Losing a friend, gaining a life

I vaguely remember this game my friends and I used to play where we’d somehow figure out our pretend age when we’d die and the way it would happen. It was never anything boring like dying in your sleep or surrounded by family. It was more like, being eaten by sharks or by a tribe of cannibals, or something else that was equally wild and outlandish. It was totally morbid, and without any thought to what it would actually mean to die in such an unexpected way.

I was reminded of this game today when I heard of the death of one of my classmates. An avid climber, Brad had just finished climbing Cathedral Peak in Yosemite when he popped the question to his longtime girlfriend, who said yes. He told her it was the happiest day of his life. He then continued on alone to climb a nearby ridge. A few hours later, other climbers saw him fall from the rocks.

I didn’t know Brad well. But I knew him from years of sharing the same classes. And all I could think of was, he was only 36. He had his whole life ahead of him. He was preparing to marry the girl he loved. There was so much left for him to do. But with one misstep, it was over.

But those of us who lost touch with him were offered a glimpse into the life this 36-year-old man lived through the newspaper article that was written about him today. And it became apparent just how incredible his life already has been. Brad was a yoga instructor, a world traveler, a surfer, a climber… From what I can tell, Brad lived life to the fullest. And while there are things he’ll miss out on, and many more who will miss him, he is probably on the other side, looking at a life well-lived with no regrets.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about how to live a life without regrets, and what that looks like. When it’s my turn, will I be able to look back and say that I’ve lived life to the fullest? I think we all can think of things we can trim from our lives that are getting in the way of our soul’s true potential. Are we telling the people we cherish that we love them, we’re thinking of them, we miss them? Are we spending time with them? And how about our dreams – are we doing something every day to move toward them? Are we taking time out of our day to enjoy the little things?

Or are we stuck in the day-to-day grind, busying our time with things that are only quenching our spirit?

Life is fragile. This is what’s been weighing on me ever since I heard about Brad’s death today. Life is fragile, and it can be over in a moment. But it’s also full of so much potential. Each of us have an opportunity to make a difference, experience amazing things, smile more than frown, help each other up, expand our souls, touch those around us, and make our mark on this earth. Every one of us.

I think that’s what Brad did. And I know, in a way all my own, that’s what I want to do, too.


How Trader Joe’s helped me write my latest novel

Trader Joe's to Send Part-Timers to Obama Health Exchanges

About three years ago, I was in grocery shopping in a Trader Joe’s when an accident unfolded in the middle of the store. A woman was pushing her toddler in the cart, and he was sitting in the wrong part. The cart pitched forward, and the toddler fell on the ground and became hysterical. The woman dropped everything and came to him, scooping him up and rocking him right there in the middle of the produce.

I couldn’t help but absorb what she was going through – the fear that her child was hurt, the guilt that he hadn’t been sitting properly, the embarrassment of being at the center of attention, the feelings of being judged or ridiculed for her parenting skills…

And so opens the beginning of my very next book.

That year (2011), it was that very scene that planted the stage for my NaNoWriMo novel. I played a “What if” game in my mind.

What if this woman came home, and had to face her husband about the mysterious lump on his forehead?

What if the effect of the fall had terrible consequences for the kid?

What would happen to the family after that?

I began the story this way, addressing these “What ifs” with the story of Jill, a woman who loses her son after he hits his head on the slick linoleum of the grocery store. But as I wrote fast (remember, it’s NaNoWriMo – 50K words in 30 days!), another “What if” happened.

What if, as the woman ventures out in the world following the tragedy, something bad happens again?

Enter Maddie, a 16-year-old girl who is pregnant, homeless, and needs a little cash to survive. She finds this by trying to steal Jill’s wallet, setting off a whole new direction of dilemmas and consequences that unfold in a dual story of both mothers’ lives.

I finished that book at just over 50,000 words, and then set it aside to edit later. “Later” turned into years, though the story has haunted me for just as long. So a few months ago, I set aside all my other writing projects (including a book I was in the middle of writing) and picked this book back up to polish and prepare for publication.

To give this still-to-be-named book a fresh start, I retyped the whole thing. As I typed, I added in a few parts, took out a lot more parts, and did my best to make the story a little more 3-dimensional. The process gave me about 20,000 more words to the manuscript (though really it’s more, since I took out a ton of stuff!). And yesterday, I was able to wrap a bow on the rough draft of the book, typing out the words THE END.

Those are some beautiful words, right?

Now comes the fun part – editing. Yeah, I kind of already edited as I went along. But it felt more like writing than editing. So for the next few weeks I’ll be going through it chapter by chapter, smoothing out the edges and preparing it for all of you.

And eventually I’ll even have a book title to share! (<—-Why is that always harder than writing the book itself???)

For now, here’s the rough synopsis of the book you can look forward to reading by the end of this year:

Two mothers. Two different roads in life. Two unimaginable events. This is Jill and Maddie’s story about how life’s twists and turns had an impact on their identity, their future, and the lives they unexpectedly touch in between.

Hair woes, “instant” success, and living in Generation NOW

I’ve been having hair indecisiveness lately. It all started last November, as I faced my 36th birthday (you know, the one that makes you in your LATE thirties instead of your EARLY thirties), when I decided I wanted to cut off ALL my hair. I wanted my hair to look like Jennifer Lawrence, even though I don’t make clumsy look cute, and I’m not in my twenties with a styling team behind me. I didn’t care. I wanted to sport the pixie, and knew I would look young and chic and sassy.

My hairdresser, however, was a little freaked out by this request. I’ve had loooong hair pretty much all my life, so going from that to a pixie was a bit of a jump. So she talked me into an a-line haircut. She trimmed the back all the way up to my neck, and the front sloped down to my shoulders. It was super cute, and I totally loved it.

When it started to get long again, I went back in to get the same cut. I expected the same bit of sass to come out of her scissors. What I ended up with, however, was a MOM cut. I looked older than my age. I didn’t even want to look my age, let alone older! After going home and doing my best to style it, I realized that this was NOT the cut I had originally gotten. And it just wasn’t working. I called my hairdresser the next day, and she promised to fix it when she had an opening at the end of the week.

Of course, a funny thing happened by the time Friday came. My hair looked fine. But I was not going to be the one to say it. I let her trim things up and work her magic, and I came away with a great haircut that looked even better after a few days had passed.

Three days ago, I went back in for a haircut. This time, I cheated on my hairdresser with a cheaper salon. And I told the lady I wanted it short, short, short. But I didn’t want it to do the weird flippy thing it was doing. She talked me into longer layers to go with the short do, and had her way with my hair.

Now, dang it, I am not a person who speaks up in disappointment. If I did, it would be interrupted by my lame tears, because I pretty much cry whenever I feel strongly about something. So when I looked in the mirror and saw RAMONA QUIMBY looking back at me, I wanted to wither and die. I wanted to leave the salon with a bag over my head. I wanted to do everything in my power to make myself invisible. Instead, I smiled at the lady, thanked her, and gave her a 20% tip. Because that’s the ridiculous person I am.

My husband could see the disappointment in my eyes. Worse, he could see the haircut. Worsest, I could see that HE didn’t like it.

“It’s cute,” he lied, and then he avoided looking at me all night long. I’m not making this up. For two days, he avoided eye contact with me.

Then a few funny things happened. First, my hair relaxed into the haircut. Second, I began playing around with it, learning the ways that it looked best. Third, it started to look cute. I mean, really cute.

“Wow, your hair,” my husband said to me yesterday. I had clipped it back in small french braids so that it hung in the back but away from my face. And I felt pretty adorable. Then today, I received several compliments about the scrunched look I gave my hair.

“How did you get your hair to do that?” my coworker asked me. And I could tell that in the moment she was actually jealous of my hair – the same hair that I wanted to hide under a bag only days before.

There’s a lesson in this, and it has to do with instant gratification, as well as high expectations.

Just like with my hair, I expected extremely great things for my first book, A Symphony of Cicadas. Not that it would make me look young and sassy, but that people would read it and be changed forever. Back in March of 2013, I published that book, hearing the warnings that no first-time author hits it big on the very first try. I heard it, but I didn’t listen. The first few months, the sales trickled in. And by trickling in, I mean I was selling only 1-6 copies most days.

Oh, how naive I was to believe that was BAD, that ANY number of sales could be bad.

After the newness of the book wore off, the sales tapered down as well. I published my poetry book and a book of parenting essays to try to grab the attention of the crowd again. But nothing was happening.

Then this last March, I published Forever Thirteen, the follow-up novel to A Symphony of Cicadas. This time, I put a marketing plan in place. It wasn’t a huge plan, but it was something. And I fully expected the numbers to roll on in. And they did…just a little bit smaller than I expected.

We live in a culture of right here, right now. On Facebook, we post photos and then feel disappointed when someone doesn’t comment on them right away. We email our coworkers and then walk over to their desk to ask if they go it (not me, this drives me crazy!). We send out a Tweet, and if it doesn’t get retweeted, we tweet it again. We go on a diet, then give up when we don’t lose weight within the first two days. We can’t live in the moment, but have to take photos of it and share it across various forms of social media. We even laugh at the graduates who think they deserve a high paying job right off the bat, but then we do the same thing by expecting instant success with our first attempt at greatness.

I expected to be discovered as an author, for my book to be picked up as a movie, for me to be moving into my mansion and deciding how to spend my JK Rowling fortune. Sixteen months into this, I am still working my day job, fighting to find time to write my novel, and spending more money on everything it takes to publish it then I’ll see from sales.

Thing is, I make peace with this constantly. I mean, I grapple with low sales and the yearning to be discovered. But I also hold on to the fact that I am doing it – I’m doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing. I’m writing books. Can’t that be enough? At least for now?

Last night, the trailer for If I Stay came on. My husband hadn’t heard of it before, and I watched the look of shock cross his face as he watched it. The premise was on the same plane as A Symphony of Cicadas. Except my book isn’t some soon-to-be blockbuster hit.

“That should be your book,” he said. Yeah, but it’s not. And I have work to do if I want it to get there. And it’s not going to happen overnight. But if I keep doing what I’m doing, and striving to move forward, my books could be on your TV screen as a movie trailer, too.

P.S. If I Stay was written in 2009. That means it took 5 years for it to hit the big screen and become a “runaway success.” Just an FYI. :-)

P.P.S. A pixie cut is still not out of the question. :-D


YA paranormal ‘Forever Thirteen’ is only 99 cents!

Sorry for my absence here. I’ve been living in my writing cave lately, pounding out my latest novel that’s shaping up quite nicely (if I do say so myself!). Some things have been placed on the back burner, and this blog, unfortunately, is one of them. But I promise you all a more worthy blog post, and eventually (eek!) some sneak peeks into my work in progress.

However, I do have a little bit of news now. My newest novel, Forever Thirteen, is available for only 99 cents for Kindle readers! A discount on this book is rare, so it’s kind of a big deal. If you’re interested, go check it out now. After this week, it goes back up to $3.99.

Book link: http://amzn.to/1o6hMwL

That’s all for now. Hope you’re having a fabulous week!


5 books with dead main characters – and an #IAD giveaway!

international authors day banner

Happy International Authors’ Day! To celebrate, I am taking part in a special blog hop tour with many other authors, and will be hosting a giveaway, which you can read about at the end of this blog post. If you’d like to read other authors’ blogs and win some cool stuff, be sure to check out the International Authors’ Day Facebook page, or check #IAD on Facebook and Twitter to see who else is taking part.

For my blog, I thought I’d talk about some of my favorite books that are told from the point of view of someone who has died, mainly because the narrators of my books A Symphony of Cicadas and Forever Thirteen are on the other side of life. Some of these I have read, and some I hope to read. But I’m also hoping to get a few suggestions for other books with ghostly narrators or main characters from you. See details at the end of this post.

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold1. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
This is one of my absolute favorite books of all time. The movie? Not so much. But the book! Author Alice Sebold writes in such a way, it’s like the words are singing. It’s like they have this life all their own, and each one is lovingly placed in such strange and wonderful ways. She writes passages like this:
“Now I am in the place I call this wide wide Heaven because it includes all my simplest desires but also the most humble and grand. The word my grandfather uses is comfort.
So there are cakes and pillows and colors galore, but underneath this more obvious patchwork quilt are places like a quiet room where you can go and hold someone’s hand and not have to say anything. Give no story. Make no claim. Where you can live at the edge of your skin for as long as you wish. This wide wide Heaven is about flathead nails and the soft down of new leaves, wide roller coaster rides and escaped marbles that fall then hang then take you somewhere you could never have imagined in your small-heaven dreams.”
I could live in this book. Truly.

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver2. Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
I just recently read this book when a reader suggested it to me after reading A Symphony of Cicadas. It’s about a popular girl named Samantha who dies in a car accident, but must live that one day over and over again, each time learning something new. It’s been compared as a Mean Girls meets Groundhogs Day kind of story, and I could totally see why. Samantha starts out in this clique of girls who are at the top of the school, and learns things about herself and her friends that begin to not sit well with her. It’s definitely a page turner.

Books I haven’t read, but have on my to-be-read list


Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
My daughter read this book a year or so ago, and can’t say enough good things about it. It’s about a girl who commits suicide. Then friends, enemies, and teachers each receive one of 13 tapes she recorded beforehand that explain why she did it, and how they contributed to her decision. For my daughter, the main impact of the story was seeing how the narrator viewed this girl’s death, and how he grew as he learned more about her decision.



If I Stay, by Gayle Forman4. If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
I don’t know much about this, except that it sounds a little like Before I Fall. It’s about a girl who gets into a car accident, and is faced with some hard choices that will decide her fate. A definite must on my TBR list.





The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak5. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
I didn’t know this, but the book is narrated by Death himself. It already looked interesting enough to me, but that just added a whole other layer of intrigue.






Forever ThirteenWhat other books are there? Leave a comment by the end of Friday, July 18th, telling your favorite book with a dead narrator or main character – either one of these or a different one that you love – and you could win a free signed copy of my book, Forever Thirteen.

Join me at Author Launch!

I hope all of you are enjoying your summer so far! It feels like the months are just slipping by, and it’s hard to believe it’s already July!

Today I am on my way to the summer camp my kids and I go to every single year. But before I leave, I wanted to update you on a few things that might be of interest to you.

Forever ThirteenFirst, I am one of 20 authors that will be featured at the Redwood Writers annual Author Launch. This will take place at their July meeting on Sunday, July 13th at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, beginning at 2 p.m. Usually, guest admission to these meetings are $8. But because this is a special celebration, all guests are free! I invite you to come check us out, not only to hear an excerpt of my latest novel, Forever Thirteen, but to hear what other writers are up to on the North Coast. I am not exaggerating when I say I am surrounded by some incredibly talented writers!

I also have some novel writing news.

The first part of this news is that I am putting book #3 of the Forever After series to rest…at least for now. I was originally planning on writing a prequel to A Symphony of Cicadas and Forever Thirteen. However, it just wasn’t flowing the way I want it to. I took that as a sign that it was time to work on something new.

That brings me to my second half of that news. I am resurrecting an old manuscript I wrote years ago, rewriting the whole thing so that it’s polished and shiny, and so that it will stop haunting me! I am super excited about this novel, and have been literally waiting literally years to finish it. It’s a literary fiction story about two mothers – one in her 30s, the other in her teens – who experience two very different tragedies, offering them a split second connection that changes their paths forever.

And that’s all the teaser you get for now. ;-)

Other than that, I’ve been a busy gal. My latest projects include coordinating the above-mentioned summer camp, being the newsletter editor for the Redwood Writers (and now also their social media maven), and writing a new novel. Phew! But in between that, I have also been quite the bookworm myself! The latest books I’ve enjoyed are the cult favorites, The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent, as well as Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (I highly recommend!). I’ve also been soaking up anything by Colleen Hoover (she writes YA romance), and loved the book Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. You can see all the books I’ve read at my Goodreads profile. And if you follow me, I’ll follow you back! I’m always looking for a few other bookworms to share favorite reads with.

What are you reading?

Happy summer, and happy reading to all of you!

10 things about me as a writer

I just completed an author interview over at Smashwords, and thought I’d share the whole thing over here. :-)

What do your fans mean to you?
My fans mean everything to me! Writing can be such a lonely craft, and there are times when I am so frustrated with the story or the characters, and I wonder if it’s even worth writing anymore. Then a fan will send me an encouraging word, like telling me how much one of my stories meant to them, and I remember why I’m doing this – to make a difference, and to share a glimpse of hope in human experiences. Without fans, I’d still have reason to write. But it would hold so much less meaning than it does with people who love my stories and want more of them.

What are you working on next?
Right now I’m working on the third and final installment of my Forever After series – the prequel to A Symphony of Cicadas and Forever Thirteen. Admittedly, I’m totally struggling with this one, as I have to be very careful how the story unfolds since all the events happen before stories already told. Following that, I have a rough draft of a story I wrote years ago and set aside, and I’m itching to dive into it and make it a book!

Who are your favorite authors?
I love Anne Lamott. I love her blatant honesty in her memoirs, and how she uses her personal experiences in her fiction. She’s such a bare bones writer, and a truly wonderful woman. I also love a slightly unknown author named Tim Farrington, who as far as I can tell, has stopped writing books unfortunately. He wrote The Monk Downstairs, and is so delicate in his descriptions, I just want to live in his stories. And I love Elizabeth Gilbert and Alice Sebold, both of whom wrote life changing books I have read over and over again. And my first love in novelists would be Ernest Hemingway, who stole my heart with the book Old Man and the Sea, and watered my writing plant so that all I wanted to be was an author.

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Would it be too cliche to say writing? There are so many other facets of my life, mostly my family. But the reason I am an early riser is because my laptop and the growing story on it is calling to me. That, and coffee.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I’m a mom and stepmom to three awesome kids, and married to the most wonderful man. My family is my everything. We have a crazy dog who I just recently found out is an Australian Kelpie mix, but is mainly a mutt. I love taking him for walks, particularly in the evening when the frogs in our neighborhood creek are singing their loudest. I work at a newspaper where I used to write a column that told all of my family’s stories, particularly the stories of my youngest son who is kind of an adorable troublemaker (see Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows). That gig ended, though, and I mostly just help maintain the websites, though I still occasionally share my writing on the online newspaper. I am part of our region’s writing group called Redwood Writers, and I am their newsletter editor and social media maven. And I am heavily involved with a summer camp, and am one of the people who help plan and coordinate it. All this on top of writing a novel. You could say I enjoy being busy. :-)

How do you discover the eBooks you read?
Often, it’s from recommendations from my friends. I think that’s the biggest way most books are shared. Someone will be buzzing about this great book they’ve read, and their interest entices interest from others. And then it spreads like wildfire. It’s my hope that one day I can present a book to readers that they can’t stop talking about.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first story I ever wrote was about a princess in her castle. That’s all I remember. I was in first grade, and it probably sucked. But my teacher was so awesome about it, praising me on the way I read it with emotion.

What is your writing process?
I start with an idea, and jot it down on an outline. And then when I start writing, I end up straying big time from that outline. But I still believe it’s a good idea to start with a plan, even if that plan changes. It gives me roots to go from, but when it changes, it means the characters are writing the story and not me.

What are your five favorite books, and why?
My first is The Lovely Bones, and the book I referred to often as I wrote my book, A Symphony of Cicadas. I love it because I love Alice Sebold’s way with description and ethereal storytelling.
Next is Peter Pan. I love the symbolism in it about not wanting to grow up, how youth is fighting age, and Wendy’s choice. It represents all of our struggle with leaving childhood.
Then there’s Eat Pray Love. I feel like that’s such a cliche book to love, but I totally jumped on the bandwagon. It was published at a time when I was struggling within the early years of my own divorce and the confusion of the dating world, and taught me that I could find love and acceptance within my own life…or maybe Bali (thankfully, my husband ended up being a lot closer than that!)
Next is Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott. Every single word she writes is like gospel being sung to me.
And then there’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, which takes a confusing storyline and tells it in such a brilliant way that you can totally keep up. I’m not even sure how the author did it. Serious skill.
There are a zillion more books I love, too, maybe even some I love more than these. But for this moment, these are my top 5.

What inspired your latest book?
It actually started with the first book in the series, which stemmed from a vivid dream I had. I was having one of those wedding nightmares a few months before my actual wedding. In the dream, I died. But the dream didn’t end. Instead, I hung around as I watched my fiance grieve for me, and then move on. And instead of being all angry, I moved into a feeling of peace, wanting him to be happy even though I wasn’t there with him. I was so moved by this dream I woke up crying. And then I outlined the whole novel and wrote it for NaNoWriMo, and published it a few months after it was written. The rest is history! Now I am telling the story before my main character died, detailing how they fell in love.