Monday, December 30, 2013

2013's goals (mostly) achieved and 2014's UBERLIST!

After at least three (probably five if I'm honest) really hard years, I was determined that 2013 would be different. I mean, 13 is my lucky number, so it needed to be my year, right? And overall, I think it was. No, scratch that, it definitely was because it was the year I reclaimed my ability to be happy, forced myself to stop obsessing over what I couldn't control and totally made me miserable (ie. publishing and my writing career) and take ownership over what I could control (ie. where I live and what I do for a living.) 2013, as I said on my YA Outside the Lines blog post a couple of week ago, was the year I celebrated change and true happiness. I honestly can't break it down better than I did there, so if you haven't read that post, go ahead, I'll wait.

Moving here 

Seattle, AKA Heaven
was the best decision I've made in my entire life, aside from marrying my husband. It was a fantasy for so long until this time last year I decided to make it an actual goal. It was terrifying. It felt like there were so many ways I could fail, but I didn't and that changed me in so many ways. For the better. I feel a thousand times healthier than I did a year ago and a million times better than I did at the end of 2010 and 2011.

The second part of my "move to Seattle" goal was "find a way to support myself that is rewarding (ie. NOT the service industry) and gives me time to enjoy life, time with Scott, relax and write." I managed to pull that off, too. I have a better idea of what I want to do as a career now (besides writing, I've reconciled that I can't earn a living/center my life on that) and I do have time to relax and enjoy the life my husband and I are building for ourselves. I'm still figuring out how to balance writing with that. I have a plan and hopefully I'll be able to motivate to see it through. But my number one goal for this year was "Remember that enjoying the day to day moments with family and friends are more important than anything else. Enjoy the small things and worry less about $, job, etc." Zeroing in on that was just as essential as moving in making me a happier person. It will continue to be my main focus for 2014.

The other two goals I listed in my journal last year were to multitask less, which is something I'm continually working on (and the reason I blog a lot less because I've stopped trying to do ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME) and recommit to my health, which I definitely did because this is the year I officially became a runner. I run at least 5K every Saturday morning and I fucking love it (and still think I'm crazy for loving it).

I also had 7 writing related goals (plus an "overall goal"), too. I sealed them in envelopes (an idea I stole from Nova Ren Suma last year!) and opened them this weekend. There were two things that I didn't work on at all and have been moved to my 2014 list. There were also two goals (along with that overall goal) that I consider to be ongoing, but I did pretty well at. One is "allow yourself to set big goals, but don't beat yourself up if you don't meet them. Instead be grateful for what you achieved, reassess and set new goals." The other is "write as often as possible. Fit it in around your routine which is ever changing. But don't beat yourself up when it's not possible. Instead give yourself space to daydream and remember that recharging periods are part of the process." I kind of feel like the second half of 2013 was all recharging and I'm not sure if I'm okay with that, but it's a work-in-progress, much like my overall goal which is "Be Happy. Be happy with how you write, what you write, and where you are headed. Find something at the end of each writing session to be grateful about. Continue to rebuild our faith in yourself and your love of writing. Know that your routine and career is different from everyone else's and embrace that. Figure out what you love and keep doing it. Walk away from what is making you miserable--not challenges, misery. You know the difference. Trust yourself and live each day with gratitude." I definitely did my best with that and will carry it over as my mantra/overall goal for next year.In fact. I think it needs to be out of the envelope and tacked up on my bulletin board in all of it's Hello Kitty stationary glory.

Yes, I did write all of my writing goals on this stationary.

Then there were the three goals I either fully or mostly achieved. One was to try something new, even if it was just a chapter of a book. I listed a few things I thought I could try and I've only tried one of them, but it is the project that's first on my list for next year. I also did try a new story idea that maybe I'll mess with in the future. I consider trying new things to be an ongoing goal too.

Another mostly achieved goal was to read more. I wanted to read 2 or preferably 4 books a month. It may not sound like a huge goal--grad school Stephanie who definitely read at least a book a week would certainly scoff at it, but post-grad school Stephanie, bartender Stephanie who worked at night during her best reading time had been lucky if she read one book every month--one book every two months was probably what actually happened. This year I read 33--and might make it 34 depending on how I do with the book I'm currently reading. I probably could have done better if I hadn't been to exhausted with the moving to read for about a month. Regardless, I consider that a success, though my goal to read more nonfiction and craft books was a total fail. That's on the list for next year and I really am hoping to read 50 books all together.

My most concrete goal was this: "Finish [redacted, real title of The Grief Book]. Preferably finish a first draft by March 1. Definitely have it submission ready by summer. Write this book how it needs to be written. Don't compare it to past efforts. Just write." I finished my first draft on April 11th and it was on submission by the end of May. I think it's the best book I've written. It was definitely the fastest book I've ever written, started in August of last year, so completed, including a revision for my agent, in under ten months. (Though I did write the first thirty or forty pages in 2011 when I was cheating on my manuscript, so maybe tack a couple extra weeks on that. Oh but I also didn't work on it for the entire month of December, so yeah, I'm sticking with under ten months.) And now it's been on submission for half a year. This is distressing. This is what is making it hard for me to motivate myself to fit writing back into my life. But this part is also out of my control (unless I choose to self publish, which I don't want to do with this book. Other projects, maybe). I can't let this detract from what I actually achieved, which is the part that I could control. I kicked ass at that.

This year I'm doing something different in terms of goals thanks to Danielle Henderson, one of my fabulous fellow Rookie staffers (and now IRL friend because she moved to Seattle this year too!!!) She told us how she creates an uberlist for each year with 100 things plus the number of the year, so this year for her 114 things. I decided to do 100 plus the age I'll be turning, so I have a list of 135 things. Before you think I'm going to kill myself with an attempt to overachieve know that while I have things like:

Writing: Finish the proposal for the zine-style essay memoir book
Writing: Decide if I’m rewriting [redacted, real name of the bartender book]
Writing: Decide if I’m self-pubbing [redacted, real name of the bartender book]
Writing: Do whatever I’ve decided to do about [redacted, initials of the real name of the bartender book], that puppy needs to be out in the world.

I also have things like:

Reading: Read the damn magazines on the coffee table or let them GO.
Mental Health: Note at least one small thing you are grateful for in the 5-year journal every night.
Body: Build up to running 5 miles on Saturdays
Body: Try to get down to at least an 11:30 min/mile
Body/Fun: Learn to bellydance
Body/Fun/Explore: Go canoeing again at least once, try a new spot.
Family: Play with the cats every day
Crafty Stuff: Get back in action on the t-shirt project. You moved an entire plastic bin of too-big t-shirts across the country to make into fitted shirts or skirts or dresses or whatever so do it because otherwise they have to go to Goodwill and you will cry.
Crafty Stuff: Try new crafty DIYS, start with the ones that intrigued you on Rookie.
Crafty Stuff:Make a zine again for the first time since 1998. Even if it is just for you.
Food:Try baking again even though you think you hate it.
Travel: Go to Vancouver
Travel:Go to Mount Rainier and maybe camp but only if Scott understands that camping to me means in a cabin not in a tent bc otherwise ew
Travel:Go to the WA coast
Travel/Money/Love: Go to Hawaii if we can afford it and if not start planning/budgeting so we can soon.
Explore/Grow Yr Mind:Go to those Seward Park nature walks and learn about birds and bats!
Explore/Body:Keep finding more cool places for Sunday hikes.
Fun: Get another tattoo. At least one, preferably three. (0/1-3) And start one of the big pieces you keep talking about. (0/1) 
Fun:Finish rewatching Twin Peaks
Fun:Finish rewatching The X-Files
Fun:Rewatch Buffy
Fun:Watch Doctor Who
Fun: Go to at least one concert at mural
Fun: Go to at least one movie in the park
Fun: Go to at least one festival
Fun: Start [Redacted because it's a thing that makes me a bad role model... but you can probably guess from the context ;)] again because it’s legal here and I like it so why the fuck not

        Will I do all 135 things? Probably not. But I've got a support group of Rookie staffers who are 2014 uberlisters and I'm going to have a blast trying to do as much as possible, while at the same time keeping my eye on what is truly important to me like this stuff:

        Mental Health: As much as you love lists and plans, don’t get too obsessed and beat yourself up for not doing all the things at the exact times you thought you would.
        Personal Challenge/Mental Health: In other words, continue working on being laid back.
        Personal Challenge/Mental Health: Work on being patient
        Personal Challenge/Mental Health: Continue to work on being assertive
        Personal Challenge/Mental Health: Continue to appreciate your happiness
        Personal Challenge/Mental Health: Continue to work on living in the moment/everything Liz taught you.

        Just making the the uberlist was inspiring and helped me focus on what matters most, so I highly encourage it.

        What are your goals big and small?

        Tuesday, November 26, 2013

        For Liz Ledman, the Woman Who Saved/Changed My Life

        I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I mean, as I type this I am watching the sun rise over Seattle, my favorite place on earth. My home. My husband and I moved out here safely. We both got jobs. In fact, I have a job I really love. We have a great apartment. We have our health and I wake up just about every morning feeling content, which is a huge shift from last year.

        But what I am most thankful for right now is the person who got me to this place, a person who I recently learned passed away far too young, but who spent their time here improving, and in some cases including mine, saving lives: My therapist, Liz Ledman.

        I’m no stranger to therapy and I have no shame in talking about it or the factors that brought me there starting when I was fifteen years old. I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life and I refuse to feel stigmatized because of it. I think it is essential to talk about, which is part of the reason I’m writing this now, in addition to honoring Liz. I wasn’t totally ready for therapy the first time I went. When my parents and doctor suggested it, I agreed to go along with it because I sort of thought it was glamorous, being obsessed with women like Sylvia Plath and Zelda Fitzgerald and Susanna Kaysen. I ended up with this awful psychologist, whose idolatry of Freud became very clear several sessions in when I finally decided to be completely honest with her—more honest than I’d even been with my best friends—and confessed tearfully that I was pretty sure that the boy who’d recently broken up with me, who I’d lost my virginity to and had been and still was head over heels in love with had been emotionally and sexually abusive. Her response: “Let’s talk some more about your grandfather. I think you have issues with men because you have issues with your father and grandfather.” I definitely did have issues with men because of my issues with my dad (my grandpa was just an asshole, I’m not sure how much that really affected me), but I’d also just said I was abused and she hadn’t even acknowledged it. I walked out of her office and never went back (even though my dad tried to convince me to go for “closure”).

        I spent the next few (several? Depression makes time hard to remember.) months in a deep black pit of despair and anger. The secret cutting habit I’d had since junior high severely worsened. Eventually as I describe in this Rookie piece about my self-injury, I had a total breakdown and showed my parents my wounds hoping they would like me up like Sylvia. Instead, they sent me to a different psychologist, one my mom had seen and liked. He was a man in his fifties or maybe even older (youth makes it hard to judge), so I was uncertain about him at first, but he was kind and he actually listened. And maybe I did have daddy/grandpa issues and I needed a kindly older man to listen to my problems. I saw him sporadically until I graduated high school and moved to Madison, Wisconsin, when I was seventeen, and then again when I moved back at twenty-one. I was more serious about therapy then—finally acknowledging that I had all sorts of problems including the cutting, but also with insomnia and alcohol. I knew I still needed to work through that abusive relationship and to work on my relationship with my dad. My doctor helped with all of these things. Also, when I turned twenty-three and no longer had my mom’s insurance, he kept saying he would bill us later and he never did. By the time he retired a couple of years later, we must have owed him thousands. I also owed him a greater debt because I’d stopped cutting and drinking heavily, felt mostly healed from the abusive, and was on the verge of finally getting out of a co-dependent relationship with an alcoholic boyfriend and figuring things out with my dad. I still had the insomnia problem, but aside from that I felt fixed. Healthy.

        In the years that followed, I sold two books and married an amazing guy. But things didn’t always feel so rosy. I actually barely remember the launch of my first book because it’s clouded by deep grief—my dear friend Marcel was killed in a motorcycle accident just a week or so before. He was the third friend of mine to die in six months. Then, things started to go downhill for me in 2010 when my editor said they couldn’t buy another YA book from me. My first two had come out during the heart of the recession and clearly their sales hadn’t met the publisher’s expectations. I tried to put a brave face on and keep writing, but I struggled with serious writer’s block. On top of that, my beloved cat Sidney had hard-to-diagnose and even harder to treat health issues, which turned my life upside down and put me on a constant emotional roller coaster. In spite of all of this, I finished a book and found an amazing new agent… but that book didn’t sell. And neither did proposal that both of us were so excited and confident about. Even though I spent my days slaving over the keyboard, I didn’t feel like a writer anymore. I was a bartender with an MFA, which in my overachiever Lisa Simpson mind was totally fucking pathetic. To make matters worse, the bar business was just getting worse and worse (it is NOT recession-proof) and I was struggling to make ends meet.

        By June of 2012, I was waking up every morning crying—sometimes full-on sobbing, sometimes tears leaking down my face that wouldn’t stop. I knew I couldn’t afford financially or emotionally to be a bartender/writer any more, but I didn’t know what else to do. Even the most appealing jobs like librarian or social worker overwhelmed me. They meant more school, more debt, and deep down to me, they meant failing at my dream. I’d also grown obsessed with all I’d given up to write. Stability. The chance to follow other dreams like moving to Seattle or having a kid. Yeah, I was proud of my books, but had they come at the expense of my happiness? On top of all of this was grief I still hadn’t full processed and Sidney’s illness which was growing far more severe. I knew I was falling into that same black hole I’d been in at sixteen, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. My career was the problem and I was certain that the only one who could fix that was an editor benevolent enough to buy my next book, not a shrink. Besides I had shitty health insurance and no money to pay out of pocket.

        Then my urges to cut started coming back. There was a box cutter at work that I would stare at every night, daydreaming about how it would feel against my skin. I started writing journal entries about how I fantasized about losing control of my car or someone coming into the bar and shooting me. And one night during an emotional conversation with my husband about how stuck I felt, I took my hair clip—one of those alligator clips with the little metal teeth—and pinched my skin repeatedly with it while I spoke, wishing for blood while he watched, not sure of what to do or say. This was technically self-injury and I knew it. I hadn’t done something like that in ten years. I needed to find help.

        An online search led me to Liz. Her office was in the town next to mine, she accepted sliding scale patients, self-injury was listed in her profile as an area of expertise, and the icing on the cake: She described herself as a feminist. I called, left a message, and even though it was right around the Fourth of July holiday, she called right back and we set our first appointment for the following Thursday.

        As cool as she seemed on paper, I went in to her office doubtful that she could actually help me—that anyone could because my issue was my career, but Liz saw right away that what was actually happening was that feeling like I’d lost control with my career had sent me into a downward spiral because as an abuse survivor keeping control was everything to me. She recognized and helped me see patterns in my life, how strict I was not just with my writing routine, but with my drinking, my eating and exercising, my obsessive planning. I set impossible standards for myself and felt really good when I managed to maintain them, but I set myself up for failure and when I did, I failed hard. If writing went badly on a Monday, I dismissed the entire week. I would go a long period of controlling my diet and my drinking and then I would binge, getting so drunk I’d puke and feeling incredibly guilty even if there was no reason to. This sort of behavior was common in women who’d been through what I’d been through. When she explained this to me, at first I was awash in anger—I thought I’d dealt with what had happened to me seventeen years ago, I hated that after all that time my abuser was still having an effect on me. But the anger quickly vanished, replaced by relief. This was actually a revelation that explained so much about my life and my rigid personality. In my early twenties, as soon as I’d stopped cutting and drinking heavily, the urge to control everything had set in. I didn’t like it about myself, but much like my career, I didn’t think it was fixable. With Liz’s gentle guidance, it was.

        She wrote a list of things I needed to focus on that I hung up and still have up next to my desk. They were centered on my writing, but most of them applied to the rest of my life too. “The moment counts” and “ritual not rigidity” are the first two. Another is “recognize when fear of control is setting in.” Over the course of the next eight months I worked to apply these things both to my writing and my life in general.

        I was obsessed with both my past and my future when I walked into Liz’s office for the first time, so the biggest thing we worked on was living in the moment and through that I learned to be less terrified about my future. From our very first session, Liz refused to believe that I would have to choose between writing and happiness. In our second session, when I told her about my dream of moving to Seattle, she told me, “You can just go.” She didn’t think I needed to figure out my career or get stuck on all the details that had been getting me stuck for years. If I decided to go, she assured me, it would work out. It was a fucking revelation. I called my mom on the way home from that session and said, “Liz thinks I can just go to Seattle… And I think I can, too.” Part of what helped was that she’d lived in the Pacific Northwest for awhile, she’d just packed up and gone when she was younger and even though she and her partner had lived on crappy canned goods for awhile, it had worked out and that time they’d struggled had actually been really happy.

        The way she related these personal stories to me was illustrative of a major difference between Liz and my psychologist—we had a lot in common. Part of the reason I’d been so quick to trust her was I saw the tattoos peeking out from under her sleeves. She got my references to Riot Grrrl. She’d been a punk teenager. She also loved to write. We had the same motorcycle boots from Vegetarian Shoes. She was, I’d learn later from reading her obituary, only a year older than me. Our sessions sometimes ended with her recommending restaurants or vegan jerky to me in addition to books I could read and tips about how to stay focused and live in the moment. It wasn’t a traditional therapist/patient rapport and I don’t know if that’s how she was with many of her patients, but I’m guessing she was that way with me because she recognized that it was what I needed. In my late teens and early twenties, I’d needed a father figure to listen, I’d needed something more traditional because I was only beginning to understand myself. When I came to Liz, I needed a woman like me to deepen the understanding I already had, to nudge me forward. I needed someone who clearly got where I was coming from and had experience I could trust—that’s what gave me the strength to have faith in myself.

        In the eight months I saw Liz, I went through a lot of ups and downs. I set aside the book that hadn’t sold on proposal and started writing one about grief—which felt fitting because I was working on my own grief for my friend Marcel, for my career, and once he passed away in late November for my cat, Sid in our sessions. It wasn’t easy. In early November, just before Sid’s death, I had a total crisis of faith about my writing while on a writer’s retreat and went to my next session with Liz feeling totally dejected. I tried to be strong, telling her I’d “broken my book,” but I always break my books so I knew I could overcome it. She encouraged me not to look at the book as broke, but as experiencing “complicated grief” (a term she taught me that I then was able to use in the Grief Book!). I needed to do whatever I needed to do to get it through. This was yet another way she encouraged me to break out of my pattern of rigidity, which helped me both as a person and as a writer—in fact, last December I wrote a full list of things her therapy had done to make me a more productive and healthy writer. It turned out that a good therapist really could do as much and possibly even more for me than a benevolent editor. But of course what I got from Liz went way beyond that.

        As I alluded to earlier, I was basically suicidal when I sought Liz’s help. On top of that, I was angry at myself for feeling that way, for being weak. Though I am always the first person to listen and provide empathy for friends, I had no empathy for myself. I was just a failure. Liz gave me the empathy I needed—she cried with me in our session after my cat, Sidney died, and it was also because of her that I was able to quickly come to peace with it. A couple of sessions before that, she’d taught me how to have empathy for myself. We did narrative therapy. She guided me through speaking in third person about Steph and all the things Steph had juggled that week. It felt silly at first, but by the end I was crying for “Steph,” and I’d had a serious breakthrough about being kind to myself. Finally, for the first time since childhood, I learned to stop punishing myself when I couldn’t just barrel through my own pain. I took December off from writing my novel because that was what I needed and I refused to feel guilty about it. I mourned my cat. I completed my end-of-semester teaching work. I wrote a short story. I started figuring out the logistics for our move to Seattle. I was a little freaked that when I went back to writing in January it would be hard, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought—I just had to manage my expectations of myself and not freak when things didn’t go exactly as planned.

        I saw Liz less often from January through March because she was sick. When she was able to meet with me, our sessions were still amazing and I was proud of myself for being able to apply all that she taught me even when we weren’t able to meet—I’d just journal or talk through what I wanted to say to her in my head. She told me she was going to have to stop practicing because of her illness in March. She offered to recommend me to someone else, but I felt okay. I was set to move to Seattle at the beginning of July and I was almost finished with my book. Mostly I was worried about her. I thanked her for all the help she’d given me and told her to take care as good care of herself as she had me. I did text her when I finished my book. It was the first time I’d ever written a book in less than a year and I’d never been more proud of a book than I had that one. I couldn’t have done it without her and I told her so. She said how proud she was of me and that she couldn’t wait to read it when it was in print. I assumed that since she was young, she was getting better. I didn’t ask because as friendly as we’d been, I was still a client and it didn’t seem like my place.

        I emailed her in June to see if she was practicing again—not for me, but for a friend of a friend. I didn’t hear back, so I assumed the answer was no. A couple of weeks ago, I Googled her—I wanted again to see if she was practicing because I had another friend I wanted to refer and I also had been meaning to tell her that I was doing well in Seattle, largely because through out all the hard parts of the move I’d applied what I’d learned from her. I’d lived in the moment, taking life in fully for the first time in… possibly ever. I’d trusted that things would work out. I’d taken care of myself and stepped back when I needed to. The first thing that my Google search returned was her obituary. She’d passed away at the age of 34, two days before I’d sent my email in June. I couldn’t believe it. She was too young, too amazing. Like my friend Marcel, who she had helped me grieve, she was one of the brightest, most empathetic and understanding people I’d ever met. The world had lost so much.

        After I learned the news, I went for a walk and I talked to her, aloud but in a whisper, not really caring if people on the street thought I was crazy. It was a gray but beautiful day in Seattle. I told her that I was here and it had turned out as amazing as she’d told me it would. That thanks to her I was happy. My book hadn’t sold yet, but I felt confident it would. I would never give up on it because I wanted to honor her with it, put her name right up top in the acknowledgments. Though I only knew her briefly and mostly in this professional sense, I’ve cried for her a few times including now as I write this. But I also know she lives on with me and all the other people she helped in her too-short time here. Her voice is in my head during the hard times, guiding me through. I also see her nodding and smiling at me whenever I have a breakthrough, usually of the emotional kind that is small and private. She’s proud. She’s me being proud of myself.

        I know this was very long and probably only a few people will actually read it all the way through, but this was the best way I could think to honor her because anyone who does read it is another life she’s touched, and even if no one does, I got to see her nodding and smiling all the way through as I wrote it. Thank you, Liz, for saving my life and more than that for making it more beautiful and whole than it has ever been. I promise to enjoy the Pacific Northwest and the words I read and write for you. I will live in the moment, be grateful, and be kind to myself and others the way you taught me.

        Friday, November 1, 2013

        GCC Presents: Sara Hantz!

        I’m especially excited to tour my Girlfriends’ Cyber Circuit and long-time YA author buddy, Sara Hantz in support of her new book IN THE BLOOD, which is out from Entangled Teen on Tuesday , November 5th! I had the opportunity to read an advance copy and this is what I thought of it:

        “Sara Hantz doesn't pull any punches shaping this story of one of the toughest, most complicated family situations that a teen could face. Jed's emotions are raw and real. I ached and raged with him and frantically turned pages to see where he would end up.”   

        Want to learn more? Well, you are in luck!

        About IN THE BLOOD:

        For seventeen years, Jed Franklin’s life was normal. Then his father was charged with the abuse and murder of four young boys and normal became a nightmare.

        His mom’s practically a walking zombie, he’s lost most of his friends, and the press camps out on his lawn. The only things that keep him sane are his little sis; his best friend and dream girl, Summer; and the alcohol he stashes in his room. But after Jed wakes up from a total blackout to discover a local kid has gone missing—a kid he was last seen talking to—he’s forced to face his greatest fear: that he could somehow be responsible.

        In a life that’s spiraled out of control, Jed must decide if he chooses his own destiny with Summer by his side or if the violent urges that plagued his father are truly in the blood…

        About Sara Hantz:

        Sara Hantz originally comes from the UK and is one of four children, having three younger brothers. Although she was an avid reader from a very early age, she didn't get the writing bug until much later in life, though English was always one of her stronger subjects. She's an avid sun chaser and now lives on the beautiful Sunshine Coast in Australia (via 10 years in New Zealand). Sara lectured for many years before deciding to devote more time to her writing and working in the family hospitality business. She has two grown-up children and when not writing, working, or online with her friends, she spends more time than most people she knows watching TV - in fact if TV watching was an Olympic sport she'd win gold. Sara’s books: In The Blood, The Second Virginity of Suzy Green and Will The Real Abi Saunders Please Stand Up (due out May 2014).

        The Interview:

        Q: What inspired you to write this book?

        SARA: If ever I read or watched about some horrific crime committed I would always wonder how it affected the perpetrator’s family and what happened to them. The idea for my book just grew from that.

        Q: The main character of my first book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, is the kind of girl I wanted to be (a rock star!), the MC of my second book has a lot more in common with teenage me. Is your main character someone you wish you could be, someone a lot like you, or your total opposite? How so? 

        SARA: Although my main character is a boy there is one big likeness and that’s the way he turns in on himself when something bad happens – I’m the same, I’d rather not tell anyone and just deal with it on my own, in my own way.
        The main similarity between me and the main character of my book, Jed, is that he likes to deal with things on his own. I’m like that, too. If anything bad happens I seldom tell anyone, just deal with it internally.
        Q: If there was a soundtrack for your book what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?
        SARA: Smile written by Charlie Chaplin, because I think that’s what Summer would advise Jed to do.  
        What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life written by Michel Legrand, because for me this is one of the greatest love songs of all time and illustrates Jed’s feelings for Summer. 
        We Are The Champions written by Freddy Mercury, because we want Jed to fight and not give in to what happens to him.
        Ordinary People by John Legend, because it’s represents the life that Jed and Summer will have.
        Royals written by Lorde, because I’m obsessed with it, could listen to it all day long! 
        Q: In addition to writing books, I also write for a website for teens called Rookie, which has a regular feature called "Literally The Best Thing Ever," wherein we write about a thing that we think is super mega awesome (even if it is the type of thing that others might call a guilty pleasure, we believe there is nothing guilty about pleasure!) and explain why we think it is literally the best thing ever. It's generally a kind of unexpected thing, for example I wrote one about the soap opera, One Life To Live. I don't expect you to write a whole essay obviously, but can you briefly tell us what either you or your character (or both!) would say is "Literally The Best Thing Ever" and why?
        SARA: My best thing ever would have to be The Big Bang Theory. I love it so much. I have all shows on DVD and watch them over and over. They always make me laugh whatever mood I’m in.
        Q: What are you working on for us next? 
        SARA: My next book is Will The Real Abi Saunders Please Stand Up and is about an introverted girl who ends up being a stunt girl for a wild teen movie star.

        Thursday, October 17, 2013

        Two new releases and an event!

        This month marks the release of two books that I'm very proud to be a part of!

        The first was this one:

        Rookie Yearbook Two was released at the beginning of the month. I still pinch myself on a regular basis because writing for Rookie really is my teenage dream come true. This book is like receiving a box of a hundred really cool ‘zines. It’s filled with amazing essays, photos, illustrations, DIYs, interviews with people like Carrie Brownstein and Judy Blume, and so much more that I’ll just let my lovely boss Tavi tell you about it. The Rookie piece that I am most proud of appears in Yearbook Two and I have to say I teared up a little when I saw it in print.

        We’re celebrating the release of Yearbook Two with events in various cities in the US and Canada:

        (click to make bigger)

        I'll be at the Vera Project event in Seattle on Saturday, November 9th at 1 pm. (It's free! There's zine making!) It’s my first Rookie/literary event in my new city, so I’m super excited about it. Come if you can!

        Those of you eager for some new fiction from me. I’m happy to announce that this came out on Thursday:

        Very Superstitious: Myths, Legends and Tales of Superstition is a project I'm super psyched about for a couple of reasons. One, it's a charity anthology and the proceeds from the first 5,000 copies go to SPCA International. My kitties mean the world to me, so I'm proud to be supporting pets worldwide. Two, this gave me the opportunity to write a ghost story. I love, love, love ghost stories, but I've never written one. This was particularly fun because I got to write about a local legend.

        Forest Park, Illinois, where I spent the past nine years before moving to Seattle, is the one corner of Chicago where I really felt like I fit and part of that was because it's a quirky town that is proud of it's 30 to 1 dead to living ration. It's a city of cemeteries and one of those cemeteries, Jewish Waldheim, has a ghost--a young hitchhiking flapper ghost who is like the brunette, less famous Resurrection Mary. No one knows who she actually is--and I had my fellow YA author/ghost legend expert, Adam Selzer help me do a ton of research on who she might have been, though newspaper articles like this were about all we could find. I relished the opportunity to make up a story expanding on what little is known about Forest Park's Flapper Ghost.

        I named her Lulu after the spirit that lived in my childhood home--at least according to my junior high Ouija Board adventures. She and the characters she meets in her story, "The Road Home," also play a small role in The Grief Book. Sadly, I still don't have any news to report about that, but writing and releasing this story is tiding me over and I hope it will tide you over, too!

        Saturday, October 5, 2013

        Three months in Seattle!

        Today marks three months since we arrived in Seattle after a four-day drive from Chicago. I'm reminded every day that moving out here was the right decision. A little over a month ago, I landed a job that I adore. It's crazy how polar opposite my life is now from what it was in Chicago. Instead of getting home from work at 2 or 3 am, I'm getting up at 6:15 am. And I don't mind it. I'm that blissfully happy here. In fact, today is Saturday and I still woke up before 7, but it didn't bother me because I got to see this gorgeous view of the sun coming up through my living room window:

        And then, by 7:30, I was out the door for a four-mile run.

        Yes, I just said that. Someone who knows me well probably just spit their coffee out on their computer and I apologize. I notoriously hated gym class and wrote about it for Ms. Fit and Rookie, but in both of those pieces I also address trying to find ways to enjoy fitness-y stuff. I'm definitely enjoying it more than ever here because the moderate climate allows me to be outside more and the incredibly scenery makes me want to be out and moving as much as possible. 

        Seattle is a very healthy city, especially compared to the Midwest, and that's a big part of why it feels so good to be out here. My husband and I go on regular Sunday hikes (which I swear I'm going to more consistently post pictures of on my tumblr), and in addition to going to the gym (yay! perk of the new job! I have a free gym membership!), I run outside twice a week because I'm lucky enough to live just a few blocks from this:

        I actually can't think of a better way to show you why I love living here so much than sharing what I see when I run. I usually go toward the Sound during the week after work because it's a 2-mile round-trip run and then on Saturdays when I have more time and energy, I run toward the mountains. I usually don't even make it as far as Lake Washington, but today since Seattle gifted me with such a beautiful day for our three month-versary, I took full advantage. I was actually pretty shocked that I ran as far and felt as good as I did. Maybe it's because after three months of running outside and up and down these hills, my body is getting used to it. Maybe I was properly hydrated for once. Maybe it was because on the advice of my friend Beth Ellen, I finally got some proper running gear, so don't feel like a total amateur compared to the serious runners and cyclists out here in my grody old tank top and shorts combo from 2007. I'm a real runner now:

        Okay, no more dorky selfies. Here's what the view was like on my run toward the Sound on Monday. That day was not nearly as sunny as today. In fact, it rained for much of the day, but on my way home from work, the clouds broke and I got a nice mixture of sun and the Seattle gray that I love just as much:

        Then, when I arrived home, I was rewarded with this:

        Today I ran toward the mountain and Lake Washington, and as I mentioned, I went a bit farther than I normally do because I was feeling so good. But this is what I normally see on my run which takes me through parks and right alongside I-90:

         The orange building in the distance in this shot is Pac Med, which is right by my house. One of the things I love about this run is how it seems so far away and up high when I reach the point about a quarter of a mile from where I usually turn back. It makes me feel like I've really accomplished something.

        And here's Pac Med, to the left, so you get a sense of how it looks with the city skyline and a sense of why I love living up on Beacon Hill:

        This tunnel here is where I usually turn back. It leads to the I-90 bridge across Lake Washington, to Mercer Island and beyond--where maybe someday I'll go once I get a bike (and re-learn how to ride!) Going to here is maybe three miles or a little bit more round-trip, so I'm generally satisfied with that on a Saturday, but today I was feeling good, so I went on through...

        The pay-off on the other side is amazing. I don't think there is a more gorgeous (and um sorta freaky if you're at all afraid of heights) run in the country... maybe somewhere along PCH in California, but seriously, look at this:

        Running east along the bridge, you've got Bellevue to the left:

        And, on a clear morning like this one, Mount Rainier, on the right:

        And the gorgeous peacefulness that is Lake Washington all around:

        I also got a chance to take the picture I was too overwhelmed to snap three months ago when we were driving into Seattle, our new home:

        Seattle: Portal to the Pacific. Home. Three months ago as we drove through that tunnel, into our new city, "You Know You're Right" by Nirvana came on the iPod, which we had on shuffle. I felt like it was Kurt affirming my choice in a weird way. I was right in making this move. Today as I ran back through the runner/biker part of the tunnel, my favorite female punk band, Civet, reaffirmed it. Once again, the iPod was on shuffle, the same mix of songs I'd been listening to three months ago, but this time the song was "Can't Go Back."

        No. I can't go back and I don't want to. I have found a better way. 


        Monday, September 23, 2013

        GCC Presents: Debbie Rigaud

        Debbie Rigaud, one of my amazing writer buds from the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit has a new story, "Viola," in an incredible anthology called OPEN MIC. Here's the lowdown!


        Listen in as ten YA authors use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction embraces a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poignant, in prose, poetry and comic form.

        About “Voila” by Debbie Rigaud:

        Thanks to overprotective parenting, Simone’s elderly great aunt Ma Tante has more of a social life than she does. But one afternoon, Ma Tante’s social scene awkwardly intersects with Simone’s in the unlikeliest of places.

        About Debbie Rigaud:

        Debbie Rigaud began her writing career covering news and entertainment for popular magazines. Her YA fiction debut, HALLWAY DIARIES/Kimani Tru was followed by the fish-out-of-water romantic comedy PERFECT SHOT/Simon Pulse. Since then, Debbie’s non-fiction essays have been published in anthologies IT’S ALL LOVE/Broadway Books and DEAR BULLY/HarperTeen. Her short story “Voila!” is featured in OPEN MIC/Candlewick Press, and TURFQUAKE, her first YA e-book will be released late 2013.

        The Interview:

        Q: What inspired you to write this book?
        DEBBIE: OPEN MIC editor Mitali Dave is known for her passion for multicultural stories. When I found out about her plans for a humor-driven anthology about growing up between cultures, I was all over it. For me, life as a first-generation American teen included countless culture clashes with my parents and even some friends—perfect material for a humorous short story! How could I not be inspired?
        Q: Is your main character someone you wish you could be, someone a lot like you, or your total opposite?DEBBIE: My main character Simone and I share cultural backgrounds (Haitian-American), but she is a lot less trusting and much snarkier than I was at that age. Her healthy skepticism keeps her a step ahead of awkward situations, which she handles a whole lot better than I would.
        Q: If there was a soundtrack or your book, what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate to the story?DEBBIE: Because I picture the doctor’s office setting in the story to take place in an urban Latino/Caribbean community, I’d say you’d hear something by Pit Bull like “International Love” and Wyclef Jean’s “Party By the Sea” featuring Buju Banton. And although the lyrics are a bit—ahem, raunchy, I’d go with J. Cole’s “Can’t Get Enough” for the dope West African music sample he uses. Because the story is about so many clashes (cultural, social personal), we need to include The Clash’s music. A perfect selection would be “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Finally, something the seniors in the story probably listened to when they were young, like Al Green’s “For the Good Times.”
        Q: In your opinion, what is “Literally The Best Thing Ever”?
        DEBBIE: This may sound greedy, but turkey bacon is the best thing ever. I’m not a pork or red meat eater, but I will throw down on some turkey bacon. My husband thinks I’m deluding myself with this pretentious turkey version of tasty bacon strips, but I swear it’s different, yet close enough to the real thing. Waiters at diners and breakfast spots have been good about not rolling their eyes when I ask if they have turkey bacon (the answer is often, NO). But some eateries have caught on that people like me demand the option of gobble-gobbling up (pun intended) this just-as yummy bacon substitute.
        Q: What are you working on for us next?DEBBIE: I’m preparing to release my first YA e-book. It’s titled TURFQUAKE and it follows one city girl’s reluctant (and awkward) switch to an urban school at the same time her cousin from earthquake-ravaged Haiti moves in and faces greater challenges adjusting to life in the US.

        Monday, September 9, 2013

        On Important Anniversaries and *the* Importance of Making Yourself Happy

        Last Thursday, September 5 marked two important anniversaries: it was the two-year anniversary of Rookie Magazine, which I've had the honor of writing for since the beginning (in case you want to revisit it, here's my excited post about Rookie's launch) and the two-month anniversary of my arrival in Seattle.

        Actually scratch that. It marked three important anniversaries. It was also the two-day anniversary of me feeling that happiest I've been since 2009.

        I haven't been wholly and completely miserable since 2009. Some really wonderful things have happened. Like this:

         And this:

        And even this:

        But that last thing was kind of where the trouble began. About three weeks before Ballads was to be released, during a horrible week when I'm guessing but can't be bothered to check that Mercury was in retrograde because we were having the kind of killer heat wave that made me hate Chicago, my air conditioner was broken, and I was having so many problems with my home internet that I'm surprised I didn't bomb Comcast, my then-agent called to tell me to STOP EVERYTHING and promote Ballads because the publisher wasn't really doing anything for it and the print run and sell-through numbers were half of what they'd been for I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

        Since they are sorta like children, I don't think you are supposed to love one book more than another, but I did love Ballads more. It was the book I felt like I was born to write--or that I'd survived my teenage years to write. I'd poured so much of myself into it that the ulcer problems that I'd had at sixteen resurfaced and were worse than they'd ever been.

        And with the way my agent was talking it sounded like that book had failed before it even hit stores because my publisher had already written it off. I don't know how much of that is true and how much of that was my emotional response. What I do know is that I did everything I could. I was actually already doing everything I could. I mean, if high school had majors, mine would have been "Punk Rock D.I.Y." I'd taken everything I knew to support both of my books. With Ballads, I'd even hired a publicist.

        But, to this day, it's sold only a third of what I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone sold. I don't know why. It's the better book. Up until I finished The Grief Book in May, I was pretty sure it was always going to be the best thing I'd ever written. I think that it is always harder for second books, even when the publisher is giving them a big a push, and when the publisher isn't, well... But I don't want to play any sort of blame game. I still have nothing but love for my editor and the people I worked with at MTV Books. I honestly don't really know what happened. All I do know is this:

        It was out of my control.

        But it has taken me four long years to come to grips with that.

        I'm a perfectionist. An overachiever. Even when I was a stoner fuck-up, I was a straight-A student (aside from gym which doesn't count toward your G.P.A., so um, it doesn't count). I couldn't shake the idea that I had failed somehow. I had this big dream of "making it" as a writer, but instead I was (barely) supporting myself on bartending income, which was not at all where I envisioned myself with my fancy MFA degree at the age of 30. I beat myself up for months, for years thinking I wasn't good enough, my writing wasn't good enough.

        My writing suffered as a result. There was the whole saga of The Bartender Book. I spent two years on that book, going through paralyzing periods of writer's block, ignoring so many people's gentle advice to just let it go--advice that maybe I should have taken because it hasn't sold--because I felt like I needed to prove that I could finish a book. I thought things would get easier after that, but then there was The Modern Myth YA that I couldn't finished and my biggest crisis of faith about my writing, which came in the middle of writing The Grief Book.

        Other Hard Things were happening too. I had friends who were going through Terrible Awful Things. I was still reeling from the death of my friend Marcel in 2008. My house kept flooding because the weather in Chicago was pretty much constantly wretched. My beloved cat, Sid, who'd been my best friend and companion since my awful junior year of high school got really sick and then last November, he passed away.

        Out of his death came the decision to move, though. I felt like he was setting me free. Like he knew I wouldn't go anywhere with him sick  because it was too risky to be away from our trusted caregivers. But when we were saying goodbye, I felt like he was telling me to make myself happy.

        My therapist definitely was. I went back to therapy in July of last year because I knew my depression was the worst it had been in fifteen years. I was thinking about cutting. I was even sometimes thinking about suicide. I felt very much like I had at sixteen, but I knew more. I knew I didn't want to hurt the people I loved and that I didn't want to keep hurting. I knew that I could help myself. So I did.

        In therapy I quickly had a bunch of revelations, especially about control--what I could control, what I couldn't and why I was so obsessed with it (the still-lingering effects of the controlling/abusive relationship I was in as a teenager).

        There are many things about my writing career that I can't control, namely who buys my books, meaning both publishers and then how many people buy them after they come out. I can only write the very best book I can, promote it in the ways I know how, and hope for the best. I can't base my happiness on this. So I needed to be proactive and do the things I knew would make me happy. That thing was moving to Seattle and starting fresh in a city that I love.

        It was absolutely petrifying because it meant relinquishing a lot of control, which I wrote about in part two of my series on making the move for Ms. Fit Magazine here. I came out here without a job aside from the work I do for Rookie and Ms. Fit and an online teaching gig, which all together would pay maybe a month's worth of bills. I had savings and a credit card with a high limit. I have a very supportive mother. I had to trust that this would be enough and that finding my own happiness would be worth the gamble.

        My friend Marcel wrote his Instructions for Life on a paper towel and after his death, another friend had them printed on paper towels for a bunch of us. I keep mine in a shadow box above my desk. This is his first instruction:

        "Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk." My friend, the one who had the paper towels printed for us, reminded me of this before I set off. I insisted that the shadow box with the paper towel accompany us in the car, that it be the first thing in my new home because I believed that knowing me as well as he did, Marcel would know that for me, a person who has struggled with depression for most of her life, a greater achievement than publishing a book would be learning how to make myself happy. In fact, I'm sure if I'd been able to call or write him during my struggles in the past four years, he would have said something like that. I know that he would have been proud that I finally figured it out on my own.

         My third piece for Ms. Fit, which I hope will be published soon, was written a month after we arrived in Seattle. When I was mostly happy because,um, well, I live in a place where I regularly see views like these:


        But I was also freaked because I still hadn't found a job and/or sold a book, which I thought would click right into place if this whole moving thing was meant to be.

        Deep breaths.
        Great Risk.
        It'll be worth it.
        You can do it.

        Job hunting is a slow process, especially in this economy. But much like when my husband and I found the right apartment, when I found the right job, everything sped up and it happened fast. I started last Tuesday as the administrative assistant in the English Department of a local university, one that is only a 15 minute bus ride or a a half an hour walk from my house. It's a gorgeous campus in one of my favorite parts of the city. Yes, it's office work. Yes it's full-time. Yes, this is a huge change from the past four years or so of my life. But it is an English Department and the people I've met so far are inspiring and amazing. For the first time in a long time, I feel stable, secure, hopeful, happy. 

        I know there will still be challenges, the biggest being how to fit writing into my life. I know for sure that I will keep writing for Rookie because that is writing that has brought me nothing but joy for the past two years. I've always written fiction, but I've been writing essays and rants and zines since high school and I take just as much pleasure from that. Also, the Rookie staff has become my best support network. Even though it is an online publication and we work from all over the world, we take good care of each other. It really is one of the best parts of my life.

        Of the two projects I mentioned in my last blog, I'll probably focus on the essay collection/zine thing because Rookie has given me the most joy as of late and because it will be the easiest to piece together while I'm learning to juggle writing and a full-time job. However, The Grief Book is the best thing I've written. It's better than Ballads. It's what I survived my teens and twenties and early thirties to write. I believe in it with all of my heart and soul. I'm finally ready to set free all of the old guilt and pain and stress I've felt about my writing career for the past four years and I hope that will unlock the universe somehow and the right editor will read it and want it and you all will get to read it soon. That would definitely take my happiness to the next level, but right now I'm just happy being here, in my heart city with the love of my life, the support of incredible friends all over the place, and knowing that I've done some damn fine work for the coolest magazine on the planet and I've written books both published and unpublished that I'm very proud of.