EVERYTHING IT TAKES Book Birthday!

Today my third verse novel enters the world. I’ve been a little nervous about this book because she had a bit of a rocky start. The idea came to me during a college recruitment event – I work as an Admissions Counselor at a Community College and part of my job is to attend local high schools and try to convince them to attend our school. The students vary in their level of interest and enthusiasm – some genuinely want to know more about our programs while others only care about the free pens. The opening scene in EIT comes from that observation, as I put myself in the shoes of a high school student, laser focused on getting into college in hopes of escaping her small town. I wondered what would happen if she tried to interview with a college and they rejected her for being too focused on academics and not well rounded, and how she would react. What if she had tried to find clubs to join but never truly fit in? What if her last resort was a group of environmental activists that challenged her rule following impulses?

And so, an idea was born. The original title was GREEN FOR GOOD, after the name of the environmental club, but my editor wanted something catchier. On a Friday afternoon in December of 2019, we went back and forth trying to decide on a title. My husband jokingly suggested LILY AND THE ECOTERRORIST, which our youngest latched onto and continues to use to this day. (He even told me he was going to white-out the title on his copy and write it in.) Finally, we landed on EVERYTHING IT TAKES and I proceeded to write the story.

Lily’s voice came to me immediately. I loved writing her character and watching her grow throughout the novel. The supporting cast was a lot of fun too. My biggest struggle was plot. My original outline needed revisions and I kept getting stuck about halfway in. In February I went on a camping trip with our cub scout troop (my last one!) and brainstormed with some of my friends. They helped me come up with the idea of the buried trash and got me over the plot hurdle just in time for my first draft deadline: March 15, 2020.

Hey, remember what was happening in the world on March 15, 2020?

Yup. I turned my book in just as the world shut down. My very first zoom meeting was with my editor, Caitie, where she lovingly told me that the voice was spot on but the plot, well, we needed to do some major editing.

Editing in a pandemic when all you want to do is hide under the covers and cry? Yeah, not fun. But the book meant a lot to me, and I desperately wanted it to have a positive environmental message. So I pushed through and am deeply grateful for Caitie’s help and patience as well as my husband’s constructive feedback. He is always my first reader, the one who assures me that, no, the book does not suck. He helps me brainstorm ideas and listens to me wallow in self-doubt (then promptly tells me to stop wallowing).

Final draft accepted – YAY!
Cover designed – YAY!
Book will release in April 2021, Earth day month – YAY!

World still a dumpster fire in 2021…
Book release delayed until December
Friends asking why Amazon says it came out in August and they can’t get a copy!??!

Publishing is not an easy journey. But here we are, my third book baby out in the world for real, and I am very excited. When the author copies arrived the other day I quickly re-read it and said to my family, hey, that’s not as bad as I thought it would be. And then my parents read it and told me they loved it. And Kirkus gave it a good review.

Lily is here and ready to take on the world. I hope you’ll give her a chance.

Hiking Challenge Complete!

I haven’t posted since March because I’ve been too busy wandering in the woods.

No, seriously. Hubby and I completed our first hiking challenge on Sunday, the goal of which was to complete 20 total hikes in four local regions. It was a fun, often sweaty, and sometimes exhausting journey that introduced us to amazing parks and delicious local cuisine. It’s crazy to think we’ve lived in Western New York for most of our lives and never been to some of these places! I am deeply grateful to Mike, the challenge creator and founder of Outside Chronicles, for creating such a fun way to explore the outdoors!

I’ve always loved hiking. During quarantine, with no soccer or scouts to occupy our weekends, we took to the woods. I’d search around on google maps, find a large green section, and announce that we were going on a mandatory family fun adventure. Then I heard about the Western New York Hiking Challenge, where someone else identified the cool parks and we just had to show up and walk around. For a small fee we would have access to maps, fun facts, and a community of hikers. Also: if we completed the challenge, we’d earn a patch and a sticker.

A win-win-win in my book.

The summer challenge runs from March-November, and hubs and I were so excited that we started a week early. To prove you hiked the trail, a selfie is required at the challenge landmark. We had to redo our first hike later on because we took our selfie in the wrong place (plus technically it was cheating to start a week early). Thankfully, that park was close by. Some of the places were a 45+ minute drive, and our final hike took an hour and a half to get to. So for several hikes, we made a day of it by trying a new restaurant and exploring the nearby town. The planning and preparation for our hiking trips gave me something to look forward to and helped pull me out of the pandemic blues. And it was cool when people told me they’d joined the challenge because of my social media posts, or youngest talked about it with strangers on the trail, encouraging them to participate. We even met up with a small group for a hike and fundraising event at a local brewpub.

Our favorite hike happened early on during our spring break staycation in Ellicottville. We started at Camp Seneca and hiked the North Country Trail to Little Rock City. The elevation took us up past the snow line, then down across several tiny streams before reaching the giant rocks. The boys had a blast exploring the CREVASES! as they called them, and we returned later in the year to just climb around on the rocks. Hubs was excited to finally hike to the end of the Whirlpool trail along the Niagara River Gorge, where we discovered an old train depot. In effort to avoid crowds, we planned a few hikes during the week and had a lovely time in Chestnut Ridge and Zoar Valley.

Here is the complete list of our hikes:
Knox Farm State Park
Eighteen Mile Creek County Park
Little Rock City State Forest
Bond Lake County Park – I did this one without hubby
Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve
Genesee County Park and Forest
Royalton Ravine County Park
Lockport Nature Trails
Whirlpool State Park
Devil’s Hole State Park
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge
Chestnut Ridge County Park
Golden Hill State Park
Zoar Valley MUA – Valentine Flats
Zoar Valley MUA – Holcomb Pond
Ohiopyle State Park (not part of the challenge; a beautiful park in PA where we hiked on our trip back from dropping our son at camp)
Emery Park (our least favorite – confusing trails, too close to the road, lots of disc golf – but we saw several deer along the way)
College Lodge Forest
Buckhorn – extra hike in a group we’d already finished
Tifft Nature Preserve
Kenneglenn Scenic and Nature Preserve (not part of the challenge, but done with fellow challenge hikers and Mike the foundera great place for creek hiking!)
Second visit to Little Rock City
Boyce Hill State Forest
Sprague Brook County Park
Letchworth State Park – Finger Lakes Trail

Now that we’ve completed the required trails, we’ll probably hit a few closer ones again to see the changing leaves. The winter challenge starts in December and while I’m not as big a fan of cold weather hiking, I plan to give it a try.

Mama needs to earn her sticker.

I served as official navigator, picture-taker, and caboose during the hikes
the boys pretending to get smooshed at Little Rock City
Me and hubs in our matching WNY Hiking Challenge T-shirts pose for the Whirlpool selfie

Waiting for the heavens to descend*

Moments of pure joy. We all have them. For me — my wedding day, the first time I met my kiddos, when I got to play tambourine onstage with the Nerds Gone Wild on my 40th birthday.

Last night.

Flashback to 1994… I break the cardinal rule of college dorm life and start dating the guy across the hall. He’s funny and sweet; we totally don’t work as a couple, but that’s okay because he has great taste in music. He plays CD’s from a band I’ve never heard of: James. It’s mellow yet energizing, incredibly lyrical, and lead singer Tim Booth’s voice burrows deep into my soul.

The music changes my life. I’m completely hooked, and when Tim Booth collaborates with composer Angelo Badalamenti a few years later, their CD plays on repeat and helps me through a dark, dark period. James maintains popularity in the United States in the early nineties, but I never get an opportunity to see them perform live, something I deeply regret.

Fast forward to 2019… my friend and fellow writer, Alyssa Palombo, interviews me on her blog ¬†and one of the questions is what band is on my bucket list to see live. I of course mention James and whine about how they don’t tour in the US and even if they did my husband would never agree to go. And then a miracle happens. I’m wandering around Twitter one day and read a tweet that makes me fall out of my chair. James and The Psychedelic Furs are touring the US!! AND THEY ARE COMING TO BUFFALO!!

I tell hubby and HE AGREES TO GO WITH ME!!

Seriously. Sometimes you’ve just gotta put your dreams out to the universe, ya know?

Last night’s show was incredible. I watched from about five rows back, closer to Tim Booth than I ever thought possible. He is a remarkable entertainer with a genuine energy you could feel spilling out into the audience. The band has morphed and transitioned over the years, and they played with the intensity of true performers. The night was sticky and hot, and even though I was surrounded by sweaty fans who stepped on my toes and tried to block my view of the stage, I LOVED EVERY SECOND.

There are no photos for me to share on the blog because I decided to be in the moment. To soak it up the way I’ve soaked up other moments of pure joy. While others snapped and clicked, spinning their phones around to take in the crowd, I focused on the band. Watched their facial expressions and listened to the music they created. So, sorry about the lack of evidence — you’ll just have to take my word for it.

But wait. There’s more. I tweeted my appreciation last night on the car ride home (while hubby and I rocked out to some of the songs that weren’t played) and woke up to this:

tim

Tied for “most exciting tweet ever” with that time Ellen Hopkins congratulated me on my ARCs

Tim. Booth. Tweeted. Me. A. Wink-Kiss.

Yup, life made FOR SURE.

*partial lyrics from “Heavens”, my favorite James song

Hold on to the feeling

Pardon me while I dust off the blog cobwebs. April was a busy month. I successfully completed Camp NaNoWriMo with over 20k words added to my manuscript! YAY! But don’t pop the champagne cork just yet, I may end up scrapping most of it and submitting an earlier version of the book. BUT, it felt good to stay focused on a goal and see it through to the (almost) end. One motivational note remains unopened on my cork board — the one I can open when I complete the draft. Which I haven’t done. Yet.

May has also been busy. I recently got back from the PennWriters conference (more on that in a bit), I’m working on a new freelance project, and I had my first author visit. Life has been, well, life. Let’s just say there’s never a dull moment when your spouse works two jobs (both of which require travel), your children are in multiple activities, and your cats don’t like it if you try to sleep past 5 am.

As much as I wish I could veg out in the sun (SUN! WE HAVE SUN!) with a good book, I’m happy to have a bit of chaos in my life keeping me on my toes. I know the day will come when the birdies leave the nest and I’ll have to find strange children to drive around town in my van.

Wait. That did not sound right at all.

So, yeah, PennWriters. It was incredibly fun, as always, and I loved being able to spend time with my writing tribe. I traveled down with a group of friends; we met up with other friends and had a blast.

Writers make the best storytellers (duh), and I laughed so hard my belly hurt. I pitched my manuscript (and got requests!), attended my first ever group book signing, met new people, and learned more about writing.

signing

Also, after acting as a reader for Read & Critique, where writers can submit their work anonymously and have it critiqued by industry professionals, an agent said she’d “listen to me read the phone book”. Stay tuned for my YouTube channel featuring: The White Pages, a Dramatic Reading.

Every year I’ve attended the conference has been a different level of awesome and always leaves me feeling inspired. Unfortunately, this year when I returned to “real life” several problems hit me in the face before I even had a chance to unpack. I wanted desperately to get back to the feeling I had jumping on the bed with my friends, the feeling that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Conferences give you a sense that you are a part of something, you belong, you are capable of reaching your dreams.

Despite the exhaustion and tears, I decided to face the next day with a returned sense of hope and positive energy. On Monday morning I went to a nearby high school for my first author visit. The teacher and librarian were incredibly kind (I am so thankful to John who connected us!) and they raved about my book. Said the students loved it and were eager to finish it and share it with their families. My heart burst with joy when I heard that. For me, writing is not about the money (HA!) or the fame, it’s about reaching an audience, about getting my words into the world in hopes they will affect someone in a positive way.

After I left the school I thought about the writing world and how it can be full of rejection and heartache. One of the students asked if writing was hard. I told her, yes (HELL YES), it can be difficult and lonely and you will want to give up a thousand times. But you search for people to stack in your corner, and you keep pushing ahead, and you find ways to fill your creative bucket.

There are things in my life right now trying to pull me under. But I choose to focus on what keeps me afloat: friendships, laughter, kind words, a sense of accomplishment, determination. Opportunities for growth.

And when I need an excuse to smile I watch this:

take two