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Rock the Vote

In 1993, I studied abroad in Russia.

In 1993, it had just become Russia. I had known the country all my life as the USSR. A real fear of The Cold War being the end of the world shaped my childhood — and still lingered even though the wall had come down. The Gorbachev era had just ended. The country was being redefined. They were embracing capitalism and democracy. It was the first time in over 50 years that citizens were able to vote.

What a better time to live there as an American, right?

Ha.

I understand some people in the US don’t vote. With the election imminent, this is strikingly clear seeing how many public figures are reaching out, urging people to get out there on Tuesday. Those ads have always left me a little miffed. But this basic, American privilege doesn’t resonate with everyone. I know this firsthand. Let me tell you about my stint in Russia.*

Living in a Russian home with a non-English-speaking host who had never lived out of her country, I fully embraced Russian culture. So much of it was wonderful. So much of it was about music and stories and sitting around a table overflowing with savory, homemade salads and casseroles and soups. There was laughter. Lots of full-out belly laughs. Do you know what they laughed about?

The government.

They laughed about how awful their lives were. How awful *the government* had made their lives. All their lives, they had lived in a communist system that had rationed food and jobs and apartments and, basically, every personal item they could point to except their children. And you know what? They *enjoyed* laughing about it. This was part of the culture. Families of five were crammed in two-bedroom apartments and by a stroke of luck the bread truck visited your neighborhood when your pantry became empty. But there was music and stories and friends and family and laughter. That’s what they knew.

Then. Suddenly, they were asked to vote.

Say whaaaaaat???

Yes. Out of the blue, they were asked to be accountable for their shit lives. They were asked to take some responsibility for the crappy hand they were dealt.

Surprise, surprise. They didn’t see this as an opportunity. They weren’t thinking “Oooo–this is time for change! We can make our lives better!” The idea of having a say was not in their repertoire. And, frankly, they didn’t want it.

They’d rather laugh and deal with the crappy hand.

But we don’t have to do that. We don’t have a crappy hand. We have it all. We live in the best country. We don’t want for anything. We have fresh food in our supermarkets. We have coffee whenever we want to drink it. We can travel without fear and speak freely. We have opportunities in education and careers and a measure of safety and freedom that is *unthinkable* in more than half the world. Our children have that safety and freedom. It’s such a normalcy we take it for granted.

But, think about it…

WHY WOULD WE WANT TO PUT THAT AT RISK?

That’s what would happen if we give up our right to vote. If we assume it doesn’t count or it doesn’t matter or lose faith in the system. This is a time when we need faith. Find it. Find a reason to care enough. Make it a priority to exercise that privilege and please don’t take it for granted.

Please, vote.

* This is my personal memory and does not necessarily reflect the attitude of my Russian host or host-sister, whom I hold in the warmest regard and will for the rest of my days.

In 1990, MTV’s Rock the Vote campaign registered 5 million young voters.

Why I went to Scotland

Writing retreat + Scotland = two concepts that don’t necessarily go together. For me and about 25 other author/illustrators, this was a fantasy-turned-reality c/o Kindling Words West this past March. Weeks before the trip, I could barely speak the words “I’m going to Scotland for a writing retreat” without my breath catching. But the venue was just part of the reason . . .

Kindling Words is an exclusive community that hosts two retreats a year for authors and illustrators of children’s literature — run by a true fire-starter of a creative force, Alison James. A renowned program twenty years running, eligible participants must undergo an application process. For most retreats there is a lottery and/or waiting list. To be included this year was an absolute honor.

   

It helps to have a famous friend. One of my most cherished childhood friends, Anika Denise, also happens to be an accomplished picture book author, and may have pulled some strings along the lines of “I need a roomie!” to secure my slot.

JD Spero and Anika Denise

Me and Anika Denise

Yesterday morning my husband asked me what was the one thing that stood out as the most important part of the experience. I showed him a pano-pic my new friend (the very talented Hazel Mitchell of Toby fame) had taken and tagged me in. It shows 7 of us writers/illustrators quietly at work in the same room.

Tears came to my eyes as I explained why this retreat was so important to me. My husband knows all too well how many hours I spend *alone* in my house or a coffee shop writing away. Writing can be a very lonely occupation.

This retreat was all about community. I was surrounded by other writers — stars of the children’s literary world — whose clicking of the computer keys triggered my own creativity. To sit among these successful and talented people who share my passion was validation for me as a writer. Competition did not exist within this group; I was warmly welcomed. I was embraced into their circle without question. For that, I will always be grateful.

When I told friends from home about my upcoming trip, the same question kept coming up: Will you get any writing done . . . in a castle . . . in Scotland?

For me, it was never a question. That’s what I was there for, and since I’m in the middle of a project (the 3rd book of the Forte series for Xchyler Publishing), I had a lot of work to do.

The week’s schedule was set up to help us focus, too. After morning yoga and breakfast, there were workshops where each of us hosted a creativity exercise to help get the juices flowing. My story starter was entitled “Wolves of Scotland” and the results varied from a silver-haired female ghost wolf, to a puppy wolf cub, to a distinguished wolf in a 3-piece-suit. After workshop, we had a silent retreat from 10 to 5. Which seems like a long time but the hours flew by . . . especially when you had to squeeze in spa time. (Oh, did I forget to mention the castle had a spa?)

Let me tell you about the castle

Built in the 1300s, to say the Dalhousie Castle is rich in history might be a tiny understatement. But it was no biggie for the Scottish people. They have lots of these castles hanging around. They weren’t even phased when their resident ghost blasted the surround sound, interrupting our host during the opening ceremony dinner. Even the gloomy castle dungeon had been transformed into a swanky restaurant, where we dined one night while serenaded by a bagpiper.

Castle Dalhousie

dinner in the dungeon, Dalhousie Castle

Our very sophisticated dinner in the dungeon.

Dalhousie offered falconry

Yes, that meant we were able to fly exotic birds that were nearly bigger than me.

This is a Siberian Eagle Owl named Jude (or Juke) who has lived at the castle since he was ten days old. They told me he was used to humans. Still, his eyes were the size of clementines. Of course, I had to be shown up by a 7 y/o girl who flew him first and didn’t flinch at all. Not me. I may look cool and composed in this pic, but inside I was flinching for days.

Siberian Eagle Owl with Dalhousie Castle in the background

Me w Jude, Dalhousie in background

Where in Scotland is this, exactly?  

The castle is only 8 miles from Edinburgh. Although we could’ve spent the entire week exploring this ultra-cool city, we took one day off to check it out. Now’s a good time to mention how nice everyone is in Scotland. We were often complimented on our “exotic accent” and asked to say “burger” and other R-dominant words like “lord” and “pork” and “ruh-roh”.

Victoria Street - JK Rowling's inspiration for Diagon Alley

Victoria Street – JK Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley

Edinburgh Castle

Anika and I inside Edinburgh Castle

So, yeah. This was an amazing experience on so many levels. It was a huge gift to myself that at first felt too luxurious. It was hard to break away from my husband and three young children for an entire week overseas that was solely for me and my writing.

But I got over that.

This mirror is actually a portal. We’re on the other side. LOL

 

Firstborn love

Twice today, I got smiling news from an acquaintance: “I just finished your book!”

Grinning back, I replied, “Which one?”

I know, I know. I am beyond blessed to have to ask that question — which one? — and there was a long, hard, rejection-laden time when I thought I’d never have any book published. No less two.

Catcher’s Keeper.”

Really? Joy ebbed from every pore. Catcher’s Keeper, my firstborn book, still bringing smiles to readers. Through a brief Q&A over our yoga mats, I was transported back to that story. My story. And I was reminded how much I love it.

Since my second release — Forte — in July, my firstborn has been neglected. Gone are the blog tours, the speaking engagements, the interviews… I’ve been busy promoting my newbie. Isn’t that the way it works?

But my passion for my firstborn book hasn’t changed.

We mothers can relate, can’t we?

My first son was almost two when he became a brother. Busy with a new baby, nursing every few hours, swaddling, rocking, burping, changing, pacifying… I had little time to play with my number one. My husband picked up lots of parenting tasks I’d been proud to list as my “Mom” job description. They played games and went out to fun places while I tended to the new baby. I mean, he was brand new! He NEEDED me! And goldarnit if I didn’t love him *just as much* as my firstborn. For the first few weeks and beyond, my husband and I had to “divide and conquer” as they say. But letting go was not an option. I missed my big guy. Our firstborn made us a family. He made me a mother. My life forever changed when he came into the world. He showed me a love I didn’t know I was capable of feeling. After number two was born, after number three was born, and now as he matures into an active young man with a life of his own — a physical distance may grow between us, but my love for him remains steadfast.

A mother’s love for her babies never wanes. It can’t be split or divided. It’s exponential.

Even if our energies are redirected, that bond is always there.

A few weeks ago on a school visit, my host escorted me to a classroom and said, “We ordered 30 copies of your book. So, every class will have a chance to read Catcher’s Keeper.”

“Oh, great!” I replied, hiding my surprise. I’d planned a presentation for Forte that day. Cue the proverbial tap dance in front of the classroom to talk about my firstborn book. Good thing my passion for Catcher’s Keeper is as strong as it was upon publication.

What a gift it was to talk about it again. How I’d missed it!

I’d been so passionate about the concept of Catcher’s Keeper — What if Holden Caulfield were around when John Lennon was shot? — I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep until I had the first draft down. I was obsessed. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story. I couldn’t believe no one had written it yet. I thought agents and publishers would be knocking down my door for a piece of the action. (That last part didn’t happen, BTW). And then, when Forte was in its final stages prior to publishing, that story was all-consuming. I lived and breathed the words. When it was finally out there, I wanted to promote it as well as I could. It deserved that. All books deserve readers. And goldarnit if I didn’t love Forte *just as much* as I loved my firstborn book.

Well, almost.

Catcher’s Keeper will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s what made me an author. It changed my life.

But don’t get me wrong, when it comes to matters of the heart, my family — my boys — have a monopoly on my love.

Forte Release and Giveaway

Pre-Order link:

 

Johannah Davies (JD) Spero was born
near a pristine lake in the Adirondacks and has lived in various cities such as
St. Petersburg (Russia), Indianapolis, Dallas, and Boston. She has pursued her
love of narrative through degrees in English, Russian, and teaching—and has
worked as an actress, a yoga instructor, a web design entrepreneur, freelance
writer, and a high school English teacher. She lives in the Northeast with her
husband and three young sons
.



Drawing on her experience as a high school teacher—this time with a social concern, Spero infuses the rites of passage for the teenager—cliques, first kisses, peer pressure, and bullying—with magic. This stresses how tenuous and critical this time is for young people in a new, fascinating way. Written from Sami’s point of view, Spero’s narrative puts the reader into the mind of a fifteen-year-old who must navigate the tumultuous waters of being the new girl—the underdog who starts to win and is intoxicated by it. Truly a page-turner, this action-packed story will have readers of all ages eager to see what happens next. 


Spero’s
debut novel, Catcher’s Keeper, was
chosen as a Finalist in the 2014 Indie Excellence Book Awards contest and also
made the top 5% out of 10,000 entries in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel
Award.  
 
The Author Visits

Official Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/569741183164962/

Blog Schedual:

July 26
July 27
July 28
July 29
July 30
July 31
Aug 1

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Retreat into Chaos

This past weekend, I not only attended my first-ever writers’ retreat, I hosted it. “Sandy Feet Writers’ Retreat” took place at our new house on Salisbury Beach, where four writer friends joined me.

A month or so prior, I sent out an “itinerary” for the weekend, in which long stretches of writing time were mixed with a dinner out, yoga on the beach, and sunrise meditation. It seemed unrealistic and implausible to expect a group of five women in a small-ish house to sit quietly and write all day long, so I wanted to offer activities to reset our minds, nourish our spirits, and soak in the coastline. Also, part of me felt it wasn’t enough to simply provide the venue. I wanted to make it special.

It soon became clear, however, that all this planning was unnecessary. When I came downstairs on Saturday morning, two of the four were already hard at work on their computers. To my delight, coffee was made, and a fruit plate complimented the homemade blueberry bread on the kitchen island.

“Ooo, this is good,” I thought. “Forget the sunrise meditation.” (It was well past sunrise anyway. There were some night owls in the group…wine-drinking night owls.)

A steaming mug in my hands, I opened my laptop and started in. The day before, I’d imagined I would hole up in my room, where a writing desk juxtaposed our upstairs balcony–the view from here even more glorious than from the main level. Instead, I planted myself where my laptop had been waiting for me, on the dining table, where I usually check my email during our mini vacations to the house.

I was soon lost in my story, and time became an abstract phenomenon.

The remaining two writers awakened much in the same manner as I, and soon all five of us dotted the living area at different “stations,” and the day opened into an sea of creativity. No radio. No television. No media at all. The only sound besides the gentle roar of the ocean was the clicking of computer keys. The limited conversation was hushed, and revolved around food: “I’m making myself a sandwich. Want one?” (Though in truth we were all so nourished by practicing our craft, we barely ate.) Later in the afternoon, three of us walked the beach—the only real break from writing all day—and wasted no time in getting back to it upon return. Our 8:30 dinner reservation came too soon; I’m sure we could’ve kept going, contenting ourselves with the five separate tubs of hummus in the fridge. (I’ll have to plan the pot luck thing better next year.)

to Seaglass

Just before heading to dinner.

At times, the miracle of what was happening struck me, as I took a break from my work to observe—the collective productivity more inspiring than the setting. At one point, Anika joked that, judging from the excessive clicking, Betsy and I were on impressive writing streaks. This kept her going. And when I felt stuck with my story, instead of shutting the screen and doing laundry (which I’d do at home), I forced myself to get through it. Maybe taking a moment on the deck to work out the next scene. While some of us walked the beach, others opted to stay so as not to lose their momentum. I was proud of our little group. But I shouldn’t have been surprised.

A common attribute of all writers, I think, is the ability to focus. Sure, the weekend was set up for this. We all planned to focus on our projects. But if there had been hidden cameras in the house, the footage would make for a remarkable display of perseverance (albeit boring to watch, perhaps).

I honed my skill to focus years ago. In my mid-twenties, I started a web design company with a friend. In the early days, our office was his second-floor Somerville apartment. In a time before Wifi, we used one phone line for Internet, fax, and phone (the latter only when our dinosaur cell devices were out of charge). Our first client was Johnson & Johnson, and we conducted conference calls on the living room floor via the fax/phone on speaker. It was ridiculous and thrilling. Things moved extremely fast. I remember one day in particular, sweltering in record humidity and insufficient AC, I was on deadline. Our client expected a proposal for a new website design by end of day. For whatever reason, I crafted this document while sitting on a crate—my laptop propped on a box which contained a yet-to-be-opened printer/copier. Hours passed and my ass turned into a waffle. We won the project.

Weeks later, we moved into office space. We converted the third floor of a Summer Street warehouse in Boston, just past the sandy construction of the never-ending Big Dig. In favor of the open concept office space that had just become popular, our desks were lined in rows with no dividers. Our “conference rooms” were sectioned off with floor-to-ceiling fabric (“like a sail,” my partner had said wistfully as he described his design). This meant that my client calls could be heard by anyone within earshot (and I have a tendency to project). There was no privacy. On more than one occasion, some of us celebrated a launch in one corner while others toiled late hours to fix the online glitch-du-jour in another.

I developed a keen ability to tune things out. At times, my colleagues would have to stand directly in front of my desk, calling my name multiple times, before I answered. Without that extreme focus, though, there would be no way I’d be able to get my job done.

(I’m happy to say, that job is long done! )

SONY DSC

Photo by Betsy Devany Macleod

On Sunday morning at Sandy Feet, I noticed the five of us had adopted not only our favorite writing spots, but also a variety of writing uniforms—and this was the one and only use for yoga pants all weekend. (Except Betsy, who even in her pajamas looked like something out of a magazine—and I still refuse to believe she has grandchildren).

Later that day, as we all felt the weekend pulling away from us, Michelle shared how happy she was with the progress she’d made. “When I get home, it will be tempting to use the excuse for not writing because I don’t have the ocean. But that’s crazy. As much as I love it here, I don’t need the ocean to write.”

It’s true. None of us need the ocean to write. None of us even need a dedicated place to create our stories. I love the idea of an office with a quaint writing desk, flanked with bookshelves and framed, inspirational quotes. But my reality is a constant juggle of household tasks, negotiating sticky spots on the counter, and bargaining with my kids for computer Minecraft time. I’m used to working in the midst of chaos. (Remember the bedlam that surrounded my book launch?) Secretly, I think I thrive on chaos. I wonder if I would be nearly as productive if I had all day long in a quiet house, every day, to write. Even if it was on the ocean.

Although, when I opened my story last night, taking advantage of a short pause within my mommy duties, it all came back. Seeing my characters’ names on the screen with a glimpse at my last scene-in-progress—something magical happened. I could almost hear the rolling waves. I could almost feel the salty wind snapping my hair. I could almost smell the foamy tide, the curls of kelp along the beach. I could almost feel the tiny shells that stuck between my toes…

…the sand at my feet.

sandy feet

Photo by Betsy Devany Macleod

Let’s talk, teacher to teacher.

Today is my birthday. I’ve reached an age when birthdays aren’t quite as fun as they used to be. However, I’ve never been one to turn down an opportunity to celebrate.

And I have lots to celebrate.

Last night, I gave another presentation about my creative process, my book, and my experience in self-publishing. It was held at Samantha’s Cafe, where retro décor juxtaposed exposed brick walls, making it feel like a venue in TriBeCa rather than in Glens Falls. We had books there for sale, although many who attended not only had already read the book, but brought it for me to sign. And, although the room could have squeezed in more attendees, the tables were filled.

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With my family as backdrop, I answer an FAQ: How do you find time to write?

Adrenaline kicked in and my presentation took off. I was passionate as ever about the subject matter, and eagerly shared my story with the group. When speaking about how I thought of the story, I paused to ask, “How many of you are teachers?”

Almost every person raised a hand.

I shared my story about student teaching without missing a beat; little did they know my heart had missed a few. Because, you see…This was what I’d been waiting for.

During a recent online interview, I was asked: How do you hope this book affects its readers?

My response? I hope to evoke an emotional reaction in my readers. I’m also eager to hear from academics, specifically American literature experts who know The Catcher in the Rye as well as I do. I hope they would appreciate the many Catcher references, and I hope they would find my characters believable.

Most in the room were high school English teachers, who acknowledged my references to Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye with reaffirming nods and appreciative smiles. Immediately after my talk, one teacher wanted to know if I’d be willing to present to such-and-such group.

“Sure!”

“How about sich-and-such group?”

“I would love to!”

“What about sach-and-such?”

“Absolutely!”

“Are you booking into 2015 or would you be able to do something in September?”

“Um…I think I can squeeze something in in September!” *happy belly-flies*

Then I was asked (by more than one teacher) to inscribe books not to individuals, but to schools where they planned to donate my book.

My heart nearly sprouted wings.

sam cafe

Speaking with Sue Merrill, QHS English teacher who taught “The Catcher in the Rye” for over 25 years.

One of the attendees happened to be my high school superintendent, Mr. Parker, who had reread The Catcher in the Rye in preparation for reading Catcher’s Keeper. During the Q&A, his nostalgia for Holden and his siblings was evident. I was particularly keen to hear what he thought of my book.

He approached me after my talk, my book opened to the very last page. I knew before looking what he was going to ask me about: the unfavorable review I’d received on an earlier version of the book, which is now part of the Discussion Questions at the end.

“What is this person saying here?” he asked.

“Well, this reviewer apparently hated The Catcher in the Rye and also hated Catcher’s Keeper.”

Mr. Parker looked at me as if I were still an impressionable teenager under his academic care.

“Well, I loved them both!” he said. He shared with me he’d be seeing my old guidance counselor and couldn’t wait to share it with him—and promptly made my night.

Here is my birthday wish: I want to share my book with schools. I want to visit schools, present to teachers and students who are studying American Literature. This is what I plan to offer exclusive to schools:

  • Author visit and presentation, tailored for high-school students
  • Author responses to discussion questions – including an unpublished (controversial) question
  • Teacher lesson plan, assessment, and key – focusing on Catcher references and parallels
  • Teacher lesson plan: banned book debate/activity

What do you say, teacher friends? Let’s work together now to put something on the calendar for the 2014-2015 academic year!

I’ll be waiting eagerly to hear from you. But for now, I have some candles to blow out.

From Participant to Presenter

Yesterday, I returned from the DFW Writers’ Conference (DFWcon). It was my second DFWcon, and like last year, I was overflowing with inspiration while at the same time so overwhelmed with such valuable writing tips I wasn’t sure what to use first with my writing.

But unlike last year, I felt a new confidence as a writer—with my debut novel out in print rather than waiting to be signed with an agent and into the elusive and coveted “big-publishing-house route.” There was another significant difference this year. Not only was I a taker at the conference, soaking up all the strategies from the experts, I was also a giver. I was somewhat of an expert myself.

About a month ago, I’d emailed the conference director (the awesome Kirk Von Der Heydt) offering to present on the topic of self-publishing. I had acquired quite an education in the process of publishing my novel, and thought my story could help other writers. But, unsurprisingly, the schedule was full.

But then…

Before the conference officially started, word got around that there were cancellations. Two agents were unable to attend last minute. And at least two educational workshops were canceled.

My good friend and former Texas neighbor Veena Kashyap is to blame for what followed.

As roomies, Veena and I shared more than a bathroom as the conference weekend got underway. She also knew in good time that I had a presentation written and ready for an upcoming event in my hometown.

What happened next happened in pajamas early Saturday morning.

“You need to email Kirk,” Veena said. “Text Kirk. Call Kirk. They need presenters. They need to fill the slots. They’ll put you on the schedule.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “I should do that.” *yawn*

“You should do it right now.”

“I think I should find him and ask him in person.”

“Time is of the essence. You need to get to him as soon as possible.”

“You’re right.” *rubbing eyes*…*stretch*…*yawn*

*palm-slap mattress* “Get up, girl! I don’t know what you’re still doing in bed. What are you waiting for? Get up right now and email him.”

So I did.

By the time we got to the conference an hour later, Kirk still hadn’t responded to my email. And, frankly, I was perfectly willing to let it go.

But Veena wasn’t.

“Go talk to Jason,” she said. “He’s right in the lobby.”

“Okay,” I said, perusing my schedule, mentally organizing my day of passive observation.

“Go now!”

Pushy bitch, I responded silently and with affection as I went off in search of Jason (Kirk’s right hand man & founder of DFWcon). Jason directed me to Michelle, the “master scheduler.”

Opening remarks were beginning in just minutes. You can imagine what kind of pressure a “master scheduler” was feeling right then. And there I was, grinning with my book in my hands, offering to fill an empty slot.

“We already have a workshop on self-publishing,” she said. (I’m sure she had no interest in dealing with me or anything unexpected at that particular moment.)

But I wouldn’t give up. (In truth, I was a little terrified to report to Veena I’d failed.)

“Actually, that one is about formatting e-books. This is different. This deals with the process of self-publishing.”

Michelle gave me an exasperated look. Then a half-smile. “I usually vet presenters. I can’t let just anyone present…”

“I totally understand. Here is my card. Here’s my book. I’d emailed Kirk a month ago about my topic…”

Just then, Kirk swaggered up to Michelle in his bold black cowboy hat—looking more like Butch Cassidy than a fiction writer—wanting last-minute changes for his opening remarks. Michelle waved a hand at me, perhaps hoping Kirk could take the issue off her plate. I pitched my idea to Kirk in three seconds flat. He nodded and turned to Michelle.

“Okay, get me an index card with the information and I’ll make the announcement,” Kirk said, and turned on his cowboy-boot heel and left us.

*expectant smile at Michelle*

She gave a weary sigh and said, “Okay, I’ll give you that slot. Tomorrow morning at 9am.”

Veena was pleased with my report. (Whew!)

Opening remarks at a conference are usually unremarkable unless the information makes your heart gallop out of your chest.

Kirk’s voice boomed through the ballroom where over 350 listened: “There are a couple changes to the schedule…We’ve had some cancellations…We have a couple additions…Tomorrow at 9am in room E/F there is a new class on self-publishing by Johannah Spero.”

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YIKES!

Veena beamed at me across the table like a proud mother. Gave me a thumbs up.

It’s hard to imagine I was able to enjoy the rest of the day, but somehow I managed. I tried not to think about what I had to do the next morning or how exactly I was going to do it while also trying to take full advantage of conference offerings. For the rest of the day, I was one of the crowd. Bouncing from workshop to workshop, connecting with my buddies in the hallway, eating a taco lunch during Jonathan Maberry’s awesome keynote, even pitching to an agent.

But I did leave early to work on my Powerpoint, using my blog post “A Year in the Life of a Book to Be” as a reference, so I could go to the networking mixer that night. At dinner before the mixer, I shared tidbits of my presentation with Veena and the rest of our group (shout out to Zetta Stevenson and Michele Shriver).

patio dfwcon

Patio dining at Italianni’s (left to right: Michele Shriver, Veena, me, Zetta)

“I’m going to open by saying that I’m by no means an expert on self-publishing,” I said.

“Don’t you dare say that,” Veena scolded.

“But, Veena, I’m not an expert. I had no idea what I was doing. I fumbled along, making a million mistakes as I went.”

“And that’s exactly why you need to share your story.”

“But…”

“Nothing negative,” Veena said. “Use only positive language.”

The next morning at 9am in room E/F, I heard myself open with: “There are many ways to self-publish. If you talk to someone else who’s been through the process, they would have a completely different story. But this is my story. And I think it might help you…”

From there, I explained exactly what I did, who I hired (with costs), and the mistakes I learned from—taking them through my journey.

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Photos courtesy of Veena Kashyap

There were about 350 attendees at DFWcon this year, and workshops overlapped and filled the six or so conference rooms at the Hurst Conference Center with coinciding time-slots. At any given time, there might be seven different talks going on, so attendees had plenty of options from which to choose throughout the day. Perhaps if it had been on the schedule or if it had been announced again, I would’ve had more of a crowd. But as it was, I presented to about ten people. In a conference room that could’ve held close to 100.

Which was fine by me.

After my talk, one woman told me, “You made me feel comfortable with self-publishing. And I hadn’t felt that way before.”

Later, I received Tweets:

“Thanks for a great class on self-publishing! So helpful!”

“Thanks for sharing your journey. So cool!”

I wanted to share my story not to add “DFWcon Presenter” to my resume, but to pay it forward and help other writers who are thinking of self-publishing. If I only helped one writer, it would’ve been worth it.

But it seems I helped at least three, if not ten.

All the better.

(And, yes, I’m hiring Veena as my publicist.)

Marriage is a Marathon

This past Monday (4/21/14) my husband, Anthony, ran the Boston Marathon for Team MR8 in honor of Martin Richard—the boy who was killed during last year’s finish-line explosion.

We learned our friends were directly affected by the explosion the morning after it happened, and Anthony immediately rerouted his travel plans for work to get to Boston—even though he knew it was unlikely he would be able to help or even see Bill. In the weeks that followed, we never left Boston (the place we’ve always considered home) in spirit. It was this tragedy that pulled us home, and we soon solidified plans to relocate back East from our then-residence outside of Dallas. Almost immediately after our move, Anthony announced he would run his first-ever marathon. Not just any marathon. The 118th Boston Marathon, 2014. For Martin.

Bill and Denise Richard have been good friends of ours for years. Since Anthony and Bill met in grad school at Suffolk University, we have shared much together. They traveled to upstate New York for our wedding. We’ve gone Christmas caroling together. They came to our housewarming party in Newburyport, MA even though Denise was days away from delivering Martin. Denise was the one to tell me Pirate’s Booty was a “kid’s favorite”…and shared other tricks to feed a picky eater. Our son AJ and Martin used to play together. I remember Martin scraped his elbow at a playground one day and Denise pulled a Band-Aid out of thin air to stop his tears.

In just a few months, Anthony raised over $25K for the Martin W. Richard Foundation. Thoughts of Martin fueled his training through a brutal winter in the Adirondacks…and it also helped Anthony put one foot in front of the other the day of the marathon, at Heartbreak Hill and the three grueling hills that followed when he had nothing left in the tank. Written in black Sharpie on Anthony’s legs were our boys’ names—as well as Martin’s.

There was no question in my mind I would be there, in the crowd, to cheer on my husband as he ran. Some asked if I were nervous about another attack, if I felt any hesitation due to the extra security precautions or the anticipated record number of spectators. But to me, it wasn’t an option. I would be there no matter what.

We drove into Boston together early on Monday so Anthony could catch the 8:45am bus to the starting line in Hopkinton. After seeing him off, I trekked to Equinox Fitness Club to drop off a Spongebob backpack so Anthony could shower and change after the race. From there, I hopped on the commuter rail to Needham to meet up with my friend Carrie. After a quick stop to Staples and an even faster poster design at Carrie’s house, we picked up her kids from a playdate and headed to a home in Wellesley that hosted Team MR8 supporters. It was approximately at the half-marathon point. According to my mobile app, Anthony had just finished the 10-K.

They say marriage is like a marathon. It involves a roller-coaster of emotion, physical and mental trials, and no matter how much “training” you do, there are bound to be surprises. Waiting there at the half for Anthony reminded me that we are in the middle of our own “marathon marriage,” and I contemplated how to describe the stage we’re in. In 10+ years of marriage, we have 3 beautiful boys, completed 3 inter-state moves, purchased 3 homes—and we’re not yet “settled” and, spiritually, I’m not sure we will ever want to be…

The Saturday before the marathon, Carrie and I had the honor of running the BAA 5-K for Team MR8. The bright morning sun warmed the pavement at our feet as Pharrell crooned “Happy” from the loudspeakers. The energy, if not happy, certainly was optimistic. We were humbled and touched to run not only for Martin, but alongside Bill, Denise, and little Henry. Each step of the 5-K was charged with meaning, as it is traditionally the first official race to “test run” the last loop of the marathon route.

carrie5k

At one point during the race, Bill was right in front of us, jogging backwards—scanning the crowd behind us.

To maintain the good vibes that we were all feeling, I cheered: “All right, Bill! Let’s go! You got your tape on, let’s do it!”

And he said with a smile, “I’m just looking for Denise.”

Denise had been in front of us for the last half-mile, so we quickly pointed him in the right direction. Off he went, jogging energetically to his bride.

If I hadn’t been running, I could’ve cried right then. I was so touched by the simple gesture of caring and affection between this husband and wife who had been through unthinkable tragedy over the past year. I felt the love between them, and I carried it with me for the rest of the race.

“I’m thankful for my healthy kids,” Carrie said aloud as we crossed the official Boston Marathon finish line—a sentiment I certainly felt too, thinking of my three boys as we crossed that famous blue and yellow paint on Boylston Street thousands of marathoners that would also cross in just two days. And when the day did come, I was grateful to have Carrie and her sweet kids with me as I waited for Anthony at the half.

Aside from the obvious meaning this marathon held for so many, the emotion I felt as I waited to see Anthony among the thousands of runners was profound. I could not relax. My breathing was staggered, as if I’d forgotten how to take in air. I obsessively checked the Marathon app on my phone. I fiddled with my poster, asking Carrie and her kids incessantly if it was legible and clear enough, if the message was too hokey or uninspiring. Carrie, the amazing friend she is, never once made me feel foolish—only smiled and assured me my poster was “perfect” and “we won’t miss him” and “it’s completely understandable to feel anxious.” But after realizing the updates we were getting from my mobile app had a significant delay, Carrie enlisted her husband Doug, who was at work, to track Anthony on the computer.

poster

Regardless of who it was, I didn’t let a Team MR8 shirt pass without screaming my lungs out and reaching for a sweaty high-five.

Then news came from Doug. Anthony was only a half-mile away. “Get your poster ready,” Carrie said.

I held that poster up and whooped at the runners who passed. I held that poster up, high above my head. I held that poster and hopped up and down, feeling a rush of limitless energy that convinced me I could’ve joined the stream of runners and finished the race with them. I held that poster up. And held it.

And held it.

My arms started to burn.

Is he coming? Is he close? Where is he?

Suddenly, there were no other runners. My eyes were lasers, zoning in on those bright yellow MR8 shirts. I couldn’t miss him. He couldn’t miss me. It was impossible. Right?

Where is he? Is he close? Is he coming?

here he is

And then. There he was.

If I hadn’t been screaming and jumping before, I certainly was when I finally spotted him. A surge of affection and pride overcame me, and I lost all sense of decorum. His smile was huge as he met me at the roadside and after Carrie snapped a picture, I handed her the poster and ran with him to the traffic light just a block up on the race route. I beamed at him, told him how proud I was of him, told him how strong he looked for the remaining miles. I yelled to the crowds that lined the streets: “This guy’s a rock star!”

I told him I loved him a dozen times, insisted on a kiss, and then turned off at the light—feeling on top of the world. So, so lucky.

so so lucky

Anthony’s training for the marathon coincided with one of our cross-country moves—which included acclimating our boys to new schools and a colder climate. Anthony’s training also overlapped with the launch of my debut novel. Anthony fit in his training while at the same time adjusting to demands of a new, high-level job with a new company—which involved Monday through Friday travel, forcing him to fit in his long runs on precious, short weekends. All the while, Anthony maintained balance—spending quality time with me and the boys. Not once did he bring stress into our home, though I know he was feeling it. I witnessed impressive dedication to his training routine, which included readings from a daily devotional bookmarked with a picture of Martin from his Memorial Service at St. Ann’s in Boston last June.

Of course, when I think of Martin, I think of my three boys. There is a reason this post is not about my own children. I cannot attempt to put to words the gripping fear and terrifying images that keep me up at night when I imagine what Denise is going through. I cannot. Even. Begin.

But our journey—where this past Boston Marathon was just a stepping stone—began with us, Anthony and me. Standing at the sidelines, bubbling over with pride, I could not help but be inspired. Not just because he was running 26.2 miles. What he’s done for the Richard family is just one example of what he is capable of. I’m inspired by him to be a better person myself, every day. Don’t get me wrong. We have our share of arguments. We drive each other crazy at times. But when it comes to the important stuff: What would Anthony do? has become my mantra.

After nearly 11 years, we’ve built a solid foundation while managing to hold onto those fragile, ephemeral butterflies. The bumps in the road have strengthened our bond. Our shared value to make our family top priority gives us perspective in every situation. Our drive to live life with integrity and kindness and enthusiasm gifts us endless adventures. And the adventures continue…

Wherever this journey will take us, I’m in.

Let’s do this.

Post-Partum Book-Blues?

Growing up, I was a theater kid. All of us theater people understand the post-production blues that come after the final curtain call, after striking the set, after the running-on-fumes-but-cannot-miss cast party. The next morning, I’d awaken—as all my fellow thespians would—to an empty canvas of time. Our jam-packed schedules that had deprived us of sleep and nutritious meals and QT with loved ones for months were now suddenly…wide open. Texas countryside open. No more excuses for that putting off that dental cleaning. There would be no reason not to vacuum our cars’ crumb-laden interiors. All the reasons that made Cheetos a viable pairing with pizza lost their validity. So, after a good cry and a look at some photos or a glowing review, we’d all pull up our big-girl socks and get on with regular life. Ho hum.

No one told me this is how I’d feel after launching a book.

By now, you’ve read my previous blog, A Year in the Life of a Book-to-Be, which gave you a snapshot of the chaos of my life as I prepared to publish CATCHER’S KEEPER…and that was after writing the thing. It’s a strange life cycle: a book lives inside your head for years, you get it down and toil over every word, and then you have to push and insist and fight to get it out there. And then…

I wrote the first draft of CATCHER’S KEEPER in only three months. It sounds cliché, but the story had to get out. I drafted scenes in my mind at the playground only to run home and pound it out onto the computer during episodes of Phineas and Ferb. Many nights, I would go to bed, wait for everyone to fall asleep, and then sneak down to my computer and write until 2 or 3 a.m. Sometimes my husband would return from putting the boys to bed only to find me frantically typing a scene, having left dirty dinner dishes scattered about the kitchen. The story could not wait.

During my twenties when I flailed about trying to find myself (as many twenty-somethings do—ever see Girls on HBO?), my brother gave me a book about Graduate School entitled “Getting What You Came For,” which discusses how much commitment is required in obtaining a PhD. And by commitment, I don’t mean time, but passion. A thing that cannot be measured.

As my brother went through his doctorate program, I learned of a phenomenon more common than you’d expect summed up in a single foreboding acronym: ABD “All But Dissertation.” It takes years to earn a PhD—sometimes over a decade—but if you fail to complete the dissertation, the culmination of your research and expertise on your very specific field of study, you fail to get your PhD. If doctorate candidates aren’t borderline obsessed with the topic of their dissertations, their chances of finishing and therefore obtaining their PhDs are seriously compromised. You have to not only want it, but put almost everything else aside in order to obtain it.

If I may digress for one gloating moment: I’m happy to report that my brother, Jim Davies, has long finished his dissertation and obtained his PhD. (He’s now a cognitive scientist and award-winning associate professor at Carleton University in Ottawa—as well as an accomplished author. You can pre-order his book RIVETED now!)

I’m not comparing my commitment to my novel to the dedication required to earn a PhD. But it’s true that if I weren’t borderline obsessed with my book, I may not have finished it. This book harnessed an immense amount of energy; just thinking about it gave me a rush of adrenaline. Had I not been borderline obsessed, I probably would’ve allowed those early rejections—and there were lots of them—to convince me it was worthless. I may not have bothered with the Amazon contest. I may not have self-published. And there would be one less book in the world.

But it is out in the world. (Hooray!) And, for a few days, I was relieved and thrilled about its release.

And then the blues kicked in. Which was so strange.

The thing is: It’s not over. It’s creating a whole new energy. People are reading it! Reviewing it! I’m working Twitter and Facebook like no tomorrow. Blog tours! Interviews with local newspapers! Online interview with NY Times bestselling author! Book signing and presentation at a local café! I already have five legit bookclub gigs in four different states (only one of which is a relative’s—ha!). There’s amazing stuff happening.

So why am I blue?

Recalling the life-cycles of my five babies (my five completed manuscripts), I realize I have a mini-blues episode each time I finish a first draft. I’m happiest when I’m actively writing—creating a story out of nothing. I look forward to the next scene with as much fervor as I used to anticipate 24 episodes. I play it out in my head, write it quickly, and read it the next day, reveling in its purity. Building from the scene before, laying a foundation for the next chapter, feeling a build lift me like a giant wave. This is the best way I can describe it. Although it may not sound familiar to other authors, this is my reality of writing.

Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Respectfully, Ms. Parker, I would have to disagree.

Revising is a chore. Launching is a roller-coaster. Promotion is stressful. Writing a story organically is the sweet spot, and I’ve realized that’s what’s been missing. Even when there’s so much left to do, I realized I needed to start a new project.
So I have.

What’s it about, you ask?

Oh, no. I’m way too superstitious to tell you that. You’ll just have to wait to read it.