Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Meeting Your Characters IRL

This post originally appeared on the Columbia II Writers Workshop blog. It's revived here because I think this audience would appreciate it, too. Enjoy!

Years ago, I went home to Northern Virginia over a school break and met my mom for lunch at Uno Pizzeria. It was on the corner of the most upscale shopping center in our area and it was one of my favorite places to eat.

I’d been away at college for a while and had been writing the novel that would become After December. I knew the story was about Brian Listo, a version of myself I felt confident sharing with others. He was arrogant, privileged, and good at everything he did. He also smoked and drank like it was his job and was kind of a slut.

I loved him. And he loved me back. Through the troubled years surrounding my parents’ divorce and the break-up of our family, when I moved away from Northern Virginia and only rarely went back, Brian was with me.

Josh, actor portraying Brian in the Fanatik Productions trailer
Imagine how it felt to see him walk into Uno Pizzeria. 

As my mom continued talking to me, I watched Brian move through the bar area. Watched him greet his friends who did not resemble the other characters of the book. Watched him light a cigarette and take a deep drink from a tall beer. The afternoon sunlight played on the shades of dirty blonde and light brown in his hair. His grey gaze seared me from across the room.

Day drinking, flannel-wearing, ridiculously hot Brian stood just yards away.

Of course, it wasn’t him. Searing gaze aside, he was just some handsome college-aged guy that looked like he could have been Brian. To the one-raised eyebrow, he could have been him. But of course he wasn’t.

Neither was Josh, the actor who stood in my kitchen listening to me explain how Brian’s kind of an asshole. And how he’s trying not to be. You know, character arc and all that. Then Josh went upstairs, got in bed with Meli, and filmed the opening scene of the book for the trailer.

Being with an actor who is trying to learn more about Brian so he can accurately portray him was both terrifying and thrilling. Josh looks like Brian. Not as much as that guy in Uno 20 years ago, but a lot like him. And he’s handsome and he has a great smile. But as soon as he started talking, he sounded young. Like Millennial young, and I remembered the literary agent that asked me if After December had to be set in the 90s.

Yes, yes it does. 

Josh is a good actor, he really is. Watching the filming of the trailer was awesome. Thanks to Fanatik Productions for putting it together. 

Being in the same room with your characters is the ultimate thrill.

A few weeks back, I visited those Northern Virginia locations where the book is set. Many, like Uno, are no longer in business. But I went anyway. Waxed nostalgic for the 90s and crossed my fingers I'd run into Brian Listo again. Of course, he’d probably have his teenaged son with him.

Here's the link to the trailer they filmed. It's fantastic.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Grown Up Version of My Tween Dream is Published

In the scene I remember best, Tony lay bleeding on the floor of the cave where they’d built a ramp to skate. All the ramps they skated had these cool names: one in the sewers was called Ratwall and the one in an ocean-front cave (a la The Lost Boys) was called Angel’s Lair. 

I’m not sure how my 7th grade novelist thought they lit that cave. Torches maybe? Candles? Or some sunlight falling through openings in the ceiling?

Anyway there was a giant half pipe and Brian and his Crew used to skate there. Tony had gone down inside and confronted Kevin, a friend with a bad drug habit who had betrayed the Crew. Kevin stabbed him.

Brian found Tony, bleeding, tried to patch him up, realized he couldn’t get him out, and finally held him, weeping, while he died.

I wrote that scene a dozen times. Best friends in their final moments together. Betrayal. Violence. Devastation. Loss.

What did my seventh-grade novelist self know about such things? Only what she’d read, seen in movies, and imagined.

Imagined.

For the duration of the year we lived in Aptos, California, I imagined what it would be like to have a group of really cool skateboarder friends. Brian would lead them of course, with Tony as his best mate, Jason and Joel as identical twins, and Kevin, the Judas among them.

All those days in the window seat of the house in Aptos, scribbling in pencil into spiral notebooks imagining the day I’d be a novelist. My name on the cover of a book. My characters walking around in people’s heads. Thirteen-year-old me building the foundation of my ambition. A dream.

And this year, it’s been realized.

I have a book. It’s not Tony bleeding in a skate ramp cave, but it is Tony bleeding, dying, and Brian’s loss. His regret. His shame.

It’s a hard book to read, I’m told, because it’s so sad. And yet I don’t feel sad by it. I’m glad to have released it. Freed it. Freed them all to breathe among the readers like feathery seeds of dandelions adrift on the breeze.

In freeing them, I also feel free. And nervous (will they like it?). And proud (look what I made!). And relieved. This thing I’ve been working at, this thing I thought one day I’d do, I did it.

Here’s the link to the book’s site. And where you can buy it on Amazon. And the Launch Day event on Facebook. There will be giveaways and behind-the-scenes and merriment and Q&As and suchness. Find me on Instagram for videos. Check out the trailer here.

More than anything, though, even if you never buy my book, find that dream you had that time and figure out how to make it happen. Because there’s a fulfillment beyond comparison in doing so.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Angel Kisses and Overwhelming Gratitude

What I usually tell people about Carol Staubach is that she failed statistics in college and she was the smartest woman I’ve ever known. When she retired, Carol was in the topmost ranks of the CIA. She was clever, decisive, and ambitious. So, if she failed statistics, it is perfectly okay that I did, too. She was my best friend Jessica’s mom and at her celebration of life event this weekend it was clear that the people who knew her will miss her now that she’s gone. 

My favorite pic of JoJo and me. We were 15. 
Listening to them talk, I felt surges of gratitude. First, to be able to be there. Then to be part, even peripherally, of a love so fierce and sure. Then to witness the gratitude each of them had for knowing her. And to witness the way they’re loving each other through the loss of someone so precious.

Last fall we buried both my Uncle Howard and my Papa. I remember at the time feeling the devotion and respect we all had for them. It was our blessing to have known them that held us upright through the services and the grief.

And it’s still coming. The grief, that is. Being in a funeral home triggers it. Certain music, certain phrases, and I’m remembering the cadence of Papa saying the blessing and Uncle Howard’s throaty laugh. This fall when we go back to Clemson for football, I’m sure it’ll be there, too.

Jessica called those moments of remembrance angel kisses. Small reminders that the person you’ve lost is with you. A song they loved coming on the radio just as you’re thinking of them, a story about them coming to mind because of a seemingly-random coincidence. 

My 2nd favorite pic of JoJo and me. We were 20.
There have been quite a few deaths in our Life on Clemson Road over the last two years. Many were peripheral to Charlie and Hollie and myself (like this one and this one), but some were rather near like Aunt Carolyn, Uncle Howard, and Papa. 

I’m at that age now where those whom we are meant to outlive will begin leaving us. Each time we gather to pay our respects, I feel such gratitude for having known the people we mourn. Always the love of their families blossoms around me. The softness and warmth of care and devotion blankets us. The strength and passion of perseverance and dedication holds us up even as we crumble into hugs and tears. 

Carol’s granddaughter Aubrey has a bracelet with charms from each of the cities they visited together. It’s a heavy silver chain that jingles and catches the glint of Arizona sunlight when she extends her arm to show it. Those moments, I told her, that time together, you’ll never regret it. I never have

It was with devotion and love I crossed the country to be with Jessica while she zombied through the second-hardest day of her life. But with gratitude and peace that I journeyed home, knowing she, too, is loved. 

I know for certain the angel kisses will keep coming. They’ll catch us off guard and remind us how very lucky we are to have forged those bonds. 

I’m so sorry, JoJo, for your loss. My heart breaks for you. And when you need me, know I’m here and can be there after a *short* overlay in the worst town to stain a map. ::wink::

Friday, January 4, 2019

2019 Has GOT to be Better

I’m an optimist. As such, I expect each year to be better than the last. Lately, though, time and life have been finding new and creative ways to kick me in the teeth.

It started in 2016 when the election friction tore a rift in our nation and in my family. People I considered to be logical, intelligent people became FOX News zombies spewing vitriol. So I began 2017 by attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. I carried a sign that said, “Because Love” and stood in solidarity with others who confessed the dark mood of the nation was what brought them out.

That Spring I turned 40. I didn’t think there was much to it but as my friend Heather said, “40 is a motherfucker.”

All the things I thought I was building began crumbling around me. The business lost its biggest clients. My income went to zero. Despite applying for a thousand jobs, no one would hire me. Multiple professional setbacks including an interview for a job I just knew was mine only to see they reposted the position.

Not that they found a better candidate. They’d rather not hire anyone at all than hire me.

Ouch.

At New Year’s I declared that 2017 could just fuck right off. Then the Tigers lost in the playoffs and I felt like everyone I knew felt the same way as me.

2018 had to be better.

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com
This past year I worked harder than I ever have. Some 60- and 70-hour weeks. The results were incredible. Not everything I hoped and wished for, that would be too much to ask, but some real traction in a lot of areas.

We opened the Women’s Business Center of South Carolina complete with $100k from Google and a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting. I secured an adjunct faculty contract at the Darla Moore School and we finally had minimum viable income in the household. I was invited to speak at the Pat Conroy Literary Center and asked to serve on the board of directors for the South Carolina Writers Association. I led workshops and panels and networking events and launched two radio shows on the local talk radio station.

Then, on the biggest day of the WBC of SC’s early life, I sat in a church pew some 90 miles from the Women’s Business Summit. All the work and focus and energy put into that 1-day event and I wasn’t there to see any of it.

I had to make a choice about the kind of person I want to be.

The Monday before the event, my Uncle Howard succumbed to an infection he contracted after surgery and died. He left behind two children, three grandchildren, the love of his life to whom he’d been married for 40 years, and my mom, his twin sister.

During the service, the minister of the church he’d attended faithfully for decades called him a blessed man. Humble and kind, caring and compassionate, willing to give of himself to any who were in need. He was not a famous man, he never held public office or published works of literature. He quietly served on small committees, organizing events and raising money for good causes.

What I had done in 2018 was put myself in service. By doing so, by helping others succeed, by building solutions to fill gaps, I thought to elevate my own position. Service was a marketing plan.

But on November 16th, when we buried my Uncle Howard with his Clemson Tigers ball cap, surrounded by two hundred people who loved and admired him, I realized his service was more gratifying than mine. He’d served because he was called to do so.

As we all are.

He’d said, “Yes, God,” when asked to give of himself in love and compassion, in kindness and trust. He’d said, “Yes.”

I’ve been saying, “Yes, and” as I added my own part to the story being written. I’ve been following Amy Pohler and Tina Fey’s advice for improv comedy: accept the circumstances you’re given (“yes”) and make them better (“and”). Only the “and” I’d pursued had been me asking. It was more like, “Yes, and?”

I was where I was meant to be on November 16th, a fact that was made even more clear to me on December 28thwhen we sat in similar circumstances for my Papa. The same minister said of him that he’d been a man who lived the way Jesus wanted us to: humble and kind, in service to those around him.

In service.

As 2018 ends with the double-upper-cut of Uncle Howard’s death and Papa’s, I feel another declaration oncoming: “2018 can fuck all the way off.”

My friends, for whom this year has also been a trial with loss and uncertainty and hysterics and defeats, echo the sentiment to a one.

And yet, I am not embittered by the circumstances of the year. I’m filled instead with a profound gratitude for these two men and what they taught me. I’m encouraged to go forward into 2019 and continue to serve others in whatever capacity I am able. To meet obligations with enthusiasm and optimism. To help, promote, encourage, and sponsor as I am able the people around me who are poised to achieve.

In doing so, I will not necessarily amplify my own talents, but instead be putting them to their intended use.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Suffering, but not Struggling

I went to bed last night thinking, “Everyone in my life is struggling right now.”

Marriage issues, career setbacks, rapid and disorienting change, natural disasters and natural transitions. They’re struggling. But are they suffering?

This week I met a woman who told me, “How can you expect to achieve your wildest dreams if you aren’t willing to suffer for them?”

She said, when you eat a good meal or drink a fine wine or see a great show, you pay for it. Ticket costs, right? Entry fees. Tabs and bills and checks and cash.

Why would achievement be any different?
Photo by KW 2008

I have always been an achiever. I am willing to be first and willing to work hard. I’m willing to get up early and stay up late. The norm for the last ten weeks has been 18-hour days. My latest complaint is scheduling down to the minute, even scheduling family time and trashy romance reading time.

It’s football season, so it hasn’t been all work and no play. There’s just more work to make room for the play hours that football and family time claim.

I’m doing some things I love: meeting new people, building new programs, testing new ideas, transferring knowledge, and making connections. I truly feel like I’m IN the game. 

I’m doing some things I hate: sticking to a schedule, administrative attention to detail, skipping fitness, cutting back on wine, focusing on the and theninstead of the what if?

And while I’m suffering, I don’t feel defeated.

I woke up at 3:30 this morning thinking, 1) it’s too early to get up and start working, and 2) that’s too bad.

Yes, I’m busy. Yes, I’m running on little-to-no-sleep. Yes, I’m straining some of my most valuable relationships – I’m aware, friends, I promise!

But I’m THRIVING.

When I thought last night of how everyone around me is struggling, I realized I’m not.

Suffering and struggling are not the same thing.

By suffering I mean I’m having to make hard choices, prioritize some things over others, let some things I loved go, disappoint some people while forging new relationships with others. Change is hard. New ventures are hard. Disappointment and failure and overcoming resistance are hard. That’s what I mean by suffering. It means what I’m doing is hard.

But I’m not struggling. Struggling is being indecisive, feeling alone, feeling disoriented or without purpose or direction. Struggling is questioning motivations of others and myself. Struggling is losing trust and losing faith.

I have faith.

The things that need to happen will happen. The places I need to be, I’ll get there. The influential persons and events that will shape my life are part of my life because I invited them in. I threw open the doors. I expected their participation.

I was willing to be changed.

This morning I am invigorated. I cannot wait to suffer for my achievements. I can see the horizon and it is a glorious place of fulfillment and peace. And this place I’m in now, it’s the bedrock of that one. It’s the journey. The path. The program. The system. The story I’ll tell.

And I love being in it.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

You Are What You Wear

I paired the butterfly skirt with a t-shirt that reads “Take what you need and burn the rest.” In all the years I’ve owned that butterfly skirt, I’ve never had a perfectly-matching top for it. The material is flowy and satiny with a slender lining underneath. It’s a “work skirt” I’ve had since we lived up in the Upstate and it’s hung, unworn, for years.

This summer my style became work skirts and t-shirts. I wore the Miyagi-Do Karate t-shirt with a dark blue miniskirt. The Save Ferris t-shirt with a black skirt that has grey flowers on it. My Maine t-shirt with the green Tommy Hilfiger skirt. My First Amendment shirt with the white Tommy skirt.

I wrap both wrists in bracelets. I wear earrings in all five holes. Sometimes they match, sometimes they don’t. I let the Jeep dry my hair and push styling paste through it whenever I arrive where I’m meant to be.

I’m 41 years old and my style has emerged as authentic, a little eccentric, and vintage.

I’ve been telling Hollie for years that if what she chooses to wear is weather appropriate and makes her feel confident, then it’s fine. She pairs red shirts with pink skirts and blue socks with purple leggings. She works in color families, more than in matching sets. Once, when she was wearing all read (shirt, skirt, pants, socks), my friend Jodie said she hadn’t realized Hollie was monochromatic. She’s always had a color palette style, things that don’t clash really, they just aren’t a perfect match. It’s that slightly off-match that defines her style.

Yesterday I wore my Goonies t-shirt with suit pants. It was the first time I had the guts to do it, but I thought it looked really cool. Celebrities do it. Why not me?

In Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr.’s character pairs a kitten t-shirt with a blazer. It’s an eccentric millionaire look. The kind of My Give a Damn’s Broken look that exudes confidence. I just had to own it.

After about an hour, I’d forgotten I was wearing it and just owned it. The t-shirt with trousers look may take a little longer to gain confidence, but I’m going to work on it because it’s unique. Weather appropriate and makes me feel confident, that’s what matters.

In many circumstances, I’m expected to don the business woman uniform: trousers and a blouse. When I worked 8-to-5 for a big company, I wore skirts every day. High heeled shoes and Kay Jewelers jewelry. While my make-up has always been sparse, I worked my hair between coloring appointments. Painstakingly blow-drying every strand.

Maybe I’m just older. Maybe society has changed. Maybe being a mom had made me less patient with things like hair dryers and jewelry clasps.

Or maybe I’ve always been a skater. 

Thrasher Magazine pictures used to paper my walls, my favorite t-shirt was a ripped G&S black and white oversized. At Clemson, I wore a black body suit with a pair of my friend Josh’s jeans and an unbuttoned flannel shirt. I’ve always had a little rebel style, I just suppressed it.

And this summer, I finally unleashed it. It’s not like having a hysterectomy or selling the house, there’s nothing permanent about a wardrobe. But it still feels like a milestone. Like I’ve emerged from the cocoon and started to flap my wings.

And they’re gold and gossamer and pair nicely with a slim pencil skirt.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Put Another One in the Books

We’ve been married 17 years.

I wish I had a memory to share for each year but they all kind of blur into this long reality that is: I’ve been with Charlie longer than I’ve been without him.

We met when I was 19. So now, at 41, I’ve been with him longer than I was ever without him. The majority of my social circle doesn’t know me before Charlie and those who do barely remember me when he wasn’t reflecting me.

He’s like a mirror. He shows me the very best of myself and, when necessary, the rough edges and dirty parts, too. He expects more of me and because he does, I expect more of myself.

Those are some sweet $200 sunglasses, folks.
When I describe him to people who don’t know him, I say he’s the coolest guy I know. I say whenever I’m doing anything I wish he was there participating and that when he’s not, I can’t wait to tell him about it.

I remember a few things about the start: the a/c was broken in the church and it was late July in Upstate South Carolina and those out of state visitors were stunned by how crazy hot it was.

We moved to Charlotte that summer and were out of work, but we only stayed three days on our honeymoon at Myrtle Beach because we couldn’t afford to stay any longer. The hotel was beachfront, our room was oceanfront, but we had to check the remote control out at the front desk. We carried the cooler upstairs and watched the end of the NASCAR race while drinking beer. We didn’t have medical insurance. We waited tables.

I remember a few things about the middle: we moved to Easley because our best friend Michael asked us to. We loved that little starter house. We bought whatever meat was on sale and then flipped open How to Cook Everything to figure out what to do with it. 

We hit happy hour two or three times a week even after Hollie was born, carrying her with us to sports bars and pool halls and patios.
That's one SERIOUS hangover.

I remember a lot of the latest: we share pride in Hollie over some of the same things (man, that kid is cool) and some different things, those things that remind us of ourselves and each other. We enjoy Sundays, our neighbors, and the country club. We worry about politics and bills and where our careers are headed.

We spend time together on the golf course, listening to live music, and in restaurants. There have always been restaurants. And we get frustrated and we get sad and we get excited and we get hopeful. 

We’re teammates. Above all. We win together and we lose together.

We’ve been in this thing together 17 years. And there’s no one I’d rather have in this boat with me. 

I love you, Charlie. Here’s to 17 more.

Meeting Your Characters IRL

This post originally appeared on the Columbia II Writers Workshop blog. It's revived here because I think this audience would appreciate...