Friday, April 19, 2013

Perfect Little Moments

This week I took Baby for a walk in the stroller. The weather was gorgeous: trees covered in spring blooms, blue sky with cotton-ball clouds, and just enough noise from birds, cars, and people to know we were in a safe, cozy neighborhood. I was wearing capri pants for the first time in eight months (and they actually FIT!), and as I pushed the baby stroller up the street to the borough's main boulevard, I felt content and blessed.

It was one of those perfect little moments when you feel that you and Life are finally, if fleetingly, on the same page -- that your input of effort, time, and talent into your daily life matches the happiness and satisfaction you receive. These moments are fleeting but important to treasure, because they can evaporate before you blink.

As we passed the neighborhood's firehouse, I saw the flag at half-mast. I blinked. And the moment was gone.

My hands tightened on the stroller handle, and I looked down at my son, half-smiling in his sleep. He had no idea what had happened at the Boston Marathon earlier this week. He doesn't know what it means to have the flag at half-mast. He doesn't know anything about IEDs, about terrorists and tragedies, about war or pain, or even fear. The closest Baby's gotten to fear is about forty seconds of crying after his two-month immunization shots.

But as I looked at him, I was hit with the fresh realization that someday, years from now when another tragedy occurs, I will have to explain to him why the flag is at half-mast. Someday I will have to tell him what war is. "9/11," "Newtown," "Virginia Tech," "Columbine," and now "Boston" will enter his nascent vocabulary. And he will learn to be afraid.

For a minute I wanted to burst into tears right there, on the sidewalk between the Mexican grocery store and the post office. I wanted to cry against the day when he will see the world through an adult's eyes.

But then I thought of what my mother told me about Baby so many times during my pregnancy: "You will learn to see the world through his eyes."

Right now, Baby's eyes see only loving faces. His ears hear only kind voices and pleasant music. His hands feel only toys and blankets. His skin knows only gentle hugs, warm baths, and soft beds. Aside from dirty diapers and the occasional spit-up, his entire LIFE is a continuous string of perfect little moments.

Someday, as he grows and learns, the fears and dangers of the world will begin to make sense to him, and those perfect little moments will begin to grow fewer and farther between. My job as his mother will not be to prevent that, for it is impossible. My job will be to help him to never stop looking for those moments. My job will always be to help him in finding the good -- and being the good -- in the world around him.


On our walk that afternoon, my job was simply to be the good in my son's perfect little world. I could do that.



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Today's the Day!

Well, this is it, everybody!


As of today, Ugly Stick is OFFICIALLY a published novel!!!!!! I'm excited, nervous, and delighted all at once. It's like the first day of school times a hundred!

(Yes, I was one of those kids who was always delighted by the first day of school. Shocker.)

As promised in my last blog post, I have some EXCLUSIVE information about obtaining your own copy of Ugly Stick. The Kindle e-book, priced at $3.99, is available for immediate download at Amazon, and the paperback version is also available at Amazon.com ($11.99 list price).

OR

You can visit Ugly Stick's CreateSpace page here. Enter the code "64AHALV9" at checkout to receive a $2 discount on the list price, putting Ugly Stick in your hands for only $9.99!

I'm going to post some writerly reflections on this whole process in the days to come, but for now I will simply leave you with "The Author to Her Book," a poem by the fascinating Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672). I've always liked this poem and have grown to appreciate it more deeply in recent months (it's like she knew the Internet was coming one day!).

Thanks so much for your interest, and HAPPY READING!!!


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THE AUTHOR TO HER BOOK
Anne Bradstreet


Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,

Who after birth did'st by my side remain,

Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call.
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobbling than is meet.
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i' th' house I find.
In this array, 'mongst vulgars may'st thou roam.
In critic's hands, beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known.
If for thy father askt, say, thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Another quick sneak peek inside UGLY STICK!

Hello again, net friends!

We're a mere 12 HOURS from the official release of my debut novel Ugly Stick! I am brimming with such excitement that it occasionally splashes over, and when that happens I feel I can't wait another moment to share this story with the world. Right now is one of those moments, SO...

Here is another quick sneak peek inside the story. Hope you enjoy it! And be sure to check back after midnight tonight for an exclusive link and coupon code to get $2 off the paperback list price.

Thanks for your interest, and happy reading!

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     We watched from the living room as Mom’s car rolled out of the driveway. Ani wrestled with her typical curiosity for about four seconds before bursting out, “So what’s with your mom and yearbooks?”
     “I know, right?” I said, throwing up my hands and dropping onto the couch. “The weirdest part is, when I talked to Grandma, I specifically asked her about Mom’s yearbooks, and she swore Mom has them.”
     “What?” Ani said with a gasp. “Your mom lied? Your mom doesn’t lie.”
     “I know,” I said, “so I’m kind of freaking out right now.”
     Ani sat down next to me. “Have you ever seen a picture of your mom in high school?”
     I thought, and suddenly it dawned on me. “I’ve never seen a picture of her from before I was born,” I said slowly. The picture of Mom holding me at three days old, which sat on the shelf above my dresser, between my baby rattle and my old teddy bear, was the earliest picture of Mom that I had ever laid eyes on.
     “Not even a wedding picture?” Ani exclaimed.
     “No, their photographer forgot to take off the lens cap… oh, snap, do you think that was a lie, too?”
     My head was spinning. One little white lie about the whereabouts of Mom’s yearbooks was bad enough, but the thought of her systematically lying to me for most of my life? It made me dizzy.
     “Why wouldn’t there be any pictures of her?” Ani mused. “Ooh! Could your parents have been spies or something? Or may-be you’re all in the witness protection program, and you don’t even know it!”
     “But my dad puts his picture everywhere for work,” I pointed out. “His name and office phone are on every ‘for sale’ sign he puts out.”
     “Have you seen any younger pictures of him?” Ani asked.
     “Yeah,” I said, “he’s got a few pictures on his desk of him and his dad on fishing trips and stuff from when he was little.”
     “So, what is it about your mom, Apes?” Ani questioned. She laughed suddenly.
     “What?” I said.
     “I was just thinking it’s funny,” she explained, “that this seems like a mystery your mom might read for work… only it’s about her.”
     “Huh. Yeah.” I wrinkled my nose. What would one of Mom’s detectives do? Either look for clues or interview witnesses, I sup-posed. Interviewing anyone was out of the question; Mom wouldn’t talk, and neither would Dad or my grandparents, I expected. That left looking for clues.
     I glanced at Ani, who must have been reading my mind. “Attic?” she asked me.
     “I’ll grab flashlights,” I said, jumping up and sprinting to the laundry room. We ran up the stairs, through the office, and into the large closet that hid the stairway to the attic.
     I only went up there twice a year, to help with Christmas decorating and de-decorating. Our attic was unfinished and cobwebby, with exposed beams and puffy pink insulation poking out here and there. Ani shifted her weight uncomfortably. She was petrified of spiders.
     “Where should we start?” I asked, eyeing the stacks of cardboard boxes and plastic bins. “We’ve got an hour, tops.”
     Ani and I surveyed the massive hodgepodge doubtfully. “Well, let’s ignore anything marked ‘Christmas,’” I decided aloud, “and focus on things that look like they haven’t been disturbed in a while.”
     I felt proud of my limited detective skills. I started pawing through a pile of dust-covered boxes in one corner while Ani gingerly worked her way across a metal shelf.
     After several minutes of hard labor, I spotted a large, extremely dusty trunk in the corner, behind some of the boxes I had moved. “That looks like it hasn’t been moved in forever… do you think?”
     Ani and I approached the trunk, which had a combination lock with four digits slipped through the brass latch on the top. “What should I try?” I whispered. For some reason being hushed seemed necessary.
     “Maybe your mom’s birthday?” Ani suggested. I dialed 1-1-2-6. Nothing.
     “I’ll try my parents’ anniversary,” I said. I turned the digits to 0-5-3-0. Nothing again.
     “Your birthday? Grandparents’ anniversary?” Ani said. I tried my birthday, both 0-2-0-8 and 2-8-9-8, with no result. “Maybe we need to invert the numbers European-style,” she muttered.
     If we tried that, we would be spinning dials for hours. I turned the digits to 0-8-0-9, Grandma Jo and Grandpa Frank’s anniversary. It produced a satisfying click, and the lock fell open.
     “I can’t believe that worked.” I whispered.  I lifted the lid with shaky hands.

Monday, April 1, 2013

UGLY STICK: An Exclusive Sneak Peek!

Greetings, net friends!

It is now officially the month of April, both in the traditional sense and in the sense that Ugly Stick, my debut novel starring a teenager named April, will be released in a mere ten days! It's almost like it was planned that way...

I am so excited to share this story with readers far and wide--it's well worth every crick in my neck, every hour of lost sleep, and every headache from writing myself into corners to know that Ugly Stick will be a real book, published by our own Tributaries Press and available on Amazon.com, as of April 10!

To kick off the ten-day countdown to the book's release, I am sharing the first chapter of Ugly Stick with you here. Please do share this link with anyone you like: your BFF, your sister-in-law, that person sitting next to you on the bus, your second cousin who also happens to be a major studio film producer... (hey, it could happen!) And if you like what you read, please "like" Ugly Stick's official Facebook page to stay up-to-date with the rest of the countdown to April 10!

Happy Reading!

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Chapter 1


Blackwell1600:   Sophie H, we’ve been over this. The bus is NOT the place 2 apply make-up unless you’re on your way 2 a party. As the hired clown. #WhatADrag
11:31am                  16 Sep                     11 retweets                             7 favorites

KarrotStix:           @Blackwell1600 Good one! Tip for Sophie: get Jeffrey B out of the prop closet to help. He can fix that eyeliner—if anyone can! #Guyliner
11:44am                  16 Sep                     3 retweets                               2 favorites

Blackwell1600:   @KarrotStix Tell Jeffrey we're all counting on him.
11:53am                  16 Sep                     8 retweets                               5 favorites

~

         “And now for everyone’s favorite part of Honors English,” Ms. Kearns said with a grin, “example reading!”
            I glanced around the classroom, and judging by the apathetic classroom reaction, “favorite part” was a bit of a misnomer. Ms. Kearns was a brand new teacher, fresh out of college, and she did have a remarkable way of pulling our class into discussions of Shakespeare, Voltaire, and even Tolstoy with a fair amount of enthusiasm. But nobody really liked example reading, the Russian roulette of criticism, especially on a Friday afternoon.
Not to mention that, even though the example readings were anonymous, whenever the other two dozen students in my class looked over a work, they criticized it without mercy. I usually remained silent, observing and jotting down notes. Invisibility was a trait I had perfected in my first year at Prescott High, and tenth grade would be no different.
          Ms. Kearns passed printouts of the example around the classroom. “This was one of the prompts from last week about different storytelling lenses—imagining you were writing the introduction to your memoir.”
My ribs seized as I recognized the first few lines on the page. She’d chosen mine. Why?
            I had known it would happen sooner or later—Ms. Kearns always gave me high grades on my essays and papers. She was my favorite teacher, sharing my affinity for Dickens and C.S. Lewis. However, I had never gotten up the nerve to tell her that having my own work critiqued would be the emotional equivalent of trimming my toenails with a paper shredder. I inched lower in my seat, praying that my face wasn’t as red as it felt.
            “Can I get a volunteer to read aloud?” Ms. Kearns asked. “Marcus, go ahead.”
            The redheaded boy to my right nodded and began with the title, The Growing Shadow.
       “Around the turn of the nineteenth century, a painter named Leili lived in the Duchy of Oldenburg. During a visit to Leili’s village, the Grand Duke was thoroughly enchanted by her talent and invited her to serve as Oldenburg’s court artist. Leili painted for the royal family for the rest of her life.”
            I stared at my hands, focusing on my pathologically nibbled nails. Why were my words coming out of Marcus’s mouth? How were the other students going to react? What had I done to deserve this?
            “Leili’s daughter Zora immigrated to America with her husband and infant daughter. Zora had been educated in the court of the Grand Duke, and she resolved to spread her love of learning throughout her new country. Zora founded Elmira Women’s College, and a statue of her still graces Elmira’s main courtyard in western New York.
            “Zora’s daughter Hilda moved farther west, to the plains of Iowa. Hilda bore a daughter and seven sons, and in 1881 she was elected as the founding mayor of the town of Thimble, Iowa—the first female mayor in the United States.”
            The words that had sounded simple and oh-so-poignant as I wrote them now sounded trite and clunky, about as clever as a knock-knock joke. I gave up merely staring at my mutilated nails and clamped down on my pinky, trying to gnaw away the panic. I wished I hadn’t written so much. I wished I hadn’t turned in this assignment at all. Just taking a zero would have been much less painful.
            “Hilda’s only daughter Kirsten was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1922 for her compilation of interviews with German-American immigrants. Kirsten’s daughter Daphne became a silent film star, the Jennifer Lawrence of her generation. Daphne’s daughter Geraldine won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in figure skating, and Geraldine’s daughter Josephine served three terms in the United States Senate. Josephine’s daughter Diane is the Senior Editor of Deerstalker Publishing House, credited with discovering ‘the next Stephen King.’
            “And then there’s Diane’s daughter… me. If you focus your eyes and stare into the deepest corner of this growing shadow, you just might see me.” Marcus leaned back in his seat.
            I withdrew my pinky from my mouth, pursed my lips, and looked surreptitiously around. Did anyone suspect? Some of the overachieving students were still taking notes in the margins. Notes. On my work. I felt ill. A light knock at the classroom door startled me.
            “Colleen?” a male teacher called through the doorway. “Can I have a quick word?”
            “Sure, Ron,” Ms. Kearns replied. “Everyone, please wrap up your notes on the example—I’ll be back in just a moment.”
            She looked at me for the barest instant, before slipping out and shutting the door behind her. Did my face clue her in? I probably looked more or less like I was about to be dragged into the Coliseum.
            “Who wrote this?” whispered one of the overachievers, tucking her pencil back into her perfectly messy bun.
            “It’s anonymous,” retorted Zoe Chin, my chemistry lab partner. “Nobody has to own up to writing anything.”
            “Yeah, but why wouldn’t you?” asked a heavyset guy next to Marcus. “I mean, if that’s your family, that’s pretty awesome, right?”
            “Hold on, I’m Googling Deerstalker Publishing,” a girl in the back said. She kept an eye on the door as her fingers flew over her touch screen phone. I slumped in my seat. Google would seal my fate.
            “The Senior Editor at Deerstalker is… Diane Somerfield. April’s mom,” she finished.
            “Wait, who’s April, again?” Marcus asked me.
            “Seriously?” a girl by the window blurted. “That’s April, idiot!” She pointed at me.
            My face heated up like a cheap tanning bed as my classmates’ eyes zeroed in on me. Yes, Diane Somerfield’s daughter, the latest in a line of brilliantly successful, beautiful women, was April Somerfield. April the Invisible. April the Talentless. April, the terminally awkward, self-loathing misfit who would blend in with the wallpaper, if only the wallpaper were a little less attractive.
            “Oh—sorry,” Marcus tried to say, but he could barely get the words out without laughing. Giggles rippled over the desks like waves around me, and I slouched as low as possible in my seat. I wished I could melt into the floor.
            “Guys, guys, cut it out,” Mikayla, another overachiever, chided everyone else, with a flip of her perfect blonde hair. “Can’t you see she doesn’t think it’s funny?”
I bit my cheek to prevent tears from welling up and got my face under control. This part was almost worse than the laughter. I knew Mikayla was trying to be nice, but now we would all just sit in awkward, pitying silence until Ms. Kearns returned. Being invisible, as frustrating as it could be, was better than being observed like a lab rat.
“It’s fine,” I muttered, forcing an awkward grimace that hopefully passed as a smile.
“Did your family really do all those things?” asked the first overachiever, leaning forward in her chair.
Feeling the flush creep into my scalp and down my neck, I nodded.
“Some family tree. So, what are you going to be famous for?”
“That’s rude!” Mikayla hissed, but the others were already waiting for a response.
“Hey, maybe she’s Blackwell,” the girl in the back row suggested.
Another wave of laughter rippled across the room. The idea that someone as unattractive as me could be behind Blackwell1600, our high school’s knife-tongued style critic and most-followed Twitter handle, was clearly hilarious to everyone. Blackwell1600 had lambasted me plenty of times over the past year—“April: a poncho. Really? Are you a llama farmer? A human parachute? There’s no other excuse for a wearable tent.”—and I wanted few things more than for his or her identity to be revealed.
“Sorry about that, everybody,” Ms. Kearns said as she hurried back into the room, rescuing me from having to reply.
“Now, where were we? I chose this piece as today’s example for several reasons…”
I tuned her out and stared at the page, until my photocopied words swam before my eyes. When I was little, Mom used to read to me. My favorite story was “The Ugly Duckling,” because of the way the duckling turned into a beautiful swan at the end. The only problem was that I hadn’t turned into a swan. I was just shy of sixteen, and I had only grown into an ugly duck.

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And in honor of April officially starting, click here for even more exclusive content!

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Please note that "April officially starting" means that today is April 1st, which means I couldn't resist a classic #RickRoll! Thanks for playing, and Happy April Fool's Day! =)