Posted in Blog

Be not afraid…

I am currently in the middle of writing a scene that is hard to write. In this, Maddie (from The Road to Hope) is enduring the wrathful abuse of someone she loves and trusts. And as I write, I am recalling moments when I experienced the same thing.

It’s been 12 years since he laid his hands on me, and a bit less since he intimidated me. Still, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever he calls me (which isn’t often). I feel overly nervous, as if he can reach through the phone and continue what was unfinished over a decade ago.

This is what abuse does. You never fully heal. In the years I was with him, I learned to not look people in the eye, to not tell too much about myself, and to not let people get too close to me. I learned to let fear rule, because it was better to be ready than to be caught off guard. I was told the most horrible things – that my family would be killed if I left him, that I would never amount to anything without him, that I wasn’t to be trusted. He accused me of cheating on him so much that I had to watch my every move to ensure that it wouldn’t appear I was stepping out of line. There were times I questioned if I actually was sinning against him, as I was accused of so much.

We’re “good” now. When we talk, we’re respectful to each other. Our only connection is the kids, and we leave it at that. The kids are at an age where we don’t even need to speak at all anymore. It’s better this way. Still, the few times we do talk, we keep it simple and pleasant. It’s almost as if nothing ever happened.

Except, it did.

When my son was a baby (he’s 15 now), my ex and I got into a huge fight. It was in front of his brother, which seemed to make it worse. He didn’t lay hands on me this time, but he did call me horrible names and threaten me. I couldn’t believe we had a witness there, and he was doing this in front of him. I finally had enough, and I grabbed my infant son and took off.

I didn’t know where I was going, but I just needed to be gone. I ended up driving out to the ocean. As I drove, I cried out to God, wondering if he was even there. How could he just stand by and let someone treat me this way? What was the point in this?

“Are you even there?” I screamed at Him. In all my life, I’ve never doubted God was there. But in this moment, I was starting to think that maybe God really wasn’t there. In my head, I told God that if he was there, show me something red. That was it. No sooner had I thought it, I made a hairpin turn on the coastline. On my right was a cliff with hundreds of white flowers. And right in the center was ONE RED FLOWER.

I can’t even explain it, but I knew this was from God. I have never seen a red flower in that spot since, and I’ve driven past it several dozen times since. But in that moment, I needed to know that God was there. It was a desperate need. I needed to know that all this meant something, and I was getting out of this okay.

Since that day, so much has happened. I got pregnant again, and we lost the baby at 32 weeks. I lived through poverty. I suffered more abuse. I left him. I learned how to be alone. I cried. I felt alone. I experienced a depression so deep, I wished I could die every day.

And, I survived. In all this, I KNEW God was with me. I learned that he had reasons I couldn’t understand. I just had to be patient.

Today, I am married to a man who shows me real love every day. I have a good job that affords me things I once thought of as luxuries out of my reach. I live in a town where I feel at home. I have sincere friendships. I am close to my parents. My kids are the best things that have ever happened to me. I’m safe. I’m loved.

Fear is still a big part of my life, though. Because of the abuse, my life is forever changed. I still have a hard time looking people in the eye. I still let fear rule. I still keep people at arm’s length for far too long, or worry about what others think of me.

But the one think I’ve learned in all of this – I’m not alone.

In writing Maddie’s story, I’m sharing pieces of my own as well. One day I may have the courage to write a memoir. For now, Maddie is sharing some of the pain I endured – the pan that many women have endured – and the courage it takes to get away from the abuse.

This year, I’m determined for a change.

I spent the beginning of this year in a fast. During that time, I spent it talking with God and just hearing what he had planned for me. In that time, I heard him tell me to trust him more and to stop worrying so much. This is the simple answer to what I heard, and I might go more in depth on this at a later date.

Today, I tattooed this promise on my arm with my favorite verse in the bible, Joshua 1:9.

tattoo

This promise is a reminder whenever I feel timid or meek, or just too afraid or discouraged to keep going. It’s a reminder that I’m not alone when I believe I’m in a dark moment. It’s a reminder to have faith and keep going. It’s a reminder that I’m not actually in danger, that God is working the miracle, and my job is to just keep moving forward.

Also, I really, really, really love this new tattoo. 🙂

Posted in Blog, Life as I know it

How to change the world in 2017

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Kīlauea Lighthouse in Kauai, which we visited in October.

2016 was a hard year, and like many, I felt rocked by everything that happened in the news, politics, violence across the nation and world, and the loss of so many icons. In 2017, my prayer is that we will stop being so divided.

If we look at the world as a whole, things feel pretty bleak. But when we look closer at our community, at the small things being done – the volunteers, the random acts of kindness, those bringing people up – it’s suddenly clear we live in a beautiful world, and it becomes apparent that the change starts with us.

So choose to use kind words, listen more than speaking, aim to understand a differing view instead of trying to change it, respect everyone you come across, see how you can help when necessary, do more for others than you do for yourself, pray/meditate often, put down social media as much as possible, enjoy nature, read every day, call your parents/grandparents often, learn about that thing your kids are so interested in, stop doing those tasks that make you unnecessarily busy, practice saying yes, practice saying no, practice good health, forgive yourself, spread love, and change the world.

I love you all. ❤️

Posted in Blog, News & Events, The Road to Hope

Meet me and other Sonoma County authors with the Redwood Writers Fiction program

In the New Year, resolve to read more! Redwood Writers and Copperfield’s Books is making it easy to get the inside scoop on the books of Sonoma County authors through their Redwood Writers Fiction program. Each month, read a new novel by a Sonoma County author, and then attend a Q&A program with the author at Copperfield’s Books in Montgomery Village. This is your chance to learn why each author wrote certain things, what inspired them, learn about their writing process, and anything else you ever wanted to know. How fun would it be to read a novel, and then chat with the person who wrote it?

I will be the featured author on April 25th, 2017 with my novel, The Road to Hope. Learn more about where you can purchase The Road to Hope by clicking HERE.

To learn more about this program, visit redwoodwriters.org.

I hope to see you on April 25th at Copperfield’s Books, and at each of the other books events, as well. Happy reading!

rw-fiction-book-club

Posted in Blog, Writing

Pregnant with a story

For the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling a little with this next book I’m writing in the Road to Hope series. As you recall, I wrote the second book during November (for NaNoWriMo), and realized there was so much more to the story I was telling. I ended the second book with a brilliant idea for the third, and I couldn’t wait to get started to write.

Once Dec. 1 came, I eagerly sat down to start writing the third book. In my mind, the beginning and the ending of the story were incredibly clear. The middle was a bit fuzzy, but the themes I wanted to convey were there. All I had to do was write them out and the rest would figure itself out.

Um, wrong.

The first part of the story, the part that was clear, I had no issue writing at all. I got it all down, re-read it a few times, and was pleased with how it turned out. I moved into the next part of the story, ready to keep going. Only thing is, I didn’t know where I was going. Correction. I knew the destination, but I didn’t know how I was getting there.

Here is where fear began to creep in. I’ve done this before. There have been times when I’ve been struck by a book idea that’s so strong it takes my breath away. I’ll feel this tug at my soul until I sit down and start writing it out. But when I do sit down, the story just falls apart. While the theme of the story is calling out to me, the pieces of the story are hidden in places I can’t find. I’ll end up losing momentum, and the novel inside me will just evaporate into thin air.

I did not want this to happen with this story! And yet, a week passed and I hadn’t written a word. Then the second week passed. I tried to be gentle with myself. I just finished writing the first novel! It’s okay to take a small break before diving in again. However, I was also panicked that this next novel, the one with themes I HAVE to write, would evaporate with the rest of them, and I’d be left with only part of the story told.

Here’s the thing about writing a novel—you can’t bank a whole book on just an idea. You have to have a plan. I knew I needed to sit down with this story idea and figure out where it was going. And so I did. And when I did, it became clear that I was not just stalling because the story was hard, I was stalling because the themes I was introducing are an uncomfortable part of me. This next book is diving into some truths I’m telling through fiction. This is scary to me! I’m excited to write these parts and get them outside of me. But I’m also terrified of writing these because it means I’ll have to revisit a few horrible moments from my personal past to get them down. This book will be as revealing as it can be without making it a memoir.

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This little blue journal holds my whole story’s world in it!

The past few days I’ve worked out the storyline. In this, the journey my characters are on have become etched in my mind. I can now see their journey in a three-dimensional way. The characters are real, with real faces and personalities. Where they are is a real place. The bones of the story are there, now my job is to give it flesh.

In the meantime, the story and all its characters are consuming me. This is my favorite part of being a novelist. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, the story is exploding inside of me. I can see it as I’m driving to work, when I’m hanging out with friend, and before I go to sleep at night. When I wake up, the characters are right there with me, ready for me to tell my story.

I heard Marianne Williamson recently describe this feeling as being pregnant with a book. You guys, I’m at that cute baby belly stage of book pregnancy. I can feel it kicking, and I have so many plans for it.

Winter break just started with school (one last final on Tuesday). I have 30 days until I start my next class. It’s the perfect time to start and finish the third installment of the Road to Hope series. I can’t even describe how elated I am about writing this story.

Stay tuned!

Posted in Blog, Life as I know it

Gray hair, birthdays, and growing older with grace

happy-birthday-to-me9This week, I celebrated another year around the sun. For those of you who have been reading along for a while, you may recall how much I struggle with birthdays every year. It started on the day I turned 31, and my reaction to that day took me by surprise. Before I turned 31, I welcomed every birthday. I had no problem getting older. Even when I left my twenties to turn the big 3-0, I didn’t have an issue. But for some reason, turning 31 was a bigger deal. Part of it may have been because I was no officially IN my thirties, and not just 30. But I think the bigger issue was that I chose to celebrate my birthday in Disneyland. There I was on my 31st birthday, surrounded by all these young, adorable 20-something kids and I was just some washed up hag who was hiding wrinkles with makeup and gray hair with dye.

Ever since that year, I would dread each birthday as it came closer, and couldn’t get over the fact that I was aging.

For so many years, I took pride in being the younger person in the crowd. Having had my kids young, I’m often the youngest parent in the room at every school function. At my work, I was one of the youngest people in the newsroom. At my kids’ camp, I’ve been the youngest chaperone. And because my husband is 14 years older than I am, I’ve always been the youngest when we hang out with other couples. I placed a lot of pride on my youth. So when the tides started to turn, things began to get uncomfortable. As my kids got older, I stopped feeling like the young and fresh mom, and started feeling old and out of touch. My work started hiring all these young and brilliant millennials who are way quicker at learning new technology and social media skills. Younger chaperones signed on at camp, and have way more energy than my old body can handle. And so on.

Aging just became uncomfortable, because I had placed so much of my worth on my youth.

This year was different. I turned 39 on Dec. 7, and I didn’t have my annual freak out in the days leading up to my birthday. I think it’s because I’ve embraced the process of growing older. This is mostly apparent in the fact that I stopped dying my hair over a year ago. I am now sporting a brilliant streak of white in my hair.

crissigray2The decision to stop dying my hair was huge. I found my very first gray hair at 19 years old, the same week I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. I do believe the two go hand in hand. When plucking these pesky grays became too big of a job, I resorted to coloring my hair. At first, I went with all-natural dyes to ensure I wouldn’t harm my hair. But soon, I was grabbing any chemicals I could get my hands on to ensure my youth would be preserved.

Last year, I’d had enough. I knew I had a section of my hair that was all white, and it was apparent whenever I was between colorings. I realized that I didn’t want to be one of those “old ladies” who continued hiding their true color even when the jig was up. I wanted to go gray while my face still held some of its youthfulness. So last year, I decided to see what would happen if I just stopped dying it.

At first, the process was awkward. It looked silly. I wanted to hide my head in a scarf until I no longer had three-toned hair. But gradually, I began to look at my hair differently. The white section created this new and interesting feature to my hair. I’d play it up with different hairstyles, and starting receiving comments on how cool it looked. But most important, I actually stopped caring (for the most part) about how anyone saw it at all because I liked it. I thought it was beautiful.

Because my hair is long, it will be a while before the gray is completely grown out. I have about 5 inches of white, followed by another 7 or so inches of dye. But my hair has never worked as well as it does now. It feels better, it isn’t weighed down by dye, and it’s fun to play with.

crissigray1My hair is only one aspect that’s allowed me grace in growing older. My perspective, in general, has changed. Each year, I learn something new about myself and the world I live in. I learn what I can tolerate, and what I need to stop wasting so much energy on. I’ve learned to depend less on what other people think of me, and depend more on how I view myself. I’m learning to focus my attention more on my accomplishments and to stop putting so much weight on all I still have to do (this is a work in process, but I’m getting better).

Here are a few cool things that I’ve made happen this year:

  • I published two books I’m incredibly proud to have written: Reclaim Your Creative Soul and Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan
  • I enrolled in college and am finally taking the necessary steps in taking control of my career path
  • I wrote another book, even while taking college courses, by implementing the skills I preach in Reclaim Your Creative Soul
  • My husband and I went on a gorgeous Hawaii vacation that we paid for out of pocket

***

I’ve also lost my fear of being older. I still place importance on my age, but it’s in a different way. I’m now proud of being one of the older people in the room. In my college classes, the younger students turn to me to help them understand what the teacher is saying. I’m one of the more experienced people at work. I can relate with the crowd I hang out with. And at camp, I let the young and fun chaperones burn themselves out while I rest my tired bones.

I have grace about growing older. Each new year means new opportunities. Each gray hair serves as a badge of my experiences and time on this earth. Each wrinkle is proof that I’ve spent a lot of time smiling and laughing. Each birthday is a celebration that I’m still here, and I still get time to fulfill my goals.

Growing older is not a curse. It’s a blessing. And I’m 39 years blessed, and still going.

Posted in Blog, Life as I know it, Writing

The one where I reveal too much about my failure as an author

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I started writing the 3rd novel in my Hope series (still haven’t decided on a name, so this is what I’m going to call it for now) on Dec. 1. I came into the month with a clear idea on what I wanted to happen to Maddie, and what I wanted wrapped up by the time I reached the conclusion. But all the in between stuff, like the layout of each chapter and the steps it would take to get from the beginning to end, I left that to figure out later. I was just too eager to get started on writing, and I didn’t want to lose my train of thought to create the beginning.

And so I started writing. I created my epic beginning, and it was everything I envisioned it would be. Then I came to the next chapter, and I wrote the rest of what I knew about the setup of this novel. Now I’m on Day 3 of writing, and I’ve managed to do anything but write. I’m easily distracted, and I’ve found so many things to do during this writing time, the only time I have today to work on my novel.

The reason I can’t write is because I don’t have a plan. I know where I am, and I know where I’m going. But I don’t know the in-between parts on how I want to get there.

It occurred to me today that this is exactly what’s going on with my author business. This can’t be the first time I’ve realized this, can it? I’m sure I’ve realized this before. However, this epiphany struck me today, and I suddenly feel stupid.

I’m about to be more honest than I should be in this blog, so bear with me.

Four years ago, I was polishing the manuscript that would become my very first published novel. I had this huge vision for the future, my success as an author at the very core. I was smart enough to know that my first novel wouldn’t make me millions. I’d probably only sell a few hundred copies or so. I’d heard that the third novel was the magic number, and I was banking on that one getting me out of my full-time job and onto a glittery path of being a literary celebrity. I was humble in this dream. I wouldn’t quite be J.K. Rowling. But maybe I could be as big as Liz Gilbert or Anne Lamott, or in the biggest of hopes, the next Ernest Hemingway.

That first book sold well in the first month. Of course, I had to lower my standards to see that it sold well. Amazed by my achievement of writing a book, many of my friends bought and read this novel. A portion of these friends even left reviews, prompted by my regular requests to help populate the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Over the next few months, I gave copies away and gained a few more reviews. To help speed along my plan toward success, I published two other books from writing I’d done over the years. The first was a memoir of essays on single parenting, and the second was a book on poetry.

Now I had three books! I waited for the money to start rolling in.

As you probably have guessed, my book #3 was not the magic number. I failed to recognize that you need three books to draw in the same group of people who were attracted to the first book. By publishing a fiction book, and then a parenting memoir, and finally a poetry book, I was speaking to three different crowds. I was all over the map.

And so I wrote the sequel to my first book. The first one, A Symphony of Cicadas, told of a mother who died, and her journey through the afterlife. The second book, Forever Thirteen, told about her son, a 13-year-old boy who died in the same accident. I love both of these stories. However, they should never have been written together.

Here’s why.

The first book was full of swear words and a few sex scenes. It was appropriate for the story, and I feel that stripping those parts out would take away from the story. However, the second book was written about a 13-year-old protagonist, and was definitely geared toward young adult. So, I have one book that is aimed at adults, and its companion book aimed at young teens. If these young teens want to learn about the other half of the story, they must read through a bunch of swear words and sex scenes, and grown-up situations that probably won’t even interest them.

Do you see the problem here? Because it took me a while to get it.

My third fiction book, The Road to Hope, was the literary fiction story I always wanted to write, the one where I got to write the truth in fiction. With this one, I suddenly saw a small spike in interest through sales and borrows.

My fourth fiction book, Come Here, Cupcake, bombed (note: I should not be admitting this). It’s supposed to be the start of a magical realism series, but I still haven’t brought myself to write the rest of the books because that one took so much out of me.

My fifth fiction book, Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan, is my favorite book I’ve ever written…and it still hasn’t been noticed. I still have hope that it will pick up, because I truly feel it’s a story almost anyone could enjoy. But perhaps I’m just biased because I’m such a Peter Pan fan.

In between releasing those two books was my non-fiction book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, my answer to anyone who wondered how to fit creativity into their lives when they also held a job, raised a family, or felt like they were just too busy to do anything they were passionate about. This one had the best of intentions, and a lot of vital information I’ve learned over the years. And yet, I have not been pro-active at all in getting it into the hands of people who need to read it. It’s like I thought I could just release it, and the magic would happen on its own.

That’s eight books in all over the span of four years. Eight books, and I am still working full-time at a highly stressful job, and now going to school so that I might be able to figure out what I want to do with my life that might make me happy because writing novels is not paying the bills.

I’ve spent a lot of energy lamenting my failure as an author. Again, I shouldn’t even write this. No successful author ever admits this. They write about how much they love their fans, and cool things about their book, and post photos of how awesome they are as people because they’re writing books and killing it. Me, I’m spewing my disappointment on these pages because I have 10 or less people who read this blog every day, and it’s way too long and self-loathing for anyone’s attention span.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars on covers, editing, advertising, and everything else it takes to create a book and present it to the world. I’ve spent so much time listening to podcasts, reading articles, and trying to absorb every piece of information I can gather to bring my author business to the next level. I’ve lost sleep in favor of writing, created and posted cool images for social media marketing, sent out newsletters to my mailing list, and tried to build my platform in hopes that I could grow the audience that reads any of my books.

And my sales have flat-lined. Even The Road to Hope, the one I used to see activity on every day, has been forgotten.

I realize now that I’ve spent a lot of energy on all the wrong things. Of my eight books, I have a two-book series that takes place in the afterlife—one that’s geared toward adults, and one toward young adults. I have one literary fiction book. I have a magical realism book. I have a young adult fan-fiction book. I have a parenting memoir. I have a non-fiction guide for creators. I have a poetry book.

I have eight books aimed at eight different audiences. There’s nothing for each audience to come back for, as I keep speaking to a new audience and forgetting the old. Readers can’t figure out what to expect from me, because I haven’t been clear on what I write.

And this is why I’ve failed.

Here’s the truth. I love writing literary fiction. I also love writing magical realism and young adult. I know I can write all of these. I also know people love reading across the genres. However, I need to stick to one at a time, and really build that genre up. Right now, my focus is on The Road to Hope and building that story out into a series. I have an exciting idea for it that will create a series of at least five books, and I hope it generates the same enthusiasm I feel about it.

Back to that plan for the book I’m writing now. To make this book a success, I need to pause and really think about what steps need to happen to get from beginning to end. It takes more than a good idea to write a novel. I need to plot out the story so that I don’t lose my focus as I write.

As well, I need a plan for my author business. I keep wishing for success. I keep getting distracted by all the millions of things I should be doing to gather attention toward my books. I keep begging my family and friends for support, but I don’t know how to reach beyond the people I know and hold on to them as readers. I keep lamenting the fact that I’m still a full-time employee, and my books are costing me more than I make from them. I keep wallowing in depression that things aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to happen, and then wasting my time on things that don’t work…or worse, doing nothing at all because I’m so overwhelmed by too much information, lack of energy, and the weight of failure that remains on my shoulders.

I realize now that, just like my lack of focus in writing to an audience, I’ve also developed a lack of focus when it comes to growing my business. I’ve thrown a lot of things at the wall in hopes that they’ll stick. Goodreads giveaways. Facebook advertising. Promoted Instagram posts. Paid mailing lists. Promoting to friends and family. An occasional call-out to join my mailing list. A weekly newsletter that’s opened by only 20% of the people I send it to. It’s all well and good, but there’s no focus.

So yes, I need a plan. I don’t know what that is, but I do know it needs to be more than just a few sporadic actions with no backbone. On the writing side, my focused plan is to stick to a series, and then build from there. For growing my platform, I still need to figure that out. I’m tired of writing my soul, and then releasing it into oblivion. I’m not just writing for me. Writing is my way of communication. I wish to change people through my stories, to give a new perspective, and to offer inspiration though my characters’ journeys. But that won’t happen if no one is reading my books.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I know this is just a lot of word vomit on the page. This post is way too long. I shouldn’t even publish this. But I will for several reasons. First, if there are other authors who come across this and are frustrated by the process, I hope to offer my own warning about how lack of focus can kill your business. Second, if I ever do become successful, I want to have something I can look back to so I can remember how hard this was. I want clear evidence of the time when I was ready to throw in the towel so I can be grateful for where I’m at. Third, if I’m ever successful, I want there to be clear evidence to other authors just starting out that it’s not unique to feel lost in this crazy world of novel writing.

If you’re in the same camp as I am—wanting something so bad, feeling like it’s just out of reach, and ready to make a change to get to the next level—please let me know in the comments. I need support today, and I want to connect with others who need the same support. I want to hear from you so that I know I’m not alone. Let’s be miserable together, and then let’s cheer each other on as we move forward in building our businesses.

Posted in Blog, Writing

10 gift ideas for book lovers (plus, some exciting news!)

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What I look like when I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning to write. Zzzz…

After 30 days of writing furiously during National Novel Writing Month, I’ve done it. I’ve finished the rough draft of my next novel! Rough, of course, is the operative word. Unlike last year’s novel that just sort of flowed onto the page, this year’s novel has a few rough edges I plan to smooth out in the editing process. But that’s the beauty of writing a rough draft. It’s not about making something beautiful. It’s about creating the bones of a story, and then chipping away at it until the magnificence of the story is revealed.

One thing became clear as I neared the end of writing of this first draft: this story cannot be told in one book. Around day 25, I realized that there was a bigger issue my characters hadn’t realized, and it needed to be addressed. So when I wrote my last word to the first novel on Nov. 29, I took the next day off to plot my course. Then, on Dec. 1, I began writing the sequel.

This means there is some exciting developments for those of you who are fans of The Road to Hope (or are gearing up to read this novel). There will be not one, but TWO books to look forward to reading in the next year that continues Maddie’s story! I plan to release the books close together to ensure there’s no long wait between stories. My goal is to publish by summer of 2017, but really, there’s no set date yet. As soon as I have a date locked in, I will let you know.

In other news, with Christmas coming around, I encourage all of you to put a few books under the tree. Here are 10 gift ideas for book lovers:

Happy start to the holiday season! And happy reading!
loving