my family where everyone has a stocking made for them–it’s made of felt and sequins from a kit. In my zeal to leave everything intact for the boys after the divorce, I mistakenly left the boys’ stockings at their dad’s. So a few years back, when I got my wits together again, I endeavored to make new ones for them, for my house. A train one for Sam, because for many years he was train-obsessed. An airplane one for John, because he still is plane-obsessed.

I lost them for a while and rediscovered them recently. I have made several of these, so it’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing. And forgive me if I sound like a crabby old lady at this point, talking about the good old days, but either I’m losing it, or these stocking kits were made by a clueless someone with poor design skills and zero appreciation for the materials. NOTHING is going right with Sam’s stocking. The knots are unraveling and the sequins are pulling out, and it probably has something to do with the thread being made of some weird material that isn’t cotton. I’ve spent approximately 92 billion hours of my life sewing. I don’t think I’ve suddenly forgotten how to make a knot. The appliqued pieces don’t fit the pattern. The pattern is visible where the pieces don’t fit together. Plus, the beading needle provided has a twisted hole that is nearly impossible to thread. My sewing skills are thwarted at every turn. You can’t fix stupid and you also can’t fix a poorly-designed stocking kit with shit materials. I’m so frustrated I might just throw the whole thing in the trash.

I’m trying my best, but it’s hard to salvage anything that was designed to fail.

So I decided to take a break and picked up a book (or six) instead. Because nothing is as calming and transportive as a book.

So I’ve been reading a lot lately– fun, fluffy chic lit from the library. Lots of against all odds love stories with fun characters. I’ve read some wonderful books and have gotten so much inspiration for my work in progress, hopefully another fun, fluffy against all odds romance.

But then, this too, reminds me of my publishing woes… and the cycle starts all over.

I need a new hobby. Maybe I need to go to the gym. I don’t know what I need to do. All I know is I’m so out of sorts.

A Unicorn-Themed Birthday Party (Of Two)

My birthday is on Christmas Eve and historically, it sucks having a Christmas Eve birthday. I joke that the hospital sent me home in a stocking (true story) and it’s all been downhill ever since, but that’s not entirely accurate. Somehow, I escaped being given a Christmas-y name like Holly or Noelle (despite the fact that my mother really put some thought into which French Province I should be–Brittany or Saxony). And my family realized the suckage that was a Christmas Eve birthday and always made an effort to make the holidays fun for this only child/only grandchild and threw me a half birthday with friends at the end of June.

But when you have a Christmas Eve birthday, you learn very quickly that it will never be a normal (birth)day. I’ve learned that the odds of me getting together with friends is about nil while the odds of my presents being buried under the tree by an avalanche of Christmas presents (thus necessitating I wait a day to open them) is at about 90%. I will never know what it’s like for my birthday to be the BIG EVENT of the day, to have endless options when it comes to places to celebrate it, or to get a birthday card without some mention of Christmas on it.

It is what it is, and after 40+ birthdays, I know the deal.

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find a friend that still makes time to hang out with me and, for the last several birthdays, Tahsia has been that friend.

In years past, we’ve gone out for burritos and a margarita as big as my head. But this year I wasn’t feeling it. Without the boys around to celebrate, and constant reminders of all the recent family deaths near the holidays, my Holly Jolly is broken. And loud restaurants and hangovers aren’t helpful in combating holiday fatigue. Also, I knew that after a weekend in NYC, this introvert was going to need days to recover. So when Tahsia asked me what we should do to celebrate my birthday this year, I took a few days to think about it, and suggested a day of crafting.

We were initially going to make a sock unicorn. After a test run (which you can read about here ), I scrapped that idea in favor of something a little less labor-intensive. We decided to try unicorn ornaments instead, and used this youtube tutorial.

I decided to stick to the theme, and got a unicorn ice cream cake, a unicorn candle, unicorn plates and napkins, and a unicorn tablecloth.

Then when I was poking around Michaels for ornament-making supplies, I found these festive unicorn headbands and got them too. Because obviously we needed them.

Unicorn head wear is wasted on the young.

So we drank eggnog and wine, ate from a beautiful charcuterie board, gorged ourselves on ice cream cake ( I made a birthday wish for a literary agent in 2020 on my fancy unicorn birthday candle! I’m counting on you birthday wish-granting universe!), and we made these.

It was lots of fun! And for me, it was a perfect day. I really love nothing more than hanging out one on one with my friends, eating, and working together on a project. It’s seriously the kind of day I live for and the best possible start to my 43rd year. I’m so grateful to Tahsia for making the time to join me.

It’s taken me a long time, but I really feel like I’m finally coming into my own. Maybe that’s a being-in-your-40s thing. I feel like I know myself and trust myself, and really know what I want out of life now and what works for me and doesn’t work for me.

For example, this party. I am never ever going to want to go out with a huge group of people, be the center of attention, have all eyes and attention on me, and endure god-knows-what groups of people do to fete birthdays. Group birthday song singalongs, toasting, singing waiters, flaming desserts, shots, inflatable bull riding, sash and tiara wearing, clubbing, what have you… I’m internally shuddering at the thought. Some people love that sort of thing, and I finally know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am definitely not among them in my love of hoopla.

I like quieter celebrations, and time to reflect on what I want my next year of life to look like. So in that spirit, here is my list of 10 intentions for the coming year.

  1. I want to get back in shape. My chiropractor has resolved the worst of my osteoarthritis pain, and I’m feeling good again. It’s time to work on reducing inflammatory foods in my diet and getting back to the gym.
  2. I hope this time next year that I have found a literary agent, and that I have finished one of the two books I’m just starting to work on.
  3. I need to give myself permission to read more.
  4. Along those same lines, I need to reclaim quiet time for myself. I do not have to be accomplishing something every second of the day.
  5. I want to deepen my connection and friendships with fellow writers and creatives.
  6. I want to travel to places I’ve never been and see old favorites with new eyes.
  7. I think my role in this house is to encourage and facilitate everybody’s creativity–not just my own. I think I’ve fallen into that naturally, but I want to be more intentional about it this year.
  8. I want to come back this time next year and be able to make a list of authors and artists that inspire me, which means I need to seek out inspiration from the world.
  9. I want to be more of myself and quit limiting and censoring my self expression.
  10. This will be a year of explosive creation.

My Love Affair With Aviator Cat

I’m not the only creative person living at the House of Bristol. My son John is equally artistic. He is absurdly mechanically inclined, though, and is interested in pursuing robotics as a career, so I doubt seriously he’ll ever be a starving artist.

In any case, back when he was in 4th grade, he came up with Aviator Cat.

I think Aviator Cat is the coolest thing ever. And I have begged and begged John to write a book about his adventures, because, let’s face it, that whole The First Journey tagline is tantalizing as hell. But he will not do it. Not for love or money (I know, because I’ve tried to bribe him).

John loves airplanes, especially WW2 aircraft, so he’s given Aviator Cat some nice wings.

I wish I could invent cool little characters out of the (literal) air.

I’ve been saving these drawings, not really sure what to do with them. But today I was struck with inspiration.

I reminded John that my birthday is next Wednesday, and said what I wanted from him, more than anything, was a new close up picture of Aviator Cat, suitable for printing on a cotton shopping bag. I adore Aviator Cat for his whimsy (and also because it’s a snapshot in time, if I’m honest) and I want to have him around for a long, long time.

So John obliged.

I made a grocery bag, but then the wheels started turning. The other pictures are so cute. I would die if I lost them, or they faded, etc. So I got the genius idea to turn the images into metal Christmas ornaments. They are going to be adorable and last a really long time.

The internet is also forever, so I’m sharing his images here, too.

Enjoy!

Keeping Busy

The prevailing wisdom says that when you are querying your novel with literary agents, you should do something else while you are waiting on their response.

I am currently working on two other novels simultaneously. One is a complete re-write of my first (trunked) novel, that was such a godawful mess it’s almost a tragi-comedy. I always liked the idea of that novel, and maybe I’m just stubborn, but I hate the thought that something I wrote is sitting out there, in literary urgent care, and I haven’t done my darnedest to fix it. With some new characters, more maturity, a whole different perspective, and a completely new plot, I think I can turn that initial idea into something someone might want to read.

The second novel is more historical fiction, set in 1690. I’m still researching this one. It’s such a minor event from history that there aren’t many primary sources who’ve written about it and I’ve reached a point where I can’t find any information about the part of the story I want to tell. I can probably piece it together from what I do know, but even that takes time.

Plus, I haven’t been in much of a writing mood either. It’s the end of year with all its craziness, and I’ve been sick, and I’m tired, and it’s cold outside, and I just need a break. But since I have all this nervous energy to burn, and always feel like I have to keep my hands occupied, I’ve been doing a lot of crafting.

Last week I made dolls for two of my characters. You can read about that here.

This week I helped out at Makerspace at the boys’ middle school, and those who wanted to craft made these cute yarn birds.

Sam and the yarn bird he made.

Then my friend Tashia messaged me and said we needed to start thinking about what to do for my birthday.

My birthday is Christmas Eve, and ever since I’ve known her, Tahsia and I have hung out on my birthday. Usually we go to a restaurant in Schenectady where we split my free birthday margarita. I usually spend the rest of the day passed out in a tequila coma, and fun is had by all. But I wasn’t feeling it this year. I suggested we make a craft instead.

We decided to do a cute sock unicorn craft we saw on youtube. I had most everything we needed for it, and it didn’t look too hard to make.

But I have gotten much smarter in my old age. Once upon a time, I would have pulled out everything the day of and we’d just have to figure it out as we go along. Tahsia likes to craft, but readily admits that she isn’t naturally crafty. I am naturally crafty but spatially unaware and entirely logic impaired. I was going to have to lead this crafting activity, but I could see how a lot could go wrong.

So smart Brittany decided to make a prototype here and see what we were dealing with.

Smart move. This sweet-looking little unicorn was hell on four hooves to make. So. Much. Sewing. So. Much. Measuring. So. Much. Hot. Glue. It takes hours and hours to make.

In high school, my friend Michael summed me up in a sentence. He told me that if the ends don’t justify the means, I don’t waste my time. You want to know everything you need to know about me? Well, there you go.

This unicorn is cute. But the cute to pain in the butt ratio does not skew in its favor. I am highly unlikely to make another one of these. In a fit of pique–mid hand-stitched hair (gah!), I started googling other sock unicorn patterns and found one substantially easier looking and just as cute.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Ivy and Nellie

I haven’t been working this week because of a bad cold. Since Jeremy just changed jobs, our health insurance doesn’t kick in until the end of the month. I am very susceptible to bronchitis, so I’m being more cautious about exposing myself to germs than I would ordinarily be. Yesterday I started feeling better, so I started organizing my craft armoire, and then realized mid-job that making something with the craft supplies is a lot more fun than organizing them. Sometimes my life feels like an ongoing episode of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I started itching to make a doll version of Ivy, one of the protagonists in my just-completed novel Good Medicine. Jeremy and I went to the craft store for polymer clay. When I got home, I tried to sculpt it into my vision, and that didn’t go well at all. So I went online for help and discovered this handy mold here:

Yesterday I decided to try making a doll with the mold. I had mixed results. You have to fill these little cavities, which are silicone, and malleable, meaning that if you aren’t careful, you can squash the shape trying to pry the clay out of the hole.

Then you have to assemble the body parts. (Straight pins don’t work as well as paper clips for connections.) Bake the clay at 275F for 15 minutes, let cool, paint, and dress.

I did Ivy first.

She is a sixth-generation plant healer in Western North Carolina, who is none to pleased when John, a city doctor, arrives in town and doesn’t hold with her folk remedies.

John is also none to pleased that someone without formal medical training is brewing any old plant in boiling water and calling it a cure.

As you might imagine, this is not a love at first sight situation.

John describes Ivy like this:

“Out of the firelight and shadows, Ivy had lost much of her luster… Her sunburned face and thin frame hinted at the hard life she’d led. Her dress, so deep and green in the Whitaker’s cabin, was drab and wash worn. The fabric was threadbare at the elbows. The skirt was many times patched. Her hair, that had seemed so vibrant and alive in the firelight, was a dull ruddy chestnut in the daylight, and her eyes were now a flat and unremarkable green.”

This is Ivy.

Behind her is one of many images of the destruction wrought by the 1916 Flood.

I was stoked by how close the doll is to the one I imagined in my head. I’ve never tried making clay polymer dolls like this before, and for a first attempt, this is pretty awesome, even if I do say so myself.

I sent the image to Jeremy at work. His response was “That’s amazing! Are you going to do Nellie next?” This is one of nine bazillion reasons why I love that man. He always encourages more creativity. Always.

I figured, why not? So I repeated the process again. The second attempt went much more smoothly.

Nellie is Jeremy’s favorite character in Good Medicine, and many of my Beta readers have been surprisingly invested in her story. She is the nine year old daughter of Ivy’s best friend, and when the story begins, we learn that her mother, Eliza, recently passed away in childbirth.

Just as a side note, some of the characters in Good Medicine are completely fictional. Ivy and John, for example, were born in my head.

Nellie, however, is based on the life of my great-grandmother’s sister, Hattie. Hattie was much younger than my great-grandmother, Ida. Ida was married with kids of her own, living in a different community, when her mother died. Hattie was about nine at the time, with a baby sister to care for. She took over all the domestic chores–cooking, cleaning, etc. and the day-to-day care for her baby sister (who sadly passed away of illness some years later in childhood). Her appreciative father went to the cobbler and bought her a pair of sturdy shoes meant for adults because he said she worked as hard as any adult woman. When a new school was built in the area, Hattie wanted to go, but didn’t think she could because she had to care for her sister. The school teacher told her to bring her sister along, she wouldn’t bother anyone. That is how Aunt Hattie was able to get her education.

(Second side note, Hattie lived into her 90s and I knew her and visited her fairly often as a child. Some of her recollections are part of the research I did for this book.)

In my novel, John and Nellie develop a deep friendship.

This is John’s first description of her.

“He turned to find a little girl standing there watching him, every inch the queen of the wood. She wore a long muslin dress, and her long chestnut hair was unbound, falling around her shoulders like ermine. Around her head was a woven crown of red clover. In her hands, an empty wooden bucket. She looked like an illustration from a fairy tale.”

And Ivy says this about Nellie:

Maggie and Nellie had the look of the Wall women on them. Wide open, intelligent faces. Almond shaped eyes the color of crisp winter sky. The same sourwood honey-colored hair. The same wandering sideways part. The same tumble of unruly curls.”

I had a lot of fun with the details on her.

Nellie’s basket filled with creasy greens and a paper boat.
Her unbound hair and red clover crown.
Eyes like a crisp winter sky. Sourwood-honey colored hair. A wandering sideways part.

So, I said my life was like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, right? Well, now that I’ve made an Ivy doll, I feel like she needs a Hickory Nut to go with her. Hickory Nut is her little brown feist.

And then I need to make a John. But he comes with a dog and a horse.

And Nellie needs her sister, Mourning (which is a name I did not pull out of thin air. It’s actually a family name, passed through many generations of one line of my family).

And so on…and so on…

These characters feel like family to me now.

Don’t be surprised if by the time all is said and done, I end up with a doll for each character and a full scale mountain cabin for them to hang out in. 😉

End of The Year Reflection

I realize there’s a few more weeks of 2019 to go, but I’m sick with a cold, and don’t have the energy to do much more than type. So I’m getting a jump on my end of year reflection. I’ll save the end of decade reflection for the end of the month.

  1. What is something we did this year that you think you will remember for the rest of your life? I got married on January 5th, so that was a pretty monumental day. I also finally finished the novel that I’ve been working on for so long. I’m honestly not sure which one was the bigger deal. They were both life changing events.
  2. What is something you accomplished this year that you are proud of? I am most proud of finishing my novel. I’ve been dreaming of writing a novel since high school, but for whatever reason, novel writing didn’t come easy to me. I came up with the story for Good Medicine, and I have fought and fought for years to pull the story out of myself. When I finished the book in September, I cried through the final pages. It was so emotional to finally be done after dreaming of that moment for so long.
  3. What was the nicest thing someone did for you this year? This is really difficult to answer. Jeremy is constantly doing nice things for me, but I’m not sure I can pick a single thing he’s done. He’s been so supportive of my writing–he encouraged me to finish my novel, even if that meant I checked out of most everything around the house for a month. He took me to NYC to see a play when I finished, because I needed a carrot to motivate me. He went to a writer’s conference with me, even though he’s not a writer (yet). He watches hours and hours of youtube videos about publishing, getting agents, writing queries, and synopses. He is my biggest cheerleader and gives me invaluable feedback when I’m working through difficult parts or trying to make edits. I feel like I’m a much better writer now because of all the support he gives me.
  4. What was the most challenging part of this year for you? Well, I’m naturally shy and hate conflict, so it was super stressful to quit the administrative job I hated, and chuck it all to become a full time substitute teacher. I love being in the classroom, but at first, before I got into a groove, it was nerve wracking and slightly terrifying.
  5. Where is your favorite place you’ve been this year? This is so easy. London. London. London. It’s always been my favorite city and this year Jeremy and I went there for our honeymoon.
  6. If you could change one thing that happened this year, what would it be? Honestly, it’s been a pretty awesome year. I can’t think of anything that happened that’s even worth complaining about. If I have to pick something, I’d say it was when a tree fell across the street and ripped the weather head out of the house on New Years Day (2019 started with a bang! Literally!). We had no power (and no heat) for three days in subzero NY, just days before our wedding. We had to buy a kerosene heater, it was an expensive fix, and a pain in the butt, so it would be nice if that had never happened.
  7. What are the three most important things you learned this year? 1) Money isn’t everything. Jeremy and I both took a pay cut to switch jobs this year, and we’re both significantly happier as a result. 2) I started doing some youtube workouts and one thing they always say is that just doing something means you’re lapping the people sitting on the couch. It applies to workouts (which I don’t do enough of) but it also applies to my writing journey. Every time I freak out that I’m not more successful, I remind myself that I finished my book. Some people never do. And I’ve gotten manuscript requests. Some people never do. It’s so stressful, but at least I’m further ahead than I would be if I was doing nothing. 3) I learned that Spanish black radish is a miracle supplement that calms down my chronically unhappy stomach.
  8. What is something that was hard for you at the start of the year but is easy now? I have learned so much about writing queries, synopsis, twitter pitches, blurbs, etc. I had no idea at the beginning of the year but I did a lot of studying, drafting, swapping, etc. and I feel like I’m much more confident when it comes to writing those types of things.
  9. In what area do you feel you made your biggest improvements? Definitely with my writing. I had some kind of a novel writing breakthrough this year when things finally clicked for me and I was able to see my way through an entire story. I’m working on the very rough beginnings of two new books now, and unlike Good Medicine, that I started without a middle or ending in mind, these two novels are fully formed in my head already,
  10. What is your favorite part of the day? Why? I’m such a morning person. Please don’t ask me to do anything after noon. Except write. I feel so energized at the start of the day and I love to watch the sun come up. It always feels like a blank slate.
  11. Of the books you read this year, which was your favorite? Why? I hate this question. It’s like picking a favorite child. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was probably my favorite book, although not my favorite story (it’s has some really sad moments). It’s heartening to see Appalachian stories in the mainstream and to see a book similar to mine have so much success. I wish there were more stories about Appalachia out there to read. It feels like going home to Asheville. The book I enjoyed reading most was Well Met. Fun, escapist fiction that took me back to my own working-the-Renaissance-Festival days, I literally whooped with joy when I found out there would be a sequel.
  12. What was the best piece of writing that you did this year? Why do you think it is your best? Well, obvious Good Medicine. There’s blood, sweat, and tears in those pages.
  13. What person made the biggest impact in your life this year? Why? Oh, I really can’t pick one. I will say, we live in very interesting times, and there’s a lot of anger and fear and negativity out there. I really try to avoid it all as much as possible and fill up my life with as much light and love and laughter and beauty as I can. I am constantly impacted by all the artists who are putting beautiful, inspiring, joyful things out into the world every day–whether they are artists, crafters, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, singers, etc.
  14. What are six adjectives that best describe this year? Creative, adventurous, fun, settled, magical, furry (omg with six pets, I am constantly covered in fur, looking at fur, sweeping fur–it’s endless)
  15. Knowing what you know now, if you could write a letter to yourself that would travel back in time so that you would receive it at the start of the year, what advice would you give yourself? I would tell myself not to worry so much. That everything happens in its own time, happens as it should happen, and I’m finally on the right path and doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

My Favorite Holiday Tradition

My mom said the first years she lived on her own (and couldn’t come home for Christmas) were the worst of her life. She didn’t have any holiday decorations and couldn’t afford to buy much, and the lack of them made her very depressed. She never wanted me to have to experience that, so from the time I was a toddler, she’d take me to Hallmark every year and let me pick out a couple ornaments I liked. Then after Christmas, we’d hit up the after Christmas sales and get a few more.

When I set out on my own, it was nice to bring a giant box or ornaments with me–ornaments I had memories of and felt an attachment to (especially because they are so expensive now!) They also bring back a bygone time of corded telephones, walkmans, phone booths, etc. All things that were common at one point in my life that are now obsolete. I love the memories they bring back. So that’s one holiday tradition from my childhood that I’ve continued with the boys. Most years I only buy them one ornament (because believe it or not, you can collect so many they won’t all fit on your tree!).

Now that they are 11 and 13 they don’t want to leave their rooms. I managed to convince them to come out with me Saturday to paint pottery, but I knew asking them to go ornament shopping with me on Sunday was a bridge too far.

I got them ornaments anyway. Sam got a cat because he loves cat things and John got an antique airplane because that’s what he loves.

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Book Club With Mom

When I decided to become a full time substitute teacher, it was all about the shortened workday and ability to be home in the afternoons with my boys. I wasn’t able to imagine all of the other side benefits I would get out of it. Chief among them is stories. Every day is an adventure. I am full of stories about what goes on every day in schools. Part of that is seeing what school is like for my boys, and better understanding them and their academic experiences.

My youngest son, John ,is not a fan of most stories, and he would read the first 20 minutes into a book, and decide he hated it. Rinse and repeat for years. The teachers never pushed him to read more, because he did what he was asked to do, and read for 20 minutes a day. But to my way of thinking, timed reading discourages kids from really sinking their teeth into a story and (I know, this is crazy talk) actually finishing it.

So John decided he hated books and reading. I bit my tongue until this year when he started 6th grade. Watching him whine and moan his way through language arts was more than I could bear. John might be an engineer someday but he’ll have to get through high school and college English to get there. He needed to learn a different way to read. And as is often the case, I decided that if I wanted things to change, I’d have to take matters into my own hands. And so Book Club With Mom was born.

John’s been very interested in politics and government lately, and often wants to know why things happen the way they do. He’s also been interested in WW2 for years. So, in looking for a book we could read together, I looked for something short(ish), with simple language, a straightforward story, and maybe, most importantly, a book that would give John a sense of accomplishment after he read it. I picked Animal Farm.

There was much whining about it. But I explained to John that this was not a kid book in any way, shape, or form. This was a book for adults and if he listened very carefully, he would come to discover that’s it’s an extended metaphor for the Russian Revolution.

So we started reading the book together.

I found the audio book on spotify and bought us each a paper copy. We take time every day to listen to a chapter together. Using colored pencils, we highlight parts green for setting, circle the characters’ names, and important parts of the plot are orange. After we go through the chapter, we go back over the chapter to re-read the important parts. John asks questions, I point out things I want John to think about and ask him why Orwell might’ve used certain words or certain descriptions to say certain things. We talk about the narrator (who is surprisingly very opinionated for a narrator), and the different characters and what they might represent. For example, today we talked about the fact that Moses the raven reminds John of a minister, and the Sugarcandy Mountain he talks about sounds like heaven. John said “Oh, he’s named Moses, like in the Bible, too.” I told John that that is a clue that his inferences are correct and we talked about who Moses was and what he did in the bible, which also seemed to mirror his character in the book.

For the first time ever, John is really engaged with his reading and seems to enjoy the book a lot. He asked me today if we could play the chapter all the way through without stopping one time and then go back and listen one more time for the highlighting part, because he’s getting into the story and doesn’t like the starting and stopping. Whoohoo! Mission accomplished!

John doesn’t know it yet, but when we get to the end of the book, he’s going to write an essay with me on the theme of the book. I’m going to show him how to use his highlighting to help make his literary argument. More than anything I want him to be a confident reader and writer. He doesn’t have to love it. I just want him to get through it with a minimal amount of aggravation.

This goes along with something a friend posted on Facebook, too. It was about executive dysfunction and ADHD. The article posited that part of the reason that students with ADHD often have trouble completing a task is because they lack the ability to visualize what the task completed would look like. I think that is part of John’s problem (but I imagine it’s true for many other students as well). I’m showing him (I hope) what it looks like to read a book critically, and then to use that critical thinking to write about it. I’m going to show him what a completed critical essay looks like and go through all the different parts with him so that he feels confident doing it himself.

At first I thought this would be a one book thing, but it’s going so well that I’d like it to become a regular part of our routine. Maybe we’ll try The Metamorphosis next.

Doing It The Heming-Way

I reached 60,000 words of my manuscript last weekend. My goal is to be at 70,000 words by Sunday night. Is it realistic? Probably not. But it doesn’t hurt to have a goal to shoot for. I’d still like to be “finished” by the end of the month, and it’s going to be a long hard slog to get there. I say “finished” because having a completed 80,000 word manuscript is only step one of a ninety-billion step publishing process. I’ve been listing to a lot of podcasts related to publishing and the unofficial publishing timeline goes something like this:

  1. Spend literal YEARS writing a manuscript.
  2. Then have it workshopped, critiqued, and edited by any friends, Romans, countrymen, king’s horses, king’s men, ladies dancing, lords a leaping, and drummers drumming you can happen to rope into becoming beta readers and critique partners. (Start cultivating your list of fellow creatives early on in the process)
  3. Once all of these people deem your book not-cringeworthy, you can either A. Pay for an editing service to go over your book with a fine tooth comb, B. Pray, and start querying agents, or C. Say forget it and self publish on Amazon. (Yeah! Your novel becomes a choose your own adventure book at this point!)
  4. After paid editor goes over your book you can move on to 4B or 4C
  5. Plan to query hundreds of literary agents. Some people query for years.
  6. If the agent likes the book, they will most likely give you edits.
  7. Do the edits. Resubmit book. This may happen several times.
  8. Then your book goes on submission with editors and one of them might want to buy it. Yay! It’s going to be published! (Maybe in 2 years if all goes well)
  9. But first the editor will give you still more edits.
  10. Do the edits.
  11. Wait.
  12. Work on next book, repeating process.

Is it any wonder Hemingway said “Write drunk. Edit sober.” I’ll stick to the drinking, thanks. I’m going to need A LOT of alcohol to get me through this. A LOT.

The next time you’re in Barnes and Noble and you hold a book in your hand, I want you to think about all the pure, unadulterated hell the author went through to get that book to you. It’s madness.

And yet, there’s not a thing I’d rather do.

I have this image that keeps replaying in my head of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book sitting there. (Of course I will emblazon social media with that moment!) Bonus point for starred reviews. And people throwing ticker tape parades in my honor. Ok, maybe not that part, because I LOATHE being the center of attention. But a nice note, on pretty stationary, that says you enjoyed it, and the 11–12–13–15(!!) years it may take before the book I’ve been working on off and on since 2008 ends up in a bookstore was worth it in the end.

Anyway, if it sounds like I’m punchy and out of my head, it’s because I am.

I put my notice in at work. Which was weird. Ever since my divorce, it’s been the stinky, rotting albatross around my neck. I was simply not made to sit at a desk and think about business in any capacity whatsoever. I can do it, and do it well, but it is not what I’m supposed to be doing. However it has been what I was supposed to be doing for so long, that now that I have other options, I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

And I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing my novel lately. Which is also weird. And I’m gnashing at the bit to get it done, partially because I really need a break from it, but also because I miss crafting. I want to go back to bouquet making and open my etsy shop, but I’m struggling so hard to stay focused on one thing and see it through. You really have no idea. I don’t think I’m really meant to do that point A to point Z thing either. I’m a meanderer and a saunterer, through life and all artistic pursuits. Again, I can point A to point Z with the best of them, but IT SUCKS!

Which explains why this blog is so all over the place tonight…

I did have a point to make. It’ll get to it.

Back in my previous incarnation at http://www.re-writingmotherhood.com, I used to complain a lot about how difficult it was to be a mom and a writer. It was difficult then because my two lovely children were hellbent on becoming Darwin awards every time my attention was elsewhere.

Now that they are 11 and 13, I firstly deserve a pat on the pat for keeping them alive this long, and secondly, want to update my complaint to say that it is still difficult to be a mom and a writer at any age.

This morning, for example, I was trying to write. I had my notes at the ready, and was all set to go, when I got interrupted by John, who couldn’t find any shorts to wear (because, ironically, they were in his drawer and not on the floor, or the laundry basket, or in the refrigerator (where I presume he looked, because he looked everywhere). So I get up to help him find the shorts (miraculously apparating into his drawer the minute I opened it), and in the time it took me to do that, Rory ate my notes that I left beside my laptop on the bed.

*insert your favorite string of expletives here*

So I want you to imagine, just for a moment, the mere suggestion that say, our good drunk friend Hemingway would ever be called away from his writing to locate a pair of wayward shorts. Or that one might ever pester F. Scott Fitzgerald (drunk again) to drag himself from The Great Gatsby to make breakfast. I want you to picture Charles Freaking Dickens stopping mid-A Christmas Carol to remind his child to brush his teeth. Laughable right? And yet, when I’m writing, all of that is just par for the course.

The children are obnoxiously needy, but the dogs are even worse. Wrestling right on top of my laptop keyboard, barking to go out, barking to come in again, barking because there’s a full moon, or an empty dog dish.

I’m tired of writing this book in tiny, stolen moments. It’s impossible to go into the deep, sustained writing headspace I need because of all the damn interruptions. I locked myself in a room last weekend and made huge progress. That is what I need. I wonder if it’s because I’m a woman, or because I’m a mother, or because I’m unpublished, that my writing time isn’t viewed as sacred by anyone else.

I’m not doing it anymore. I’m reclaiming my time.

I let it be known, to all who inhabit this house, that if I have announced that I am writing, and have disappeared behind a closed door, and have not made both visual and verbal contact with them first, before they try to have a conversation with me about dinner, or if the laundry has been folded, or where the remote might be hiding, or why they had no matching socks, or whether I would take them to the store, or why they aren’t an only child because their brother is driving them nuts, to first ask themselves “Would I interrupt Hemingway with this?”

(They don’t know Hemingway from Adam’s house cat, so I used Stephen King and Rick Riordan as other examples.)

If the answer is no, they not would interrupt Hemingway, (or King or Riordan) then they are absolutely, positively, most assuredly requested to vigorously leave me the hell alone.

I’m finishing a novel. Everything else can wait.