My first novel, The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies, is here

I’m not one for making yearly resolutions. Not the formal sort, anyway. And not at New Year’s.

I made a great list when I was 12 and realized those pretty much set me up for life. I review them every so often. Basically they are: Don’t be a jerk, to yourself or others, reiterated in a variety of ways (believe in yourself, be kind, be true to yourself, follow the Golden Rule, love yourself, etc.).

But this past January (when I also celebrate my birthday), I realized that, while I wasn’t likely to be nominated for one of those Under 40 awards in the next year, I could make another long-time dream reality. I could be a published author by 40.

And now I am.

children's book on grief divorce and stepfamiliesThe Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies is my first published novel.

I started writing it in March 2015, during Camp NaNoWriMo (same as regular NaNoWriMo in November, essentially). I’d had the idea of writing a children’s book based around my family life, told from the point-of-view of my youngest daughter. She can illustrate the book, I thought. I can tell a heartwarming story about an nine-year-old girl dealing with the challenges of friendship, divorce, remarriage and step-siblings and the loss of loved ones.

And so I did, blatantly using my family as inspiration for and the form upon which the story hangs.

I quickly ran into troubles.

While we have the usual sibling squabbles, all my kids are far too nice, caring and kind to each other to create the tension and conflict a story needs. So my apologies to “Lynn,” who’s truly a great sister in real life, as you’ll see in an accompanying series, The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Elliot, told from the perspective of Cherry’s brother.

The illustrator at work.

Berry, fortunately as she’s the main character, loved the idea. She read my first drafts and nodded her head in approval. When she claimed stomach aches prevented her from going to school, I handed her sheets of paper and said, “OK, you have to stay in bed and illustrate the book, then.” She did.She also let me tell the harder parts of her story – how she feels about losing my mum and our cat, Hobbes, as well as the changes that have happened to her family due to my divorce and remarriage. I’m grateful for her bravery and honesty.

The illustrator reviews the proof copy and gives her approval.
The illustrator reviews the proof copy and gives her approval.

There’s a lot in the story that’s drawn from our lives. And a lot that’s fiction. The splendid part of writing fiction is that you can change reality to make it work better for your story. That’s much harder in real life (though perhaps not impossible).

I won’t give the story away to tell you what’s true and what’s invented. Some of it you can figure out for yourself. Some you may never know.

But I do want to make sure you know about one thing. When you get to the part about the pancakes, mystery pancakes were really my idea. 🙂

The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies is an early middle grade novel for readers age 6-9 (grades 1-3).

Birthing book triplets this summer

As I was loading the dishwasher yesterday (it’s a form of active meditation, by the way), I realized I’m basically having triplets this summer.

I’m not sure why I decided to independently publish three books in a matter of months. Perhaps it just worked out this way. I kept shuffling forward on each book and they’re all coming to fruition around the same time. Perhaps I’m impetuous and impatient. You decide.

First, there’s the Intuitive Symbols Coloring Book: Unlock your intuition through meditative coloring. That was a somewhat unexpected baby with a fairly easy gestation (if a bumpy delivery as I realized I had no idea what I was doing and there several million more details that I expected).

Next is The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies, which is in its final throes of production (I got the proof copy in the mail today). I plan to have it published in July.

Then there’s the tentatively titled, The Symbol Dictionary Workbook: Understanding the meaning of your intuitive, psychic and dream symbols. That one is still in the works, currently in the end of the design stage, to be birthed into the world later this summer, hopefully in August.

No wonder I feel overwhelmed.

I’ve taken a lot on, especially during a time full of changing schedules, trips and limited work time. Because, on top of these awesome personal writing projects, I still have work to do (paying work, I remind myself). And I need my billable client work to fund the production of my own writing projects.

My hope is that, long term, my books earn money. The coloring book has already sold enough to pay for the expenses of creating it. But not the hours that went into making it. Or that I need to put into promoting it.

Sadly, there’s no magic that happens once you get a book out into the world which causes millions of sales of that book. I knew this going into it. That, once birthed, a book still has to be tended to and cared for. And sold. Over and over again. That takes effort and time.

Plus, book marketing puts me in new and uncomfortable waters. I understand marketing principles, how to create a marketing plan, how to write press releases and promote events. How to create and implement a social media strategy. How to track sales, keep books, file taxes. How to promote myself. But I haven’t done it before in this context. And I haven’t done it for my own work. So it’s scary, uncertain, new.

As an independent author, I’m also doing this largely on my own. I don’t have an agent to advise me or an editor at my publishing house. Or a marketing department to either tell me what to do or confer with and support my plans and efforts. (Not that a traditional publishing deal would necessarily give me so much support I could do little to nothing. I know I’d still have to work on it then, too. But it’d hopefully be work in collaboration with others.)

These things have been stressing me out lately. There’s been a lot less basking in the glow of my accomplishments (I published a book!) than I expected and a lot more freaking out about how I’m going to actually sell it now.

As I walked home this morning after dropping my car off for an oil change (more active meditation), it occurred to me that it’s OK to back off a little and that I may want to approach this adventure with more playfulness and wonder. I’m on this journey to satisfy my long-time longing to be an author. To give myself the things I want in this life and to stop standing in my own way.

In that sense, this doesn’t need to be hard or feel difficult. I may not be completely sure what I’m doing, but I know I’ll find my way. I don’t need to know exactly where I’m going to approach the journey with curiosity and willingness to take the very next steps in front of me.

My unexpected path to publishing

My first book is published. It went live this morning. You won’t believe what it’s about.

Is it the long-awaited memoir about my coming-of-age in Barbados? Nope.

Is it the heartwarming story of Cherry making a magical friend and deciding if she’s going to listen to the truth of her heart? No, not that either (although that is coming soon).

It’s a coloring book.

Intuitive symbols coloring bookBecause, you know, professional writer, 15 years’ experience, aspiring author, loves to knit but has always felt bad about her drawing abilities = coloring book. Makes total sense.

I’m surprised, too. Which just goes to show how wild this life adventure can be when you relax your grip on the reins.

The power of meditation

Last summer, I committed to developing a regular meditation practice. I wanted to give myself time to get quiet inside my head and body and allow my inner wisdom to come through.

It’s been great. And awful. My inner wisdom has a lot to say. It’s quite happy to give me inspiration and direction, even if that seems to leave no time for sleep.

“Write a book about intuition.”

“Yes, inner self. That sounds good.”

“But first, create a symbol dictionary workbook.”

“OK, that’s a good idea. Every intuitive or psychic development course ever says to make yourself a symbol dictionary but no one actually does it because it’s logistically annoying and impossible.”

coffee symbols coloring book“Oh, hey, how about a symbol coloring book that people can use to get in touch with their intuition and learn what their symbols mean?” That was from my writing and walking friend, Jennifer.

I wasn’t quite sure about it at first, but the idea grew on me. I went through a couple of weeks of doubt and frustration as I tried to figure out how and where I’d get the images for the coloring pages themselves. I tried hiring someone through Fiverr. That didn’t turn out well. I tried drawing them myself. Uh. No one wants to color that mess in. (Did I mention I have no faith in my artistic abilities?)

color your way to intuition adult coloring bookThen I happened upon an artist with the perfect images for what I had in mind. The heavens opened and the angels sang. It was a Hallelujah moment.

After a few weeks of wrangling images, ISBN bar codes and coming up with the introductory instructional text and uploading (and reuploading and fixing and reuploading and fixing and reuploading) the files, it’s here!

And it can be yours. Intuitive Symbols Coloring Book: Unlock your intuition through meditative coloring has 30 fun coloring pages full of symbols you find in everyday life: coffee, cars, clothes, Christmas decorations. You name it, it’s likely in there.

Coloring is a wonderful way to get into a meditative state. And meditation is key to opening up and getting in touch with your intuition. And your intuition will lead you forward in your life on the best possible path for you. Even if it’s one you didn’t expect.

So what happened to that memoir you were writing?

Concussions only get you so far when it comes to procrastinating. At some point, things just need to get done. (Although, when I can’t remember words or don’t manage to get them in the right order, when my family begins to laugh at me, I point to myself and say, “Hey, brain injury here.” I plan to milk that for as long as I can. I’m told to expect it to take about 3 months for my brain to return to “normal.”)

Yes, that memoir

And, at some point, I need to actually write about what I’ve been saying I’ll write about for a good long while now. Namely: the status of my memoir. That thing I started working on in…um…I don’t want to check. 2014, I think. Sounds about right. (Don’t hold me to it, though. Brain injury.)

I finished my fifth or sixth round of editing it in early Spring last year and started querying agents, looking for representation. In the meantime, I figured I should probably start writing something else.

A new writing direction (and project)

20160310_125742So, last April, at the urging of some writer friends, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo and decided to tackle a children’s chapter book. (You know, because they’re shorter – that makes them easier, right? Ha ha).  I had a glimpse of an idea about a book based on my family life that Berry, our youngest monkey, could illustrate. She liked the idea, so I got on with it, pounding out the words during write-ins where the only sounds were the clacking of keys. (None of these so-called friends helped me procrastinate by chatting about what we’re writing rather than writing. They just got on with it.) I asked the kids for a title and The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry was born.

Then April ended, and with it our write-ins, and I took a great course in Content Marketing for Journalists where I learned a lot, met a great group of fellow journalists and writers and mostly stopped writing any of my own stuff in the pursuit of paying work.

But, an idea began to percolate. Writing about my life was more fun when it didn’t have to all be true. When it was fiction based on real situations, people and scenarios. Maybe I could do that with my memoir…?

Over the summer, I plucked away at my children’s book some more, and continued to query agents about my memoir, with a handful requesting the full manuscript. Then I landed a decent (if mind-numbingly boring) gig for a “tech giant” writing hotel descriptions. It paid bills. I traveled around the world. Through my computer screen. I didn’t write books. Until I realized I was losing my mind wanting sanity and creative expression more than cash. I started writing again more, determined to finished the children’s book, which had turned into a Middle Grade novel.

I’d decided, during the fall and early winter, as I got back into writing, that I was definitely going to fictionalize my memoir. But first, I wanted to finish the Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry book. This fit in nicely with my usual procrastination method of working on the least less palatable thing (whatever I don’t mind doing least when compared to the other things I want to do even less) and still being productive. (Really, this technique works well for me. It sounds terrible, but I’ve somehow made it functional. I get a lot of stuff done, and eventually something replaces the thing at the bottom of the least palatable list and I get that done, too.) It apparently works pretty well for Berry, my illustrator. Most of her work was done when she was home sick from school. (I had her captive, I took advantage of it.)

After making a commitment to finishing The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry (don’t let your kids name your books, people) and avoiding working more on my memoir, I wrapped up the first and second drafts and sent it out to beta readers.

Hitting a bump in the road

Then I was in that car accident. Concussions and editing don’t mix. Revisions waited a few weeks. Until recently, when I got them done. That felt good. Except I’ve still got a couple of plot tweaks/additions to do. And then I’ll be done. (Other than convincing a few people to help me proofread and actually doing the work of layout, ISBN-ing, creating my own independent press, etc.)

That’s exciting.

It also means I need to quit procrastinating and fictionalize this memoir of mine. I’ve made some good headway lately: massaging the timeline of actual events to work in a three-act story structure, simplifying characters by combining a few and, as painful as it is, just chopping stuff out. I’ll have some significant re-writing to do, especially toward the end, but I feel good about where I’m heading.

Plus, I have other stories I’m excited to write: The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of… turns out to be the first in two series of books – one told from Cherry’s perspective and the other from her brother, Elliot’s. But I want to create the fictional Banned in Barbados first.

Why fictionalize a memoir?

But does that truly answer the “why” of fictionalizing an already written book? This is the thing I find hardest to put into words and probably the reason I’ve put off writing about my writing for so long.

I like the memoir I’ve written. It tells my story of a vulnerable, life-changing time in my life. And, by writing it down, and sharing it with a dozen or so people who were my beta readers for the project, I feel I’ve completed what I set out to do. Little Joanna’s story has been told and heard.

I also had several conversations with folks included in my memoir and I realized that, while I’m not under any obligation to tell the truth the way they’d want me to, or to protect them from the facts of our past, I’m also not out to hurt anyone or tarnish anyone’s memory of anyone else. (They can continue to think whatever they want of me.)

On top of that, I have a larger story to tell. A story that’s best served by having a tiny bit of emotional distance from its author. A story that doesn’t need to be held back by the voice of my younger self yelling, “But it happened that way!” While writing Cherry I learned that deviating from fact, incorporating elements of fiction, was freeing, while still being true to the essence of the story. I realize good memoirists can do this while keeping it a memoir. I may not be a good memoir writer, as it turns out. And that’s OK.

I am my heart, not my head

I spent the afternoon in the ER on Sunday. Duncan and I were rear ended on the way back from his basketball game on Saturday morning. We went to Urgent Care Saturday afternoon and the provider there told me I have a concussion and, should my symptoms get worse, she wanted me to go to the ER for imaging.

On Sunday, I felt worse. So off to the ER I went.

As I lay on my little ER bed, waiting for either a CT scan or its results, headachey, fuzzy and trying not to worry that they’d either start drilling my holes in my head to relieve the pressure or that I’d continue to feel fractured and unlike myself for a long time into the future, I realized something: I’m not my brain.

Who I am, the essence of Joanna, the person you connect to and interact with, is not my brain. As much as I love my mind and its abilities to see patterns and themes, to connect dots, to analyze and draw conclusions, it’s not the whole of me or even the most important part.

I realized (and this is going to sound way more mushy and woo-woo than I’m comfortable with) that the heart of who I am is, well, my heart. My emotional center. That’s what makes an impact on others. It’s what connects us together. It’s what’s still there even when my brain isn’t functioning like it normally does.

I could barely speak coherent full sentences on Sunday. My thinking was fractured and jumpy. Sound and light were painful. But I still felt love.

I felt my mother-in-law’s loving touch as she rubbed my shoulder, sitting by my side and waiting.

I felt my friends’ care in their Facebook messages and texts asking after me and letting me know Duncan scored a basket in his last game of the season, as I couldn’t be there. And in the mason jars of soup and feedback and typo-finding on my latest manuscript they brought to my house.

I felt love in my daughter’s hands as she brushed my hair before bedtime, wanting to put me to bed and help me rest.

It’s love that connects us together.

Because even if I didn’t have my brain (which is still a bit sketchy today), if I couldn’t express this in words or understand what people are saying to me (I do understand the concept of brain rest and will go do that in a minute), our hearts are still connected.
Apparently it took a blow to the head to help me realize it.