A #Pizzathology Announcement!

I alluded to (shouted about) it on Twitter, but here is the official announcement that I will be part of an anthology dedicated to the sort of stories that make your mouth water and your stomach grumble. The sort of stories that deliver just what you’re looking for, and make you want to return for more again and again. Saucy, sexy, fun, and deadly. That’s right. It’s an anthology all about PIZZA.

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Details about the book and participating authors below, and even further down you’ll find a teaser for my story, FRESH, HOT, AND DEADLY. Check out the websites of the other authors and follow the hashtag to see other teasers, and get excited for the cover reveal, coming soon!

Pizzathology-Banner

A Pizza My Heart: An Anthology

Gooey cheese and warm pepperoni, with a side of kissing and murder.

A Pizza My Heart is a quirky and fun anthology that crosses all genres. Fifteen extraordinary authors have united to tell stories of mystery, mayhem, romance, danger, deceit…and pizza.

Sometimes spicy, sometimes cheesy, but always delicious, A Pizza My Heart invites you to explore life, happiness, and the pursuit of pizza.

 

Stories Include:

A Slice of Adventure by Maria Carvalho

Between Slices by Andy Grieser

Fresh, Hot, and Deadly by Rena Olsen

KissingDancingPizzaMURDER by Darci Cole

Kneadful Things by Jenna Lehne

Love Pizza No. 9 by Vanessa Rodriguez

Madame Miraval’s Pizza Place by Kelly deVos

Password Is… by Jolene Haley

Pizza by Emily Simon

Pizza Buddy by Brian LeTendre

Pizzamergency by Brett Jonas

Survival Pizza by Rebecca Waddell

The Last Stop at the End of the World by Jamie Adams

The Pizza Guy by Jessi Shakarian

Where There’s Pizza by Jasmine Brown

Book release date: November 12, 2016 (National Pizza with the Works except Anchovies Day)

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30119563-a-pizza-my-heart

Fresh-Hot-And-Deadly-Teaser

Join the book buzz using hashtag #Pizzathology

 

 

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At-ti-TUDE

Storytime. (I share this with permission from my mom, since it’s largely about her.)

It was Thanksgiving, and my siblings and I converged on my parents’ house to enjoy a non-traditional feast (which my sister still insists we need to redo). I arrived first, on Wednesday evening, and was surprised to find my mom struggling to walk. She could move a bit, with assistance, but it caused her a great deal of pain. I knew she had been having some pain issues, but I had no idea it had gotten so severe. On Thanksgiving Day, she was moving from place to place using a rolling desk chair. That evening I tearfully begged her to go to the hospital (she is stubborn like me). On Friday we brought her to the hospital for an iron infusion and got her admitted (don’t even get me started on the frustration of being told they might not be able to admit a patient who cannot even walk for unknown reasons…thankful for the doctor who did some creative guessing at an admittable diagnosis).

Immediately my mom’s condition improved. She wasn’t walking right away, but she had color back, and her humor returned. She had so many needles stuck in her (guess who was the only one who stayed to hold her hand during those parts, buncha wimps), but she was getting help and that made all the difference. She was still there when I left on Sunday that weekend, but was able to go home early the following week. She was determined not to stay longer than necessary. Like I said. Stubborn.

That hurdle jumped, we thought we were done with health crises for the time being. However, the dawn of the new year brought more bad news. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and at the same time some precancerous polyps were found in her uterus, prompting the necessity of a hysterectomy.

Those diagnoses knocked the wind right out of my New Year’s sails. It didn’t seem fair for my mom, my best friend, to be going through so much all at once. But every time we talked, she told me she was fine. I yelled at her, telling her she couldn’t POSSIBLY be fine because did she even KNOW what was going on in her body?? But still, she insisted she was fine. The doctors were on it. She had procedures scheduled. It didn’t make sense to wallow in the what-ifs as long as she was doing everything in her power to take care of her health.

She continued to insist she was fine. She had the breast cancer removed, and they got it all. It was a very small pocket. See? she said. No big deal. And then it got infected. Right before her hysterectomy was scheduled. While I wailed and screamed at God because it was unfair, my mom remained optimistic (for the most part) and hopeful that the hysterectomy could go as scheduled.

I planned to drive up for her hysterectomy, to sit with my dad during the procedure, to stay and help out after the fact. And then the snowstorm hit. One of the only ones we even had this winter, of course. I was stuck in Iowa, and the interstate to the city where the surgery was to take place was closed. My parents sat at the entrance to the interstate until the bar raised and they were able to make their slow and careful way to the hospital.

Stubborn. Determined.

My sister and I made it up to my parents’ the day after the surgery, when Mom was coming home. I have never seen someone so cheerful after surgery. She was making jokes left and right (she apologized for throwing away all my little brothers and sisters) and it was only partially due to the anesthetic. In reality, it was that same attitude shining through, the optimism, the sheer determination to see the bright side no matter how dark the circumstances. Despite having abdominal surgery, she was up and around within a couple of days. She joked with my dad about him having to give her shots (he had to get over that squeamishness from November). She laughed and  played as best she could with my three-year-old niece, who came with my brother to provide entertainment.

When the test results came back confirming endometrial cancer, it wasn’t a surprise. But they got it all. They weren’t worried it had spread. The doctor was optimistic that it would stay gone.

Last week, my mom completed her final radiation treatment for the breast cancer. She’ll have to have check-ups a few times a year for a while, but her focus now is on getting healthier in general, which will help reduce the likelihood of relapse.

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My gorgeous and happy mama

 

So what’s the point of all of this?

I watched my mom go through all of these health crises with more grace than I sometimes have when dealing with a papercut. This is not to say that she didn’t have moments of weakness, of despair, of being completely overwhelmed. I was terrified, and it wasn’t happening directly to me. I can’t even imagine some of the things my mom thought about in the quiet of the night, while two types of cancer dwelled simultaneously in her body, threatening to take everything from her.

The point is that we all have a choice in how we deal with tragedy, with setbacks, with frustrations. There’s no one right or wrong way, but I do know that your attitude can change everything.

I recently had an unexpected setback in writing world. It knocked me off my feet, and I knew I had a choice. I could continue to lay there on the ground, wallowing in the muck of my feelings, or I could pull myself up and take the next step. I cried for a day, and by the next day I was ready to move forward. I channeled my mom’s incredible attitude and stubbornness/determination and started planning for the future. In that case, the attitude change came more gradually, but I knew if I started going through the motions, the attitude would catch up, and I was right.

It’s okay to feel whatever feelings there are, to sit in them for a while. In fact, the movie Inside Out would insist on it. But there comes a point where wallowing is only making it worse, and you have to move forward one way or another. You can choose to do so under protest, fighting the entire way, or you can work to change the attitude with which you approach things. It’s not easy, but it is ultimately your choice. It’s your life. You decide how you want to live it.

I choose to emulate my bad-ass mama, and face the world with as positive an attitude as I can muster. Sometimes it’s the only weapon I have.

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How do you eat an elephant?

When I was younger, and I would be facing something that completely overwhelmed me, my mom would ask me, “How do you eat an elephant?” Of course, this brought up more questions than answers. WHY would you be eating an elephant in the first place? They are precious animals, not for eating. But beyond that… What condiments go best with elephant? Ketchup? Tabasco? Do you cook it first? Does elephant taste like chicken?

Life often seems to be just one set of challenges after another. Mostly, these challenges are put on us by outside forces. Challenges at work. Challenges with friends. Challenges being adults.

Last week I decided to try a challenge of my own. I have been trying to make little changes in my life, for a lot of different reasons. (For example, trying floating.)  I got a Fitbit a couple months ago, but while I find the information interesting, I had yet to really challenge myself with it. My sister does 20,000 steps in a day, my brother almost as much, and it was intimidating to even try to live up to that. (Story of my life, eh?)

But then a new category popped up, one that only required 250 steps an hour, 9 consecutive hours out of the day. I mean. That…that seemed okay. So I committed to it. Every hour I got up and took a lap around the building, paced my office, marched in place. And step by step, hour by hour, I succeeded. On a day of wall to wall meetings, I explained I needed to move around, take a small break. I marched in front of the sink in an empty bathroom, around the lunchroom table as my lunch heated, in the mailroom, flipping through the latest assessments left for me in my box.

And guess what?

It’s been a week, and every day it’s more natural to pause every hour, to get up and walk around for two minutes or more. I have actually been MORE productive, at my dayjob especially. The habit is forming, a good habit that will be beneficial for me, since my two jobs are both fairly sedentary, and take up the majority of my time. But it’s possible. Even on busy days, I can take 2-3 minutes. (Although my 11am hour steps from Sunday are a bit misleading, as most of them came from clapping during worship at church.)

It’s the same for writing. I’m staring down the barrel of the beginning of another book. Around 100,000 words ahead of me. So much story to get through. (I actually outlined this one!) And if I look at it all at once, it gets overwhelming. I start to wonder if I have it in me to do it yet again. This will be my 7th novel, and yet, doubts flood in at the stark whiteness of that first blank page every time.

So I take it one chapter at a time. One scene at a time. One paragraph at a time. One sentence at time. One word at time. Whatever size I need to reduce it to in order to keep moving forward. If I can do one, I can do another, and so on down the line until suddenly I’m typing those beautiful words, “The End.” And then the process starts over with every revision pass, every edit, every read-through. I break my task into small, manageable pieces, until I forget about the overwhelming size of what’s ahead, and can bask in the words going on the page in the moment.

headlights

So when you get overwhelmed, and the desire to crawl into your blanket fort and eat cookies for the rest of time is strong, just remember this question.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

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Tuck and Roll

Oh, publishing. You saucy minx, you. Just when you think you’ve got a good grasp on what’s going on in this world, you find yourself taking a sharp left turn and careening off into the unknown.

It’s not news that in order to navigate the world of publishing, you have to be a bit flexible. Okay, a LOT flexible. There are so many moving parts, it’s tough to keep track of everything and everyone sometimes. Even in the early stages, figuring out how to work with critique partners, and then an agent (if you choose the traditional route), then an editor. Beyond that, the number of people with an opinion on what happens with your book only continues to grow. Sometimes you’ll agree, and sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you won’t have any idea what you think because you’re indecisive. (Just me?)

That has been the case for me in 2016 especially. Earlier this year, we made the decision that my book, THE GIRL BEFORE (releasing August 9, 2016, less than 4 months from now*), would come out directly to trade paperback. At the same time, there were rumblings of a redesign of the original cover, which I have always loved.

My reaction to big changes like this is typically FULL STOP NO. I was comfortable where I was, with how things were panning out. Everything was going so smoothly, and these proposals almost derailed me.

Here’s the thing, though. People who have been in publishing a long time? They’re smart. Like, really smart, and savvy, and they know what they’re doing. I trust my publisher implicitly, so even though I was wary, I listened, and I agreed with the direction they were taking me.

I’m actually super pumped about the format change. Going straight to trade paper will drop the price and get my book in the hands of more people. And while a beautiful hardcover is something I’ve always longed for, what I want even more is to share Clara’s story with the world. The reasons behind the decision made a lot of sense, and I’m very happy with it. It’s a fantastic opportunity.

Even better…that cover redesign? I was SO NERVOUS. But…

The Girl Before

BOOM

LOOK AT IT! Gah, I love it sooooo much! The first design was fantastic, but everyone I’ve shown this design to has had the same reaction I did. A gasp, a “WOW,” an unidentifiable animal noise. (I had all three.)

So here’s the lesson of the day. While you do need to be thoughtful about making changes at any stage of your book-making, it’s important to be open and flexible, and consider whether suggestions are coming from those that are probably a lot wiser than in you in many areas. It’s tempting to want to run and hide or stand staunchly in familiar territory, but instead of ignoring the possibilities laid before you, tuck and roll, embrace the unfamiliar, and enjoy the ride as much as you can.

*shameless self promotion

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Sink or Float. Literally.

2016 has been…challenging, to say the least. In pretty much every area of my life. I’m not writing this to complain, because goodness knows I am blessed beyond words in so many ways. But what I’ve had to remind myself is that even when there are blessings, it’s okay to have struggles. It’s okay to admit when you’re not okay. As family stress and work stress and writing stress continued to rise, I was ignoring that advice. I was pushing it all down and putting on a happy face, all the while gritting my teeth until I could take a vacation.

Of course, after vacation, everything was still waiting for me. And my body was telling me it wasn’t okay.

BPM

Guess when my vacation was

Last weekend, after a particularly disastrous and stressful event, I decided it was time to take charge and make some changes to address my constant high levels of stress. I can’t change a lot of it, but I can change how I react to it.

I was talking to my friend Andrea, and she said she had been considering floating. I’d heard about this, actually researched last summer. It’s fascinating all the benefits that are said to come from floating. Stress relief, relief from chronic pain, increased creativity…all those things and more were appealing to me. So I thought, why not?

Some of you may be wondering what floating is. Maybe not as a general term, but as a therapy. Basically, it’s sensory deprivation. You climb into a tank with about ten inches of water highly saturate with Epsom salts. You close the door to the tank, turn off the little light inside, and the salt in the water allows you to float effortlessly. So you do. For an hour and a half.

Half of you are intrigued, and half of you are probably having vicarious claustrophobic episodes. I’ll wait while you recover.

I went to Fadeaway Floatation here in the Des Moines area. The lady I talked to on the phone was super nice, and the guy who gave me the rundown was also very helpful. The directions were clear, and everything you could possibly think of was provided, down to contact solution and a hair dryer.

So here’s my little run-down of my first floating experience. First, the accommodations:

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Looks kind of like a washing machine. Wash away your stress!

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The water is so clear. I left the little light on for a bit, but did turn it off eventually.

I know. It seems creepy, but there’s no latch on the door, and it’s really quite cozy, like being back in the womb. I assume. I don’t really remember that stage of my life.

Anyway.

I showered, then climbed in, propping the door to the tank a bit with a towel because it was MIGHTY steamy in there. The water is skin temperature, in order to decrease the ability to know where the water is. You’re supposed to have the sensation of floating without distractions like different temperatured water. Below is an estimated timeline of my 90 minutes in the tank.

1:00: This is weird. The water feels weird. What if someone comes in?

3:00: Wait. I’m supposed to be relaxing. I’m doing it wrong. I can’t even relax right. What’s the point of this if I don’t do it perfectly?
5:00: Okay. I’m sort of comfy. What am I supposed to think about? Maybe I should meditate. Ommmmm. Ommmmm. WHAT IS THAT? Oh, it’s my hair, never mind. Ommmmm…

7:00: Do I always breathe so loud? Is that my heart beating? Why does it sound so far away? Am I already reaching nirvana? Are my senses all wonky? Is this how it ends?

10:00: I cannot do this for an hour and a half. How long has it been? Probably an hour. Maybe two. Maybe they forgot to tell me to get out. Maybe I’m stuck here forever.

12:00: Seriously, who can just lay here for that long? Maybe if I was at the lake, on a floaty, in the sunshine, but in a dark tank there’s no one to hear you scream.

30:00: I’M A MERMAID *swishing hair* *bouncing from top of tank to bottom*

45:00: I really should blog about this

90:00: *music begins* What? Already? Five more minutes?

Conclusion: Weird. So much salt. But it has potential. I bought a package of sessions, as they say that you need at least 2-3 to really get a feel for it. The guy at the desk told me his second session was profoundly different from his first. I’m not sure how often you go, but I’ll make another appointment in a few weeks.

There are some other things I’m working on to lower my stress levels. I’m trying to think outside the box, find things I haven’t tried before, shock my body into behaving and being calm. We’ll see how that works 🙂

If you’d like to know more about floating in general, check out fadeawayfloatation.com for more information on the benefits of the practice.

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Looking out for Number 1

I’m typing this on my phone while sitting in a lodge at Heifer International Ranch, outside Perryville, Arkansas. That’s right, folks, I’m on vacation, so this isn’t even a real post.

I had considered skipping posting this week at all, because vacation, but I wanted to pop in and remind everyone that it’s not only okay to take a break and take care of yourself, it’s imperative. 

I have been stressed almost to my breaking point for months. Always trying to do the next thing, help the next person, be the best at everything. Add in family and personal struggles and even my body was rebelling against the insanity.

And I’m not alone. 

It seems like every day I’m having the conversation with someone about how busy and stressed they are and how much they need a vacation. How they feel guilty taking a vacation because there are people counting on them.

I’m the same way. I’ve always taken on so much that in the end I wasn’t being helpful to anyone. This week especially I was feeling like I’m just pretty much horrible at my job, horrible at writing, horrible at life. 

So I gave myself permission to step back and appreciate the good things that I’d done. I brainstormed some good interventions with some of my therapists. I was able to support a colleague through some difficult situations. I picked my audiobook narrator. I made some big and exciting decisions about The Girl Before, which I will hopefully be able to share in the coming weeks. I turned in my MS for my next book three weeks ahead of deadline. It’s a book that I labored over and I’m proud of the end product, no matter how much my brain tries to tell me it’s terrible. My brother-in-law is reading TGB and can’t put it down, and it’s opened up some really interesting conversations.

The title of this blog is “Looking Out For Number 1.” I don’t mean that in a selfish way, at least not completely. I don’t mean that you infringe on the rights of others. I don’t mean that you ignore things that are important. What I mean is that sometimes we need to sit back and think about what’s really important. What has to be done RIGHT NOW. I bet if we were honest, a lot of the things we stress over would seem a lot smaller. 

I should have my first round of edits for Book 2 in a week or so. I’m also on vacation for the next week, which works out well. Here are the things I’m giving myself permission to do:

1) Sleep in, no matter how silly my nieces and nephews think it is.

2) Read for hours. I did this yesterday and it was beautiful. 

3) Sit. Even on vacation there’s pressure to GO GO GO and DO ALL THE THINGS. I call BS. I will go for walks and enjoy the beautiful 80 degree Arkansas weather, but I will also sit and enjoy freedom from responsiblity for a few days.

4) Not worry about Fitbit stats and steps and who has the most stars. Stress about my body can take a break for a few days.

5) Write what I want. Play around with words for no reason other than the sheer joy of it. Try on some different genres and styles with no expectations.

So that’s my list. That’s how I’m looking out for myself this week. How are you looking out for you?

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Let’s get this party started

Happy Monday, everyone! I don’t have a real topic for today’s post. In fact, I’m writing it during my lunch break because I was up until 1am revising yesterday. Today? I don’t know. Basically I’m on a personal deadline, the first of which I already missed (March 1), and coming up on an actual deadline (April 1), so we’re kicking it into hyperdrive. I got through 150 pages, about 19 chapters, yesterday, but it was mostly stuff I’d been through before. The second half will be the most work, and the weekend is my deadline, since that’s when I leave for vacation! Woohoo! So pretty much I’m not sleeping this week, which is where this comes in handy:

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I bought out the gas station’s stock

 

Last year during spring break I was starting work on some major edits for THE GIRL BEFORE. And now, almost a year later…

Book pile

TA-DA

I was super stoked to get my ARCs in the mail last week! They’re real! And book-shaped! And they have my  name on them!

Saturday I got the opportunity to go down to the local independent bookstore in Des Moines, Beaverdale Books, and meet with the owner, Alice. She is super sweet, and it was the perfect first conversation with a bookseller about my book. I also got to speak with my amazing publicist, Karen, last week, and I realized I have a lot of work to do in order to train myself on the marketing side of this book thing. I’m excited and a little terrified about what comes next, but it’s a good kind of terrified. I think.

I also got to thinking about where I was two years ago. Two years ago, I hadn’t even finished THE GIRL BEFORE. I was writing it in spurts, one scene at a time, feeling like it might be something special, wondering if I was crazy. And probably I was. I broke a lot of “rules” while writing TGB. I went with my gut, told the story the way Clara, the main character, told me it needed to be told.

Two years before that, I was just starting my querying journey. I was still two books away from TGB. Two years of rejection and rewriting and entering contests and finding people who helped me improve my craft.

Two years before that, I began writing my very first novel. I’d stuck to short stories before that (though some of my school teachers would argue with the “short” part…brevity is not my gift). That novel is completely unpublishable, and only a couple people have ever read it, but I still love it because it was my beginning. My origin story. And maybe I’ll harvest some of my favorite parts for a later book. Because it wasn’t all bad.

A lot can change in two years. A lot can change in two months. I guess my point in all of this is the repeated mantra of pretty much every author I’ve ever spoken to:

NEVER GIVE UP.

Book pile 2

Who knows what’s right around the corner?

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