August 22, 2013

Prayers for a new school year

We went to a park on Monday, Zoe, my father, and I. A beautiful park here in Charleston. It used to be a plantation, and now it's a celebration of the past. Memorials to slaves and Native Americans who no longer walk the earth, ruins of old homes and battered fences.  Laden with remnants of a lost world, the park is encapsulated by lush sub-tropical forests and green, flowering fields.

We were caught in a sudden squall, typical of this summer's bizarre weather, and we were soaked to the skin. My father threw in the towel early, heading home to dryer pastures. But Zoe and I saw the blue skies in the distance, so we decided to stay, squishy shoes and all.

As we walked a narrow, wooded path, our view of the sky slimmed down until it was a mere sliver above us. It was through the tree leaves that we saw the sun break through the clouds, beaming on the earth below.

Seemingly out of nowhere, apropos of nothing, Zoe turned to me. "Mommy, I believe in God."

Not sure what to say, never sure of my own beliefs, I smiled. "I think that's a great thing, Zoe. A very great thing."

****

I thought of that moment on Tuesday, when reports came in of another shooter in another elementary school, shadows of last year's Sandy Hook massacre. A knot grew, deep in my stomach. Would the faces of children slain soon fill the internet in dark days to come?

I remembered Zoe's face, brilliantly lit by a sunbeam. "Mommy, I believe in God."

Soon the report from the school in Georgia told a different story. This time, the shooter was stopped in his very tracks. This time, a woman with an unearthly calm was able to talk to the shooter, to calm him down, to disarm him both literally and figuratively. 

"Mommy, I believe in God."

****

No one was hurt in the Georgia school shooting. Thank God.

****

Zoe started kindergarten yesterday, headed into a crowded school building to face a brave new world away from Charles and me. We left her there, in the care of teachers she'll grow to love, but strangers still. We left her with people on whom I now rely to do everything in their power to save her should the need arise.

So let's all take a second to say a few prayers - glorified wishes, really, depending on what you happen to believe. Prayers can be sent to any god you like, or just out into the stars should you not believe at all. 

****

I hope that Tuesday's shooting, with its comparatively happy ending, is the only school violence this year.

I hope every parent who sends a child to school in the morning gets to tuck a child in at night.

I hope no beds are suddenly empty this year, no parents arms left to hold nothing but a broken heart.

I hope our children learn a love of reading, of math, of science and history, all within a loving environment. 

I hope we care less about what test scores say, and more about what our children say. I hope we listen to their stories from the classroom, from recess, and I hope we can learn from our children.

I hope our children make friends, fall in love (age-appropriately, of course), and find the time to be silly.

I hope our refrigerators practically fall down beneath the weight of beautiful drawings and funny pictures.

Above all, I hope our children are safe. 

Zoe and me
First day of kindergarten
August 21, 2013

August 19, 2013

Author Interview: Marissa Virtuoso

A few years ago, I had lunch with a girlfriend of mine. We ate pizza and played with her then-only son. Halfway through lunch, she gave me a funny look. 

"I have to tell you something," she said, like it was going to be earth-shattering.

I love a good secret, so I grinned. "What's up?"

"I wrote a book," she said, and I swear that's when my
life changed.

Real people, like my friend, could write books? WHAT?

Well, of course I wanted to read it, and of course I loved it. I was honored to be one of her earliest readers, and from her I learned the basics of how the publishing world worked, and, honestly, the meaning of the words "query letter." Had it not been for this friend, I'd never have written a book. 

So...fast forward three years. She got pulled away from writing by the birth of her second son, but now she's back in the game. Saturday marked the release of THAT book, The Indigo Bunting, by Marissa Virtuoso.

The Indigo Bunting is a love story at its core. It's also a ghost story. Trust me, if I had a dollar for every time Marissa and I have sat around swapping ghost stories...I'd be a little richer. She has that creepy aesthetic I love in an author, and her book reflects it beautifully.

Today I'm happy to have Marissa here on the blog. Read on to learn more about the genesis of her writing career, and the chaos of balancing writing with two growing boys.


LR: First off, congrats times a thousand on the release of your first novel, The Indigo Bunting. Novels never come without hard work and (occasional) heartache. Tell me, what was the most surprisingly easy part of writing this book?

MV: Thank  you! And thank you for having me on your blog! I’m so excited! The easiest part of writing this book was actually writing it. I started The Indigo Bunting a few weeks after I had my first son when I was so overwhelmed with joy, fear, frustration, love, that I was an emotional wreck. I don’t mean to make it sound like it was a bad time in my life, it was the exact opposite –it was wonderful, the best. But it was a whirlwind of foreign emotions that at times, could be really heavy. Writing was the one thing that brought me peace, and control. When I wrote, I didn’t even think about it, it just flowed. Editing was the hard part!
  
LR: I’ve read it, and I love it. It’s a fun, sad, haunting look at a young woman, Harper, who can’t let go of a really tragic past. Where did Harper come from? Was she based on anyone you’ve known?

MV: I’ve known little bits of Harper in a lot of different people. I’ve never dealt with anything close to what she has but I’ve always been really interested in how people deal with pain and loss. After someone has gone through a tragic event, it can change everything about them and steer them into a completely different direction. I’ve watched this happen to other people and it’s amazing to me when someone comes out on the other end and they’re OK. I guess a part of me has always wondered what I would do if I lost the things most important to me. I hope I never find out.

LR: In the paranormal world these days, we see tons of monsters – zombies, vampires, werewolves. You took your story in a different direction, with the inclusion of a very vivid ghost-world. Why?

MV: I love a good ghost story. The idea that our loved ones are still with us, is both comforting and scary. Who’s to say they’re not giving us little nudges or signs, helping us out along the way. There’s so much energy in all of us, where does it go when we pass on? I like the idea that maybe my grandmother is keeping me safe. I’m not sure if I entirely believe in ghosts but I do know that anytime someone in the room tells a ghost story, my ears always perk up.

LR: Jack, Harper’s fiancĂ©, has a terrible end to his life. Did you set out hoping to redeem him? Do you think he actually IS redeemed, by the end?

MV: I love this question! No, I didn’t set out to redeem Jack but I wanted to show that Jack was a good person who made some bad choices. At the same time, I also think Jack is selfish. When I was writing Jack, it was more about how Jack didn’t think through his actions. He didn’t consider the consequences to what he was doing. I think Jack was trying to redeem himself, up until the end, at least. But at the very end, was he just being selfish? I don’t know. I’d love to hear what you think.

LR: What’s something you’d love potential readers to know about Harper, Jack, or anyone else in the story?

MV: Harper loved to sing and dance. Not in any formal, trained kind of way, but in more of a dance-around-the-kitchen-on-a-Saturday-morning kind of way. You don’t really catch her doing it in the book. She also secretly wanted to learn how to play the guitar, and in another life, she would have been a groupie. Harper was a free spirit but everything that happened to her, tied her down. Part of me is sad that I didn’t write more of her when she was in a happy place. I think Harper would have been a lot of fun to be around if she had not lost Jack.

LR: You’re mother to two young boys. When do you find time to write?

MV: Sigh. At night. I always write at night after the boys are in bed, much to the chagrin of my husband. I have to give him credit though, he’s very patient with me. When I write, I tune the world out, including him. It’s hard to find time to write during the day. I used to write during nap time but now that nap times are hard to come by, I usually only have time to write when the house is quiet. I catch myself thinking about my books all the time, though. I’ll be washing the dishes but in my head, I’m plotting.

LR: When you were a kid, were you a compulsive reader? What did you like to read, and did you have any childhood literary crushes? You know…those boys you wished were real?

MV: I read a lot growing up. I remember sitting in the back of my parent’s car during road trips reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books. I loved Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden...the books all little girls love. When I was in high school, I was obsessed with reading anything about the Kennedy’s. I read these incredibly long, detailed books about Kennedy’s assassination. I’m not sure what kind of phase that was. I don’t recall ever having a literary crush, but I’m sure I did.

LR: Favorites time!! Favorite movie(s)?

MV: I have so many! I love stories that either leave your heart aching or really happy. Some of my favorites would have to be Steel Magnolias, Terms of Endearment, Father of the Bride, The Notebook (I know, super cheesy, right?) But to be completely honest, my all-time favorite movie, that I could watch 100 times and probably already have, is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

LR: Favorite book(s)?

MV: This is too hard to answer. I do have one book that always stands out to me. When I was eighteen or nineteen, I read Wally Lamb’s, I Know This Much is True, and fell in love. It was the first book I read as an “adult” and it made me think differently about relationships. I love a book that will change the way I think. This was the first book that did that for me.

LR: Favorite band/album(s)?

MV: I love Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, Ray Lamontagne, The Black Keys. But my very, very favorite is Van Morrison. I can always listen to Van Morrison.

****

To learn more about Marissa, follow her on Twitter or visit The Indigo Bunting on Facebook! 

Thanks, Marissa, for coming by today! I always enjoy a good author chat! 


August 14, 2013

The screenplay of my life

Were I to write a (brief) screenplay of my life, it might look something like this:

***********

ACT 1

SCENE 1

The place: A bright, sunny living room, with carpets in desperate need of a vacuum thanks to two boisterous, shedding, beastly dogs (off screen, barking). There stands a woman (young and gorgeous, of course), clad in running attire and with a messy bun atop her head. Beside her, a vacuum, much-used and cherished. A stairway sits at the left of the room. 

FROM UPSTAIRS, THE SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS, MOVING QUICKLY

ZOE: Mom! Wait! Mom! Don't start vacuuming yet! I want to help you clean! (CRASH SOUNDS, OFF SCREEN) Oops!

DOWN THE STAIRS, ALL SEPARATE, COMES A LITTLE GIRL IN BRAIDS, A BOWL, AND A DOZEN OR SO PRETZEL RODS. ALL OF THE PRETZELS SHATTER UPON IMPACT WITH THE TILE FLOOR.

LEAH: (WITH DEFINITE SNARK, AND WEARINESS. THIS IS NOT THE FIRST OOPS OF THE DAY)Zoe, that's not helping me clean. In fact, that is the opposite of helping me clean.

ZOE: (LEANS OVER AND BEGINS PICKING UP THE PIECES OF PRETZEL THAT NOW LITTER THE FLOOR) Well, at least I spilled before you vacuumed. So you can vacuum up all the salt. Look at the bright side, Mommy!

LEAH: (DEFEATED. SLAPS FOREHEAD WITH PALM. KNOWS THERE'S NO USE IN ARGUING. LEANS OVER AND HELPS CLEAN UP THE MESS.)

August 7, 2013

New Worlds Podcast, Driving After Dark, and the silliest of internet crashes

My life is weird. I spend time interviewing others for stories at The Charleston City Paper, and then every so often, I have people who want to interview ME about books and/or stories I've written. It gets a little spinny sometimes. Yesterday I even had a friend realize she remembered reading a story about me last year, before we even knew each other! So weird!

BUT...I am honored and thrilled to be able to let you know about an interview I did this week, and a brand new podcast in which I was excited to take part.

New Worlds Podcast is an up-and-coming literary podcast, in which host Lawrence Rosales reads original works of genre fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, horror) and then interviews the writer. When he asked me if I'd participate, I pretty much said, "Heck yes, where do I sign up??"

I sent him one of my favorite stories I've written, called Driving After Dark. Then this week we took some time to sit down and chat via Skype, and the interview is at the end of the podcast. 

I had a great time chatting with Lawrence. He was kind and calm and didn't mind when I had to step away for a second to attend to Zoe, who was in bed but refusing to sleep because of COURSE she'd pick that night to be bouncy. And, you know, when my internet connection bombed out three times over the course of the call (*shakes fist at Comcast*), he was completely chill. 

We laughed a lot, I rambled a bit, and the resulting podcast is now up for your enjoyment.

Here! Go check it out! I'd love to hear what you think of the story, interview, or anything!!

August 1, 2013

On your left

Sunday morning found my brother and me up and out early, milling about barefoot in a muddy, goose-poop covered, gnat infested park. He'd come out from Oklahoma especially for this, if you can believe that.

So what was this?

Well, we'd signed up for a sprint triathlon - 600 yard swim, 12 mile bike ride, 5k run - and Sunday was the day. I did one last year, loved it, and it was his turn to try. And I wasn't about to let him go it alone.

As with last year, for me the longest and toughest part of the race was the bike ride. Thing is, I grew up swimming on a team, so the swim doesn't bother me in the least. In fact, since breast stroke allows me to see where I'm going in the murky water, and apparently my breast stroke is as fast as many of the other girls' freestyles, I did that the whole time and it was remarkably easy. And I run all the time, so even though the run is last - after the killer bike ride - it's also comparatively fine. Not too terrible.

But the bike ride? Yikes.

I have a 13 year old mountain bike, with super-fat, tread-heavy tires and rusty chains. No matter how hard I pedal, there's only so fast it can go. So the 12 miles take a long time, and give me a long time to sight-see and daydream.

So that's what I did, of course.

The sight-seeing was great. The bike course runs out of the park and down towards Folly Beach, one of the prettier beaches in Charleston. There was a mild lightning storm out over the water, and I had fun listening to the low, rumbling thunder while the breeze kicked up and kept me relatively cool.

But my daydreaming kept getting interrupted by a single cry...

"On your left!"

That's what the other cyclists said, whenever they needed to pass me. I'd scoot over to the right, and they'd pass on the left, and after about twenty minutes of that I stuck myself pretty much at the right-most edge of the road and waved at the other cyclists as they passed.

It got me thinking - I know, you're shocked. Me? Think? Never. But really, racing like that (even when, like me, you're too slow to actually race) is so much like the journey of a writing career, it's almost too obvious of an analogy to make.

But I am Captain Obvious, so I will make it.

So. Triathlon. Writing. Here's what I'm saying.

In the first place, nothing is ever easy, and triathlons (even mini-ones) and becoming a published author are certainly both difficult. It's hard, going out there and training day after day, with nothing to show for it but a few blisters and a lot of sore muscles. It's also hard to sit down and write or edit each and every day, with nothing to show for it but a growing document on your computer and maybe an ebook or two (Undead America 2 is out this fall!!).

And though you're up against a gazillion other competitors (or writers), your toughest competition is always going to be yourself. It's the little voices that will really weigh you down. "I'm tired. I want to stop. My foot is bleeding and it really hurts." "Dude, this book sucks. No agent's ever going to want it. I'm never going to make any money."

It's tough to tell yourself to shut up, but if you want to succeed, if you even want to finish something, your really have to. 

Then, well, there are the other competitors. You know...the ones going so fast they tell you to move over? Or the ones getting the six figure book deals of which myths are truly made? There's always going to be that knee-jerk reaction towards jealousy, towards anger. "They just have a better bike than me...I could do that if I really wanted to." "They just write more commercially. Of course an agent wants them instead of me. I could do that if I really wanted to." 

But that's where you, once again, have to tell yourself to shut up and keep on going, because it's never going to get any easier, and they're working just as hard as you.

And that's also where the best thing to do is smile, wave, and voice your most sincere congratulations. Because there's enough of the world (both writing and racing) to go around. It doesn't matter who gets to the end first.

Do you see what I'm doing here? They really are the same, I swear.

Whatever it comes down to, it's good to remember, in both cases...the race and the road to publication are journeys, and that's what's important. The journey. Not who wins. Not who makes more money or gets better reviews. It's about the journey. 

And when you stop and think about it...if you're on the journey at all, well, sometimes that's truly all that matters. 

I swear.

My brother and me in our post-race selfie.
Note the glow of sweat and satisfaction.


Okay, I'm doing being an Optimistic Alligator now (Eddie B., that's for you), but just know: yes, I am a freak, and yes, this is what I thought about while pedaling my fool heart out Sunday morning. I hope you've enjoyed my ramblings today. I've enjoyed rambling them.