Today, my new novel went up for preorder. More than any other, this book has been a roller coaster of emotion for me. Usually, my writing process goes something like this: I get inspired by an idea (from a dream or random thought, it varies). I research said notion, think about it obsessively, listen to music that fits, try to work out the ins and outs of the character in my mind, and once I am truly and properly ready, I sit and write. I write quickly and in a fairly linear fashion. It’s rare I know where a book is taking me when I set out. Even when I think I do, it surprises me. I self-edit as I go, so what I hand my editor is often remarkably close to the finished product. (Let me just pause right here to say my editor on this one is a freaking SAINT.)
Elusive Magic has not gone that way even a little. This book has been much more, well, elusive. It did start with a dream, about 18 months ago. I wrote like a madwoman for a while only to stop short because it started toeing up to my own story, one I was still living, a bit too closely. Then I determined to push through. Then Covid hit and suddenly writing a story about a woman opening a bar felt futile.
Any time I write a book, there is something of me in it. In many ways, it’s my therapy. It’s how I work through my life experiences, how I process. The supporting characters are often mish-mashes of the people in my world. A dash of this person, a sprinkle of that person, a pinch of so-and-so’s wit…
This book, however, relies more heavily on my own story than any book since Tumbleweed. The last couple of years have been ones of intense personal growth for me—and that was before Covid hit. So many of those experiences had to be dealt with, processed, before I could move on. Before I could write about love again.
There was a time when I talked on my blog about The One Who Made Me Smile. It turned out that he was The One Who Broke My Heart. Dealing with that, with loving someone and knowing you must move on from them, has been a lot. (You know how people joke about “Break up with Taylor Swift and she’ll write a song about you"? Apparently, break my heart and I’ll write a book about you.)
I know my books are fiction. But my belief in love, hope, friendship, finding joy even in the bad—those are real. So when I began to question all of those things, I found I simply couldn't write, no matter how much I wanted to. This book, written in the middle of a pandemic while my heart was shattered, was my path back to that.
Sometimes, I’d hit roadblocks because I would be writing Josie’s story and I’d think, “That’s not how that happened.” And then I’d remind myself that this is Josie’s story, not mine. (I promise the character Wesley Dryden is a work of fiction: snippets of charm from a man I dated in passing, a mental image of Eric Balfour—sorry Eric Balfour’s wife—and a whole lot of imagination.)
Sometimes, it was uncanny how much things aligned. I’d already written much of this book when I caught Covid and lost my job. And the woman who was half of the inspiration for Brigitte, the book’s “fairy godmother,” was the one who anonymously stepped up to organize a GoFundMe that got us through that first month when my savings ran out and made sure my kids each had a Christmas present this year. (She tried to stay anonymous. Her elves totally gave her up, though.) Because even as I wrote those early pages, I knew she was the kind of person to go big for someone she loves.
In many ways, this book is a departure from my previous books. The language is a little coarser. There are words I debated pulling out because I know some of my long-time readers might be offended, but then I said to myself: Nope, that’s the word that situation calls for. Josie dates multiple men over the course of the book. She and her friends have very frank conversations about a whole plethora of things, some that might make a proper southern lady blush. (My mother is not going to be happy with me and I will hear about it.)
And Josie grapples with the natural cynicism that inevitably happens if you’ve been online dating for any length of time. I’ll tell readers right now: This book is classified as women’s fiction because she does not get the HEA with any of the men in her orbit.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a role to play in her happily ever after because they’re part of the woman she becomes. But more than the men who pass through her life, Josie’s love story is with the women she chooses to share her life with. Her love story is with herself.
So no, Josie’s story is not my own. But yet it is. And if you’re a woman reading this, her story is your story, too.
Elusive Magic: Now Available for Preorder
But achieving dreams is not an easy thing, especially when you’re dating over forty and helping friends through the highs and lows of marriages, babies being born and babies leaving home, and all the other things life throws at this group of women as they navigate modern-day femininity.
Both heart-wrenchingly sad and laugh-out-loud funny, this forty-something coming of age story teaches Josie that being a woman might not be a fairy tale, but it is an elusive magic all its own.
I am struggling to adapt to life after COVID. I don’t mean the pandemic as a whole; I know that’s not over yet, however much we wish it to be. I mean my life after contracting COVID. There are the physical changes: my heart feels like someone is squeezing it most days, I get winded easily, and COVID brain fog is no joke. I’m honestly not sure I could keep up with being a full-time marketer again.
Beyond the physical changes in my body, my world has changed. My entire adult life, I’ve worked multiple jobs. For 22 years, I’ve also been mom to three boys, which meant there was always a bevy of things that needed done for them. There’s always been an insane schedule to keep, always a to-do list a mile long. Like any good American, I’ve been busy, busy, busy.
And now, not.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a myriad of things to do as I rebuild my writing career, build up my speaking engagements, and tend to my freelance clients. There are kids to shuttle until we can afford another car or two.
But it’s not the same.
Thirteen months ago, if I drank too much coffee and had to make an extra trip to the restroom, someone would comment. My days were packed with back-to-back meetings and I ate lunch at my desk to keep from falling behind.
Now, if I choose to eat my lunch in silence with my computer tucked away and my puppy asleep at my feet, I can. I even go to the bathroom whenever I have to pee, and nobody cares. Well, except the dogs, who wait outside the door for me. If I’ve had a stressful week and decide I want to take Thursday as my day off, I do.
My days are my own again.
All of this is good, but I still can’t quite shake the feeling that I’m in trouble. I’m missing something. I’ve forgotten to do something. I should be busy, busy, busy. I think for so many Americans, 2020 showed us how much we used our busy schedules to mask our pain. To avoid dealing with things we’d rather not.
On the flip side of that, I have word counts I have to make each day if I’m going to keep up with my publication schedule. Clients to take care of. Speaking engagements to polish. Corporate classes to deliver. There’s a list a mile long of things I need to do to better market my books.
But my brain just won’t behave. I struggle to focus, to clear the cobwebs. I’m reading more and more from researchers and others who are experiencing COVID brain fog. It’s very real and it’s debilitating. I truly cannot describe how much so. The simplest task sometimes feels insurmountable.
Last newsletter, I made a stupid mistake. I was certain I’d updated a link that I had not. More than once, I catch myself typing the wrong word, even though I know that I know the correct one. Frequently, I stop mid-sentence, no longer able to remember what I was saying. Everything is harder now. Compounding that, I move slower. I think slower. I am tired.
And I think many of us are struggling with the complete lack of routine. I tried to keep up with it for a while, to dress each day and hold a schedule, but somewhere along the way I just kind of stopped. And now time is the surreal construct and I struggle to meet deadlines and not miss meetings.
The added difficulties have given me a whole new appreciation for my number two son and all he went through after his accident. What I’m dealing with isn’t even close to what he overcame, and he did it with such grace and tenacity that I am compelled to live up to the standard he set.
I’m hoping warmer weather and more time outside will help. I try keeping myself on a schedule and to set more realistic goals for each day, knowing how easily I get overwhelmed now.
Here’s the thing: In many ways, COVID freed me. I was not happy but saw no way out of my hamster wheel. Now I’m out. I have a clear vision of the life I want to build for myself as I move into this new and unfamiliar phase of life that is dictated by me and not by children’s needs. I also find I care less—not about the things that matter, but about the things that don’t. Something that would have stressed me out 13 months ago isn’t even a blip now.
I started this post last week, and then today, I got my first vaccine dose. I drove three hours round trip, but it was worth it. I feel like a weight has been lifted. My entire outlook is different already. I have hope that the end of this ordeal is near. Before I got the shot, I knew the seemingly endless nature of COVID was messing with my head, but I didn't realize just how much until it lifted.
As miserable as the last year has been in so many ways, I am a better person today than I was a year ago. I am better poised to build a happy future rather than continue to watch the years slip by as I’m bound by the tyranny of the urgent.
If only I can manage to adjust to my new world and shake loose the fog that’s lingering over my brain. It's all good.
When my middle son was five, he wanted to join the circus. My response was to sign him up for circus school. It didn't surprise me to find out that he was a natural at trapeze—he'd been swinging from the rafter since he could crawl. What did surprise me was how good he was at balancing a peacock feather at the tip of his finger.
All of the chaotic energy that was my son stilled, focused on keeping that beautiful, fragile feather balanced precariously on his tiny finger. The slightest breeze or muscle twitch would send it—and him— careening wildly.
It's appropriate that this is the follow-up post to my post about chasing dreams. Because this is the reality of it: I feel like a five-year-old trying to balance a feather on the tip of my finger.
Part of it is simply balancing priorities like immediate income and long-term dream building. Part of it is being a single mom, in a pandemic. Having Covid brain certainly isn't helping things. And part of it is my ex-husband, whose recent shenanigans have reminded me why I'm happy to be divorced.
It's been a rough 10 days or so for my little clan, and I find myself struggling to keep the books, the freelance work, and parenting from toppling over. No small part of me wants to shut down, to sit in comfy pants and drink wine while playing Farmville and binging whatever. But I have this feeling deep in my gut that if I can just keep putting one foot in front of the other, things will be better soon.
I don't know why I'm sharing this with you, only that the image wouldn't leave me alone until I got it typed up. I think, perhaps, it's for the reader out there who is also struggling to keep it all balanced. You are not alone. There's a bunch of us careening around like uncoordinated five-year-olds, trying to focus our energy on keeping our lives in balance. Which is hard enough when the world isn't crumbling around you.
But keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. Pick the most important thing and do it, then the next. And cut yourself some slack. Life is hard and you're doing better than you think you are.
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