To you, readers. Welcome back. I’ve been on a hiatus, a journey, a seasonal shift, which has been transformative and freeing. Seasons ebb and flow and while the past two seasons have cloaked me in darkness, where my limbs ached and my heart twisted, I have entered into a new stage. One where the veil has lifted; the sun now reaches me; and my lungs fill with a fresh strength I didn’t know I could posses. God brought me out of the valley. And—for now—has sat me on the sweetest mountaintop. I know these seasons can change in moments. But for now? I’m leaning my face into the sun to soak up the sweetness of light, and calm, and warmth.
Three cities. LA—Seattle—Chicago. That is the linear journey of our summer. While Alejandro spent four weeks in Seattle training, I packed up our LA home before joining him in the crisp air of the Pacific Northwest. It’s been glorious. Soaring cityscapes. Gloomy skies. Creative streets. We’ve explored. Caffeinated our souls. And strolled together along unfamiliar passageways, making our own trails.
Come mid August, we’ll head to Chicago, our final destination.
Enjoying the newness of moving is like experiencing the warmth of a new relationship. You look past the dirt under fingernails, open-mouth chewings, eye-turning laughter, and see only the beauty. Only what causes a smile to breeze across your face. Mundane tasks are elevated to Instagram worthy outings due to new storefronts and wispy green tree-lined city streets. It’s romantic and hazy and dreamy. And it should be.
I know that will eventually change. That the cracks will litter the sidewalks, the weeds will spike through the flowerbeds, disguising the beauty more and more. That the romance of the weather and the hustle will roughen our edges and wear down our bodies. But. It’s a choice. When relationships change and shift you choose to hold onto the beauty that was new and carry it with you through the routine of life. And that’s what I’ll do. With every city, with every space, with every storm, I’ll choose to see past the routine—and see beauty even in the everyday.
I’m slowly working my way back into writing. And I’ll get there. For now, reading, imagining, observing, and experiencing are my responsibilities. So, welcome back, readers. Let’s connect again.
Hello! It's been a while, hasn't it? An entire holiday season and the ringing in of a new year has come and gone--and I'm still right where I was when I last posted. Well, that's mostly true. I've gotten a haircut (nothing drastic), rearranged some furniture around the house, joined a small group at our church, enjoyed various family time (see photo above with my mom, brother, sister-in-law, niece, and husband), and acquired a new freelance gig (hi, Barnes & Noble Kids Blog!).
But, for much of 2019, life continues in pretty much the same rhythm--writing my manuscript, imagining new worlds, managing anxiety, and relying on God's faithfulness one day at a time.
Let's start with that list.
Writing my manuscript: last time we spoke, I was deep into second draft rewrites of my YA dystopian novel. I had lofty goals of finishing a second draft by the end of January. And while I was well into ACT II (lord, help me), I was struggling. Fighting against something I couldn't quite understand. Finally, I broke my rule (do not speak to anyone about the manuscript until draft is finished.). I needed input on this new world I'd created. A new world that differs from anything I've ever created. Writing a dystopian has been HARD. You cannot create a new magical element if something doesn't make sense. You cannot rely on spells or mysteries or lore or magic. You must create something REAL. FROM something real. Government is real. Law is real. Econ is real. And those things cannot be altered. They can be shifted, into a future that I've imagined. But--they must remain true. My brain understands the magical world. Thankfully, my husband's brain understands the real world. After I explained to him what I had created, he very kindly revealed to me that things don't make sense. And if my world wasn't stable, my story could never be stable.
So? It was back to the drawing board. I was discouraged and couldn't write for a week. Thinking I was still missing foundational elements of my story scared me. (Will I ever NOT be stuck?) Yet, I knew the core of the story would remain the same. I knew I still wanted to tell my heroine's story. The backdrop just needed reinforcing.
And that's where I am today. Reworking and rebuilding my world so my heroine has something to truly fight for. It's terrifying and exciting. But I'm ready to create something powerful and worth telling.
Imaging new worlds: of course a writer's brain never stops. A new story has entered my mind--a middle-grade novel, yet again. With themes of grief and passing and new life. I won't say much, since so much of it is unwritten and underdeveloped, but it feels right and close to my heart. More on that to come.
Managing anxiety: this can feel like a full time job, no? In 2018, I went off of my anxiety medication for specific reasons I won't go into yet. But God called me to it, so I obeyed (kicking and screaming). It's been a rough year with pockets of relief. I'm still off the medication, so 2019 has had a rough beginning.
Which leads me to relying on God's faithfulness. Some days I can barely do anything other than puzzle (it keeps the anxiety at bay), cry, and eat toast. Other days I can do all the things--write, run errands, clean the house, you name it. Thankfully, 2018 eventually had more good days than bad. But I'm trying to remember, especially during the bad days, that God. Shows. Up. I may be a mess and hungry for relief from OCD, but I'm not alone. And that makes all the difference.
What's been going on with you? I'd love to know a fun fact about your 2018 or a new experience you're excited for in 2019! Once again, thanks for reading--you're the BEST.
Guest Post Friday. It's baaaack!
Get ready to read a stellar post by writer and author (and my cousin!) Natalie Brock. Her journey includes Harry Potter, self-publishing under a pseudonym (you'll laugh as to why), traveling throughout England and more. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!
My Writing Journey/How I Came to Be Where I am Today/Why did I decide on a travel blog and travelogue of my UK adventures? Writing tips?
My writing journey. Wow. When when I look back, I can see what a long road it’s been. I’ve had the writing bug for as long as I can remember. You know- that tiny itch that just compels you to write and you can’t get rid of it until you’ve penned something. I would always be writing these short stories- so short I could count the number of pages on one hand- and skits my friends and I would perform. Whenever I had to write a short story for school- well- that was always the highlight of my week! I’d jump at the opportunity with full gusto.
And then I got obsessed with Harry Potter. I blame my sister for introducing me to that world of magic. I was newly-13. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read the books since then, but I couldn’t get enough of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Even though I liked writing beforehand, this was the series that really propelled me into saying “You know what? I want to become a writer!”
Thus it began: with Harry Potter fanfiction. First, at the IMDB message boards for the fourth Harry Potter film and then, later, I did stories on both that and fanfiction.net. No, you’re not getting the link; good gravy was my writing atrocious back then! But that was the catalyst to eventually starting my own, original projects. I mean, fanfiction gave me plenty of practice. Practice makes perfect, you know?
I started with original fiction and stuck with that for several years. It was painstaking and took for-freaking-ever, but I loved the stuffing out of it. I even self-published three novels. They never really got off the ground, but I did it! I felt so accomplished and I wanted more! I kept on writing, putting fingers to keyboard my story ideas. I still have two that need editing and a third that’s nearly good to go.
Side note: the ones I self-published are not under my own name. Someone else had already published books- someone with the same name as me- that were of the smutty-romance variety. NOT my preferred genre by a long shot.
But here’s the thing- motivation can be a tricky bugger and as much as I love those three unpublished tomes, the first two need A LOT of editing and the third one some fact-checking. It’s at a state that, if I published it now, I’d get laughed at by people in certain circles.
Why do I feel so unmotivated to tackle those works?
I suppose it’s because, at one point a couple years ago, I wrote two novels back to back. I felt unbelievably burned out, you guys. I thought, “Hey! Take a break! You deserve it. Step away for a few weeks and come back to your works with fresh eyes!”
So I did.
And when I came back to those novels? I couldn’t get the gumption to finish them.
I thought, “Let’s give it some more time.”
I went back a few times. I mean, I tried. I did. But I couldn’t do it. My mind wouldn’t let me. Each time I tried, it’s like my creative juices would shut down on me. It was excruciating and heartbreaking, because those books were my babies. But I just. Couldn’t. Do it.
To paraphrase Bilbo Baggins: trying to write felt like butter, scraped over too much bread.
In short, a year and a half slid by. A year and a half of not doing anything, just waiting for that right moment, for the writing juices to punch me in the face once more.
I went to England for the second time this past April. You guys; I fell in love all over again. I yearned so badly to go back; so much so that I just HAD to talk about it with such a degree that I was afraid I would otherwise burst. The best way I felt was to write about it, and so I did, documenting everything I did every day I was away.
Do you know what? Because of that, I fell in love with writing all over again. With the simple snap of a finger, I was out of the dark, dry mode and back into the light. I felt motivated again. But not to write fiction: nope. This time, I instinctively knew nonfiction was where it was at. It was the only thing that felt real to me, know what I’m talking about?
I have enough material for my solo England/Paris trip to fill a short book, and that is my ultimate goal.
And thus was the inspiration for my travel blog. I have a consistent case of the wanderlusts. When I was just a wee kid, my parents would always take my sister and me on their anniversary vacations with them. We’d go camping, too. Road trips, summer and holiday trips… It was all so glorious and gave me an insatiable thirst to see more! I mean, I just had to get out there and experience more of what life had to offer. To see more of the world, darn it! Even now, right this second, I feel the travel bug prickling at me, and the urge to talk about it. So, if people like Bill Bryson and Cheryl Strayed can do it, why can’t I?
To read more of Natalie's travel adventures, head to nataliestravels.com
To buy her books: A Question of Nobility | Through the Storm
To follow Natalie on Instagram: @natster0905
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)