First Draft Podcast with Sarah Enni

First DraftLast summer, I was lucky enough to be visited here in Nashville by Sarah Enni, and to talk with her about the writing life, my life, and a little bit about depression.

If you’re a writer who’s interested in the lives of writers, or if one of your favorite authors is lucky enough to be interviewed, this podcast is for you. Sarah is so kind and thoughtful that talking to her and listening to her is a pleasure.

Here’s a link to my podcast on her tumblr, but you can also find it at First Draft with Sarah Enni on iTunes!

 

 

I Finally Hate Snow

I shared a little bit about my Super!Exciting!Winter! so far over at Storybird, and I wanted to repost it here. Don’t get excited. It’s not that kind of excited. Now excited doesn’t look like a real word anymore.

And if you haven’t checked out the middle grade fantasy I’m serializing at Storybird, please do, and let me know what you think. It’s quite a departure for me, but I’m having a lot of fun!

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FROM MY STORYBIRD AUTHOR JOURNAL:

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2015 was to post a Storybird chapter once a week. That resolution went out the window this February.

Nashville was hit with a terrible winter storm (like most everywhere else in the Eastern United States). My kids were home for eleven days, and we were all SO relieved when it started melting (it’s called Cabin Fever, but it should be Cabin Plague, the kind of plague that produces zombies, I’m just saying).

One morning last week, we woke up to water POURING from both our upstairs and downstairs ceilings, and soaking through our walls. We had an ice dam on our roof. No one down here had ever heard of such a thing, but we know all about them now. Sadly.

A construction company had to rip out ceilings and walls in four main rooms. They brought in huge electric fans and dehumidifiers, and my office was boarded up, as it was one of the worst affected. I was finally able to get back into it today, and I’ll get back on track in March.

I HATE disappointing people. This situation was out of my control, but I still want to apologize for not keeping my promise. Sometimes, things happen that set us off track. Snowstorms, illnesses, life in general, and all we can do when that happens is come back strong and keep trying. Has anything like this ever happened to you? Tell me about it in the comments.

I love fall and winter, but I sure do hope spring comes soon. Remind me of that when it’s 90 degrees outside and I’m sweaty and grumpy, okay?

Thank you readers and friends. You matter to me!

 

 

 

Pantaphobia: That’s It!

Last year I was given the wonderful opportunity to meet and have lunch with one of my literary heroes, Robin LaFevers. She’s full of wisdom and magical stories, and our time together lived up to all my expectations. If you haven’t read her books, do that. ASSASSIN NUNS. ASSASSIN NUNS. Don’t make me say it again.

I was honored when she asked me to guest post for Writer Unboxed while she was on tour. I adore Writer Unboxed, and if you are in the business, you should be reading this site daily. I wanted to repost it here!

 

 

Pantaphobia: THAT’S IT!

PantaphobiaI was diagnosed with major clinical depression last January. Big time med changes, counseling, the whole churro. With the help of family and friends, including Stephanie Perkins (who held me accountable for daily tasks like eating, showering, and teeth brushing), the extreme low only lasted for a couple of months.

But even the regular low is a real pain in the butt.

I spent a lot of time attempting to escape my pit of despair. I sat in front of my computer, trying to turn words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs. I tried, and tried, and tried, but never made it to scenes or chapters. There were distractions – we moved, our kids changed schools, and then summer break rolled around. Summer break at our house is like a three-month Coachella Festival. My focus is solely on crowd control and keeping everyone alive. Next year I’m ordering myself a t-shirt that says “SECURITY” in hot pink, sequined letters. I’ve not ruled out a low voltage tazer, but there are some … legality issues I need to look into.

When I wasn’t serving as the family bouncer, I decorated, painted, gardened, and crafted, until there was nothing left to decorate, paint, garden, or craft. (Y’all, I Mod Podged so many things my cats got nervous. I think they thought they were next.) Finally, once school started, I could breathe. I had quiet time to be still and get honest with myself. I evaluated life, and what I wanted from it. I didn’t know if I could write for publication anymore.

I had multiple conversations with my husband – who understands chasing dreams, as he’s a former minor league baseball player. “Should I get a part time job? Finish my Master’s? Keep the house really clean and serve a home-cooked meal every night? Go to the gym regularly?” (THE GYM. REGULARLY.)

Thankfully, my husband is wise. “You won’t be happy,” he said. “That’s not you or your life.” The man turned down home-cooked meals, and I’m a mighty fine cook, so he was not. messing. around. He gave me the courage I needed to keep questioning myself.

I talked to dear writer friends, who assured me they’d still love me if I weren’t “one of them.” That made me feel safe, but sad. I loved being “one of them.”

I didn’t seek out online affirmation, so every note or tweet I got from a reader was a boon, a bolster, a blessing. They all reminded me of how it felt to emotionally touch a reader. That’s why I started writing in the first place.

Then, last October, I was invited to attend a retreat in Gatlinburg with over 35 writers, largely 2014 debuts. Natalie Parker, organizer extraordinaire, wanted a couple of seasoned authors to help her facilitate small groups. Natalie, the frighteningly brilliant Tessa Gratton, and I asked our groups a different question every night. It was like summer camp (but with beverages!).

On the way, driving through the mountains where my current project is set, I wondered if I’d made the right decision to participate. What if I opened my mouth and discovered I had nothing to offer? How could I be authentic and keep things light and encouraging?

Could I hide my fear?

I’ve been afraid for a really long time. Afraid to fail, to succeed, to give my current project everything I have. Afraid of disappointing everyone and anyone – my family, my agent, readers. Myself. I’ve been working on this novel for five years. I’ve kept it close to my chest, because when I tell people about it, they either demand to read it immediately, or they scan the area for orderlies (because I am obviously a lunatic on the run).

Before my depression and fear kicked in, I didn’t care what anyone thought. Because I love, love, love this story, no matter how different or strange it is. I recently had a conversation with Maggie Stiefvater. (If you haven’t read The Raven Cycle series, you should treat yourself.) She has a work ethic like few I’ve seen, and a diabolically delicious mind. My project shared an element with The Raven Cycle, and I’d recently decided to remove the element, so I brought her a book I’d purchased for research. After I gave it to her, I attempted to explain my story. As per usual, I talked really fast and made a lot of wild hand gestures, and finally ended with, “It’s just really weird.”

And Maggie said, “Great! I never want to write anything that’s not weird again.”

BINGO.

Two and a half years ago, I read a post on Writer Unboxed by Robin LaFevers, subtitled: Abandon All Despair, Ye Who Enter Here. I do not overstate when I say that the post was life-changing for me. She’d had a respectable career, and then she’d taken a risk, and created a mind-blowing series that she called “an idiosyncratic collection of parts that could only be found in [her] own mental junk drawer.”

The His Fair Assassin series pushes all my buttons. It’s unlike anything I’d ever read, and it gives me hope. Robin says: “ In order to take our writing to the next level we must embrace our strange, unique, and often embarrassing selves and write about the things that really matter to us. We need to be willing to peel our own layers back until we reach that tender, raw, voiceless place—the place where our crunchiest stories come from. We need to get some skin in the game.”

Writers spend our days at our desks.  Our life is the sum total of those days. I want my life to count, and that means there’s no room for fear.

So I sat down with my story again. It includes all the things I love or am somehow connected to – Appalachian history, multiple cultures, equality, mental illness, addiction, suicide – and my heart beat fast again. I know that all the lessons I’ve learned over the past five years were necessary. Back then wasn’t the right time for my crunchy, weird, book to be born. Life had things it needed to teach me.

About depression. Shame. Insecurity. Fear.

My response had been to isolate myself to try to deal with my shortcomings. I’d tried to fake normal, with MYSELF, when what was required was authenticity.

In Gatlinburg, I listened to newly published writers talk about the same challenges I’d faced. They had questions, and I had truthful, honest answers – or at least examples – because they were talking about a road I’ve been walking on for a long time. The truth was as clear as a really good metaphor.

I might be afraid every day I sit down with my manuscript, every time I open the document. But I’m not alone.

And for this, I am supremely grateful.

MTLGTM: TP Roll Snowflake

MyTrueLoveGaveToMe_animated_PS[4]Hello, friends! That hiatus was a bit longer than I expected, but New York was an 24 hour round-trip, and after my adrenaline levels dropped, so did I! I had SO much fun, and did some research at the Met to boot. It was lovely to meet all the other MTLGTM authors, the American and UK editors and staff, and every single reader! A very cool aspect of the trip was seeing bloggers I’ve known since they were teens who are now working in the publishing industry. There’s a LOT to be said for being professional from the get go, no matter how young you are.

You can read more about the event here on Publisher’s Weekly. My True Love Gave to Me has been a healing, joyful experience from the beginning, and I count every blessing it’s brought me. Twice.

Yes, I made a Christmas ornament out of a toilet paper roll. I suppose if you find TP rolls offensive, you can opt for paper towels. Now for the HOW TO!

1. Gather Mod Podge, cardboard rolls, and book pages (or wrapping/scrapbook paper).

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2. Apply Mod Podge (or your own homemade glue mixture) to cardboard rolls, and then wrap pages around them. If you want to make yourself crazy, try to line up the edges. This reminds me of Vaughn in my MTLGTM story, trying to roll paper towels up exactly to avoid Gracie’s questions.

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3. Cut the rolls into equal sections. Mine are approximately 1″. The plain cardboard on the inside would look sweet with burlap or jute ornaments, but I fancied mine up by spray painting them gold. Glue and glitter on the inside would be cute, too.

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4. Glue gun! Attach the circles at the center point, and hold them together to shape the snowflake (or flower, whatever). I also put a tiny dot of glue on the opposite sides to make them a little pointy. Like snowflakes.

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5. Okay, this is totally a snowflower. I even put glitter in the center! A stamen! *sings REPRODUCTION song from Grease II*

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6. I decided to attempt the glitter version, since the kids weren’t home! I think I like it better! (Because I admitted it’s a flower.)

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That’s it! If you haven’t looked up TP art online, do it. There are some beautiful sculptures out there!

Hope your holidays are happy ones!

My True Love Gave to Me: HIATUS

There will be no craft today, because I am in NEW YORK CITY! I hope to see you at Barnes and Noble in Tribeca at 4:00PM, or at the author signing/reception at McNally Jackson at 7:00PM! More info here on Stephanie Perkins’ Tumblr!

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MTLGTM: Snow Family

Another entry in the MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME Holiday Craft Extravaganza! Today, I share one of my favorite projects. It’s not original, but it is special.

HOW TO MAKE A SNOWMAN FAMILY ORNAMENT!

1. Acquire volunteers. Listen to volunteers complain about how many pictures you’re taking.

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2. Paint volunteer’s fingers with acrylic paint. If your ornament has a large circumference, you might want to paint the whole finger. Also, may I suggest you do this project close to a sink?

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3. Have volunteers hold ornament so that their fingers imprint close to the center. (Note: The thing on the floor is a dog toy, not a wayward piece of lettuce.)

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4. Allow fingerprints to dry. Threaten freedom of volunteers if THEY SO MUCH AS LOOK at those ornaments before they dry.

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5. Embellish! I used paint pens and permanent markers.

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I plan to put a coat of white glitter on the bottom, but for now, I like the way they look resting on the mercury glass candle holders. Again, I’d love to see your pictures if you make any of these!

MTLGTM: Snowflake Wreath

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Welcome to another MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME Holiday Craft Extravaganza! Today, we’re learning HOW TO MAKE A GLITTER SNOWFLAKE WREATH!

1. Start by tracing two circles on heavy cardboard or foam core. The outside circle measures 8″, and the inside is 4 1/2″. .

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2. After cutting out the ring, give it a light coat of spray paint in a similar (or contrasting – this is your party) color to your snowflakes. SO. MANY. COLOR. CHOICES.

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3. Once the ring is dry, grab a low temp glue gun and your snowflakes!

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4. I used approximately thirty 3 1/2″plastic glitter snowflakes. Attach the first level, eyeball it, and guesstimate. Or do The Maths. (I don’t do The Maths.)

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5. Glue those snowflakes on like a champ. Go to town, just like Santa, baby.

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6. You can add dimension by placing a layer on the back. This is also a good time to attach a hanger. I used ice blue gift wrap ribbon.

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And, now the finished product, hanging over the toilet in the guest bathroom! I know I said the decorations were for my office, but very room deserves a bit of holiday jewelry, don’tcha think?

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I’d love to see pictures if you make a snowflake wreath! I’ll post them here!

My True Love Gave to Me: Snowflakes and Chaos

CoverLast January, my husband decided we should sell our house.

I laughed, in an unhinged, hysterical way, especially when I realized he wasn’t lying. I called him a wingnut, an ingrate, and possibly some other things, and then ate a whole box of Chicken in a Biskit crackers. I’d been handed a depression diagnosis the week before. The WEEK before. I wanted to spend the spring resting, trying to heal, Netflx-binging, and building Sims 3 houses so I could light them on fire (it’s not as bad as it sounds).

BUT … the SOLD sign stood proudly on our curb in less than two weeks.

I steered my “MAKE ALL THE THINGS” desires toward decorating our new place. I find great pleasure in upcycling and repurposing items, so I spent/spend a lot of time at thrift stores. And on Pinterest. Where I have an alias. When I start on a design/craft/painting project, I have a basic idea of the materials I’m going to use, but I’m completely open to wherever my whims might take me. I save EVERYTHING, and I love “happy accidents.” If I screw it up, I can fix it, make it something else, or use it as firewood. No one ever has to know.

Last June, I wanted to do some large art pieces, so I did my usual creative warm up exercises — brainstorming, engineering, measuring, discarding, and asking “what if” (out loud) one hundred times. My OCD husband became a little  … twitchy. I looked around at the detritus of canvas, wood, paint, brushes, paper, cardboard, and sandpaper, and I had a revelation.

I create best in chaos. No matter the medium, I create BEST in CHAOS.

What is more chaotic than a first draft?

I’m making MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME creations to decorate my office. In case you want to make your own, I’ll be posting tutorials here! And let me tell you, there is crap EVERYWHERE, and it is fabulous. I keep losing the scissors and the masking tape and the wired burlap ribbon and the tape measure and it couldn’t be more edifying.

Sometimes you need to step outside your own art form, shake up your comfort and confidence levels, and purposefully make your odds of coming close to perfection low. Rediscover how to remain firmly grounded in the joy of simply TRYING.

Speaking of trying …

 

HOW TO MAKE A SNOWFLAKE GLOBE ORNAMENT

 1. Find a book. I used family member’s books from the 1960’s that have sentimental value, but smell like tobacco smoke.

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2. Use a die cut stamp of your choosing. I picked a snowflake to die cut book pages and shimmery golden card stock.

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3. I have a husband, two boys, two cats, and a puppy, so I chose plastic globe ornaments for durability. Somebody’s getting cracked over the head with one of these suckers before school’s out.

 

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4. Glitter. We don’t DO glitter in this house (as my story references, it is the herpes of the craft world). I really wanted to give these an extra dose of sparkle, so I dropped half a teaspoon of glitter into one half of the ball, sprayed a very light glue adhesive on the die cuts, put the snowflakes in the ornament and closed it. Then I SHOOK IT.

 

 

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I tied the tops together with gold ribbon, curled it, and hung the ornaments on the tree with golden hooks!

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TAH DAH!

 

 

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I’m going to try some silver paper and glitter later this week.

Coming soon … prodigious use of a glue gun!

My True Love Gave to Me

So … hey there! It’s been … um … seven months? I’ve never had a very good concept of time, but this is ridiculous. Lots of things have happened since then, which I will post about soon!

However, today is the release of MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME: Twelve Holiday Stories!

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(The real cover doesn’t do this. Unless maybe you’ve had too much egg nog.)

First Page

My story!

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The Macmillan UK edition! Look at those pink edges!

Last November, I participated in Y’all Fest in Charleston, South Carolina (which is an amazing yearly event and everyone should go). By Sunday morning, the festival shenanigans were over, so Stephanie Perkins and I went to a place called “Toast” for breakfast. We ordered Creme Brûlée lattes, and discussed our love of Hallmark holiday movies, among other things. Before our cups were empty, Steph had an idea.

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Lattes of Inspiration at Toast

A really (REALLY) short time later, she and her kick butt agent sold that idea, and MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME: Twelve Holiday Stories was born! And I got to contribute! I was excited, so excited!

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I mean, REALLY excited.

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But when I saw the list of the other contributors, excited shifted toward overwhelmed. My confidence went … well … let Uncle Eddie demonstrate:

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But I persevered, with a lot of help! Here’s the thing about Stephanie Perkins. What you see is what you get. The kindness? Genuine. The authenticity? Authentic. Her belief that you can do it (yes, you too!)? She’s not foolin’ around. She’s an amazing encourager and a brilliant editor. Through her feedback and edits, and then through Sara Goodman’s at Saint Martin’s Press, I was able to write a story of which I am proud, and not just because it’s titled “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus.”

It’s a mashup of THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGENT EVER by Barbara Robinson (where Gracie got her last name), and the Dixie Stampede, which I changed to the Rebel Yell (my apologies to Dolly Parton). I drew on the five years I worked in children’s ministry to write it (the glitter observation is a direct quote), and it has one swear. Okay, more than one swear. (I totally emailed my pastor and told him.)

MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME received a star from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and the School Library Journal. That in itself is a Christmas miracle!

Grab a copy, snuggle up under a cozy blanket with your favorite hot beverage, and enjoy. May you find the stories inside as magical as this:

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The Shame of Depression

I’ve had this post in my draft folder for like … two months. I kept waiting to bounce back, for the wry, sardonic Myra who could talk/write about depression to show up. If anyone knows where she is, please send her home.

I wrote a post a year ago giving tips on how to avoid the spiral. That post became a source of shame for me. Even as I wrote it, I was still spinning. Isolating myself, forgetting the definition of balance, dodging my accountability partners. I still don’t have any emotional energy to spare. Conversation is hard. Reading is hard. Watching TV is hard. Y’all, I have FOUR episodes of The Originals on my DVR. If Joseph Morgan/Klaus the Sociopath can’t lift your spirits, there are ISSUES.

Being a wife and a mom and a friend are darn near impossible. So are things like answering emails and tying shoes. Some days, I worry I’ve lost my desire to tell stories. Boy, howdy, does that hurt to type. But one of the main symptoms of depression is losing interest in the things you love, and this gives me hope.

I’d decided to keep quiet about the whole thing, and then someone asked me at a signing (which required Xanax to navigate) why I hadn’t been online lately. My bottom lip did that uncontrollable wobble, and my top lip stuck to my teeth, and I said, “Depression.” I didn’t go into specifics, but later I had at least five people thank me for being honest. It meant the world. 

(Incidentally, “Sure, let’s have lunch – my psychiatrist thinks I should get out more!” is not a thing you really want to say to a casual friend at a book event.) 

I can pinpoint triggers, but knowing what kicked this bout off and knowing how to stop the fallout are two completely different things. Plus, there’s this tricky little witch called brain chemistry. Then there’s doubt, and comparison, and self-hate. There’s this thought: “A million different writers have posted about this, why should I add to the canon?” And this one, too: “No one really cares.” 

Most creatives I know examine depression. We take out our spirits, take note of all the scars and dings, and question how they got there. We wonder if karma is real, who we’ve wronged and how, what normal looks like, if anyone has accomplished it, and why we weren’t born with THOSE genes.

I’m glad (?) to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder. It’s a relief to know I’m not just hopped up on angst. It’s a harsh truth that a clinical diagnosis doesn’t help us deal with those who brush depression aside. Someone actually said to me, “It’s not like depression kills you.” It’s claimed more than one of my family members. It’s taken lives of people in the writing community. The lesson we should remember most but always forget is simple. “Everybody is dealing with something.” Choose to be kind.

Sadly, a diagnosis isn’t always enough for the people you’ve hurt while you work out your heart junk. There are casualties. You don’t always get the chance to explain what’s up with your life, and even if you do, the truth can sound like an excuse. You want people to understand, but you don’t wish depression on them, so you become endlessly grateful for the people who get it.

That’s why I finally wrote this post. I got a DM from a friend on Sunday with the words “She gets it” and a link to Libba Bray’s unbelievably beautiful depression post. (Find it here.) I called another friend to share it, and she was already writing Libba a note.

There’s a web that connects those who deal with depression, a tenuous thread that runs under every human interaction. Libba’s words: “I see writing as an act of resistance against an occupying enemy who means to kill me. It’s why I’m writing this now. Silence = Death …”

So this is my resistance. Not to claim a victory, because I’m coming to understand I will always fight depression, but to acknowledge that there are many, many people wielding weapons beside me. We might not know each other, and for different reasons, we might not be able to speak out, but we can stand together on the same side of the battlefield.

Shame = 0.

Community = 1.