Randomness

My new writing space

With the new addition to our family due at the end of May, some shifting around had to happen in our house to make room for a nursery. Luckily, our basement renovation had just been finished, so my husband moved his office downstairs, and I took over his old office location, which is right next door to the nursery. When baby sleeps, I will try to write! (Or something like that…)

I was excited to have a new office to decorate, but struggled a bit initially with the layout of the room. It’s longer and more rectangular than my old office, which was more of a square, and I didn’t want it to feel narrow. Thanks to my husband, who is a genius at furniture layout, I was able to make the most of the space, and I’m really happy with the end result! The walls are painted a blue-gray color that I love (it’s actually the same shade we chose for the nursery), and I have a better desk and new computer monitor, along with my beloved desk chair and bookshelf.

 

One mission I had before moving into my new office was purge some things I wasn’t using anymore. Decluttering is one of the greatest feelings– there’s something incredibly satisfying about admitting you’re not using/wearing/reading something and donating it to a local charity instead. So that’s exactly what I did. It took a lot longer than I thought it would (this is a common theme with projects I take on…), but I was determined to have a fresh start in my new space without any clutter bogging me down. Some was thrown out, a lot was donated, and I repurposed some things I completely forgot I even had. I organized all my swag items and mailing materials, and found a spot for my massive collection of notebooks. There’s a saying about how a cluttered workspace = a cluttered mind, and I think there’s some truth to that, at least for me. As a person who errs on the scatterbrained side (especially with baby brain, which I swear, is a real thing), I can use all the zen vibes a space can give me!

 

My plan for the wall over my desk is to have all my future book covers turned into plaques and hung up. Firsts is, obviously, the first one, and when I’m slogging through a draft that I feel is going nowhere, I can look up at it and remember that I do know how to write books after all.

Now that my office is finished, I’m excited to get back to my writing routine and spend some quality time there before baby arrives!

My rock-bottom moment

2008 Laurie being generally ridiculous.

2008 Laurie being generally ridiculous.

The year was 2008, and I had just graduated with a postgraduate diploma in Journalism. I was living in Toronto, modeling part-time, renting a box of an apartment with my faithful little Chihuahua, trying to break into the news media industry. Some of my friends who had graduated with me already had internships, and some had actual jobs. Unfortunately, it was also a time in the economy when jobs were being slashed, so my internship had ended. I was struggling to fill my days, scouring the Internet for job postings and sending my resume to any job I thought might be a decent fit. I wasn’t expecting perfection. I just wanted to pay my rent and hopefully make some connections so that I’d be on my way to a job I liked.

Then one day, I got an invitation to interview for a local news station. After days and weeks of silence on the job front, I was grateful for the opportunity. But the morning of the interview, I felt completely discombobulated. I remember that it was a freezing cold morning and no matter what outfit I tried on, nothing felt right. I didn’t feel right. I felt more like a kid playing dress-up, like I was pretending to be someone else. I shook it off, chalking it up to nerves, and took the subway to my interview. I shook hands and smiled, and things got started.

It was terrible. Worse than terrible, actually. It was like one of those nightmare where you have a huge test you forgot to study for and wake up in a cold sweat, except the nightmare was actually happening to me. I was asked questions I didn’t know how to answer about politics and news stories and events I hadn’t even heard of. I was quizzed, using photos of political figures I couldn’t identify. I was massively unprepared and the interviewer knew it. I felt humiliated and stupid. At one point during the interview, I was asked, “do you even watch this news channel?”

Honestly, the answer was no.

After an awkward good-bye (“don’t call us, we’ll call you!”), I stumbled back onto the snowy Toronto streets, called my mom, and promptly burst into tears.

It wasn’t that I didn’t get the job. It was that in that moment, I admitted to myself that I never wanted the job. I knew in that moment that I didn’t want to work in Journalism at all. It wasn’t for me. My heart was in fiction, in the stories constantly churning in my head, in the characters who whispered to me and prodded the inside of my brain. I was just too afraid to say out loud that I wanted to be a writer, that it had always been my dream, that it was what I knew I was supposed to be doing.

It took me another few years before I started writing on a regular basis, before I took it seriously and made it a priority. But I’ll never forget that day in Toronto when I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I was so miserable and depressed and certain that I’d made a giant mess of my life. But looking back, I’m glad I looked like an idiot in that interview. I’m glad I failed. Because if I hadn’t, I might have taken a job I didn’t love and pushed my own stories to the back of my head forever and dismissed them as a silly dream. That failure let me admit something that I might not have otherwise. This isn’t your path. There’s something else you’re meant to do.

Rock bottom hurts. It really, really does. You get up bruised and broken and it’s hard to start climbing out. But rock bottom happens for a reason. Find out that reason, and cling to it, because that reason is what you’re intended for.

Birthdays, milestones, and love

Today, my husband Steve is celebrating a milestone birthday. Firsts is dedicated to him—there was no question in my mind, from the moment I got my book deal, that it would be. To be honest, I had that dedication written in my head before I even had a book deal. I knew exactly what I wanted it to say.

His birthday got me thinking about love, and time, and how lost we writers would be if we weren’t moored by the support of people who adore us despite (or maybe because of) our strange rituals and weird routines and the click-click-click noise our keyboards are constantly making.

My husband and I have been a couple for just over five years. Shortly after we got together, I made the decision to seriously pursue writing. It was a big deal for me, saying that out loud to him. It made the dream more real somehow, gave it weight, instead of the fizzy quality of a dream. Before then, barely anyone besides my parents and sister even knew I was a writer.

I knew getting published was a long shot, but I decided to go for that long shot, and if I ended up falling short, I’d at least know I tried. So I wrote, and researched, and got ready to query. Steve and I had moved in together by the time I sent my first query letter. I was in our first apartment, sitting on the couch with a glass of wine, my heart hammering furiously as I hit “send.”

When I got my first full request, I was home by myself (I might have jumped on said couch, Tom Cruise-style, and squealed). Steve was the first person I called to share the good news with. When the request turned into a rejection, he was the first person I told, and the first person to tell me it was one opinion, that I was talented and capable and just had to persevere. He learned all sorts of terminology that was new to both of us, but becoming more familiar. Query and R&R and Pitch Wars and critique partner and NA and YA and out on sub. He learned them not because he had to, but because he loves me.

More rejections and requests trickled in over the next several months. In the meantime, Steve and I had many more firsts in our relationship. Our first Christmas together. Our first vacation together—Africa, a place we both felt drawn to. We got engaged and married and bought a house.

After a year and a half of querying, I got my first offer of representation. I called Steve from work, overjoyed when a fabulous agent wanted to set up a call with me. He made sure I was home from work in time to take the call and when I came out of my room bouncing up and down like a crazy person, he was ready with a bottle of wine. Later, he left me alone during revisions and dealt with my obsessive email-checking while I was on submission. He is the reason this website exists (I’m honestly the least tech-savvy person ever). When I got the call from my agent letting me know we had an offer from an editor I was incredibly excited to work with, Steve was the first person I told. (And yes, it’s possible to flail with someone through the phone.)

Steve has been with me through so many firsts. This past year was a blur of Firsts, quite literally. He hugged me when I was stressed out or frustrated and celebrated my victories with champagne and pizza. He made me feel like I could do anything. Three months after publication, he still does. And he always will.

So, today I’m celebrating Steve, the love of my life, the person who has stood by me through so many firsts. The person who is my last, my only, my everything. Writers, hug the non-writer people in your life who love you. They’re endlessly amazing. And if you have someone like Steve in your life– well, you’re very lucky indeed.

 

#SixteensBlogAbout: Holidays, or My Scrooge Moment

It’s that time of year again, and the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about the holidays. I wrote a post for Pop! Goes The Reader earlier this month as part of her Authors Talk Holidays feature (you can read it here), wherein I shared how the meaning of Christmas has changed for me over the years. So I thought for this post, I’d share a bit about what it means to me now as an adult.

Namely, how I managed to suck the fun out of it.

This Christmas, I'm channeling this girl's big smile.

This Christmas, I’m channeling this girl’s big smile.

I’ll be the first to admit… when I was a little kid, I LOVED getting presents. I never thought anything could eclipse the sheer joy of ripping into a gift I had stared at, shaken, and obsessed about as soon as it was put under the tree. But as the years went by, that excitement got somewhat diminished. It wasn’t the presents I was looking forward to anymore but simply spending time with the people I care about.

But my December isn’t all about the warm fuzzies. Because the other way Christmas changed for me as an adult is that it stopped being fun and started being stressful. There were gifts to buy and trees to put up and things to cook and parties to attend and when all this combined with working full-time and writing, December became one big ball of stress as snarled and tangled up as the Christmas lights in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Instead of looking forward to the days leading up, I dreaded them. Instead of writing a list to Santa like I did when I was a kid, I was writing to-do lists so I didn’t lose my mind.

I won’t lie… this year, I have really felt the stress. Any time someone mentioned Christmas, my insides clenched up and I had this moment of panic, like it can’t be here already! When I was a kid, I started a countdown sometime in November and wished the days would speed up. Somewhere, that turned into wanting time to stand still or even go backwards.

Then I realized something: I’m making Christmas a chore. I’m making it yet another thing to cross off my list of things to do. Instead of enjoying the moments, I was looking at them as things to get through and check off. I was being exactly what I never wanted to be. A Grinch. A Scrooge. Somebody not fun.

The truth is, this month is insanely busy, this year more than ever. I’m probably juggling more things than I ever have before. This frenetic pace will continue, because FIRSTS comes out exactly ten days after Christmas. (Cue happy-dancing, wine-drinking, and general flailing!) I had to accept a hard truth: I will not manage to ever clear my to-do list this month. And you know what? When I accepted that fact, my anxiety actually decreased significantly. I started being nicer to myself. I have been on this amazing roller coaster that is debuting for months and now the roller coaster is about to hit the highest peak, the part just before your stomach bottoms out with anticipation. I don’t want to stop the ride, nor can I. So what is there left except to enjoy it, throw up my arms, and have the time of my life?

Now, if you need me, I’ll be drinking eggnog, trying to dress up my dog in a Santa costume, and watching Scrooged for the hundredth time. I’ll be squeezing my loved ones and squeezing all the magic I can from this Christmas season. Because there’s plenty of it.

#SixteensBlogAbout: Gratitude

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about gratitude. Any time is a great time to think of all the things you appreciate, but for me, no time is better than right now. With FIRSTS coming out in less than two months, gratitude is something that has taken on a greater meaning than ever to me. The truth is, it can be hard to get off the roller coaster, to stop and put things in perspective. But it’s also extremely important.

I’m not grateful that winter is coming, but I do love mornings like this.

I’m grateful for so much this year. I’m grateful to be in this position, one I dreamed about for years. I’m about to be a published author. My book will be on actual bookshelves in actual stores and actual people will read it who aren’t just my mom (love you, Mom)! I’m grateful to be working with such a dedicated team of rock-star people who believe in me and this book.

I’m grateful for my fellow debut authors, with whom I’ve grown close. They’re confidantes and friends and some of the most wonderful people I know. I’m grateful for their brilliant minds and generous spirits and listening ears and creative brains and most of all, their huge hearts.

I’m grateful for the whole kidlit community. The authors I admire who have said such wonderful things about FIRSTS. The bloggers who have shown so much love for FIRSTS, who have shared their support with insurmountable enthusiasm and kindness. I’m beyond grateful for this letter, which moved me to tears. (Thank you, Jamie Victoria!)

I’m grateful to my friends and family for putting up with me. For my parents, for always being proud of me and doing so much to make my life easier (thank you for all the leftovers… I swear, I’ll learn to cook one of these years). I’m grateful to have a sister who’s also my best friend and loves wine as much as I do, and a soon-to-be brother-in-law whose positive attitude is infectious. I’m grateful for a certain sister-in-law who may be more excited for FIRSTS to be out than I am (hi, Suzanne!) I’m eternally grateful for my husband, who gives me the space I need to create and loves me no matter how grumpy I am before my morning coffee. (And that’s a high level of grump, folks.) I’m grateful to my dog for sharing her lap space with my computer and making me laugh with her crazy antics.

Yes, I have a lot for which to be grateful. I’m grateful for creating new words and revising old ones. Most of all, I’m grateful for this journey—what has already happened and what’s to come. Because I honestly wouldn’t trade a single misstep, a single bump in the road, for anything.

There’s no crying over spilled words

So, I have a confession to make: On Friday, I cried over a grocery list.

It wasn’t the thought of all the meals I would inevitably burn that brought on the waterworks. It wasn’t the prospect of vegetables going bad in my fridge because I know I’ll reach for the chips instead every single time. It wasn’t even the vision of the crowded grocery store and excessively long checkout line. No, it was just a really random breaking point in a stressful day—one more thing to do on top of my already massive to-do list. I broke down and cried and my husband hugged me and refrained from making a joke about my cooking.

Confidence: The most essential ingredient of all.

Confidence: The most essential ingredient of all.

I’m sure I’m not the only debut author who has been there. As our release dates near, we’re sensitive and emotional, excited and anxious, sometimes moody (ahem, me before my coffee), and busy, busy, busy. Our attention is scattered across social media platforms, we’re writing blog posts, and working on new writing projects in our free moments. We’re reading ARCs like fiends and trying desperately to juggle book stuff with jobs, families, and social lives. We’re doing the best we can.

After the tears dried up, I had a realization: I’m sucking the fun out of it. I’m the one putting pressure on myself. I’m the one telling myself to get things done the second they come in, to immediately tackle every new item that comes up. I’m the one making my to-do list a do-it-now list.

So in the end, that cry was a great thing for me. It was cathartic. My to-do list isn’t pressing against my skull like a bad headache anymore. It’s there, and I’ll get to it when I get to it. In the meantime, I’ll make time for what takes my stress away. Things that aren’t on the list. Fast-drafting new projects. Drinks with friends. Long walks in the woods. Doing the morning crossword. Binging on Netflix with pizza and my own family-sized box of fries from Dominos (seriously, whose family does that feed)?

So yes, sometimes there is crying in writing. And that’s okay. As long as you wipe away those tears after, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that what you’re doing is enough. That you’re enough. That, in fact, you’re pretty freaking awesome.

Now, go get those groceries and make that crockpot meal you’ve been meaning to try. You have time.

Father’s Day

For my family, June is historically a busy month. (Case in point: two years ago, I got married, my sister got called to the bar and started her career as a lawyer, and my mom and mother-in-law both had birthdays, all in one week.) And every June, there’s Father’s Day. Every June, I feel like my dad gets neglected because of everything else going on. And every June, he never once complains. This tells you just a little bit about the kind of person he is.

MeandDad

The best dad ever. Photo credit courtesy of the wonderfully talented Shirley Vander Heide.

When I was a little kid, I basically idolized by dad. Not for any of the many reasons I do now, but for little things. Back then, my dad was larger than life. He made the best shortbread cookies and didn’t get mad when my sister and I ate the dough. He was always up for playing Lego or running around the block with me or reading to me or taking me to the park for bike rides. On those bike rides, apparently, I wouldn’t ever stop talking. It’s an early example of how even when I had nothing to spout out but gibberish and random questions, he was always there to listen.

When I was a teenager, my relationship with my dad changed, and I respected him for different reasons. I was involved in competitive long-distance running, and my dad was the one who drove me to every practice and cheered me on at all my meets, even the out-of-town weekend ones. He was the one who made me feel like I was doing a good job, the one high-fiving me and telling me I ran the best race I could have, even if I felt like a failure. He was the one who didn’t care that I didn’t win. In those days, making my dad proud was everything to me.

Only now, as an adult, do I fully understand and appreciate the full extent of what my dad has been to me. A role model showing me what’s important in life: dedication to family, hard work, and taking chances, even if they don’t pan out. A mentor, living proof of what discipline and principle can achieve. A listener, someone who gives honest advice. A friend, someone to laugh with and talk to about anything. A supporter, someone incredibly generous and giving, the kind of person who would do anything to make life easier for somebody else. When I found out that FIRSTS was going to become an actual book, I was so excited to tell him my news and hear the pride in his voice. But the truth is, he was already proud of me. He has been proud the whole time.

I got my dad a chain necklace one Christmas, a dog tag engraved with Father, Hero, Friend. It was a great gift, except for one limitation. It just didn’t have the space to include the other things he is to me.

It’s not the dog tag’s fault. It’s just kind of impossible to find the space for everything.

To all the dads out there—I hope you all get to spend an amazing day with your families and the people who love you. To my dad, the father who is everything—you deserve the world, but I hope you’ll be okay with a backyard barbeque instead.

Mother’s Day

My parents are in Memphis for the Blues Music Awards this weekend (seriously, they have a much more active social life than I do), so I won’t be spending Mother’s Day with my mom. I’ll be spending it with my in-laws instead, celebrating my amazing mother-in-law. But in honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to write about the role my mom has played in my writing career, and my life.

My beautiful mom!

My beautiful mom!

For a lot of parents, I may not have been the easiest child to support. I changed my mind about things as often as I changed my hairstyle (which, in my early 20s, was basically every week). I always knew I loved writing, but my attention was forever getting jerked in other directions every time the wind blew. Two days into my first year of university, I decided I’d rather go to school out west. Then I got into modeling and told my parents I’d be jetting off to Tokyo, then Athens, then Paris. When I got back, I impulsively bought a dog without telling anyone first. A couple years later, I thought it would be fun to move away again to study Journalism and live in Toronto.

I may not have been the easiest child to support, but my parents sure made it seem that way. They never once discouraged me or tried to talk me out of doing anything. Wherever I was in the world, I got care packages filled with my favorite cereal I could only get in Canada or my dad’s famous date-filled oatmeal cookies. My mom learned how to use MSN Messenger so that she could talk to me while I was abroad sitting in Internet cafes. When there was an earthquake in Tokyo, my parents called my Japanese cell phone (which was always on the fritz) to make sure I was okay. My parents supported me when I had no money and no clue, and instilled in me what was perhaps the most valuable life lesson: above all else, follow your dreams.

I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am in my writing career without that kind of support. When I was little, my mom tried to send some of my poetry off to a publisher, even though she didn’t know the process, just because she believed in me. When I told my parents I wanted to write a book, their reaction was basically: “that’s what you were meant to do.” Despite all the rejection and uncertainty that comes with the publishing industry, my parents’ words were the loudest of all. Getting to tell them FIRSTS was going to be published was one of the best moments of my life.

My mom has always been more than just a mom to me. She’s also a best friend, a confidante, someone who boosts me up when I’m having a bad day and cheers with me when I get great news. She’s there to listen to my fears and offer words of encouragement. She’s there to babysit my dog when I go out of town. She spent the days before my wedding helping me with last-minute wedding-favor baking, then treated me to a day at the spa. She took me and my sister to Toronto for a girls’ weekend to celebrate my book deal. She’s beautiful and kind and loving and generous and smart. Which also makes her my role model, because I want to be all those things to someone one day too. If I’m lucky, I’ll be just a little bit like her when I have kids of my own.

So in honor of all the awesome moms out there—all the women who do so much for their kids, who put themselves last, who celebrate our dreams and make us feel like our failures aren’t so bad—I raise a glass of champagne to you today.

And to my mom, the whole bottle.

“I’ll do it later:” On procrastination

One of the funny things about being a writer is the great lengths we’ll sometimes go to in order to avoid writing altogether. These are the times when procrastination knocks on the door and makes itself comfortable. I thought I ditched procrastination back in university, when I spent far too many nights pulling off an essay at the eleventh hour, fueled by a disgusting amount of Red Bull. But after I started taking writing seriously, I realized that I never really broke up with procrastination. It’s still there, tempting me at my weakest moments, the bad-news older brother of motivation, my regular companion.

Procrastination

“Come on, ditch that book. We’re much more appealing today!”

I consider myself to be pretty efficient with time management. Like many writers, I have a full-time day job, so I have to be disciplined with my time to get my words in each day. I like to write for a couple hours before work every day, and sometimes tinker around in the evening too, depending on what projects I have on the go. When I have days off with no plans, I generally plan to write for most of them. All that glorious free time… what better way to fill it than with words?

But funnily enough, it’s on those days off when I struggle the most with motivation. And it’s on these days when procrastination decides to settle in and show me what else I could be doing with my time. Every so often, I give in to the temptation. On those days, my inner dialogue goes a lot like this:

A Dexter marathon on Netflix? I suppose I could watch *one* episode, then get back to my writing. (Six episodes later, my tablet has been abandoned and I’ve condemned myself to weird serial killer nightmares.)

That coffee table looks a bit dusty. Maybe I should clean the whole house. I can’t work in a pigsty!

I think my perfume collection needs to be rearranged. And might as well go through all of my makeup while I’m at it. And while I’m here, now’s a great time to clean my makeup brushes, too…

Look at that mountain of laundry! I should probably get around to that today.

My TBR list is out of control. Better make a dent in it before it gets any longer…

I need to check the mail. And it’s so nice outside, it would be a waste not to go for a walk.

I really should go grocery shopping, we’re almost out of _______ (insert any random product name here).

Gee, I hate cooking, but maybe this is the perfect time to pull out one of the cookbooks collecting dust in a drawer and master that roast recipe I dog-eared back in 2003.

This is a nice nail polish color. Why have I never worn it? Maybe I’ll give myself a manicure. Oh, but I can’t type with wet nails, so while they’re drying, I’ll watch *one* more Dexter.

Usually, I can combat procrastination by telling myself that if I can finish the work I want to accomplish, I’ll spend the rest of the day doing something non-writing related. And most times, that works. But when it doesn’t—when I waste a whole day in front of Netflix attempting some intricate nail art—I try not to be too hard on myself. I let procrastination sit down on the couch beside me and tell myself that I will finish that chapter.

Later.

January, briefly

January has never been one of my favorite months. It seems particularly obnoxious, like a guest who has long overstayed his welcome and doesn’t realize it. Maybe it’s the reality of New Year’s Resolutions sinking in, or just the comedown after the Christmas festivities. Usually by January 31st, I wonder how a month can possibly feel so long.

But this January has been different somehow. Instead of feeling tired and defeated, I feel inspired. When I looked at the calendar today and realized it was January 29th, I wondered where the month has gone. Then I realized where: into several Word documents and a couple handy notebooks.

I'm a handy notebook! Fill me with words!

I’m a handy notebook! Fill me with words!

When you work a lot, whether as a writer or at any job, it’s easy for the days to blend into each other. It’s even easy to forget what day of the week it is. (At least, for me.) So I thought it would be fun to record a little bit of what I’m up to at the end of each month, to remind myself what I have accomplished and how I got there.

This month, I have been…

Working on: The Young Adult contemporary I wrote after FIRSTS. This isn’t just a book of my heart, but a book of my sanity too—it has been a decidedly tricky one to write. I’ve been playing with a mix of perspectives and tenses and actually plotting (gasp), which felt foreign. But this is one story I’ve realized I can’t just “pants” my way through. I tried. I failed. I moved on. Which leaves me here, with an outline and lots of chapters in the process of being written. Now that I have taken January to plot and really know the story and characters, I feel confident that February will be the month where ALL THE WORDS come out to play.

Reading: I started the year off on a very high reading note. The first book I finished in January was Marci Lyn Curtis’s debut, THE ONE THING. I was lucky enough to read this book before its release date (September 8, 2015—mark your calendar!) and was totally blown away. A witty, sarcastic protagonist, an amazing concept, and writing that grips you and doesn’t let go—this is a stunning debut that I’m still thinking about. (Psst… come back on Monday and you’ll get to see Marci’s brand new cover! Trust me, you don’t want to miss it!)

I also read THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black and loved it. Holly Black has created a setting in Coldtown that feels chillingly real. Her writing is rich and beautiful and makes everything in the book so easy to visualize.

I just finished HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown, which had been on my TBR for quite awhile. I had high hopes, and the book exceeded all of them. I love how it’s not what it appears to be, which is a book about a high school shooting—it’s a book about Valerie, the girlfriend of the shooter, and her long road to recovery.

Watching: My husband and I started watching LOST on Netflix. I had seen parts of it several years ago, but watching it a second time through and picking up on more detail has been really fascinating. I forgot how totally captivating this show is, and what a brilliant job the writers did with the characters and their backgrounds and their interwoven lives. Not to mention… the suspense! Oh, the suspense. The reason I stay up way too late.

So that’s my month in a nutshell. Words, words, and more words. Written, read, listened to. February, I can only hope you’re equally verbose!

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