The Ice Cream Truck Isn't Coming Anymore

Okay, well, now that I look at that title, it seems a bit sad. But hang with me here a moment…

September marks a time of transition in most households. The weather grows cooler, prime vacation season ends, children return to school, the days get shorter, and some people start new jobs.

And the ice cream truck doesn’t come anymore.

Certainly many parents are happy to no longer hear that jingle blaring from the truck cruising a little too creepily through the neighborhood. The kids…are maybe not as delighted. (Disclaimer: my children have yet to notice that the truck’s not been coming around) And why must the truck just happen to come at 5:50 p.m. every evening during dinner?

Heedless of the bargain half-gallon of ice cream in the freezer, my children grab their allowance money and rush out the front door to buy overpriced, artificially-colored treats every time the truck comes around our corner. Every darn time. If the AC is on and windows are closed, my husband and I share "the look" when we see the truck and they don't....

Perhaps it’s the thrill of being able to pick what they want from the massive menu or to get to spend their own money. There is this magical novelty about standing on the curb waiting for the truck to pass. There’s something about summer and ice cream trucks. A rite of passage for our youth, maybe? A trigger of fond childhood memories as well?

Alas, as the truck disappears until next year, summer also slips away from us before we know it. No more lazy pool or lake days. No more excursions to the beach, mountain, or beyond. No more lax schedule.

This week marks some big changes in our family, too. After three wonderful years at my current work position (education director for a church), I resigned to write full-time. Like many changes, it has come with both sadness and excitement. I’ll always cherish my time working with the youngest members of our congregation, watching them grow from doe-eyed elementary children to perceptive (and sassy) middle-schoolers. However, as my own children grow through their elementary years and our family life turns into a circus juggling act, I knew I needed to make some changes.

I took a leap of faith and now write from home full-time. I’m exhilarated to step out on this path. And terrified. I’ll admit that. Writing has been in my blood and a part of my life for nearly two decades but it’s taken the backseat to life and career demands. The decision to follow this passion full-time was not an easy one, but I know I won’t regret it. Change is part of life. Change is scary and amazing, filled with triumphs and stumbles. Change is like that ice cream truck. It comes for seasons.

Just as we’ll reminisce about those hot summer days, with ice cream dripping down our wrists as we devour a delicious cone, we’ll remember that each season of the year and each season in our life brings a new experience.

Some goodbyes are only temporary, as we know for sure that truck will be driving its route through my neighborhood next year. What lies ahead this fall? The palette of autumn with apple-picking, new routines, and scenic drives. And a new adventure for this author.

But I will always know, be it a scorching summer day or a blistering cold winter night, there is always room for ice cream.

Ice cream served in a lighthouse in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Ice cream served in a lighthouse in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The Long Haul

I was cleaning a bookshelf covered with a hodgepodge of my children’s toys, as my darlings have apparently staked a claim to my entire house [no joke], and a writer’s book fell from the shelf stockpiled with some of my oldies but goodies. Out slid a folded page. After dusting it off I realized it was an old printout of an email from my friend, Lorraine, my kindred spirit in life and writing, dated 2001. Wow. That threw me back. Memories of writing my early novels infiltrated my mind like the Storm Troopers that had leaped off the shelves.

The magical things you find while cleaning a bookshelf covered with kid toys. 

The magical things you find while cleaning a bookshelf covered with kid toys. 

June, 2001. Wow, that was 16 years ago. And no, I’m not a pack rat (this note had been carefully folded in an old writer’s book that I think I'd only read once – hence its hiding place). Where had I been in my life in 2001? Where had I been in my writing journey? Well, I’d been in my early twenties, and about to enter graduate school. I was either writing “practice book” #1 (Oh, Aidan and Sophie, my first romantic duo) or #2 (Gabriel and Aileana) at that time. The email included terminology for horses. My novels to date, excluding my most recent women’s fiction, have all been medieval Scottish romances, so a writer needs to understand horses. My good pal is a horse expert. Back then, with Google still in its infancy, I relied heavily upon – gasp – books or experts or experience for research.

Not only did finding this page trigger a trip down memory lane, it also got me thinking about the long haul of writing. Since that time, I have been married, completed graduate school, had two children, lost two very close loved ones, been through several jobs, lived in three states and five apartments and a house, lost and gained friendships, traveled the world a bit, experienced monumental historical events, and acquired far too many gray hairs along with a caffeine addiction. Writing has been a part of my life during each stage in the past 16 years.

Since 2001, I’ve completed five novels and have begun work on the 6th, with one published this year (happy dance!), and more to come! I have no less than four book ideas currently in my head. A writing career usually doesn’t come quickly or easily. Writers are in it for the long haul. I knew that going into it. The ups and downs and detours -- I've had them all. I've learned a lot along the way through friendships, resources and research, practice, and trial and error. My best advice is to keep at it. We will have fruitful years and years that are parched by dry spells.

I swear by the Three P’s when it comes to writing. The biggest thing though – don’t give up. Chase your dream. You are in this for the long haul. I have just hit my stride, and it’s only taken 19 years since the beginning of the journey. Just keep looking ahead, around...and behind.

And that good friend who wrote the email to me? We still chat every day about writing and life. I think I have horse terminology down, but when in doubt, I still run it by her.

The Long Haul. Beauty around you. Amazing adventures ahead of you.

The Long Haul. Beauty around you. Amazing adventures ahead of you.

Sometimes it's okay to look behind you and remember the roads you've already traveled.

Sometimes it's okay to look behind you and remember the roads you've already traveled.

Weeding out the Words

I love gardening. By gardening I mean flowers, usually perennials but some annuals. Vegetable/fruit gardens and I have not figured out our groove yet. Birds eat my blueberries and raspberries, the apple trees struggle to grow, and when they finally did thrive this year (I counted over 40 apples between the Macoun and Golden Delicious) in a matter of 48 hours some creature stole and ate them ALL. Yes, all. Oh wait, my son pointed out I have one little apple left. One. (insert my hysterical sobbing). I planted pumpkins once…only male flowers grew. And other vegetables…dead before they can even start. It’s not my forte (yet).

But flowers, oh lovely flowers. I’m a bit obsessed. They are my happy place. Living in frosty New England, I spend eight months waiting for them…nurturing, replacing, pruning, and watching. I have multiple gardens. I protect them with mulch but I also stock them full, so full that by mid-summer you can’t see the mulch, only blissful bouquets of day lilies, daisies, sage, lupine, irises and peonies, tall phlox, black-eyed susan, hydrangea, and many more. So full that you can’t see the weeds. (insert my best sneering laughter, bohahah!)

Oh, those weeds are there. They may be surrounded by gorgeous stalks of vibrant color, shape, and smell, but every now and then a tall spindly one pokes its mischievous head through. Despite my best effort to prevent weeds, they arise. Many remain hidden among the splendor. My plan is to hide them. Let the flowers outshine them. However, upon close inspection this doesn’t always work.

See where I’m going with this? Yup, weeding our words. I have a master list (see below) of the overused or weak words I stumble upon. It’s the part of editing nobody tells you about (I’m not sure everyone even does it; maybe some are master weeders as they write). I have my pitfall words I search for and destroy (at a 50-75% cut rate): out, up, down, over, more, even, day, one, just, still, so many, back, to name a few. However, there are the other words, perhaps not as overused (I counted over 300 “up” before editing my current manuscript), but equally weak. These include filter words (words that pull the reader out of the story, causing them to stumble), adverbs (eek, the dreaded –ly words, but hey, I leave some in!), or plain words that could use some spice. We all have our own unique pitfall words. For some reason, I liked to overuse forms of the word “force” in my current WIP.

How do we weed these? I save this type of editing for last. First, grab some coffee or tea and get comfortable. Second, search. Unsure what to use? Try a word bubble/count website such as Wordart. Third, cut or replace at least half of them. It’s tedious but worth it. I find that sometimes I over-weed – is there such a thing? On the next read through, I may add some of the words back in to keep the natural voice and flavor of the manuscript. It’s a fun game. Weed, add, weed, add…but eventually I find the happy place where the simple beauty of the words blends in with a few weeds to form a harmonious garden.

Big weak words.jpg

Pitch Wars 2017 - A Daydream Believer

Will Not Fade Away...

...a women's fiction book about grief, hope, and redemption that follows the journey of a young widow, volcanic eruption, missing son, quirky autistic son, and a mysterious companion.

What’s so special about this book?

This book is my first endeavor outside romance novels and magazine articles.  A.J. Sinclair, a recently widowed mother, embarks on a journey with her 9-year-old autistic son (Will). The journey is both physical (travel across the country in the wake of the Yellowstone super volcano eruption to find her missing family) and emotional (as a special needs parent and widow). The book is told from two points of view, primarily from A.J.’s and with a sprinkling of Will’s. Along the way she meets Reid, a man walking his own road of perdition, with deeply rooted grief and guilt over his past. They weave their way across a chaotic United States in search of A.J.’s missing younger son and her brother. Together, they will find hope. Together, they will find redemption. Together, they WILL NOT FADE AWAY. 

What do I seek in a mentor?

No sugar-coating! I’m eager to see this book reach an agent and publisher’s desk. Not afraid of hard work, I’m now on version 6, after a year and a half of writing, revision, and agent/beta/critique partner feedback. I want to mold this book into the best story it can be. I live by the three P’s: Patience, Perseverance, and Putting in the Time. As a mother to a son with Asperger's Syndrome/high-functioning autism, I am excited to see this story come to life. 

Who am I?

I may not be a newbie to writing, but I am new to Pitch Wars this year! With all the build-up, it’s like the World Series for writers! As part of the contest, we are asked to share a bio, aptly named #PimpMyBio. So a bit more about me…

The short and sweet of it: I’m a writer, educator, scientist, and mom to two amazing sons (one high-functioning autistic/Asperger’s with ADHD). I love words. I’ve been writing on and off for 19 years between college, graduate school, careers, and raising children. My background is science (undergrad: Biology and Marine Science, grad: Microbiology and Immunology), with my first loves (after writing) being sharks and microbes! Life took me off that path a few years ago, and I now write full-time with a part-time position as an educator director for a church children’s program.

What do I write?

I have 3 “practice novels” under my belt (meaning they are shoved in a drawer awaiting resuscitation another day). My first manuscript to make it to the reader’s hands is A Hundred Kisses, recently published by The Wild Rose Press. Four is my magic number apparently! I’m currently working on the prequel and have been enjoying the research (with a recent trip to see the Viking ship Draken Harald Harfagre). I’ve written a women’s fiction manuscript (the one being entered into Pitch Wars), and have a few mainstream, romance, and time travel books in the queue (= my brain).

I also write for Outdoor Families Magazine, with two articles published, two more coming out this summer, and another one next year. I’ve been fortunate to merge all my loves (romance, fictional worlds, travel/outdoors, and my children) into my writing. I look forward to writing more novels and magazine articles. I’m also currently seeking representation for a children’s picture book series about an autistic boy, his brother, and their plush friend Manatee, who makes a habit of getting lost in the national parks...

Olympic-sized fun stacking cairns on Ruby Beach, WA.

Olympic-sized fun stacking cairns on Ruby Beach, WA.

Favorite things:

1.    Nature. Hands down. Lupine, lilies, big mountains, rolling green hills. My goal is to climb all the biggest state peaks in New England; so far I’ve tackled: Washington, Katahdin (“the beast”), Mansfield, Franconia Notch Ridge, and Greylock.

2.    Hobbies: Flower gardening, hiking, traveling, baking, photography.

3.    Music: Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes, Coldplay, Scottish folk bands, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Enya.

4.    Books: All of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books/novellas, and a variety of romance, women’s fiction, time travel, contemporary.

5.    On writing: I love Grammar Girl, The Emotion Thesaurus, and Debra Dixon’s GMC: The Building Blocks of Fiction.

6.    T.V.: The Walking Dead, X-files, LOST, Outlander, The Weather Channel (my son’s obsession).

7.    Movies: The Princess Bride, Titanic, Braveheart (even with its inaccuracies), Lord of the Rings.

8.    New Zealand and Scotland. These two get their own place on my favorites list. To me, they’re the most beautiful places in the world (followed closely by too-many-to-name National Parks in the U.S.A.). We live in a resplendently amazing world. Travel companion: my patient husband who loves nature just as much as me and our kids.

9.    Coffee. Any way, any time. I was fortunate to travel to Guatemala on a mission trip last year and that coffee is hands down the best I’ve had.

10.    Cheese. Ditto #9. Any kind, any time.

11.     Kilts. Need I say more?

And no post would be complete without a word bubble below (I'm obsessed with them).

A few words to describe myself... and some photos from my favorite places and things.

A few words to describe myself... and some photos from my favorite places and things.

A Slice of Pie

I may be a romance writer by night (and mom, educator, do-it-all-er by day…and soon to be full-time multiple-genre writer by day) but writing is far from romantic. Yet, I do it. Why? Love, of course. And not just those happy-ever-after loves [although I do enjoy those]. Writers have their varying reasons for pursuing this tough career choice, but I will put my money on the fact that most do it because it has been a dream and a love of theirs for years or decades. Many folks already know my story and path to publication, so I won’t go all into that. Today, I’m going to talk about pie! Not pumpkin or pecan or apple (all three very good, in my opinion), but rather what a writer spends her time on. It may come as a surprise that writing is not the biggest piece of that pie.

Writing means:

  • Dreaming
  • Writing words
  • Revising and deleting entire scenes, chapters, or characters
  • Rewriting
  • Editing (not to be confused with revision)
  • Research. And more research – historical battles, flora and fauna, cultural habits, locations, language, tools, weapons…the list is long. Be it a magazine or novel, I always research something.
  • Querying and submitting to agents and editors (and writing the query and synopsis to go to said agents/editors, as well as researching the market)
  • Editing again (proofs, galleys, emails with agents or editors)
  • Networking and Twitter-ing
  • Promotion and Marketing
  • Honing Craft (books, workshops, entering short story contests to test your craft abilities)
  • Attending conferences
  • Engaging with peers/writer groups/critique partners

 

Whew! That is a long list.

So how does that all play out into an average day? Well, here’s yesterday’s play-by-play:

Non-writing work (while I am supposed to be writing): took car to mechanic, ran errands, mowed the lawn, watered gardens, exercised, and did the mommy gig before and after school (which for my kiddos also meant a run to Dunkins for calorie-rich drinks after a tough school week!)

Writing work: wrote website blog post, reached out to a library about a “meet and greet” for my recently released book, read some of a critique partner’s manuscript (into the late evening hours when words began to mitosis-ize), looked up scenes in my current book to submit for a potential audio recording narrator audition, worked on Amazon keywords, came up with an idea for my WIP (while exercising) so I jotted a few lines down but then found myself researching Old Norse words and Gaelic words (noting the websites for future searches), checked email no less than five times to see if any agents got back to me on my query for a manuscript [no – it’s a waiting game for sure], attended a webinar and online publisher chat in the evening, and surfed Twitter (agent posts, networking with other writers)…

And drank far too much coffee.

I dipped my fork into all parts of that pie yesterday.

I wrote a total of 90 words yesterday (and so far today, none, but they will come in a little while--do these words count?). 90 words for a manuscript that will likely be about 90,000 words in length. Yeah, not a great word day, but look at all that other work! Certainly there are days where I spend 3-5 hours writing and I can churn out over 2,000-3,000 words in a day.

It’s a juggling act. A balance. Some weeks I can power through and roll out a tremendous number of words (keeping in mind that it’s raw and will require twice or thrice as much time to revise and edit). Other weeks, my focus is on other aspects of writing. It’s all good. It’s all writing. It’s all bringing me one step closer to my dream [to be a multiple-work published author].

So what do I do? Well, a whole lot. Is it worth it? Yes. Many, many times yes. I am a daydream believer. I take my pie by the forkful...with whipped cream.

I’d love to hear from you if you are on this writing journey. How do you spend your days? What are your favorite parts of the writing process?

My own personal pie chart. An estimate of course. 

My own personal pie chart. An estimate of course.