Monthly Archives: May 2016

A Good Day and a Three-Minute Panic

I had a book launch party last week, and it went better than I could have anticipated. I had nothing to base it on, so I didn’t know what to expect exactly. I just planned it, promoted it and crossed my fingers. You know what? I didn’t do too bad for a rookie.

Attendance was great, lots of friends and family were there and my book supply even sold out. My friend, Clay, described it as a “Sex in the City” moment. I’m a far cry from Carrie Bradshaw, but if I can impress Clay, trust me, it’s a good day.

As with any shindig, there is the dreaded “tear down” after it’s over. We were packing things up and slowly winding down with smiles on our faces when we received a call from home – the back gate had been left open and our beloved dog, Sammi, had escaped.

At that moment, nothing mattered. I bolted out with a friend ready to drive me feeling numb and not quite in the present. I ended up selling and signing a book on the fly to a late-comer in the elevator. A pet-lover herself, she understood. The collective beating heart of our household was loose out in the world and in danger.

Then, suddenly, she wasn’t. We got the call that she had been found a few blocks down the street and, just like that, we were back in book mode, loading things up and hugging friends goodbye. All was well. Hello, zero to sixty and back to zero again.

It was okay though. It seems my heart was able to take it. A good day had just gotten even better by thankfully avoiding what would have been an extremely painful moment that I hadn’t even considered a possibility.

Now, we are fence-checking fanatics. You can’t predict the future though, and you can’t plan for everything that might happen. It’s kind of like my party. If you write it, they will come. But how it turns out? Just hope for the best, do you best, wait and see.

That’s a Wrap . . .For Now

Well, it’s about that time-the release date for A Light in the Dark. I can remember last year when I got the contract in the mail. May, 24, 2016, seemed ridiculously far away. “All I have to do is live that long,” I kept telling myself. Hey, I’m a realist. I know nothing is guaranteed.

But here I am, less than a week away, feeling like I am still at the beginning. It’s not over when the book is done. THAT’s when things really started to get busy in ways I never considered. Decisions needed to be made about the cover (that was fun), the interior, bookmarks, on and on and on. I had no inkling but now that that part is behind me, I have some time to be thankful. On this my maiden book voyage, I have had and continue to have what seems to me an unending supply of support.

As a writer chasing your dream, it’s just you in the ring at first, battling out the story line, trying to find the end. But when the round is over and the bell sounds, I’ll tell you what-I’ll take the people in my corner of the ring any day.

Take my parents for example. They have wanted me to pursue writing ever since I was the co-editor of my high school paper so this is a very big deal for them, too. Thanks to my “Momager,” my folks are even walking around with T-shirts that have the cover of my book on them. My whole life they have always done whatever I needed. Not always what I wanted but always what I needed. It’s a sweet ride to be their kid, even at my age.

My husband was the one who kept telling me to start writing. “You like to write. You should write something.” Something. What he didn’t know by saying that was that my writing would require a certain level of quiet in our rather small and modest home during the 2013, 2014 & 2015 football seasons. A compromise he hadn’t considered, for sure. But in the end, he didn’t die from surround sound withdrawals and he’s been quite supportive on the PR side of things, too.

I needed faithful readers along the way and no one was more so than my sister. In the beginning, when I thought I was “on to something” I would send her snippets to read as a litmus test for if I should keep going. She always read promptly and replied with a request for more. Of course, she did. She is my big sister.

I realized I needed some honest non-blood relatives and even people that didn’t know me or my family very well to read my early drafts. I had a lot of help there and encouragement, too.

My friends, new and old, have shared in my insecurities, cluelessness and excitement over this long process. None of us have ever written a book before. It was a baptism by fire for the group of us really. They truly have had my back.

You don’t get there alone, wherever “there” is and I do feel as though I have reached a destination, even if it’s only a temporary pit stop. I can’t wait to see what’s next but for now, I think I will just enjoy and be thankful.

Something Happened August 2013

Ever been at the wrong place at the right time? Sure. We all have. Time is a real b-word that way. If only you had been a few minutes earlier or later . . .

Life is fragile. That’s true, and the seconds, and minutes that we live it by seem small and insignificant, but they really aren’t. In fact, one or two minutes can mean the difference between life and death.

Something terrible happened in Omaha in August of 2013. Supposedly, there was a serial killer loose. I say supposedly because no one knew at the time what was going on. The statement turned out to be correct though. There was a serial killer loose, let loose into the public by a system that is intended to protect it. I’m not going to get in to all of that nor mention the perpetrators name here. It all can easily be looked up online.

The bottom line is this: four people were needlessly killed, including a young mother. Randomness is cruel. So is timing.

What about their survivors – their families? It must hurt immensely, the crime within the crime. And then there are the continued headlines that keep the crime alive, not that it can ever really be over for them. Nor can it be over for too many others who are the survivors of the millions of similar true stories that exist.

When something like this happens, it makes you think more, appreciate more and fear more. Unfortunately, something like this happens somewhere every day.

To My Grandma, With Love

The dedication page of A Light in the Dark is as special to me as any of the other three hundred and thirty plus pages. In a few words, it explains the reason- why I was inspired to start writing this story and the reason why I finished. The process took three years from creation to publication but I wish I would have done it sooner.

One of the people the book is dedicated to is my grandmother, Wilma McKissack Ferguson. A real trail blazer and a passionate writer herself. Born in 1917, she’s knocking on the door of 100 years of life. Imagine the things she has seen. Her life should be my next book.

A child of divorce in the 1920’s, she felt like an outsider growing up. That would ignite a lifelong desire to champion those less fortunate and discriminated against.

A child bride who became a mother of three before she was roughly 24 also became a widow in her early forties. From there, the focus was on first earning a high school diploma, then a college degree and then canvassing the countryside in her little red truck.

Not only do I not have the typical grandma, I also don’t have the typical human being for a grandma. I think most people who know her would agree her name should really be “Ahead-of-her-time Willie.”

That is why it’s all about time for me. I finally wrote my book and it finally got published but maybe just a little late. My grandmother won’t be able to read it, her eyesight being what it is, and she can’t enjoy having it read to her with her hearing as it is. But she knows it exists and there is one thing she has chosen to do – share it. So now it is sitting on a shelf in the library of my grandmother’s nursing facility.

There’s my reason.

More on Dez

Dez is my main man, really. He’s the leading male character in A Light in the Dark. I remember when I saw Dez Bryant on ESPN in a pair of bike shorts and nothing else. I told myself right then and there, the world needs more Dez’s. So, I came up with my own.

The name Dez is unique. I don’t personally know anyone by that name. To me though, it sounds strong, cool and a little dangerous. That’s my leading man-to a point.

My version is also a nerd in his own way and really not all that cool. He can’t hold his liquor and he hasn’t always made the best decisions. By the time readers meet him, he is a much better Dez than he used to be but, generally speaking, time and age have a way of helping that along.

So, he’s grown up, my Dez, and he knows what is important in life. But when he has to face an unforseen hurdle in A Light in the Dark, some of the old Dez starts to pull through. Hard times certainly are a good measure of a person’s strength. No one is perfect.

Dez’s audience will meet him at a time in his life when things are very good and then suddenly not. That’s when readers will really get to know him and see what he is made of. I am hopeful that his genuine reactions will not disappoint. Kinda like Dez Bryant in those bike shorts-it’s worth a look-see.

We Need to Take Care of Each Other

I don’t have tons of money. I live a conservative, non-flashy life. My things are practical and necessary and you won’t hear me digress too much about them. If I was in a more comfortable situation, I would hope that wouldn’t change much but I also hope I would be as generous as my circumstances allowed.

A unique example is a German immigrant woman from my hometown. She lived with her brother and never married. Hers was a life of frugal, simple means. When she passed on, she left the town a few million or so. She must have acquired it over years of meager living never having spent it. She may not have been generous in life but her name has since been posthumously admired on buildings around town. It’s a perfectly executed story with a surprise ending where she got the last word. It doesn’t matter when or how you choose to be generous just as long as you do it.

That is one of the principles that emerges in A Light in the Dark. It may not seem like it, but we are all in this together and once we accept that, life can get better-for everyone. I know it’s fun for some out there to show off what they have-it’s become part of our culture. How fun is it, though, to have so much more than you need when you actually know someone who has so little, often based on circumstances quite out of their control? When you put a face on it, it becomes more personal. It certainly does for Sabrina in the novel, so much so that it becomes a part of her journey.

Take a current headline, for example, and consider all involved. There is such a domino effect. It’s not just about the perpetrator and the victims. It’s about the families on BOTH sides. There is an innocence and vulnerability that exists there if we are willing to see it. You can ignore what’s going on or you can do your part, whatever that is, to improve someone’s situation. You never know when that someone might be you.

The Russell Westbrook Snarl

I’d like to make one thing clear. I am NOT a huge NBA fan. It’s a league that has become mediocre at best. There is really only one team I watch as a fan, and that is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Why? One player-Russell Westbrook.

Russell has a desire to win that is fun to watch. He has serious talent and can do things not everyone in his league can do-that is fun to watch, too. What also sets him apart though is the most definitive game face in the league. Whether amped by an exhilarating dunk or unhappy with a call, that snarl says it all.

I don’t have “the snarl.” I have my own version of resting bitch face but that’s different. When I see Russ snarl, I think, “That’s how I feel when someone pulls out in front of me.” I’d love to flash them THAT snarl as I pass them. It would be more effective than any word or finger gesture and would definitely get my point across.

I’ll leave all that to Russell though. He’s far superior at it, and let’s face it, I don’t want to get punched. But in my next writing venture, there just might be a character with a menacing snarl.

Seeing John Grisham the Day that Prince Died

Ever since I got my tickets to attend the John Grisham lecture, April 21st was, to me, John Grisham Day. I was excited to see and listen to this mega-writer and I have to say, he didn’t disappoint. He is charming, funny and self-deprecating. I am not sure what I expected but he is definitely more. It’s official. I’ve been Grishamed.

It was inspiring to hear about his initial struggles with this first novel, early marketing snafu’s and his fly-by-night experiences with Hollywood. He joked about his kids playing around the thousand copies of A Time to Kill he bought for his book launch party and how there were plenty of boxes worth of books for them to play around AFTER the party as well. It was also sweet to hear how his first reader and critic is still his first reader and critic-his wife. It turns out his foray into writing and his subsequent sky-rocketing career was and still is very much a family affair. Not many can do it alone and John Grisham is no different than a lot of us.

I think what I enjoyed most was his little stories about his writer friends, Pat Conroy and Stephen King. He spoke passionately and with thoughtful humor about his friendship with Conroy, who passed away in March. And while he and Stephen King are two very different writers (and people), they have a very strong connection through their experiences and success. I never knew. Imagine driving down the back roads of Mississippi and seeing those two on a joy ride together, but that is exactly what he described.

I had an image in my head of this stuffy, corporate intellectual but, in actuality, John Grisham is an endearing and relatable, husband, father and avid baseball fan. For a few hours, I sort of forgot he was a multi-million best-selling author and became enthralled with a regular guy telling stories of his own life.

Then, I went home at the end of John Grisham Day to face another reality-a world without Prince.

12 Pounds of Everything Good

When I started to get serious about writing again, my initial stabs were short-lived and short in general. Nothing would stick. I had a story set in Chicago (with our buddy Dez from A Light in the Dark) but it quickly lost its luster. I had another one I began about a serial killer truck driver. Gee, how’s he gonna kill this next person? Try having those thoughts and then go to sleep at night.

Then, I found my muse. She’s short, sweet, spoiled and just about the best friend you could ever have-my not so little mini-dachshund. So, I wrote about when she first came home with us to stay.

After my rescue dog Murphy died, I was beside myself with grief and only four days after her passing, my husband could take no more. That is when he surprised me with Sammi (Sammer Jammers, Baby Love, Fatniss, Mama’s Little Sweetheart). I had never had a puppy before-she was my first.

Over the years, as she is almost nine, we have joyed in her funny little ways and obsessed over her battle with the bulge. When you’re short and stout, every pound counts and we’ve kept close watch. The breeder told us she shouldn’t grow to be over 10 pounds yet our girthy girl has weighed in at a healthy 12 pounds for many years now. Occasionally, she has rocked the scales at 13 pounds and over and some could say we were sold a bad bill of goods, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Does she play fetch? Not really. You throw her beloved toy and she will go get it but she won’t bring it back to you. Is she smart? Well, she can’t play fetch but she knows when it’s time to eat, when it’s time to do her business and when it’s time to go to bed. Is she a good guard dog? No, not at all. She likes to bark and then skittishly run away. Her best attribute? Her wagging tail-there is no better way to be greeted as you walk in the door at the end of the day.

A mini-dachshund, clearly she is not. What she is is quite simply 12 (or 13) pounds of everything good.

The Science of Naming Characters

As it turns out, there isn’t one. You might think that naming characters is deliberate and meaningful but, in my case, not really. I actually couldn’t wait to name everybody so I could just get on with the storytelling and, in hindsight, that’s probably not the right way to go about it. I came up with names that made sense to me but didn’t have anything to do with me so I could be creative and be attached to the characters for who they were or who I made them to be-not any previous experiences. Plus, it’s kind of fun to just randomly make names up.

I did, however, put plenty of thought into naming the pets in the book, and, of course, I named them after my own.

So why did I name my main male character Dez Parker? I guess you could say I had the name on the brain. When ESPN is on in the house every day and on multiple TV’s during the football season, you start to pick up on things repeated over and over. Athletes Dez Bryant and Jabari Parker’s names were mentioned a lot in the summer/fall 2013 when I was avidly writing and shazam. Dez Parker was born.

Sabrina? That one I really can’t explain. I watched Bewitched as a child but that I am sure had no influence. I have never watched Sabrina the Teenage Witch so I know that’s not it. I am at a loss when it comes to naming her but I know she most definitely IS a Sabrina, no matter the reason. It just fits her.

Some names mean more and are more important to the story (and the author) than others. It’s not solely determined by the flip of a coin but it can be. It’s fiction, and there isn’t a whole lot of science to it.