Friday, October 3, 2014

The Magical Land of the Used Bookstore

This week, my husband and I went out on a date. And because I have the best husband in the world, part of that date involved a bookstore. But not just any bookstore. While I'm quite fond of Barnes & Noble (and would love it if the closest location was less than 90 miles from my house), my heart belongs to the independent bookstore.

And then there's that even more magical place...the used bookstore.


Richard Van Nice Books occupies a weathered little house that sits on one of the busier streets in our town. One in a short row of random houses-turned-businesses, it's easy to ignore--or simply miss--as you drive by. I often wonder how many people don't even know this little gem exists.

Inside smells of paperbacks and pipe tobacco. The books are stacked precariously, more heaped than orderly lined. Although the mystery section is *mostly* alphabetized.


To most, it looks like a mess. To a bibliophile like me, it's a treasure hunt. I mean, where else are you going to find things like this:

The Bible in a Southern accent. In which Mary (Jesus's mama) is made pregnant by
the Holy Spirit before she and Joseph (a.k.a. Joe Davidson) have relations.
I don't think we'll be seeing this one on YouVersion anytime soon. 

And this:

From How to Live With Cats. This one came home with me.

But I think my favorite thing about Richard Van Nice Books is Mr. Van Nice himself. He's pretty much exactly who you would expect to find behind the piles of books that surround the tiny counter.


A disabled Vietnam vet, his hands are gnarled, his fingers permanently clenched, yet he somehow handles each book with ease. His passion for books is obvious--he's not just a collector, he's a connoisseur. Despite the seeming chaos, if he has the book you're looking for, he knows exactly where it is. He found me a copy of Watership Down in about 30 seconds flat. And his disappointment was evident when I told him I hadn't found any Laurie King books in the mystery section. I have no doubt it pains him not to have every book ever written.

Browsing also has an added bonus. Like his books, Mr. Van Nice has some tales to tell. They go something like this:

     "My greatest goal in life is to win one of the major lotteries. Then I'll go to the Strand Bookstore in New York City. There are 2.5 million books in the Strand. I'll walk up to the counter and when the clerk asks, 'Can I help you with anything?' I'll say, 'Yes. One of each, please.'"

And then he continues...

     "I used to have a dream of being kidnapped by a group of women starting a book commune. They'd carry me off and make me their book God. I've given them 30 years and they haven't come for me. I don't think they're going to do it. It's too bad. I could just see myself sitting comfortably on my throne, looking down into their adoring faces, and saying, 'Now fetch me some light fiction.'" 

I handed him my three books. He charged me three dollars.

I would have happily paid a whole lot more.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Confessions of a Storm Chaser

When I'm not feeling well, the first thing my husband says to me isn't "Oh, honey, I'm sorry. Can I get you anything?" It's "DO NOT GET ON WEB MD." This is usually immediately followed by me hastily clicking the home button on my phone and pretending I was only scrolling through Facebook. 

I've gotten very good at covert Googling while "going to the bathroom."

For the last week and a half I've been battling the crud which has overtaken our house. At one point I was convinced my lung was collapsing under the weight of the mucus filling my bronchi. Kudos to my husband for not laughing out loud when I told him I SWEAR IT SOUNDED SO WEIRD WHEN I INHALED. 

I'll forgive him for laughing on the inside. 

My propensity for anxiety isn't limited to hypochondria. Confession: I will pretty much worry about anything. And everything. This is not the part of my personality that I'm most proud of. While I was coughing and sniffling and freaking out over the possibility that I might have to go to the ER doctor, I started reading Kate DiCamillo's latest novel, Flora & Ulysses, in which Flora is a self-professed natural-born cynic with a love for comic books (Ulysses is a squirrel, in case you were wondering). After my husband's very sweet reassurances that I was not, in fact, dying, but simply had a nasty cold, I couldn't help but laugh and read him a section of the book:

        "At the back of each issue of The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! there was a series of bonus comics. One of Flora's very favorite bonus comics was entitled TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU! As a cynic, Flora found it wise to be prepared. Who knew what horrible, unpredictable thing would happen next?"

I'm rather uncomfortable with how much Flora and I have in common.

Which is why I need reminders like these:



Friday, August 29, 2014

10 Books That Have Influenced Me

My friend Jennifer challenged me on Facebook to list the ten books that have impacted me the most. While I typically avoid Facebook challenges, being the bookworm that I am, I rather liked this idea. Instead of posting an excruciatingly long status, I thought I'd take the opportunity for a blog post. So, here are some of the books that have shaped me--as a reader, a writer, and a person.*

*Disclaimer: This will in no way be an all inclusive list.

1. The Bible. Think me cheesy for including it if you will, but I wouldn't be the person I am today if not for this one. Favorite book of the Bible: John (because of all the gospel authors, John was truly a writer at heart).

2. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. An honest conversation about Christianity--that is totally not boring. This book (and the movie) had a huge impact on my life and really cemented my desire to interact with people--and life--in a different way. There were many moments while reading this book that I wanted to shout its pages from the rooftops. Or at least tweet as many <140 character lines as possible.

3. Love Does by Bob Goff. I wrote an in-depth review of why this book is so amazing (you can click on the title right ^ there to read it). In short: Say yes to life and love people. Seriously, JUST LOVE PEOPLE. No strings attached. The stories of how Bob has lived out this ideal are crazy awesome. It will change your world.

4. The Mandie Books by Lois Gladys Leoppard. My first book love. I bought many a book in this series with my hard-earned allowance money. Mandy, her friends Joe and Celia, and Snowball the cat get into all sorts of trouble and solve mysteries. With a little bit of history thrown in. Seven-year-old me was in heaven, and knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: A writer.

5. The Wind in the Willows. I can still vividly remember the moment I pulled this one off the library shelf. I was immediately charmed and quickly fell in love with Mole, Otter, Toad and Badger. Years later, it would be the inspiration behind the styling and adventure-filled pages of my first children's novel, The Fantastical Adventures of Pinkletin Frog.

6. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I've talked before about my inability to make it through certain classic novels, but classic children's literature makes me swoon. And Alice is most certainly my favorite in that category. So much so, that my current work-in-progress has an awful lot to do with that magical world down the rabbit hole. Obviously classics are my muse.

7. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. When I was a preteen/teen, Young Adult fiction wasn't even close to the caliber it is today. Thank goodness for Anne. She saved me from the stacks of angsty, gag-me-with-a-spoon teen fiction and introduced me to the beautiful world of literature. Anne and Gilbert will always be my favorite literary couple.

8. The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins. I've never cried so much while reading a book series. I was completely unprepared for just how much I would love these novels. Suzanne Collins has some mad, mad writing skills, y'all. Everything about these books, from the use of first person, present tense to the balance of victory vs. tragedy, is storytelling done right. And I'll have you know I was team Peeta all the way.

9. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. My very first foray into the world of epic high fantasy, I didn't read these (or The Hobbit) until I was 25. I'm so glad I did. And even more glad I read them before seeing the movies. I think the fact that I can't get through the wordiness of a Jane Austen novel, but I devoured these books is pretty telling about my personality...

10. The Circle Books by Ted Dekker. I can't describe how mind-blowing these books are. Part contemporary thriller, part epic fantasy...you just have to experience it for yourself. Plus, Ted will always be my hero for pushing the boundaries of faith-based fiction and refusing to allow people to tell him what he is and isn't allowed to write.

Runners-Up. You didn't seriously expect me to stop there, did you? I have to give a quick shout out to Jane Eyre, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Flavia de Luce novels, and Watership Down. Also, my current obsessions: The Meaning of Maggie, and The Beekeeper's Apprentice. (If you need something to hold you over until Sherlock returns, I highly recommend that last one.)

Your turn! What is one book (or two or three or five) that has influenced you or your life's journey? Have you read and loved--or hated--any of the books on my list? Share in the comments!

Monday, August 18, 2014

A New Day

In my last post I talked about the joys of waiting...  

You send your manuscript, finally complete after months and months of grueling labor, to a magazine/publisher/agent...and then you wait. But...there are no guarantees. Sure, you could be waiting for that hallelujah-angel-chorus moment of acceptance. But you could also end up with that heartbreaking, pass-the-tissues-and-the-Ben-&-Jerry's-please rejection.

On Friday I was on my way out the door to run errands with a car full of kids and had just picked up my cell phone when I heard that adrenaline-inducing, new-email chime. I looked at the screen, saw the sender's address and my heart skipped a beat as I opened it and got my answer...



I haven't posted many details about this particular part of my writing journey which has been happening over the last few months, because in my opinion (and in the general opinion of writers and writerly professionals everywhere, if I'm not mistaken) it's not in good taste to kiss and tell, as it were, when querying. My writer's group, of course, knows all the nitty gritty details, but the long and short of it is this: I had a nibble on my novel query, sent an agent my manuscript, and after one phone call and several emails, sat back and waited to find out whether or not said agent would sign me.

In the end it was a no. A very sweet, very complimentary no, but a no nonetheless.

Honestly, I expected to feel crushed. Maybe even cry a little. Instead I found myself remarkably non-hysterical. In fact--dare I say it?--I felt relieved. Through this whole process I've grown and learned so much and received some invaluable encouragement and advice. Now I had my answer, and while it wasn't the answer I would have preferred, at least I knew that door was closed and the time had come to go knockin' on some new ones. So, I allowed myself the Ben and Jerry's (because you don't pass up the perfect excuse for indulging in tiramisu flavored ice-cream) and a good 20 minutes of pursuing the latest issue of Glamour (because Olivia Wilde) and then proceeded to stay up til almost midnight submitting my manuscript to Pitch Wars. And you know what? I think it's the most triumphant I've ever felt hitting "send".

After all, a dream isn't a very good dream if it's not worth fighting for, no?

Earlier last week, I bookmarked this quote for a future Picture Quote Monday and I think it's perfect for today. (Thank you to my friend Jacqui of Simply Jacqui Photography for the use of her photo). Here's hoping for some of that magic.


Friday, August 8, 2014

The Waiting Game is Afoot


I've never been all that good at waiting. When I was a kid, I'd make countdown calendars, painstakingly hand drawing every square and number, making fancy fonts for the month at the top. I'd start about September 1st and draw a big red X every night before bed until I made it through not just one, but TWO WHOLE MONTHS, and reached that glorious square marked MY BIRTHDAY!!!! Yes, I'm that annoying person who starts buying Christmas gifts in October. And my husband rarely gets his birthday or father's day gifts on the actual celebratory date in question because he knows it takes a minuscule amount of coaxing to convince me to hand them over early. (When it comes to Christmas I hold firm, but the rest of the year--once the postman delivers it, it's pretty much over).

But what I really hate is being forced to wait for some ambiguous point in the future which may or may not bring good tidings. Unfortunately, this is pretty much 45% of a writer's job description, right under the ability to survive on scant amounts of sleep and sanity. I've found that as a writer, waiting is one hundred thousand three million seven hundred and ninety-eight (to borrow a number from my six-year-old) times harder. At least I know that if I can just make it through the next 87 days (thank you, Siri), my patience will be rewarded with birthday cake--or in my case pie--mostly because I'll make it myself. It's so nice to be in control of things.

As a writer...no such luck.

You send your manuscript, finally complete after months and months of grueling labor, to a magazine/publisher/agent...and then you wait. But this time, there are no guarantees. Sure, you could be waiting for that hallelujah-angel-chorus moment of acceptance. But you could also end up with that heartbreaking, pass-the-tissues-and-the-Ben-&-Jerry's-please rejection. And since there's no saying when that reply will come, you can't even make a count-down calendar to help you cope. It's emotional Russian roulette. And if you're anything like me, the wait goes something like this:

I'm not going to get my hopes up.
Oh, please, oh, please, oh, please, oh, please...
They hate it. I'm doomed. It's never going to happen.
Maybe?


So, what to do? How do we make the waiting game not suck so much? In the wise words of Sherlock:


Really. In all honesty I'm just commiserating out loud here. Of course there are ways to try and distract yourself. A new writing project, a relaxing hobby, catching up on your Goodreads "To Read" list. Binge watching anything involving Benedict Cumberbatch that's available on Netflix. Now that I think about it, turning off the alert sound for new emails might not be a bad idea (nothing like a rush of adrenaline wasted on yet another 40% off sale at rue21). But, in the end, I suppose there's nothing to be done but...

Wait.

What about you? Patient, or impatient? What do you do to pass the time when you're forced to wait?




Saturday, July 19, 2014

Word Crimes

I suggest TV stations across the country start airing this as a PSA. The More You Know...





Thank you, Mr. Yankovic. Thank you. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

From the inside flap (because I can't write a more perfect blurb, and because this description--and that cover--is part of what made me fall in love at first sight):

Eleven years old.
The beginning of everything!
For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she's one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo.* It's time for her to pull up her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing's impossible when you're future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola. Right?

*Not that she wants to get a tattoo. They're terrifying. But it's nice to know she's closer to getting one anyway.

I'm going to say it now (if you haven't figured it out already): The Meaning of Maggie is pure brilliance. So good, in fact, that I finished it, in its entirety, IN ONE DAY. It would have been in one afternoon, but as I approached the end, I knew there was a 110% chance that I was going to ugly cry, so I had to wait to finish it until after the kids were in bed.

The book opens with Maggie listening to the incessant beeping of a heart monitor from the atrociously uncomfortable confines of a hospital room chair. Why am I giving away the opener? Because this is what made me love this book so, SO much. I could immediately relate, having spent the majority of my eighth year in and out of hospital rooms while both my grandparents--my much beloved, one and only set of grandparents--battled cancer. As the story progressed, the connection only increased. Maggie's struggles were my own: trying to deal with normal life--and even have fun--in the midst of something BIG, the emotional ups and downs of being a kid surrounded by such grown-up happenings, the desire to know exactly what was going on, and the sick, sinking-stomach feeling that knowledge brought. In Maggie's mother I saw my own mom, working past the edge of exhaustion to take care of her parents while trying to shield me from all the stuff I saw anyway (because, like Maggie, I had a knack for observing and understanding things I wasn't supposed to). It felt like Maggie and I were soul sisters, despite the age difference. Though, technically speaking, she'd be my older soul sister, since I was only three in 1988.

Now lest you think it all sounds just a bit too melancholy, let me assure you, Megan Jean Sovern has created the perfect literary storm. While Maggie's story is full of emotional punch, her spunky personality and razor sharp wit bring constant humor to every page (I'm always a little jealous when eleven-year-olds are funnier than I am). Every character is fantastic, but Maggie quickly became one of my most favorite MCs ever. She navigates the waters of the unknown, annoying older sisters, and young love with the poise and optimism befitting a future president, with the perfect dash of endearing, giggle-inducing exuberance. The story is told in first person (my favorite!) so you get the full impact of Maggie's genius. And the usage of footnotes and emphatic ALL CAPS moments are the cherry on top of the proverbial word sundae (a passion for sweets is another trait Maggie and I share).

In conclusion, this debut novel has it all and delivers it in a most unputdownable fashion. Intelligent, charming, and poignant, it's the perfect summer read that will both tickle your funny bone and tug at your heartstrings.

PS: A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to the National MS Society. It's a win-win.

PPS: This book also has one of the best book trailers ever.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

And...We're Back

Ah, almost midnight and here I am, desperately typing out a blog post that is long overdue. Feels just like old times. Old times being like two months ago when I clearly remember warning you of my impending silence. Not only did I make it to summer vacation with all most of my sanity intact, but we managed to survive The Great Move of 2014 with limited casualties. We did lose a lego man who succumbed to a suspicious looking skin condition after being trapped under the fridge for an indeterminate amount of time. (I kid you not, I felt horrible about throwing him in the trash. I blame the Lego Movie.) Now we're all settled into the new house and taking quite nicely to life in good old-fashioned suburbia. Seriously, our next door neighbors have already brought cake and offered up the babysitting services of their teenage granddaughter. We now have a garage and underground sprinklers and a sunken living room where I anxiously watch out the window as my children walk two houses down, BY THEMSELVES, to play with their friends. I feel like I've finally been admitted to the sacred and hallowed halls of adulthood. And I am okay with this.

Before I dropped off the face of the blogosphere I did manage to read a phenomenal book. A book so good that I read it in one day. Want to know what it is? I'll be posting the review on Friday. (Yes, yes, I disappear for over a month and then I make you wait some more. For shame, I know.)

So. Recap: Life happened. Busy. No posts. Back. More posts soon.

Until then, enjoy this badly photoshopped, yet epically hilarious thing I found on Pinterest. Because it made me giggle. Also, because it really is midnight now and I'm too tired to come up with a more clever sign off.









Thursday, June 12, 2014

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means...

Normally being a night owl doesn't bother me. I can slave over my manuscript until midnight and still get at least seven hours of sleep. It's all good. But then again, most nights I don't usually get pulled from sleep and given a near heart attack.

Allow me to explain.

We're moving. Our house is sold (yay!) and we're closing on the new house in less than three weeks (also yay!). The packing has commenced. Yesterday afternoon, the hubby and I cleaned out our under-the-stairs storage space in the basement. This kicked up quite a bit of dust.

In case you didn't know, smoke alarms possess a deep hatred for dust.

Of course, it waited until the smoke-alarm-secret-oath time of 4am to give a "nuisance alarm."



Whoever decided the word "nuisance" was appropriate, should be locked in a room and subjected to 85 decibels of ear-piercing screeching x6. Because as it turns out, if your house has an interconnected system of wired-in smoke alarms, when one goes off, they ALL GO OFF.

More like a WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON alarm.

The upstairs alarms are in three locations: the master bedroom, the kids' bedroom, and the hall. Which means they're all approximately three feet away from each other. I've been to rock concerts that were quieter. I'm freaking out, the kids are freaking out. My poor husband, who is transitioning from days off to graveyard shift has only been asleep for an hour and is scrambling to get a chair and hit the silence button. Finally we get it shut off.

The silence lasted for a whole 45 seconds before they all started screeching again, only to shut off on their own a couple seconds later. There's no smoke. No signs of any sort of emergency. After another round of on-and-off, my husband unplugs the hall detector. IT KEEPS BUZZING. I'm yelling over the noise to take the back-up battery out, he does and, finally, they all shut off and stay off. It looked like we found the culprit, so we calmed down the kids, I stayed in their room and my husband went back to bed.

About a minute later they all go off AGAIN.

At this point, no detector is safe. They all get unplugged and their batteries ripped out (serves them right). This is when my husband notices the basement alarm in front of the storage space has a red light instead of a green light. I Google the manual and it turns out the red light signals the trip alarm. Thankfully, this confirms the dust theory and I can stop envisioning our attic smoldering silently above our heads.

I don't care if automated houses are going to take over the world someday. I'm saving up for a smoke detector that talks to me when it goes off and tells me where the alarm is coming from. Preferably in a soothing British accent.

Now. Where's the coffee?



Monday, June 2, 2014

Picture Quote Monday {Yourself}

Something about this quote spoke to me when I read it. I think it's because, now that I'm nearly thirty, I feel like I'm finally figuring out who I really want to be, as both a person and a writer.

To all my friends and readers who are chasing a dream, a passion, a vision: You have the ability to impact the world with your uniqueness. There's only one you. Be that person.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Picture Quote Monday {Duty}

Today, as we gather with family and friends around tables piled with food, let's not forget that at many tables, there are empty places and absent faces. While this is true on any holiday, it is the very essence of Memorial Day. It is our duty to ensure that the sacrifice of these men and women is remembered and honored. To all those who have given their lives in defense of ours, and to their families: Thank you.




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Booyah!

In my last post (yes, I am aware that last post was over a month ago) I mentioned the biggest reason for my blogging absence: I've been hard at work finishing my novel. Well guess what?

I DID IT!!!!

I finished my second novel. *insert girlish squeals here*



My biggest emotion in the light of this news? Honestly...relief. In a lot of ways, I found my second book was more difficult to write than my first. Mostly because my inner critic didn't get the memo that I wasn't interested in his opinion. It turns out I really CAN do this thing called writing, and that the first time wasn't just a fluke.

Take that, critic.

So far, I've gotten very positive reader feedback. Even from people who aren't related to me. YES.



Now I'm just waiting on my dear, unofficial editor to send me her notes, and then this book can be off to a certain inbox where, fingers crossed, it will be loved and welcomed and asked to stay for tea.

I shall do my best to return to more regularly scheduled blogging. But please don't hold me to too high of a standard for at least the next 4-6 weeks, as I'm currently attempting to maintain my sanity until summer vacation, and reminding myself that packing the entire house will be totally worth it once we get into our new digs (It has an office!! Oh, the glorious writing-space possibilities!).

P.S. If you didn't give up on me during the last month of awkward silence, thank you. You're awesome. Like, happy dance awesome.



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tiny Potato Believes in You

I haven't posted in FOREVER. Mostly because I've been desperately trying to finish editing my book so my writers' group can read it and tell me whether or not it's any good.

Sometimes, doing what you love is hard.

Sometimes, you just need someone to believe in you.

I believe in you.

And so does tiny potato.


(Image stolen from my friend Becca's Instagram. For more awesomeness follow her here. And here.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ready is Relative

Lately, I've become a big fan of now. I've also become a big fan of the phrase, "why not?" 
I think why not and now go together quite nicely, don't you?


Thank you to my indescribably awesome cousin-in-law, Avery, for bringing this quote 
(which I typed up on my vintage Royal KMG) to my attention.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Stranger Things by Erin Healy

This last December, I had the honor of hosting best-selling author Erin Healy on my blog to promote her new book. I've been a long time fan of Erin's books, and I'm happy to say Stranger Things is yet another inspiring, thought provoking, and impactful novel.

Serena Diaz's life is suddenly torn apart after a troubled student accuses her of sexual misconduct. In an effort to escape the inevitable fallout, Serena retreats to the comfort of the woods, only to stumble into the middle of a criminal operation. And she almost pays for this discovery with her life, until a man she's never met steps in front of the bullet meant for her. Haunted by mysterious visions and the question of why a complete stranger would die for her, Serena's search for answers reveals an evil she never expected. Caught in a tangle of false accusations, Serena is forced to confront the darkness and step into a world of terrifying danger where she soon realizes her life isn't the only one at stake.

Among the fun stories and the easy reads, the classic novels and the favorite series, there are a handful of books on my bookshelf that have done more than just entertain me. They've impacted me in a big way and changed the way I look at the world around me. This is one of those books. In her latest novel, Erin not only weaves a captivating and suspenseful story, but she also tackles the very serious--and very real--topic of sex trafficking. In the midst of the beautiful writing and masterful storytelling I've come to love so much from Erin, the import of the truth behind the fiction began to haunt me. As I was caught up in the characters' stories--each with their own unique, powerful, and emotional layers--the realization that their stories are, in some places, closer to fact than fiction was heartbreaking. And then I came to the line that completely wrecked me:

"And then she thought she didn't really want to hear this story. She wanted the sordid tales that involved fourteen-year-old girls to stay at arm's length the way they did in the papers, or in her parents' safe house. She wanted them to remain trapped at a safe distance on digital screens, where she didn't have to look a victim in the eye and find she had no idea what to say."

Wow. Can we say "hard truth"? I saw myself in those lines, and the more I read, the more I wanted to do something to offer the hope woven into the pages of this story to the real-life women who so desperately need it. And that is what makes this book so amazingly wonderful--its power to defeat apathy and inspire change. If you're a fan of emotionally charged, well-written suspense, I hope you'll put this book at the top of your to-read list, then spread the message: We're in it to end it.

If, like me, stories like these--whether fiction or real life accounts of those exploited--have inspired you to take action, the End It website is a great place to start. There you'll find ways you can show your support and take a stand against modern-day slavery, and links to organizations that are leading the fight against human trafficking. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Slow and Steady

My new novel is coming along, slowly but surely. I've been trying to remember that whether I end the day with 500 or 2000 words, any amount is progress and I should be proud of that. This week the ever-so-lovely Kelli Trontel (one of the coolest, most inspiring ladies I know) released her monthly collaboration with Thorn +Sparrow, and this month's desktop/iPhone wallpaper was exactly what I needed to help inspire me as I continue pushing through my first draft. It's the perfect reminder to take things one day at a time, and that all these little chapters will eventually come together to make something awesome.

So for this week's Picture Quote Monday, head on over to Kelli's blog and snag some of that inspiration for yourself!




Tuesday, March 4, 2014

National Grammar Day, Or: Do You Know Why I Pulled You Over?

It's National Grammar Day! The one day you're allowed to be the grammar police without fear of backlash. We've all been deputized, right? For today's Grammar Day PSA, I'd like to share some of my biggest grammar and spelling pet peeves and faux pas. I promise, I speak in love. We'll start with the grammatical equivalent of nails on a chalkboard:

1. Your/You're
Do I really need to say more? Winner of the "Most likely to annoy you on Facebook" award.

2. Alot
This one is for my husband. He's a very laid back guy, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard him say, "A LOT IS TWO WORDS!" One of the many reasons I love him. (Side note: He read this over my shoulder, saw the word "alot" and was this close to yelling at me when he read the rest of the paragraph and started laughing.)

3. Thru
Should only be used when accompanied by a side of fries. The fact that the dictionary actually allows this as an "informal spelling of through" makes me want to cry. NO. Just NO.

4. Lack of Punctuation
If reading your words aloud causes you to pass out due to lack of oxygen, you might want to consider some periods. Or at least a comma or two.

5. Autocorrect's Obsession with Contractions
I love my iPhone, but can someone please explain to me why autocorrect always insists on changing "were" to "we're" and "well" to "we'll"?

Of course, it wouldn't be fair of me to pick on everyone else without admitting to my own shortcomings. So here are some confessions of my own:

1. It's/Its
Yes, I passed the second grade. My only excuse for this one is that my pinky finger has a mind of its own. One of my very first assignments for the Institute of Children's Literature came back from my instructor with a whole lot of red-inked edits because I had misspelled every single its. How's that for embarrassing?

2. Lead/Led
Halfway through editing my last novel, it was brought to my attention that I have some sort of heavy metals obsession. I ended up having to do a search of my entire manuscript for the word "lead" so I could change them all to the proper word. Apparently, if I'm going to misspell something I go all in. At least I'm consistent, right?

3. Alright
Did you know this word isn't technically even a word? Because I didn't, until about nine months ago. Turns out it should be written as two words: all right. Except maybe when quoting Matthew McConaughey.

4. Necessary 
This word is my nemesis. Does the c or the s come first? Should there be one? Two? Forget it, I'll just right click and let spell check fix it!

5. Lay/Laid/Lie
If you automatically know which one to use without having to look it up, you're my hero.

On today of all days, I would be remiss if I didn't give a shoutout and a giant THANK YOU to my amazing friend Laurie, who is the most grammatically correct person I know. My book would be a hot mess if it wasn't for her eagle-eye error detection and correction skills. I owe her BIG TIME.

So what did I miss? What are the errors that annoy you most? Any confessions of your own? Share in the comments!

Now to cross my fingers and hope this post is error free...

Monday, March 3, 2014

Pass the Burnt Toast

Lately I've been suffering from that dreaded ailment all writers and artists fear: creative burnout. I've always thought creative burnout was something that happened when you spent too much time creating. But the truth is, I haven't done a whole lot of creating at all lately, and what I have done, I haven't exactly been enjoying. You may have noticed the blog has been quiet silent for the last couple of weeks. The reason is simple: I haven't had anything to say. I've been fresh out of ideas, even if I did have the energy at the end of the day to write something. I don't even have a book review to post because I'm only halfway through the novel I started reading a month ago. UGH. Enter cranky Ashley. Apologies to my poor husband and children.

This weekend I decided enough was enough. I was going to figure out what the problem was and fix it. And here's the conclusion I've come to: My creative burnout is really just plain old, everyday burnout. I suspect most of you will identify with me when I say I've just been too damn busy. I wake up in the morning with a to-do list at the forefront of my mind and by the end of the day if I haven't checked off EVERY. SINGLE. ITEM I feel like a complete and utter failure. There's always one more thing that needs to be done, but no matter what I'm doing I always feel like I should be doing something else. And relaxing? Ain't nobody got time for that. (Sorry, I couldn't resist)

As a result, my post-kids'-bedtime writing routine is no longer working because by the end of the day I'm exhausted, frustrated, and the last thing my brain wants to do is function. Writing has become a chore, just another thing on my crushing to-do list. And when your passion becomes a chore, you've got a problem.

So...what to do about it?


Easier said than done, right? It's a question I've heard a lot from my creative friends, especially those friends who are also moms. How do you balance doing what you want to do with doing what you need/have to do? Yes, I'd love to finish writing that novel, but there's also a house to be cleaned, the kids have to be taken to school (or if you're a homeschool mom like me, be schooled), the family has to be fed, this job has to be finished by that deadline...and on and on and on.

So how does one go from complaining (because let's be honest, we've all had a good whine about our schedules) to changing?

I'm not sure I have a one-size-fits-all answer, but I'd like to share my personal plan with you. I'm going to shake things up. I'm going to stand my usual routine on its head and attempt to go from night owl to early bird. Why? Because I'm tired of busyness stealing my joy. I really want to write that novel. And I want to implement something awesome from Don Miller, author of one of my all time favorite books, Blue Like Jazz. On his blog, Don has provided a free download of his Storyline Productivity Schedule. The first thing that struck me about the idea behind this schedule was Don's opening question: "What if problems like writers block and procrastination were less about your shortcomings and more about how you structure your work day?" The Storyline Productivity Schedule is all about managing your mental energy, not just your time. It helps you focus on one thing at a time, prioritize your day, finish projects, and allows for rewards and rest to help you periodically recharge. 

I don't know about you, but I think that sounds fantastic.

So for the next 30 days, I'm going to utilize the Productivity Schedule and hopefully be on my way to a healthier, more creative, more productive, and--most of all--more present and happier me. I'll let you know how it goes. If you're interested in joining me, you can read more about the schedule and download your free copy on the Storyline Blog. And if nothing else, I hope you find some encouragement knowing you're not the only one who struggles with finding a daily balance. We're all in this together. 

Here's to doing more by slowing down. Cheers!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Empathy in the Real World

Last night all of America grimaced as we watched Bode Miller endure a very uncomfortable--and tactless--interview. My heart went out to him. I was saddened by the story of his brother's death, so glad he medaled, and so sorry that he had to be subjected to a slew of inconsiderate questions at such a vulnerable moment. I--along with many others--simply couldn't understand why someone could be so thoughtless in the face of such intense grief.

It's not the first time in the last week that I've had the subject of grief on my mind. Recently I've been pondering the reality of pain in a media-soaked culture. We make connections with hundreds of people--both close friends and random strangers--every day via social media. This exponentially increases our chances of encountering another person's pain or grief. Last week, on the same day, a friend of mine posted on Facebook the news that she'd lost an old friend to cancer while another woman, who I know only via her Instagram feed, posted about the memorial service being held for her daughter who was stillborn at 37 weeks. And I started thinking: How often do we scroll past the pain in our feeds? I know I'm guilty of it. It saddens me to think that I'm more likely to shed a tear for a fictional character in a book or film than I am for the real live people I see experiencing real live pain.

I'm not saying we do it because we're cruel or indifferent or uncaring. We do it because grief is uncomfortable. Pain is uncomfortable. Especially when you've never experienced personally what another person is going through. We don't know what to say, we fear saying the wrong thing, and so we skip over those posts, those tweets, without saying anything at all.

As an author I want to evoke emotions in my readers. And that's not a bad thing. My own favorite books and movies are the ones that make me laugh, or cry, or--preferably--both. But I never want to feel more empathy for a fictional character than I do for the real people that I encounter each day.

I would challenge you--challenge us--to stop next time we're tempted to scroll a little faster. Don't shove empathy aside. Instead, take the time to hit "comment" or "reply". It can be as simple as saying "I'm sorry you're going through this." Or "You're in my thoughts." No words? Even an emoticon heart is better than silence.

And that's the great thing about the internet and this crazy online community that has become part of our reality: While it gives us more opportunities to be confronted with pain and grief, it also gives us more opportunities to do something about it.

Let's not waste it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Patience is Better (Unless You're a Zombie)

I follow a lot of book agents and writers on Twitter and it seems like lately my feed has been filled with a whole lot of  "I have an agent!" announcements and book cover reveals and publishing day congratulations. All of this has been equal parts inspiring, motivating, and painful. Seeing someone else reach their goal can make yours seem so very, VERY far away. And let's just say that patience is not my strongest quality. So for today's Picture Quote Monday I set out to find an inspiring quote about being patient and all its benefits, because I know for a fact I'm not the only person who struggles with this. I found plenty, such as this one: "Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait." -Longfellow. And this one: "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet." -Rousseau. But sometimes, when you're in the midst of a difficult lesson, you just need a giggle.

Which is why I picked this one.


Unless, of course, you're a zombie.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Picture Quote Monday {It Couldn't Be Done}

I missed putting up a picture quote last week because the entire family decided to come down with a nasty head cold ALL AT THE SAME TIME. It's bad enough when the kids are sick, but when both parents are feeling miserable on top of it...double the not so fun. But thankfully, after much pitiful lounging about on the couch and the disinfecting of all surfaces, we are on the mend and here I am, up way too late on a Sunday night to bring you your picture quote.

Recently I was having an email conversation with someone, discussing the difficulty in selling pirate-themed picture books and picture books in rhyme. Then she said it didn't surprise her that I was attempting to write the impossible - a trio of rhyming pirate picture books. To which she said: BRING THEM ON! And she wrote it just like that, in all caps. It made me exceedingly happy.

I'd like to think that there's a little of the White Queen in all of us, if only we, too, would dare to believe in six impossible things before breakfast. When I came across this jaunty poem, I knew I had to share it. It can't be done? Psh. Do it anyway. Because the only thing that's sure to fail is the thing that's left undone.

Did that make any sense? I think I need to go to bed.






Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Decade and Counting



We met on a late spring evening doing yard work outside an old stone victorian house on the upper west side during a youth group service project. I was quietly raking leaves by myself, having been assigned to a different job than my best friend (who was one of only three people I actually knew there), when A BOY came over and started talking to me. Despite my notorious shyness around members of the opposite sex, I was amazed at how quickly we fell into comfortable conversation. We talked for the rest of the evening. When he asked for my number at the end of the night I gave it to him, at which point my best friend nearly died from shock.

That weekend he asked me if I would go out with him. I said yes. Eight months and thirteen days later I said, "I do." Today, ten years and two kids later, I still love hearing him say, "This is my wife." Seriously, it never gets old.

If I were to list all the ways my husband has made my life better over the last ten years, you'd never be able to spare the time to read it. Thanks to him I have a deeper appreciation for film, music, and hot sauce. And of course, those two crazy, wonderful children. He never fails to tell me I'm beautiful on the days when I'm feeling the opposite. He's an amazing cook, isn't afraid to watch chick-flicks, and wholeheartedly agrees that our house needs more bookshelves. He's my biggest supporter, always encouraging me to pursue my dreams and there with the perfect words when I'm feeling like I'm the worst writer in the history of novelists. He's my best friend. And on top of all that, he loves me every single day, even when I've got my cranky pants on.

Pretty sure I'm the luckiest woman in the universe.


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, Nebraska, where nothing exciting ever happens. Until the day the Green Wind shows up at her window with his flying Leopard and whisks her away to Fairyland. There she encounters all manner of things she could never have imagined, both marvelous and dangerous. When she takes on the task of retrieving a witch's stolen wooden spoon, it falls to September, a book-loving dragon, and an almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish a tyrannical Marquess and restore order to Fairyland. But this adventure won't just threaten September's life. She might just lose her heart as well.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is quite possibly the most fun I've ever had telling people what book I'm reading. How so many words manage to roll off the tongue so beautifully, I'll never understand. How can I properly convey how wonderful this book is? There's so much to love! Just reading the cast of characters on the opening page is enough to tell you the story is going to be magical. (Witches, Wyverns, Spriggans, Numerous Velocipes...Do tell!) Reading this book is like being transported to a modern version of Alice's Wonderland. I found myself constantly amazed by the imagination of the author and the vast and varied cast she created inside the enchanting world of Fairyland. The narrator is perfection, stepping in at just the right moments with all the wit and poetic speech that is to be expected from the teller of such a tale. The writing is fantastic, the kind of stuff you'll find yourself constantly wishing you could fit into a tweet, in order to share the brilliance with the rest of the world.

"Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble."


"It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honor."

See what I mean? 

Most of all, I love that the author isn't afraid to mix humor with seriousness, the light hearted with a darker edge. I love the way that September, dear, brave girl, grows throughout the story. I came to many passages that, as I was reading them, seemed as if they were trying to teach me a very important lesson in some wonderful, mysterious way. The whole book is like that, wonderful and mysterious and enchanting. Including the ending of the second to last chapter that, just when I thought I had it all figured out, snuck up behind me and surprised me one last time before it disappeared and left me sitting there with my mouth hanging open.

If you're at all interested in traveling to a fantastic world filled with fairies, lovable dragons, terrible Marquesses with very fine hats, and a bathhouse where you can wash your courage clean, I don't think you'll find a better book for the job.

Then again, I am a novelist and not to be trusted. Perhaps you'll just have to make your own judgements.

Friday, January 17, 2014

An Apology to My Bookshelf



Here's what my current to-read list looks like (in no particular order). And these are just the ones that currently live on my bookshelf. After reading this Buzzfeed post on 16 Books to Read Before They Hit Theaters I think my list just got longer. Unfortunately it seems like my reading list is a lot longer than my reading time. I've been working on the same novel for about 5 weeks now...pretty sure my Bookworm card is going to get revoked now that I admitted that. *Hangs head in shame* It's a fantastic book, but I've had such a hard time allowing myself the down time to read. Right now I have six graphic design jobs going (good for the bank account, questionable for my sanity), and children and a husband who expect to be fed, and a state who expects me to educate my children, not to mention the laundry and house cleaning, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera... Every spare second I have left over is being focused on writing and editing, which I've somehow been managing to squeeze in daily (even if it's just 30 minutes) and that's a great thing--especially since I eventually want it to turn into a full time career. So of course what gets sacrificed? Reading. Which I know is horribly backwards, I mean, you can't write great books if you don't read great books. I've been seriously considering making myself a daily schedule and penciling in reading time. Yes, the situation has become that dire.

To all the books (and authors) I've been neglecting: It's not you, it's me. I'm sorry. I love you. I promise I'll be back

What about you? Do you read when you have a spare moment, or are you more intentional about picking up whatever book you're currently reading? What's on your 2014 to-read list? (I'll probably regret asking that last question.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Picture Quote Monday {Compare}


I tweeted this quote yesterday, but it's just too good not to share again. Over the holidays I had a conversation with a family member about this very subject. She was frustrated with some difficulties she'd recently run into, and even more frustrated over the fact that a friend of hers had seemingly quick success resolving the exact same issues. My response: It's always going to be like that.

Now, on the surface, that doesn't seem very encouraging. But it's the truth. No matter how old you get, or how much progress you make, there's always going to be someone that seems to have it better and/or easier than you. I say this from experience—and it's something I still struggle with. But the problem with this is summed up so perfectly by the above quote. So often, we only see the other person's glorious finish, that destination we ourselves long for so much. But if we could see their behind-the-scenes clips, we'd probably see the same frustrations and roadblocks and difficulties we face. And chances are, along the way, they ran into someone "better" and felt the same way you do.

It's so easy to fall into the pit of comparison. Don't do it. Instead of letting another person's success bring about feelings of doubt, insecurity, and—let's be honest—jealousy, let it inspire you. Offer them congratulations. Then keep pressing on toward your own goals. You can't get to the light at the end of the tunnel without walking through the dark first. You can't win the game without playing the minutes. Keep moving forward, one step at a time. We're all at a different place on our journey, and someday, you'll have your own highlight reel to look back on.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Whatever

I don't know about you, but when it comes to the daily to-do list, I have a tendency to focus on all the things I haven't accomplished, rather than all the things I have.

For instance, I spent a good portion of this morning worrying over the fact that I haven't posted anything on the blog in two weeks. I mean, that's terrible blog etiquette. I missed a prime opportunity to start off the new year with a blogging bang. I really should be more prepared with these things. Maybe I need to add "be more organized" to my list of New Year's Resolutions Goals.

But then I looked at the quote that I meant to post last week (but of course never got around to) and I was reminded of one of things I actually do want to be better at this year.


In the last 14 days I've celebrated Christmas and rung in a new year, visited with family, learned how to play Farkle, worked on several graphic design projects, spent time with good friends, scored an awesome pair of shoes on clearance, watched my husband and son put together over a thousand Lego bricks, discussed wedding plans with my future sister-in-law, played about twenty games of Sorry! with my kids, and wrote and/or edited almost every single day. The house has been moderately clean, the bills have been paid, the laundry has been washed (if not put away), and all persons and cats have been fed.

That's a lot of awesome. The fact that I didn't put up a blog post doesn't seem like that big of a deal when compared with all the things I did do.

With 2014 ahead of us, all shiny and new and ripe with possibility, it's good to remember that one year is made up of 365 days. In the midst of setting goals and making resolutions, let's have grace with ourselves and our days--especially when they don't go as planned. Because there really is more to life than what makes it on the to-do list.