Insights

2023: What a strange year it’s been

I’m a planner. I like lists, schedules, itineraries. An organized calendar. Structure. The ability to make a plan and know what is coming. When I don’t have those things I feel disoriented. I even get a little, shall we say, moody (Just ask my husband 😱). So when some things went sideways this year, I felt a little adrift. I wasn’t sure where my boat was headed and it took me awhile to adjust course, take advantage of the opportunities I was being given, and see the path ahead, even if it wasn’t as clear as I wanted it to be.

Old Publisher, New Publisher

As I’ve mentioned before, it was necessary for me to part ways with my first publisher earlier this year. It was a frustrating situation and, though a difficult decision, ultimately the right one for me. But for a short time, I was unsure of the future of my debut novel. Fortunately, I found a new home with Black Rose Writing and couldn’t be happier. The entire process with Black Rose has been fantastic and I’m eagerly looking forward to my book’s release on September 5, 2024.

Careers, Jobs, and Work

This spring, the tech start-up where I worked full-time as a marketing director went through a round of layoffs. Myself and a number of my wonderfully talented team members were unfortunately affected. It was a shock, to say the least, and an unsettling time to be back on the job market. Unfortunately, many tech companies have struggled over the past year and competition for jobs in the industry has been intense. Hiring processes are long, interview questions and job qualifications are incredibly specific, and the entire experience has been very humbling. It is a matter of time, I’m certain, until I find my next role. What I will say is that, in the meantime, I am fortunate to have support, encouragement and references from a core group of wonderful former co-workers and mentors who have proven themselves to be true friends and heroes.

Free time

Without a full time job (aside from the full time hours spent looking for a new full time job!) I suddenly found myself with a lot more free time. It was something I used to always yearn for, and here I was with boatloads of it. I wish I could tell you that I used it to write my next book. And while I did make a (very) small amount of progress on it, I just wasn’t in the right head space. I did, however, join a local writers group and connected with some great folks. It has given me the chance to work on some skills, share some writing, and get out of my comfort zone.

Otherwise, I felt frustrated with hours of reading job postings and submitting applications and sitting through interviews, and needed action. So I painted. Spent more time with my kids. Worked in my garden. Hacked at the giant Virginia creeper vines that threaten to take over our yard every year–and let out a lot of rage in the process. (I highly recommend this method of stress release). Organized cabinets and closets. Adopted a rescue cat. Took my son on a trip to New York City. Trained for a marathon (more on that in a minute). Took long walks with my dogs. And got more cleaning done than I have in years.

It’s been a strange break after so many years of full-time work. But, overall, a nice one. I’ve had the chance to reset. I’ve had time to myself and time with my family. Time to be creative and time to be productive. Time to clear my head, think through my priorities and consider what I want. I look forward to getting back to work, but I can honestly say that this break has been a healthy and therapeutic change.

Running around

Back in March, my husband and I traveled to Tokyo to run the 2023 Tokyo Marathon. Tokyo is the 5th out of 6 World Major Marathons that we’ve now completed. Having previously run New York, Chicago, London and Berlin Marathons, I have to say that Tokyo was a wildly different experience. From the 14+ hour plane trip, to the search for vegan food in Japan, to stressing about the very strict and specific race rules, to the longest port-o-potty lines I’ve ever seen at any race ever–it was wild. But we had an amazing time and I’ll never forget running through the streets of Tokyo.

A few months later, I ran a very different race. The organizers of the New York City Marathon offer a handful of people the chance to run a guaranteed-entry virtual marathon. In other words, you pay an entry fee and run a marathon distance anywhere in the world during the same week as the in-person NYC Marathon. In the process, you earn yourself a guaranteed entry to the following year’s in-person marathon. So, on a chilly day in October, I set out alone on the local rail-trail–an entire world away from the crowded streets of Tokyo. The rain started 14 miles in. The trail, normally busy with runners, bike riders and walkers, was so empty that day, I almost collided with a deer wandering across the path. I let my mind wander as the miles went by, tried to forget the cold and the rain, and concentrated on making it to 26.2 miles….where hubby and all three of our kids were waiting. Very proud to say it was my second best time ever, even if my lips were blue by the end! And I earned myself a place in the 2024 New York City Marathon 🙂

One more note on the World Major Marathons. Seven years ago, my husband and I set out on a mission to run all six World Majors and have one to go–the one in our home city, the Boston Marathon. Of all the World Majors, Boston is the hardest in which to earn a spot. We are not fast runners and do not qualify based on time. Despite numerous applications, we were not accepted by any charities for spots in the 2024 Boston Marathon. We are more than willing to raise the large amounts of money ($10k each) for a charity, given the opportunity! But, understandably, spots are highly sought after and not easy to nab. We are actively looking for guidance, help, referrals, connections, etc, from anyone willing to give them in order to find a charity who will take us so that we can reach our goal! Many thanks 🙂

Looking ahead

So, what does 2024 hold? Many things, of course. But I’m trying my best not to be so rigid about what those things should or shouldn’t be.

The old me would say I hope next year holds the next big step in my career. But what I really want is a good job where I can do great work. I want to work with people who are as excited as I am to be doing the job and take pride in what they do. I hope very much to find that.

2024 means the launch of my first book, something I’ve been waiting for, in some ways, my whole life. I can’t even begin to express how exciting that is.

The next year means another year of my three teenagers becoming even more independent and brilliant and sassy. More capable and hilarious and too-smart-for-their-own-good. Heaven knows they drive me insane, but goodness, do I love them like crazy.

And I know, without a doubt, that the next year will be filled with more wonderful things. Like great books. Snuggles on the couch with our dogs. Flowers in our garden. Road trips. Starbucks coffee. Netflix binges. Long runs. And thanking the heavens for the man who has happily put up with his moody, unemployed, temperamental, sweatpant-wearing wife this year and always had a smile ready for her. I thank all that is good in the world for my saint of a husband.

The year will hold plenty of other things, I’m sure, both good and bad. Will I see it all coming? Not a chance. But I’m getting better with this whole rolling with the punches thing. I hear some people call it… relaxing? Never heard of it. 😉

One page at a time: Trust the writing process

Trust the writing process.

Many writers are asked about their writing process. As with most things that take any amount of effort–working, parenting, creating art, running, marriage–no one seems to go about it in the same way. And while I’m sure there are less-productive ways to do it, there are certainly lots of different ways that work well for some people, and don’t work at all for others. 

Take running, for example. My husband and I started running together back when we were dating. It was something we could do together that was healthy, fun and, even better, free! Since we’ve been married, we have run three marathons and a boatload of other races together. They weren’t all perfect. We sometimes annoy each other or struggle to keep up if one of us is having an off day. But in general it’s something we really like to do. However, agreeing on a route around our neighborhood for training runs? Forget it. He’s happy to include laps around the high school track, repeat the same streets, or hit the steep hills. Me, on the other hand, I’m never one for doubling back where we’ve already been. I think running laps is torture. And I’ll take a long slow hill over a steep one any day. But somehow, we both get our training done. 

When it comes to writing, I’m constantly fascinated by the different habits and methods other writers follow. Some of them I absolutely know wouldn’t work for me. Turning off all social media between Monday morning and Friday afternoon to avoid distraction is one particular one that comes to mind! But I’m sure there are others that I could learn from. In the end, I know the way I write isn’t perfect, but it’s my own particular style and, for now, I’m trusting the process. Here’s a tiny, but honest glance into the way I write.

The Writing Process

Do you write every day?

Definitely not! With a full-time day job, kids, pets, a husband, and a list of things to do that never seems to get any shorter, I don’t write nearly as often as I would like to. When my kids were younger and had a more predictable schedule, I was a little better about fitting it in, but it’s definitely slipped more in recent years. I would very much like to make it more of a priority, because I find it very relaxing and therapeutic. 

Do you have writing goals or timelines? 

I have tried, on occasion, to set word count goals, but I don’t find them to be particularly realistic or motivating. I have to be in the right mood to get productive writing done. Forcing myself to work on something when I’m not in the right headspace ends up being a waste of time. In the end, I just get it done when time allows, one page at a time.  

Where is your favorite place to write?

On my couch with my dog curled up beside me. I sit at a desk all day for work, so I like to put my feet up when I’m writing otherwise it feels too much like a task and not a pleasure. (Gratuitiously cute dog picture, for reference!)

Do you outline a story before writing it?

I have tried very hard to be better about outlining, but I find it just doesn’t work for me. I have written two books and started a third. The first two started as a scene I saw very clearly in my head that I had to write down. From there I built a story around that scene–why were the characters there, what brought them to that moment, what did they do next? 

In the case of the second book, which ended up being the book that eventually sold and is being published, I did a loose outline for where I thought I wanted to take the story. But as I started to write it, the book just didn’t go in that direction and I ended up abandoning the outline. For the book I’m working on now, I started with a type of person in a certain situation that I wanted to write about. I know that there are particular things I want to include in that person’s story. But I don’t think you really get to know your characters until you start to give them some room to breathe. For me, that is what helps determine the arc of the story.  

Where do you get ideas for your writing?

It definitely varies. The most obviously place is from the things or people closest to me, and in a roundabout way that was the inspiration for Eleanora. When my kids were very young I thought a lot about their safety and would worry about something bad happening to them. In the book, Eleanora’s 4-year-old son goes missing from his bed in the middle of the night–really a parent’s worst nightmare. So writing about it was a way to exercise those anxieties in a safe space and say “what if the worst were to happen?” 

In other cases, I’ve been inspired to write about things I like to do, like traveling to different countries. Or in the case of the new book I’m working on, I’m writing about a topic that I find particularly interesting to research. 

What is something you now know about the writing process that you didn’t know before?

That you will read your own book MANY times! Between the writing, drafting, and querying, plus all the rounds of editing, a lot of the time you have to dedicate to writing is actually spent re-reading your own words, over and over. And even then, there are new things you will catch every time!

LOVE & Writing in Philly – 2022 AWP Writers Conference

AWP 2022

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend AWP 2022 – the annual conference hosted by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. After 3 days I headed home with an overwhelming number of new ideas, inspiration, tips, and techniques I am dying to put into practice. I also left with a huge pile of new books, subscriptions to half a dozen new writing podcasts, a list of literary magazines to submit to….now just need to find the time to get to it all!

I met so many wonderful writers at the conference who were kind enough to share their experiences. They ranged from publishing poetry in tiny literary magazines to writing multiple best-selling novels with the biggest publishers in the world. Everyone’s stories were different, but there was a common message at the heart of what everyone said. No matter what, no matter how hard, no matter how down or tired or rejected or unsure you feel about what you are doing…just keep writing. 

If you’ve ever had the urge to write, then you know it’s a constant battle. So often the words are inside of you — it just everything else in life that gets in the way of writing them down. It can be painful to let those words go unwritten, even on the days when you struggle to find exactly the right ones. But just hearing the reminder across the entire conference population to keep going was pretty awesome.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Maya angelou

Woman – Mother – Writer – Me

I attended a number of sessions with panels of mother-writers. They covered a few different topics, but all inevitably ended up touching on the theme of “how-do-you-fit-it-all-in”? And boy, do I feel that.

In the end, the answer is the same for any art form, passion, or hobby – finding time to write is absolutely critical to keeping yourself sane. I think the same is true for whatever it is you do to feed your soul, whether that is dystopian paranormal romantic poetry,  yoga, kick-boxing, getting lost in a book, competitive roller-derby or hiding in your car with a latte and a candy bar while scrolling social media – you gotta make time to do your thing and be you.

One Angry Mother

One of the best panel of the conference focused on writing about women’s rage. In particular, the panelists talked about how unacceptable it is to write angry female characters. Angry men are allowable as characters because their anger is understood – we get that they have stuff to be angry about. But angry women are not only unlikeable, they are also thought to be unreliable, overly sensitive or insane.

It’s a ridiculous double standard. Anger is a perfectly normal human emotion, especially for a group of people who have been historically undervalued (coughWOMENcough). Just thinking about it makes me, well, kind of angry! And then makes me want to write some very bad women. (Pause here as new book ideas start to formulate….) 

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Writing can often be a solitary and even lonely pursuit. Likewise, publication is an exercise in learning how to accept repeated rejection and criticism. But finding a supportive community of other writers and learning about what has kept them going through their writing careers can be game changing.

Having the time and space to connect with other writers, even for a few days, was far more valuable than I could have imagined – even if it’s just realizing there are so many others out there who understand how terrifying empty pages are, how hard it can be to find the right words, how incredible it is to see your name in print, and how cathartic it can be to get to THE END.