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.

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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!

Fun with terrible titles

One of the super fun things about debuting in 2016 is getting to be part of the Sweet Sixteens, an awesome group of Young Adult and Middle Grade authors with books coming out in 2016. And today, I’m accepting my first Sweet Sixteen challenge: create #8TerribleTitles by scrolling through my debut novel, FIRSTS, and landing randomly on eight phrases. Thanks, Ashley Herring Blake and Emily Martin for tagging me for this challenge!

For some writers, titles come easily. For others… writing a title is almost as hard as writing a whole book. (Case in point: FIRSTS was not the, um, first title for FIRSTS.) But I sure am glad it wasn’t called…

1. JUST ENOUGH FOR PROTECTION, NO EXTRA FRILLS

2. I’M MY OWN STATISTIC

3. EVEN AFTER SIX MONTHS OF THIS

4. A COUCH CUSHION THAT MIGHT AS WELL BE AN ICEBERG

5. SIMPLIFIED AND PREDICTABLE, MY WEDNESDAY FRIEND

6. THE ONE COG LEFT IN THE MACHINERY

7. THEY LOOK DIFFERENT HORIZONTAL

8. HAVE BEEN JOINED BY BITCH

Well… this has been very entertaining! I tag Shannon M. Parker and Nisha Sharma!

Office, before and after

Desk, before.

Desk, before.

After!

Desk, after!

 

One of my favorite things about moving into a new house was getting my own office. I was so excited to have my own space to write and the freedom to do whatever I wanted with it. Since the room is small and it wasn’t in our budget to buy new furniture, I decided to see what I could do with a bit of white paint and the desk I have had since I was a kid. The furniture I had for my office didn’t match, so I thought whitewashing it would make the room look a lot more streamlined.

The project was pretty straightforward, and quite easy. I picked up a primer and white paint at a hardware store and cranked up some music while I worked. After two coats of primer and two coats of paint, all I had to do was wait.

I wanted my office to be simple and uncluttered, but still have enough personal details for it to feel like me. I upholstered an old stool to provide a seat in front of the window, which looks out onto our backyard. I made space in a corner to set my easel for when I want to paint.

The project didn’t take very much time (or money), but the impact went a long way. It just goes to show how a couple of small changes can make a huge difference! And now that I’m content with my work space, I’m happily seated at my new (old) desk, ready to write lots of words. Even though I can (and do) write everywhere when the occasion calls for it, it feels great to have a space to call my own now.

 

 

Throwback Thursday: My Checkerboard

Magazine shoot in Greece.

Magazine shoot in Greece.

I once had a university advisor describe my academic trajectory as a “checkerboard.” All over the place. Interrupted. Hard to follow. The opposite of linear.

This got me thinking about writing, and how all writers have a different path too. Some people get an agent with their first book. Others write several books until one is the perfect fit. Some decide to self-publish. It’s easy to compare ourselves to other writers and wish we had what they had. It’s easy to get disheartened about rejections. But everybody is different. Everybody has their own way, whether it be a straight line or a squiggly line or a checkerboard. And no way is perfect, even though it might look like that from the outside.

I started university a year early, mostly because I couldn’t wait to get out of high school.  I thought I would get an Honors degree, followed by some kind of Masters. Then modeling happened, and I had a decision to make: stay on my academic path or jump way off it.

I jumped. I stopped university two credits shy of a degree for the chance to model in Tokyo. School would always be there, but that opportunity wouldn’t. After Tokyo I didn’t go back to school. I went to Athens, and after Athens, Paris. My friends back home were cramming for exams, going to parties, figuring out what they wanted to do with their lives. I was running around to castings and photo shoots and trying to navigate the Metro lines in Tokyo (update: never did). But when I came home from Paris and decided I missed school and wanted to go back, it was difficult finding traction. I didn’t know what to major in. I questioned the worth of classes previously taken. I was confused. I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. There were moments I wondered what my life would be like if I hadn’t deviated from my path. Everything would be so much easier linear.

Magazine shoot.

Magazine shoot.

But I’m grateful for my checkerboard, especially now. Modeling has been a huge part of my life and has taught me things I could never learn in a classroom. I learned how to handle rejection and criticism. Models have to have thick skin– you go to so many castings each day, and most of them are for jobs you’re not going to get. You learn how to celebrate the ones you do get and don’t sweat the ones you don’t. You make friends and celebrate their successes, and they celebrate yours. I have done my best to apply this attitude to the business of trying to get published. My road might not look the same as someone else’s, and that’s okay.

Because in the end, I really do believe things work out how they are supposed to. Nobody’s path is completely straight. We all have decisions to make and bumps in the road. We all have deviations and setbacks. The challenge is seeing them for the good, and appreciating the change they evoke within us. The challenge is learning to love our checkerboards for what they are– the roadmaps to our lives.