Pause

This weekend, I sold books at my local Renaissance Festival. It was a fun, sleepy event with local crafters and hobbyists. I bought soap, a hand forged necklace charm, and some cool tools for fire starting, as well as kettle corn. I was able to share a bit about Slither (my dragon book) and even met another local author. Family dropped by to visit, and my good friend stayed by my side to make sure I was well snacked and hydrated. A lovely event!

Sometimes I find myself wishing we had more regular community like this. Even though I couldn’t imagine standing outside all day every day, selling books, I loved the communal feel of going around, meeting other vendors, hearing their stories, meeting people from the community. One of the vendors said thoughtfully, “We look after each other.” I love that. And since it was Renaissance era themed, I didn’t see much in the way of cell phones or laptops  (although I had both with me).

We’re living in an era where the frantic pace can sometimes overwhelm, and these moments where we get to stop, chat, and soak up the sun in a park with friends are becoming more rare. Yet it is so important and restorative to have days like this.

Even if it’s not at a ren fest, even if it’s not outside sitting by a table selling books, I encourage you all to try to squeeze in a day where you can pause, surround yourself with friends and family, and breathe slowly and peacefully. Take a beat.

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Guest Post: Andrea Murray, author of “Vivid”

image1When my daughter, Liv, was around five, my niece and I took her to a “meet the princess” event at a local Chick-fil-A. We dressed her in her favorite powder-blue Cinderella dress, her sparkly tiara, and her clear-plastic, glass slippers, and I think we were more excited than her. After all, when I was her age, I would have been over the moon to see real-live princesses, have a butterfly painted on my cheek, and take home an 8 x 10 photo to commemorate the epic day, but alas, I forgot this was MY fairytale, not hers.

The July sunshine beat down on a parking lot transformed into a princess paradise! Colorful tented areas and brightly clothed little girls all looking like mini Belles, Cinderellas, and Ariels created a picturesque scene where pink glitter was only overshadowed by the brilliant smiles on those faces. Despite the face-of-the-sun heat, we got out of the car and started toward the crafts, face-painting, hair-doing, and nail-painting area. My daughter’s death grip on my hand should have been my first indication of a problem bubbling like a wicked witch’s curse, but my mind was too enamored by the pleasant possibilities ahead and the photo ops that I could savor for years to come.

Now, Liv has always been a contemplative little thing. From her earliest days in diapers, my strange bird has been thoughtful, not the “are you okay” thoughtful but more like the true definition as in “full of thoughts,” so I’d become accustomed to drawn brows above her big gray eyes, but I  should’ve been more thoughtful (in the former sense) that Saturday. If I had been, I might’ve predicted the explosion that was about to demolish my picture-perfect day.

My niece, Katie, is one of the kindest people I know, and she’s fantastic with kids. In fact, she’s a better mom to my kids than I am! She immediately took Liv’s other hand and squatted down to eye level with her to ask what she wanted to do first. Did she want to make a cute craft? Did she want her cheek painted? Did she want flowers braided into her hair? And while all of these other girls ran laughingly around us, Liv stood stock still, shaking her head at each suggestion and moving so close to me that she became another appendage. After exchanging a glance with Katie, I suggested we go inside to eat, thinking she might just be peckish or that she would get excited once she saw the princesses set up inside. Clue number two of approaching danger should’ve been when my child with her normally healthy appetite refused to eat her nuggets and stared, wide-eyed the whole time at the princesses. After begging and promising, we finally convinced her to pose with a princess. Not even the photographer with his endless bag of “happy” props could coax a smile, but with the picture snapped, we went back outside to wait our hour until it was ready. We made it as far as the first curb before Liv’s class five meltdown.

When I was a kid, I’d watched some cheesy movie about a nuclear power plant disaster, no doubt created in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. I remember clearly the female robotic voice warning of the impending doom and how the characters had raced to escape the red-lit plant as the countdown commenced. And when my pretty princess sat down on that curb in the Chick-fil-A parking lot, that scene flashed into my head, red lights, sirens blasting, and all! My calm, little miss had a full-on, class five meltdown in her Cinderella dress and plastic shoes. All I could do was stand, mouth open, and listen to her scream. Her eyes were wild as her cheeks turned a neon pink that would’ve given that flashing red light a run for its money, and her sweaty hair curled crazily around her lopsided tiara. It was my first experience with a true tantrum, but my child had had enough. She wasn’t about to enjoy herself, and she was tired of me trying to make her.

image2My child taught me an important lesson that day. What we want isn’t always what our kids want. I SO wanted her to have a day she’d love, but I’d given her a day I would love, not her. I’d tried to force my aspirations on her instead of asking what she would like. We all want our kids to be something. No mom sees her child for the first time and thinks, “Gee, I hope my kid grows up to be a loser.” We all want–more, more than we did, more acclaim, more joy, more success. But our idea of acclaim, joy, and success may not be the same our child’s. I’d tried to force her into my mold, and it had resulted in an embarrassing, ugly tantrum where she made it clear this wasn’t her thing, and I hadn’t bothered to ask her.

Did she get in trouble for her little explosion? Yes, because she can’t go through life thinking screaming on the curb is appropriate. Did I get my perfect princess photo to love forever and ever? Nope, we left immediately.  But the lesson of that day has stayed with me. I’ve seen a few more meltdowns in both my kids since then, but none as memorable and beneficial as that day. Teach your kids to respect you, but remember to respect them sometimes, too, and remember, your little princess may be a screaming banshee inside. 😉

About the Author

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Andrea Murray’s love of English didn’t begin until high school. In fact, in elementary school, she hated reading and never read a book unless she was forced to read. She found her joy as a ninth grader when she began reading classic short stories like “The Most Dangerous Game” and “The Cask of Amontillado”. After that, she knew she wanted to study English and teach kids like her who weren’t entirely thrilled with English. She graduated valedictorian of her high school class in the same little town where she still lives and earned a BSE in English and an MA in English from Arkansas State University, where she also earned honors as the Outstanding BSE graduate in English. Andrea has now been teaching English for twenty years. She’s taught journalism, freshman composition, every level of junior high and high school English, and Pre-AP and AP literature. Andrea is also a two-time teacher of the year. She lives in Arkansas with Chris, her high school sweetheart and husband of twenty plus years; their two children, Olivia and Wyatt; and their rambunctious German Shepherd, Claus, in a possibly haunted house. She co-coaches her daughter’s three-time state champion Odyssey of the Mind team. She loves Victorian British literature focused on that when earning her MA. Her first true love is historical romance. She can remember sneaking her mother’s trashy romance novels when she was a young teenager and reading while mother was grocery shopping. Her favorites were always the Medieval and pirate stories, but she also loves young adult literature and just about anything paranormal or with a superhero. She’s a proud Mensan and is addicted to television. When she isn’t watching bad science fiction movies, she spends her time reading. In addition to her young adult paranormal romance series The Vivid Trilogy, she has written The Omni Duology, a young-adult dystopian duo. In 2014, she was a finalist for the Darrell Award and a runner-up for the Book Country About the Book Award.

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Author Spotlight: Andrea Murray

Today, I’m focusing on the talented YA writer, Andrea Murray. She has several YA books out and a new book on the way. Andrea and I made a connection this summer through our publisher, Dragon Moon Press. I read her YA novel, Vivid, in record time. Below, you’ll find a brief interview with her as well as an excerpt for Vivid.

I’m honored to host Andrea on my blog!

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What motivated you to write your first novel?

Like most writers, I’ve always written stories, but I decided to write my first novel, Vivid, after the death of my brother-in-law, who was killed in a hunting accident at a young age.  He had a brand-new baby and a bright future, and it was just so tragic.  I knew it was time to stop making excuses, and that’s when I began tossing around the idea.  I didn’t actually commit until a bit later after I had a particularly spunky group of students (mostly girls) in one of my afternoon classes.  I created Vivian, the protagonist in Vivid, in honor of those girls. They were crazy about paranormal romances, and I found that all of those novels featured females being rescued by males, who had ALL of the powers. I wanted to reverse that and create a strong, female protagonist who could save her boyfriend one minute and look fabulous at prom the next!

What strange things do you do when you write? Do you listen to music? Watch television? Eat Cheetos?

I definitely don’t listen to music. I don’t know why, but music distracts me more than anything. I think it’s because I want to sing along! I usually have the television on when I write. I watch a lot of paranormal shows, ghost hunting stuff, and the murder channel (aka Investigation Discovery). I like to have a big glass of something to drink, preferably coffee with tons of creamer, and I like it better when no one else is home.

What was your greatest challenge writing this story and how did you overcome it?

Each of my novels came with their own challenges. With the Vivid Trilogy, balancing Vivian’s personality with her growth as a character proved difficult. I wanted her to stay herself but to evolve and change, too. She discovers so much about herself and her family that she HAD to become something new by the end. In the Omni Duology, I was attempting to retell a famous story, the myth of Paris and Helen from Greek mythology but in an ultra-modern society. I had to both limit and expand on the original story and create characters the reader could recognize if he/she is familiar with the myth. The manuscript I’m currently proofing is a ghost story and completely out of my wheelhouse. I’m accustomed to romance, and this one is most definitely not that. I don’t read that much horror/thriller, and I sort of started from nowhere (except my own creepy experiences in my house).

If you could spend the day with one of the characters in this book, who would you choose and what would you do?

If I had to choose a character to spend a day with, it would be Pierce from Omni. He’s dreamy, and I had a bit of a book crush the whole time I worked on those two novels! He’s the Byronic hero from my favorite Romantic and Victorian novels, tortured and sigh-worthy.

What’s next for you and your writing career?

I’m not quite sure what’s next. I’m pretty sure I’m taking a bit of a reading break. I love to review novels, and I’ve neglected that lately while trying to finish my ghost story.

What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas?

I get inspired by so many things. Kids at school, my own children, tv, movies  . . . everywhere! I don’t really sleep well, and many of my ideas come at night while I’m waiting for sleep. I keep a notepad by my bed for that reason.

What is something you are not good at doing?

I’m horrible at all things athletic. I’ve never had any abilities in that area. I always wanted to be athletic, but alas, it was not to be. I’m also not good at letting things go. I beat myself up over every mistake and second-guess myself constantly.

What message do you want readers to get from reading the book?

One constant thing that I always hope is that readers are so entertained they hate to see the book end. I don’t write for deep-seated meanings. I think novels should be about escape from your everyday world, and I just want people to love the worlds I’ve created.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I’m probably grading papers. I teach junior high English, and that occupies a great deal of my time. I also have two children, and I coach my eleven-year- old’s Odyssey of the Mind team, which tends to take up what’s left. When I do get some “me” time, I enjoy reading (like most authors) and watching all the shows I’ve saved on my DVR. I’m ashamed to admit how much I enjoy television.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Find out what your character doesn’t want to happen then make that thing happen. My husband is a huge MASH fan, and on a reunion show, one of the writers said that. I’ve never forgotten it. You have to know your character that well, know her secret fears, and then torture her with them!

What are your favorite characters that you have created?

I love Vivian. She’ll always be my favorite. There’s a piece of me (the sarcastic, potty mouth part probably) in her.

What is one piece of advice you would give to your teenage self?

Stop trying to control other people. I thought controlling others was the only way not to get hurt, and though I still struggle with this, I’ve learned you can’t control others. You can only control your response.

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Author Bio:

Andrea Murray’s love of English didn’t begin until high school. In fact, in elementary school, she hated reading and never read a book unless she was forced to read. She found her joy as a ninth grader when she began reading classic short stories like “The Most Dangerous Game” and “The Cask of Amontillado”. After that, she knew she wanted to study English and teach kids like her who weren’t entirely thrilled with English. She graduated valedictorian of her high school class in the same little town where she still lives and earned a BSE in English and an MA in English from Arkansas State University, where she also earned honors as the Outstanding BSE graduate in English. Andrea has now been teaching English for twenty years. She’s taught journalism, freshman composition, every level of junior high and high school English, and Pre-AP and AP literature. Andrea is also a two-time teacher of the year. She lives in Arkansas with Chris, her high school sweetheart and husband of twenty plus years; their two children, Olivia and Wyatt; and their rambunctious German Shepherd, Claus, in a possibly haunted house. She co-coaches her daughter’s three-time state champion Odyssey of the Mind team. She loves Victorian British literature focused on that when earning her MA. Her first true love is historical romance. She can remember sneaking her mother’s trashy romance novels when she was a young teenager and reading while mother was grocery shopping. Her favorites were always the Medieval and pirate stories, but she also loves young adult literature and just about anything paranormal or with a superhero. She’s a proud Mensan and is addicted to television. When she isn’t watching bad science fiction movies, she spends her time reading. In addition to her young adult paranormal romance series The Vivid Trilogy, she has written The Omni Duology, a young-adult dystopian duo. In 2014, she was a finalist for the Darrell Award and a runner-up for the Book Country About the Book Award.

Vivid-book excerpt

Chapter One

“Damn, damn, damn!” I fumble with my lock. This is my fourth lock of the year—a new record—and all the combinations and number patterns from the previous fatalities keep pushing their way to the front of my mind. I smack my hand against the front of my locker as though it’s responsible for the jerks who keep forcing me to buy new locks.

In this high school if you aren’t one of ‘them’ then apparently you deserve whatever punishment ‘they’ feel is necessary to weed you from the pack. Call it a survival of the fittest check-up.

In my case someone keeps stealing my combination or just cutting my lock but that only happened to lock number two, probably because it required a key, not a stolen combo. I always try to remember to roll the dial on the lock or shield my hand when I put in the combination, but someone is way too interested in vandalizing my stuff.

I never understood that. If they hate me so much, why do they waste their time on me? I mean, it makes no sense that someone they see as unworthy occupies so much forethought in their group conscience. (I firmly believe they must all share the same brain.)

I’m not their only victim. I’m just the only one who ever fights back, fights that typically aren’t physical but are always a pain in the ass and somehow end with me in the principal’s office while the flawless, plastic-people never seem to get caught, making me look like a ‘troubled teen’.

It started in junior high when we all moved from the separate middle school campuses. The haves versus the have nots, the cool versus the losers, the populars versus all the rest of us who weren’t blessed with perfect features, perfect bodies, and perfect lives. In the center lives the queen bee, Trista Parmer, blonde, tall, tan even in winter, and totally vicious. I’ve never figured out why she hates me, and at this point, I don’t even care anymore. I simply want to stay out of her line of fire.

I’ve just put my forehead on the cool, blue metal locker, ready to give up, when my salvation arrives in the form of a plump, curly-haired blonde, pushing up her purple-rimmed glasses at the same time she pushes me away from the locker.

Abby Johnson has a way of making her 5-foot presence seem much larger. We’ve been best friends since this nightmare started in seventh grade when I helped her pick up her books after Trista knocked them out of her hands in front of half the school. We take care of each other. She memorizes my locker combos and gives me rides since I have yet to get a car even though I’ve had my license since I turned sixteen last April, and I, well, I’m not sure what I do for her unless you count insisting she stay at my house when her useless parents are away (and they are always away). I’ve lived with my Aunt Charlotte since I was five. She took me in when my mom was killed, and we’ve kind of adopted Abby, made her an honorary member of the family, not that that means much.

As Abby’s fingers fly over my lock, I notice her new, expensive jeans with the rhinestone hearts swirled on the back pockets and her pink shirt that cost more than I spend in a month. She has one of the qualifications to be a ‘them’. She has money. Her parents are loaded because her dad is some kind of investment broker, and her mom is a big shot executive. They travel sometimes as many as four days a week, but since the housekeeper found a bottle of tequila in Abby’s room three weeks ago, they’ve made a “new commitment to Abby and the family,” at least that’s what her dad told her. So basically this means they’re trying to stay home more and snarl at each other less.

They didn’t even punish Ab for the alcohol she took from their own den. She thought if she showed up at the Valentine’s Day lake party that Trista was throwing earlier this month she might finally be accepted by them, and they might leave her alone.

“Call it a peace offering,” she had said as we drove out to the party in her car. I didn’t bother to get out, hadn’t even changed out of my ratty sweat pants and hoody. She was dressed in what she calls her ‘skinny-girl’ outfit of jeggings and a low-cut sweater. She wanted so much to make a good impression, the impression she thought they wanted to see. But the whole thing was an epic failure when she came back to the car, unopened bottle in hand. They’d all been wasted and laughed at her. I don’t know why she wants to be accepted by that bunch of fakes, but that’s just Abby I guess. She’s not even close to being as tough as she wants to appear. All of this races through my mind as she opens the door and turns to me, lock in hand.

“Bad day?” Abby sighs.

“You have no idea.” I run my hand through my long, reddish-brown hair. That’s my nervous habit, and if this year doesn’t end soon, I may end up bald.

“So spill. What happened this time? The dime squad?” That’s what we call the popular girls, all those cookie-cutter ‘10s’ – identical, disposable, and easily-tossed around. Ok, maybe not that last one, but a girl can dream.

Instead of answering, I hand her the rumpled paper I’ve been gripping in my left hand and tug on my t-shirt in frustration. She smoothes the paper enough to see the red writing on the top of the page.

“You are the only person I know who stresses over a 98%. It’s not normal, Viv. Normal people WANT good grades. Let me guess”—she rolls her eyes—“highest in the class?”

When I just turn and stare at the back of my locker, she shakes her head, smiles, and lays her hand on my back.

“I don’t get it, V. If I were like genius smart, I’d smear it in all of their faces! Don’t give me that look, Vivian Cartwright. Why pull your punches? Why do you even bother to try at all if you won’t let yourself make the grades you’re capable of making? I know, I know. I’ve heard it before.”

She stops and does the air quote thing which she knows drives me crazy and tries to make her voice sound like mine. “You ‘don’t want any attention,’ at least not more than you already get.”

“I am not that whiney, and it’s not just the grade.” I run my hand through my hair again. “It’s the lock and the grade and the fact that this morning Mr. Thompson asked me to serve on prom committee,” I say, ticking off each catastrophe and throwing my hands up in surrender.

Abby turns my shoulders, forcing me to face her and gasps, “Prom committee?!” Her blue eyes are wide, her expression unbelieving. “I thought prom committee had been chosen a long time ago. I mean, this is like the end of February; prom’s in two months. Haven’t they already been meeting? Do you have to? What are you going to do?” With each question, her eyes get bigger and bigger, and she seems to be holding her breath, waiting for my reply.

“Yes, no, and definitely not happening,” I say in answer to her questions. “Apparently, Taylor Johnson can no longer serve because of some issue with grades, and Mr. Thompson thought it would be good for me, help me out of my shell.” I roll my eyes at the stupid cliché. He’s not the first teacher who has tried to help me, to save me from my future life as the lonely cat lady. Teachers think they have to make a somebody out of everybody. Don’t get me wrong; Aunt Charlotte is a kindergarten teacher, so I know how hard they work and everything, but come on! Some of us just want to survive this hellhole and move on without their interference.

I feel the need to continue reassuring Ab if for no other reason than to return her eyes and breathing to normal. “You know I don’t need any more hassle with Trista and her acolytes.”

“Oh, thank God!” She releases her breath with a whoosh and grabs me in a bone-crushing hug, and I know she thinks I made the right choice. Prom committee would most definitely put me on the dime squad radar even more than I am already. She pulls away from me so quickly I might have tripped backward if she hadn’t held on to my upper arms. I may be three inches taller than Abby (a whole 5’3”, thank you very much), but she definitely can hold her own, as Aunt Charlotte says.

“Come on; let’s go to lunch. I brought you a cupcake.” She shakes her polka-dot lunch tote and talks to me like Aunt Charlotte used to when I was little and wouldn’t eat my veggies. “The kind you like with the super-sweet icing.”

She tugs my shirt as I grab my black, nylon lunch bag, slamming my locker with my free hand and not even bothering with the lock since I can’t remember the combo anyway.

As we wind our way around the hall stragglers, I wonder how she does that, how she makes me feel better and seems to know what I need. As long as I have Abby, the dime squad, the jocks, the emos, all the cliques, can kiss my ass. Just a year and four months and I’ll be gone, out of this town. I’ll earn a great scholarship, and finally go somewhere new, somewhere better. I can do that. I can survive that. And I suddenly wonder just who I’m trying to convince.

 

Update and new posts!

A lot has been going on this summer. I submitted to #PitchWars and won a mentor for my latest WIP. I’ve been furiously working on edits for our October deadline. I have a Renaissance Faire I’m gearing up for–selling my books in a stall. I attended a writer’s conference in June and made some wonderful connections. Finally–the biggest change–we’re expecting another baby soon! With all that, I’ve had to take a pause in blogging.

BUT! The publisher for “Slither” connected me with other fantastic writers at DMP, and together we have cooked up some fun new posts. Andrea Murray and Kelly Hess both write fantasy, and we’re working together on some new content–guest blog posts, character interviews, even a book giveaway! All of this is starting this coming Monday.

So, if you’re interested in learning more about the creative minds of these two individuals, stick around for some fun new content. Andrea’s blog/website is https://byandreamurray.com/. You’ll find some of my new content there, too, in the coming weeks (and I’ll still be posting on this blog periodically as well).