I spent last week visiting family in southern Oregon. As I've shared many times, the little town I grew up in was the inspiration for my River Valley books. Each time I'm there, I'm reminded of the way the mountains and rivers are etched into my soul, like tattoos no one can see. One dip into the clear waters of the Illinois River and I'm transported and healed of all that ails me.
In my books I write about the healing power of the river water. Each of my characters is lost when they arrive in River Valley. Through community, love, and the power of that healing water, they transform into the people they're meant to be. I can't help but think that in the writing of these books, I became the person I was supposed to be. Before Riversong, I was lost...living a life meant for someone else. Now, I'm right where I belong.
I'm excited to send Riverstorm out to the world. As with all my characters, I'm in love with Lizzie and Grant. I hope you'll enjoy their journey to the life they were meant to live.
When I close my eyes at night, my characters swim next to me in the clear river water of my imagination. We just keep swimming. I know you do.
Father's Day, like many holidays for blended families, is complicated in our house. The girls, armed with a blackberry pie and homemade art projects, left this morning to spend the day with their biological father. Cliff and I will spend the evening with the boys making dinner (hamburgers and tater-tots) and celebrating the man that gave them life and has been there for each milestone. Being teenage boys, they don't express how they feel about him, but it's obvious how much they love and respect him when you see them interact.
But what about the girls? What about the stepfather role? I won't mince words. It's rough. He does the heavy lifting, providing for us and offering shelter from every storm with his strength and steadfast heart. It's a thankless role. Preteen and teenage girls are mostly self-centered, concerned with friends and clothes and school. They’re messy and expensive and moody. If they realize all he does, they certainly don't express it.
When we took our vows last summer, we included our children, promising to do our very best to love and support them. It's one thing to fall in love and pledge loyalty and forever love to one another. But taking on one another’s children is daunting. It takes courage and grit and a huge amount of faith. Not a day goes by that I don't thank God for Cliff's willingness to take the leap of faith and join me on this wild ride. Three blonds for the price of one.
Cliff makes it look easy. However, I know the truth. We're bewildering, yet he holds his tongue. I can only imagine what he thinks on a daily basis. Why is she crying again? How could one girl need that many shoes? Making cookies, but it's nine p.m. Another show on CW?
So, Happy Father’s Day to the man who never complains and sacrifices without expecting retribution. Happy Father’s Day to the man who puts up with messy bathrooms and buys dresses for dances and sets up blind tastes tests to determine the best ice cream.
It's a thankless job. I know.
That said, despite their current behavior, my girls have good characters. Someday they will think back on these years and realize all their ‘stepfather’ did to raise them into the women they are. I suspect it will be when they have children of their own. Although no one wants their parents to divorce, including mine, it is an indisputable fact that they now have twice the parents loving them. No one ever suffered from too much love.
To all the fathers and stepfathers out there – thanks for showing up, for being there even when we’re acting awful, for being our fierce protectors. Thank you for the sacrifices and decisions you make when only God is watching. The mettle of a man is measured in the gentle moments of fatherhood: sitting in the bleachers at every game, the patient assistance with math homework, listening to the hundredth knock-knock joke, playing catch, learning how to braid hair, watching another cooking show instead of soccer. And, in the case of my own father, the inevitable question, “Did you check the oil before you left?”
"I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness--it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude." Brene Brown
You know that feeling when you've been away for the weekend with friends who feed your soul with their authenticity and vulnerability, and you feel seen and heard and connected? And you return home and see with fresh eyes the abundance of your life? You knew it before, but somehow it is more poignant, sweeter, richer. You see with new clarity how the routines of your life are beautiful in their simplicity.
This morning it was the way Emerson's hair covered her entire face when I went in to wake her. She held her little stuffed cat held tightly in her arms. When I brushed her hair from her face and told her it was time to get up, she smiled and looked up at me with those eyes that could melt the hardest heart.
My scrambled eggs turned out just the right amount of fluffy.
As Cliff and I were talking through a few details of the day, I stepped backward and almost tripped over Thor—one of our five cats. I stumbled and flailed my arms Lucille Ball-style, which knocked my water bottle onto the floor, scaring Thor. He darted across the room like a coyote was after him. We laughed. Hard. In that way we do about the cats, which is ridiculous because they’re not that funny and the kids make fun of us, but we don't care. It’s just us. Us. Partners, friends, smitten spouses—with our inside jokes and stackable memories and this work of parenting and running a house and tackling big jobs and being so in love we feel eighteen again. Crazy cat people. Us.
Later, at the gym, I rocked out at Zumba like nobody was watching and the music coursed through my muscles and heart. My life has room for dancing and exercising. My body can still bust a move. It may not be pretty, but it makes me feel alive and vibrant. Even sexy. A little sexy.
Now, at my desk. The birds chirp outside my office window. Mittens sits on her pillow purring her broken purr. I will soon open the latest manuscript and do work I love.
All these simple moments that add up to a contented life.
And I’m grateful.
It's been six years since "Riversong" launched in April of 2011. My personal and professional life have been a lesson of highs and lows ever since. I'm in such a happy place now in my personal life, married to a great man and building a life with our four kids and five cats, one day at a time.
I've grown tremendously as a writer, and although I’m not where I want to be, we're steadily building a loyal readership. Beyond sales and sales rankings, I never forget the most important aspect of my work is that I continue to improve, growing that much closer to mastering the craft of storytelling. Creating compelling work that I can be proud of will always be my priority.
I'm excited to finally have "Riversnow" out in the world. I've ruminated on this book for years. Literally, years. When I finally sat down to write it, the story came easily. Well, easily, if you count the three years I tossed it around in my mind. It's a story close to my heart and one that seems important to tell, especially given the news of late. Men in high positions use their power and money to get away with harassing and assaulting women. As much as we wish it were not so, it is. In "Riversnow" I'm able to seek vengeance for not only my character, Gennie, but for all the real women who have suffered at the hands of cruel and deceptive men.
I've known several women who have endured the same horrific sexual assault as my character, Gennie. They were on my heart as the story unfolded, whispering in my ear - do this one for us. I did.
Thank you to all my loyal readers and friends. Your support, encouragement and love have meant so much over the years. As exciting as it was six years ago to launch my first book - an experience unlike any other - it is with a sense of calm and contentment that I release my tenth. I'm vain, you know, so I haven't particularly savored aging. However, as an artist, the years bring assurance that my craft improves, my soul deepens, my mind expands. Hard work is its own reward. This I know for sure.
Today I start the first draft of the fifth River Valley book. I’m very excited to tell the love story of Liz Teeny and Grant Perry. The only problem is…I need a name. To help me decide, I’m running a contest. Submit your idea, and if your name is chosen, I will name a character after you or someone you love. The only rule is it has to connect to River, like the other four books in the series: Riversong, Riverbend, Riverstar and Riversnow.
The premise is that Liz and Grant, who were together in their early twenties, but broke up when Grant behaved badly, are forced to spend time together when their work brings them to River Valley. Liz pretty much hates him for breaking her heart, yet she’s never been able to get over him. Grant has always loved her and regrets his mistakes, but knows she will never forgive him. In the ten years since they broke up, they’ve both become successful attorneys. Liz has never married and rarely dates, burying herself in her work. Grant’s recently divorced from “the meanest woman alive” and is hoping to lick his wounds in River Valley. That is, until he runs into Liz.
Send your submissions to: email@example.com, or in the comment section here on my blog. May the best name win!
Over the years, writer friends and acquaintances have asked if I would consider doing a series of blog posts on writing. Until recently, I hesitated to do so, mostly because there are so many great writer blogs out there already. I wasn’t sure one more would be of interest to anyone. That said, I’ve decided that even if no one reads them, they would be both educational and cathartic to my own process. So here goes. Episode one in my #ButtInSeat series.
Getting That First Draft Back
My stomach hurts and my heart pounds harder just thinking about receiving notes back from my editor on a first draft of a novel, wondering how bad it will be. Every day I open my email, secretly hoping that I won’t get the notes back today. Maybe tomorrow. Or next week. Yeah, next week is good.
Today was the day. I received story edit notes from my editor for Riversnow. Like in the past, the notes were pages long. Yes, pages. For a story edit, a good editor usually identifies a few big problems and a bunch of tiny ones, all fixable, but daunting just the same. As always, this morning, I felt panicky. The awful self-talk started. Can I do this? I can’t, in fact. I’ve finally been discovered to be the fake that I always knew I was. These notes prove it. I broke out in a cold sweat and paced my office. I contemplated taking a nap, or eating cookies, or opening wine.
Instead of any of those choices, I took a deep breath. I read through the notes one more time. I printed a copy and set it next to my keyboard. I made a cup of apple spice tea. I sat back at my desk. I sighed, deeply. I got to work.
There was, quite literally, no other choice. To write well, we must tackle that second draft.
Despite the hives and panic attacks, there’s good news. As I sat down today and started in on the first chapter, the ideas flowed out of me like my brain was on super smart overdrive. My fingers flew over the keys. After an hour of solid work, I remembered something I seem to forget every single time. The second draft, after notes, is my favorite part in the process. For me, that’s when the deepening of story, character and language happens. I began to feel like a real writer, not a hack, like I do so often. Which, as a side note, is not necessarily a bad thing. Any writer worth their salt feels like a hack most of the time. It’s what pushes us to be better, to work harder and longer.
There’s something terribly fun and satisfying about getting feedback and figuring out how to solve the problems the editor has illuminated. It’s a bit like a puzzle. The first draft is like you have two-thirds of a puzzle completed, but you’re missing the pieces to complete the other third. You’re even certain what shape they will be or where they will go. When you get that first draft back, it’s as if the editor dumps those missing pieces in your lap, and suddenly it’s obvious what their shape is and where the pieces go. You find other pieces that even the editor didn’t find and you feel brilliant and amazing.
What I’ve found over the years and ten novels, is that most good editors work similarly. I’ve been lucky to work with exceptional freelance editors in the past, and my new one is no exception. In fact, she’s ridiculously good. She’s spot on with her story and character feedback, and is a grammar aficionado, so precise it’s mind-blowing. She once told me she would give me a million dollars if I would consider not using a phrase because of conflicting data on whether a hyphen was needed or not. I made the change, and I’m still waiting for my million dollars. But I digress…
I cannot emphasize enough how important a good editor is to a writer. This relationship is as important as finding the right spouse. I’m dead serious about this! An editor is your writer spouse. They know your strengths and weaknesses. They have intimate knowledge of the inner workings of your heart and soul. They believe in your talent, but also push you hard. Sometimes it hurts, but at the end of the day, it makes you a better writer, and that’s what we want.
I’m #ButtInSeat for the next few days, but drop me a line if you have a question or a comment, or just to wish me luck with this second draft. Writer hugs until then.