It's football season, which for us - like so many families - means our schedule is packed now through October, and the vast majority of the dates blocked out have something to do with the gridiron. No need to guess where we'll be on Friday nights, either. We'll don our black and red to sit on metal seats where we'll stomp and clap and cheer ourselves hoarse. Well, I will. My sons will spend quit a bit of that time walking around with their respective herd of teenagers.
I've watched many of these boys play since their 7th grade year. I've watched them mature, as young men and as players. We've been the underdogs in these parts for a long time. The glory days are something I hear whisperings of but, having only lived here for 5 years, I wasn't around to witness. And while I acknowledge that the surrounding towns might not think much of us, our football team has heart. They have a spunk, a grit, that I admire.
If you talk to any of the players or go to many games, you'll hear the rumblings that the refs don't like us much. Calls seldom seem fair and the opposing teams often blatantly cheat and aren't called on it. (For reals - my son was bitten once on the field. I've seen kids kicked while down, after the play had stopped. It's not cool.)
But, from the relative comfort of the stands, I can also see that point when our boys give up. They come so close to victory and then you can see them decide the odds are stacked too much against them, and they stop giving it their all. Sure, some of them hang on until the bitter end, but enough of them check out that the crowd starts to check out, and the inevitable end comes.
And, in all of my bleacher wisdom, I know that until they decide they have a chance to win, they have no chance to win.
My oldest son only played football with this team for two years. A broken arm ended his second season and he opted to homeschool after that because he was eager to finish early and find his great adventure. Blake, number two son, couldn't play football because of his head injury. And, in truth, I think he doesn't mind so much. He only would have played because it was the thing to do, not because he loved the sport.
My number three son, though. That boy lives and breathes football and now that he's in 7th grade, his time has come. He graduates from Mighty Mites to being part of the football team. I watch him on the field with the other boys and I know they're beginning a journey together, just as his brother began a journey before him.
Last night, after the game was done, I listened as Number Three told me every bad or unfair call he'd seen. As I replied, I realized that I needed to heed my own words.
You see, the last time I was a football mom, I didn't feel as keenly how alone I was because my other two children were still young enough to always sit with me. Now they're off and gone with their friends and I can't hide from my solitude. For me, only part of my mind was on the game last night.
I have to admit that I spent most of it feeling very much isolated - from the moms whose sons stayed on the team to play all six years together; from the moms who are married; from the younger, single crowd; from the people who've lived here all their lives... you get the picture. I sat there, painfully aware of how alone I was and the weight of every terrible thing from the past week just kept getting heavier and heavier until I slunk home, drank two glasses of wine, and watched an episode of Outlander while wishing I'd get sucked back in time. Only--let's be real--I wouldn't end up in Sam Heughan's lap, no matter how much I wish I would.
But anyway, back to my reply. I told him, "Life never fights fair and there will be many times when it seems like the ref isn't calling the game like He should. But you keep fighting until it's over. As long as you're fighting, there's a chance you'll win. Stop fighting and your chances go to zero. If you want to be a football player, then wrap your head around it now - the refs will not call fair games, the other teams won't like you, and it will be hard. But you still gotta fight."
So enough moping. I am alone and it is not the end of the world. There is a lot of scary/awful stuff happening in my world right now, but it won't last forever. Because I choose to fight.
There is vagabond in my blood. I only have to look to my grandparents’ generation to find migrant farm workers on my daddy’s side. Even before that, they moved around the country quite a bit after arriving from Europe. Tracking down my family tree before the days of Ancestry.com meant lots of road trips north. I had an uncle who died train hopping out west; he was a vagabond. My own daddy has the itchiest feet on the planet. Even after retiring from the military, he can never sit still for long. If work isn’t giving him an excuse to travel, he finds one. He once accused me of moving more than anyone he’s ever met. I respectfully ask if he’s met my sister, or if he’s looked in the mirror to see who we inherited our gypsy feet from.
Warring with that migrant nature is the deep desire for roots, for a place to belong. On my mama’s side, we had the family farm in the Ozarks that grounded my family for generations. Even for those who didn’t live there, it was the place everyone returned to. It’s been more than 20 years since the farm was sold, and I still feel its absence in my soul as I watch the world spin from the outside looking in and wonder what it would be like to have a place you’re from.
When we moved to this area in 2012, all I knew of it was that Buffalo, Missouri was the only place I could get cell phone coverage in between Lebanon and Stockton Lake. I’d never even heard of the town that’s registered as our official address. When my mother found out I was moving here, she told me my great-grandmother was actually from Buffalo. The romantic in me wonders if I was returning to roots I didn’t even know existed.
It’s been a hard-fought five years, finding our place in this tiny town. Sometimes it seems as if the land itself has tried to buck us loose. We’ve fought record-breaking droughts, floods, and everything in between. The people here are so used to everyone operating under a set of common knowledge, sometimes it’s hard to keep up when you don’t have that piece of the puzzle.
I have considered moving. It’s what I do when life gets too much, I think. Perhaps it stems from a promise I made myself as a teen—if things ever seemed too hopeless, I’d go somewhere new and start fresh rather than cause myself harm. More than once in the past five years, I’ve looked longingly at the map and considered my options. I should go somewhere warmer, closer to the ocean, closer to my friends. This place doesn’t want me; I don’t fit here.
But here’s the thing: I’m an odd little duck. I don’t fit anywhere, not really and not for long. That’s part of being a writer, an observer—someone who throws herself headfirst into a thousand different things just long enough to master them and move on. I think it’s all tied up in the one thing I never stray from: writing stories. I’m always learning so I can document. I’m always observing so I can capture details. The same sensory disorder that makes me a freak in so many ways makes it possible for me to describe a touch in such detail.
It’s taken me nearly forty years (I still have six months until that mile marker), but I’ve come to terms with being weird. I make it my goal as a mother to three weird children to help them embrace and harness their quirks early on, to save themselves some pain.
And sometime in the past year, I have realized something else about myself: If I’m going to not fit in anywhere, I’d like to not fit in here, in this place. I want to connect to the roots of my past in this small town and flourish as the oddest little flower this place has ever seen.
This might not be the deep, wild and woolly Ozark Mountains of my childhood, the ones I’ve dreamed of and written about so often. The hills are more rolling here. The people are different somehow. But it has become just as much a part of me and my story.
For some time now, I’ve felt compelled to tell not just the story of Blake’s accident, but of the journey that it set us on. One night, one moment, changed each of us, and it changed our family. I realize now that story is part of this one, my journey home. My figuring out what happily-ever-after looks like to me.
I started writing that book last fall, and I’m still only four chapters in. I don’t know why, but I can’t seem to force myself to sit and write. When I do sit down, the words flow. But they also leave me tired. It’s been a long, hard six years. Perhaps I’m afraid of what I’ll find if I look at them too closely. Already the process has begun to change me—for the better, but it’s been an uncomfortable journey nonetheless.
All of this is to say that I’ve decided to give something new a try. I plan to release one chapter each Monday on my blog. Perhaps that will force me to keep pace. When the story is finished, I’ll pull it together into a book and send it to the editor. But I have lots of books out there; this less about adding to that list and more about sharing my story in hopes that it will inspire someone else to rewrite their destiny if need be.
Maybe it will give someone else hope that if their world is shaken, good things can come of it.
Read Chapter One of My Own Ever After
Some of you may remember the story of how my novel Throwaway began, with a dream about a couple - a prostitute and a police officer, sitting in a dinner talking. I knew they were in love but couldn't be together. It was just a conversation, but it stayed with me after I woke up. I spent weeks obsessing about this pair, wondering who they were and how they had ended up in that diner.
Despite all of the pondering, I felt stuck. The words just wouldn't come. It wasn't until I went home to the Ozarks for a family reunion that I'd find the inspiration I would need for their story to unfold. As part of the reunion, we visited Honeybranch Cave and the Garden of Dreams. Someone in our family knew the owners, and we'd been granted a rare tour of the cave and grounds.
I was absolutely captivated by the place, its history, and the possibilities it held. So much so that I went home and the entire book just tumbled out, taking only six weeks to complete the first draft. The cave and the lore surrounding it became a central part of that couple's story. Sure, I sprinkled in a few details of my own, but beneath the fiction was a living part of history. Beneath the fiction was a real place that inspired my soul.
I haven't thought much about Honeybranch Cave or the surrounding Garden of Dream for a while. Sitting there, dormant while my life bustled on. That is, until a reader emailed me to ask if it was a real place. I told her the story and we talked a while longer. Afterwards, on a lark, I looked it up on Zillow. I wanted to see if I could find pictures of it. The conversation had left me longing to see this place again.
As it turns out, the property is for sale. The cave, the surrounding 193 acres, the homes, the gardens... Oh, to have a cool million in my bank account right now. I can't help it, but a part of me has become obsessed. What would it be like to own the place that inspired the book that changed my world? What would it be like to, on some level, create for myself the world Jessie did for herself?
As I scroll through the images on the listing, there are details I find I got wrong. (I didn't tour the house on my visit!) But there are also pictures that are exactly as I remembered or envisioned them. There are pictures that I could almost see Jessie or Gabe in. Suddenly, their world is real to me again.
It's funny to think that whoever owns this place has no idea how dear it is to me. I'm not even a blip on their radar. Someday, someone new will buy it and they may never know about the fictional lives that sprang from their new home. Whoever it is, I hope they love it. I hope it inspires them to do whatever it is they were made to do.
Because it inspired me.
PS... Whenever I'm daydreaming about a bigger house (which is often these days), Zillow is the first place I go to check out what's available. If you're house hunting, or just house dreaming, they're a good first stop! :0)
In February, I did something I’d promised myself I’d never do again… I rejoined Corporate America. I left that world after Blake’s accident so I could walk with him down his road to recovery. It was an unexpected dream come true when I got a book deal shortly after. It didn’t take long for Booktrope to become a significant portion of my world—in addition to my books, my husband got a job with them, I worked as a freelance marketer for them, and I even accepted a position leading several of their imprints. For five years, my world has consisted of my children, my farm, my charities, my books, and helping others bring their books to the world. During this time, I’ve experienced some of my highest highs and my lowest lows, but in all, if I could have hand-carved my world, it would have looked a lot like those past five years.
So it surprised even me when I came to the conclusion that it was time to close that chapter of my life. For lots of reasons, and after a lot of prayer and thought, I came to realize that it was time to shift gears. So when I saw a job posting for a position at a good company that looked right up my alley, I applied. The interviews and subsequent job offer all happened so quickly that my head is still spinning. Just like that, I was back in a world I thought I’d never see again.
It was culture shock—I’d been working well over full-time from home, but it was still a major adjustment to switch to a full-time schedule and commute. The entire family is struggling to find our footing as roles shift and schedules change. In so many ways, my new gig is a dream job. It’s cool beyond belief. But it’s still away from my kiddos and animals, and it’s a whole new, and sometimes unsettling, world.
At first, I cried every day as I drove into work. Again—and I can’t stress this enough—it wasn’t because my job was bad, I was just mourning the loss of what I’d had. But with time, I’ve gotten my bearings at the new place and responsibilities with Vox Dei have ebbed and I find that in many ways, I have more time for my children now. Or rather, they have my undivided attention when it’s on them. It’s not entirely “work is work and home is home” because of the nature of the job, but the new job isn’t quite as all-consuming as Vox Dei had become. And the increase in pay means I have more expendable income to do things with and for my kiddos that I just wasn’t able to do before. It’s taken a month, but I’ve reduced my poor-me sessions down to Monday mornings and I’ve even made a few new friends along the way.
The question I’ve gotten most as I’ve told people about the job is whether I’ll keep writing. The answer is a definite yes. In fact, I hope to write more. Once I made the decision to no longer rely on books for an income, I wrote the entire rest of Finding Broken Arrow in one week. That’s right, a flippin’ week! It was like an enormous weight had been lifted and the words just poured out of my fingers. Even better—I enjoyed the process. I loved it. In keeping with my new “I’m just going to do this because I love it” philosophy, I am publishing this one indie. I hired an editor and proofreader, but I did design my own cover, which have to admit, I'm pretty proud of!
And just as I stressed earlier that my daily sob-sessions of the past month are no reflection on my current employer, my decision to leave Booktrope is no reflection on them. I’ve met some of the most amazing people during my time there, and I’ll be forever grateful to them for the past five years. We simply came to a fork in the road and chose different paths. I wish them all the best. (And yes, my existing books are still proudly under the Booktrope banner!)
There is so much I’m excited about right now, so many grand adventures I’m on the cusp of. Thank you for being part of the past five years with me. I look forward to seeing what the next five years hold!
I'm not much of a joiner these days, I meant to join the Ozarks Romance Authors group (ORA). It took a fellow Booktroper inviting me to the local conference for me to finally take the plunge. My marketing manager was so proud. "Go make friends," she admonished, much the same as I would have encouraged my kids when they were little. I've gotta admit, it was justified. I've been a bit of a hermit lately. Ellen Harger (the fellow Booktroper) and I took a selfie to prove I'd made a friend. The picture turned out pretty blurry, though, so I'm not so sure it'll make it off the phone. Kate will just have to take my word for it.
Photo evidence or no, it was a great weekend and I was happy to meet so many talented authors right here in my neck of the woods. Working for an online company based out of Seattle, it's sometimes easy to get so wrapped up in the interwebs that I don't get to see people face-to-face. It was a nice treat, even for an introvert like me.
And the best news? I'm totally psyched to get my behind in gear on the next book. Cross your fingers for me - this one's long overdue.
It's been way too long since I've checked in. I feel like my books and my readers are long lost friends I haven't seen in a while because this entire year has gone by in such a blur.
You might recall that at the beginning of the year, I accepted the role of Managing Director for Booktrope's Christian imprint, Vox Dei. I love it so much, helping others bring their books into the world. In fact, this past summer I accepted the role of Managing Director for two more of Booktrope's imprints, UPrush and UPdrift. The simplest way to explain those is this: Books parents want to read and the books they want their children to read. They are our parenting and children's/middle grade imprints. That's brought with it a whole new set of challenges, but I love it. I know it's a blessing to have a job that you enjoy as much as I do mine - although sometimes I have to remind myself of that when I start to feel overwhelmed!
Life on the farm has had its usual ebb and flow - things get crazy, then they settle down, only to get crazy again in the blink of an eye. We've added a puppy to our canine numbers. Ralph was dumped on our dirt road, and he's quickly become a part of the family we can't imagine life without. Big sister Holly loves him a lot. Except when she has to share toys - even his - she thinks they all belong to her.
My boys are growing like weeds. Even in all of the chaos, I'm trying really hard to take time each day to simply drink in being their mom. As Dylan gets serious about deciding what to do in life after high school, I'm realizing how quickly they'll all be gone.
A part of me feels guilty for not wrapping up poor Vance's stories yet. But I think my brain needed the break. The stories won't let me not tell them; they just needed to simmer a bit longer.
Oh, and I'm working on a charity event that will be in St. Louis in November. Stay tuned for updates on that, and the organization it's for. They're amazing, and I'm super excited to be some small part of their story.
I hope this summer has been a good one for all of you. Here's to a lovely fall, as well!
My book and Vox Dei blogs went quiet for a week or so while I took time to be a friend instead of a writer/Managing Director. Part of that entailed a fairly impromptu road trip, and then the subsequent catching-up that inevitably follows time off.
I was so blessed to have a chance to say goodbye for now to a dear friend who's moving, and to check in on her to see for myself that she came through brain surgery remarkably well. (Yes, brain surgery. How terrifying.) But on top of that blessing, I have a whole new appreciation for Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, only my Oz looked a bit more like Ohio and my tornado was a freak storm called life. After a whirlwind trip with my oldest, which included stops in St. Louis to drop off and pick up my youngest two, I find myself with a even more enamored with my beloved Missouri Ozarks. Here are the top five things I missed while I was gone.
While we were on our trip, someone jokingly referred to Missouri as "Misery." I've heard the joke before - as a teenager, I probably made it because I was so eager for adventure. But I've come to realize over the years that I was blessed to have roots in such a wildly, ruggedly beautiful place. These hills really are my home and I'm so very thankful for them.
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.