Family

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Small things

“Just remember this . . . We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It means, don’t worry.”

From Elephant Run by Roland Smith


Easier said than done for a mom. Ever since my first child was born over eleven years ago, I’m constantly navigating a world full of dangers I hadn’t noticed before. Not only dangers to my children but to myself as well. I look back at the stupid risks I took in my youth and wonder how I survived. My next breath is stuck thinking about my children doing a version of those same stupid risks, their own variation of “coming of age.” I lose sleep over it. “It” being “everything.”

Since the election, I’ve avoided the news and social media, unable to stomach the information that comes through. It’s, like, worry on a totally different level. I don’t believe I’m being dramatic when my fears of an apocalypse are being realized. I tell myself it’s out of my control. My husband reminds me that as long as our children are healthy and safe and our immediate world isn’t affected, we can’t worry about it.

But, “it” means “everything.” What happens in the world also happens to my children, and I nearly wilt from worry.

Until I get a reality check.

Last night, I got news (through social media, ironically) that one of my high school classmates passed away, losing her battle with breast cancer.

At first, I didn’t believe it. But other posts followed, how her close friends will miss her, her college roommate will always hold her in her heart, prayers going out to her family. A husband and three children. I didn’t realize how sick she was. The last post I remember seeing from Lorien was about her daughter’s success at a horse show. She’d been so proud of her, and I had foolishly thought from the tone of her post that everything in her world was okay.

Lorien and I grew up in tandem at Lake George elementary. She always towered over me. I specifically remember feeling dwarfish next to her in gym class. At some point in high school, we were in the same Home-Economics class. (Home-Ec. Do they even teach that anymore?) We learned how to sew. We made stuffed animals. She made a brown puppy and named it “Roadkill” — which she announced in her signature low voice, followed by her signature deep, chuckling laughter. I’d looked on, bemused at her dry, semi-morbid sense of humor. It was a glimpse of who Lorien was. Just a glimpse. But it’s stayed with me.

Lorien and I weren’t close. In our small school, we were friendly but we didn’t hang out on weekends or anything. I didn’t really know her all that well. Still, her tragic death has shocked me awake.

As I snuggled my children into bed last night, I thought about Lorien. How she was no longer able to put her kids to bed, to kiss them goodnight. She wouldn’t see her daughter in another horse show. She wouldn’t be able to post how proud she was of her. She wouldn’t see her children graduate from high school, college. She wouldn’t see them get married. She would never meet her grandchildren.

What the fuck am I worrying about?

The passage above is was taken the book Elephant Run by Roland Smith. It’s one of my son’s Battle of the Books books this year. I’m reading along with him so we can talk about it and study together.

A small thing. But a huge thing.

Our jobs as moms are made up of these small, beautiful things. Things that Lorien also won’t ever be able to do again. Pouring cereal, packing lunches, signing permission slips, meeting the school bus, driving to piano lessons, monitoring homework, trimming nails, reading stories, doing unending laundry . . .

Guess what, Moms? These small things are *just as important* as the big things. We know this, but we need the reminder. These small things shape our lives and our children’s lives. They make up our world.

We have to cherish every little thing. Celebrate them, even. Every day. Because, my god, they matter. They are everything.


“Just remember this . . . We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It means, don’t worry.”

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6 things you can do to ease election pain

The election result is a shock for us Hillary supporters. There are a lot of us out there. There’s a lot of pain. It takes everything in me to believe in our country right now, and to give Trump a chance. But I refuse to go negative about something I can’t control.

What can I control? Here are six things I plan to do to feel better, starting today.

  1. Raise my boys well. The next four years will be crucial for my children, who will be entering pre- and teen years. In our wonderful family of five, we’ll be dealing with all that comes with that: puberty and confusing hormones, competitive sports, and driving a car — to name a few. Throughout all, they will respect women as equals, without question. I vow to raise our boys with goodness and love and acceptance and hope.
  2. Take care of myself. I exercise regularly, but as I sweated it out this morning, I thought about my body in a different way. As many women probably feel, I’m saddened and hurt by Trump’s comments and shameless objectification of women. I’m also guilty of falling into the trap, objectifying myself. There have always been things I’ve wanted to change about my appearance. “If I could only lose that pesky five pounds, if only my nose were more petite, if my teeth were whiter, if my hair wasn’t so wild…” You know what? It’s all bullshit. I’m healthy. I’m strong. And, goldarnit, my husband thinks I’m gorgeous. My kids think my extra five pounds adds to the snuggle factor. I vow to be kind to myself. To love myself as I am no matter what I see in the media.
  3. Take care of our planet. The continuing devastation to our environment is real. Our efforts in recycling and renewable energy are (excuse the pun) only the tip of the iceberg. There’s got to be more we can do to reverse the damage so our children have a worry-free future, without relying on the government to do so. Coincidentally, I’m working on a sequel to Forte which addresses this very question — where magic is the answer. If only magic were an option. I’m not quite sure how yet, but I vow to take a more active role to help heal our earth.
  4. Be kind to each other. It’s tempting to make the generalization that everyone who voted for Trump agrees with everything he’s ever said and condones the things he’s admitted doing. That’s not necessarily the case, as my husband reminded me. There are many people out there who have lost jobs and are struggling to raise their children — to survive, even. They are angry and fed up with the government they believe let them down. I vow to keep an open mind, to withhold judgment, and to treat others with kindness no matter what their political views may be.
  5. Have faith. Even if you are not religious, the idea of having faith helps during times like these. Have faith in the peaceful transition of power that George Washington bravely set up for us when our country was founded. Have faith in the US Constitution. Have faith in its “checks and balances.” Have faith in due process. Have faith in science. Have faith in God. Have faith in our country.
  6. Smile. Give yourself the gift of a good, healthy cry. And then, find humor in something. In everything! Here’s something: Just think how good SNL will be for the next four years.

I’m not saying all this will be easy. To be honest, part of why I wrote this post is to pull myself out of hopelessness and convince myself to be positive.

Let yourself grieve, and then think about what you can do to feel better. Maybe these six things offer a good place to start.

Girl Power

I’m a proud #boymom. My three boys are my world. From clothes to shoes to toys, our house is all BOY. And I wouldn’t change it for anything. Sure, before children, I imagined raising a daughter. One with curly hair. Someone I could share all my hard-learned girl truths with. I defy any woman who denies feeling the same. But now, I couldn’t imagine life without these boys. And they couldn’t either. They wouldn’t know what to do with a sister.

“Our house would be infused with PINK!” once was said — the P word sneering from his mouth.

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And this doesn’t include cleats. There’s a separate bin for that.

When Christmas commercials are in season, we tease about getting My Little Pony and Twinkle Toes and LaLaLoopsy for each other. Even I’m guilty of that.

But pink has always been my favorite color.

Yesterday, our middle asked, “Who are you voting for for President?”

“Hillary Clinton.”

“But we can’t have a GIRL president!”

“Why not?”

“She’ll make us wear girly clothes and play with Barbies!”

“No she wouldn’t. Why would you say that?”

“Because she makes all the rules and all the laws.”

“Well, did President Obama make me wear a suit and tie and play with trucks?”

We all laughed, but my words felt a bit hollow. The reverse isn’t the same. I’m in a boy world. They’ve seen me play with plenty of toy trucks. I may not wear a suit and tie but I assure you I’m not in a dress every day, either. Come to think of it, it’s all a boy’s world. Historically, we girls have had to fight for equal rights and equal pay and equal opportunity. And “pink” isn’t the problem.

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When my husband gets into one of his teasing jags, my standard comeback is: “You needed a little sister growing up to get all this out of your system.”

Growing up with three brothers, my husband has the boy thing down. He’s like the boy whisperer — able to get to the root of a rotten day or hurt feelings or big-world worries. However, judging from how protective he is of me, a little girl may have given him a run for his money.

My brother and I grew up sharing each other’s perspective. Throughout the confusing puberty years, I know we helped each other quite a bit. When a girl didn’t reciprocate his crush, I think I was able to make it a little better. When a boy on the bus stuck his fingers up my nose, it was my brother who explained that he actually liked me. (Not a good strategy, BTW). We’ve always been able to talk about things we’d never discuss with our parents. Maybe this is why he is now keenly sensitive about girl stuff. He can discuss menstrual cramps or bra-fitting issues with the objectivity of a registered nurse. And he actually looks really good in pink. Oh, excuse me — salmon.

I know firsthand sisters can teach brothers stuff moms can’t. Yikes.

My boys need more GIRL in their lives!

I pledge right now to communicate with my boys — about everything. As uncomfortable it may be, I will tell them what boobs are really for, what a thing called a tampon is, and why girls might send cryptic messages through their girlfriends like modern-day carrier pigeons. And goldarnit, they will feel okay with all of it.

If it comes to be, they will feel okay with a woman president.

No, my boys won’t have a sister. It’s a little late in the game to try again.

But I will vote for Hillary.

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Marathon Monday

The Boston Marathon will always be a profound event in our lives. Today, we pause to think of our friends Bill and Denise as they continue to cope with unimaginable tragedy. Here at home, we remember my husband Anthony running for Team MR8 in 2014 — my emotional tribute can be found here.

here he is

I admire my husband for countless reasons. His running the marathon for the Martin Richard Foundation was one of the most memorable and touching events of our years together. Recently, we’ve learned that it was a miracle he was able to run at all.

This past November, excruciating shooting pain down his right leg led us to several doctor’s appointments. X-rays followed. Then, a diagnosis: Spondylolisthesis. Essentially, the base of his spine — his L5 — is out of place. Like a train car that slid off its tracks. Take a look for yourself:

Spondylolisthesis

This condition is usually caused by trauma, like a car accident. That doesn’t apply to Anthony. Doctors believe he was born with it and it’s gotten worse over time. High impact activities — i.e. RUNNING — aggravate and exacerbate the problem.

While training for the marathon, Anthony had chronic pain down his leg, which we attributed to his IT band. He had a roller and specific stretches to help, but mostly, he just ran through the pain.

Let me say that again: He ran through the pain. This wasn’t a pulled muscle or cramp. This is a spinal chord injury. He ran through nerve pain. When his doctors heard he had run a marathon — the Boston Marathon no less — with this condition, they were shocked.

With the diagnosis, Anthony was told he would never be able to run again. For most people, that might not be a big deal. For us, it was. It is. It wasn’t only a form of exercise, it was a lifestyle. It was therapeutic. More than once, it was a spiritual experience. With three young boys and a high-stress career, running was an efficient and easy way for Anthony to keep in shape. Not to mention — fun. Running races of all distances was something we both looked forward to continuing for years to come. How many times had he told me: “I can’t wait to run a 5K with the boys.” Some of you might know the story: Anthony proposed to me after a run. How much more significant can a form of exercise get?

Hey, let’s be real. This is not the end of the world. We know how lucky we are in so many ways — our overall good health, our entire family’s well-being is intact. We are beyond blessed. This back thing stinks, sure. But we’re staying positive. We hope to avoid surgery. We’re managing the pain that we know now will never go away, but hopefully will not worsen. Anthony’s taking this opportunity to try new things, like yoga — yay! So far, it hasn’t hurt his golf game —whew! Hopefully, he can find something close to that runner’s high again.

This is another reason why Marathon Monday will always be bittersweet for us. But ask Anthony if he has any regrets about running the Boston Marathon in 2014, raising over $25k for the Martin Richard Foundation, and he would not hesitate. The answer would be a resounding no.

Boston Marathon

We were the team

“As a grown woman, did you find it hard to convey the psyche of high school girls?” – at today’s book club via FaceTime.

I choked up giving my answer.

In Forte, Sami is included in the “in crowd” when she magically becomes a stellar athlete and makes the volleyball team.

FORTE IN CROWD, cast list

Carolyn once thought to be a romantic rival for Sami’s crush, she’s honest and caring.

Maddie the Uber popular chick, clearly the leader — setting trends and standards for the group’s collective behavior.

Thalia her biggest fan, her spaniel, the follower. Plain vanilla.

Shaunie the pretty, helpful one — gently showing Sami the ropes. Her mom runs the carpool.

Jess the bully — ruthless in her pursuit of getting Sami to push the boundaries.

Sami the newbie — tries to distinguish right from wrong when neither path is clear. Doesn’t know who to trust. Even herself, at times.


I recently moved back to my hometown after over twenty years of being away. Suddenly, I’m running into high school acquaintances at school pickup and grocery checkout, farmer’s market and ice cream queues. Seeing these people I grew up with but still don’t know very well is a strange phenomenon. And makes me consider who I might be to them.

High school is no walk in the park for anyone. Even those who are lucky enough to be in the “in crowd” (that would be me), were entangled in confusing high school politics.

For example (true story): a “good” friend ridiculed me in the cafeteria to such an extent, I hid in the nurse’s office crying my eyes out for the entire next period. That’s just one example.  And I was one of the lucky ones.

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Can you find me? Hint: my hands are in the air.

My bestie since kindergarten and I were talking about all this recently. I took in a deep breath and told her: “We were the team.”

She knew what I meant. She read the book. “No, we weren’t.”

“Yes, I think we were.” But what I should’ve said was: “Well, I think I was.”

Each of my team characters is a part of me as a young girl. As well-liked as I may have been, I know I didn’t always make it easy for some. Perhaps, albeit subtlety, I left others out. At the time, I thought I was nice to everyone. I know with everything in me that I didn’t mean to be mean — ever. But I would put money on the fact that I made some people feel bad, just by being who I was.

Not easy to admit.

This post will piss some people off, maybe. Some will vehemently disagree. “We loved high school!”

Let me be clear: I like who I am. I’m proud of the person I am. It will shock those who know me to learn I was actually really shy as a young girl. My childhood was a blessing in countless ways, and has shaped who I am today. We are all, as grown individuals, a collection of our experiences. We can’t choose to keep only the good ones.

When the time comes, I only hope I can help my sons navigate high school in a healthy way. As I say to them in my acknowledgments: Let (Forte) give you insight into the complex behaviors of teenage girls. Remember to be kind to them in high school.

*Update: March 25, 2016*

Writing this post unleashed some tough memories that have been keeping me up the past few nights. This morning, my husband challenged my idea that we are a collection of our experiences. He believes that experiences are finite and don’t define who we are. We talked about the Looking Glass Self — the social psychological concept that claims we define ourselves as others see us.

“How much pressure would we put on ourselves if that were true?” he said.

Some of us hold onto our negative pasts so tightly, it holds us back from moving forward. The consequences are detrimental. Clinging to the past won’t allow us to  achieve our full potential, or follow our dreams, or simply believe in ourselves.

I have always been the person I am today. The person I’m proud of. I refuse to be crippled by hurtful memories or how I might think others perceive me — now or back then. I’ve always had it in me to be the wife, mother, daughter, sister that I am today.

The next time I run into someone from high school, instead of getting sucked into a time warp back to 1991, I will show that person who I am today. Maybe we’ll become friends. Maybe not. But I will be true to myself.

Happy EVERYTHING!

When I was single, living and working in Boston, holidays were strange. Unless my parents came to visit, it was uneventful. I didn’t decorate my apartment with stuff only I would see. What was the point? If there wasn’t a celebration at work, I didn’t celebrate. I remember feeling slightly annoyed around most holidays. Sometimes sad. Maybe a bit lonely. For most of them, I wanted to hit fast forward. Get on with regular life.

When I met my husband, things changed. When we went to get our first Christmas tree together, he brimmed with contagious, joyous enthusiasm. He had a this-is-what-life’s-all-about attitude I found intriguing and admirable. I was envious! I wanted to be like him. I still strive to. Then, we entered a whole new holiday level when the kids came. I can sum it up in one word: FUN! I defy anyone to remain a Grinch while celebrating with little ones.

Even if it does put some added pressure on Mom.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Last night, social media suggested I was Slacker Mom. More than one mom friend had made a homemade leprechaun trap. Leprechaun traps? With three young boys in my house, I have *never once* made a leprechaun trap. I scrambled — and redeemed myself by tucking some leftover chocolate coins (from Valentine’s Day, maybe?) under my boys’ pillows. Whew.

But this morning, my Facebook feed is overloaded with photos of kids in green. Not just green — coated with shamrocks. Glitter. Facepaint. Tattoos. Beaded jewelry. The whole bit. I had to scrounge to find clean green shirts for my boys. And they’re only somewhat green, with stripes and logos in the way. Clearly not made for St. Patty’s day. *Sigh*

That old irritation crept back. I couldn’t help it. What was the point?

Now, in honor of my late Grandmom Honey, I have to acknowledge my Irish heritage — even if it’s less than 10% of my genetic makeup. (But, hey, who’s 100% anything anymore. We’re all mutts here in America. Right, Trump?)

It’s not that I don’t approve of celebrating all things Irish. That’s fine. But really, isn’t something lost with all the green and shamrocks and stuff? I mean, are my kids even talking about what St. Patrick’s Day means in school? Or are they just looking for that magical rainbow?

Wikipedia says St. Patrick’s Day “commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general.”

Tonight, while we’re drinking green beer and eating boiled dinners, will we toast the actual Saint Patrick? Heck, I’m partly Irish and I’m not completely sure what “Irish culture” really is. How would I expect my kids to celebrate it?

I’m at the public library working on my book, watching moms and toddlers waltz in in their best green. The librarians are decked out, too. I’m zoned in on my screen, part of me wishing for the fast-forward button. (I mean, Easter is right around the corner and I need to get the freakin’ baskets done.)

Out of the blue, one of the green-clad librarians approaches. I tense, expecting a lecture about having water bottles in the library. She isn’t here to reprimand me.

“Happy St. Patrick’s Day,” she whispers, and places an Andes chocolate mint candy by my computer.

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Happy trio: My illegal water bottle, my Andes candy, and my computer.

Oh! My insides do a little flip. I actually laugh out loud. “Thank you!” (I don’t whisper.)

Suddenly, everything turns around. My attitude flips like a switch. A warm feeling comes over me, like a big hug of pure gratitude.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

What’s my problem? If this “holiday” is an excuse for people to wear an unflattering color and try their best Liam Neeson accent — so what? Why not celebrate this day? Why not celebrate EVERY day? Let’s be happy for whatever reason. Be happy for NO reason! Make that Resting Bitch Face a Resting Smile Face! Eat chocolate in the morning — just because!

The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful day. I bet if we all look hard enough, we’ll find that magical rainbow has been right under our Irish noses all along.

Now if you’ll excuse me. I have a chocolate mint to eat. Just because.

Don’t break my heart

I was a grumpy mom this morning. Boring details aside, little things were getting to me. A speed-bump in my writing. Home appliance headaches resulting in big plumbing bills. “You’re mean!” — when I wouldn’t let my 8 or 5 y/o bring their Kindles to school. And, of course, the nauseating political stuff.

The boys had an hour delay. My vision of a leisurely breakfast and game of Candy Land never came to fruition. Unhinged from our routines, the hour was spent mostly waiting. The boys had never been so eager to get to the bus stop.

Lunches packed, I helped them into their coats and backpacks. My second-grader, as he likes to do, took off on his own. I allow this sliver of independence after ensuring he would always do it safely. Staying on the side of the road, not only looking for cars but being aware of them — always. We don’t live on a super busy street. And he likes to slide on a frozen puddle (the last of its kind this winter) near the bus stop. Why not let him have a few minutes of outside play?

My Kindergartener always waits for me. (Or, I’m usually the one waiting for him.) We walk hand in hand down the street, together. Every day.

Today, he surprised me. As I scrambled into my coat, he was off — following his big brother. He was gone before I had a chance to register what he was doing. Still, I wasn’t worried. Until I spotted him down the street — in the middle of the street — running in that carefree way kids do, thinking they’re invincible.

“Get to the side!” I called, zipping my coat as I went out.

A car was stopped in front of my house. The driver rolled down his window. “He came barreling down, right into the street. I had to slam on my breaks.”

Two sentences. Everything turned on its head.

I blinked at him. My jaw dropped. I had no idea.

“Oh, no. Sorry,” I blurted, embarrassed and horrified — processing his words.

I ran to the corner, took my little guy aside and tried to tell him. Tried explaining how serious it could’ve been. I only had a minute, tops. Can this lesson be taught in less than a minute?

“Don’t break my heart.” I said, as the bus chugged around the corner. “If anything ever happened to you, I would cry forever. I would *never* stop crying.”

Did he hear me? Did he get it? I can only hope . . .

Tears filled as I waved goodbye. We said our “love yous” and the bus pulled away. I held it together until I got back to the house, where I sobbed into my hands — “what if” scenarios crowding my mind.

All that shit from before. All those worries that made me grumpy this morning? That’s nothing. I don’t give a crap about writer’s block or padded plumbing bills or stupid things an eight-year-old might say to his mother. Bozo the Clown could be the next GOP nominee, for all I care.

My world came crashing into focus. What’s important front and center:

My boys.

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WDC in NYC

This past weekend, I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City. Having just launched FORTE, it was not only an opportunity to hone my craft but also to continue the celebration. The best part about it? My brother, Jim Davies, flew in from Ottawa to attend the conference with me.

Jim Davies & JD Spero on the street

Jim & me in Times Sq

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bryant Park. Our digs, courtesy of my husband Anthony Spero, held amazing views of both water and Times Square from the 34th floor. The 6:35 am Megabus dropped me a few blocks away, and when I got to the hotel at 10am, I pushed the elevator button for the lobby and…there was Jimmy!

Times Square, NYC

View of Times Square

We dropped our bags, checked the map, and headed toward the Roosevelt Hotel for the conference check-in. My sleep deprivation got the best of me, but my misguided confidence convinced Jimmy I knew where I was going. Our hour-long detour didn’t deter our fun — and got us some cool photo opportunities and a yummy lunch.

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Jimmy in some Kinky Boots!

We made it in time for registration and the first session, Pitch Perfect by Chuck Sambuchino (nothing to do with the movie but everything to do with pitching literary agents). And so it began…

WDC15 name tag

WDC15 name tag

Some gems from the workshops:

Don’t pigeon-hole yourself! WRITE EVERYTHING! – Jonathan Maberry (Keynote)

Take off your pants and write using the hybrid approach of “plantsing” – Jeff Somers

It’s the small things that break your heart. – Rebecca McClanahan on Word Painting

Writing is both mirrors and windows. – Jacqueline Woodson (central keynote)

Slip the pill in the liverwurst. – Jon McGoran on Exposition & Economy


In addition to the workshops, I attended the Pitch Slam — where I pitched my latest book to 8 or 9 literary agents and came away with lots of genuine interest. Hooray!

We met lots of other writers, including a fellow Xchyler Publishing author! It was a miracle we found each other. There were 1000 people at the conference, who all squeezed into the lobby area for the mixer. I felt like I was back at college at a keg party.

JD Spero and Jamie Potter

Me and Jamie Potter at Saturday’s mixer.

Jimmy and I write in somewhat different genres, so at times we attended different talks throughout the conference. Years ago, Anthony and I attended a Forensics League competition which was being judged by my one-in-a-million grandmother — Grandma Honey. Being newlyweds, we were hesitant to leave each other’s sides, no less let go of each other’s hands. But Grandma Honey insisted, “You need to split up, go experience different things, so that when you come back together you have lots to talk about. And you end up with twice the fun!”

I shared this wisdom with Jimmy, who agreed. So we coined a new term (which wouldn’t fly on the Scrabble board, but would sure make Honey smile): Splitskis!

It became our mantra and moniker. At times, we’d have to find each other among the sea of writers passing in the halls between sessions. I could be heard calling above the crowd: Splitskis!

“Which session do you want to go to next? All right, I want to go to this one. Okay, Splitskis!”

My favorite sessions were those we attended together, however. And I benefitted as much from our whispered side commentary as I did from the speaker’s. It’s way cool my brother and I have this writing thing in common. I’m pretty sure we were the only brother/sister team there. What’s more rare is the heartfelt support and encouragement we give each other — without a smidge of competition.

WDC15 mixer

At networking mixer Saturday night

I can honestly say that — by far — the best part about the conference was spending quality time with my bro. Our final Splitskis was a melancholy one.

 

 

 

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Taking “The Stand”

My mother is a self-described bookworm. Not only that, but she remembers nearly every book she’s ever read, and can rattle off not only the name of the author but also the main character and probably even the date of publication. If I didn’t know any better, I think part of her body is made up entirely of books. (Imagine a thick, leafy book brain. That’s Mom’s.)

She, like me, finds it hard to list a single favorite book. There are so many greats! How could we choose just one? But I distinctly remember asking this when I was a teenager and her answer was: Stephen King’s The Stand. (She has since edited her statement to be her favorite Stephen King book). But even in that category, there are so many greats.

Stephen King. We’ve all seen the movies. He’s scared us all out of our wits. Most of us have read at least one of his fascinating page-turners. But recently, I’ve found a connection with King. I recently followed in the footsteps of Mom’s literary hero. (One of them, anyway).

Two years ago, Stephen King was a visiting author at Exeter High. This spring, I was the visiting author at Exeter High. I stood on the same stage, smooged with the same teachers, walked the same halls. I’m hoping some of his greatness clung to the walls of that school, and somehow magically—in a very King-esque fashion—transferred to me. (I’ve been writing like a mad man ever since.)

Exeter High faculty members and me

with librarian and English teacher, Kristina Peterson — who made it all possible

What struck me most about the experience at Exeter High, though, was the professionalism and generous spirit of the school and its faculty. I was there to talk to their sophomores who’d read The Catcher in the Rye about my Catcher’s Keeper. I presented on the context of my story, its connection to Salinger’s classic, and even read from each of the three voices. The screen onto which my Powerpoint was projected took up the entire length of the stage.

Author visit to High Schools

little me, BIG presentation

I stood to the side at the podium, microphone in hand, and spoke to a collection of American Literature students throughout third period. My presentation was capped off by a Q&A by one of their American Lit teachers, Oprah-couch-style. There were even questions from the audience.

Author Q&A

He “trolled” my Twitter to get the dirt on me.

The entire experience made me feel less like a self-published, rookie author and more like a bestselling, famous one. And with the same Exeter High sweatshirt souvenir that King also has in his closet, maybe I’m on my way.

Stephen King at Exeter

Stephen King with Exeter souvenir

JD Spero at Exeter High

me with Exeter souvenir

After all, Mom now says her favorite book is Catcher’s Keeper. (Right, Mom?)

Regardless, I just downloaded The Stand.

Here is the link to the video of my presentation. Enjoy.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B27Fhyyw5ohZMng5OFotV0djT0E/preview

Some awesome questions from the Q&A:

CITR is so widely read and critiqued. Did you ever feel intimidated taking these characters and this world?

Catcher’s Keeper is written in three voices. Was there a voice that came more easily than another?

What did you learn about process with Catcher’s Keeper that helped you with your second novel Forte?

Was there a scene that you knew needed attention but that you dreaded working on? 

One of the things Jerry and his editors struggle in this book is the title. At what point did the title Catcher’s Keeper come to you and what are its implications?

A question from one of my students: Why is she allowed to do this?

Would you consider this a sequel or spiritual successor to The Catcher in the Rye?

I saw on Twitter: “Turns out, it’s not ready for the end. It’s ready for Part II.”

You presented a workshop on self-publishing on last year’s DFW writer’s conference. What is your advice for anyone who would want to self publish?

Did your success with Catcher’s Keeper help you land the deal with your current publisher?

How many hours a day do you spend writing?

When you stick to a writing schedule, does it feel like work? 

 

 

 

 

 

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It takes a village

My children will probably never have a traditional upbringing: growing up in the same house, markers of their growth lining the closet door, surrounded by familiar neighborhood kids, rooting for the same alma mater kinder to senior. Our first two boys were born in Massachusetts. Our littlest, in Indiana. We called Texas home for two years and are now living in upstate New York. More than likely, we’ll be moving again in the near future. Are we giving them an unstable home life or character-shaping adventures?

When I was fifteen, my parents moved me from my childhood home. I was so devastated, I wouldn’t help Mom pack. Not even my bedroom. And I wasn’t even changing schools. My grief turned to gratitude soon after we settled into our beautiful lake home. Years later, my parents moved again. This time, I wasn’t living at home but at college. Still, it was bittersweet. But when a friend made the comment that it must be hard to leave our lake home, my brother replied: “Home isn’t a place. It’s where your family is.”

Today, my family of five shares a home with my parents who live there part-time, half the year. It’s not a fancy house, nor is it lakeside. But, right now, it’s home. We share this house not due to financial strain or mid-life crises, but because it makes sense for us. Not only does it make sense, it’s been an absolute blessing. My children are growing up directly alongside one set of grandparents, and just a day-trip away from their cousins and another set of grandparents. They are surrounded by family. They are surrounded by love. This is obvious. The less obvious benefits have been revealed over time.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. My boys’ lives have become so rich in experiences, moving and traveling across the country. And now, living with my parents, their lives are enriched in another way. My mother brought them to the theater when I feared they might disrupt the onstage drama. My father talks physics and math-y stuff with my oldest while I’m allergic to numbers. My brother — who lives within driving distance — has introduced role-playing games to all the boys, gets them to make their own board games, and creates art with them. These are minor examples. The list goes on…

Our other “home” is at the beach, where my boys learn from their Nunu about ocean safety and how to be neighborly. They talk about books with their grammy and are lovingly folded into the glorious chaos of their cousins’ home as if they were more-the-merrier siblings within the eight-person-family.

No, my boys won’t have the traditional one-home-forever upbringing. But what they have is pretty great. Maybe better. Our boys will grow to be better, smarter, stronger, happier, and more confident — because they have a vast collection of love and experiences shaping who they are.

The end result is always better when you have a team behind you. Isn’t it?

Like with, say, BOOKS!

Last night at a book club discussion, I was asked the question: “How is it different working with a publisher versus self-publishing?” I get this question a lot.

When I self-published Catcher’s Keeper, I agonized over my story in solitude. Sure, I hired a myriad of editors, a cover designer, a formatter. I enlisted the help of many an author friend. I networked online and at writing conferences. I had a huge amount of support from family and friends. I certainly wasn’t alone, per se. But when it came down to it, it was up to me and me only to make it great. To make it flawless. Was it ready to be published when I finally uploaded it and — egads — people started ordering it? Was it as good as it could be? Aghhh! I hope so.

When I signed with Xchyer Publishing for FORTE, I couldn’t appreciate the expertise they would bring. I was hesitant. I’d been through the process. I’d learned so much. I’d self-published successfully and my attitude was: “What could you do for me that I couldn’t do myself?”

Well, let me tell you. I humbly stand corrected.

My team at Xchyler Publishing (my X-team) has scrutinized every single word of each line, each chapter. I had a team of five talented individuals who had a vested interest in making my manuscript the best it could possibly be, which sometimes meant rewriting scenes multiple times, writing lengthy character sketches and/or timelines that would never be included directly in the story, and examining dialogue and relationships to convey realistic characters. I was far from alone. Not only that, I was boosted up.

Granted, there were times when I’d see track-changes comment from my editor: “Not enough. Falls flat. Needs more tension.” I’d grunt at my screen in frustration, go through a short-lived cycle of denial/anger before coming to accept it and rework the scene. At times it would take hours. At times I’d have to throw the whole thing out and start anew. At times I had to add entire chapters to show what I thought was already pretty clear. In the end, the scene was always better.

Not only that, but we worked together to come up with a new title, a stunning cover, and a marketing plan. And, to my utmost delight, they took care of the critical and notoriously hard-to-write back-cover blurb. (I’d rather write an entire book than a back-cover blurb!)

LOCK 12 - original cover

Original cover and former title of FORTE

Forte_Bookcover_front

New FORTE cover design from Xchyler Publishing

 

Just yesterday, I sent what I was told had to be “absolutely the last go-around” version, and I’m thrilled with it. I have to say, the end result is so worth the effort. It’s so much better than it had been when I thought it was done. Frankly, I cringe to think of publishing the book without their input.

My “baby” launches July 25, 2015. It takes a village to launch a book. So many people have made FORTE rich in so many ways — I’m brimming with gratitude.   The best part? My boys can’t wait to read it. And the adventures continue…