Family by Choice.

“We pick and choose who we want to remain close to, and once we’ve chosen those people, we tend to stick close by.”
~Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy)


So … I really wanted to write this post yesterday, but instead I spent the day helping to clear out my grandmom’s room so new, smoother carpeting can be installed for when she gets home from the rehab facility. Then I really wanted to write this post earlier today, but I spent most of the day in the car – driving my mom to my grandmom’s orthopedist appointment, waiting for two hours (seriously, no exaggeration) until they were finished, driving to the rehab place, and then spending forever stuck in rush hour on the way home. Throw in some time to visit with my grandmom, and poof, now the sun has set. It’s all about adaptation, right?

Okay, back to the actual subject of this post. Saturday was a wonderful day. It was a special day. It was also an I-finally-get-a-break-to-just-enjoy-myself kind of day, and I owe that all to my second family. Who is that, you may ask? That would be my AUTVers, the group of us who ran the campus television station back in college. We were small in number, but big in passion for what we were doing. Newscasts, a soap opera, a live talk show, even a twenty-four hour telethon, the programming we created and produced most definitely spanned the spectrum. We learned about camera angles, about designing digitized graphics, about structuring broadcasts, about using a myriad of editing and computer programs to pull together a polished final product. But we also learned about so much more – about teamwork, about shared goals, about the kind of friendships that grow into a family. Most of my senior year was spent in the Communications building, and a majority of that time was spent with six of the most talented, wonderful people I could ever hope to meet – Amy, Brock, Melissa, Kevin, Bryan, and Anthony.

When the hard drive with my senior thesis on it crashed just three days before the whole thing was due, they offered to help me film new interviews for all the news stories I thought were lost forever. Bryan’s computer prowess saved my thesis (and my heart rate!), but I know without fail that had it not been salvageable, they would have all been there for me that weekend, no questions asked. That’s what we were. That’s who we are. I know a lot of people talk about their college experience being the best time of their lives, and while there were other parts of mine that I enjoyed, it wasn’t until the tv station became my home away from home that I truly got it. Did we have an actual studio? No. Did I lobby for a news desk for three years and never get it? Yes. Did only a handful of people actually watch AUTV’s channel nine? Probably. But that’s okay. We loved what we worked on. We lived it. We were proud of it. And, in the end, it taught me one of the most important lessons of all: you don’t just gain an expanded education in college. You gain an identity. You gain lifelong friends, these people who come into your life, leave a handprint on your heart, and never leave.

That’s what AUTV is to me. And when we all got together on Saturday, it didn’t matter than nearly two years had passed since the last time all seven of us had seen one another. It didn’t matter than it’s been more than five years since we wrapped our last production for the tv station. Because with a group like ours, with a family that comes not from genetics but from choice, you can pick up right where you left off. Being with everyone again felt like coming home. It felt like an oasis of calm in the sea of craziness that my life has become lately. We’ve all grown since our college days, and we’ve all branched off into new adventures. But even though the paths we follow may not be the same anymore, they still lead us back to one another. Choosing to stick close by to someone has nothing to do with distance and everything to do with devotion.

In the fall of 2004, we made a vow to take AUTV to the next level. In the spring of 2005, we looked back on a demo reel that highlighted not only the shows we produced, but also the bonds we’d formed. Six years later, it’s more clear to me than ever how lucky I am to have found these friends. We all add a different stitch to the tapestry – different from each other, different from the ones we wove back in college – and that’s a good thing. I believe that people come into our lives for a reason, and I’ll be forever grateful that they’re a part of mine.

Did you find a close-knit group like that in college? What activities and club were you involved in? Any special friendship stories to share?


Roll with the Punches.

“The key to success is often the ability to adapt.”

When I was a little girl – three, maybe four – my favorite phrase was “roll with the punches and make the best of things.” I apparently doled out that advice to anyone who would listen, which says a lot, seeing as how I was pretty much the quietest kid ever when I was around people I didn’t know. Fast forward more than two decades, and I find myself needing to remember that go-with-the-flow attitude more than ever. As a planner and a doer, that’s tough sometimes. After all, when you have your future mapped out and it’s just a matter of having all the steps fall into place, you want that to happen as soon as possible. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the case. I’d be lying if I said I don’t wake up every morning and wish for it to be the day that changes my life.

But what about the changes we can never imagine? What about the ones that come out of nowhere, take us by storm, and alter the course we’ve been sailing along so steadily? We can’t always control the direction we travel – sometimes a burst of wind makes everything all topsy-turvy – but we can anchor the boat and steer it along a current of our own choosing. Case in point: my mother had a bad fall over the summer (an errant wave knocked her down in the ocean) and has been going to physical therapy for a fractured knee for nine months now. And, as fate would have it, it’s her right knee, which means she can’t drive. On top of that, my grandmom had an equally bad fall two weeks ago and ended up with three different fractures. Note to self: walk very, very carefully for … well, forever. My grandmom’s at an in-patient rehab facility for a few weeks until she heals enough to go home, which means lots of visits and pick-me-ups. It also means that I may as well just be living in my car these days. Between driving my mom to PT and driving her to visit my grandmom (keep in mind, this rehab place is thirty-five minutes away without traffic), I’m pretty sure that I could navigate the roads with my eyes squeezed shut. It is, of course, more than worth it – the look on my grandmom’s face when we walk into her room and the sweet gratitude that’s reflected in every word remind me that I’d drive to the ends of the earth if I had to – but it’s also an adjustment. An adaptation. A change to the schedule.

Does it mean waking up even earlier to squeeze in a few hours of writing time every morning? Yes. Does it mean printing out some pages to edit as I wait during my mom’s PT sessions? Yes. Does it mean wanting to bang my head against a brick wall whenever one of the employees there feels the need to whistle EVERY SINGLE TIME a new song comes on the radio? Anyone who follows me on twitter knows the answer to that question. I’ve refrained from launching into a speech about the work I have or the book I’m trying to concentrate on reading, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t find another place to channel my frustration with the WHISTLING THAT NEVER ENDS. All I can say is, “careful, buddy, you may end up in my novel.” In fact, there’s a very, very good chance a similar character to him made an appearance in a scene I wrote yesterday. Hee.

Adaptation isn’t only about the day-to-day, though. It’s about being content to look at the big picture and realize that not every stroke will be painted the way you hope for so strongly. Life is messy. Lines criss-cross, colors blend together, the plot points we designate for our own lives fade, brighten, and take on minds of their own. That can be hard to deal with, very hard. But as much as we wish it was possible to box everything into neat compartments, schedules, and timelines, it’s not. Life doesn’t always happen when we want it to, dreams don’t always come true when we’re yearning for them. But life does often happen when it’s supposed to, when we’re truly ready for that change. Serendipity has its own schedule, and even though it’s impossibly difficult to be patient sometimes, it’s so important. I’m not saying we should just sit back and wait for things to fall into place, not at all. I believe that we make our own luck and create our own destiny. Absolutely, definitely, unequivocally. But sometimes life really does happen when we’re busy making those plans, and we have to adjust accordingly. We have to mold our lives, our loves, and our hearts to the unexpected – and, with a little bit of luck, that’s when the unexpected will change our lives for the better.

Adaptation has also been the name of the game with my current manuscript. When I began writing, I had every intention of it covering an entire year. In fact, that was the plan ever since I first got the idea for the book, back when I was writing Reflections of Me over the summer. The more I work on it, though, the more I realize that may need to change. Part of me is still holding tight to the original plan, but at the same time, I’m exploring so many other possibilities. I don’t know yet how much time this book will span – and I probably won’t for at least a bit – but I’m excited by all the options and looking forward to where one (or more!) will take not only me, but also Sofie and the whole cast of characters. See? Proof positive that change can be a good thing.

None of us can know exactly where the future will lead, but we can all roll with the punches and remember that sometimes the best really is yet to come.

Sing from the Heart.

“All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am…”
~Sara Ramirez, singing Brandi Carlile’s “The Story”

Grey's cast

I believe in the power of stories. I believe in the power of music. And I also believe in the power they share in conjunction with one another. It’s something I’ve mentioned on here several times, so I won’t go into detail again, other than to say: wow, wow, wow has anyone else listened to the soundtrack for tonight’s Grey’s Anatomy yet? I’d originally planned to hold off until after I saw the show, but that resolve flew out the window this morning. Somehow, my fingers opened up iTunes. Then they searched for the soundtrack. Then they bought it. Oops. Hey, I figure since patience is an essential virtue to possess in this publishing journey, especially now, why not go with the opposite for something like new music?

Thirty seconds into the first song and I was so, so glad for that impatience. I know a lot of people have been skeptical about this episode, but if it’s even half as compelling as the emotion that grips some of these songs, then it’s going to be the most captivating show of the season. It’s not just the actors’ passion you can hear strung through the melodies and resounding in the harmonies. It’s the characters’ passion, too. Because Callie, Mark, Bailey, Owen, Meredith – they’re not just fictional people we watch on television every week. Through the writers’ words, the actors’ embodiment of their alter egos’ souls, everyone’s vision of who these characters are … they become real to us. We feel like we know them, which means we bask in their joys and share in their sorrows. So when we listen to these songs, several of which are iconic to the show, we don’t just hear them. We feel them.

And yes, maybe I connect to that on such a deep level because I’m a writer. When I spend months on end with my characters, I feel that bond with them. I go on their journeys, get in their heads, and live their emotions. That’s something I consider a blessing, and something that makes me crave a similar experience when I’m reading a book or watching a television show. It can never be exactly the same, of course, since those characters are someone else’s babies, but it can be very powerful and even more inspiring. When what sounds like the whole Grey’s cast joins together for the chorus of “How to Save a Life,” it’s a total goosebumps moment. Out of the whole album, that’s what got to me the most. Favorite part. Each song is special, each voice brings something unique, but when they blend together like that to tell the story of these people who viewers have come to know so well these past seven years, it’s just absolutely beautiful. And Sara Ramirez’s version of “The Story” … I think I could listen over and over. The message behind it is so important.

We all have our own stories. Each line is etched across our faces, each word resonates somewhere in our souls. Do those stories always have a perfect melody? No. Nothing and nobody is perfect. But when they come together? When they join to show our past and look toward our future? There’s a harmony there that strikes a deep, lasting chord.

Do you believe in the power of music and the written word? Do those stories-come-to-life ever give you chills? Will you be watching Grey’s tonight? Three hours and fifty minutes to go … not that I’m counting or anything.

Tweet, Tweet.

“So tell me little bird
All of the good things that you’ve heard
‘Cause I need you little bird
To sing me a sweet song…”
~Brooke White, “Little Bird”

Central Park - birds

So there’s this feathery little creature that seems insistent upon tormenting me every morning. I don’t know what he looks like – what color feathers gleam in the first rays of sunlight that creep over the horizon, what size beak opens to greet the brand new day, what kind of perch he uses to steady himself on the tree branch. But his chirp? That incessant cheep-cheep-cheep that sometimes seems absolutely, positively, unbelievably never-ending? Oh, that I know so well. So well.

It’s only fair to point out that I’m the lightest sleeper ever. If someone walks across a room at the other end of the house, it sometimes wakes me up. If someone slams a car door farther down the street, it almost always wakes me up. When our former neighbor decided it would clearly be the best idea ever to warm her car up for a half hour on cold, winter mornings – which, to her, meant turning up the radio so loudly that I could hear EVERY SINGLE WORD from our house and then going back inside while she waited – well, let’s just say that I still have the day they moved to the city committed to memory. So yes, a normal sleeper could probably doze through the choral arrangement of robins/blue jays/cardinals/morning doves/every bird on the face of the planet that seems to enjoy taking up residence in the cherry tree right outside my window. I love that tree. I love to look out at the velvety pink blossoms and the whisper of a canopy that they create. And, during the day, I actually enjoy the sound of the birds’ sweet songs. But at the crack of dawn? Before the crack of dawn? There are days when actually pleading with them to take their melodies and harmonies elsewhere doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

I’m pretty sure they like to follow me, too. My proof is the above picture from Central Park. Everyone else thought it was hilarious when we came across that spot not far from the lake. Me? Well, maybe slightly. So instead of thinking about the fact that I’m probably never going to get a non-interrupted night of sleep before September (the choral performance begins at about 6:15 these days, which is fine – I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to wakes up really early, anyway – but as the sun rises earlier, so will that time, until it gets to the oh-so-lovely 4:15 or so), I’m going to focus on the sweetness of those chirps. I’m going to do what Brooke wrote about in her song, to think of the little birds tweeting about all the good things that they’ve heard, all the hope that they have to share. Because, really, isn’t that how most people feel about the arrival of spring and all it holds in its blooming grasp? I know I do. Spring is a time of blossoming, of newness, rebirth, and faith in everything that’s just waiting to sprout up.

That’s the perspective I’m choosing to take. I’m staying hopeful about the opportunities that lay ahead and keeping my fingers crossed that if I open myself up to possibility, possibilities will open themselves up to me. And, with a little bit of luck, one day soon I’ll have a sweet song to sing, too.

Just not before the sun rises.

Does the start of spring inspire hope for you, too? Are you looking forward to all the blossoming? Oh, and just in case: anyone have any tips for sleeping more soundly or tricking the birds into building a nest elsewhere?

Triple Word Score.

“Calvin: Ha! I’ve got a great word and it’s on a Double word score box!
Hobbes: ZQFMGB isn’t a word! It doesn’t even have a vowel!
Calvin: It is so a word! It’s a worm found in New Guinea! Everyone knows that!”
~Calvin and Hobbes comic strip


I love Scrabble. A lot. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s the best game ever invented. What can be more fun than diving into all those tiles and using them to spell out a plethora of words? And if you play online – can we talk about how addicting that is? – you have the added bonus of learning new definitions, new meanings, and new phrases just about every time. For example, did you know that qat is a word? Qua? Zin? Za? Xi? Xu? See where I’m going here, with all the highest-rated letters? Ha. No matter whether you play on the computer or via the actual board game, though, the end result is the same: expanding your horizons, stretching your vocabulary, and getting to dabble in the intricacies of language.

As a writer, I of course rely on that language every day. No matter what I’m working on, I always want the perfect words to get my message across. Some days those words fly from head to hand faster than I can type. On others, I find myself staring out the window, watching the clouds tumble through the sky as I contemplate the exact phraseology I want to use. Honestly, there are times when I’m probably way too hard on myself about that. As a perfectionist, that’s just my nature, and when it comes down to it, we really are our own worst critic. It’s just that when I’m working on a book that I so clearly feel is a part of my heart, I want every bit – every single, solitary, most minute bit – to be the best it can be. A lot of the time, that comes from instinct. When I’m writing, I can feel it when something works. I can feel that sense of excitement bubbling inside my chest, rising through me until it just explodes in a starburst of adrenaline and inspiration. I crave those writing experiences. But can they happen each time I sit down to write? No. I don’t think that happens for any author. Writing is the most magical, uplifting journey, but it’s also work. It has nuances and complexities, and even though they can be frustrating sometimes, they push us further and strengthen us. They help us grow.

For me, that’s so important. I make it a personal goal for each new project to challenge me in some way. After all, if we linger at the status quo, we’ll never take steps forward. With my current manuscript, the challenge definitely comes via the format. Instead of writing it like a traditional book, it switches back and forth between a diary and journal style. I’ve done journal entries before – in fact, Reflections of Me has a few – but this is the first time I’ve tackled writing an entire book that way. It’s different, it’s exciting, and it’s a new adventure that I’m having such fun exploring. Does it mean extra work? Yes. Do I mind that? Not at all. The opposite, actually. I’m enjoying the process and savoring the opportunity to stretch myself further. The specifics of where this book will take me, where these characters I love so dearly will take me, aren’t all snapped into place yet. I have a general idea of how things will continue to progress, but as always happens, I feel myself almost taking a backseat to the characters as they lead the way. I love that, SO MUCH.

But back to Scrabble for a minute. How exciting is it when you get a triple word score? And if it includes one of those highly sought after ZQX combos, well, all the better. Then there’s the fantabulous (I figured making up words was clearly the way to go when talking about the game) occasion when you piece together a seven letter word. Fifty point bonus? Yes, please! What about in life, though? Maybe we can’t always get the highest scoring combination. Maybe luck doesn’t always give us that triple play. We can make our own luck, though. We can take what’s given to us and twist it, craft it, into the words blossoming inside us. We can speak our minds, write until our hearts are content, and remind ourselves that not everything has to be perfect. Not everything can be perfect. But if it’s right for us, if it tells the story that’s just bursting from our thoughts faster than our hands can type … well, doesn’t that make us the best kind of winner?

By the way, in case you were wondering, a QAT is an evergreen shrub and a ZIN is a dry, red wine. And my newest favorite? ZYZZYVA, of course. Who wouldn’t love a tropical weevil?

Time Out.

“The stars exist so that we might know how high our dreams can soar.”

Between all the writing, revising, and querying I’ve done today, I’m kind of afraid that my eyes are going to a) pop out of my head; b) revolt and shut down until tomorrow; or c) start tearing and never stop … so instead of an actual blog post, I thought I’d do one of the fun surveys that’s floating around online. I’d love to hear your answers, too, whether you post them in the comments section or over on your blog. Be sure to send me a link if you do! It’s always great to get these somewhat random, entirely interesting glimpses into each other’s lives.

Okay, so here we go.

*I am really – excited by the fact that it’s 6:30 PM and it’s still light outside. Daylight Saving Time, I love you.
*The last show I watched is – General Hospital.
*The last thing I wrote is – a query letter for Reflections of Me.
*The last thing I sang is – not something I can recall, but I’m sure it was off-key. Ha.
*My eye color is – blue, which I like to think I got from both of my grandfathers.
*My favorite musical is – Wicked. Love, love, love everything about it.
*My height is – too short for my liking.
*My age is – 27.
*My favorite holiday is – Hanukkah.
*My dream job is – probably going to come as an overwhelming shock to everyone who reads this blog, right? Hands down, without a doubt, I want nothing more than to be a full-time author.
*My favorite color is – turquoise.
*My friends – are the family I choose, and I’m very blessed to have them in my life.
*My computer is – named Marge :-)
*My favorite song is – always changing, because I love far too many to choose only one. If I absolutely had to narrow it down, I’d say Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.”
*My favorite flower is – lilacs.
*My children – will be very, very loved by their mama one day. I absolutely can’t wait to have dear hearts of my own.
*My favorite food is – chicken soup.
*My current reading material is – Laura Dave’s The Divorce Party, which I’m really, really enjoying.
*My favorite quote is – also impossible to decide on, since there are so many amazing choices. The one I used for this entry is up there toward the top of the list.
*My wish for the world is – peace, safety, and happiness. Simple (or complex) as that.
*My passion is – writing. Another surprise, right?
*My favorite book is – another decision I can’t make. There are simply too many that I’ve fallen in love with, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
*My favorite place to have visited – is Atlanta, with Nashville a close second. Adore them both, and can’t wait to go back one day.
*My motto in life is – “dream big, work hard.” It guides my perspective every day.

Your turn! Please?

A Love Affair.

“When a writer talks about his work, he’s talking about a love affair.”
~Alfred Kazin

No, not with someone tall, dark, and handsome (although I am quite ready at this point for all the Prince Charmings to find their way off whatever deserted island they appear to be hunkered down on). I’m actually talking about my new manuscript, which I was so, so excited to jump into last Friday. I’ve been looking forward to writing the sequel to Reflections of Me ever since I wrote the final word on the final page of the original. I wasn’t finished with those characters yet. Or, perhaps it would be more fitting to say, they weren’t finished with me yet. As I realize all over again with each project, it is a truly special thing when you let them – and their journeys – lead the way.

It’s a bit different this time since I already feel like the cast of characters is comprised of old friends. I spent just over two months writing their first story, but between brainstorming, plotting, editing, revising, and querying, they’ve lived inside my head and heart for much longer. And now I get to bring them out again, to travel along as their story continues to unfold. Know what that makes me? Lucky. So unbelievably, indescribably lucky. In a way, it’s like coming home. I’ve missed those characters so much these past few months, more than I even realized until I started writing about them again. Brainstorming was fun. Color-coding character sketches was fun. Developing a loose outline – one that’s already curving to fit in new ideas – was fun. But sitting down at the computer and finally, finally, finally letting the words to their story flow again? Priceless.

It’s been a very reaffirming experience. I’m just under 14,000 words in at this point, but already I can see the possibilities opening up before my eyes. I have glimpses not only of where Sofie and the other characters are now, but where they’ll be fifty, a hundred, two hundred pages from now. That writer’s part of my brain is just bursting with inspiration and joy, and it feels good, so good to get swept up in the magic of writing again. I’m not going to lie, the querying rollercoaster has been especially emotional lately. Last week was both the most hopeful and most disappointed I’ve ever been. I could have let it break me, I could have let it completely dampen my spirit, but I refused. Instead, I took some time to let myself feel the heartbreak (I know that might sound like an exaggeration, but this book, this journey, this dream, they’re so important to me that that’s what it felt like) and then I moved on and moved forward. I sat down, skimmed through all the notes in my writing journal, opened that blank page on the computer, and wrote.

And wrote. And wrote some more. Take today, for instance. I sat down with the intent of writing my usual amount, which equates to four or five pages and about fifteen hundred words. Two hours later, I took a breather and realized I had twenty-seven hundred words that spanned eight pages. Oops? This is why I adore writing, though. Getting lost in the words and their magic, getting so immersed in your characters’ lives that you completely lose track of your own, it’s the most invigorating feeling. It doesn’t matter how many times I experience it, it still sends that same starburst of inspiration exploding along my veins. I love it. I love this. And I love it far too much to ever stop. E-V-E-R.

This week it’s been back to writing, back to daydreaming (why is it that story ideas ALWAYS come to you when you’re unable to jot them down, like when you’re driving? I may or may not have pulled over on a Starbucks’ parking lot the other day to grab my notepad … and then I may or may not have had to buy one of their amazing double chocolate chip frappuccinos since, hey, I was already there), and back to querying. My spirit is refreshed and rejuvenated, and I’m more determined than ever. Jumping into this new book – all its joys and all the challenges that come from tackling a very different writing format that I’m used to – it’s been so wonderful. I believe in pushing myself as a writer, in growing with every project, and I’m excited to see how that continues to unfold with this one.

Never mind the fact that I also may or may not have slammed my wrist into my laptop in a writing frenzy and ended up with a lovely dime-sized bump to prove it. Occupational hazard? I’ll take it. In fact, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Hope & Faith.

Hey there sad eyes, what’s on your mind?
Don’t look so down, give it some time
You don’t have to be so hard on yourself
I know the world can be a brutal place
Please don’t let it steal your smile away

‘Cause when the sky is darkest, you can see the stars
And when you fall the hardest, you’ll find how strong you are
Close your eyes, rest awhile, it’s been a long, long day
So come on baby, baby, have a little faith

Let those tears fall, you gave it your all
That’s all you can do, I’ll be here for you
There goes your pride, crushed on the ground
Sometimes it takes a wall to tumble down
For you to see who’s gonna stick around

‘Cause when the sky is darkest, you can see the stars
And when you fall the hardest, you find how strong you are
Close your eyes, rest awhile, it’s been a long, long day
So come on baby, baby, have a little faith

Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better, yeah
And it takes so much to be brave
Sometimes you’re afraid it’ll hurt forever
But when all the lights begin to fade

And the sky is darkest, you can see the stars
When you fall the hardest, you’ll find how strong you are
Close your eyes and rest awhile, it’s been a long, long day
So come on baby, baby, have a little faith
~Jordin Sparks, “Faith”

No actual entry this time, just words of inspiration from the talented Ms. Sparks. A song that comforts? Yes. Something to remember? Yes. Faith in spades? Absolutely.

Starting Anew.

“Every possibility begins with the courage to imagine.”
~Mary Anne Radmacher

I think I’ve found another quote to add to my collection of favorites. Actually, scratch that. I am completely, absolutely, fully, unequivocally certain that I’ve found another quote to add to my collection of favorites. How’s that for an overuse of adverbs? Seriously, though, there’s just something about this one. It has that je ne sais quois, that indescribable quality that threads itself through every word and inspires a whole blanket of emotions. And what makes it even better, at least for me? It’s splashed across the cover of my new writing journal – my new writing journal that, as of yesterday, is home to my outlining, planning, and plotting for the sequel to Reflections of Me.

Squee! Whoohoo! Yay! Finally! Many exclamation points! And did I mention SQUEE?

In case the above didn’t make it clear, I am beyond excited to have officially begun work on my next book. Ideas for it have been floating around in my mind for months now, and to sit down and put those thoughts to words, those images to paper, it’s an adrenaline zap of the most invigorating kind. Part of me would love nothing more than to just dive right into the writing, but I’ve learned by this point that I work best when I have a rough outline and loose idea of where the story’s headed. Those bookends are important. That foundation will serve as a steady support upon which the spontaneous twists and turns will curve and flow. I believe a hundred percent in letting the characters lead the way, but giving them a road to navigate doesn’t take away from that. It only adds momentum.

I’m doing things a bit differently this time. Each character gets his or her own space at the beginning of my journal – space to grow, space to develop, space to remind me of all they’ve learned and all the new journeys they have to take. I’ve never done formal character sketches before, and this isn’t exactly that, either, but I like giving each person a designated section. When I flip the page to someone new, it allows me to immerse myself in that character’s mindset, mood, and personality. It allows me to temporarily backburner the others and focus only on that one. To that end, the journal kind of looks like a rainbow exploded inside it. Two days into the process, and those once-blank pages have now been sprinkled with blues, greens, purples, oranges, reds, and pinks. The characters have colors that represent their personalities, I have a way to slip into their perspective and see the world through their eyes, and my thoughts have a way to slow down, speed up, and work out all the possibilities that bounce around like sunbeams reflecting off diamonds.

Because every possibility deserves its chance. Every possibility deserves the opportunity to blossom, to grow from a seedling of an idea to a dream that can be lived – and lived out loud. Those possibilities are different – for every book, for every character, for every person. We all have our own passions. We all wish on different stars. We all hope for different things. But at the heart of each and every passion, each and every wish, each and every hope? Courage. It takes strength to go for our dreams. It takes strength to go out there and fight for them, to move out of our comfort zones and step from the safe into the unknown. It takes courage to imagine – because once we get swept up by those possibilities, we want them more than ever. And that? It’s a good thing. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a beautiful thing. After all, if we don’t take that first step forward, we’ll never go anywhere. We can’t move into the prospect of the future – of all it holds in its embrace – if we don’t let our hearts and minds wander to what could be.

I love to imagine. As a writer, it’s pretty much what I do all the time. I imagine my characters, their lives, their journeys, their stories. And then I tell them. As a person, well, sometimes I try to make those visions of the future a little less emboldened, a little more centered and a little more grounded, but honestly? Sometimes it’s good to dream big. Sometimes we have to splash the canvas of our lives with vibrant colors, vivid strokes, and telltale pictures. That’s the beauty of imagination. You never know where it’ll take you … and if we’re lucky enough, if we work hard enough and believe enough, sometimes those daydreams turn to reality. Sometimes that courage pays off. Without a doubt, leaping into this journey to publication has required more of me – more determination, more resilience, more emotion, more strength, more everything – than anything I’ve ever done before. Right now, the possibility is still dangling before me. And, even though I have no way of knowing what tomorrow will bring or what the future has in store, I will continue finding the courage to keep imagining. I owe it to myself. I owe it to all those possibilities that inspire me every day. I can’t wait to see where they lead, and as I start anew with Dear Ellie, I can’t wait to see how they grow. That’s the beauty of writing (and reading) for me – each book is a chance to delve into something fresh and new, with limitless potential.

What about you? Where does your imagination take you? What possibilities does it bring to life?

Skipping a Beat.

“And now, for the second time, it was as if a word had been spun through a kaleidoscope and reshaped into something with a whole different meaning.”
~Julia Dunhill, via Sarah Pekkanen in Skipping a Beat

Skipping a Beat

There are books that draw us in further and further as we glide through the pages, their messages slowly intertwining themselves with each sentence. There are books that end with a bang, pulling us in with a startling, all-encompassing conclusion. And then there are the books that resonate from the first page, the words jumping out like little sprinkles of magic. Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat is one of those. It’s more than that, so much more. It’s wisdom, grace, humor, inspiration, reflection, and emotion all tied into the patchwork of an intricately crafted story.

I read Sarah’s first novel, The Opposite of Me, over the summer and became an instant fan of her writing. There’s something so fluid and natural about it, something that makes you feel like you’re right there in the story itself, instead of just reading from the viewpoint of an observer. Sarah’s words make you think, they make you ponder, and they make you feel. With her second novel, which is released today, she takes it to an entirely new level. Reading it was a unique experience. I was so invested in the characters that part of me wanted to speed through and find out how their story continued to unfold. The other part, though, wanted to savor every word and absorb every gem that sparkled its way through the lines. And when I finished this morning? Honestly, I’m not quite sure how to describe it. I’m an emotional person, but I don’t usually cry because of television shows, movies, or books. There was a point with this novel, though – a few points, actually – when I had to put it down and dry my eyes because the tears were blurring my vision. There’s just this indescribable quality about it, something that’s very, very special. Jennifer Weiner’s blurb mentions an ending that leaves readers breathless. This reader agrees whole-heartedly.

Julia and Michael Dunhill are the couple who seemingly has it all – the multi-million dollar mansion, the vacation home in Aspen, the expensive cars and more money than they can count. They attend galas with congresspeople, hobnob with the rich and powerful, and live a life that they’d once only imagined. On the surface, everything is perfect. There are so many layers, though, and when they’re stripped away, a very different picture is painted. Bonds have faded and the knot of their connection has slowly been unraveling. They’ve traveled a long path from the high school sweethearts they once were, and they’ve both changed since the day when a teenage Mike became a teenage Julie’s unwitting and charming hero. Surrounded by this life that so many people want, Julia’s never felt more alone. And then, in the span of four minutes and eight seconds, everything changes again. Michael goes into cardiac arrest and wakes up a very different man. He’s determined to make things right, to take everything he thought he wanted and cast it all aside in the face of what he now knows is truly most important. He’s holding out faith that Julia will join him on the journey … but can she? Can she face the demons of the past – the ones she’s fought on her own and the ones they’ve fought together – or will she let them shadow over the future? Can she set aside the wealth and prestige that their lives have become in order to find her way back to the man she once loved with all her heart?

Going on Julia’s journey with her was an inspiring experience. Sarah anchored the story in the present, but through flashbacks and memories, she gave us a glimpse into all the moments that had led the characters to that point in time. She developed them so deeply, delving into the smallest of details that made them seem more like actual people than characters on a page. Even the secondary characters came alive. Julia’s best friend Isabelle was another bright spot, and her personal story resounded with chords of hope and faith. Noah and his dog Bear, Kate (Michael’s assistant), and even Gene (Julia’s assistant, who was mentioned only briefly) all felt so real. From math problems to organizational tricks to a love for Internet Scrabble, Sarah weaves in the minutiae that some might overlook. Her writing is real, true, and so beautifully crafted. The metaphors she uses seem effortless, and the description is so vivid that I felt like I could see every scene flash before my eyes.

This book didn’t just affect me as a reader. It also inspired me as a writer. Authors like Sarah remind me why I continue to persevere in this journey to publication, no matter how many twists and turns that roller coaster takes. Because this novel of hers? It’s easy to see what a work of heart it was for her to write … and what can be a better gift than that?

For more information, you can pop over to Sarah’s website, follow her on Twitter, or friend her on Facebook.