August is a hard month. This time last year, I was slowly saying goodbye to my Dad. Days felt slow. Long. Painful. But joy was found as well. I spent almost every day with him and my Mom that month, laughing together, remembering together, being together. It's a gift of time God gave me that I'll always cherish.
As I navigate through the memory of last year, I'm trying to focus my attention on the present. I've been writing more than I have in years. I've found motivation in unusual places. And I've rediscovered a passion for words I thought I lost. August, last year you kicked my butt. This year? I'm kicking yours.
Here's a bit of what I've been up to this summer and what I'm currently working on/enjoying:
How's your summer shaping up? Back to school for any of you? I'd love to know! Once again, thanks for following along. HUGS.
In my dad’s last year, we traveled twice to Vegas. Once for the Super Bowl, a tradition dating back four years. And once in May, to celebrate Dad feeling well.
His health was surprisingly steady. He recovered from Whipple surgery. His cancer threats remained low. And the doctor cleared him another month from chemo. We were ecstatic. We zipped back to Vegas to celebrate.
I anticipated the same fun, the same tone, the same routine as our Super Bowl trip. After all, we were together. We were happy.
However, this trip was different. Whether I was naive or desperate to deny it, this trip was always going to be different. It came cloaked in a shadow impenetrable by desert sun.
We might never do this again.
Regardless, I cast that shadow aside and focused on the present. We strolled. We shopped. We gambled. We ate.
But on our last day, the shadow returned. We stopped at a Starbucks in our hotel for breakfast. Mom, Alejandro, and I sat at the far end of the lobby, and for some reason, Dad took to a couch a few feet away. There, his body sat limp. His arms bereft of muscle. His mouth solemn. His face carved in shadow. All warmth in his eyes, gone.
I saw all this. And I didn’t go to him.
I ask myself why I stayed. I even later apologized for it. Dad was a private person. When he was glum, he retreated behind a newspaper. I assumed this was one of those times. Let him be. He’ll be fine. But it wasn’t. It was different and none of us wanted to admit why.
He rallied that day. He smiled; we laughed. And the rest of the trip was spent roaming through hotel lobbies and placing chips on green tables.
I will never forget the way his body sat sunken on that couch. How his face revealed frown lines too deep to reverse. Today, I realize how embattled he was. How crippling that moment was. To us, it was the end of a trip. To him, it was the end.
When I asked him later if he wanted comforting, and he said yes, heat and nausea collided in my stomach. He had a need and I didn’t respond.
Today, my dad is whole and happy in heaven. I am confident he knew how much I loved him. The bond we shared throughout our lives overshadows that fleeting moment in Vegas. However, it taught me something. People are hurting and craving the comfort of others.
It’s hard to meet someone in their pain, isn’t it? We’re afraid to say the wrong thing. Or do the wrong thing. But the worst we can do? Is stay where we are. To comfort someone is dirty and confusing and scary. But it’s nectar to a hurting soul. It's as simple as a text. A call. A card. A meal. A hug. No matter your experiences, no matter your weaknesses, you have something to offer.
Whatever you do, don't stay seated.
You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. —Anne Lamott
I am constantly surprised by grief’s all encompassing nature. One moment, I’m staring at dirty dishes, and the next, I’m crying because it reminds me of a time my Dad left a plate in the sink.
Grief permeates every area of your life whether you like it or not. Whether you expect it to or not. It knocks every bit of you down. It ignites at random moments. It is inconsiderate and gut-wrenching. My heart aches in ways I never knew possible—like mysterious muscles aching after a workout.
But, if you let it—and trust me, I’m still learning to let it—grief teaches you about life and love in a way nothing else can.
I have three vivid memories of my Dad in his last year that I struggle with. It’s a blessing and a curse, this imagination of mine. I can visualize so intensely that it leaves me emotionally distraught at times or overwhelmingly joyous. I battle with the idea—do I continue to remember these memories or do I try and ignore them? Because continuing to remember digs up the pain and the hurt and the sad. But it also breathes life on something that deserves it.
I choose to remember.
For the next few weeks, I plan on sharing each one of these memories. My hope is two-fold. To help myself heal. And to help others relate. If you’re suffering from grief, know that you are not alone.
I was scrolling through Instagram the other day and remembered something: The Naming of Colton Black's two-year-anniversary is just two weeks away.
Two years. A lot has happened in two years:
I may not be where I'd imagine to be in my writing career. But. I am so so grateful for what I do have: a finished book; a handful of positive reviews; people who have read my stories; and the freedom and flexibility to create. And that's thanks to YOU.
So, in the coming days, I'm going to be releasing some prizes for those who have read The Naming of Colton Black. (And if you haven't? Check it out on Amazon!)
I mean, what?
I had the extreme privilege of joining illustrator (and friend) Shelley Couvillion on Jo Bozarth's Her Process podcast about artist collaboration.
Jo is fabulous and a complete boss lady--she acts, writes, directs, and hosts her own podcast, which has 48 episodes and counting. When she asked me to participate on one of her collaboration episodes, I was excited and a bit anxious. An introvert writer, speaking about her process. How would I do?
But sitting down with her and Shelley was a dream. Jo's relaxed and joyous personality put this reserved author at ease. And having a friend and pro (she's done this twice before!) like Shelley do this alongside me gave me the confidence I needed to share my experiences.
Thanks, ladies! I had a BLAST!
Some fun things we talk about:
If you're interested in discovering more about what author / illustrator collaborations look like, take a listen!
To see more of Her Process, visit Herprocess.com.
To see more of Shelley Couvillion, visit Shelleycouvillion.com.
Show these ladies some love--they deserve it!
I've been making my way through Creating Character Emotions and selecting an emotion a day to practice writing. You guys responded so well to my fun game on Instagram--what emotion do you feel?--that I wanted to post one to my blog. For anyone who guesses the correct emotion below, you get a prize coming your way. Ready to play? Let's go!
Five minutes. It should take five minutes. She checked the clock. It had only been one. She stared at the thin stick on the bathroom counter, willing the faded blue lines not to intersect. It said five minutes. Results wouldn’t come until then, she repeated to herself.
From the edge of the bathtub, she could see herself in the mirror. The grey florescent light accentuated every line, every dark circle on her pure skin, causing her to resemble someone twice her age. Like her sister Amanda. Thirty going on fifty--unmarried, introverted, plain. But adored by their parents. No amount of gushing was ever enough for them. Last year’s newsletter proved that. Two minutes.
Or Rebecca. Senior with honors but no boyfriend. Dad took her shopping for a new car. Mom for clothes. They even threw her a party for being a what--valedictorian. Virgin, more like it. They love those. She scrunched her toes in the bath mat. Three minutes.
But for their youngest? Nothing. For their average student? Nothing. Little did they care about her. She ran her fingers through her thick blonde hair and pushed her chest out. Beautiful. Youthful. Prom Queen. Popular.
Her hands grew sticky tucked under her thighs. She knew exactly what they would do. What they’ve been waiting to do ever since she started talking back, sneaking out, kissing boys. Exile her. And in minutes she’d find out if they’d get their way.
Pressure slammed down on her chest. She had sixty seconds. Sixty seconds until her life would be determined by two blue lines. She stood. Pushed her hair out of her face as she stared at the pregnancy stick. She tried synching her breathing with her heartbeat, to calm
her. But all she could manage were short gasps. Twenty seconds. Don’t pick up the stick. Results may suffer if she picked up the stick. Ten seconds. Drowning couldn’t be worse than this, she thought, feeling her chest sinking in on her. Five seconds. Either way, her
life would change.
Four. She swallowed hard, eyes locked on the cross that was appearing before her, branding her. Three seconds. As a slut. As an exile.
And as a mother.
I was inspired to write this post after reading about James Aries' happy place on his blog. It's so sweet, how he describes his grandparents' cabin and the special meaning it holds. And it got me thinking. What's my happy place?
My happy place has changed over the course of the years. It's been various coffee houses in various cities. Bean Town (a small coffee house in the foothills of Sierra Madre) was one of the first that I can remember--it's where I spent most of my days and nights crafting The Missing Crimoire. Rickety tables; mismatched chairs; artsy wall hangings; and a list of teas I could never tire of made this cozy spot a favorite.
When we moved to Pasadena, I found myself gravitating towards Old Pasadena--our downtown area with all the shops and cafes. At the time, my husband was a store manager for that area's Starbucks. I spent numerous hours there writing The Naming of Colton Black. The store underwent a beautiful remodel, making the space feel metropolitan and inspiring. It was sleek; it dripped of city vibes; and it housed my husband when he wasn't home. Obvious win.
Lately, however, my happy place has shifted. While I will always adore writing in a coffee house--nothing beats the hustle and bustle of a city shop to me; the energy; the business; the yummy sweets and beverages--I've found myself gravitating towards a different type of location.
My happy place is my home. What I love so much about this space is the ambiance. Our personal style has grown over the years. And this one? Is my favorite. Bright light shines through our home; its open floor plan allows for various spots to sit and write. White kitchen; grey walls; herringbone floors. It speaks to my soul because it's a part of my soul. And isn't that what every happy place is?
I've never been one to write at home. It's either been too distracting or not inspiring enough. Now, because of God's goodness, we've created a space that inspires me to create. Whether that's sitting at our counter with a cup of coffee, in our office with my toes in our squishy rug, or on the couch beside the dog, I love writing at home.
Home, thank you for being my happy place.
(Photo credit: Heidi Ryder Photography)
This sweet boy is merely 10-years-old but harbors a deep secret. (Don't all fantasy middle-grade novels start this way?) He's curious; intelligent; observant; and quick-witted. And based largely on my husband, Alejandro. True, when I first discovered Oliver, I didn't know my husband. The story came to me in a flash one day and for some reason, I wasn't in the right mindset to chase it. When it was time, there was Alejandro. His personality largely affected the development of Oliver.
Below is a chapter I wrote over seven years ago. It's still in draft form, but it's of a story I love and hope to return to someday.
Ready to read the beginning of Oliver's story?
Fact or fiction: Ever wonder if some of my characters are based on real life people? Get ready to find out!
This might be a bit controversial--talking about who inspires my fictional characters. After all, you really only have one hero. But, it's a question worth exploring. Personally, I'd love to know who inspired Rowling's Harry, Tolkien's Sam, Orson's Ender, and Collins' Haymitch. Yes, often times characters evolve completely from the unknown. There's little to no attachment to anyone in real life. However, it's impossible not to draw from what we know. After all, writers are constantly told to "write what we know." And who better do we know than the people in our lives?
For me, it's natural for the heroes in my stories to resemble some part of me. Let me reiterate something--heroes are flawed. There are no perfect heroes. Which means, drawing from my own flawed existence is extremely helpful when creating these very complex characters. Take for instance, Breslin. She's an anxiety riddled, people-pleasing, introvert. When I wrote this character, I was going through some of the toughest mental health issues I've ever faced. To say Breslin is a part of me is an understatement.
But what about the others? The hero's best friends? Parents? Enemies? Antagonists? Well, here's a little reveal on who inspired who. Some may just surprise you!
FROM THE MISSING CRIMOIRE
Aberdeen Hall | TMC's aloof and loathsome villain. This was one of the most enjoyable characters to write. And you bet I based her off a real person. When I wrote TMC, I was discovering my love of writing. It was new to me, this skill. Yes, I had real cheerleaders in my life (professors, friends, classmates), encouraging me to write. But also real--downers. Enter Sophomore year. High school English. Mrs. Hall. A woman who somehow seemed to loath me. (Well. Loath is a harsh word. Dislike, maybe.) A woman who never shied away from reminding me my writing was mediocre. True, I wasn't the best writer in high school. But her discouraging comments didn't wax my love for the craft. (That was thanks to my junior English teacher. Who I LOVED.) So, when I needed to create a character full of loathing towards my hero Luke, I didn't hold back.
Austin Rivens | another antagonist in TMC. And this one? Is purely fictional. He's a renegade, rugged type. The kind of person who's seen things and done things you'd likely scorn him for. At 24, I'd never known someone like Austin. However, I'd seen enough movies, read enough books, to have a feel for a character that I'd like to create.
Alden Cashal | the adoring and wise professor in TMC. This one is part fiction part fact. One of my most favorite professors at Pepperdine was Dr. Collings. His passion for creative writing and the craft of prose inspires me to this day. When I wrote Cashal's character, I'm now 100% certain I was subconsciously weaving Collings' kind and whimsical approach to life through him.
Gravis Dromore | Luke's nemesis. Yes. You better believe I based this kid off of a high school crush gone awry. Down to his birthday, black hair, and chiseled face. Ah, to be young and heart broken. Teen angst is always a source for villains in future stories, no?
FROM THE NAMING OF COLTON BLACK
King Black | Breslin's father and ultimate antagonist in TNCB. In no way is King Black my own Father. He is 75% fiction and 25% a combination of people I know. When I wrote this story--and based Breslin so much on me--I worried people would assume her Father was my Father. It couldn't be any less true. My Father was tender-hearted and the biggest encourager of ME. King Black is the opposite. But, I will say, the realness of a daughter's desperate desire to be adored and loved by her Father is as true is at it comes. I was blessed to receive this when my Dad was alive.
(This is a manuscript I've completed yet not finalized. I love the story but feel stuck each time I go to edit it. Maybe one day, I'll get it out to you all to read!)
Oliver | the hero from MARKED. This sweet boy is merely 10-years-old but harbors a deep secret. (Don't all fantasy middle-grade novels start this way?) He's curious; intelligent; observant; and quick-witted. And based largely on my husband, Alejandro. True, when I first discovered Oliver, I didn't know my husband. The story came to me in a flash one day and for some reason, I wasn't in the right mindset to chase it. When it was time, there was Alejandro. His personality largely affected the development of Oliver.
Hope you enjoyed this reveal! Curious about any other characters in my books? Ask below and I'll let you know, fact or fiction!
(Photo by Heidi Ryder Photography.)
Guys, it's GUEST POST FRIDAY! ::cue confetti:: Today's post is by Daniel Graham, a writer I connected with on Instagram, who's got a killer style and unique voice. Be sure to give him some love after reading his post and check out his website!
How My Faith Influences My Fiction