Change is not a Four Letter Word

Change is not a Four Letter Word, though sometimes it is used like one. It is a black widow spider armed with venom and a stinger to deaden those limbs that need to be severed. Those habits that need to be abandoned. Change can come as a shock, like a blow to the stomach or a slap to the cheek. She is almost never expected and almost always accompanied, darkly and with a mustache, by the mysterious stranger Unknown.

Eight weeks ago on Monday, Change slammed into my body and broke my kneecap.

Okay, I fell on my kneecap and broke my kneecap. But now, in the hindsight gained from a lot of time laying on my ass in the downstairs guest bedroom, I recognize that it was Change that broke my body not the floor I fell against.

Change had decided to visit me whether I invited her in for whisky or not.

In the weeks — the now almost two months — since Change set up residence in my house, I have hobbled through upheaval, wheeled around uncertainty, and cried in the face of loss. I have watched the things I thought I needed die while others broke ground, sprang to life like a sprout of new grass, budding like the trees outside my house.

I watched the end of one season and the beginning of another.

I let go of a valued friendship. Change carved out my heart and showed me it in a harsh light, and when I’d seen enough, she threw it on the pyre to burn. Change forced me to let someone walk away because right then I couldn’t chase them, and maybe Change had known that the time of running after instead of ahead of, was ending. In that moment, Change was Goodbye, an unfamiliar feeling to a girl who thought she didn’t really believe in endings.

I put a house that I love up for sale. Change reminded me of all the beauty, all my passion, as I painted the walls, watched the staircase be refinished, the flower beds planted, and the deck be stained back like new. Change told me this was the end, too, and I’d done all I could do. It took my claim away for someone new.

I began to walk again. To bend and straighten. To press up on tip toes and balance without wobbling. To feel less shaky, less like a victim, more like a hero. I felt my shoulders ease back and start to tighten with the certainty that I could and would and damn everything that would say otherwise.

Change gave that to me.

Change gave me hope.

No, Change is not a four letter word. It’s not ugly unless you ignore it, carrying around that dead limb and pretending that you don’t see it, that it’s still alive and capable of giving you what you need. Because once bitten, you will never again find the strength you once had. Never again will you walk that way and not stumble. Because…

Change is always violent.

Always a death and a resurrection.

Like the holiday coming up, like winter and spring, like goodbye and hello. Change always means It is Finished, It can begin. It always fights with you, bruising your ego, squashing your pride. It steamrolls what you expected and doesn’t have a band aid for your wounds.

But in the midst of all that meanness, Change promises there is more. And better. Dreams you have yet to see clearly, days you have yet to live fully. If only you will let Change do her work and let go.

Today I walked around a forty-nine acre garden. It hurt the now mostly mended but still weak leg Change has been trying to make new. It tingled inside me that this was the first day of the rest, and the pain was good, a sign something new was coming.

A sign I was almost ready to run.

A Broken Bone Does Heal

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Two weeks ago, I broke my left kneecap. Right after it happened, I refused to acknowledge the pain, the promise of a longer recovery than an afternoon propped up in bed reading, because how could I be confined so completely, restricted so unkindly? I had life to live and plans that week and everyday my household, my husband, my son, my friends, my family needed me.

But I’d done it. It was broken and nothing would change that.

Anger lit me up inside. I stewed over my sudden and complete inability to function as I had grown used to functioning. And the frustrating thing was, I didn’t even know who to blame, but I wanted to blame something, someone. I wanted to blame myself for not wiping my feet on the doormat before I stepped on wet tile with wet shoes. I wanted to blame the circumstance for presenting itself. I wanted to blame the chaos going on in my life for distracting me enough to misstep.

I wanted to heal fast. Sure, the Doctor said it should take four weeks, but I wanted to take two. I wanted to bend my knee. I wanted to speed this up. I’d had enough rest. I didn’t want to watch TV or sit and stare out the window with tears in my eyes. Those romantic images from movies where the girl languishes in a wheelchair in the garden, embroidered afghan over her legs, convalescing with a cup of tea: not my idea of a well-spent afternoon.

I didn’t want to be confined to the downstairs guest room of my house, or the back porch in a wheelchair. To be swollen and bruised, in pain with nothing to do but feel it. I wanted to get up and walk. To clean the kitchen and make myself a snack. To run errands. To walk the dogs. Basic things I usually never even paid attention to, I longed for the freedom to do them. For the right to grumble about them.

It has been days of scrabbling on the tips of fingers up the side of a deep dark hole of feelings. Thoughts my normal speed allows me to ignore. Questions I prefer not to seek an answer to.

But this confinement did have an expiration date. Four weeks. And the fact that I was still spiraling, not coping great, stuck inside me like a thorn. I have friends that exist on the razor edge of chronic pain. They live with disabilities well beyond my comprehension, they triumph and create, all with a daily battle that has no end in sight. What right did I have to complain? How dare I? This is not the way a brave girl responds. This feels like crumbling. Tipping over a ledge I didn’t realize had gotten so close.

If honesty is still a virtue, here is another nugget:

Being forced into a narrow boundary casts everything outside that boundary into a harsh and brutal light.

In the end, these were the things that survived the bright light.

My husband is a glorious knight of raven headed kindness. My son is a true and solid friend, with the ability to cope and comfort well beyond his seven-years.

Writing and reading create a life-raft.

The people that truly love you emerge in the midst of crisis.

Grace is a gift we are given, but it is also one we must extend even when we are thoroughly pissed off.

Don’t be afraid to go dark for a while. That may be the only way to chart your course.

Two weeks down. Hump-day for the broken-boned. Today I feel better, but not mended. I feel more hopeful, but not sure what that actually means. Not sure, at all, what the other side of this will feel like.

Sure, only, that it can’t belike it was before.

Three Ways Critique Partners Are Unicorns

There are so many articles and blog posts out there detailing the publishing road, it’s various ups and downs, twists and turns, plummets into deep holes of revision malaise and rejection induced cookie-binges. But tucked into those stories of woe and perseverance, are characters many of you will recognize.

Critique Partner(s): an enchanted creature one meets on their journey to publication endowed with the magical power to inspire, encourage and enrich the writers quest.

But in order to gain the magical being Critique Partner on your journey, you must first be able to recognize the value of honest, thoughtful, layered critique— both how to give it and how to receive it.

My first experience with critique was actually a literary agent that I met at my local city park in Brooklyn, NY. Looking back, I recognize the disaster that could have transpired. She was a pro, I very much was not. But this agent — who quickly became one of my close friends in the City— offered to read my manuscript and give me feedback. It helped that she didn’t represent my genre, and that we had met wearing our mom and people hats, not writer and agent name badges. It helped that she was gentle. With her feedback and encouragement, I revised, I revised, I got very close to getting agented with that manuscript. Without her feedback, I would have hit send too soon. I would have done all the wrong things.

Unlike Unicorn Critique Partners, my agent friend felt more like a fairy godmother. She taught me industry protocol. She taught me about critique. She sent me into the world to find my own heard of magical beasts.

Critique Partners believe when you can’t.

Last year I hit a rough patch in my writing journey. I wrote about it extensively on my blog, which is the equivalent of screaming into a pillow at the top of your lungs. Cathartic, but ultimately useless. I had experienced the ugliness of the query trenches. I’d been rejected, I’d been hopeful, I’d been the recipient of the form letter and the thoughtful rejection. It had taken it’s toll on my creative well. I desperately wanted to give up. I couldn’t face my manuscript, let alone stomach doing another revision or sending another query letter.

In swooped critique partners, rainbow tails swinging, hooves of faith clomping.

I am part of a big tribe of young adult writers, so I want to stress that this sense of community and magic is not limited to the writers I count as critique partners. But when doubt creeps in, the best defense is a person that has read your book and believes in it. My critique partners were unrelenting in their support that someday, somehow, this thing would find an agent, a home.

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Countless emails. Countless texts and Facebook chats. Many days of me veering off course, detouring and wandering and spazzing. They still encouraged me to go back to the story. To give it another chance.

When I was finally ready to revise again, they were there to encourage and advise. They cheered for the story. They told me they never doubted me.

But I did doubt. I wasn’t as certain as I needed to be. Anyone that has endured rejection will understand my behavior. I was inclined to believe the many no’s. I actually think, maybe, I had to believe it for a while to find my way back to my story. But without the faith and insistence of my Unicorns, this little writer would have never found her path because she would have given up.

Critique Partners don’t belittle the struggle. 

Something that becomes increasingly clear the longer I pursue publication is this: the loneliness is real.

The journey to a book in hand, while something many writers will one day likely take with varying results, is ultimately still not a well understood process to those not in the midst of it. For the first few years of mine, I knew a grand total of two people that understood the arduous task of trying to get published.

I count two separate but equally significant plot points in my own writing saga as the game changers for me.

  1. Befriending a local author— Over three years ago Lindsay Cummings followed me on Twitter. At the time, I was still living in Brooklyn. When we decided to move back to Texas, I direct messaged Lindsay and asked to meet up for coffee. This was a gamble for both of us, and after Lindsay researched me online to make sure I was a legitimate  human writer, we met up for dinner. Not only did she become one of my best friends in real life, but she became my ally in the book world. She read, critiqued and loved my writing. She helped me meet other writers in our area. She helped me not feel so alone.
  2. Taking a writing workshop online — I signed up for an online class taught by Nova Ren Suma. Not only did I gain an incredible advocate and teacher (and now, friend) in Nova, but through her class I connected with five of my critique partners. After class, we embarked on the organic process of emailing each other pages and tentatively giving feedback, then more boldly responding, asking for help and thoughts on more than just pages, but idea seeds and life twists, until we found a rhythm unique to our tribe and needs. These writers have become some of my favorite humans.

On the writing journey, critique is the key to support.

Through critique, I found people capable of walking through this with me. We’ve lived in the trenches together. We understand the sting of rejection and the swell of pride that comes with a request, a yes, that phone call that leads to an agent…or doesn’t. That moment when you have to start over, go back in, move on. And we know that the pain from the publishing journey hurts just as real as other pain, can cause just as many problems as marital issues or job hell, and is not for the faint of heart.

Critique Partners make you better.

Words are hard. Writing is bad, and then it’s a little less bad, and then a little less, and every time you chip away a layer of bad the promise of beautiful begins to emerge. There is only so far you can take your own words. No matter how skilled, critique is often the key to making a decent story great, finding plotholes, worldbuilding issues, character development flaws, and so on. Without clever eyes on your work, you must rely of your own mind. The closer you get to a particular story, the harder it gets to see the issues as they arise.

Getting a good group of readers that you can turn to at different stages in revision to help you clarify, hone, polish and shine, is an important step in preparing your manuscript for query, and later, publication. I am a firm believer that reader feedback should be taken seriously. Yes, this is your story, but at some point it needs to make sense to the rest of the world.

Critique partners can come in and unicorn-horn slice through the crappy words in your manuscript better than you. Then, they come back to you with ways to improve, with glowing praise and passion, and it’s often the push back into the story that you need.

Every time I’ve felt lost in a work in progress, I’ve emailed one of my critique partners with pages or plans or scene ideas, and they’ve helped me find my way.

Find your unicorns and hold them tight. Stroke their mane and give them sugar. They are invaluable to the quest!

If you’re not sure how to go about doing that, some of my critique partners and I have decided to pay back the writing community that helped us find each other. We’ll be hosting a live critique workshop called Manuscript Crit-Chat, scheduled to take off this fall. Whether you’ve been critiqued before and want a new set of eyes on your pages, or you’ve never been critiqued, but want to get your feet wet, we want to give a taste of the magic. Over the next month we’ll be revealing more info, so stay informed by following us on social media. We can’t wait to meet you and have you join our tribe!

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To engage with the Manuscript Crit-Chat gals:

Facebook :: Instagram :: Twitter

To Tweet at the individual masterminds behind all the fun:

Susan Bishop Crispell :: Courtney Leigh :: Jessica Fonseca :: Rebekah Faubion 

And do check out Courtney and Jessica’s posts on their personal blogs!

4 Reasons Why Critique Partners Saved My Writing Life

Five Reasons Every Writer NEEDS a Critique Group

 

 

 

 

A Love Letter to Girl in Pieces

If you follow my blog, you will know I do not regularly do book reviews. For that, I use Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes and Noble because leaving a review on one of those sites for a book you love helps the author of that book immensely.

When I do talk about a book on my blog, it means that book has hooked me in the heart. It will not be reviewed so much as emoted about.

First, the description:

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you. 
 

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge. 
 

A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

Kathleen Glasgow, the author of Girl in Pieces, and I are friends on Facebook. We have never met in real life, but after reading this book I feel like a tiny piece of her soul now resides in me. This book is deeply personal, for the writer to share with the world, for the reader to experience through the text. This is a book you will likely not find easy to get through, and when you finish you will not quickly forget or move on from.

Kathleen sent me the ARC (which stands for Advanced Reader Copy) because we’re both authors in the YA community, and because I stalked her Facebook when she was giving them out for review.

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I started it immediately, wanting to read and get my thoughts out on the internet to best help promote the book. About sixty pages in, I abandoned my plan. There were times when I could only read three or four pages in a sitting because it was making me feel feel feel. It became clear that this book was not junk food. This was not a speed read. This was a book you experienced, sometimes in public— while waiting for a movie, while ignoring family members at meals, while sitting by a pool — and sometimes only in the dim quiet of your bedroom, surrounded by blankets to ease the pain.

Not everyone will feel what I felt for Charlie. To some, her journey will be compelling, but completely other from their own experience. But anyone that has ever experienced deep, confusing self-harm —for whatever reason, in whatever walk of life — will be able to see a little of themselves in Charlie.

By nature I like to maintain control. By hard work, years of discipline, lots of good loving and growing up, I have learned how to let go. As a teenager I was still learning how to exist in the world at all. As a teenager, I was overtaken daily by fear. It became unmanageable and impossible to maintain, so I restricted. I built walls around myself. I ate only candy some days. Tuna others. Often, pickles and sugar-free jello were my only reward for a day in the world. I shrank down, and eventually, I became a whiff of my former self. This action was accompanied by all manner of obsessive compulsive behavior, and followed by many years of retraining my mind and body to live in the stupid, big, uncontrolled world I had been born into.

Charlie cuts. She cuts away the pain. She cuts away the lack of power she has over her life. Reading about her journey as an adult I felt so thankful to Kathleen for writing this book for young women, boys…grown-girls still lost in this. When you are trapped in this kind of pattern, sometimes it feels like you aren’t seen. That people are looking away from your pain, unable to deal, too busy, too something. I know that because I felt it at times, even though everyone saw, everyone knew, and I was surrounded by people who wanted to help dig me out.

Girl in Pieces sees all the crooked edges and works to make them safe. It is a voice to this silent scream. It is a conversation starter.

There is no glory or beauty in Charlie’s scars, and the author does not make light of the very dark and dangerous path self-harm can lead to. But this is Charlie’s journey to learning to love herself regardless of the ugly she has taken into, and cut onto, her body. It is a journey worth taking with her.

The writing is stunning. It moves along the page like notes of music from an instrument. There is color and life swirled in with the pain. Funny, honest, thoughtful moments that make the story feel like looking in on a real life. There’s rough romance, and some language even a sailor might blush at, and somewhere in there I went from being certain this was a story about every other kind of pain than my own, to knowing this was a story about all pain and how there is always a way through it without hurting yourself or someone else.

I cried. I finished the book on the couch while my son watched Teen Titans. I had to get up from my spot and walk away, close the bathroom door, sob on the edge of the tub. I hugged the book to my body. I consider it one of the best I’ve read this year, and an important book, one that should be read, and praised, and shared.

Here is a link to pre-order Girl in Pieces, so that you might experience something truly fucking angelic.*

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*You’ll understand once you’ve read. And you’ll love it.

 

 

Momness

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An Open letter to those looking for their Momness:

There is nothing safe about motherhood. If you choose it, you will never feel peaceful again.

You may not enjoy pregnancy. You will probably have back pain and knee pain and boob pain, and at some point you will stop being able to hold it to the end of the movie. You will not like the weight you gain regardless of how good it is for the baby. You will hate your face in pictures and your pregnancy glow will actually be a sheen of sweat. Take this opportunity to eat dessert everyday. Peruse the candy aisle. Have a plate of french fries. Kale is important, but enjoy the abandon of finishing the whole milkshake. Pregnancy is about you stretching out, giving up some control on your body, and learning to tell people to back off.

You will feel pain. There is pain in labor no matter how you go about it. There is no way, actually, to give birth to a baby without it. Embrace the pain. Then defy it. Whatever you do, be you in that hospital room. You is who the baby will need. If you lose your way in there, but sure to have someone that can help you back to it.

You will feel everything. When the baby is here you will be exposed. Your body, your soul, the shortcomings you were worried about, they will be on full display. If you let that train wreck happen, you also might just win the whole world. Your baby’s whole world anyway. It is terrifying to be everything to another human being. No matter how in love you are with your significant other, you have never actually been the sun he revolves around. For this brief interlude you are the entire world for your baby. You are perfection. Accept that. Let it give you strength.

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Later, when you are home, you will feel alone. It will not matter how much support is in place there will be these silent, still, shaking moments of aloneness. Of baby and only you-ness. When the sun starts to set and you realize you are going to have to face the nighttime again you will maybe freak the hell out. Do that for a few minutes because it is always better to acknowledge the fear than to ignore it. Then pull it together and go to bed as soon as you can for the night is long and full of feedings.

DSC_3813Reach out. You do not have to know what you are doing. Mom’s are not superheroes. If you find yourself in the dark, tell the truth. There might be people that judge you. Learn to tell those people where to stick their judgement.

Find a time to feel like yourself. Drink wine after a feeding while the baby sleeps. Watch trashy TV. Read read read. Nap like a cat. Take a walk. Listen to birds. Listen to yourself.

Write down how you feel. Write it out because later you will wish you had. You will think all kinds of crazy, hair-brained, brilliant and borderline insane things and the fog of two am feedings and diaper changes and trying to get the breast pump to work and I need a break and will my body ever stop looking like silly putty, is going to make you forget that you are powerful and cool and you have an idea. You will forget the love you feel later when you are fighting with them about what they’ll wear to school or eating broccoli at dinner. You will forget the bravery you showed by getting up again to swaddle and soothe when you just want to sleeeeeeep.

Write it down. All of it.

Yes, take pictures, but more importantly feel the moment with your body. Make memories and then make a photo. Be there first.DSC_4445

Hold on. Tight. Long. Forever.

Listen to your own instinct. You reserve the right to tell everyone to piss off. You get to scowl and scramble. You get to ignore every guidebook and piece of advice. This baby is yours. For a few lightning fast years, you are the moon and stars and ultimate authority. You are the chosen one. You are the beginning, the end. No single human being alive on this planet is better equipped than you to make your child’s life magical. You decide what that fairy tale looks like. It might not include Pinterest crafts or breastmilk, staying home with him, going back to work ever. You might not be the same kind of mom as yours, and that is okay.

You might try for years to have a baby, and it might never happen. It will tear you up inside. The grief will be unmatched. Your desire will feel unfulfilled. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to mute your friends with children. It is okay to let it go someday. To put that dream behind you and move on. To find peace in your journey.

You may get to an age where you know the chance to be a mom has passed you by. You may be too afraid to try. You may think you will fowl it up. You may look at the world around you and wonder why bother bringing a baby into something so completely messed up. You may feel the loss of miscarrying and everyone around you might not understand why, for you, Mother’s Day makes you want to hide.

Momness is a battle. It is waging war against the world for your child, but it also waging war against the fear inside you. Momness can mean loving a baby, but it can also mean advocating for a child that has no mom. It can mean stepping in when you see a need. It can mean listening and paying attention when you realize no one else is.

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You will find your momness in moments of extraordinary bravery. Because momness isn’t just in the having and raising of your own baby, it is in the daily battle for the future. The willingness to look at this frantic world and try to create moments of peace. To fight for someone smaller, less capable than you. To be around when you need to be. To prove that though they be small they can still be fierce.

With love,

A girl still finding her Momness

The Modern Author Life

Things Writers like JK Rowling and Anne Rice and Stephen King didn’t have to worry about when launching their careers:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Immediate Human Contact

Things authors need to worry about when launching their careers now:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Immediate Human Contact

And, oh, GIVEAWAYS.

After the giveaway drama of yesterday I wrote my friend and told her I would never do it again. I didn’t like the pressure. I felt powerless and unsafe and nauseous and my fingernail polish was all chipped off from panic. And if it’s like that on a small scale, how will it be when people actually care later on?

She suggested that giveaway’s were essential to our chosen career path. That they are expected of authors, especially Young Adult authors, and never say never. She encouraged me not to worry.

And there’s the rub: I worry a lot.

Writers as a species are over-thinkers. We humans created to write stories tend to have over-active, vivid, and often, dark imaginations. We are good at thinking up elaborate scenarios for failure and malady. We are designed to do this so we can get our characters into circumstances that require heroism. You need us to be this way so you get stories that make you feel things.

Take a person like that and throw them into any situation where the outcome is unknown and they will start to devise schemes for failure or triumph. We’re not always dark, sometimes those imaginations that create detailed worlds and intricate plots also dream up wild success stories. We can sort of be like the mirror of Erised. Like, look at me with the House Cup and being a glorious Head Girl and my mom is crying tears of joy…

I’m veering off topic.

The changing landscape of the publishing world means we as authors have to become more comfortable with a whole heap of things outside our control. We have to roll with punches and we have to guard our words and we may need to drink at night or take up a spin class to deal with that anxiety of ALL THE UNKNOWN and HOW WE CAN FAIL and IT’S ALL SO PUBLIC NOW.

We also need to be honest. We need to let people in on our not okay all the time-ness. We need to be allowed to say we don’t know what we’re doing and we are making it up as we go along and we do yes please need a well-timed gif of a kitten in a coffee cup tweeted at us.

As difficult as

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Facebook

Instagram

Actual human contact

Can be

It can be so very wonderful,too. Super rewarding. But not if it feels unsafe. Not if we think we HAVE to. Not if we aren’t authentic.

Giveaways will happen. But not because I think it’s my responsibility as an author. I can be an author without that. I am very clever. I could find my way around it.

But my responsibility to future fans (Hey, you guys are so fancy and bad ass and I love you. ❤ Future Me) is to make the internet as it relates to my books and my chosen path of Young Adult Book Pusher accessible and fun and shiny. That is something of value, and I like adding value to lives.

I agree with my friend: Giveaways are useful. Readers and writers alike enjoy them, but they are scary and stressful for me.

So is publishing my stories. It’s scares me, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to me to do the things JK and Anne and Stephen didn’t have to if it means I’m doing the best for my fans and my book.

I will always worry. I will never be cool. My brain will inevitably veer into dangerous territory any time I face a situation outside my control. I think it’s better to deal with all that, and also do something I love, than to be sitting alone in my office writing into a vacuum and never trying anything that scares me.

Fear means you’re alive. Fear means you’re doing something right.

 

 

 

 

 

The Road to Completing a Short Film

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I thought a lot about which platform I should share this information on. But this story feels relevant to anyone with a dream, so bear with me for a moment. Those who follow me because I am a soon-to-be-published Young Adult author (Hi! And thank you!), might not know that two and a half years ago I gathered a rag-tag group of aspiring filmmakers together to fund and shoot a short film I’d written years before.

Ideas are funny creatures. The metaphor that they begin as seeds and must be cultivated, watered and nurtured, harvested at the right time, while a little flowery for my taste is also somehow perfectly suitable. Ideas take time, and more often than not, it is the abandoning of the idea before the maturity of the idea that results in failure. Failure, here, means letting the idea die. Not success in the chosen market. Not money or glory. Sometimes, you fail there too, later after you’ve planted and nurtured. But I find failure comes from abandonment first, the failure that you can control anyway. And you can only kick yourself for what you give up on, not what is given up on by others.

I gathered the team to shoot this film, Cassie’s Cause. It was bumpy, a ride we all look back on now and remember with anxiety and fondness, laughter and annoyance. We lost people along the way, and we hit walls we didn’t foresee. We were forced to stop for huge gaps of time, staring at the unfinished idea, at the not abandoned but not matured thing, and wonder if it would ever become.

Today, we submitted the “little idea that could” to Austin Film Festival. The finished movie, all grown up.

Jonathan Dickson– my co-director and lifelong friend– and I hit the submit button. We watched the screen blink, confirmation brightening, and we looked at eachother with mile wide smiles. He raised his hand.

“It is finished.”

I hit his palm in a high five.

It is finished. Three words that mean so much. They represent an end, but also a beginning. To us, no matter what happens with the submission, we completed the task. The idea has taken root, been given sunlight, grown enough to exist on its own.

And finally a blurb, for anyone interested, about our little movie:

Cassie Duncan, a scrappy animal activist grieving the loss of her older brother, Gregory, wishes she could get him back. He returns, changed. Now she is the proud owner of a gnarly faced Zombie-boy, and together they embark on a trippy adventure.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird

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To Kill a Mockingbird was the first book that was all mine.

I had always been a reader. As a little girl, I’d read Caddie Woodlawn, and Pollyanna, and had Charlotte’s Web and A Wrinkle in Time read aloud to me. And others, of course, and more than I will name here. When I was eleven years old, I found a VHS copy of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird in my parents movie closet. I wanted to watch it, and my mom said no. Not until I read the book. She went to the store and bought a purple trade paperback edition and presented it to me that night.

I was eleven, this was a big book. An undertaking. I set about conquering that mammoth, even so. I read in the car. I read at the park. I read at church and in the tree in front of my house. I finished it on my bed, late at night, with tears in my eyes. I sunk from the edge of the bed to the ground and wept, and hugged it close, and got the edges of the pages all messed up with my salty tears.

I would never be the same.

I reread it a handful of times over the next few years. I got in fights with people in my Texas town that still used the N word because now I understood where that word came from, what that word meant, and why it was wrong. To Kill a Mockingbird taught me that.

tkm

I moved away from Texas at thirteen and started to eighth grade in a small town in Colorado nestled between the Rocky Mountains and an evergreen forest. The day before I started school — friendless, ill-equipped to navigate this new environment — I met my English teacher at the open house. Her name was Mrs. Collette. She was a tiny white woman with wisps of blonde hair and shiny blue eyes. She asked me if I was a reader. I told her my favorite book was To Kill a Mockingbird, in fact I had it in my backpack to come with me to school. I felt safer with it. Like I had a friend.

Mrs. Collette, it turned out, was also friends with Scout and Jem. We had that in common. And until I was ready to make new friends, she let me sit in her classroom at lunch and grade papers, talk books, talk writing. Mrs. Collette saw potential in me, in the way I put words together, and even though I was terrified, she encouraged me to be brave.

To Kill a Mockingbird made that happen.

Harper Lee made that happen.

Today, Harper Lee left this world. She moved on to the next adventure, a greater adventure than this one. She changed my life with her words, and forever, I’m in debt to the bravery it took to write a book that was dangerous, but necessary. I’m thankful, forever, that she did.

 

This is the New Year Cry

dumbledore

Most years I write a farewell, a tipping of my hat to the year gone by, acknowledging all the brilliant, painful and perplexing things I experienced, speaking to the dreams that thrived, or died, and then finally turning my eyes outward.

This year, I struggled.

In 2015 I saw and did things I never expected to see or do. I struggled with questions I thought I’d already firmly answered. I was thirty. I was without my grandma for the first time ever. I was sojourning in the land of creative confusion, with a long layover in emotional malaise-ville. I watched terror rip through the world with no idea how it would ever quell, but only escalate, only accelerate. I watched my son find his way through kindergarten, to first grade, and me without a clue how he got that big, that fast.

I gave in on things and I refused to budge on others. I cried. I panicked. I did YouTube. I went to Comic-Con and was the recipient of the magical power of fandom. I became an aunt, again. I was paid my first real money for writing. I decided to say no, and yes, and go to hell, and I love you when it was true and not just when it was appropriate. I fought. I conceded. I won.

2015 can’t simply be summed up, and so much of it is still too hard for me to put into words and then give to the world. It can’t be reflected because it is alive in me, and even though the year is ending, so very much of what it started continues to beat on like my own heartbeat in my chest, my own blood pounding through my veins. A new year is nothing but a chance to say goodbye to a number, a version living, and hello to another, made new by experience. We begin again all the time. We stop and start. We throw fits and offer ultimatums, and always, hopefully, are living like it’s our last chance to try.

A New Year is nothing but a chance to do something different. To be changed for the better, the worse, to get a start on that forgotten dream, or to move on to the one you’d been putting off for tomorrow. A New Year is a moment in time that will pass without impact if you let it.

We resolve to make this one better, more peaceful, less ugly, but then we forget. We get busy. We get selfish and anxious and we lose our way when it’s no longer new, but just life, again, like always. And then we get soggy-eyed, we get grumpy, and that resolution is buried beneath the dirty laundry and broken promises.

I will not lie to you and promise you a better tomorrow. No one can do that, not really, so there is not point me trying. Tomorrow might not be better. Tonight might still be hit by terror and violence, by goodness and hope, by mediocrity and pettiness. But I will encourage you to believe in the present.

This moment where you have hope, hold onto it.

The kiss from your son, the cuddle from your daughter.

The gleam in your husband’s eyes when he thinks your hair looks pretty the way it falls like that over your shoulder, your neck, into your eyes which crinkle more right now than yesterday.

The laughter of friends talking stories and making plans, plans they can’t guarantee, but need to make all the same.

The dog on your lap. The book in your hand, in your fingertips, in your spirit.

This is all we are given, this brief moment in time. This is all that we need, to be here for each other, for the world. For today.

That is not the answer.

I am a Christian.

How many will stop reading this post because of that?

What if I said I was Muslim?

How many others would stop then?

I find it difficult to talk about my faith on social media, and so mostly, I don’t. My Facebook feed is divided: half people I go to church with and half I have met in my life as a young adult writer and screenwriter. A lot of conservatives, just as many liberals. I see both sides to every popular argument going on in America. I rarely add my own voice to the debate. Partly because I do not want to create more noise, and partly because I do not always know what I feel is right.

Christians say go to the Bible, the answers are there. But it’s easy to misinterpret the Bible based on my own desires, based on my own experiences, the environment I live in, the world I am faced with or wishing for. Ultimately, faith is personal and a journey and not easy. My path and yours are different, and therefor the way I choose to live is not subject to your approval. The way you live is not for me to discuss or diminish. My answer from God is not yours.

When I lived in New York City, I constantly encountered people that did not believe the same thing as I did. These people did not shock me or wound me. They were not my enemies because they were gay or atheists, because they were the children of a Muslim, because they ascribed to a different spiritual journey or lifestyle.

But still my faith was shaken. And it was good for me. It taught me who I really was, and it helped me learn true empathy, it opened my mind. Faith is not made sturdy without testing. I am no lesser now because I want to accept other people for who they are and what they believe, because I question things more freely, because I am willing to change. I do not care about a person’s sexual orientation, race or religious affiliations as long as they are kind and they treat me with respect.

That is the only thing that matters in a friend, in a world. How we treat each other.

I get tired of the fighting. I want very little from my friends. I want them to laugh with me. I want them to listen to me. I want them to be brave. I want them to respect my choices. These are all things we should be able to do, but more and more it seems we can’t. We think it is our job to show someone the light, and I don’t mean the Light of the World. We spend a lot of time arguing particulars. If someone doesn’t support the woman’s right to choose, they are trying to control women. If someone thinks abortions aren’t murder, they are compared to Hitler — Hitler, who slaughtered millions of Jews because of his own bigotry and fear. Bigotry and fear lead nowhere good fast.

I will not fight you on these or any other issue because for every horror story on one side of the coin, there is an equally horrible one on the other. There is no good answer in a world like this one. There are only more questions.

I have a very good friend that used to, after we had a few glasses of wine, always start up a debate. And I would always listen because her views and feelings were important to me. We would go round and round on the BIG questions of War and Death and Illness, Rape and Violence, and she would always ask me how I could acknowledge all of these things and still believe in God. I would always tell her the same thing, because I choose to.

For me it really is that simple. But this fight we are in all around the world, that is not simple. It is painful and nuanced, layered and eternal. I have learned there is no one answer to silence every voice.

Just be the very best possible version of the person you think you are meant to be. Don’t be an ass no matter your religion, race, gender or lifestyle. Don’t try to conform others to your liking. Be who you are and have a little faith that that is what you are meant to do, that is enough, that is your answer. Show don’t tell. Act when you need to, when it is right for you. Be willing to listen, be brave enough to speak your truth, and be kind enough to shut up when you are finished.