It seems I have dropped the ball here lately, and I’m sorry–but it’s all for exciting reasons.
I received my developmental edits for The Order of the Key, and they were. . .a lot. But they were all amazing and thought provoking and the novel is so much better now that I’ve made them. On top of working on those, I’ve begun working on forming a marketing plan for the book, as these things don’t just happen, and small publishers have less resources in this area.
So, I’ve been reading up on publicity and marketing practices, and have worked out the beginnings of a plan. And I’m really excited for it.
Then, I got my line edits for Order. And I. Am. Tired.
All of this + the holiday season, means that while I ended up abandoning my PeWriMoMo adventure in November, I probably wrote the requested word count in just new and rewritten scenes. But I didn’t keep track. Not really. So there that wonderful idea went.
I was going to wait until I was finished with my line edits to give you guys an update, but I realized what an important time we were in, and I didn’t want to miss out on the recap.
This decade has been very kind to me. In the last ten years, I became a mother. My relationship with my husband has grown stronger than ever. I stepped into my own as an author. I built my career as an editor. Sold seven short stories, two personal essays, one article, and a novel, the same novel, to three different publishing companies–although, this will be the first one to actually publish it (small publishing can be a damned landmine, you guys). I have found an amazing day job with incredibly supportive people. I have continued my relationships with my family, both born and found, and built on them some more. I have forged such wonderful relationships. I have found my writing tribe.
This decade has also been pretty harsh to me. I received rejection after rejection on things I thought were destined to be successful. I have struggled with the aftermath of sexual assault. I have helped my wonderful, amazing son battle Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Depression and Anxiety, and he has done so like a dang soldier, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. I lost my Grandmother and my Uncle Bobby. I watched friendships I thought would be around forever dwindle into nothing. I’ve had surgeries and been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and have wondered how long it will take for it to have a real and lasting effect on me. My mother nearly died.
2019 was the hardest of these years, but all of these experiences taught me some amazing things about appreciation and perseverance, and anyone who knows me at all, knows that I have been knocked down, but I never stay down, and that I’m working on counting every triumph and blessing.
This isn’t the first time I’ve done an end-of-year recap. The last times I’ve done one, I declared the next year to be “my year.” I’m not going to say that about 2020. I’m sure, in some ways, it will be awesome. And in other ways, I’m sure there will be struggle.
But I am here for the fight, and I’ll keep swinging. And telling you about it. I always intend to include you for the ride.
Thanks for another year. Get ready for The Order of the Key in July 2020. (You know I had to.) Have a wonderful holiday season and a joyous New Year. I’ll chat with you about the next adventure.
My son and I both suffer from clinical depression. After years of dealing with strange misconceptions about the illness, I’ve begun to fancy myself a mental health advocate. Logan and I have agreed–if sharing our stories with the world help people, we’re happy to share them. This openness with our mental health has caused problems in the past. People do not understand. When you say you struggle with your mental health, people either think you’re dangerous, or your credibility becomes shot through with holes. It’s extremely frustrating. So, every now and then, I use this little platform I’ve developed to simultaneously attempt to dispel a misconception, while also providing help.
Now, firstly, there are levels of depression. There are depths of depression that nothing can dispel short of medication, therapy, and time. But sometimes, we feel ourselves dipping low and can pull the reins before we get that far. Sometimes we can’t, but when we can shift the trajectory before we get too deep, it’s good to try. I tend to use music to try to lift my spirits when I’m in this headspace. This obviously won’t work for everybody, and if I’m honest, it doesn’t always work with my son, so this is hit and miss. But if music helps keep you from spiraling, or if you just want a mood pick-me-up, here are the songs that turn my mood around.
Life In Color by One Republic
A song about feeling dejected but finding a light at the end of the tunnel? Well, it certainly couldn’t get more on message than that, could it? With lyrics like “Well this is life in motion/And just when I could run this race no more/The sun bursts, clouds break/This is life in color” how could you not feel uplifted?
High Hopes by Panic! At the Disco
We play this song every morning to get Logan in the right brain space to take on the world. “Had to have high, high hopes for a living/Shooting for the stars when I couldn’t make a killing/Didn’t have a dime but I always had a vision/Always had high, high hopes/Had to have high, high hopes for a living/Didn’t know how but I always had a feeling/I was gonna be that one in a million/Always had high, high hopes.”
Battle Symphony by Linkin Park
Sometimes you just need a reminder that sometimes things are bad, but you can get back up and keep on moving. I sing this one to my baby when he feels overwhelmed by bullies. “I’ve been searching for the courage/To face my enemies/When they turn down the lights/I hear my battle symphony/All the world in front of me/If my armor breaks/I’ll fuse it back together.” A little reminder to keep fighting never hurt anyone.
Best Day Of My Life by American Authors
This one is basically a self-fulfilling prophecy rolled up in a song. How bad can your day be, if you start it singing that it will be a good day? Well…probably worse than the BEST day…but, you can lift your spirits with HOPE! “But all the possibilities/No limits just epiphanies.” And don’t forget the Woah-oh-ohs. This song is just fun times.
Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars
Whatever, this song is just fun. No uplifting message, just a fun beat. Don’t @ me.
Sharp Edges by Linkin Park
Yeah, another Linkin Park song. And we’re not even gonna discuss the fact that their more uplifting songs were on their final album with Chester Bennington. We’re just not. Either way, you can’t deny the hopeful nature of lyrics like “We all fall down/We live somehow/We learn what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Motivation to keep moving, provided by someone who knows damn well what a struggle it can be.
The Climb by Miley Cyrus
Another one that motivates you. “There’s always gonna be another mountain/I’m always gonna wanna make it move/Always gonna be an uphill battle/Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose/Ain’t about how fast I get there/Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side/It’s the climb.” Now, sure, it sounds just like my eighth grade valedictorian speech (I’m not joking), but half the joy of listening to this song is hearing how country Miley gets when she says “get there.” Trust me, it’s adorable.
I Love Myself Today by Bif Naked
Because you should. Always. “I’ll stand right up/Spit shine my soul/I’m gonna be proud and loud and outta control.” Hell yes. Sometimes, you just have to lose control. And the scream after the chorus makes that line even better.
Shake it Off by Taylor Swift
Yes. I, too, am ashamed of myself. There went my whole effortlessly cool vibe.
Good Life by One Republic
This one is fun, but it’s less about the lyrics and more about the fun background music that brings a smile to my face.
Second Wind by Kelly Clarkson
Another great reminder that even when people have something to say about you, even when you can’t get things right the first time, there’s always another chance to get it right. “You can’t forget about me/While you weren’t looking I was gettin’ even higher/ Say what you want about me/Your words are gasoline on my fire/You can hate me, underestimate me/Do what you do ’cause what you do don’t phase me/Just when you think I’m at the end/Any second I’mma catch my second wind.”
It’s Time by Imagine Dragons
A song about rising above your past and growing, while always remembering where you came from? It doesn’t get more in tune with my personal inspiration buttons than that. And with lines like, “The path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell right to the top/Don’t look back,” you could bet on this one being on my list. A poetic retelling of my life story? I’ll take it.
Crazy by Meredith Brooks
Most people remember Brooks as the person who sang all about being “a bitch,” but this is my favorite song of hers. It’s so much fun, and all about encouraging you to be exactly who you are, and how everyone tells you to do that, but only on their terms. “You say don’t change a single thing/but your list is longer than my day/I can’t help wondering/When all is said/And all is done/Am I the crazy one?”
Machine by Imagine Dragons
This one serves as a reminder that I’m not trapped. Sometimes, when the world is raining down on you, or life keeps throwing you one responsibility after another, or the establishment is just getting you down, you need a reminder that you’re not just a cog in the machine. You are the machine–just as capable as running things and causing trouble as anyone and anything else. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, between its deep meaning and its rollicking beat, this is a new favorite. “Cause I’ve been wondering/When you gonna see I’m not for sale/I’ve been questioning/When you gonna see I’m not a part of your machine/Not a part of your machine/I am the machine.”
Rough Draft by Sarah Solovay
It could be that this is writer or artist specific, but this particular song tickles that part of me while also making me generally happy. A reminder that every person is a work in progress, this song plays with that idea with references to common issues with early drafts, and how changes can create masterpieces. It’s just so cleverly written and has a wonderful message. “So if you want me you got me/Granted I’m scattered and sloppy/But you can’t send me back/I’m just a rough draft/So cut me and crop me/And when I’m ready make copies/And one day/The real thing might blow you away.”
What are your favorite pick me up songs? Post them below. Maybe you’ll lead me to some new favorites. 🙂
I’ve been very secretive about some things going on in my life, but they have had a profound effect on me, so it felt like time to share. Yep, this is one of those personal, life story blog posts, although it is somewhat writing related. You’ll see why. Sorry if you’re only here for the writing stuff. You’ll have to get to know me a little this time around.
At the end of March, I had a hysterectomy. Now, for some, this would be a traumatic experience, but it truly wasn’t. You see, my reproductive system and I have never been friends. We had a brief truce for a short period of time that brought me a gorgeous child. But other than that, we were bitter enemies. I wasn’t sad to see the main troublemaker go. I was actually looking forward to it.
It’s an odd thing. My womb was gone, and in that same week, I nearly lost the woman who carried me in her womb. It’s a long story, and not one I think my mother is particularly keen to share, but I thought my husband was communicating with my mother during my recovery. He thought I was. By the time we realized, neither of us had talked to her in a week. We all tried to call her to no avail and my husband rushed to check on her. As I recovered from my surgery, my mother collapsed in her home, was unable to get up for a while, and very nearly died. My husband found her unconscious.
She has thankfully pulled through, but the outcome completely changed our lives.
Mentally, my mother is as okay as she ever was. She’s always struggled with some mental issues, but she’s feisty and funny and, after a slight struggle, is 100% back to who she had been. Physically, though, she’s weaker than she was, and since April, she’s been in a physical rehabilitation center until she can get back on her feet.
My mother had lived in the same apartment for 42 years, so the place had managed to accumulate a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff. All of which she kept. But after being stuck in that place as she was, unable to move, my mother didn’t want to go back.
I set about cleaning out her apartment, scoring her a new one, and preparing it for her return home. And in the midst of all that, after visiting my mother regularly, something in our relationship shifted. We’d had this terribly complex relationship, both with our fair share of mental illness that would grind together whenever we butted heads. She has been mellowing out quite a bit as she’s grown older, and in this time, we have repaired a lot of it. Is it still fragile? It may always be.
And then I received the proof for an upcoming anthology I will be published in. My essay in that anthology is about generational mental illness and how my mother’s sometimes abusive behavior impacted my life and informed the way I raised my son. There isn’t a single word I wrote that was untrue, but I find myself feeling horrendously guilty.
In her famous writing book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott wrote, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” And perhaps that’s true. But it’s a complicated feeling.
My relationship with my mother is healing. I’ve cast a discussion out into the world about that relationship at its worst.
The point was important, and I believe that what I wrote will have a chance to help another. In the end, as a writer, I know I must be true to myself and what I’m trying to say, despite the difficulties it may cause.
Still, I cringe whenever I read it. Have any of you ever put something in writing and had regrets afterwards? Share in the comments and make me feel better.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” We’re all asked a few hundred times throughout our childhood. And I realized that now that I’m, at least technically, “grown up,” nobody asks me what I want to be anymore. It’s an interesting thing that we’re all asked about our future vocation when we’re far too young to do much about it or to even know ourselves well enough to know what we want. And when do we lose that? When do we start to know ourselves well enough to know what we want for the rest of our lives? What’s the imaginary age that we decide what we’re capable of?
From the time I started school all the way up to my pre-teen years, I wanted to be an English teacher. Teachers are our heroes when we’re young, until we either fall apart under the pressure of expectations and testing and regimented thinking, or we realize they’re just human like the rest of us. I loved English in particular, and there was this amazing writing teacher in my school, Michael Shaw, who was incredibly quirky and pleasant and wasn’t afraid to be silly as hell if it made the kids in the school love to learn. Every year, he would dress up as Johnny Appleseed to teach us about Earth Day before people really cared about ecology the way they should. He was so engaging, that I quickly decided I wanted to be him.
That dream died when I realized I was decidedly not him. I was prone to outbursts of temper I was not good enough at holding back to work with tiny humans all day without being labeled as the monster teacher. I couldn’t even teach my full-grown adult of a mother how to use a computer mouse without losing my temper and treating her like an idiot. Not cool, I know. But I was journeying into teenagerhood with very messy role models and a burgeoning battle with depression and I wasn’t handling it well. And then I met Dr. Jonathan Dzik.
Doc, as all his students called him, took a chance on a moody student who purposely pressed his buttons for entertainment value. And, persnickety by nature, he had a lot of pushable buttons. While I actually attempted to drive him crazy, he actually attempted to guide my efforts to more useful things, like the school musical. He was right, I was a far better singer and actress than I was a teenage asshat. And just like that, I discovered a new answer to what I was going to be when I grew up. An actress and a singer, obviously.
The truth was, I wasn’t actually good at being a teenage asshat, my compassion and empathy often tripping me up and making me suffer after my various attempts at being an unfeeling wench. So, it wasn’t very difficult to be a better singer and actor than an asshat. Another truth? I sucked at acting. And while I still think I possess singing talent, that 1) often comes with a dancing requirement and I can’t do a choreographed step without tripping over myself; and 2) after a year and a half of auditions with professionals, I quickly learned that the industry was not ready for a singer who shopped in the plus sized section. I was in the era before Kelly Clarkson and Adele, when every singer looked like Britney Spears and were lucky if they even grazed the gorgeous sounds of Christina Aguilera’s vocal chops. I could have kept trying, but the constant requests to lose weight killed my self-esteem dead enough that I became determined to find a thing where people could value my brain and not my belly.
I had been writing since back in the days of Mr. Shaw, but I didn’t really think it could be anything. Mostly, I just wrote silly stories based on television shows. And then, one day, while I stood at the counter of the video store I worked at, stuck in the job-with-necessarily-flexible-hours I needed to go on auditions. It was an incredibly boring day. I was the only person on shift. So I picked up the pad I used for inventory lists, and started writing an idea that had been running around my head like a squirrel searching for a nut.
I’ve broken up with writing a few dozen times since then, but it’s always been a lie, and I always come back. My love for it birthed my intense desire to learn more about the hows and whys behind what works and what doesn’t. That led me to editing, to helping other people learn what will work best for their manuscripts.
That girl who thought she couldn’t possibly have enough patience to teach a room full of kiddies all about reading and language finds herself slaving over manuscripts written by authors of various skill and scope and helping to teach them what they don’t already know and guide them on the path to a more polished manuscript. And suddenly, I can hear that little girl’s voice, answering the question of what she wants to be when she grows up with a very self-assured “An English Teacher” and she doesn’t sound so foolish. Because she must have seen something within herself that the grumpy teenager somehow missed.
That kid wasn’t exactly right. She was close enough though, and it makes me wonder. I may not have known what I wanted to be, but I always knew I wanted to help others, to spread knowledge, to share. Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking children what they want to be when they grow up. I’m a legal secretary who writes and edits in whatever time she can scrounge up and that’s far from what I imagined. Perhaps we’d be better off asking who they want to be when they grow up. That, at least, lends them a greater chance of landing far closer to the mark.
This weekend, despite the fact that I was recovering from surgery and had only just gotten home from the hospital on Thursday, I yanked myself together and managed to make sense in our latest CraftQuest episode. This episode was dedicated to how to operate on social media as a writer. Many important points were made by my colleagues, and hopefully by me! We hope you enjoy!
Recently, I’ve found myself saying things like “when I’m successful,” or “when I get where I need to be,” without thinking about what that actually means to me. The dawn of a new year is always good for making you take a step back from your life and forcing you to question those things that just seem like a given when we don’t evaluate them. One day, I’ll be successful. Except what does that even mean? To be successful? Turning it around in my head led me to understand that there is no real definition.
Success is self-defined. Only we can decide our own version of success and there are often many layers to be found there. So I decided to map out a few versions of what I considered to be my own personal meaning of success.
The Semi-Successful Happy Place–In this version of what I consider to be success, I sell a few books for moderate deals. I continue to work my day job as a legal assistant, but the money from the books sales help me have something extra to spend on fun things to do. My son is happy, my husband is happy. Life is relatively the same, but people enjoy my books and I feel a sense of accomplishment. Logan grows up well and I continue to nurture the wonderful relationships I’ve built. I don’t have everything I want, but that’s okay. More to write about. And life keeps on trucking.
All The Dreams–In this version, I sell a lot of books and I’m a prolific writer. I also get a load of editing business, and between the two incomes, it’s enough for me to leave my day job. I get to work from home with my writing and editing, and it gives me the freedom to be more involved in my son’s school life. I can participate in events at his school and be a more hands-on parent than my current arrangement allows me to be. I still continue to maintain the wonderful relationships I’ve built as well as new professional relationships that feed my soul. I get to travel some more and it feeds my writing material. Life is beautiful, but busy. And the beat goes on.
The Best Case Scenario–Not only do I sell books, but I get super successful. There’s fanfiction about my books and weird merchandise and I’m almost a household name, at least among YA readers. I run a successful editing business because I love to help other writers, and money is no longer even remotely tight. My family lives comfortably, we get to travel, and we buy a house on a lake, with one next door for my best friend to live in. I have enough property for a couple of dogs (can’t do that in my apartment because of my allergies), and everyone I love is well taken care of. I make a good living doing what I absolutely love. Things really couldn’t be better.
I would honestly love every one of these scenarios. Hell, just part of some of these would make me feel successful. It’s not about achieving all of your goals, although that would be wonderful. It’s about hitting a landmark. Feeling like you’ve accomplished something.
Success is different for every person. You define it. As large or as small as you want to go.
I recently had the wonderful experience of reading to children during Boogie Down Books’ Storytime, and it was an amazing experience. As soon as I arrived at Mottley Kitchen on Saturday Morning, December 15th, I knew I had to chronicle this experience for my blog and let everyone know about the delightful time I had and all about the wonderful bookstore without walls.
I met Boogie Down Books owner Rebekah Shoaf at The Bronx Book Fair in May and immediately took a liking to her. She was unbelievably friendly and energetic and immediately put me, who attended as both a networking author and a mother looking for new books for her son, at ease. She told me all about her company, and I immediately signed up for the newsletter, grateful to discover such an interesting new Bronx program.
Rebekah called Boogie Down Books a bookstore without walls. Instead of a brick and mortar shop, she organizes pop-up shops at events and schools around the borough. She even organized a pop-up shop in Mottley Kitchen, a cafe in the South Bronx, where she organizes weekly Storytimes for young children and a monthly book club for teens and adults.
After reading through their newsletter, I decided to volunteer to read a book for children at Storytime, and was selected to read Windows by Julia Denos. I was very excited and didn’t really know what to expect.
Now, hearing about all of this and experiencing it are two very different things. In theory, it seemed like a nice idea. In practice, it was warm, welcoming, and engaging. Rebekah greeted me and my husband and son, Logan, near the pop-up bookshop set-up, every bit as open and cheerful as she had the first time I met her. She chatted with Logan for a while and when he asked if he could help her, she promised they’d discuss it when he was older. Logan felt included and happy, and I was exceedingly grateful.
After showing me around and explaining my role, Rebekah left us to grab some buttery croissants, filling granola bars, and piping hot English Breakfast Tea (for my wonderful sore throat) from the staff at The Mottley Kitchen (we also bought books, of course), and we settled in until people started to arrive.
Once we had a good group gathered together, Rebekah called everyone together. I sat in a chair in the center of the reading nook and the children gathered around me. Rebekah led the group in a breathing exercise and then a welcome song. It was clear that the large majority of the children were regulars, and Rebekah knew them by name. The welcome song referred to each child by name, including Logan, whom she had just met.
Rebekah had asked me to read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats in addition to Windows, as the books held many similarities. I agreed, eager to read even more to these adorable children. So, I read, and asked questions, and interacted, and for a wonderful half hour, I got to hang out with children, which really is the best thing.
Then, it was time for the kids to do their book related craft, and I got to mix and mingle with the lovely parents. By the time it was time to go, I was reluctant to leave. I had felt so welcome, and so comfortable amongst this group–I imagine that’s what the kids who come to attend storytime feel like every weekend.
And just like that, I decided I was definitely going to do this again. Maybe not for a little bit, since my schedule is packed, particularly on Saturday, but I would be back. It was such an uplifting experience. In the Bronx, where it’s been a struggle to get one brick and mortar bookstore open, where the overwhelming need for literacy programs are left to very few people to lead the charge, I decided I needed to be a part of it.
If you’re in the NYC area, you should absolutely support Boogie Down Books. Come out for a Storytime or a Book Club. If you’re not, and you can afford it, buy a book or two from their website. Little pleasures like this one are few and far between. We should try, however we can, to keep them alive.