Better.


“A new year is like a blank book. The pen is in your hands. It is your chance to write a beautiful story for yourself.”
~Unknown

Show of hands: who thought I’d dropped off the face of the earth, or, at least, the blogging community? I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you did. I’ll be honest, the longer I went without posting, the tougher it seemed to get back into the swing of things. This space has always been an outlet, though, a place to celebrate the good and work through the bad, and so I don’t think I could ever leave it, not fully. I’d miss it, and all of you, too much. And so here I am again, after more than four months.

Most of you know that 2015 was a difficult, trying year for my family and me. Things were rough in many different ways, ways that left me feeling drained and defeated. In fact, if I had to sum up the year in one word, it would be: exhausting. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, it was just so very long and tiring. Much as I wanted to write in here, it often felt like there was nothing to say. I try, really try quite hard, to be an optimistic person, but sometimes life gets in the way, you know? Eventually it got to a point where I saw those roadblocks for what they were, and to rehash them in writing … truly, the thought seemed to zap the energy straight out of me.

Now that it’s 2016? I’m determined to embrace the fresh start, to do everything in my power to ensure that the pages of this year’s calendar are filled with much brighter colors than last year’s. Maybe that will happen, maybe it won’t. After all, flipping from December to January doesn’t actually change any of the words that wrote themselves in the past. My hope, though, is that I can add to those words now, to weave some hope and happiness back in. To that end, I’ve been thinking about what resolutions to make for this year, and I came up with … none. Deliberately, consciously, purposely, I’m making no concrete resolutions. I’ve found that, while they’re a wonderful motivator, they can also be the opposite when they don’t hold up, when you work tirelessly to make them a reality and it still doesn’t happen. Instead, I’m going to throw all my energy into doing what I can do make 2016 better than 2015. I am going to look for at least one bright spot in every day, even when the light seems dim. I’m going to keep on doing what it takes to get my book babies out there, even when the journey feels like climbing an endless mountain. I’m going to keep spending countless hours of time with my sweet and spunky Jasper Jellybean, even when it means sacrificing some of my to-do list (and some of my sleep). I’m going to work on accepting what I can’t control, even when those things seem so incredibly unfair. Mostly, though, I’m going to give this year everything I’ve got and pray that when it reciprocates, it will be with good things this time.

No resolutions, but those are my goals. My wishes. My must-haves.

How about you guys? What’s your must-have this year? And, again, thanks for sticking with me. Friends like you made a bad year better, and I’m so lucky to have your support. Wishing you all a happy, healthy 2016 – may it be filled with all the joy of a bunny’s binky and every one of your dreams come true!

777.

“You can make anything by writing.”
~C.S. Lewis

Some of my awesome writing friends participated in the “777 Challenge” recently, and I enjoyed reading their fabulous excerpts so much, I decided to play along! Here’s a bit of WATERCOLORS, the book I’m preparing to query.

There are homeless shelters in the city, wonderful ones that build people up when they’ve fallen down. I could go there. I should go there. But I can’t move. My legs melt to jelly when I stand and I have to grab on to the railing before they betray me completely. Suddenly I’m exhausted. I’m so, so tired and afraid. Every ounce of energy has been zapped from my body, filtered out by an ominous sieve, and the idea of walking anywhere, even a few blocks, seems akin to climbing Mount Everest. I just … can’t.

And so I slide back to the concrete steps, letting my thoughts escape once again to all the shows that have been played inside. Ryman Auditorium is happiness personified. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and the dream realized. It’s part of the reason why so many tourists journey to Nashville and why so many artists crave the chance to call this city their own.

Maybe that’s why I stay.

Maybe I’m craving something, too.

Fellow writers, it’s your turn. Go to page seven of your WIP, jump down seven lines, and post seven sentences – and make sure to leave me a link, because I’d love a glimpse into your stories!

Heart Song.


“First you set out to write a book. Then, very quickly, you realize the book was set out to write you.”
~Brandon A. Trean

6 days. 22 hours. 3 chapters. 32 pages. 10,890 words.

This has been, hands down, my absolute favorite writing week for WATERCOLORS. It was one of those weeks where the words flowed freely instead of hiding behind brick walls, where I would have to go running for my journal as ideas exploded in my brain, where the characters talked openly and let me inside their heads, inside their hearts. One day, I wrote an entire page in ten minutes. Another, I lost myself so completely in the story that I forgot to eat breakfast. A third, I wrote seven pages straight and only stopped because my back was screaming at me, too achy from sitting at my desk for so long to stay there even a minute more. In short, this was the kind of week writers live for. It was ebullience and adrenaline and inspiration. It was magic.

And, though I hate to admit it, that hasn’t always been the case with this book. I’ve loved it from the beginning, have believed in the characters and their journeys, but it’s been a different experience this time. I’m writing about places and situations that are foreign to me, and sometimes, no matter how much research you do, there’s still more to learn. The list of changes I have to make in revisions is probably as long as my arm. There are scenes to add, details to tweak, storylines to shift. I won’t lie – for quite awhile, that was discouraging. I still wrote religiously every morning, I still made sure to stick to my half-a-chapter-per-day quota, but for some reason I couldn’t let the wave of the story carry me along at full throttle. Maybe it was because I’m querying SANDS OF TIME simultaneously and still feel such a pull towards those characters. Maybe it was because it’s challenging, and sometimes frustrating, to tap into the emotions of someone who’s homeless and a songwriter when I’m neither. Or maybe it’s because I have a hard time letting go of perfectionism when it comes to writing. Know what, though? That only made it more special when the story wrapped me in its embrace this week.

I got to write a series of scenes I’ve been looking forward to since the planning stages – scenes between Eden, her mom, and grandmother, scenes that honored her grandpa, scenes that lifted them a little higher. Scenes that lifted me a little higher. One of my favorite parts about working on this book has been the relationship between Eden and Lillian, because it’s given me a chance to weave my own grandmothers’ threads into the pages. Eden views life in music and melodies, and this allowed me to share part of my own heart song. Eden is not me and Lillian is not my Gram, but with these scenes in particular I could see her smile. Hear her voice. Imagine her hand atop mine. It was like she was standing behind me as I wrote – along with Grandmom Dot, Pop Joe, and Granddaddy – smiling peacefully. Proudly. I will always regret that my grandparents didn’t get a chance to read my books. With this, though, it kind of feels like they can. Like their love still lives on. Like they’re reminding me, as Lillian reminded Eden, that the people we’ve lost are never truly gone. They are always inside us, and when we can crack open our hearts and let their love burst onto the page … it is the best.

Endings have always been my favorite part of a book to write. There is something uniquely special about watching the story tie together. It is satisfying, and fulfilling, and, I think, the closest a writer can get to experiencing real, tingly, out-of-this-world magic. Writing the last few chapters of a book makes me feel like I’m flying. Soaring. Reaching up for the stars and actually holding those pinpricks of light in my palms. With only three chapters to go in this draft, I have never been more excited about the story. I would plunk myself in that desk chair and write for twenty-four hours straight if I could. I am forcing myself to take a day off tomorrow, but my fingers, they’re already itching to find the keys again. And you know, in retrospect, maybe it’s a good thing that this book didn’t come as easily. Nothing worth having ever does, and now I truly mean it when I say I can’t wait to jump into revisions. I am giddy with the thought of where this book could go. Where it could take me.

Where it already has.

Speechless.

Too heartsick over the Connecticut tragedy to even begin putting it into words. So, instead, a ray of light from the inspiring Anne Frank:

“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Hold your loved ones close not only today, but every day. Spread peace. Spread comfort. Spread happiness. Spread hope. Spread faith. Spread joy. Spread love.

Tuesday’s Tunes: Querying Edition.


“It’s an endless ride
Sometimes it takes you up
Sometimes it tears you down inside
But it’s the butterflies
That keep you feeling so alive…”
~David Archuleta, “Elevator”

When Caryn and I were chatting last week and she suggested a “Songs to Query To” for Tuesday’s Tunes, I immediately fell in love with the idea and couldn’t wait to brainstorm a list. It was such fun to see how many lyrics relate to the emotional roller-coaster that is the querying process – and so tough to narrow them down for this post! Below is just a sampling of my favorites:

“Elevator” – David Archuleta: This song is an ideal way to describe the craziness that defines querying. Seriously, you’d think it was written with that sole purpose in mind, that’s how closely some of the lyrics align. Because it DOES feel like an endless ride sometimes, the elevator going up and down, up and down, up and down some more. It’s hard, so hard, to always go with the flow when so much of it is beyond your control, but it helps to remember those butterflies that keep us so alive – the wings of inspiration that our books and characters become to us. They make the ride so worth it.

“The Story” – Sara Ramirez: Okay, this one may not correspond as specifically, but there’s no denying that the emotion behind the lyrics so passionately sums up exactly what we feel as writers. I firmly believe that each manuscript we create leaves a handprint on our hearts – and, like Sara sings, they also leave imprints on our face, lines that help tell the story of who we are. For our characters, we’d climb across the mountaintops and swim across the ocean blue. Querying is no easy task, either, but we do it for them, and for ourselves, too.

“Misery” – Maroon 5: This is Caryn’s brainchild and the reason why I HAD to do this post, because the song was just begging to be included. Favorite part: I wrote you a hundred letters. Seriously, could it be ANY MORE PERFRECT? Nope, didn’t think so.

“Crazy Dreams” – Carrie Underwood: This one is for the day when agents fall in love with our book-babies, make THE CALL, and all our crazy dreams come true. For the day when wild magnolias bloom. And until then, for the times when we need a reminder that a bad day should never be enough to talk us into giving up. Persistence and passion, hard work and hope – here’s to wishing it all turns into crazy dreams lived out loud every day.

What songs would make your must-listen list while querying? What songs inspire you to dream big and work hard?

Tuesday’s Tunes: Soundtrack Edition.


“Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing, too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap!
It’s time to try defying gravity…”
~Wicked, “Defying Gravity”

I thought it would be fun to change things up a bit for this week’s Tuesday’s Tunes. After all, it’s not only music and writing that go hand-in-hand. It’s also music and imagery. Whether those scenes unfold across the small screen, the silver screen, or on Broadway’s vast and far-reaching stage, the idea remains the same. Music enhances what we see. It plays upon our emotions, describes what the characters are going through, and offers an almost magical escape. As my main character Sofie describes her theater-going experience:

Rows of red chairs flowed like the sea, glittery lights hung above, and around us, vested ushers guided people to their seats. It’s amazing to think how many theaters are like that in New York, each its own snow globe in a city that pulsates outside with its rhythmic heartbeat. Broadway is special. It’s a connection, an outreach, a chance to emerge more affected than when you entered.

Like Sofie, I love theater. I also love when television shows and movies incorporate chords of inspiration among their words. So, this week, here’s a look into some of my favorite soundtrack songs.

“Defying Gravity” – Wicked: I. ADORE. THIS. SHOW. As in, I could see it time and again, never once getting tired of its layered, beautiful, chilling story. There is something uniquely special about it, a universal connection that reaches straight into your soul and refuses to let go. It makes you believe – in magic, in hope, in faith, and in the fact that we can all truly be changed for good by the people who come into our lives. And, perhaps most importantly, it reminds us all that we can defy some gravity of our own, if we only have the courage to take that first leap.

“The Story” – Grey’s Anatomy: I dare you to listen to this and tell me that Sara Ramirez doesn’t have an amazing, captivating voice. Go on, give it a try. You won’t succeed, though, because she sings this song like the Tony Award winner she is. She tells a story so many of us can relate to – that, yes, we have lines across our faces, but that’s a good thing, because they make us who we are. They tell our stories. And, in this conclusion to Grey’s Anatomy’s musical episode, as we watch Callie convince herself to fight, as we watch her find the strength deep inside to live for her daughter, we’re reminded of something precious. Bravery can be hard to come by sometimes. Courage can be hard to find. But when you have something, someone, who makes you feel like a million bucks, then your stories become intertwined. The lines get crossed. And what follows? A song with beautiful harmony.

“The Living Proof” – The Help & Private Practice: Mary J. Blige’s song was featured in The Help – you can see scenes from the fantastic movie in the music video – and was also used in last week’s emotionally-charged intervention episode of Private Practice. It really struck me how the lyrics were so deeply, innately fitting for both experiences. They gracefully told the story of Aibileen Clark and Ms. Skeeter, and they also poignantly told the story of Amelia Shepherd. For each character, it was indeed a long, long journey to overcome. It was an uphill climb. But they persevered, they dug deep and found faith, and they came out on the other side changed for the better. How can you not love a song that plays those melodies?

What songs are you listening to this week? Do you like soundtrack albums? What’s your favorite musical?

Tuesday’s Tunes.


“Nothing ever happens if you stay in your room
Nothing ever happens if you leave the party too soon
You’ll never be a winner if you’re not in the game
Nothing ever happens if you always play it safe
Make a little space and get out of your own way.”
~Rachel Platten, “Nothing Ever Happens”

First – thank you all so very much for your kind words and thoughtful commentary on the “what constitutes a job?” issue. I enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts on the subject and truly hope we can all have the opportunity to live a career that is so filled with joy it doesn’t feel like work at all. Here’s to following our hearts, dreaming big dreams, and making them all come true.

Following that theme, here’s this week’s edition of Tuesday’s Tunes:

“Nothing Ever Happens” – Rachel Platten: I saw Rachel in concert last week, and even though I wasn’t familiar with any of her music beforehand, all it took was one song to become an instant fan. Rachel is a breath of fresh air in today’s music industry, a ray of sunshine who channels happiness and hope into her songwriting and performances. Upbeat and catchy, but woven with messages of faith and determination, her music makes you want to go out and do, be, dream, live. Absolutely love her entire album and am already looking forward to seeing her in concert again!

“God Bless Us Everyone” – Melinda Doolittle: I’ve talked before about how very special a person Melinda is to me and how her heart is as big as her talent, and that shines through in her new single. Co-written by Melinda, this song captures the beauty of the holiday spirit. It’s warm, rich, and glitters with inspiration. No matter what you celebrate – this Jewish gal loves the song! – it’ll make you feel fuzzy, feel happy, and feel good. It’ll make you want to do good. And how fitting is that, really, because that’s exactly what Melinda does. Through her music and her soul, she changes the world for good. I, for one, will be forever grateful.

“The Sun Will Rise” – Kelly Clarkson & Kara DioGuardi: Did you ever hear a song that you just instantly connected to? That spoke to something in your soul from the very first chord? That was immediately, innately special in a way words can’t describe? For me, this is it. Kelly and Kara sing about the sky brightening into a pastel blanket of light after a sunless night. They remind us that sometimes we just need a little faith, that there is indeed an answer to our prayers if we only keep believing in it. Things can be rough. Life can be tough. But it always gets better. The sun always rises.

What are you listening to this week? Do you believe that music has the power to inspire, to motivate, to change us in beautiful ways?

Play Ball.


“You don’t save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain.”
~Leo Durocher

For as long as I can remember, my dad’s been the biggest Phillies fan I know. He collects memorabilia, goes to games, counts down to spring training, and yes, even jumps up and down sometimes when the team scores important runs. When they won the World Series in 2008, he actually cried tears of happiness. He loves baseball with fervent dedication, and he is so proud to support the Phillies. Me? Of the four most major sports, baseball is my favorite, but most of the time, I’d much rather be curled up with a good book than hanging out a ballpark. That said, when my dad asked if my sister and I would like to join him for a game this year, I agreed right away. I’m not really sure why – and I seriously wanted to scream when I found out they switched the American Idol finale days to Tuesday and Wednesday – but I’m glad I went. It was a lot of fun.

Phillies1

Yes, we had to park a zillion miles away. Yes, our seats were in the second highest row of the whole place. Yes, my scoop of ice cream cost more than a whole half-gallon does at the grocery store. And yes, I spent the last couple innings intermittently watching as I voted for Lauren Alaina on my cell phone. But … those sky-high seats? They also happened to be directly behind home plate. That ice cream? It happened to be delicious. The voting? Well – once a determined Idol fan, always a determined Idol fan. The best part, though, was getting to share my dad’s favorite past-time with him. It’s been over ten years since we all went to a game together, and even though my mom had to sit this one out because her knee still isn’t back to normal after last year’s fall, we still had a great time. Dad was in all his glory, chatting about the players, their statistics, and the game with us, and we were happy to listen and enjoy the experience for what it was. Will I be going to a ballgame every month? No, but I wouldn’t mind going once a year from now on.

Phillies2

Phanatic

And, because this wouldn’t be a blog post of mine without some kind of analogy woven in, how about that quote from Leo? He’s talking about baseball in its most literal sense, but what about the figurative? Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today. Never put your dreams on a shelf for tomorrow – open up that box and set them free in the world today. Nobody can predict what the future holds or if the forecast will be sunny, but we can take charge of our own actions and help create our future. Perhaps I’ll let my characters speak to that. Here’s an excerpt from Reflections of Me, part of a conversation Sofie has with her brother:

The way I see it, there are two main principles in a baseball game. You either act or react. A pitcher acts by throwing the ball, a batter reacts by trying to hit it, then the outfielders and basemen react to that. What I’m getting at here is that we have that choice with anything in life. Mom and Dad threw us a curveball with the truth about your adoption, but we all made the decision to react to it in different ways. It’s the same with this. How do you act? How do you react? What constitutes a homerun? What’s analogous to a strikeout?

Sofie’s thought process?

And, just like that, it all gets a bit clearer. I can’t score a run if I don’t leave the dugout. I can’t reach home plate if I don’t take the necessary steps to get there. It’s been the way I’ve lived my life for as long as I can remember. Forget about roadblocks and detours. There’s only one option that stretches before me now.

Sofie is very different from me in some ways and very similar in others. I think that’s why I relate to her so much when I write. I connect with who she is, even though I’ve never experienced the situations she’s in or dealt with the decisions she has to make. Her personality resonates with me. Her passion, faith, and determination remind me of my own. Because she’s right. We can’t score runs without rounding the bases one step at a time. That’s how life works. That’s how writing works. And, I pray, that’s also how dreams come true.

That’d be the biggest Grand Slam of all.

(P.S. Thoughts on last night’s Idol finale? I’ve been rooting for Lauren ever since Pia got voted off way too early, but I’m still happy for Scotty. I think they’ll both go on to successful careers. And, on a side note, next year’s finale needs to forget about the big-name celebrity performers and invite all the former Idol winners and finalists back to sing instead. I’d rather watch Kelly and Melinda than Beyonce and Gaga any day of the week.)

Love & Friendship.


“Love and friendship. They are what make us who we are, and what can change us, if we let them.”
~Darcy Rhone, via Emily Giffin in Something Blue

After re-reading Something Borrowed in honor of the movie release, it was impossible not to re-read its sequel, too. Seriously. Impossible. It didn’t matter that I’d already gone along on Darcy’s journey of transformation. It didn’t matter that I’d already flown through the pages, absorbing every single word. It didn’t matter that I knew the storylines, the plot twists, and the ending. That’s the magic of Emily’s writing: you can read it over and over, getting just as swept up as you did originally. Actually, I found myself even more drawn in on the re-read, and that’s saying a lot, seeing as how I sped through the entire novel in just over a day the first time around.

I love everything about Something Blue, but if I had to choose a favorite part, it would be the ending. It is just … perfect. So many people say that the sign of a great book is that it resonates beyond its pages, and while I agree with that whole-heartedly, I have to add something else. The sign of a great book is also one that makes you feel – for the characters, for their journeys, and also for yourself. That’s what this book does, and it’s especially true of the last several chapters. The words, the story, the message … they make you think, they make you smile, and, if you’re me, they make you all misty-eyed, even though (again) you already knew exactly what was going to happen. Writing is a powerful – and beautiful – thing in that way.

The above quote comes from the very end of Something Blue. Those are the last lines, the ones that encapsulate hundreds of pages, a journey that spans two novels, and a plethora of relationships that have changed, grown, and evolved in ways nobody had imagined at the outset. As a writer, I always devote a special kind of attention to the culminating lines of my books. I want them to be just right. Sometimes that means writing them in the moment, sometimes that means getting a sudden flash of inspiration for them weeks before I get to the last chapter, and sometimes it means a combination of both. When I met Emily last year, we chatted about her process for crafting the endings of her novels, and she said she typically writes them in the moment. To me, this novel epitomizes that – the words are filled with passion, insight, eloquence, and inspiration. They hold true not only for the characters, but also for all of us.

Love and friendship domake us who we are. They play a role in our identities, in how we define ourselves, and in how we see the world. They make us better, stronger, wiser. These are the relationships that enrich our lives and, when we embrace them, change us in ways we never could have envisioned. They’re our support network, our security, and our sunshine. And I, for one, consider myself very blessed to have these things – these people – in my life. I may still be searching for the ever-elusive Prince Charming (note to him: hurry up already – patience is not a virtue I possess!), but I have so many other special people in my life. My family and friends – and that includes all of you – have changed me for the better. You all have changed me for good.

Do you have people who help make you who you are? Have they influenced you, affected you, changed you?