My latest YA novel
Today I’m talking about NORMAL.
Not that I know what “normal” is, exactly. Except to say, sometimes I lose my way and fixate on the grass around my feet that somehow just doesn’t seem to look as green as the grass on the other side of the pasture. The green I used to have, or was supposed to have. Or thought I had.
I don’t know. All I can say is, trying to write about “normal” this week was confusing. I mean, usually when I sit down to write my blog posts I choose whatever floats to the top of my brain, like say, Hey! I’ve got a brand new book!
Except this week something else kept fighting for top billing. I can’t stop thinking about my actual brain–and the MRI scan I had last week.
Sure, health stuff is important, but this was my third scan in three years (I’ve written a bit about it before here). Each time my neurologist has ordered a scan to “Rule out The Chronic Illness That Shall Not Be Named.” But so far, there’s been nothing conclusive. Except physically, I don’t have the bright shiny green-ness I used to.
Plus, there’s the worry. Because there were these unidentified things, not normal things, or maybe they are normal for me (one can hope). Either way they were confusing to the radiologist and doctor, something that maybe shouldn’t be there. Here’s a little graphic to give you an idea of what shouldn’t really be floating in your gray matter:
This is my brain. I’m sure you’re not at all surprised to see all the dessert.
But the problem with chasing after normal, is I think I’m going after me, but I lose a bit of myself in the process.
So, in order to get my brain off the subject of my brain, I’m focusing on my heart by practicing some gratitude.
Here are this week’s highlights:
I’m grateful for my family–and silly faces.
I am grateful to have heard Cornelia speak at a Kristallnacht Memorial service yesterday. Cornelia is a rescuer and an inspiration. She worked with the Dutch resistance against the Nazis during World War II. I’m especially grateful for brave rescuers like Cornelia because my husband is a grandchild (and my kids, great-grandchildren) of Holocaust survivors.
I’m grateful for a college visit that took us on a scenic country drive. And for barns. Barns are awesome.
I’m grateful for my parents–and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Yes, I’m thankful to the U.S. Coast Guard for moving my dad and our family every couple of years. I’m serious! Because of this nomadic experience, I’ve been forever fascinated with the idea of living life in one place and falling in love with the boy next door (and road trips, but that’s another Grace and Zac story). Which leads me back around to…
I’m grateful for my new book.
I’m so thankful I get the opportunity to write, especially characters like Grace and Zac. I started this story several years ago, but it wasn’t until 2011 when they came back with more to tell, that I started reworking this one. It’s been so much fun writing about friendship and love and the boy next door. You can find out more about THE ART OF CHASING NORMAL here.
Last, but not least, I’m also grateful for YOU.
Huge thanks and big hugs to you for taking the time to read, or comment, or share. You are what make this part so rewarding. You make me feel a part of a super awesome community when I emerge from my writing cave. Tons of thanks for taking the time to share a part of your lives with me.
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So all last week I found myself thinking about a button.
My son decided he wanted to go to prom (a week before prom, mind you), which meant a last minute run for prom tickets, a boutonniere, a corsage, and a tux.
My husband suggested he try on his tux. His twenty year old wedding tuxedo.
The tux fit. It was a tad roomy, but all it really needed was a new button.
I put mending on my to-do list, but the button stayed on my mind. Somehow that button represented happy nostalgia: twenty years of marriage, family, and kids being almost all grown up.
Of course, all this symbolic button thinking took place amidst the back drop of crazy, tragic things happening in Boston and all over the world.
But I had the luxury of thinking about that button.
And then this weekend we had our own bit of crazy to deal with, when some neighborhood kids thought it would be funny to rig up what looked like a homemade bomb on the steering wheel of my daughter’s car.
My daughter drives a retired Crown Victoria police interceptor and while we wondered if this thing in her car was a stupid prank, we also couldn’t help but worry whether this contraption rigged not only to her steering wheel, but attached to the door and the outside mirror, was some threatening message aimed at the police.
So we called the non-emergency police line and an officer came to the house. He was perplexed, cautious, and called his supervisor…
Who then called the bomb squad.
And then began the process of securing the roads around our neighborhood.
And then an officer asked us if we wanted to leave our house because this could be a very dangerous situation.
At this point, one of the kids responsible, came over and confessed. My daughter instantly burst into tears. She was relieved, but very hurt someone wanted to purposefully scare her like that.
I was mad. Because while it may have been a joke–and everyone was safe–our fear had been REAL.
You may think what I did next is a strange reaction, because while the bomb squad took the stupid contraption out of my daughter’s car (they still had to consider it a threat until they knew otherwise), I went inside the house and sewed the button on that tux jacket. I didn’t know what else to do with my confusion, my anger. Maybe because I’d been thinking about that button all week, that button somehow become some sort of fastener for my thoughts. It helped to ground me.
I mean what do you do when you get tangled and tripped up by the web of someone else’s stupidity?
You can’t control it. You can’t change their thinking. All you really can do is control your own actions (and somehow resist a response that might make you a contributing member to the spectrum of stupidity).
So I shifted my focus to the things that ground me.
Turns out, one hand me down tuxedo, plus one button, equals lots of love and support.
My son wearing his dad’s wedding tux.
The “perfect troll face” goes to prom. My family grounds me, but also lifts my spirit.
And because I couldn’t find a great quote for this post, I’m sharing this absurdly funny one.
What grounds you when your world gets shaky?
Have a great week,
Hop on over to Making the Days Count and say hi to Clay!
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The one thing I know for sure about book promotion is that there’s no shortage of information.
I’ve been reading and bookmarking how-to articles for the last couple of years, but when it comes to promoting my writing (and probably flirting), I think I probably resort to that winking in the dark stuff.
But then my very first print copy of my YA book, Come Back to Me, arrived in the mail.
Having a copy of my book made being published feel more real.
Made me feel like I wanted to do a little book flirting.
Which is a good thing, because if you want your book read, then you need to get your book OUT THERE.
I can’t just sit in my office and wink out of the window while holding my shiny, new book.
Gotta do some book marketing.
An endorsement from Adam Levine? You never know, he could like my “voice.”
Speaking of promotion, my book is now officially available in paperback at Amazon (all other formats can be found here). Plus, my book will be experience it’s very first blitzing in May (a promo blitz is kind of like the opposite of winking in the dark).
Do you have marketing advice to share? Are you any good at flirting? If so, do you know any celebrities?
Have a spectacular kind of week!
Check out author, Beth Vogt! She has a new novel coming out next month, Catch a Falling Star–and she always finds great quotes for her blog posts.
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Children learn to smile from their parents.
See what I’m teaching my kids?
I’m simply passing on my version of the funny I learned growing up–thanks in big part to my dad. He is a master at telling a funny story, and watching him, I learned the value in being able to get people to smile, to laugh and to share joy.
And I learned other things.
Growing up, my dad was big on safety. He made us wear sunscreen (thank you Dad!), and after a sudden stop in the car, he always threw out an arm in front of whoever sat in the passenger seat–even after our car had seat belts. Plus, he did not allow us out of the house without shoes.
No skipping around barefoot for me.
Because of hookworms.
You see those little suckers could burrow into tender kid soles and make their way up and . . . well, I don’t remember the rest. He had me at hookworm. It was all I needed to know–and believe me when I tell you, I had the softest, callous-free feet in my neighborhood!
I have done zero research on hookworms, so I cannot tell you if this is true. The only thing I know for sure is that as a parent, protecting my kids is of utmost importance. I will never forget the first time my husband and I left our kids home alone. On one hand it was exciting that they were finally old enough, but as we moved to walk out the door, my husband turned around and said:
Because apparently as I showed my oldest the list of phone numbers, my husband had worst case scenarios running through his mind. By decreeing no food, he felt he eliminated the choking scenario.
“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ‘em all away from you. That’s never possible.”
~Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
So maybe it’s not possible, but dads will try. Because like moms, dads like to dispense advice too:
“This is life. So go and have a ball. Because the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you may not be right for some. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have … my opening statement. Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.”
~Peter Griffin, Family Guy
You never want your kids to see you scared. You want to be that rock that they grab a hold of in a stormy sea. Actually, a rock would sink. So a floating rock.
~Phil Dunphy, Modern Family
Dad = floating rock. Oh, and let’s not forget dads can be FUN:
“This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun.”
~Clark Griswold, National Lampoon’s Vacation
Me, my dad and one of my sisters. It’s possible she’s checking the ground for hookworms.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!
I’d love to know–what is your favorite Father’s day gift to give or get?
If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
~George Bernard Shaw
Several years ago my dad gave me his old Torts book from law school. He told me there was a case in it involving my great-grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Rush, and that I might want to hang onto it because it was a bit of our family history. The story was a curious one, but still I put the book away for safe keeping.
But recently I got a little more curious after watching the TV show Who Do You Think You Are. Every week a different celebrity is taken on a journey of personal discovery into his or her family history. Rob Lowe discovered that his five times great-grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War and Ashley Judd traced her family line back to the Mayflower.
The process typically starts with looking up census records and court documents and then they follow the twists and turns back in time, stumbling upon hardship, perseverance, triumph and even secrets and intrigue. Above all, they always seem to come away with some sort of inspiration from their lineage.
So I decided to Google my great-grandmother’s case.
My grandmother, great-grandmother and great Aunt
Let me first say that this is not a story of Pilgrims and Patriots, but rather the New Jersey Supreme Court, tenant rights and an outhouse. In its own unique way it goes deep (so deep I imagine my great-grandmother might’ve wished she’d been wearing waders).
What happens in the privy, does not always stay in the privy.
Here’s the gist of the case:
Rush v. Commercial Realty Co., 145 A. 476 (N.J. Sup. Ct. 1929)
The case for the plaintiffs was that they were tenants of the defendant, which controlled the house wherein they lived and also the adjoining house, and provided a detached privy for the use of both houses; that Mrs. Rush having occasion to use this privy, went into it and fell through the floor, or through some sort of trap door therein, descended about nine feet into the accumulation at the bottom, and had to be extricated by use of a ladder. The defendant denied that there was any pit at all, and claimed the floor was only about nine inches above solid ground.
The story as told by my Great Aunt Kitty to my dad was that my great-grandmother fell through the outhouse floor when the rotted portion of the floor in front of the toilet seat collapsed.
My great-grandmother was 5’2″ (and pregnant with my Great Aunt Anna) and the hole was nine feet deep. So 14-year-old Kitty ran to the neighbor for a ladder so she could help her mother climb out of the um, accumulation.
It took years to finalize the case, but she won. The judge blamed the property owner.
In dealing with these, it should be observed that Mrs. Rush had no choice, when impelled by the calls of nature, but to use the facilities placed at her disposal by the landlord, to wit, a privy with a trap door in the floor, poorly maintained.
Now I imagine this had to be a humiliating experience, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my dad’s side of the family, it’s that we all thoroughly enjoy a good laugh.
And that’s what I found when I searched the internet. It seems that the case of Mrs. Rush was a bit of a comic relief in Torts class.
On one of the blogs, a law student said he laughed until he cried. When I asked my dad about it, he said his grandmother’s case has been the subject of limericks and poems in law school for decades.
But my favorite find was reading about law students showing up for their Torts final wearing t-shirts that said:
“Whenever you feel like you’re drowning in shit, remember Mrs. Rush.”
Ah, sweet inspiration.
But there is something universal in this story, because in some way we ‘ve all experienced the crap dunk tank. And we all know it’s not always easy to get out. Sometimes we have to holler for help and sometimes we have to wait for a ladder. But hopefully, like my tiny, great grandmother, we find a way to climb out of the accumulation.
Although, if you can, I recommend boots.
To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps. The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples. I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests. And so are you.
Tell me, have you done any family research? What have you found in your history?
I love when you share!
It’s easy to judge a book by its cover, but what about its title?
“Holding a professionally printed book with your name on the cover is a truly amazing feeling.”
I wonder if Eleanor Burns felt that way when she first saw her quilting book?
Or tractor loving Roger?
I imagine Aimee Bender was happy when she saw her finished book. I love this title:
And this one is so crazy, it’s awesome:
If you want to see more entertaining book titles, check out this list at the Stylist.
Do you have a favorite book title?
According to Tennessee Williams it is the most important thing in life. Yet it is vulnerable, open to being preceded by such downer verbs, like curb or lack or wane.
But still, it’s there like a tiny spark ready to be fanned by a funny blog post, an inspirational quote, a military hero, the smiling face of a child, a furry kitten, Monet (or a glass of Moet), a great book, a teacher (shout out to Kristen Lamb), or even a very enthusiastic Beyonce fan.
“Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars.
Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait.
The grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.”
So, let your sparkle flag fly and have a great weekend!
What fans your enthusiasm?Read More
Love it or hate it?
Do you think it motivates or interferes?
This past week James Spader’s character on The Office gave this take on fear:
“Fear plays an interesting role in our lives. How dare we let it motivate us? How dare we let it into our decision-making, into our livelihoods, into our relationships? It’s funny isn’t it? We take a day of the year to dress up in costume, to celebrate fear. “
Of course this was after he told a scary story to the employees, making sure he included something to tap into each and every person’s fear. According to him, my scary story would involve spiders on a plane flying over a shark infested ocean.
A sequel for Samuel Jackson perhaps?
But if you ask me, Halloween is just fun. At least it was when I was a kid.
Scary costume, but happy kid.
But spiders? Completely different. They are real.
Once when I was a teenager, I came face to face with one that resulted in a trip to the ER.
For me anyway (I have no idea what happened to the spider).
See that cast? I broke my finger in that struggle.
Although looking back, I’m wondering if the really scary things were those denim boots on my feet.
“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.”
Right now I have 394 books on my Amazon Wish List. So um, my coat would be pretty threadbare if I followed the above quote for my entire list. But I do buy from it, on occasion (my husband and I differ on our definition of occasion). Mostly I use my Wish List to refill my hold queue at the library. Also, I must admit I’m hoping for that breathtaking tiara moment when Amazon emails me to say I have won everything on it (which is why I’ve made sure a MacBook, Scrivener software and a Cuisinart ice cream maker are on my list too).
Anyway, here are a few new books that I’m excited about:
I first started reading the Kinsey Millhone mysteries twenty years ago. I can remember walking through the stacks at the library where I worked and picking up A IS FOR ALIBI. I loved it immediately. I know some readers don’t like that Kinsey is still “stuck” in the 80s (the first book was published in 1983, but each subsequent story takes place shortly after the other even though the books come out about once every two years), but I love it when Kinsey pulls out her trusty index cards to begin her detective work–instead of relying on computers, cell phones and the internet.
CROSSED is book two in the MATCHED trilogy. The first one highlighted arranged marriage dystopian style and I can’t wait to see how the main character Cassia deals with her desire to rebel against a society that does not believe in free will.
This book had me at dork. Oh and diary. All you need to know is Nikki Maxwell is living her worst nightmare after she loses her diary. I completely identify with it all. One of these days I will have to post some exceptionally dorky things from my own tween diary.
We buy this book every year. I love the photos, the trivia and just the general oddities. According to the review on Amazon, in this edition you can find out how much time you spend watching TV, playing video games, laughing, breathing and um, well farting. Who knew?
I found LITTLE GALE GUMBO via The Debutante Ball site. The book promises savory intrigue and family secrets, spiced with Creole flavor.
I just added pralines to my Amazon Wish List.
What books are you wishing for?
Hook the reluctant reader.
It’s the phrase that pays. I’ve heard it many times over the last year. Almost every editor at the last two conferences I went to said it, and last week I heard Agent Mary Kole say it.
But I am also familiar with the concept, not just as a writer, but as a mom.
Because I gave birth to not one, but two reluctant readers.
I love to read, always have, so of course my kids went to the library and story time every week. I read to them every day. Every birthday there was always a book along with whatever else they asked for and their shelves were filled with A Series of Unfortunate Events, Junie B. Jones and of course Harry Potter.
Still they didn’t always see books like I did—a companion, a gateway into another world, or simply pure entertainment. When they cried, I am bored! I pointed at their bookshelves and they shrugged.
They didn’t want to curl up with a book, not like I longed to do when I was a kid.
Oh sure, my son read every Harry Potter book, but it really was an exception.
My kids read, but sparingly.
So I turned into a book pusher.
Especially when it came to my son, because like I learned at the last SCBWI conference, agents are always looking for that elusive boy book. When they talk about their wish list, they get that faraway look, the one that makes me wonder if they see it as some sparkly, unattainable unicorn.
So what will these boys read?
Well, when my son was in elementary school he read Captain Underpants, Andy Griffith’s Butt series and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. You get the idea. It had to be funny, outrageous, and weird if he was going to read it.
He was also drawn to the Guinness Book of World Records—every year he got the new edition. Again, I guess it was the funny, outrageous and weird.
I brought book after book home from the library, without much luck. Finally, when he was in middle school, I found a winner, Swim the Fly by Don Calame. He read it in record time, even passed it onto a friend (one who read even less than my son did). I read it too, because I needed to know what elixir seeped from Don Calame’s fingers and onto the page.
From the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW August 13, 2009:
“A raucous PG-13 comedy. Don Calame, a screenwriter, serves up jokes and gross-outs in the style of filmmakers like Judd Apatow… In the war between the sexes on the young adult bookshelves, “Swim the Fly” occupies the low ground of offensive, knuckleheaded fun. Which is to say, boys will probably love it. This one did.”
The magical elixir was humor, the kind your parents often shush you for, so I got the appeal. After that, I searched for books about young teen boys who crush on the girl but don’t have a clue how to talk to her, resulting in funny hijinks.
Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl by D.L. Garfinkle
Carter Finally Gets it by Brent Crawford
King of the Screwups by K.L. Going
Some delved into deeper territory and yet he still read:
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson and books by Chris Crutcher.
Then my son started high school. I told him about John Green’s Paper Towns. It had a lot of the key elements, the out of reach girl, the friendships, the adventure, it was a bit more sophisticated than Swim the Fly, a little more thoughtful, but still I thought it was great and there were parts where I laughed out loud.
So he bought the book, but he still hasn’t read it.
Really, it’s not the book. I think he would’ve read it two years ago. After all he bought it based on the book’s blurb and what I told him about it. It was just that now that he’s in high school, there’s too much to compete with—homework and the books he has to read for English (by the way he did “like” Fahrenheit 451, but he is cursing Hamlet), the internet, video games, hanging out with his friends, cross country practice, piano practice.
Is he too busy or is it a serious case of Reluctant Reader? If a new Harry Potter book came out right now, would it *gasp* languish unread? I don’t know. I imagine (and hope) he will eventually find his way back to reading for fun.
This week I asked him, “If you wanted to read, what would you look for?” The answer wasn’t so mysterious–male protagonist, a crush (even if it doesn’t play a prominent role) and some adventure or issue. Interestingly he said the book no longer has to be funny. Or feature Quidditch or gas.
There are so many books I would recommend to him, if only he wanted to read:
OKAY FOR NOW BY Gary D. Schmidt, READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline and TRAPPED by Michael Northrup are just a few.
So maybe you can pass these gems on to a younger reader (or less reluctant one), because I can’t stop with the book pushing. I am already on the hunt for something a little older for my son.
Because as Mary Kole pointed out– kids read up. A book’s audience will often be a couple of years younger than the protagonist (or decades older in my own case).
I keep thinking about Harry Potter standing on platform 9 ½ at the end of the last book, all grown up. Like HP, kids grow up.
But thankfully like HP, there is the next generation standing on the platform ready for the world, or the next great book.
So keep pushing and writing great books!
What magical books do you push? If you write for kids, do think about the reluctant reader?
* * *
In other news, thanks to Sheri Swift for this award:
And Diane Stoy for this one:
The rules for these awards include listing random things about me, which I did here.
And if you’re looking for some great blogs, here are a few I came across this week:
Plus more great blogs here.
Have a great week!