“Reach up for the sunrise
Put your hands into the big sky
You can touch the sunrise
Feel the new day enter your life.”
~Duran Duran, “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise”
“All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight.”
~Clay Jannon, via Robin Sloane in Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore
Hi, friends! I’m popping in from Revision Land – started the third round of edits on Watercolors this week and am somehow still enjoying the process immensely! – to say hello and see what everyone’s up to. Can we talk about the fact that it’s already mid-August? I seriously don’t understand how that’s possible. Where has the summer gone? It always seems to fly by, but this year … I don’t know, I feel like it should still be June. I wish we could slow down time, but since that’s not a possibility, I hope you all are taking a moment to enjoy these hazy, lazy (or often not-so-lazy) days and the warm sunshine. Here are a few things I’ve been loving lately:
- A weekend getaway to Lancaster, PA. We went to see the show Ballroom With a Twist, which featured performances from Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and American Idol finalists. It was such a great combination – featuring one of my favorite SYTYCDers from all the seasons! – and was so fun to see the routines in person.
- The duck pond at the hotel where we stayed. There were dozens of ducks in and around the water. How adorable are these babies?
- The summer scents from Bath & Body Works. Honolulu Sun, Cool Coconut Surf, and Hello Sunshine are my new favorites and will have me dreaming of the beach even when the weather turns cool.
- The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. I don’t watch regularly – I’m usually asleep by the time it comes on – but I had the chance to go to a taping of the show last week and had a blast. It was so cool to see all the behind-the-scenes details and to experience such a unique kind of energy. Helen Mirren was my favorite of the guests. Added bonus: we got off the subway directly below the Simon & Schuster building and got to walk through the lobby on our way outside. This writing and reading fanatic was most excited.
- Wawa’s banana cream smoothie. They have so many good flavors, but this one just might be the most delicious. It’s fruity and sweet, the perfect summer treat.
- Winning at miniature golf not once, but twice, and getting two holes-in-one in the same game. For someone who almost always loses, this was a pretty awesome triumph. I may or may not have done a victory dance.
- Animal rescue and adoption centers. I’ve been thinking about adopting a bunny for awhile now and have fallen in love with some on the centers’ websites. Hopefully I’ll get to make a furry friend part of the family soon.
- Flowers like this. The world is so pretty when its colors are bold and bright.
- Unique, original stories. I just finished MR. PENUMBRA’S 24 HOUR BOOKSTORE and really enjoyed it. It’s different from the kinds of books I normally read, but different is good sometimes.
– Working on this book baby of mine. I so love seeing it grow with each round of revisions – and shrink, too! The final draft of this will end up being my shortest ever, and for anyone who knows the way I write, you’ll understand why I’m so proud of that.
What are you all loving lately?
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”
By nature, I am a worrywart. I check to make sure the oven’s off before going to bed each night. I’ve never flown on an airplane – so many things about it terrify me – and probably never will. I look in my rearview mirror quite frequently while driving and still remember the way, thirteen years ago, my driving teacher actually covered it with her hand so I’d stop. I get concerned when people are late to arrive somewhere. And WebMD? It’s my worst enemy.
Know what doesn’t make me anxious, though? Writing. Editing. Losing myself in the words, in the magic. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, as I query SOT. So many things about the querying process are frustrating, or disappointing, or just plain tough. I have a separate email account for everything writing-related, and I won’t lie, my heart likely skips a beat whenever the number in that inbox updates. Querying is not for the faint of spirit, that’s for sure. I’ve been doing it for a long time now, and I like to think I’ve learned something – lots of things, even. But still, it takes a lot. And maybe it should, because the best things in life, they’re worth fighting for. They’re worth the nerves and the wondering and the worrying.
Sometimes, though, we have to forget about the next step in the journey. About the things out of our control, whether that’s our dreams or our careers or whatever else is waiting out there in the wide, uncertain world. And when I need to do that? I turn to reading, or music, or the outdoors, or, most often, writing. I jump into my characters’ stories and am reminded all over again why I do this. Why I love this. Why I need this. Do I want to be published? Of course. But more than that, I want the joy, the excitement, the invigoration of sitting down at my desk and knowing I’m about to go on a journey with these people who travel from my imagination to the page. Writing lets me explore. It lets me play. It lets me believe in fairy tales and goodness and light. There is truly nothing like it. When I’m writing, it’s like my heart grows wings. It chases away the worries. It lets me be my freest and truest self. When my family went through the excruciating month-long horror of losing Gram? I escaped into my writing. When I was searching for a way to work through the pain of losing all my grandparents? A way to heal? My characters taught me how. And just a few months ago, when I spent a terribly long week waiting for an MRI and worrying about what could be wrong? WATERCOLORS helped me through.
Writing can be difficult. It should be difficult sometimes, because that’s when we find opportunities to push ourselves. But it can also be beautiful. It can also be magical. It can also be a safe place to let go of everything else and just be. In spite of everything else, maybe even because of everything else, I am so grateful for that. When it comes to writing, I have no worries.
And isn’t that the way it should be?
“Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better.”
Once upon a time, there was a library. Its white facade was plain, having been home to a church before becoming a passport to so many new worlds, and the inside was small. Walking in, the narrow hallway opened into a room where thousands of books were packed tightly into floor-to-ceiling shelves and a handful of employees bustled around behind the cramped check-out desk. Upstairs was a conference room of sorts, where certificates and prizes would be handed out for participants in the summer reading challenge, and downstairs … downstairs was a little slice of heaven, right here on earth. Bookcases surrounding the perimeter, bookcases running the length of the room, bookcases overflowing with stories about animals, about middle schoolers, about mystery, about magic. Hurrying down the wooden steps to the kids’ room, my smile would stretch from ear-to-ear and my heart would beat with an added thump, already doing a pitter-patter for all the journeys just waiting for me.
That library is where I met Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. Where I went along with the Babysitters Club on all their adventures. Where I learned about guinea pigs before our family welcomed Nibbles, the cutest long haired abyssinian, into our lives. Where I laughed and learned with friends during community nights and the annual carnival. Where I went on a field trip with my fifth grade class to help clean the books before they were transferred to a new, bigger building across the street. Where I fell in love with the sights, sounds, smells, touches – and, most of all, the pure joys – of reading.
It’s been nineteen years now since our local library moved to a new facility. It’s a lovely place, open and airy, calm and relaxing, inspiring and encouraging. When you walk in the front doors now, it’s a wide space. The checkout desk is large and circular, the children’s section is at least twice as big, and there are rows of computers to accompany the shelves of books. There’s a bottom level, where a youth group often meets, and several rooms for events, guest speakers, and more. The ceilings are high, the views from the windows are wonderful, and the chairs are so comfortable you could curl up in one for hours as you get lost in a story. Truly, it’s a fabulous place. But I still miss the old homey one, even after all this time. I miss the arts and crafts days, where we’d make things like makeshift stained glass jars, and sitting in the back while my sister attended story time with the warm, kind librarian whose love for reading emanated clear from her soul. I miss easing books from the shelves and scampering back up the stairs with a towering stack teetering in my arms. And yet, even as I lose myself in nostalgia for what used to be, I’m grateful for what is, for the fact that, even in today’s fast-paced and technology-oriented society, there are still libraries where we can lose ourselves in the worlds. In the words.
Big or small, new or old, the chance to let our imaginations fly free like that is a blessing. I hope we always take advantage of it.
“Technology makes it possible for people to gain control over everything, except over technology.”
Know what’s never a good sign? When you’re working on the computer and the screen suddenly goes blank. Know what’s even worse? When you try to reboot said computer and are met with wavy lines, shrill beeps, and, eventually a vast blue (or sometimes white … or sometimes black … or sometimes gray …) chasm of nothingness. And do you know what’s worse still? When you drop off that computer, that very lifeline of sorts for a writer, and the technician who’s supposed to fix it actually breaks it instead.
Welcome to the last twelve days. What was promised to be a one or two day repair turned into an almost two week saga. A misdiagnosis of the problem … an extra three days for the correct part to be ordered … a check-in phone call on my part during which it was explained that in the process of replacing the display, they broke the airport card … another six days for my computer to be shipped to Tennessee for their error to be fixed … minimal communication and apologies, except from one very kind tech representative … let’s just say I was not a happy camper.
As of yesterday, I FINALLY have Goldie again (please tell me I’m not the only one who gives computers a name!) and I seriously don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to get back to work. I have a second round of revisions to make on WATERCOLORS, a song to write for it, and queries to send for SANDS OF TIME. I’m always excited to sit down at my writing desk after a break, but after one that was frustratingly extended by all this time? I. AM. JUBILANT.
I did my best to keep up with y’all via my iPod, but holy cow, did my eyes start hurting after awhile, so if I missed anything important – or even anything small – let me know! And does anyone else have any computer repair horror stories to share?!
“Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.”
Lately, I have:
* Finished the first – and most major – round of edits on WATERCOLORS. Actually, let’s say that again and add in some more excitement. As of yesterday, the second draft of this book is officially complete!! Whoohoo!! The story is 16,000 words shorter, but as is so often the case with writing, it’s also reminded me that less can be more. The revision process has been entirely different this time around. Instead of my finger taking up permanent residence on the ‘delete’ key, I’ve actually gotten to add a good amount to the manuscript. Before I started, it was a bit daunting. I knew there were so many things to change, so many things to rewrite or rework, and I wasn’t sure how to approach the task. But once I sat back down at my desk and opened the Word document? It was instant adrenaline and excitement. For the first time, I can honestly say that editing has been a totally joy-filled experience. It was such fun to watch the story grow – even as it shrunk – before my eyes. Being unsure about some points as I drafted was tough. Knowing how I wanted to strengthen them during revisions was inspiring. We always say that each writing journey is unique, and this was such a great lesson in that. Never would I have thought that I’d enjoy editing more than drafting – and maybe this will be the only time it happens – but I am grateful for taking another path this time, because it’s helped me see new things.
* Spent the day in NYC with a wonderful group of friends, including my kindred spirit in writing. Words can’t express how much I was looking forward to this day, and even though it went by way too quickly, I had a blast. There’s nothing quite like getting to spend time with people in person when you normally have to rely on the phone, computer, and mailbox for contact. Times Square, Mister Softee, Rockefeller Plaza, Simon & Schuster (because it’s a rule that if writing sparked your friendship, you must take a picture outside that building), Vynl (coolest restaurant, fyi, if you’re ever in Manhattan), and Junior’s for the best dessert … it was fun not because of what we did, but because of who we shared the experience with. I wish I could rewind time and do it all over again!
* Read my first Nicholas Sparks book. I know, I know, what rock have I been living under all these years? Actually, it’s been a deliberate choice to stay away from his novels, because I know they normally have sad endings and I tend to look for happier ones in my reading choices, but a friend recommended THE LONGEST RIDE, so I gave it a try. I am so glad, too, because I loved it. Yes, it was sad, but in a touching way. I loved the characters and the stories, especially the one primarily set in the past, and still find myself thinking about them, even days after finishing.
What have you guys been doing lately?
“A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
Well … hello there. Sorry, friends, I didn’t mean to drop off the face of the (blogging) earth. I started edits on WATERCOLORS two and a half weeks ago and have pretty much fallen down the rabbit hole of Revision Land. After (happily) spending four hours on each chapter, the last thing my eyes (and neck … and back … and head …) want is to stare at the computer screen for much longer, so I’ve been stepping away from the laptop as much as possible. The goal is to finish this first round of revisions by the middle of June, so I’ll be back to more regular posting then, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share some thoughts about a few amazing books I’ve read lately.
THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER, by Sarah McCoy: You know those books that do more than touch your heart? The ones that slip seamlessly into your soul and take up permanent residence? The ones that make you laugh one moment and grow misty-eyed the next? The ones that strike a lasting chord? That’s what this book did for me. It’s been a long time since I was affected by a story on such a visceral level. From the very first word straight through until the very last, I was just spellbound by the characters and their journeys. When Reba Adams visits Elsie’s German Bakery to interview its owner and write a Christmas piece about her for a local magazine, she has no idea what awaits her. What memories she will hear from both Elsie – who, as a German teenager during WWII, hid Tobias, an escaped Jewish boy, for months – and her daughter Jane. What a deep, life-changing friendship she will form with the women. What inspiration and hope she will see in them and feel reflected on herself. This is a story about Reba and her fiance Riki. About Elsie and her family, both those in Germany and those in America. About Reba and Elsie and Jane together. With alternating perspectives – the book flips between present and past, showing us the heart of who Reba and Elsie are – it offers an insightful, educational, inspiring, enlightening view. I found myself thinking about these characters, especially Elsie, so often, even when I wasn’t reading. I woke up two hours early on more than one occasion to squeeze in extra time with them, I sat on a beach with a windchill in the forties because I only had two chapters left and couldn’t imagine not finishing the story right then, even if it meant my hands turned to ice. This story, it is compelling. Mesmerizing. Fascinating. I learned a lot about WWII in both regular school and Hebrew school, but this added another dimension. It left a handprint on my heart, on my thoughts, and will stay with me for a very, very long time to come.
CATCHING AIR, by Sarah Pekkanen: You guys know this already, because I’ve talked about it time and again on here, but Sarah’s books are among my very favorites. So when I won an ARC of her new novel, you’d better believe I was super excited. As usual, she’s crafted a story that takes us directly into her characters’ hearts … homes … hopes. When Kira and Peter Danner accept his brother Rand’s offer to move to Vermont and run a B&B with him and his wife Alyssa, they don’t know what they’re in for – and for people who crave security, that is, to say the least, a leap of faith. The same is true for Alyssa and Rand, whose lives are forever changed by tiny miracles that blossom into the greatest blessings, and for Dawn, a woman who finds herself on the run as she desperately tries to flee the past that could put her entire future in jeopardy. Watching their lives intersect, seeing them pull apart and come together, is both entertaining and emotional. One of the things I enjoy most about Sarah’s writing is her ability to make readers feel like they’re right there in the pages, experiencing the story instead of simply reading it. Alyssa’s first ultrasound … Kira finding peace with the man whose absence left a hole in her heart … Dawn learning to stand up for herself … all five of them coming together to throw the wedding of the year at their B&B … I didn’t just see those scenes. I felt them, too, and I was inspired. Because this story? It helps readers catch some air of our own.
FANGIRL, by Rainbow Rowell: I’ve been hearing such wonderful things about this book for so long. Everyone I know who’s read it has loved the story, and now you can count me in among those singing its praises. Like I mentioned, I actually rediscovered my passion for creative writing because of fanfiction, so from page one, I very much related to Cath. Her love of writing, her immersion in the story, her dedication to the emotion it brings out and the emotion she brings to the characters … it was like sitting in a warm patch of sunshine. There are such lovely insights into the writing life in this book, into its joys and frustrations, its heart and soul, and I had so much fun going along on the journey with Cath. Loved her, loved Levi, loved the way their relationship blossoms. I think what I loved most, though, is that the characters in this book are normal. They’re everyday people going about their everyday lives, trying to navigate the world just like all of us. They could be any of us. How awesome is that? Just like Cath is a fangirl of Simon Snow, I am one for this story.
Your turn: tell me what you’re currently reading!
“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”
~Henry David Thoreau
One of my favorite parts of the three week break I took between finishing the first draft of WATERCOLORS earlier this month and starting its revisions today? A mini getaway to the shore. It may have been cool and windy, but still, there is no place like a coastal one. Home is where the ocean is (and dolphins, too, if you look closely on the left side of this picture!).
Maybe I’m just easily amused, but it never fails to make me smile when I stumble upon something that reminds me of my characters. When I found this fountain in Cape May, I not only tossed in a penny for myself, but also one for Eden. Here’s to wishes-come-true.
This ship off the shore of Cape May Point is made of concrete and sunk into the sea after being used during World War I. Apparently seagulls like to use it as a perching spot now?
Proof that appearances can be deceiving: it looks like a warm spring day, right? You’d never guess that it was so cold we all sat on the beach with fall coats, hoods, and gloves. Ridiculous to plant ourselves there when the windchill was in the forties? Ridiculous that we’re even having windchills like that at the end of April? Sure, but like I always say … I’d rather be freezing at the shore than warm somewhere else.
Have I ever told y’all about what reignited my passion for creative writing? What took me out of journalism’s sphere and brought me back into the circle that first illuminated my world when I was in eighth grade? In many ways, I will always be grateful to this woman for that. Megan Ward. She played Kate on General Hospital, and, from the first day she graced the screen, lit up the show with her acting prowess. Her character became half of one of my all-time favorite couples on the show and their beautiful love story inspired me to try my hand at fanfiction, which I’d never written before. It was, truly, like magic. I wrote thousands of pages over the following two and a half years and just felt myself fill up with this love, this joy, for creative writing. I didn’t even realize how much I’d missed it until I had it again. It’s been almost seven years now since that time, and I’ve penned six books. That’s crazy to me, but also crazily cool. So getting to visit with Megan again yesterday? Seeing her smile as she exclaimed “you made it!” to me? Talking with her for such a long time, thanking her for introducing me to incredible people who will be lifelong friends and for reigniting that writing spark? Hearing her quip that she wants to get credit in my book acknowledgements one day? Spending time with someone who treats us like friends, who was as genuinely happy to see us again as we were to see her? Knowing that she remembers me and still has the Walk of Fame gift my friend Amanda and I made her? It was beyond special. I talk a lot about how wonderful the General Hospital cast is, and they all are, but there are some that go the extra mile, go above and beyond, and Megan is one of them. She is a gem. I miss her on the show all the time and am so very grateful to have had the chance to see her this weekend. It’s a day I’ll always treasure.
As an added bonus, I got to meet another actress who used to be on GH, Kari Wuhrer. She is also super sweet and lovely to chat with!
Now – give me a show or tell (or both!) about what’s going on with you lately!
“To write means more than putting pretty words on a page; the act of writing is to share a part of your soul with the world.”
I don’t frequently participate in blog hops, but I really enjoyed these posts from Kristan, Julie, and Heather, so I decided to jump in with one of my own. Added bonus: I’ve been missing my book-babies something fierce during this writing break, so this is a really fun way to (sort of) hang out with them again.
What are you working on?
I just finished the first draft of WATERCOLORS, a story about a songwriter whose life goes up in smoke. Eden loses everything in the fire: her home, her belongings, her muse, and herself. It isn’t until she overhears someone wishing on a penny – and makes the wish come true – that she begins to find a glimmer of light in the darkness. For the first time in a long time, she feels like she matters, like she has the ability to leave a handprint on people’s hearts … and so she keeps granting wishes. Sometimes the results are beautiful. Sometimes they’re not. And when one wish goes wrong in the worst possible way? It’s for Wilson, the man she’s fallen head-over-heels in love with, the man she wants to build a life with … and, now, the man whose world she may just have totally destroyed.
I so loved writing about Eden’s relationships with her grandmother, her parents, her boyfriend and his daughter, her old friends and new. Some are strong and unconditional. Others are delicate and tenuous. Each is an important thread in the tapestry of her existence. I’m so excited to jump into revisions soon and tighten up the melody of Eden’s heart song.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Hmm … well, honestly, I think every writer’s work will differ from the rest simply because of who’s writing it. We all have our own perspectives, our own tales to tell, our own way of looking at and depicting the world. Give two writers the same premise and their stories will still be dramatically different. Isn’t that the coolest thing? On a more technical level, I’ll add that I often like to switch up the traditional format – sometimes I alternate chapters with dual POVs, sometimes I write in a diary style, sometimes I include an interlude before each chapter (not all in the same book, of course … wouldn’t that be unique, ha!).
Why do you write what you do?
I write women’s fiction because it’s what I love to read and because it tells the stories of people I’d like to know. With each individual book, I write because my characters’ journeys keep me up at night. Because they plant themselves in my head and refuse to leave. Because they fill my heart with joy and my soul with hope. Because they become a part of me, and because I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How does your writing process work?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been one of those organized, likes-to-color-code, Type A people. The same is true for my writing. I always start a new journal for each project, I always spend several weeks researching, brainstorming, and writing character sketches (and yes, each character gets a different color pen), and I always have a clear sense of beginning/middle/end before diving into a draft. But I also believe in letting the characters lead the way. I believe in following their example, listening to their opinions, and taking my cues from them. I believe it’s okay to write even if every piece of the puzzle hasn’t fallen into place yet, because sometimes that can only come once the story has evolved. I believe it’s fine to change course midway through a draft, and – this happened with both SANDS OF TIME and WATERCOLORS – to run with an alternate ending when it lights up your brain with adrenaline on the very morning you’re due to finish the last chapter. I believe writing is work – hard work – but I also believe it’s joy, love, and beauty personified. For me, there is truly nothing like getting lost in the story. Whether it’s drafting, rewriting, or editing, I take it one day at a time. One step at a time. One word at a time.