Tuesday, September 09, 2014


After a lifetime of wanting a seat at this table, the published author table, I'm now sitting here, humbled and proud, surrounded by insanely talented authors and wondering how I got here. Only I know how I got here. I never gave up the dream. I wrote whenever I could. I forgave myself when I allowed life to get in the way of my writing. And then I used those hard, derailing life moments in my writing when I got back to it. I worked hard, I sacrificed, I shunned distraction (well, mostly). And I tried to keep the stack of hopeful moments and blind faith piled up higher than the heap of self-doubt. But even though I'm here now, finally, and I can go down to the bookstore and see The Art of Adapting on a shelf there, like a real, actual novel (!), sometimes I still wonder if this is all real.

A very bright, intuitive friend looked at me recently and said, "It's like you're worried this might not happen, even though it's already happening." And that sums it up pretty well. Because when you've spent your whole life butting up against self-doubt and the skepticism of others, when you've heard endless unsolicited advice on the "real" jobs you should have, when you've watched other artist friends rise into their well-deserved stratospheres and longed to find your own arc upward, it's hard to let go of all of that. The self-doubt isn't just humility. It's a shield. It's a way of keeping everyone else's opinions outside yourself where they can't hurt you. You can't tell me I can't do it. Because I've already told myself that a thousand times.

But here's the secret. Although I'm a very quiet, calm, grounded, polite person who never makes public scenes or throws things in private tantrums, at my core I'm the most stubborn person I know. (Well, I was, until I had my daughter, but that competition is ongoing and I might still win.)

And that's what it really comes down to. Dreams are fantastic. Hopes are great. Plans are necessary. Surrounding yourself with the kind of people you want to emulate is brilliant. But it won't get you far if you aren't determined to see it through.

You'll encounter a lot of people who don't understand why you want to do whatever it is you want to do. They'll advise you against it. They'll cite examples of all the failures that have ever occurred. They'll open their hands and show you their own fears and try to convince you to carry them as yours. Don't. Instead, use it. When someone tells you you're wasting your time or energy, tuck that away and use it as fuel. I work just a little harder when I'm trying to prove someone else wrong. Maybe that's just me.

But that's not the point. The point is those people with the armloads of fears of your failure, who want you to pick something less risky, less interesting, less passionate? Who seem to want to hold you back and hold you down? They don't want to live in fear any more than you do. They have had a lifetime of doubts piled on them, too. They can't see their way clear of them. They're not asking you to get down in the dirt with them, even if it sounds that way. They're really asking you to lead the way out.

Maybe that's just what I want to believe. But it works for me. Because the alternative is succeeding to spite someone, which taints the success. Or succeeding alone, which is hard. But succeeding and also lighting the way for someone else, that would double the prize.

It's an honor, to have a seat at the big kids' author table, to look around at authors I've long admired. They have been nothing but welcoming. And equally awesome is looking around at the empty seats  at the table, ready and waiting for the next one to dream, persist, work and sacrifice and shun distraction (mostly) until they're ready to join the crowd.

So where is "here" for me? It's an in-between place. I thought once I had a book deal from a major publisher I'd feel some sense of solid ground under me. I'd feel like I'd done something. Seen it through to the end. And now I see that the path goes on forever, for as long as I can stay on my feet and keep moving forward, and there's so much more to write, and new fears to shove aside, and friends to meet, and newcomers to gather along the way. And it's okay to not feel a sense of finally having arrived. To keep asking if it's really okay if I sit at the table. To feel like I still need to keep dreaming, working, sacrificing, as much as ever. Because that is what success actually feels like. It's not the end of a dream. It's the choice, every day, to keep actively living it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Single-Mom Author: A Balancing Act

I’ve been a single mother for three years now. I had to get over the fear of being a single mom before I could settle in and enjoy it. I had the skill set down: my ex-husband traveled extensively for work while we were married, so I was flying solo with my kids much of the time. But after we separated, giving up the notion of a backup partner, even one on a different continent for weeks at a stretch, took some getting used to. After surviving the single mom initiation of late-night ER visits and broken-down cars and financial tight spots on my own, I learned to embrace the role, and now I know that my merry little trio is the best family I could have imagined.

My amazing daughters, aged 7 and 9, are bright and lively girls who keep me busy. They are my nonstop job, my constant companions, and what keeps me going every day no matter what. And best of all, they have been by my side as I finally made that great leap from being an editor who wrote on the side to an author who used to work as an editor: passing through my office to ask for a snack or help with homework as I worked on my novel, celebrating with me when I got my agent (then asking what an agent is/does), and after I got a book deal with a major publisher, we headed to Hawaii together to celebrate. They know that the inspiration for my novel was their amazing Uncle Mike, who they never got a chance to meet, and who had Asperger’s Syndrome. And they know that there are swear words in my novel that they aren’t supposed to repeat out loud.

My girls are avid readers, so they know a thing or two about books. They have opinions on chapter titles, points of view, and character development. They are expert typo finders. When my publisher sent me an abundantly colorful cover mock-up, my 7-year-old took one look at it and said “That looks like a little kid’s book.” My agent and editor agreed, and the blocks of pink, purple, red, and orange were gone from the next version.

Motherhood, single or not, carries its own challenges. It can be all-consuming, never-ending, and cause serious sleep deprivation. The writing life can be isolating and quiet, with hours spent in your own head and before a blank page or screen, waiting for that perfect string of words to come. Combining motherhood and authorhood can be a lot to juggle. For the past year I’ve been learning how to balance the two, and I’m still figuring it out.

There are limitations. I can’t just head to every writer’s conference that interests me. Before even considering it I need to find a sitter who can handle the morning school prep, homework and school project duty, and getting my girls to their gymnastics class and horseback riding lessons. I enviously look at listings for week-long writing retreats and think, someday, after my girls are on their own, I’ll do that for myself. When we were planning the release date for my debut novel, my agent had my publisher push it back from spring to summer, because it was easier on me to schedule events while my girls are out of school.

My debut novel, The Art of Adapting, comes out in 8 weeks. I’m scheduling book signings with my publicist at Simon & Schuster with an eye on the calendar, considering everything from my children’s swim lessons, to their bedtime, to my own conflicts. The juggling never stops. I am constantly pulled in two directions. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Because when the galleys for The Art of Adapting arrived, and my daughters sat down on the floor to flip through the hundreds of pages of my words, when they looked up smiling with understanding that all of that time I had spent in front of my laptop was for this, when they turned to the dedication page and their faces lit up, surprised to see their own names there, I knew I had struck the perfect balance.

I am a proud single mother. And I am honored to call myself an author. And I am grateful to be able to teach my daughters by example that life is what you make it. Challenges will come. Heartache will happen. But in the face of hardship, you must keep dreaming and working and striving and loving. And one day, in the midst of all that struggle, you will have a moment, maybe when you see the wonder in your own child’s eyes, when you realize that you have everything you ever dreamed of. And it’s just the beginning.

This post originally appeared as a featured blog post on She Writes.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day, and Every Day

I hope all of the mothers out there had a lovely Mother's Day, as well as all of you mother-figures, those kind souls not bound by blood who take the time to be a force of love and support to us when we need it. And even when we don't need it. Thank you especially for being there when we don't think we need you but we really do. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by these types. I have a mother, a stepmother, a mother-in-law (despite my divorce, she is amazing and I am keeping her), as well as a variety of women I have collected over the years who are my back-up moms. They are my cheerleaders and my emotional supports and they have helped guide me into the mother I am today. Thank you, every single one of you, for all that you have brought to my life.

My Mother's Day started before 7am with two giggling little girls throwing my bedroom door open and flipping on my light. (Note for next year, ask them to let me sleep in on Mother's Day.) They came in with huge smiles, carrying a bowl of granola and a glass of milk. It was the first time they'd ever brought me breakfast in bed, and they were so proud. They returned a few moments later with homemade school projects: a potholder with my 7-year-old's hand print on it, a watercolor painted card from my 9-year-old. They disappeared and returned with love notes, poems, a cluster of flowers cut from paper cups with pipe cleaner stems. The dog jumped around on the bed, confused about all of the excitement and wanting to be a part of it. The love kept flowing until my bed was covered in notes and gifts and each round of visits came with more hugs and kisses. Eventually they asked, "Should we stop now?" I hugged them, thanked them, told them they'd done plenty and could go play.

After spending a few hours with my daughters, my step-mother came over, graciously giving up a couple hours of her own Mother's Day to watch my girls so I could get some time to myself. I headed out to write, my favorite hobby, my new career, my best escape, and quality "me" time. A nice gentleman there bought me (and about 20 other people) coffee. It had nothing to do with it being Mother's Day, and everything to do with a big-hearted person wanting to add some more positive energy to the world. I sat down to write, feeling loved and happy.

Toward the end of my writing break, I received a message from a woman I'd known for several years, but hadn't kept in touch with beyond the casual Facebook glimpse into each other's lives and occasional run-in at the grocery store. I actually bought my daughter's crib from her seven years ago. She'd seen a post about me publishing my first novel, and had looked through my Facebook page and blog to catch up with the changes in my life, and saw that not only had I launched a new career, but was also now a single mom. In her message she said: "While we don't know each other well, I am inspired by your strength and your grace." She not only brought me to tears, but she instantly added herself to my list of amazing women who take the time to support others. The kind of women we need more of. The kind of woman I aspire to be.

The rest of the day was typical, busy and fun: the girls had horseback riding lessons, we had popsicles in the back yard, dinner on the deck. They even let me take a little nap, and when I got up they hadn't destroyed the house (a miracle), but they were playing aliens, so they'd completely covered their faces in green and gray makeup. Off to the shower they went!

It was a perfect Mother's Day, full of love and cuddles, of moments just for me and time spent with my daughters, of laughter, wonder, some tears of gratitude. The kind of day that reminds me not just what it means to be a mother, but that there's so much in my life beyond motherhood to love and appreciate. I hope all of us, mothers or not, had that kind of day yesterday. I hope we have that kind of day today, tomorrow, and every day. I hope all of you who have taken the time to be a part of my life, big or small, know that I value those connections, and that your kindnesses have not gone unnoticed. Thank you, with all that I have, for simply being you.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Publication Waiting Game

I have five months to go. The publication date for The Art of Adapting is July 29, 2014. Which means that this is the lull before the lifelong dream comes true. I'm not an impatient person by nature, and I'm not in a rush to skip all of this lovely anticipation to get to my release date. Mostly.

I'm enjoying waking each morning and realizing all over again that this is no dream, it's really happening. I'm living in the moment, awash in gratitude and pride and possibility. And yet, it's a strange place to be, waiting for months on end to see how my novel will be received. The ARCs (advanced reader copies) of The Art of Adapting have been printed and are ready to be sent out to authors for blurbs and for reviewers to get a crack at. That alone is enough to cause some jitters. Will they like my characters? Will they feel the heart of the story? Will they find the family dynamics believable? Will they be able to tell I've never set foot on the college campus that I used in several scenes?

It's a good kind of limbo, I keep telling myself. I spend my quiet days working on my next book, caring for my daughters, visiting with friends and family, walking the dog, doing yoga. I have a balance going now that may shift come July, when book promotion kicks into high gear. I don't want to take a moment of this quiet phase for granted. But some days I think the waiting is just as distracting as the flurry of publication will be. That's when it's good to be a mom to young kids. Because as excited as they are that I have a book coming out, they live in the immediate present like no one else. When they are tired or hungry or desperate to show me the dance they've just choreographed, nothing else matters.

We were walking into school the other day, talking about the various jobs that people do, and my youngest daughter said, "Only you don't have a job." I felt my former stay-at-home mom hackles rising, in which I sometimes had to remind people that taking care of two little ones 24/7 is an exhausting non-paying job, and that I also did editing work on the side. Then she said: "You have a career." I asked her what the difference is, and she said that a job is work you do for money. A career is doing something you love for life. So, there's that. I would've loved to to teach my daughter that valuable lesson, had I thought of it. I'm glad she learned it on her own.

I get to experience this launch into authordom twice: once by myself, and again through the eyes of my kids. They get that this has been a lifelong dream. That I started writing stories when I was the same age they are now. That there were a lot of starts and stops along the way. And that the most important thing is that I never gave up. But they also get that having a book come out doesn't change my role as their mom one bit.

Sometimes I'm teaching them, and sometimes they're teaching me. I've shown them that no dreams are too big, that nothing is impossible, that the only obstacle between you and your dream is you. And they are teaching me that today is a day for watching the rain come down the window, or for teaching the dog to jump through a hula hoop, or for dreaming up the next story. The waiting game can be hard. I'm grateful to have my girls here to wait alongside me, and to pull me out of the waiting mindset as often as possible. Right now they're calling me into the other room, because they have finished their homework and want me to check it, and after that they need their nails painted. Right now. This is the moment I'm in. A quiet afternoon with my girls, who think I have any idea what they're talking about with open number lines and division pictographs. And who need blue and pink nails. Desperately. So off I go. One day closer to publication.

Saturday, January 04, 2014


So, it's 2014. This is the year I've been waiting for. My vision-board-come-true year. Just over a year ago my sister, dad, step-mom, kids, and I got together with a stack of poster boards and a heap of magazines to make our first vision boards. Mine sits on my desk just behind my computer, where I see it every day as I work: Hawaii images, yoga poses, chocolate, coffee, lavender bouquets, and Ganesha, the patron of letters, who keeps me company as I write. Scattered throughout are words like breathe, play, success, wellness, and joy. I put all of my dreams up there, too: agent, publishing contract, travel, balance. And as the year went on I had to keep adding new words, because the wishes all started coming true. I got an agent. I got a publishing contract. I got two trips to Hawaii. I found balance. The board, now framed, still sits in front of me at my desk, a reminder of how far I've come, how much possibility still lies before me.

I've always been a pragmatic dreamer, which means that I daydream up these outlandish notions of where my life could go, all the while working like hell to make a dent in whatever pile of work I've given myself for the day. I rarely need to be pushed by anyone, I drive myself harder than anyone else ever would. This is a great attitude to have when trying to get published. Keep dreaming that it's possible, but never lose focus on the blank page in front of you. Keep coming at it until you get it right. Most days I still have the same attitude. I am aware that I have a novel coming out in six months, which is so ridiculously exciting that I can barely sleep if I think about it too much, but I also know that if I spend too much time thinking about it I'll be too distracted to write more novels. And I want to write more novels. Tons of them.

It also helps to have young children. Nothing keeps you humble like two kids doing cartwheels and walkovers in your office, asking an endless stream of questions about when they were babies, how exactly you chose their name, why there are so many irregular verbs in English, whether they can have a pet chinchilla. My seven-year-old likes to read my writing notes over my shoulder and question every one of them: "But why does she want to move? I think if she liked her house she wouldn't want to leave. Maybe you need to write something about why she doesn't like her old house anymore." My eight-year-old sometimes comes downstairs at midnight and tells me to go to bed. She knows as well as I do that sleeping in is not part of a single mom's life.

My girls have been off school a lot lately. A week for Thanksgiving, a week in Hawaii to celebrate my book deal, then two weeks off for winter break. I haven't gotten a lot of writing done in the past six weeks, and I miss it. But I've gotten to spend a lot of mornings with my girls, sipping coffee while watching them play. They have vivid imaginations and create elaborate games that involve singing, dancing, drawing, creating new forms of currency, granting wishes, punishing evil-doers, and traveling the world. They are my blank page, too.

I already know that this is going to be a great year. The one when I finally see my name on the cover of a novel. The one when I finally take the leap to author. My girls will continue to grow taller and master new gymnastics skills and learn new things and wake me up way too early on Saturday mornings. I expect it to be my best year yet. Maybe it's time to make a new vision board, and dream up some even bigger dreams.