April 22, 2015

Eyes Wide Open: Joe Clifford's Junkie Love

Picture this. It was night two of AWP's annual conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I sat in the back of a cab with my friend, Renee Pickup (check out her gut-wrenching story, "The Grand Finale" here), as we headed out of Minneapolis' downtown to some creepy warehouse where a small publisher was hosting a small party.

Up front, beside the cabbie, rode Joe Clifford, a San Francisco-based author and, well...let me keep going.

I'd only known Joe for a few hours but felt pretty comfortable with him already. For one, he made fun of me almost as soon as he met me - Renee and I'd stood in an interminable line for food and coffee, and he (rightfully) pointed out that there was a much shorter line so close we could see it. I always appreciate a person who's not afraid to point out the obvious.

And for two...he was pretty comfortable talking about his own background and, well...let me keep going.

So Joe, Renee and I all have kid(s). Somehow, in that weird cab ride to the creepy warehouse, we got on the subject of gum.

"Yeah, when my son's done with his gum, he'll just hand it to me," said Joe, laughing. "I pop it in my mouth and start chewing."

"Ohmigod, that's disgusting," I said, choking on the thought of ABC gum. "I can't chew gum after Zoe. Too gross. Too many germs."

Joe cracked up harder, then turned and shot me a funny look. "Well," he said, shrugging. "I've put a lot worse things in my body."

"Oh. Good point."

And it was.

You see, Joe's an ex-junkie.

"Junkie" as in heroin. "Junkie" as in completely, hopelessly addicted. "Junkie" as in willing-to-do-anything-for-the-next-hit.

And I didn't even know the half of it...yet.

****

Let's back up a sec, okay? Let's take a look at me, and my own experiences. I trust you won't mind. This IS my blog, after all.

Two things you should know about me are:

1. I lost an aunt and an uncle to alcoholism, so I'm super-touchy about the subject of alcohol, drugs, and addiction. I worry about it - too much, probably.

2. I never really went through a major rebellious phase, and I've never done more than choke on a mouthful of smoke in my lone attempt to try pot.

In short, I'm SUPER-naive about most things drug-related, and probably wouldn't even know a meth-addict WAS a meth-addict if they hit me over the head with whatever paraphernalia it is that meth-addicts use to get high.

And yes, I've even seen Breaking Bad, and yes, I do know we're talking heroin here, and not meth, but whatever. I digress.

****

To sit and chat with Joe Clifford, then, was kind of a crazy experience for me. Because, dammit, he was just so nice! And aren't junkies supposed to be terrible people? Aren't they thieves and don't they live in squalor, and isn't it damn near impossible for them to ever get clean?

But there was Joe in the car, all normal and sweet and kind. And clean. He has a wife and kids and a growing writing career. He made me laugh over drinks later that evening as we sat at a table filled with my LitReactor family, and he was so down to earth I just...couldn't believe it.

Talk about a stereotype-shattering moment.

****

"Junkie Love is one of the few books I can honestly say changed my life," said Renee, either earlier or later that day. I honestly can't remember. I know we talked about Joe a few times, because he was her old friend and my new one.  "You need to read it."

I agreed. I did need to read it. It's Joe's memoir/autobiographical novel, the story of his descent into the depths of junkie-hell, and now that I knew him, knew what a sweetheart he is, knew the ending of a story that pretty much promised to break my heart...

....I bought it as soon as I got home.



I don't know if Junkie Love changed my life.

I do know it opened my eyes.

As I rubbernecked my way through the sometimes straightforward, often streamy-consciousy stories that made up Joe's life, I learned things. Like:


  • Yes. People who are addicted to heroin will lie, cheat, steal, and maim in order to find their next fix. Yes. In their eyes, this is normal. And yes. This behavior scares me. Because if a drug can take an ordinary person and turn them into some horrible version of themselves....that's a terrifying non-super power.
  • Yes. Joe has put things worse than his son's ABC gum into his body. Terrible things. Disgusting things. Extraordinarily harmful things. As a person who's spent many, many years trying to put only good things into my own body, this was incredible to me. Why would you do that? How could you do that? I can't even begin to understand. But addiction is funny that way, isn't it? 
  • Yes. Joe made some terrible choices. But he also made an amazing one. He made the choice to get clean, to turn everything around. That was probably the hardest choice he could have made, and by "probably" I mean "absolutely, 100% God yes." And though the odds were absolutely NOT in his favor, he did it. He made it. He survived, came out on the other end, and is sharing his stories, and hopefully helping other people.
I think the hardest thing I learned was that there has to be a distance between the addiction and the person. I've been struggling with this one lately - can a person be forgiven for those things they ruined while in the throes of addiction? 

And the answer is: I'm don't know.

When I met Joe a couple of weeks ago, he was clean. He was healthy and kind and charming and funny. I liked meeting him. I'm glad we're friends now, and will keep tabs on each other and our careers via social media. That's cool.

But had I known him then? Had I seen him, wasting away, barely surviving, hurting others and himself? Would we still be friends now? 

Gah. 

See? This is what (I think) Renee meant. Junkie Love, and Joe Clifford's very existence as a super-cool guy who turned his life around after living in the depths of hell for so many years...it'll make you think. It'll make you question things. It'll make you wonder.

****

Earlier this week, Charles came home with a guitar. None of us can play, but he and Zoe have been making plans to take lessons together. 

Zoe, without knowing how to play a single chord - hell, a single note - immediately embarked on a mission to become a singer-songwriter. Her first official song goes like this:

"Oh, dear America. How nice to see ya. Thank you for your kindness now...now...now..."

She strums on her guitar as she plays, and sings with an angry edge to her voice.

But the thing is? If you ask her, she wrote the song as an actual tribute to America. She means it when she says thank you. She's non-ironic in her use of kindness.

I feel a little like that was me, before Junkie Love. Sweet. Innocent.

And maybe I still am. Maybe I can still be non-ironic and maybe I can mean the nice things I say.

But man. I feel like I know so much more now. I mean, I've read all the Burroughs and the Kerovac and the Ginsberg. I've read the stories of drugs and sex and violence.

But this? Somehow this was darker. More dangerous. Scarier. 

And I feel like, now, if I were to write about contemporary life in America, knowing so much more about the seedier side of things....there just might be a legitimately angry edge to my voice...and I just might mean it.

April 8, 2015

All Lives Matter

Bear with me, y'all. I'm supposed to be cleaning. I'm supposed to be getting ready for my first ever writerly business trip, and I'm supposed to be excited.

I'm not.

Because I just watched video footage of a man dying, and I can't get it out of my head.

By now you've read about the shooting that took place in North Charleston - not too far from where I live - on Saturday. It's a story that's been told over and again in the past few years, and that it takes place in my own back yard is part of the reason it's under my skin, of course.

The story itself, though...it's enough to get under anyone's skin.

For another white police officer has shot and killed another unarmed black man.

This time, there was video footage. 

Contrary to the shooting officer's initial account, in which he claimed he feared for his life when he pulled the trigger of his gun eight times, the footage (shot by someone so stunned he can't stop repeating, "Oh, shit..." over and over again) shows....well, it shows an unarmed black man running away from a police officer, who then shoots him eight times in the back.

Horrible.

It gets worse.

When the man is down on the ground, the officer goes to him...shouting, all the while, "Put your hands behind your back." 

And he doesn't go to him to help him. He doesn't go to administer lifesaving first aid.

No.

He handcuffs him. 

The police officer handcuffs a dying man, and he leaves him there, lying face down on the ground.

It gets even worse.

For then the police officer walks back to where he stood moments earlier, where the two men scuffled, apparently, over the use of a Taser. He picks up the Taser, which has been left behind. He carries it to the dying, handcuffed black man, lying face down in the dirt. 

He drops the Taser beside the man.

Yes. The officer shot someone. Killed someone. Didn't administer even the most basic first aid. Handcuffed him. And then he purposefully altered the evidence so it would look like he shot in self defense. 

I'm horrified.

****

Not long ago, I read the classic WWI novel by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front. It was a new read for me. I've studied WWII at length, but this was really my first time delving into the horrors of the trenches of WWI. 

It's an all-around beautiful book. A tragic book. A horrific book.

The narrator is a soldier named Paul who fights for the German Army for no reason other than that he's a German boy of fighting age. He doesn't fight for any particular ideology. He doesn't fight to save anything in particular.

In the end, he fights simply because to not fight would be to let down his comrades, those soldiers fighting beside him. He fights because they fight, and they fight because he fights.

One scene in particular stands out to me, especially now. In it, Paul has just stabbed a French soldier in hand-to-hand combat after they both fell into the same trench during a shelling. They're trapped int he trench, alone together. The Frenchman takes his time dying; Paul tries to help him, tries to bandage his wounds.

And now, the Frenchman is dead, and Paul is full of remorse. He says, 

The silence spreads. I talk and I must talk. So I speak to him and say to him: "Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony - Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert..."

****

I wish that every person who will ever old a gun would read that passage. I wish every soldier, every police officer, everyone who has the potential to kill, would see those words. Would feel those words. 

For we are all just brothers and sisters, really. We all share this planet, this world. We all will die someday, and though our Gods may tell us that different things await us after that final breath, none of us really knows

Human lives are lives. Not abstractions. And as such, they matter.

Black lives matter. White lives matter. Brown and yellow and red lives matter. Rainbow lives matter.

All lives matter.

If we throw away the rifles and the uniforms and the colors and the religions and the genders and the sexual orientations....you could all be my brothers and my sisters, and none of the other garbage would matter.

You ARE all my brothers and sisters.

None of the other garbage matters.

****

I'm headed out of town tonight, leaving Charles and Zoe behind in Charleston. 

I'm suddenly nervous about this.

Will there be massive protests, surrounding what looks to me like an obvious murder? The police officer is behind bars, where I believe he belongs. He's been charged with murder. These are important steps, toward justice and, hopefully, appeasement of all the rage that is certainly (and rightfully) thundering through my city right now. 

But will there be riots?

Am I leaving my husband and child behind in a tinderbox, surrounded by matches that could alight at any moment?

I truly hope not.

I trust my husband will keep my child safe.

****

I still can't believe what I watched this morning. I can't believe someone could kill with such capriciousness. 

I'm so glad, though, that the video exists. 

Without it, I fear a murderer would be walking our streets even now, claiming to keep my fellow Charlestonians safe, while acting in a way that is truly opposite.

****

Please, Charleston. Be safe this week. Be smart. 

For we are all just brothers and sisters. And today, one of us is dead, and together, we will all mourn.

March 20, 2015

Book Review: New Yorked by Rob Hart

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a little girl, growing up in New Jersey, right across the river from Staten Island. If you went to the small, oily waterfront in my hometown, you could see it. It was right there.

Author Rob Hart grew up on that little (big) island, around the same time as me. The worlds of our youth were, therefore, quite similar. We share memories of New York City in its pre-Rudy Giuliani years, when subways were dark and graffitied. When used hypodermic needles made the Long Island beaches minefields of disease and depravity. When 42nd Street was a mess of hookers, drug dealers, and peep shows.

And you know what?

Rob Hart and I share the same nostalgia for those years.

Yes, yes, I know. New York City is arguably better now. It's safer. It's cleaner. It's a place people move TO, rather than a place they run FROM.

But still. Those years. Those dark, gritty, dirty, filthy, rotten years.

I miss them.

I do.

There was something special about the city back then. You could make it as an artist, living off a couple bucks a day, hunkering down in a shitty apartment, eating Ramen and drinking coffee. The city felt more alive then, at least in my memories. It felt like even the streets lived and breathed.

I mean, they certainly smelled, didn't they? 

Anyway, I digress. Because the thing is? It was fun (and even a little thrilling) to find this nostalgia for a lost city woven artfully through the pages of Hart's upcoming novel, New Yorked (out June 9, 2015). To find a book that accepts New York City's contemporary status as a haven for hipsters and Starbucks and chain stores, but which does so with righteous indignation.



For Hart's narrator, part-time PI Ash McKenna, inhabits this contemporary Manhattan, frequenting places like Alphabet City (off-limits to child-me, for its dangerous residents and pervasive drug use) and a bar called Apocalypse, while navigating a treacherous road of fedoras and skinny jeans. 

And McKenna hates it. He misses those darker, grittier days. He misses the same things I miss.

This was an incredible treat to find in a book. Hart gives my nostalgia words. Images. Sights and smells. 

He gives it clout. 

He also manages to be one of the few writers I've seen successfully talk about 9/11, about the loss and suffering surrounding that terrible day, without...well, without pissing me off. Because Hart was there, just like I was. He's able to talk about these things because he knows. Hart's experiences lend the entire book an authenticity that a non-native writer would struggle to achieve. Hart's narrator feels authentic because Hart is authentic.

And the New York of Hart's novel is alive. 

It breathes.

It smells. 

And that's what it's all about.

New Yorked is a great example of the noir writing. It's part murder-mystery, part scathing look into a community ravaged by addiction and desperation. When Ash McKenna is implicated in the murder of his wishful-thinking-girlfriend, Chell, it becomes his mission to clear his name...and to kill Chell's killer. 

Along the way, he runs with a crowd of the most colorful characters I've had the pleasure of reading. With names like Bombay and Tibo, Lunette and The Hipster King (yes, you're supposed to read that with more than a hint of irony), they're diverse in skin color, style, and yes, sexuality. Each character is as well fleshed out, with background and motives and opinions, as Ash McKenna himself. And I love Hart's bravery, taking all these awesomely wild people and mashing them together into one roller-coaster story. 

In this day and age in which we hear all about diversity in literature, Hart's not just preaching it: he's writing it.

And that's a hugely important distinction to make.

I loved this book. I read it in about three sittings, which is damn near miraculous for me. Hart's prose is tight and dark. His roads are long and winding. And the final destination keeps you guessing.

It's going to be a few months until Hart's book hits bookshelves everywhere (and I do mean everywhere...though is publisher, Polis Books, is considered a small press, they're doing a lot of things right, including getting their books into bookstores), but I want you to remember this: if you're looking for something exciting in scope, plot, and diversity, you need to read New Yorked by Rob Hart.

So go ahead!What are you waiting for? It's available for pre-order NOW!

March 13, 2015

My Visit to the John L. Dart Library

I did something cool last night, and it was all because a friend of mine was sick.

What a bummer, to have something so special come out of someone being sick.

But how cool, too, right? Silver linings abound everywhere, don't you think?

Here's the story. On Monday, my sweet friend S.K. Falls texted me. She was supposed to give a talk at the John L. Dart Library in downtown Charleston Thursday night as part of their Celebrating Her Stories series for Women's History Month. Unfortunately, S.K.'s house has been hit by several of the Elementary School Plagues currently making their rounds, and she and her family were down for the count.

Would it be possible for me to give a talk there instead? So as to not leave them hanging?

Well, I doubt I could ever say no to S.K. - EVER - as she really is the sweetest, so I went ahead and said yes.

When I learned the talk was to be 45 minutes, followed by a Q&A, I started to get worried.

When I spoke with the lovely Kim and Ty at the library, and they told me the next speaker in the series (the following week) was going to be a Civil Rights activist who helped integrate the Charleston County school system....well, then I panicked.

Because...compared to THAT, what could I possibly have to contribute??

But I was already committed, and what's more...I wanted to do it. I wanted to see if I could say something meaningful, something helpful, or even just something fun.

And I was committed.

And panicking.

Oh my God, there was so much panic.

I had to call my brother.

I'm so glad I did. He suggested I read in addition to talking (I'm a writer, after all), and he suggested I have some kind of visual aids. He gave me some timeline considerations, and many other helpful tips.

I made a plan. I was supposed to be talking to young adults and adults, so I thought about talking about some heady stuff. Heavy stuff. I planned around that, for the most part...

And then I arrived at the library last night, and all my plans pretty much went out the window.

But still. It all worked out in the end.

For as it turned out, it was more of a (very small, very intimate) audience of KIDS and a few young adults.

All that heady, deep stuff that I had planned for the second half of my talk? Gone. Because it was just too much for the little ones.

But that was FINE! Because I love kids! I love hanging out with them, hearing what they think, and for the most part they were an awesome audience.

So now let me add: the John L. Dart is in an almost exclusively black part of town. I was the only white girl in the room. I felt my difference as much as I'm sure the children often feel theirs.

And it was GOOD that I felt a little different. Too often I'm too complacent, too comfortable in my mostly-white world. It was nice to be the odd girl out. Because as much as I believe skin color doesn't matter, and everyone's the same, looking different, for once, was a good reminder that on some level...it still does matter. Because if we can't ACKNOWLEDGE our differences, how can we later CELEBRATE them? How can we say, yes, we're different, and that's okay. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. And yes, maybe there's a tiny barrier between us at first, based on our appearances, but yes, we need to SMASH that barrier down, every single time we feel it.

Me? I tried to make us all laugh, to get over any lingering nerves I felt. I opened with an embarrassing story about myself, and then I talked to them about my early influences. I told them about watching all the horror and sci-fi movies with my dad wen I was a kid. I told them about how, when I sat down to write a book on a dare, I couldn't write more than a few pages without...zombies.

I read to them from the opening pages of Zombie Days, Campfire Nights (editing out the curses and the actual sex-scene).

It was the first time I'd ever read ANY of my Undead America series to an audience, and I was pleasantly surprised. I actually LIKED my own words!

And so did they!

In fact, when I stopped, someone in the audience actually said, "That was so cool."

No, my friend. What YOU said was ACTUALLY so cool.

Anyway, then we headed into deeper stuff. I told them about being the only Jewish kid in my class growing up. I told them how I still hate Matzoh, after being the only one who had to eat it during Passover.

And I told them about the scariest day in my life, when our synagogue was smashed up and spray painted with Swastikas (one of the librarians was kind enough to pull out an encyclopedia to show them a picture of a Swastika when I failed MISERABLY at drawing one), and I was only ten years old and I thought the Holocaust was coming for me.

I think they got it.

And then? Then I ran out of time, because 45 minutes FLEW by, and I answered some questions, and was completely thrilled when some of the kids were EXCITED to receive copies of Zombie Days as door prizes, and they asked me to sign their copies...and then?

Then one of the kids, a ten-year-old boy who had begged to be allowed to stay for the program....then he gave me this:


Yep. It's fan art.

I'm so in love with this piece of paper I could scream.

It was an incredible night. I loved meeting the kids, I loved hearing a bit about their stories, their style, their inspirations. And I hope they enjoyed meeting me. 

And now I'm hoping to take Zoe back, next week. I think she'd love to hear from the Civil Rights activist. I know I would.

March 5, 2015

Cover Reveal: Age of Blood by Shauna Granger

Hey guys! 

I'm always happy to host my super-sweet, amazing friend Shauna Granger here on the blog. Today she's celebrating the cover reveal for Age of Blood, the third and final installment of her Ash and Ruin apocalyptic series. I've read all the books and I will say: they are SUPER exciting and will keep you on the edge of your seat/couch/bed, throughout the whole series!

SO without further ado, here's Shauna with her COVER REVEAL!!!!

****



Hope is a dangerous thing, but powerful. Hope keeps you going. Hope can keep you alive. But hope can shatter your world. Kat and Dylan have found a home, but the monsters are still out there. The pox and plague still ravage the world. They have hope of finding a vaccine, but their encampment isn't equipped to develop it. Dylan is still too weak from the pox to leave the encampment, so Kat must decide between staying by his side and protecting her last remaining family member as he leaves to find supplies. Separated for the first time since they came together, Kat and Dylan will have to fight their own battles to save what is left of their bloody world. Kat will have to hold on to hope that she has anything left to save and someone to come home to. If she can survive. 





Available 5/5/2015




About the series:



There are two inherent truths in the world: life as we know it is over, and monsters are real.

The Pestas came in the night, spreading their pox, a deadly plague that decimated the population. Kat, one of the unlucky few who survived, is determined to get to her last living relative and find shelter from the pox that continues to devastate the world. When it mutates and becomes airborne, Kat is desperate to avoid people because staying alone might be her only chance to stay alive. That is, until she meets Dylan. Dylan, with his easy smile and dark, curly hair, has nowhere to go and no one to live for. He convinces Kat there can be safety in numbers, that they can watch out for each other. So the unlikely couple set off together through the barren wasteland to find a new life – if they can survive the roaming Pestas, bands of wild, gun-toting children, and piles of burning, pox-ridden bodies. 




The world has ended, and hope is the most dangerous thing left.

Battered and bruised after barely escaping San Francisco with their lives, Kat, Dylan, and Blue press north – desperate to reach the possibility of a new home. But strange, monstrous ravens are tracking the remaining survivors, food is becoming scarce, gasoline is running short, and people are becoming suicidal, making survival almost impossible. And the Pestas are growing bolder. Somehow, their numbers are growing. The further north they go, the harder it becomes to ignore the signs that they’ve made a fatal mistake. Kat must face the impossible truth that there is no escape, there is no safe haven, and their worst nightmares don’t come close to their new reality.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

About the author:


Like so many other writers, Shauna grew up as an avid reader, but it was in high school that she realized she wanted to be a writer. She released the first installment of her Paranormal YA Series, The Elemental Series, Earth, on May 1, 2011 and has since released four sequels, with the series coming to an end with Spirit. In December of 2013 she released the first in her Paranormal Post-Apocalyptic trilogy (Ash And Ruin Trilogy), World of Ash. Be sure to also check out her newest series: The Matilda Kavanagh Novels about a spunky witch just trying to pay her rent in West Hollywood. Shauna is currently hard at work on one too many projects, trying to organize the many voices in her head. It's a writer thing.

Stalkables:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

About the Cover Artist Stephanie Mooney:



I am a 25-year-old graphic designer, artist, and aspiring author currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m a renaissance girl — a lover of all things creative and artistic. From the moment I learned to use my hands, I was writing stories about princesses and sketching ballerinas. I guess I never really stopped. Most of my training has been informal, and many of my skills are self taught. In 2006-07, I spent a year interning at a church in Louisiana where I worked in their art and design department. In July 2007, they hired me as one of their designers. I worked there for three years, gaining experience in graphic design, advertising, set building, event planning, and product design. From there, I began my career in freelance design. Many of my clients are indie authors looking for affordable cover designs. I love working with authors and getting excited about their stories with them. I’m still building my web portfolio, but I really enjoy designing and developing websites as well.

Stalkables:

Website | Flickr| Twitter | Instagram

February 23, 2015

Thoughts on finishing my seventh book, and the processes that helped me get there

I finished a book today.

It's still a little thrilling to say those words, be them out loud or typed (and sometimes I swear my voice is louder when it's typed anyway). 

So I'll say them again.


I finished a book today.


I found the end of my story, the end that's been hanging, tantalizingly out of reach, for the past week or so. I found it and I wrote it and at the end of something close to 6,000 words written today alone, I typed those beautiful, magical words: THE END.

(I typed them all in caps for emphasis. It gives them more weight, don't you think?)

This was the seventh book I've written. The seventh. Is it lucky number seven? I don't know yet. I do know it's so far from perfect that I'm dreading editing it, but that'll be a story for another day, far down the road from here. 

That it's the seventh feels significant, though, at least to me. I mean, seven books. Seven. That feels like a lot. I mean, lots of people write one book, and lots write two. 

But seven

I have to admit: when my friend Jen challenged me back in 2010 to write "a book," I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I'd wake up having written seven.

So that's kind of cool, at least to me.

This book was a significant departure from my past writing process, though, and it had some weird results. I promised another friend I'd tell you about them. He's curious about process, and actually, so am I. So here are some things I did differently for this book, and how I think they helped. I think they helped. I think they helped a lot, in fact. 

Read on if you're interested in process...if not, no worries, and I'm just glad you stopped by!

****

This time, I outlined. Or at least I tried to.

This book was weird. It came about one day when I was listening to someone giving a speech on television, and they mentioned "we all have a set number of days in our lives," and I thought, "Well, what if you know exactly how many you have, from the day you're born?"

Thus, a book was born.

Much of it appeared, fully formed in my mind, on that very first day. I didn't want to lose facts and plot points and characters, so at my first opportunity, I outlined.

I know, I know. I'm a pantser when I write...I usually have no idea what's going to happen, or to whom, or anything like that when I set out. So this was...weird.

I wrote my outline on a whole bunch of index cards, figuring that would make it easier to move things around or re-outline as needed. I had dozens of cards laid out on my floor one afternoon, arranging and rearranging, and then I picked them up in the order in which I'd write.

At first, it helped SO MUCH. Each card was a chapter. When I finished a chapter, I'd cross out the card, but keep it in the stack so I'd know what I'd done. It kept me on task and motivated (a list-maker in real life, I LOVE crossing things out!!), and for the first couple weeks, I kept to it.

And then one day I changed a plot point in my head, and I lost my cards, and I never again looked back from there.

So yeah. I suck at outlining, but I really think that my attempt at it made a huge difference in speed and quality of writing in those early chapters. Usually the beginning of a book plods along for me as I find my way, but this time? I reached 10,000 words in the first week, which was absolutely, 100% a new record for me.

Will I outline again? 

I don't know....maybe if another idea comes to me as fully formed. If not, though, I'll manage. I did enjoy the process, but I also enjoyed leaving those cards behind.

This time, I stopped freelancing.

A couple years ago, when I quit my full-time job to be a full-time writer, I...kind of freaked the hell out. Because the money! I had none! I was living fully on the basis of my husband's paycheck, and it was the first time since I was about twelve years old that I wasn't making my own income.

So I started picking up freelancing gigs. The City Paper. LitReactor. Other random magazines and publications.

And it was fun and I loved parts of it, but one day last year I realized: ALL I was doing was freelancing. I wasn't making progress on my books, and instead was meeting all these other deadlines.

This year I had a chat with my husband, and he gave me the greenlight to not worry about money, at least for a little while, and focus full-time on my books. So I took some time off from most of my freelancing gigs and...

Holy shit, I wrote a book in just under two months.

It's amazing what you can do when you're really focused. 

This time, I found a schedule that really worked for me.

Here's my schedule as it stands right now:

Monday - Friday, I take Zoe to school and am home by 8 a.m. I write from 8 until 10 or 10:30. That's a hard cutoff. I will not let my writing bleed into the rest of my day. That's my own rule and I try not to break it. That way, when I'm writing, I'm writing. I'm not getting up to start laundry or pick up stuff in the kitchen. I'm just writing.

After 10:30 I exercise (run or yoga or whatever random thing I do), and then I turn into a stay-at-home-mom. From around 11:30 till I go get Zoe at 2:45, I'm cleaning up or working on projects or running errands.

My days feel VERY full, every day, and I do take breaks and goof off and visit with my "office friends" on Twitter, but that is my schedule, and this time I made my writing time sacred, and it was amazing to see the pages pile up faster than they've ever piled up before.

This time, I used a particular playlist and borrowed Charles's headphones.


Dude. This one surprised me. 


I've heard other writers often talk about playlists and using music as a writing cue. I just never knew how effective it would be for me.

On a whim, I created a playlist the day I started writing this particular book. I chose songs I loved, songs that had good memories associated with them, and songs that I knew well enough that they could fade into the background while I listened. Van Morrison. Dire Straits. Simon and Garfunkel. These were the voices in my ears.

And it helped, a little. At least I was enjoying my soundtrack.

But then, a few days later, I borrowed Charles's headphones to tune out some background noise, everything...clicked.

From then on, when I sat down to write, I put on the headphones and turned on the playlist, and suddenly that was it. It was time to write. The very act of doing those things told me: get to work, you goofball, and quit pretending your email is so very important that you need to keep checking it.

I can't believe how much of a difference that little psychological game made. I watched my word count almost double, every day, once I started doing it.

So that was pretty cool.

****

In all, this book moved along quickly. Normally I struggle to reach 2,000 words each day. This time? Most days I wrote around 3,000 words, easily. It made those afternoon chores easier to bear. It made my chaotic weekends more fun. I didn't worry as much that I wasn't getting anything done, book-wise, on Saturdays and Sundays, because suddenly I knew I could get it all done during the week. I made my writing time sacred, and routine, and ohmigosh, it was tremendous.

Man. I should have written this post for LitReactor, shouldn't I? Maybe one day I'll try to cross-post it somewhere else. Because as a writer, I LOVE reading about what works for other writers. Your process may be quirky, but maybe I can steal something from it that makes my days that much better. 

I hope you can steal something from mine.

And no matter what...man. Seven books. I'm feeling pretty damn good tonight.

I hope you are, too!

February 19, 2015

That time when we saw Harry Connick, Jr., and it was AMAZING

Y'all.

You know me well enough by now (even when I don't blog for months at a time!) to know that my house is a musical one. And by that I mean: we LOVE music. Love it. We listen to it all the time. We've raised Zoe on the greats: there's Louis and Ella and Billie and Duke, but also the Beatles and Nirvana and Pearl Jam. There's almost always music playing in the background. When Charles is home, it leans more jazz or rock. When it's just Zoe and me, there's likely Mumford & Sons or Fun or 80s pop or even sometimes Taylor Swift (c'mon - you know you love "Shake it Off" just as much as Zoe and I do).

Though she's only six-and-a-half (that half being VERY important to her), she's already been to a handful of shows and concerts, and had some incredible experiences. Once Will Hogge sang her the ABCs when she was not-quite-two. She had to be carried out of an American Idol concert a couple years later because the lights and sounds were just too much. Later that year, she made it through most of a Lumineers show (she LOVES them still), until she fell asleep on the bleacher and I made us take her home, and then there was the time she and I got to meet Phil Phillips when he did a private acoustic show here in Charleston. Earlier this year it was James Taylor, the first time she ever lasted through to the end of a single concert.

So yeah. Music's been a big part of Zoe's life, and though none of the three of us have ANY obvious talent for actually PERFORMING any sort of music, we've shared a lot of memories already, and it's important to us to keep making more.

Which is why last night happens to be the most AMAZING NIGHT OF MUSIC EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

Or at least in the history of the Rhynes.

So what happened, you might ask?

Well, it all started a few months ago when we found out Harry Connick, Jr., was coming to town. I've been a Harry fan ever since the first time I saw him croon "Danny Boy" in Memphis Belle, so I was dying to go. When I mentioned it to Zoe, she begged, "Me too? Please please please?"

(She's an American Idol fan. So'm I. We sometimes giggle and bicker over which judge is our favorite: Harry or Keith. I mean, Jen's fab and all, but man, those boys are cute!)

(Yes. I'm a terrible influence on my daughter. I like to giggle over cute boys with her. Get over it.)

When I asked Charles if we could go, he promised to get tickets. When the next day he told me he somehow managed to get FRONT-front row seats, I squealed like a little girl who's just been handed a puppy.

(When he told me the price a few days later, I almost passed out...but that's okay...as you'll see in the end...WORTH IT!)

We've been waiting for last night, Zoe and I, since that day. And the day came...and it delivered. Because, as it turns out, not only is Harry Connick, Jr., an awesome performer, backed by an incredibly talented jazz band...but he's also a sweetheart, with a soft spot for a pretty little girl in the front row.

So. Man. There we sat, in the FRONT-front row (you know, not the actual auditorium seats, but the front row of the chairs they put on the floor, right in front of the stage). The curtain came up, and Harry was there.

I squealed. Again. I'm SUCH a dork.

And within about a minute, before the first song was even complete, he'd eyed two kids in the very front row. There was a twelve-year-old boy a couple seats down from us, plus Zoe, and Harry grinned and waved at them both.

That...would have been enough. It made my day, and it made Zoe's as well.

But things continued to happen!

Like...Harry chats during his concerts, telling stories, making his audience laugh (because really, we were already eating out of the palm of his hand anyway...). He mentioned that there were two "youngsters" in the front row, saying it was unusual to see two little ones up so close. Then he turned to the boy. "How old are you?"

"Twelve," said the boy.

Harry turned to Zoe. "How about you? You're younger than that."

"I'm six-and-a-half," she said, and for the rest of the night, he referred multiple times to the "six-and-a-half year old" in the front row. He never called her six. He got how important the half was.

And...when his soooooooo-incredible-it-hurts trombonist, Lucien Barbarin, came out for an improvised solo, and he played an amazing little muted version of "Mary Had A Little Lamb" while smiling straight at Zoe.

Or...when Harry had a conversation with both kids about Minecraft and how watching his daughter take him on a tour through her world makes him sick. Both kids nodded, and Zoe looked over at me. I happen to do the same thing. "Eh, stop spinning, you're gonna make me hurl!"

And...when he later asked them both what kind of music they listened to. Zoe froze, and all I could come up with as a suggestion for her was Phil Philips, but man, his eyes lit up when he heard her say that name. "Phil Phillips? Really? You know, he's just the sweetest guy!" Trust us: we know!

And....when during his encore, Harry shot Zoe a look and said, "Man, I thought you'd be asleep by now," and then shook the hands of both the kids while he sang.

And....when, during the same encore, he threw out into the crowd two strings of Mardi Gras beads that had been given to him by an audience member....and tossed the third string - the golden string - very gently into Zoe's lap.

Listen. We were Harry Connick, Jr., fans already, long before last night ever happened. But believe me when I tell you that he made, in Zoe last night, a lifelong super-fan. She left the concert hall vibrating with excitement (and exhaustion). Her favorite moments were shaking Harry's hand, and when he threw her the beads.

I always hope performers know how much those little things they do can make a difference in a kid's life. Zoe's life has been musical so far, and we're working to make sure it stays that way. But with those few small actions on a very special night, Harry Connick, Jr., made more of an impact in two hours than any of us can possibly imagine. I love that he did all that. I love that Zoe got to have such a special night.

****

Look. Here's the thing. Pics or it didn't happen, right?

I'd love to fill this page with pics of Zoe and Harry, but the fact is the announcer asked, prior to the show, that the audience please refrain from taking any pictures or videos of any kind. Since I got super-pissy when the guy beside Charles was taking illicit videos during the performance, I figured I couldn't do anything but leave my phone in my pocket, where it belonged, no matter what happened.

But I promise you. This all happened.

And it was all kinds of amazing.

And the beads? Those golden Mardi Gras beads? I found them this morning, stuffed into Zoe's most treasured treasure box. They don't fit. I think I need to get her a bigger treasure box. Because really, there's so much to treasure in life. I want her to be able to fit it all in!