Friday, January 29, 2010

Life's Moments

I'll be heading down to the city tonight to give a talk to about eighty people that are affiliated with Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. The people in the room are all connected to the organization in one way or another, the event's primary focus to say thanks to the people from this area who so generously donate to them throughout the year.

I was asked to speak for two reasons. I'm a writer (and people tend to find that interesting). Kayla's Daddy--which debuted this month--gives a nod to their organization during the story (page 175, if you're curious). And I'm one of their clients. Which means there came a point in my life this past summer when I needed their assistance (to help with the co-pay of a very costly medical test I had to have related to my own MS).

I have to say, there's a part of me that's nervous about this talk. I write because I'm essentially an introvert. It's how I express myself best. But there's also a part of me that's excited to do this as it's a pay-it-forward kind of thing.

The topic I've decided to speak on? Life's Moments. And since I need a little practice right now, I figured I'd try it out the written format which I prefer. Let me know what you think, okay?

**If you look back on your life, there tends to be certain moments that stand out. Good ones, bad ones, and anything in between. Very often, they're the ones that shape who we are--giving us direction and validation along the way.

While I have many, I'd like to share a small handful with you tonight.

1) Awe. I remember, as a very little girl, skipping off to the park with my Grandpa. We'd find a bench by the water and sit there for hours, feeding pigeons while he shared stories of his life in Ireland and his journey to the United States. Before we left, he pointed across the water at the biggest rock I'd ever seen, a rock with a giant "C" painted on it in blue that seemed to rise up from the water. With a twinkle of pride in his eyes he said, "I painted that 'C' for Casey." I believed him for more years than I should, confident my grandpa could do anything--including hanging by a rope painting a letter on a rock. Even now, I still believe it stands for Casey rather than Columbia University.

I miss that mischievous sparkle. But I miss that man even more.

2)Pride. When I was a kindergartner we were given a basic art assignment that I took a bit further--with the help of cotton balls, pieces of fancy trim work, buttons, etc. The picture of a king that I created caught the eye of a visitor to our school who pulled it for a county-wide art show. To this day, I still remember that picture and the pride I felt in myself.

3)The Birth of a Dream. I was playing at my friend Lisa's house one rainy day. I was in fourth grade at the time. It was about halfway through our playdate and we were bored with our Barbies and board games. So, as a way to keep us sane, she pulled out a stack of paper and a carton of crayons and presented the task of writing a picture book story. Mine was about a brown polar bear (don't ask) and I named him Kidney. My dream to become a writer started with that bear.

4) A first step. After my freshmen year of college I had the opportunity to intern at a newspaper chain in Connecticut. The first assignment I was given was to write a story about a help line for troubled teenagers that was just getting off the ground. I wrote it, turned it in, and moved on. Three days later, while at the grocery store for my mom, I walked past a rack of papers. And there, for everyone who walked by to see, was my byline. That's the moment I first realized my dream could--and would--come true.

5)Complete responsibility and utter love. The first moment I held each of my daughters in my arms is something I will never forget. It's nice to look at pictures but none are as vivid as those moments in my mind. They changed me completely and forever.

6)Odd. It was the winter of 2005 and I was waiting to see the cover for my very first book. For years I'd held one single image in my head--a nighttime shot of the beach with an amusement ride pier in the background, a body laying face down in the foreground.

The day the cover was expected to arrive, there was no mail in my box. The next day, the same. About two hours later the mail carrier knocked on my door to tell me there'd been a fire on the truck the day before. The mail that was not burned was damaged by the water used to put the fire out. I think I laughed. And then cried. And then laughed some more (really, it was a Candid Camera moment if there ever was one). The next day she came back...with the water soaked & partially burned envelope that contained my cover. I pulled it out, anxious to see the cover I'd been imagining for years and...

It was pink. Bright pink. With a beach chair.

No, I'm not kidding. I wish I was.

7) Disbelief. About nine months after my pink book came out, my cell phone rang while I was on the way home from my eldest daughter's dance class. I didn't recognize the number but picked up anyway. It was a member of the Agatha Award Committee (like the Rita of the cozy mystery world). My pink book was a nominee for Best First Novel.

I think I repeated my name for her--just to be sure she knew who she was calling. She did. To this day, I have that number saved on the contact list of my phone under the heading "Agatha Call."

8) Rug Pulled Out. I remember sitting in a hospital room by myself 3 1/2 years ago, waiting for someone to release me after a bizarre series of symptoms that brought me to the E.R. the day before. The attending doctor walks in and says, "We got your MRI results back just now. We believe you have M.S."

Unlike so many who hear those words for the first time, I knew exactly what M.S. was. My mother-in-law at the time had it and I'd watched it take her down. Only I had two small kids and a dream to be a writer...

9) Crossroads. That moment was a turning point in so many ways, spawning new moments I'll never forget...

*It pushed me. Hearing I had M.S. made me want to reach higher, to get in with a big publisher, furthering my dream. And, in the past 21 months, I've been contracted for nine books.

*It propelled me to do something for the cause. I took part in a two year drug study. I donated blood for a genetic study out of Washington University. I wear a monitor around my waist twice a year for a week each time for the University of Illinois (they're studying movement & M.S.). I captained a walk and raised over $2,600 thanks, largely, to the mystery writing community. And, one day in the future, I'd like to do an online auction utilizing my writing connections to benefit MSAA.

*It moved me. Last year, on my birthday, my then ten-year-0ld gave me a homemade birthday card. Inside was $13 (all the money from her piggy bank) and a note that she wanted it to go to M.S.

*It taught me that it's okay to seek help sometimes. Last summer I was faced with the need to undergo a costly medical test. The expense was daunting for someone like me who was a single mom working five part-time jobs and paying a very hefty monthly insurance premium. My doctor suggested I contact MSAA for help. At first I was embarrassed. I don't like to ask for help. But, this time, I knew I had to. And sure enough they swooped in, taking the burden of that particular co-pay from my too-heavy shoulders.

10) Which brings me to this moment of Gratitude.
(And then I thank everyone in the room for making things a little easier for people like me.)

I apologize for the lengthy post. I guess I'm a little keyed up right now, worried I'm not saying the right things.

So how about you? Care to share a special moment or two from your life?

P.S. If I made any spelling errors, please forgive me this time. I was speaking it while I was writing it in an effort to get the flow right.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I just returned from a trip in Idaho. I invited several friends to come ski at a couple of small resorts near my parents’ home in that corner of the world. We all had a great time. After the ski trip, I stayed and spent a few extra days with my folks. My mom said it was “quality time,” but she kept me plenty busy doing little jobs for her. We laid out the front of a quilt to be raffled for the 50th class reunion at the local high school and I did some simple line-drawings for the mascot. My dad had me edit an article he’d written for the newspaper regarding the new Legion Hall. I did a little tech-support on the computer for them (a first for me), a little electrical work (okay, it was reconnecting loose wires, but still), a little cleaning and a lot of cooking. It was easy and satisfying work, since most of her—and my father’s—projects involve their community.

My folks are very active in their town. My dad is the Commander of the American Legion there. His latest project was organizing a war memorial for local soldiers. He convinced the Army to lend them a Howitzer for the centerpiece. (I’m not sure what happens if they decide to take it back, but that doesn’t seem to bother my dad.) He is also active in the local Boy Scout troop, as he has been since my brother was old enough to don the uniform. My mother runs a charity that provides Christmas gifts to needy families. She started it over twenty years ago and last year, it helped over 300 children. The program coordinates with the local food bank, several churches and community groups to provide gifts, food and the small necessities to make Christmas merry. It’s a generous, heart-warming enterprise. My parents’ initiative and involvement have sparked others to participate and spread that neighborliness around. Between them, I think they know everyone in town.

They live quite a bit west of the true U.S. “Heartland” but that doesn’t seem to make much difference. Pancake breakfasts, charity raffles, a Main Street with no stoplight, the Elk’s Lodge: it’s all there and more. It is the best, and sometimes the worst—let’s not be glib—of community life. Neighbors help neighbors when they can and, more than a little, gossip about the situation while they lend a hand. That winding vine of chitchat is often the way word of triumph travels. I can’t say there isn’t back-biting, but when the news is tragic, the help flows even faster.

As I was flying eastward yesterday, it occurred to me that I live in the Heartland, too. For all its hustle, bustle and 1.5 million inhabitants, Philadelphia has a heart as big and true as Dunnell, Minnesota, Adair, Oklahoma or Bucklin, Missouri. In some sense, we all live in the Heartland of this country. That’s why we write—and read—stories set in these communities, both small and large. The heart is what matters and the larger it is on the inside, the better it makes the community on the outside.

So, hello from my Heartland to yours. Hey! Be sure to buy a ticket for the local quilt raffle. You can’t win if you don’t get involved.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Important Moments

For a brand new author, like me, receiving “the call” is the culmination of years of studying the works of other successful authors, learning the craft, and practice, practice, practice—also known as the hard work of writing. That one phone call changes things. It opens a flood gate of emotion—excitement, joy, elation, validation. I’ve heard that some authors were so awestruck by “the call” they barely said a word to their editor. Others say they danced around the house and did cartwheels while asking pertinent questions. Questions like, “How soon will my book be on the shelves?” Some, like me, began sobbing the moment they saw “Harlequin Enterprises” on the Caller ID screen.

I didn’t think there’d ever be an event in my writing career that could compete with that phone call. I was wrong. This year has produced a series of such moments. The day I received my contracts in the mail. The day the delivery man handed me the packet of line edits, shipped overnight from Toronto to my Florida home. Every phone call from my editor whose advice and praise I’ve come to rely on. And most recently, the morning I opened an email and saw the cover of “The Officer’s Girl” for the first time.

Isn’t it amazing?

Seeing that cover was the best, the absolute best. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing that can beat it…unless it’s the first time I hold an actual copy of “The Officer’s Girl” in my hands.

PS: Lots of people have asked if I had a hand in designing the cover. I didn’t. I provided the briefest description of a scene in the book, and the Art Department did all the rest. All the amazing rest.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?

San Francisco is one of my favorite cities and it’s especially fun at Christmas time when Union Square is decked out for the holidays. Macy’s puts up a huge Christmas tree in the square and this year they also sponsored an outdoor skating rink.

Here’s a photo taken from the fifth floor of Macy’s.

With such mild winter weather, what fun for San Franciscans and visitors to be able to skate outdoors.

What really caught my attention, though, were a couple of Macy’s store windows. This year they teamed up with the San Francisco SPCA to bring awareness to the number of shelter animals in need of homes, and to encourage people to sponsor an animal or become a volunteer.

During our stay we walked past the windows twice and there was always a small crowd gathered outside. Of course I couldn’t resist snapping a couple of photos.

The pet-friendly window displays were as adorable as the dogs and cats in them, and of course I hope that every single pet found a loving home, including this adorable little dog who is surely one of Santa’s helpers . . .

. . . and this fellow who looks as though he’d be right at home anywhere . . .

. . . and apparently the windows were so comfy that this little black and white kitten decided a catnap was in order . . .

I hope these furry friends were able to ring in the new year with a forever family.

Happy 2010 to everyone!

Until next time,

PS: Last month I ran a contest on my blog, The Writer Side of Life. I announced the winner—Ellen E— on January 1, but I haven’t heard from her! Ellen E, if you’re an American Romance reader, I hope you see this. You'll find my email address on my website. Please send me your address and I will put your treats in the mail.