Sunday, October 29, 2017

Good Grief

I sometimes imagine we have all these invisible cords leading to those we love. Even when we aren't close physically, our loved ones exist on the other end of those cords and all you have to do is give a little tug, feel the resistance and be assured of their constant connection to you. Life and love flow beautifully between the two ends. When we lose someone close to us that cord loses its resistance, comes to you freely. You worry the frayed edges knowing it will take time to adjust to a world without this particular human in it. 

Grief is a gift. It is an affirmation of our loved one's presence in our lives. In THIS I KNOW, Grace's beloved Aunt Pearl tries to explain this to my young protagonist after she experiences the loss of a dear friend:

"Sorrow is the good Lord's toll for love," she says, shaking her head. I know by the way she says it that Aunt Pearl has paid a great debt for the generosity of her big heart.

I wanted to convey that earned elder wisdom, how opening your heart to love also means subjecting it to possible pain. And that by becoming vulnerable, we more fully appreciate that the price is more than compensated by the depth of that love. The bigger the joy the greater the sorrow. The deeper the love, the higher the toll. That's just the way it works. 

Although we're sometimes glad for the end of suffering, when a loved one dies it often feels as if someone has turned off the sun and the world is suddenly darker and colder. Every inch of you feels raw, tender, fragile. To those of you currently reeling from loss, I know there are no right words. We can only listen and offer comfort. Perhaps the best we can do is to hold up a mirror in hopes that you'll recognize your loved one in every tear, every fold of your heart, and know that you still carry them you.

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Anna Banana Unkovich, who left this world on August 7th. I miss you every day.


My debut novel, THIS I KNOW, releases April 24 2018. I'd be honored if you added it to your wish-list on Good Reads. You can also pre-order the book on Amazon or from you local bookstore.

"Set in a small Midwest town in the late 1960s and helmed by an unforgettable young protagonist—compassionate, uncannily wise Grace—This I Know is a luminous coming-of-age story from an astonishing new voice."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Book of Wishes

 Growing up in the 1960's and 70's, who doesn't remember filling up their quick-saver books with sticky strips and sheets of S&H Green Stamps? After every grocery shopping trip, my parents would toss the earned stamps in a basket on top of the old Hotpoint fridge, the kind with the door handle that would snap back and pinch your little  fingers if you weren't careful. Once a month my sisters and I would take on the job licking and pasting, dreaming of all the wonderful things we'd be able to get for "free" as a reward for feeding a family of nine.

We kept the Ideabook in the magazine rack next to the sofa, along with the Sears catalog, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, and random articles my Dad had cut out of religious pamphlets to read later, usually in the bathroom.  Every once in a while I'd take out that sacred book and pour over images of dolls, trains, wagons and bicycles. Unlike the Sears catalog, full of toys and clothes we couldn't afford on a minister's salary, the green stamp book offered a promise of something within reach. I could see myself holding that doll, riding that bike, pulling that wagon. If only we filled enough books.

But it was never to be. My mom always traded the stamps for flatware. I remember the pattern, a swirly line with sparkly stars on either side of the spoon handle. They looked pretty on our
Sunday dinner table set with the "good" china and drinking glasses we fished out of detergent boxes. (Our family went through a lot of detergent.) As an adult I've stopped longing for shiny things and expensive toys. I drive a sixteen-year-old car, shop at thrift stores, and live in a 500 square foot home by choice. I prefer living a simple life abundant with the joy of immaterial goods. If there was a catalog for my yearnings it would be for continued good health, delicious foods, great books, my morning espresso, and a place to share my writing. Every blank page is like an Ideabook that I get to fill with my stories! Looking back I now  realize it was never about getting the thing, it was the hope that filled you from the wishing itself. 

What about you? What's in your "idea book" today? If you could wish for one thing for yourself, what would it be? And how do you plan to turn your dreams into reality?

Shameless plug: My debut novel THIS I KNOW features a clairvoyant preacher's daughter who comes of age at the turn of the culturally-explosive decade of the 1960's. It's available for pre-order and you can add it to your Goodreads wish-list. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Box of Joy (and Grace and Chastity)

Photo credit: Vince Laconte
Logic will get your from point A. to point B. Imagination will take you everywhere. --Albert Einstein

My siblings and I learned early on what all cats intuitively understand: empty boxes are are far more entertaining than the items they once contained. I can't count the number of times we kids set upon a discarded appliance box and let our imaginations run wild. All it took was a pocket knife and a box of crayons to transform that ugly carton into a rocket ship, a store or circus ticket booth.  Every new cardboard box was an opportunity to become a banker, a baker, a train engineer or anything else we dreamed up. 

I tapped into those childhood experiences while writing a scene for THIS I KNOW where Grace's sisters convince her to use her intuitive gift to predict the future for curious neighborhood children. Grace knows it's a bad idea, but the combination of getting to play dress-up and earn a little pocket change is too tempting to turn down. Here's an (edited for length) sneak peak of that scene:

As we round the corner behind the barn I can hardly believe my eyes. Joy has outdone herself this time. She and Chastity must have dragged a refrigerator box home from the hardware store. They painted it all swirly with markers and cut a square out for a window. A hand-lettered cardboard sign hangs above the opening: 

AMAZING GRACE! Fortunes Told: Twenty-Five Cents

Joy hands me Daddy’s paisley bathrobe and a blue bath towel.
“What am I supposed to do with these?”
“Wrap the towel around your head. You know, like a gypsy fortune-teller. The robe will make you look more authentic.” 
I stick my arms into the sleeves and Joy ties the belt at my waist. There’s a foot of leftover robe puddled on the ground. She wraps my hair in the towel and clips it with a brooch from Mama’s jewelry box, then snaps two earrings with silver balls dangling from them onto my ears. 
Joy takes a step back. “You look great!” She shoves a kitchen stool under my rear end, then picks up the refrigerator box and drops it over my head so the window is in front of my face. She claps her hands together and squeals. “Perfect!”
“I feel ridiculous.” The words echo against the cardboard walls of my tall, dark room. 
Chastity bounces up and down, her blond pigtails flouncing behind her. “Here come the first two kids!”
Joy leans in close to my face. “Okay, Grace. Just be yourself. Except with, you know, a little flair.” She winks at me and straightens my turban. "Ready?"


I'm not clairvoyant like Grace Carter  and yet I knew the minute FedEx pulled up they were delivering a very special package. A cat might find the cardboard box quite inviting but the contents are what made me audibly squeal. Inside are the Advance Reader Copies (Uncorrected Proofs) of THIS I KNOW. Most of them will go to indie bookstores, librarians, book bloggers and reviewers. But one lucky reader will win a shiny advance copy for themselves. ☺ Stay tuned for a contest to be announced on my Facebook Page this week!  In the meantime, drop a comment below to let me know you've shared this post. The first ten people who share this post will receive a signed dust jacket and a bookmark

Thank you all so much for sharing in my excitement and helping to build buzz about my debut novel. Want to keep up with contests, sneak-peaks and news about my upcoming release?

Add THIS I KNOW to your Goodreads list.
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Pre-order THIS I KNOW (Or ask your favorite indie bookstore to carry it!)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Daydream Believer

Every year on the first day of school I always tried to grab the desk nearest the windows. I knew it meant that I'd be in charge of opening them in the event of a tornado drill but I didn't mind. What mattered was having a direct sight-line to the parking lot where I'd witness parents bustling up the sidewalk to deliver forgotten lunches. I'd have a close-up view of the weather as it shifted (sometimes hourly) from rain to sleet to sunshine to blizzard. Toward the end of the day I'd watch buses roll under a flapping American flag to wait for their rambunctious charges. That glass was more than a view of earth and sky; it was a window into my daydreams as I watched clouds crawl across the livelong sky of seemingly endless school days. 

Don't get me wrong--I loved school. It was the place where I first fell in love with words, competing with Glen Burmeister and Keith Johnson as the only girl left standing during our weekly spelling bees. Reading and writing were my favorite subjects because I could lose myself in my imagination, which I often did, to the consternation of my teachers. "Doesn't work up to potential" or "Unfocused" or "Daydreamer" they'd write in my report cards. And it was true. I was often bored and that window was my salvation. But because I got good mostly good grades (I sucked at art and penmanship) my parents didn't balk that much. "Try harder," they'd ask, and I'd promise I would. But I didn't.

They always say you should write about what you know. Even as I tapped away at this post I stopped and started it several times, distracted by a bird on the wire, the sound of my neighbor yakking loudly in her driveway, then imagining that bird knocking the cellphone out of her hand. I suppose it comes as no surprise then that I gave my young protagonist, Grace Carter, the same penchant for losing herself in the world beyond her immediate surroundings. Because this? This I know.

What about you? Were you a daydreamer? Did you like school? Share your thoughts down yonder. ;)

Monday, October 2, 2017

And Then There Were (Still) Six

I was five years old when my mother lost her seventh daughter. I don't remember my mom being pregnant. I only remember my exhausted dad lining up the six of us girls and telling us that our baby sister had been born with a hole in her heart so she went to be with Jesus. They named her Lori Lee and she was laid to rest in a tiny cemetery in New Era, Michigan. I never got to see her. Fifteen months later my mother had another baby, her only boy. He weighed thirteen pounds. That one I remember.

One day, while snooping in my parents' closet, I found a pair of tiny white booties, a lock of hair, and a photo of a ruddy-faced infant lying in a silk-lined casket surrounded by bouquets of flowers. I wanted to ask my mom about the stillborn baby but it seemed a box tucked that deep into a closet was a thing she might prefer to stay hidden, so I left it there. Every once in a while I'd sneak back into the closet to visit the box and study that photograph. The baby looked like she was sleeping; the casket, like a tiny doll bed. I'd whisper her name over and over, as if by doing so she'd recognize me someday if I ever bumped into her in heaven. Even after all these years, the image of that baby remains frozen in my mind's eye.

My mother died when I was thirty-one and I regret not asking her more about how that was, losing a child. I imagine people might have tried to reassure her with clumsy words about how lucky she was to have six healthy children. I doubt those words soothed her pain. I wish I'd talked with her about it, felt the full weight of the sorrow she must have endured. Maybe I'd have been better equipped to console friends who've miscarried or given birth to stillborn babies. Maybe I'd have navigated my own episode of postpartum depression with more self-compassion. And maybe I'd have understood my mother better than I thought I did.

I can't go back in time, but in writing THIS I KNOW I was free to imagine what it might be like to endure such a loss. The book opens with twins communicating their last thoughts to each other in the womb before being pushed into the outside world. What follows is the story of a prescient child who longs to harvest the pit of sorrow from her mother's heart and replace it with seeds of hope. Something we could all use a little of right now, yes?