My wonderful, supportive husband—this guy is the reason I write romance.
The ladies of the LDS Women’s Book Review Podcast—Sheila,Hillary, and Shanda.
James Dashner and Brandon Sanderson. I know famous people
My most awesome editor for Counting Stars, Angela Eschler.
Josi Kilpack, winner of the Whitney for best suspense. Sheep’s Clothing was terrifyingly real—especially for those of us with teens.
Annette and Heather, my critique buds. These ladies should have had their names on my trophy as well. They, along with the rest of our group, taught me everything I know about writing.
WARNING: This is going to be a long post (even for me, which is saying a lot). If you are a writer and haven’t met your word count today, get outta here and come back later. If you’re a SAHM whose children need food or a diaper change, please attend to their needs first. If you’re at work . . . just make sure your boss is out of the office!
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the 5th annual LDS Storymakers conference. It was fantastic, and later I’ll have to write a separate blog about the two days packed with great workshops and speakers.
The weekend culminated Saturday evening with the Whitney Awards Gala. As I mentioned a couple of blogs ago, I’d been nominated for two Whitneys, and I was looking forward to a great evening with my husband and a bunch of famous people. I didn’t have any expectation of winning—as I was up against ladies like Rachel Nunes and Stephanie Meyers in the romance category and Jessica Day George (I predicted that one right) in the new author category. But in a way that took a lot of pressure off the night for me. I didn’t worry about, “what if’s,” but I did want to look nice. And in that quest, I did two things—purchased new nylons (no wrapping my toes around holes tonight!), and set my hair in painful curlers and got little sleep the night before. I’d hoped for sexy legs and a classy updo.
Unfortunately, I had failure on both accounts.
Shortly before the Whitney dinner (and I mean shortly, cause people kept talking to me in the hall—which was way cool. An author can never hear too many times that someone loved her story) I went up to our hotel room and joined my husband who had biked up from Provo for the evening. I changed into my dress and opened the brand new nylons. I’d purchased the “long” variety because that was all I’d been able to find at the store during my fifteen- minutes-between-carpool-stop on Thursday. Though I’m nowhere near 5’8″ as the chart on the back said I should be, I was hopeful that the nylons would work out all right anyway. They didn’t. But instead of being too long, they were horribly short—the label confirmed they were mispackaged, as I’d guessed when they only came up to my knees.
My husband sat on the bed and held the top of the nylons. I walked backward across the room, pulling on the feet, attempting to stretch the things into submission. I put them back on and a minute later was waddling. Clearly this was not going to work out. Frustrated—and with about a minute before we were supposed to head downstairs—I ripped the nylons off, threw them on the floor and had a very two-year-oldish tantrum. Of all the nights! I was a little depressed as I looked down at my glaringly white legs (it’s March—they haven’t seen the sun in months). In addition to the white leg problem, I was also now without the benefit of the super control top—hopefully-hide-the-given-birth-four-times-abs-of-flab-problem—the pantyhose would have provided.
First lessons of the night: Holey nylons are better than no nylons, and open the package at the store.
I suppose baring my white legs and having to suck in my stomach all night wouldn’t have been too bad, but my problems only began there. My hair wasn’t cooperating either. Earlier I had pinned it up on top of my head—as Julie and Josi had theirs so stylishly done—but by ten a.m. I’d given up, taken it down and taken some Advil. Unfortunately, I get headaches easily, and it was a case of comfort over beauty. But that comfort left me with a head of messy curls that looked nothing like Jewel’s smoothly styled ones. But again, I had no time to do anything about either problem, so away we went.
Lesson two: Go with what God gives you. I have straight hair, and you can bet I’ll wear it that way (as my smart friend, Annette did) next year.
On our way downstairs I noticed my husband had a cut on his chin from shaving. His knee was also hurting; he’d done something to it on the bike ride up. So we limped along together (after two days in high heels, my feet were killing me), and I had the reaffirming feeling that we were made for each other.
It was a, “this is why I write fiction” moment. Things never quite turn out as I imagine them . . . Her hair trailed down in a riot of gorgeous curls as the tall, dark, handsome man beside her swept her up in his arms, kissing her passionately as the elevator descended . . .
Reality was we both made it to our table without tripping.
We soon forgot our woes and enjoyed our awesome tablemates—my good friend, Heather Moore and her husband, Rob Wells and his wife, and Dean Hughes and his wife. Fame all around me. It was very cool. Other famous people I was dying to meet, like Shannon Hale and Jessica Day George, flitted around the room. The yummy dinner was served, and I forgot all about my messy hair and white legs. My legs were, in fact, hidden by the long tablecloth, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt if I took my shoes off too. Again, I’ll always choose comfort over beauty—or in this case, basic etiquette.
At some point early in the program we stood and applauded, and I was careful to keep my bare feet under the table. As we sat down again, I had the thought that I should put my shoes back on. Of course I ignored this.
It was time for the winner to be announced in the romance category. I sighed to myself, feeling a little bummed that Stephanie Meyers wasn’t in attendance. I wondered who would be accepting the award for her.
And then Annette called my name.
My husband smiled this awesome smile at me, and I realized I had to go up there and say something, and I didn’t even know where my shoes were. Somehow I managed to find them under the table and get up to the podium.
Lesson 3: When at a formal dinner, always keep your footwear on, or at least where you can locate it without having to stick your head under the table. And when you hear those little promptings—LISTEN!
As I walked up front, I remember thinking that it was the coolest thing in the world that it was Annette who called my name. More than anyone else, this woman is the one responsible for me being there in the first place. She was the first one to read (I mean really read my writing—and it came back looking like she’d sliced open a major artery while doing so), and it was she who invited me join a critique group with other amazing writers, LuAnn and Stephanie. From there our group grew to include Jeff, Heather, Lynda, and James, and it just kept getting better.
I knew I wanted to thank these people, but the first thoughts that came to my mind were how many times I’d entered (at a mere $50.00 a shot) the national RWA Golden Heart Contest and never even been a finalist. How was it possible then, that I was a winner in a contest I didn’t even enter, didn’t have to pay for—and was in fact receiving money from? I’m never going to fulfill that Golden Heart dream now—published authors are not eligible—but the dream I was suddenly living was so much better. That’s what I wanted to express and am afraid I failed to do so. This is what I meant to say.
I wish I hadn’t waited so long to try, and dug my heels in against so much, the LDS fiction market. For years I never imagined this path, but since deciding to give it a try, I’ve had one great experience after another.
I should have known it would be this way. Annette, LuAnn, Heather, Stephanie, Lynda, Jeff, and James are all such great people. And dang smart too. I should have listened to them much earlier. I think I tried thanking them Saturday night, but I’m sure I didn’t express enough how grateful I am for the way they so generously share their talents and time. When I started with our group, I didn’t even know how to use quote marks correctly. I had imagination, but it ended there. How blessed I am that they didn’t vote me out of the group that first month. If not for these wonderful people, I’d have never been published, let alone received an award for my writing.
Even after all of their guidance and my best efforts, my writing still needed something more. Enter Angela Eschler, my talented and oh-so-patient editor. I completely forgot to thank her, and all those others at Covenant who helped in so many ways. Forgive me, please! I’ve never had such a difficult time forming coherent thought as I did during those few minutes Saturday night.
But here’s the thing about Angela. A great editor is much like a coach in being able to see what a project needs and knowing how to get that out of the author. If not for Angela, two of the scenes I get the most emails about would not be in the book. Originally, the scene where Caroline is breastfeeding her baby was cut. I begged for it to stay, and Angela went to bat for me, taking a risk with something a little outside the normal boundaries Covenant publishes. Another scene—Mark’s tragic surgery—didn’t even exist when I turned in Counting Stars. Angela knew something was missing and encouraged me to write more about this heartbreaking section of the book. I did and turned in a funeral scene. She sent it back and in her very non-demanding way, told me it wasn’t quite there. I tried again—spent a good long time sitting at my computer, exploring Jane’s feelings, dredging up some of my own sorrows, and crying as I wrote the chapter that ended up in the book. Aside from being a marvelous coach, Angela and the Covenant team were also very thorough. It really irritates me when I hear someone say that LDS books are not well edited. I cannot imagine any better editing than was done for my book. Everything was double and triple checked, and so many people, from the artists to the copyeditors, worked to make it the best it could be. A huge thanks to all of you—especially Angela.
Fourth lesson of the night: Even if you don’t think you have a prayer of winning, think about what you’d say and who you’d like to thank if you did. Messy hair and white legs don’t matter in the long run, but forgetting to thank important people does.
Finally I attempted to thank the wonderful man sitting a few feet in front of me. My husband Dixon is absolutely the best husband a woman—and writer—could ever imagine. He is the reason I write romance, the reason that after twenty years of marriage I still know what it’s like to be madly and passionately in love.
Dixon has sacrificed an awful lot for me to pursue my writing dreams—and I’m not just talking about all that money we’ve dropped in pursuit of a Golden Heart. I’m talking about his time. Eight years of critique group at approximately thirty-five weeks per year, times four hours each of those weeks equals an astounding one thousand one hundred twenty hours that he’s been running things at home so I could work on my writing. In addition to that, there are those Saturdays (several a year) when he sends me to the library for six hours at a time, while he stays at home, does laundry, helps with homework, and everything else that needs to be done. When I left early Friday morning to attend the conference, I left Dixon with a list including, getting our two teens out the door to seminary, packing four lunches, reviewing spelling words with our youngest, curling two daughters’ hair and making sure they looked good for school pictures, driving six children to elementary school (and picking them up later), grocery shopping, preparing dinner, taking the teens to and from work, and helping with homework. Of course he did all that (and much more) without complaint. He is so awesome.
As I returned to my seat Saturday night, I remembered a florist’s card I’d carried in my purse for several years now. It originally came with a dozen roses that Dixon bought me, following a particularly painful rejection from a national agent (she’d requested my entire manuscript, only to then reject it—triple ouch!). The card reads, “Michele, Don’t give up!! It will happen. I know you can do it. Dix” He believed in me when I couldn’t anymore, and I’m so grateful for that and for his unconditional love. Heaven knows I am not the perfect wife. But he always treats me like I am.
The day last spring when we picked up my box of books from Covenant was very much like crossing the finish line in the marathons he runs. Saturday night, he cheered for me, just as I cheered for him when he finished his first triathalon last year. It’s the best thing in the world when we see the payoff for all the hard work we’ve put in. And no one else knows better than we do, how hard each of us work at our individual goals. Dixon isn’t through yet—he’s got Ironman dreams. I’ve got dreams too, and he knows them. How blessed I feel to be able to work toward them with such a great companion at my side.
And how blessed I feel to be surrounded by such great people and in such a wonderful place. Publishing in the LDS market has been the best experience. I’m excited and grateful to be where I am, and I can’t wait to see what the coming years bring. There are so many talented people involved on all sides, that I think we’re truly heading toward those days when we will see, “Miltons and Shakespeares of our own,” as Orson F. Whitney predicted.
Finally, I meant to thank Rob, Stephanie, Kerry, James, Crystal, B.J., and Julie for all their hard work—for taking an excellent idea and making it a reality. I can’t imagine the hours you must have put in, and I hope I can join your ranks in the future, helping with this great program. I’d love to be at the podium again next year, but this time opening an envelope and reading a name, making someone else’s dream come true.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Last Thursday night I’d just fallen asleep when I was awakened by my seventeen-year-old son.
“Mom! You gotta see this. Come quick.”
The bedroom light glared, illuminating my son, hopping up and down in the doorway. Had he been about ten years younger, I would have ordered him into the bathroom at once. Instead, I left the comfort of my bed and donned robe and slippers to see what was up. Already a little leery of what that might be (recent experience in the form of a bazillion watt, six-foot tall amp weighing on my mind), I followed him to the front door and outside.
And there, gracing our driveway, was an old, ugly, Dodge van conversion—with teenage boys swarming all over it.
“What is it?” I asked, though I could clearly see that at one time it had passed as a motor vehicle.
“It’s our band van,” Spencer exclaimed. “Isn’t it sweet? I just bought it.”
“You what?!” I was awake now.
“I bought it from the Tongan family around the corner—just $300.”
Feeling dizzy, I sat down hard on the step while Spencer continued explaining the intricacies of his van—the van that would now be parked in our driveway. The realtor we’d just listed our house with was going to be thrilled.
“Come see the inside, Mom.” Spencer ran down the walk. After a minute I followed, determined to see it all—the bad, the worse, and the truly awful. The side doors opened as I approached.
“All the doors open and close. And it’s only missing one window.” Spencer’s friend, sitting in the driver’s seat, informed me. The van shook as his brother scaled the ladder on the back and beat on the roof.
“It’s solid!” he shouted down to us.
I peeked inside. It was was dirty and smelly and—
“Isn’t it sweet?” Spencer asked. “We already took the other two captain’s chairs out, so we can redo the carpet. And we’ll keep them out when we’re transporting our equipment. But when we take road trips to Moab, the seats will be great.”
I frowned as I eyed the couch in back. “Just who are you thinking of going to Moab with?” I looked around at all the boys and spoke in my sternest voice. “This is not going to be a van that’s a rockin. No girls—got it?”
“This van’s going to rock all right,” Spencer’s friend, Jordan said. “With music. The tape player even works.”
“It’s just for moving our band equipment, Mom,” Spencer said. “And for taking road trips. It’s perfect.” He was practically glowing.
It was suddenly hard not to share his enthusiasm. His grin was infectious, and in his eyes I saw reflections of my own youth. I realized he was right. For him the van was perfect. He was feeling on top of the world, and for a few minutes, anyway, I understood why.
For a mere $300. he’d just purchased a good piece of freedom and independence. Not only would these wheels get him around town and beyond (or so he hopes), but they’d solve the transportation problem for his band. Now—when they’re soon in hot demand—they’ll be able to travel to their gigs.
I never had a band, never had musical aspirations like he does, but I did have a car and a lot of dreams as a youth. As I stood in my robe and slippers in our driveway, looking at “the beast,” as the boys had already dubbed it, I was transported back in time to 1985, to the glorious day I got my driver’s license and to the little Le Car my father purchased for me. I remember well the exhilarating freedom that little car brought me. I remember stuffing it full of girls and luggage and heading off to French camp the summer between my junior and senior years of high school—and getting grounded from my car when I returned home. Seems I wasn’t supposed to drive that many girls, that far, on California’s busy highways. I think I recall knowing this beforehand, but how could I resist driving my French car to French camp? I still remember pulling into the parking lot, my friends, standing up in the back, waving wildly through the sun roof. Good times. Fun memories.
I sold that little car to help pay for my freshman year at BYU, but when I returned home the next summer, my stepfather was very generous, letting me drive his Honda all over the place. I remember driving down to Marriotts Great America and getting lost at night in San Francisco on the way home. My friend from Colorado checked the door locks and hunkered down in her seat as we drove through some less-than-desirable parts of town trying to find our way to the Golden Gate. We eventually did and spent a couple more days in the city that week, exploring everything from Chinatown to Pier 39, Saks 5th Avenue, and beyond. Ah youth . . . when having fun was the central part of our life. School, work, marriage, babies, mortgages, retirement, and our own teenagers were all in the distant future. The present was the time for exploring the world and having fun.
How could I have forgotten?
I hurried into the house and called my husband’s cell phone, bracing him for the sight that was to greet him when he returned home from a late night taking care of bishop responsibilities. Fortunately, like me, he isn’t too old to remember how it was to be young and to have transportation—no matter how hideous (he drove a Maverick that had seen better days). And when he returned home, he spent some time with Spencer, listening as he pointed out all the fine features on the band van.
Since last Thursday, said van has undergone a few changes: carpet removed (and AC line accidentally cut in the process. Thanks, good neighbor for helping the boys repair it), and a free-for-all paint job(ie. all the various leftover paint we had in our garage) on the outside of the van. Teenage priorities being what they are, the boys are “tricking it out” before they pursue seeing if it will pass inspection. Once it does that, there’s just one more detail Spencer needs to take care of to put the grand plan for the band van into action . . .
We hope he’ll have his license soon.