Writer’s Block, a New Release, Valentine’s Day, and a Thousand Other Things…

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, I have a husband and a new book release, and all I can focus on is this stupid writer’s block that’s been plaguing me.

Pretty pathetic, eh?

But it’s a vampire novel, and my first one was so well received, I really want to give readers another. Plus, the characters in this one are secondary characters from the first one (It’s called RESIST, if you’re interested. Click the name to check it out, if you want), and I have a terrible tendency to fall so much for my characters that I want to write a happily ever after for every single one.

Wait a minute, I suppose I should tell you about the book that’s releasing tomorrow. On Valentine’s Day. Appropriate, as it’s titled CLAIMING MY VALENTINE (yep, click the name to check out the book). Yeah, it’s an anthology. Fourteen short stories (get it – fourteen??). Shapeshifter stories. Shifter love stories that have something to do with Valentine’s Day. All with a happy ending.

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To top it all off, every penny earned will be donated to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Yep. Just for the heck of it. No, not really. It’s because it’s a good cause. Helping every little bit we can, for an incredibly important cause.

So back to my vampire writer’s block. I’m a hundred pages in, the hero and heroine haven’t yet done the nasty (although hot damn, there’s been lots of tension), and now I’ve reached the climactic moment. Not that one; the do or die one. The one where the bad guys discover whatever it is the good guys didn’t want them to know, and now it seems utterly impossible that the good guys will make it out alive (and finally get it on!!), and…

And I’ve rewritten this scene three times in the last three weeks. Three. Times. I should probably go back to the original. It’s probably the best. Except I have the other two fighting for dominance in my head–oh, and let’s talk Valentine’s Day.

I haven’t even bought a card for my husband, let alone acknowledged the day in any way whatsoever. He, on the other hand, has already given me flowers. Yeah, he had them delivered to the day job last Friday. Why? Well, funny story, that. See, I work with a lot of women, most under the age of thirty. It’s a rather young work environment. Anyway, a few years ago on Valentine’s Day, the flower deliveries reached such ridiculous heights, somebody started tracking the number. At the time there were probably 120 people in the office, and I believe we surpassed 50 deliveries. Those poor delivery guys, because the traffic out by where I work suuuuuuuuux.

Yes, before you ask, I was one of those 50. And I went home and told the hubs about the crazy number, how everyone couldn’t stop talking about it. So the next year, I got flowers on Feb 13, with a card that read, “Wanted you to be the first.”

Yeah, yeah, he’s a romantic. On occasion. But take it with a grain of salt: When I got home and thanked him for the flowers, he said, “It was cheaper, too!”

That’s my man. Because he knew damn well I’d fall a little more in love with him for saying that.

Ugh, see now I’m thinking about sweet, sappy happy endings, when I need to work out this dramatic, exciting, death-defying climax, so I can edit this damn thing and get it into readers’ hands!

Oh yeah, and I should probably spread the word about my Valentine’s Day shifter release, too. Because my contribution to CLAIMING MY VALENTINE (yep, click the name – click it!) is called Broken Light, and if you’re a Lightbearer fan, you’ll want to grab it.

Broken Light LB Prequel #2

It’s Xander’s story, FYI. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you clearly haven’t read FIRST LIGHT (yes, click the name), which you should, because it’s free, and it’s the prequel to the entire Lightbearer series.

Wait, where was I again? What day is it? And most important: Where’s the wine???

PS – Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate. Happy almost-not-Monday-anymore for those who don’t.

 

 

Claiming My Valentine Shifter Antho – Coming Soon!

Curious about the inner workings, the ‘stuff’ that goes on in authors’ heads as they create stories such as the 14 included in this sexy shifter anthology? A few of my fellow authors in this anthology have been blogging about the stories contained within, on the authors themselves, even featuring characters from the books.

Check out the blogs below, and don’t forget to grab your copy of CLAIMING MY VALENTINE. Remember, all proceeds will be donated to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital!

Savannah’s Though Garden

Josette Reuel’s Blog

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PS – Here’s how to snag your copy:

 

 

Confessions of a Mom Who Doesn’t Know What the Hell She’s Doing

Yeah, that’s me. Let me paint a picture…

Once upon a time, I had two kids. Despite the lack of a manual and the never-ending advice from everywhere—little that was repeated, and never knowing what was right—I thought I was doing okay. My kids were healthy, getting good grades, had friends, people generally seemed to like them. They shifted from helpless babies to temperamental toddlers to finicky school-aged kids to…

Ten months ago, when he was thirteen, my son committed suicide. No warning, no note, no drugs, no bullying, no idea what happened, other than we (now) believe he had demons in his head that no one else was aware of, and those demons managed to convince him that we would be better off without him in our lives.

Fucking demons.

And now I have one. An eleven-year-old daughter.

So now I reeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaalllllyyyyy think I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with this whole parenting gig. I mean, like I’m starting over from scratch, except I’ve been handed a girl on the verge of her teenage years instead of a helpless baby that needs care and molding.

My daughter is beautiful and funny and smart and is as emotional as my husband. To put it into perspective, the dog has a wider emotional range than the two of them. Not that they don’t have emotions; they just don’t express them.

So here I am, a highly emotional basket case on my best days, desperate to ensure my daughter experiences no more pain in her life—ever. I know, I know, it’s an impossible feat, but losing a kid does things to you. It makes you even more protective of the one you have left. It makes you try a thousand times harder to keep a smile on her face, and it makes you ache a million times worse when she’s unhappy—even when she’s insisting “it’s nothing” because goddamn it, I know it’s something. People aren’t unhappy for the hell of it. Okay, maybe they are, but she isn’t. And, frankly, we used to think my son was unhappy for no good reason, and that when he cleared those angsty teenage years, he’d be A-OK again, but obviously there were other things going on, things we missed. And every single moment my daughter isn’t utterly content with life, I have a bone-deep fear that she too shares those demons who took my son.

And I can’t let them take her, too. She’s all I have left.

Yes, I know this fear is irrational, but being irrational makes it no less real. And yes, I know it’s unlikely my daughter will walk that same path—after experiencing the pain of such a loss first hand, I can’t imagine she would ever let those demons win, if they even exist in her head, which is doubtful. Generally, she’s far too cheerful for demons to hang out in her subconscious.

Which is why it’s so damn poignant when she isn’t happy.

So then I try to goad her into telling me what’s wrong, and she keeps insisting it’s “nothing,” and I try harder, and she clams up more tightly. And then I’m frustrated and sad and trying really damn hard not to cry, because a) nothing, not even my goading makes her shut down faster than when I cry; and b) because it isn’t her fault her brother died and now her mother wants to cling to her so freaking tightly.

And then I start to worry that I’m going to screw her up somehow with all my emotional baggage, and let’s go back to that whole mom-who-doesn’t-know-what-the-hell-she’s-doing theory.

Because I don’t. And that scares the crap out of me. Even though 99.9% of the time, my daughter is perfectly fine, even-keel; over-the-top cheerful on occasion. Actually, more than on occasion. She’s fine. She isn’t depressed, she isn’t miserable; she doesn’t hate life. Or her parents.

Frankly, she’s probably a pretty normal kid, who I happen to think is rather exceptional. And even if I could convince myself that she really is just… normal, I’d still want to protect her from sadness and misery and anger and any other negative emotion or experience. Because she’s my kid. And that’s what parents do.

Shit, am I normal too?

 

 

Ode to a Best Friend

 

It all started in college.

If I recall correctly, we met, or at least spoke, for the first time at a basketball game, our sophomore year at Centenary College of Louisiana. From there, she became my go-to girl, my wingman, my shoulder to cry on, my compatriot to get drunk and laugh with. She has always given the best advice, and insisted upon meeting my husband prior to giving me permission to get serious with him because she knew damn well how lousy I was at picking guys.

She was my roommate. We were each other’s maids of honor. She was my son’s godmother, and the first person I called after he died. When she got the call, she was at a conference in Indianapolis. The next day, she flew home to Dallas, repacked her bag, got back onto a flight to Detroit, all in one day, and was one of the last to leave when all the funeral insanity was over.

This past weekend, she flew back to Detroit and helped me clean out the room. All the way across the country to clean out a thirteen year old’s dusty, unused bedroom. And we did it. We got through it.

I couldn’t have without her. If she hadn’t come up this weekend, the door would still be closed, the room still untouched. Possibly until my own death, or if we ever decided to move. I mean, there are only three of us now, and we have a basement, which is where guests stay when they visit overnight. We certainly don’t need the space.

But it’s done now. Well, not quite. We still have a few small trinkets to determine whether to keep or throw away, and a pile of computer stuff to figure out whether to sell, donate, or recycle. But the clothes, the bed, the book bag, the old toys and books, the random bits of memorabilia; it’s all gone. The room is mostly empty. And the door now stands open, allowing the sunlight to stream into the otherwise dark, interior hall. This was, in truth, my driving force for cleaning it out in the first place. To have sunlight in a dark place.

It was hard, but not as hard as I expected, at least until we got to that top shelf in the closet. The one where he’d stored his newborn baby blanket in a box, intending to give to his own child someday. He was only six when he made that decision.

That shelf was also where I’d stored the boxes of baby memorabilia, including one my bestie had made for me when he was born. And a journal my mom had been keeping, when she babysat him when he was an infant. Literally, day by day notes of his life.

A life gone far too soon.

There was a “Big Brother” T-shirt up there, too. And a teddy bear that was signed by everyone who’d attended my baby shower. I didn’t even open the box full of homemade gifts from daycare and early elementary school. Seeing, touching the blanket was bad enough.

One more milestone, conquered. Yet another I wished I didn’t have to get through; never dreamed I’d have to.

That was the first day of a four-day weekend. After dropping off a truckload of supplies to the local Salvation Army, we put on pajamas and chilled the wine and relaxed with my husband and daughter; let the sadness slowly recede while we enjoyed excellent food, wine, and company. Especially the company.

And then we spent the rest of the weekend playing. My bestie got to see my daughter’s basketball team win. My parents and in-laws got to see my bestie. My daughter spent the night at a friend’s, so we got to “adult” on Saturday evening, which involved a lot of wine and a few other good friends. Before the night was over, we’d concocted a plan for our next get-together.

On Sunday I took her into the city; she’d never been to Detroit before. We negotiated with a parking attendant, ate at a cool, hip restaurant, visited the riverfront, and took pictures with Canada in the background.

And Monday, before I had to take her to the airport and let her return to her own life, we did one of our favorite “together” activities: we had afternoon tea.

While the purpose for the visit was depressing as hell, it was truly one of the best weekends of my life. And it was all because I have such an amazing best friend.

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Despite It All, I’m Still Thankful…

I know it’s Christmas and not Thanksgiving, but it’s okay to be thankful regardless of the season, right? And as horrible as this year has been for me, I realize I have a lot to be thankful for. This list is in no particular order, and does not cover everyone, not by a long shot. These are the scenarios standing out in my mind at this particular moment in time. Even if you are not on this list, know I appreciate your friendship, your support, your love, your laughter. It takes a village to hold up a grieving author, and you all have succeeded in spades. Now, on to the individual thanks…

I am thankful for my best friend, who, the day after I called to tell her the devastating news of my son’s death, flew across country twice in one day, just to get here to be with me during the most difficult few days of my life. I am thankful for a billion other reasons, too, but there isn’t enough space to go through each and every one. Just know this: I got the bonus package in the best friend lottery.

I am thankful for my husband, who, when I tried to blame myself for our son’s death, refused to even let me finish the sentence. And who has never once criticized or questioned or condescended the oceans of tears I’ve shed since March. Not only that, but when the waterworks start, he automatically pulls me into his arms and lets me soak whatever shirt he’s wearing at the time. It takes a real man not to get sick of his openly grieving wife, when his version of grieving is to internalize it.

I am thankful for my daughter, who has suffered more than any eleven-year-old should, and yet is one of the happiest, most cheerful, intelligent, gorgeous kids I know. And yes, I’m biased. But seriously, this kid has weathered this storm far better than I have. She actually likes to talk about her brother, to collect items that remind her of him, to cling to his memory. She keeps me sane, keeps me grounded, and I know she will never forget those years she wasn’t an only child.

I am thankful for my family, all of them, but especially my siblings and their significant others, my parents, my inlaws, my husband’s siblings and spouses, my nieces and nephews. I needed you all, and you were there. Your unwavering support has been worth its weight in gold. And silver. And titanium.

I am thankful for my friend TR, who, the day after it happened, brought over enough food to feed an army (which was good, since that’s about how many people made their way through our house over the course of that following week), not to mention enough boxes of tissues to last a normal household for a century. And when we ran out a couple weeks ago, she sent more. That’s all besides how helpful she was at the viewing, the funeral, and pretty much any time we needed her.

I am thankful for my friend KL, who grieves the same way I do, and who knows how I feel practically before I do. And who knows when to send a funny text, a serious text, a snarky text, or just sit and drink together, without saying a word. Okay, that’s a lie. We can always find something to talk about. And I always feel better afterward.

I am thankful for NR, who has embraced my daughter so tightly, I’m a little afraid she wants to adopt her. And from that friendship, our own has blossomed. Which is really pretty cool.

I am thankful for my daughter’s teachers and principals. The ones in her elementary school who wrapped her in a little bubble of love, so much so that I dreaded her move to middle school. And I am thankful for her teachers and principal at her new middle school, who have welcomed her with open arms, and who are helping her to excel in a brand new environment, despite the baggage of grief she’s brought with her.

I am thankful for my husband’s besties (Is it okay to call a group of frat brothers “besties”?) and their wives, for a lot of reasons. For the support, for the laughs, for, during his formative college years, helping to mold him into the man he is. And I should probably mention my thankfulness for the contribution his fraternity alumni association made to help cover the funeral expenses. We didn’t even know until the funeral home contacted us and mentioned it.

I am thankful for my writing group, for the friends I have who live all over the globe. Besides the, you know, actual writing aspect of the group, I’m thankful for the friendship, the support. The private conversations when I was suffering through my darkest hours, thinking thoughts best not shared in public. The cards and gifts, including the stuffed animal for my daughter, and the gift card to Bronner’s, to help replace the ornaments I lost when our tree fell over a couple weeks ago. The encouragement, the advice, the never judging, no matter how wacky I’ve sounded in the last nine months (or probably at any time).

I am thankful for my neighbors, my neighborhood. I won the lottery (again—see BFF comment above), and I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have settled into this home. Even if it is a thousand miles from the day job (or so it feels, during rush hour).

And I am thankful for you, for reading my blog posts, for your comments and encouragement, while I work my way through this grieving process the only way I know how… By writing.

Some relationships are irreplaceable. And I am thankful for each and every one of them.  Continue reading “Despite It All, I’m Still Thankful…”

“Oh My God, The Tree Just Fell Over”

It wasn’t the dog.

When our Christmas tree crashed to the floor in the living room only minutes after we’d finished decorating it, for a brief moment in time, it felt like my entire world was crashing down around me.

Again.

The day had been hard enough. First, there were the tears when my daughter asked, “Why does church make you said, Mom?” To which I replied, “Because when I’m there, all I hear is, ‘sacrifice your only begotten son.’”

Then we headed out to the tree farm, a different one from where we usually went, and this time, we tagged along with my brother and his family. It was just different enough to be fun, tainted by only a shadow of sadness.

Until we got home. Until I began carrying boxes upstairs from the basement. Until I opened that first one, and staring up at me was a homemade decoration, naturally, from my son. And so I cried as I sifted through the ornaments and decorations and prepared to dress the tree.

I tucked away the stocking, the Christmas memories booklet he’d made for me when he was five, and the mat for Santa’s cookies, which says, “To Santa, from Brady.” But we added the personalized ornaments to the tree, and I cried some more as I thought about each memory, the reason behind each purchase. A yellow school bus for the year he went to kindergarten. The steam engine for the train phase. “Bah humbug” from last year, when he was cranky more than he wasn’t.

I cried and drank wine and pushed through because my daughter was having such a fun time making the tree look pretty. She and I even added the lights this year, a job usually reserved for my husband. But he was outside putting lights up on the house for the first time in a few years, so we certainly weren’t about to complain.

The tree was full and there were only a few ornaments left, and we joked that we had no more room. And then the phone rang, my mother calling. I don’t even remember why she called or what we talked about. All I know is my daughter and husband were in the kitchen, the dog was curled in her bed, and I was standing in the hallway, staring at the brightly lit tree as it crashed to the floor.

“What was that?” my mother asked.

“Oh my God, the tree just fell over.”

“Bye,” she said, and I dropped the phone. The dog ran into her crate, her safe place. My daughter rushed into the room and dropped to her knees amongst the shattered remains of seventeen years’ worth of Christmas memories, lamenting most especially the loss of the Bronner’s ornaments, the big, fat ones with our names scrawled across the front. Every one except my husband’s (his name is Chris) had to be special ordered because we don’t have typical names.

The train didn’t make it, along with a dozen others. The one with an eight-point buck we’d bought my husband the year he’d shot his first deer. The dog-loving one we’d purchased not two weeks prior for my daughter. I’m honestly not even sure which others didn’t survive. Many were little more than dust when we pulled the tree upright and discovered it had a twisted trunk, and by setting it straight in the stand, we’d actually made it top-heavy. The only way we were able to get it to stay upright was by shoving a pile of newspapers under one side of the stand.

I admit, I lost it that evening. Once the tree was no longer in danger of falling over, I sank to the floor and sobbed. Admittedly, this isn’t unusual, not since March, although I usually go off and hide so no one has to experience the rather un-pretty sight. My daughter hates to see me cry, and tends to hide her own sadness as a result, and I don’t want her to bottle things up the way so many of us do. And my husband isn’t a fan of feeling helpless, and that’s exactly how he feels whenever I cry, a phenomenon he’d rarely experienced prior to this year.

And then my husband walked over, offered me a hand, and pulled me up and into his arms. He let me soak his shirt for a few minutes, and then he said, “We’ll replace the name ornaments. All four.” And I cried harder. So he said, “Hey, you’re the one who said you wanted to do something different this year.”

And we laughed. All three of us.

The cleanup was still hard. There were more tears. I’m still heartbroken over the loss of the physical reminders of those memories. And I’m also admittedly relieved that I don’t have to open those boxes next year and see quite so many of those reminders of what I’ve lost.

When it was finally done, the cleanup and the redecorating of the tree, after we tucked our daughter into bed and my husband wandered off to do who knows what, I stood in the dark in the living room and stared at the tree. There were still plenty of ornaments; it didn’t look sparse at all. A cursory examination of the remaining ornaments told me many of those that broke were representations of my son’s life.

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It wasn’t the dog, but I kept wondering … Was it something else?

I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I’ve been in therapy since this past spring. I’ve discussed signs with my therapist. “Everyone talks about receiving a sign that their loved one is happy and well up in heaven,” I’ve told her. “I want a sign. Why haven’t I had a sign?”

I think this was my sign. I admit, I was expecting a shooting star or something equally as profound and benign. But this … this was exactly the sort of sign my son would send.

“I’m trying to make you less sad, Mom,” was what I think he’s trying to tell me, in his typically convoluted way.

I’ll take it.

So no, it wasn’t the dog. And yes, we’re pulling together, finding the joy in this holiday season. Wherever we can. However we can.

Oh, and by the way, ‘Bah Humbug’ survived the crash.

ba-humbug

 

Traditions & Decisions & Real Christmas Trees

My family and I are “live Christmas tree” people. We love the difficulty getting it in the front door, vacuuming pine needles literally all year long, the daily shouts of, “Did anybody water the tree?”

Okay, maybe those aren’t the reasons we love live trees, but clearly the positives outweigh the negatives, because as long as my husband and I have been together (and it’s been a looooooong time), we’ve had live trees for Christmas. In fact, we traipse out into the wilderness (okay, a tree farm) and wander about, inspecting needles (not too sharp), branches (not too weak), trunks (not so gnarled it won’t fit in the stand), looking for holes, gaps (that can’t be filled by lights and ornaments); searching for the perfect temporary addition to our rather small living room, which also happens to have low ceilings. A challenge, to say the least. But we’ve always been up for it.

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Once we had kids, they joined our annual excursions. Occasionally willingly, sometimes, not so much, but that’s kids for you, right? Eventually, my daughter became opinionated enough (who am I kidding? She’s been opinionated since she was born) to want to have a say in which tree we selected, which of course lengthened the visits to the tree farm. But hey, that’s what it’s all about. The experience.

And then the kids were big enough to be able to take the hack saw to the tree trunks themselves. The first year my daughter wanted to give it a try, there was a fight with shoving and harsh words and crying because they both wanted to be the one to take that final swipe that would send the tree tumbling to the snowy ground.

Last year, my son did the entire thing himself. Laid down on the ground and sawed away, with my husband standing over him, until it was almost there, and then my daughter yelled, “Timbeeerrrrrrrrr!”

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And now he’s gone.

So what do we do this year? I’ve been mulling over this; okay, stressing over it, for months. I’ve mentioned this in past posts, but I handle things (like life) better when situations are different from the way they were when my son was alive. I recall when we went to Dallas to visit my best friend over spring break, only a few weeks after his death. It’s an annual road trip we’ve made every year since we moved back to Michigan in 2001. This year, we deliberately planned several fun excursions that we’d never done before. It was great. I got to spend loads of time with my BFF; my daughter got to be our entire focus; and I could pretend my life hadn’t just fallen apart at the seams, at least for a little while.

And then we stopped at the grocery store, tried to figure out what we wanted to do for dinner. We decided to do a “raw bar:” cut veggies and fruit, a variety of cheeses and crackers and summer sausage, and of course, lots of wine. Something my family did on the regular. Usually a Friday evening tradition, where we gathered around the coffee table with the kids, turned it into a picnic, and watched a movie together.

And I stood next to the gourmet cheese display in Whole Foods and cried for the son I’d lost, the memories that I love and hate with equal passion.

I had a similar experience in May, when we took my daughter to Florida for an impromptu long weekend, something we’ve never done before. Her first time in an airplane, her first time going to Sea World, swimming in the ocean. It was so fun, so relaxing, so nice to, once again, forget about the hell that had become my reality… Until we arrived home and I walked in the backdoor and his pictures were still there, his coat was still hanging on the hook, his bedroom remained untouched … and I remembered that he was gone, forever.

On and on, I’ve had countless experiences like this since his death in March. Now we’ve entered that time of year when holidays and tradition go hand in hand, and I am one of those people who loves, loves, loves traditions. I hate the idea of giving up the traditions we’ve started as a family, and yet I hate the idea of continuing them without my son.

And I don’t want an artificial tree.

The solution to this specific dilemma came from my brother and sister-in-law. They have always had an artificial tree, because my niece had childhood asthma, a result of having been born prematurely. But she’s eleven now, and has outgrown the barrier they’ve had to having a real tree for Christmas.

They suggested we go chop down our Christmas trees together. My daughter will be thrilled, because any time she can spend with her cousins is a win in her book. My husband has wanted to try a new place anyway. And I’ll get to keep the best part of the tradition, while at the same time creating a new one, one that hopefully won’t make me cry.

At least, until we open the boxes of ornaments. But that’s a blog post for another day.

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A Grieving Mother Dreads Christmas Traditions

Today my daughter asked whether we would hang my son’s stocking for Christmas this year. Our first year without him.

My honest answer is, “I don’t want to.” I don’t want the reminder. I do better without the reminders, which makes me feel guilty. But then again, practically everything seems to cause Mom Guilt, so why should it be any different after the kid has died?

I’m dreading Christmas this year. A holiday I normally look forward to with child-like excitement. Of course, all the reasons I once looked forward to it are the exact reasons I dread it now. The decision about the stocking. All those homemade ornaments and decorations. I saved every single one, and once upon a time, it was like, well, Christmas when we pulled the storage bins out of the basement and eagerly sorted through, recalling the when, why, how of each one.

And then there are the ornaments I’ve been collecting for my children since they were born. A new one every year. I wrote their initials and the year it was purchased on the bottom. The plan was to give them each their own ornaments when they got married, so they’d already have a solid start on their first Christmas tree decorations (not my idea – I give my aunt full credit for this ingenious plan).

Now what do I do with the thirteen ornaments with the initials “BCL?” Maybe I’ll offer them to my daughter when she’s an adult, living on her own, with her own tree to decorate. Unlike me, she craves the reminders, the small items that used to be his. She’s clinging to the memories, whereas I just … can’t. They make me cry, and I’m so damn tired of crying. I’m not even sure I can put them on the tree this year. I guess we’ll see, next month. Most likely, I’ll follow her lead on this one. So far, when it comes to this whole grieving process, she’s been so much wiser than me.

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(This year’s ornament – totally perfect for my daughter!)

Let’s not forget the personalized family ornaments. We have a few from before my daughter was born, when our family was three. Most, of course, are noting a family of four. And now we’re back to three. It’s the same as the family portrait dilemma: We haven’t had one done since 2012, yet it doesn’t feel right to ask a professional to snap pics of us now, because someone’s missing. I imagine I’ll skip the personalized family ornament this year.

In an effort to maintain my own sanity, I’ve discovered “new” traditions are the way to go. Every time we do something just like we always have, it makes me sad. When we do new things, try new adventures, I’m able to forget my reality, if only for a short while. I prefer it that way. The hardest part of this, though, is Christmas. It’s such a traditional holiday. And we created those traditions as a family, for a reason, and the idea of giving them up hurts my heart as much as reliving them minus one. I don’t know the right answer. So far, we’ve gone with the flow, let our daughter’s suggestions lead us.

For his birthday a few weeks ago, per her request, we invited the aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents, and we all met out at his gravesite. We brought balloons—fourteen blue balloons (his favorite color and the age he would have—should have—been), and we all sang “Happy Birthday” before releasing the balloons. Then everybody headed to our house where we ate and drank and were merry. It was nice. Peaceful, oddly cathartic. Truly, the best option, given the situation.

Despite my emotional state over them, there are a few traditions I cannot let go. This past summer was one of them. Gathering my dad, my siblings and their kids, and all of us spending a week hanging out at the lake. It was hard, because that was arguably my son’s favorite week all year, but it wasn’t fair to everyone else to try to change this tradition. Not to mention, it’s my happy place, too, even without my son.

The other is the annual Christmas morning family picture, although last year, it changed to Christmas Eve evening, because I’m vain and I don’t look pretty in the mornings anymore. Every year since we’ve been married, my husband and I have taken a pic together in front of the Christmas tree, wearing the pajamas Santa always manages to deliver early, on Christmas Eve. Every. Single. Year. Seventeen years. I can’t give that up, and I don’t think my daughter would want me to.

So we’ll do it this year. We’ll go to Christmas Eve church service and we’ll return home, and somehow Santa will have stopped by while we were away, leaving a gift for each of us. Always pajamas. And then we’ll change, put on the new jammies. My husband will start a fire. And we’ll take that pic. We will. There may be tears; they’ll no doubt be mine. But I’ll get through it.

And then we’ll cuddle together on the couch, flip on the television, and we’ll watch Christmas shows. Traditional ones, like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A Charlie Brown Christmas. Oh, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

Then we’ll tuck our daughter into bed, tell her we love her, make sure she and the dog are settled for the night. And when we’re certain she’s asleep, we’ll whip out the presents, stuff the stockings, and … there will probably be more tears.

And then we’ll go to bed and we’ll wake up on Christmas morning, and we’ll revel in her joy, her excitement, all the love and fun that comes with that day, despite the trauma that happened in our lives. Because we’re still here, we’re still alive, and we deserve to carve a bit of happiness out of this life.

Awards & Sexy Shoes

So I won an award. Well, my book, Undercover Heat, won an award. But I had a little something to do with it, so I’m gonna take at least a bit of credit.

Undercover Heat_Cover

Over the course of a long weekend in early October, I attended the InD’Scribe Conference in Burbank, California, which culminated with the awards ceremony and my one, glowing moment in the spotlight.

I’m not gonna lie; it was pretty cool.

I also learned a few things, and I figured I’d share them here, in case you find yourself in a similar situation, and in need of a bit of advice. So here we go…

  1. Shoes are important. Even if you don’t splurge on a ball gown (I didn’t), it’s entirely okay so long as you have a killer pair of red heels. And be sure to call them out on stage. Bonus points if someone special (like your husband) bought them for you.14657304_10154677516811579_1235431519620716481_n
  2. Wine is also important. And expensive, if you buy it at a hotel bar. I recommend finding the nearest liquor store and stowing a few (not mini) bottles in your hotel room. And then hide the wine glasses you stole from the hotel bar in the mini fridge, so the housekeeper doesn’t snag them.
  3. Sleep is important, especially when you’ve travelled through multiple time zones to get to the event. Take one evening off – just not the one of the awards ceremony.
  4. Impromptu speeches are sometimes the best speeches.

This was my first awards ceremony, but not my first conference. I went anticipating meeting new friends, learning new stuff, and generally expecting to have a good time. The awards ceremony wasn’t even on my radar until I was dressing in my little black dress and super sexy red heels. Even then, I felt like I was going to cheer on my friends as they won their awards.

When they announced my name, I was so shocked, everyone laughed at me. (That’s okay, I like it when people laugh.) When I stood in front of the microphone on that stage with three other gorgeous ladies wearing sparkly dresses and great shoes, blinded by a spotlight and realizing I now had to speak, it went something like this…

 

14522990_10154677516896579_4388079647996108205_n“Ohmigod, I can’t believe I’m up here! Is my lipstick okay?”

And then I went on to thank my editor, who had a huge hand in justifying the award for this book. The hero, Quinn, from Undercover Heat was a broken man at the beginning of the book, and after the first round of edits, my editor informed me that he hadn’t grown quite enough to satisfy her need for a happily ever after with two characters who have gone through hell and back to get to each other. It was one of the hardest edits I’ve gone through, which says something because my editor puts me through the wringer every damn time I give her another book.

After a bit of blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of wine, Quinn and Kyra morphed into what they are today–the hero and heroine from an award-winning book–and I give my editor ridiculous amounts of credit.

After profusely expressing that particular gratitude, I went on to thank… everyone. True confession: This event is put on by InD’Tale Magazine, but the conference is called the InD’Scribe. When I turned around to thank TJ, the founder of InD’Tale, I wasn’t sure whether to say “InD’Tale” or “InD’Scribe,” and I was standing in front of an audience with a spotlight in my face… So I panicked and said, “Thank you everyone,” and swept my arm to encompass the entire room. Crisis averted.

And then I ended my off-the-cuff speech with, “Lastly, I’d like to thank my husband for picking out these fabulous red heels.”

That’s right, the hubs got a little kudos, because yeah, he’s got good taste in shoes. A few years ago, we were on our way to who knows where, when I said, “Hey, let’s stop and look for shoes. I need a pair of sensible navy pumps.”

My husband heard, “shoe store.” And while I was off in the corner searching out the boring but necessary shoes, he headed off to the “fun” section. A few moments later, he walked up to me and said, “You should get these.”

I said, “But those aren’t navy. Or sensible.”

“Yeah, but they’re sexy.”

Hard to argue with that logic. So we bought the heels. And if I do say so myself, they go rather nicely with the Rone Award for my contemporary romance, Undercover Heat.

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