First 2016 Author Interview: K J Dixon

Happy Three Kings’ Day!

Welcome to The Writing Life and our first author interview of 2016!

Today I am very pleased to welcome the lovely and talented Kristen “KJ” Dixon, author of the newly released novel, ‘The Trouble with Red Lipstick’.

Profile pic Karen Dixon

Originally from Atlanta, Kristen “KJ” Dixon-Barnes was born the youngest daughter of a school teacher and a social worker. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, she began working in the field of one of her many passions-women’s health. Her experiences while taking care of others during their most fragile and vulnerable moments taught her to respect and appreciate the many different paths and perspectives that help to grow, shape and sharpen women.

It wasn’t until she completed her Master’s program in Public Administration from Troy University and began writing policies and procedures for health care agencies and facilities that she started to write fiction.

To family and close friends, it’s no surprise that KJ Dixon began writing The Trouble With Red Lipstick after being inspired by several discussions with women through book clubs, women’s groups and personal friendships. Although it is a work of fiction, its themes surrounding self-love, mother-daughter relationships and self-actualization in the black community are familiar to many.

In her spare time, KJ Dixon actively participates in outreach events sponsored by her beloved sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated; hosts Tiny Tales (a book club for children developed to promote and improve children’s literacy rates); conducts events for underserved health care populations; and tries anything else she finds fun and rewarding. She lives in Atlanta with her family and is busy at work on her next novel.

Welcome, Kristen!

the-trouble-with-red-lipstick

What genre/category does ‘The Trouble with Red Lipstick’ fall under?

I know this is supposed to be an easy question but I still struggle with it! By most folks’ standards, ‘The Trouble With Red Lipstick’ is probably best considered Women’s Contemporary Fiction. The main characters in this story are black women but their issues, challenges and struggles are universal. It definitely has some elements of both humor and chick-lit too.

 

Please describe what your story/book is about.

It’s about a mother and her three adult daughters—so four women in total—and all of them are attempting to fix their brokenness. They’ve always done everything they believed they were supposed to do, and they’re now trying to figure out what’s still missing and why happiness continues to elude them. Then throw in a family secret that rocks everybody’s world and voila! The drama unfolds!

Oh, those family secrets! Love it. How did you come up with the intriguing title?

That’s a funny question. I wrote the whole book without even having one. Then I sat down and read it one day and I realized how much a particular line—one including the book’s title—was central to the entire book’s theme. I tried it and it just worked immediately. Besides, I love red lipstick. And maybe I like a little trouble, too.

Your catchy title makes me wonder what the trouble with red lipstick is! What inspired you to write this book?

Both everything and nothing. I started writing a scene one day with Karen—one of the book’s main characters—where she was falling in love with Tim, the truck driver. I wondered what would happen once Karen realized that she wasn’t feeling love at all—but that she was really just in need of a good orgasm and was confusing the two! Then I realized that Karen had a mother and a couple sisters and before I knew it, they were begging me to write their stories too.

I love when a character leads me into their inner world. It’s exciting to become a voyeur to their secrets and inner struggles. What is your favorite part of writing?

All of it. It’s thrilling for me to explore issues that I don’t fully understand by writing about them. It reminds me of solving a math problem. It might not make sense in my head at first, but as I start to work it out on paper the answers begin to slowly unfold. Real life is tricky like that sometimes. These characters have problems that they’re trying to solve just like everyone else.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Editing. Enough said. But wait. Let me erase that period and replace it with an exclamation point.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Maya Angelou may be my absolute favorite. I’m also obsessed with James Patterson and John Grisham. Michael Connelly, Terry McMillan, Steven King and Amy Tan are pretty high up on my list as well. I’ll read anything by Mary B. Morrison, Lee Child, Dan Brown and Dr. Suess. And then Eleanor Parker Sapia stole my heart with A Decent Woman…

Great list and thank you for the mention, Kristen! I’m so pleased you enjoyed Ana and Serafina’s journeys.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

As a writer? That’s easy. Angelou. Patterson. Maybe even Beverly Cleary from my childhood days of reading Ramona books for all those hours at a time. As a person? There really are too many to name. Let’s say my family, my friends, and a dash of everyone else on planet Earth.

I wholeheartedly agree with your last sentence. Do you have a favorite place to write?

My kitchen table. Don’t you dare laugh.

No laughing here! The kitchen is the most important place in the home; it’s where a lot of living and sharing happens. Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I had four or five moles as a child and now I’m up to nine, plus a new set of freckles across my cheeks. I’m terrified of spiders. And I never thought I’d end up a writer. I loved writing stories as a child, but I took several detours on my way here. Before going to college, I sold shoes and perfume, did make-up, was an actor in local plays, and tried several other things that seemed really exciting. At least they did at the time.

Our paths to the writing life are always so interesting to me. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

Prayed really hard.

For real, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t get this book published because I did everything right. I just tried my best to listen in the characters’ voices in my head and to write their stories down in a way that most women could identify with. I’m surprised each time someone tells me that they’ve purchased and read the book. It’s hard to believe that anyone can take a story from their head and place it in the mind of someone else who they’ve never even met. It’s an amazing gift for which I’m very thankful.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Keep writing until you get good at it. Stay true to yourself and to your characters. And as much as this part is always much easier said than done, try not to get discouraged when people tell you ‘no’. You persevere, you get better, and eventually you get matched with the person or group that you’re supposed to have your book baby with. It works out better for you in the end.

Great advice. Website?

Of course. Please hit me up at www.thekjdixonexperience.com. I love interacting with readers and other writers.

Twitter: @Dixon01K
Facebook: K.J. Dixon
website: www.thekjdixonexperience.com

Where can we find ‘The Trouble with Red Lipstick’, Kristen?

Amazon, Barnes and Noble’s online website, iTunes and a few local bookstores. If you don’t see it, please ask for it!

What’s next for you?

Another book. It’s untitled right now too, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun so far. Stay tuned.

Thanks for visiting with us at The Writing Life, Kristen. I wish you a world of happiness and happy writing in 2016!

About Eleanor

ellie

Puerto Rican novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee case worker, inspire her stories.

‘A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club, and is listed in Centro Voices, The Center of Puerto Rican Studies, ‘Essential Boricua Reading for the 2015 Holiday Season’. Book clubs across the United States continue to enjoy A Decent Woman. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani. She is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society, and she is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

Eleanor is the mother of two wonderful adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel and a collection of short stories.

http://amzn.to/1kzKdGq

 

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Thoughts On Travel and Amsterdam

Eleanor Roosevelt quote

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

November 27, 2015

A mid-November telephone call from my son yielded a huge surprise: he’d booked an airline ticket for me and one for my daughter, who would join us in Amsterdam on Thanksgiving Day. I’d last visited Europe in 2013 with a two-week visit to Vienna, Austria with my best friend. I was anxious to pack my bags, and return to the continent where I’d spent thirteen years with my children, and to Amsterdam, where my son currently lives.

As my departure date approached, the excitement of seeing my son after six months was close to deliriously happy, but there was huge glitch: my son hadn’t known that my daughter’s passport had expired and although she’d applied for a renewed passport, it was possible it wouldn’t arrive in time for her departure…not good.

Days later, a Russian airliner was blown out of the sky, and shortly afterward, Paris was brutally attacked. Like most everyone I know, I was glued to the horrifying news and subsequent updates. Frantic, we contacted my son, hoping he hadn’t traveled to Paris during the attacks. He was home in Amsterdam. For days, we watched news broadcasts and breaking news, worried for all the victims and their families. We asked my son about Dutch television coverage, and what his Dutch friends were saying. He replied that from what he’d heard, Holland had done a good job integrating Muslims into society, and that ISIS probably didn’t have a beef with the very tolerant country. I was convinced and satisfied, but my daughter wasn’t as convinced.

When her passport didn’t arrive on my departure date (we were on separate flights, different airlines), we spoke about Plan B: rescheduling her ticket to the following weekend since I would still be in country. But it was a big gamble on top of the $400 fee to change the date on an already high cost ticket seemed too steep. After long talks, my daughter’s ticket was cancelled, which was a damn shame, but we knew my daughter was dreading the flight in light of bombings in Syria, Mali, Paris, and worldwide threats that week. No judgement on our part for her cancelling her ticket despite feeling badly about not spending Thanksgiving as a family in Amsterdam. I know she felt worse than we did about our first holiday apart. We would miss my daughter, and thankful she would spend the holiday with my sister and her family as we’d done since 2007 when we returned from Europe.

On my departure date, I won’t lie, I was scared spitless about the prospect of hanging around the Dulles Airport, waiting for my flight, and even more frightened of take off and landing in Frankfurt, and then again to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. I said my prayers, wrote out my will–yes a will–and handed it to my sister as she parked at the Metro for me to start my journey to Dulles Airport. It was a hand-written will because my printer had conked out, and like I told my sister, “It’s better than nothing!’.

Well, going through security at Dulles is always challenge, and it was no different when I went through, and flying Lufthansa is always a dream. I sat with a British university student, a lovely Tunisian mother and her four children seated behind us, and a Sikh with blue eyes. A global aisle–beautiful.

All three airports were packed with passengers rushing to their flights and greeting their loved ones after collecting their baggage. Everything seemed ‘normal’ during my flights and when I saw my son after six months, my fear and anxiety disappeared. He was a sight for sore eyes and I know my trip meant a lot to him. I patted myself on the back for overcoming my own fear of flying and traveling during this troubling time, and I smiled inside: no way in hell anyone is keeping this mother from seeing her kids!

Amsterdam, always one of my favorite European cities, was much like I’d left it–a crowded, rush-rush, bicycle-crazy, a gorgeous canal city with friendly people, too much fried food, great beers and cheeses, loud tourists, and pungent-smelling coffee shops. Sipping a cappuccino at a charming outdoor cafe after our market run for the ingredients of our Thanksgiving meal, I smiled and turned my face to the sun. Pure bliss.

To date, my daughter’s passport has yet to arrive. That’s life. She even paid extra to expedite the passport; it just didn’t happen for us. Only God knows why. As for me, I can now picture my son’s new life in Amsterdam. In future emails when he says he went to the movies, I know where that theater is. I know which market he likes, and which market stand carries his favorite thing to order in a bakery–Ollieballen with powdered sugar. I’m happy I mustered all the necessary courage to fly. Will I muster the courage to travel to Brussels to visit with long-time friends and to visit Paris before I fly home, which I planned to do? No idea yet…

but for today, I thank lovely, peaceful, charming Amsterdam. Thank you for not changing too much since my last visit, and for offering us a safe place during a turbulent time.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

Blessings.

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

 

elliePuerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s best selling debut historical novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Book club members across the United States have enjoyed the story, as well. Eleanor is featured in the newly published anthology, Latino Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. She is the mother of two awesome adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

 

Motherhood: The Hen or the Egg?

When I think of Mother’s Day, my thoughts immediately go to my children and to my mother, Mercedes, who died in 1992 at my present age. I think of my grandmother, Eloina, now passed on, and her mother, Amancia, who died tragically when my grandmother was the tender age of nine—for without the long lineage of amazing and beautiful Puerto Rican and Canarian women before me, my children wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be a mother. Of course, my father, the men in my family, and my ex-husband played a big role, as well. But, since today is Mother’s Day, I’ll stay on the subject of motherhood and children.

matthew's 21st bdayOn Mother’s Day, I don’t immediately think of receiving gifts, cards, and flowers from my kids. I don’t wait for invitations to brunch, and I would certainly understand if my children couldn’t call me on this day. I don’t guilt them into remembering me one day out of the year; they remember me well every day of the year…but I am happy when they do.

They’ve never missed sharing Mother’s Day with me in some special way, and I wonder to what extent my heart would ache if they did forget? Knowing myself well, my heart would be heavy, but I would never doubt their love for me. Never. Their actions and behavior during the year and over the years, have taught me actions will always speak louder than words. Was I always this way? Quasi-wise? Are you kidding? No, definitely not. I had to learn…the hard way.

If you were to ask my children to describe what it was like growing up with me, they’d probably say I was strict, over-protective, physically demonstrative, fun, sometimes clueless, funny, and always loving. They know I am their biggest cheerleader, always will be, and they’ve given me much to celebrate and be proud of. When my kids were in their twenties, I had a hard time letting go of them, which stemmed from my naive expectations that their childhood would resemble mine.

I realized that as much as I wished my children could experience what I’d experienced growing up with my mother, my grandmother, and the women of my family—we weren’t living in the 1960’s, and memories are not to be repeated. Some traditions, though wonderful, aren’t meant to last. Instead, for me, memories and traditions are to be treasured, kept safe, and are easily accessible to keep me warm and smiling. It was not our destiny to gather at my house for every single holiday and for many important life events. My kids and I wouldn’t spend every summer together at my river place. None of those things would happen very often because I taught my kids to be independent, free thinkers, and adventurous. I showed them, and marrying an Army officer helped, that the world is a wonderful place to be explored and embraced—we traveled and lived abroad for most of my children’s lives.

IMG_3290Motherhood in my late twenties taught me to capture and nurture my children’s hearts and minds, to keep them safe, and hopefully teach them important life lessons. I know I missed some.

But as it turned out, my adult children taught me how to parent adult children—you don’t try. I learned how to release them in love when it was time. Release seems like a strong word, a word that conjures up thoughts for me of simple traps, nests, holding fledgling birds to the sun and the wind, and releasing them in an open field, knowing they are ready to fly into the great unknown with an arsenal of lessons and information. And that’s exactly what it felt like. They know I will always be there for them.

I soon found out (because it all goes so fast) that parenting children and parenting young adults is drastically different—I will always be their mother, but I can no longer parent—they stand on firm ground and have done so for many years. My children taught me as much as I’ve taught them, and no, I didn’t know it was time to let go when it arrived. As it turned out, I was the one who flew the nest first. I left the Washington, DC area in 2011 when my kids were working and building lives in Northern Virginia. They were settled and happy, growing strong roots when I decided it was time for me to move where I could afford to live and write full time. It was a tough decision, and despite their immediate concern and hurt feelings, I knew the time had come for me to leave the nest to ultimately allow my children to spread their wings and soar.

IMG_4576Four years on, my son moved back to Europe. He lives and works in the Netherlands. He’s never been happier or more productive. My daughter pursued her Masters degree and left a long-term relationship that could never nurture or protect her like she deserved. She’s never been happier or more productive. Me? I’m proud of my children. Loving and supporting my children from afar is enough, and when we come together like today on Skype—it’s magic. We shared a special time on Skype and I am happy.

Do I still give my kids advice, offer suggestions, and try to show them a better way to do things? Are you kidding? Of course, I do! Only now, I stop myself mid-sentence and grin like a Cheshire cat. A smile says, “Oh, yeah. You got this.”

About EleanorParker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is her debut historical novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, Book of the Month. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

The Dreaded Blank Page

Merry Christmas you filthy animals

Early this morning, we were blessed with cloudless, blue skies and a warm sun.  There is an inch of snow on the ground with a fine layer of ice beneath, and the winds are still blowing like crazy. Normally, this type of day energizes me and puts me in a good frame of mind, but today I closed all the curtains. For self-preservation, I will become a hermit for a few days, nursing what January usually brings me–feelings of joy mixed with nostalgia. My negative feelings and emotions can’t be helped, so I allow them to wash over me today.

You see, my son was born in California on January 14, 1988, and my mother passed away on January 22, 1992. My son is moving to Amsterdam on January 16, 2015. Yes, in a week’s time, I’ll be driving him to the airport, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again. He has been coming and going for years now with work-related travel, and a three-month stay in Thailand, but this is different. He says he’s not coming back. It’s not that we’ve quarreled or that he’s running away from home, nothing like that–I raised my kids overseas. What did I expect would happen? One or both of them were bound to travel extensively and live abroad; it’s what I hoped for.

Well, it is what it is, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. My daughter and I send him off with much love, admiration, and enough hugs and kisses to keep him warm in Holland until we visit. Maybe we’ll return to Holland for a Spring visit, in time for the tulip festivals, as we did during our many years of living overseas. I try to look at the bright side of returning to Europe with my daughter for family visits with my son, but today it was hard to see the silver lining of his decision. I wondered how many decisions I’d made as a mother that caused my children the same pain.

So, after taking a week and a few days off to celebrate the precious Holidays with my beautiful children and my wonderful family, I sat at my desk this morning. I opened the new journal I bought in early December–one hundred and twenty blank pages of journal, to be exact, and closed the book. I’d vowed to begin writing on the morning of January first, but I couldn’t. I knew it would help me tremendously as I’ve journaled for over twenty years as an advocate of keeping a journal, but every time I sat down to write–I froze. There was too much swirling, swishing, and slopping around in my brain to get it down on paper. I’ve felt overwhelmed this first week in January. What a pain in the ass. It’s not like I have tremendous burdens on my shoulders, we are all happy, safe, and healthy. I am looking forward to my novel, A Decent Woman, coming out this Spring, my daughter started a great new job as a therapist, and we three are embarking on personal journeys, but life is changing. Our family dynamics are changing and deep inside, I don’t like it one bit.

What did I do after closing my journal? I prayed hard. I cried even harder. I released. I counted my blessings. I shoveled my sidewalk, laughed at my Sophie’s Chihuahua antics in the snow, and I stroked my cat, Pierre. I made a tough phone call, one that I’ve been avoiding since early December, and I called to check on a new friend who just found out she’s in stage four of lung cancer. Please pray for my friend, Myrtle. Then, I sat with my unopened journal and realized I hate blank pages. I’ve experienced this fear of getting back on the creative horse before with my painting, after a long holiday. I’d sit in front of the easel, staring at my full-size, D’Arches, hot press, watercolor paper stapled to the board, hating the whiteness of it. The blankness of it. And I’d stress the mistakes I was sure to make as watercolor is such an unforgiving medium, but to which I took to like a duck to water. I like a challenge.

Bite-size pieces, I told myself after lunch. Own it and just do it for God’s sake. But, the words didn’t come. As much as I hate routine, I am a stickler for routine. My usual routine is to pray, meditate, journal, and write long into the night with breaks for walking the dog. What the hell was I so afraid of? That I might start writing, crying, and never stop? Was I pissed I hadn’t followed through with my plan of starting the journal on the first of January? It’s a Virgo thing. Was I grieving the past…again? Enough.

I gathered old magazines, found a glue stick, and created a mini-vision board for 2015 on the inside cover, which includes the cover my book. I thought of crossing off the numeral one I’d written in anticipation of starting the journal on January first, but instead, I changed the one to a seven. I christened the journal. I added the weather and temperature in the right-hand corner, as I’ve done for years, and I wrote three pages of my thoughts, hopes, and dreams. I added St. Michael’s prayer and the Memorare for protection, which felt great, and I closed the journal until tomorrow.

No, 2015 didn’t start exactly as I’d hoped, but that’s okay. I will celebrate my daughter’s new job in Northern Virginia; I will celebrate my son’s birthday and new life in Holland; I’ll cry for my mother on the anniversary of her death; and I’ll wave goodbye to my son as he disappears through airport security with tears in my eyes. I will continue celebrating and honoring life, and continue counting my many blessings, which includes my creative life. I look forward to launching my book, holding it in my hands, and sharing it with the world.

I tackled the beast today. No more will the blank page cause me anxiety and fear. Eff it; I’m stronger than that–I wrote a freaking book.

 

 

 

 

 

How I Got Rid of the Holiday Blues

Could I be any more behind this holiday season? Is my current situation any different than last year, the year before or the year before that?  The answer is no. No, it isn’t. If you compared me to when my kids still lived at home, you’d be shocked…or not. I bear little resemblance to the woman I was four years ago. I am a disgrace to the Virgo astrological sign–I’m supposed to be super organized. I used to be! What changed? What happened to me? Is this change a good thing? Read all the way to the end to find out!

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I was the woman who had two fresh family Christmas trees up on Thanksgiving Day with fresh garlands of greenery on the staircase banister, along the fireplace mantle, and holly and ivy everywhere you looked. The trees had different themes, of course, and they matched every pillow in the room, to include the drapes in that particular room. And I only used white lights, much to my children’s dismay, who loved the primary colors of our neighbor’s Christmas tree lights. Not in my house, thank you very much. Every year of my 25 years of marriage, I wrote a family newsletter, complete with photos (friends, please forgive me for those), which I stuffed in no less than 125 Christmas cards to family and friends. I bought gifts for my family and friends, wrapped way ahead of most of my friends, and prepared a sumptuous holiday meal for my family, friends and my favorite priest, Father Vincent, when he could join us. As a family, we visited Christmas markets from Germany to Holland, where I bought special ornaments for the trees…for the following year. Yes, I already knew what I wanted for next year’s tree as I decorated that year’s tree. I volunteered for holiday church events, participated in the Angel Network, and Toys for Tots. I still ran out of batteries for toys and gadgets on Christmas Eve, but doesn’t everyone?

After 25 years in a traditional marriage, I separated from my husband and moved from Belgium, back to the United States. We divorced, I went back to school and worked, but I still hung onto our (my?) holiday traditions like a woman clinging to her fading beauty. My kids were at were university in Washington, DC and Harrisonburg, VA, so we enjoyed four Christmases in our rented home in Northern Virginia with one fresh Christmas tree. I sent out less than 50 Christmas cards and we celebrated the holiday season with new friends and family. I hadn’t spent a Christmas with my single sister and her children in 13 years. My sister hosted us for Thanksgiving and I, newly single, hosted her family for Christmas dinner. We did this for four years and had a ball creating many happy, wonderful memories together. My son is the official turkey carver of the family for both holidays and my daughter is the most creative gift-giver. My job is to cook, take photographs, and enjoy my beautiful family, which I do! I’m good at that.

November and December 2013 140

In 2010, I decided to quit renting in Virginia and bought a great, old house in Berkeley County, West Virginia, two hours from my children, who’d graduated from college and were working in the Northern Virginia area. By the time Christmas rolled around, I still had boxes to unwrap and several rooms left to paint. The house wasn’t ready, but I longed to host my family in our new home. Was it really our home or my home? My kids were in their early 20’s now and very independent. I lived alone with a dog and a cat. We ended up spending Thanksgiving with my sister and her kids, which was great, and my daughter, who’d moved in with her boyfriend, offered to host Christmas dinner for our family and his mother. It was wonderful and let me tell you, my daughter was excited about this coming of age moment. I recognized it, too. She prepared our family favorites and decorated a beautiful tree. They had a huge kitchen versus my tiny kitchen, so it made sense, and we had a great time. No one had to drive two hours to my home and I didn’t have to wash sheets, towels, buy groceries, put up extra beds, and…decorate my home. For the first time in forever, I didn’t put up a tree. Why bother? It didn’t make sense as I was spending four days away from my home.

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Now, although I’d prepared myself and I understood I wasn’t ready for company just yet, it was tough for me. My mother’s heart grieved for the past. I tried hanging on with our changing family dynamics, and as much as I hated to admit it, I was afraid of my future as a single woman. I’d never lived alone. I’d left a good job in the city and now wrote full-time in a new city. There were many sacrifices to make, but I kept my focus on the prize–a published book. I moved where I could pursue my dream. I wrote every day, researched every day and soon, the house was ready for Christmas. I was ready! But…it didn’t happen. My kids were now working, my niece and nephew were in college, and our schedules just didn’t work out. I acquiesced and did the right thing–I drove to Virginia for the holidays. When would we ever spend Christmas at my house? I was bummed, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy doing very little to prepare for the holidays. I didn’t have to stress, clean my house from top to bottom, cook from sunup to sundown. I prepared one side dish, bought a pie (hello?), and away went down the road with my dog, Ozzy, as my co-captain. Not bad, really. I didn’t go home with holiday left-overs, but I went home with the turkey carcass, which I used for turkey soup for future cold, wintery days.

May 10, 2011 019

Fast-forward to 2014. My daughter is no longer with her boyfriend and is living with a good friend until she finds a one-room apartment in Northern Virginia. My son is back from Thailand, where he lived and worked for three months, and he’s leaving to live and work in Amsterdam in January.  We spent Thanksgiving with my sister, had a great time and she has graciously offered to host us for Christmas. Sigh, I know. I could do that, right? I could ‘make’ everyone come to me, but I won’t this year. It’s much easier for one person (me) to drive to the family instead of messing with their schedules. No one can take much time off work right now; I get it.

In February 2014, I received a book contract from Booktrope Books and I hope to see my historical novel, A Decent Woman, in print around that same time, next year! It’s been a wonderful, but challenging year, but I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Will my kids and I ever enjoy the kind of Christmases we used to enjoy when they were little? I no longer have the big house, where everyone gathered for the Holidays, and I don’t have extra money to rent a large cabin for the Holidays, which I’d love to do one day. It’s just not in the cards. But this year, I purchased a five-foot tall Christmas tree from Big Lots. I decorated that sketchy little Charlie Brown tree and my home with garlands of greenery from Michael’s, and I put a wreath on the door. But I won’t send out Christmas cards. Facebook is awesome for that and no more nauseating holiday newsletters, either! I was feeling good last week, but then began thinking about my non-Currier and Ives Christmas. What a pain. I tried keeping busy to get my mind off the past and then I visited two neighbor down the street. I sat listening to my friend as she dealt with her first holiday without her precious son, who died last year. I sat and listened to my other friend, who described how she’d crammed 13 people for Thanksgiving in her home, which is the same size as mine. Family, good health, and love; that’s all that matters.

What I learned: Never again feel sorry for myself during the Holidays. Forget the Christmas pasts, not the people mind you, only the things that I thought made Christmas because they really don’t. Embrace, kiss and love my family again! Thank God we are happy, healthy and together. And…prepare everyone NOW for next Christmas because we’re cramming together at my house for dinner and an overnight!

Christmas 2010 027

Merry Christmas! Happy holidays to you and your family! Much love from me to you. xo

The Book Never Fully Closes

Two weeks from today, I will take my youngest son to the airport for his flight back to Europe. Not knowing how long he will stay and where he will end up living and working make it more difficult for me and I’m sure for him, as well. I’m not looking forward to that day at the airport and I keep pushing it deep inside today-for my own good. I choose to think of him in his home in Arlington ,VA where I know he is busy packing and tying up loose ends before his departure. Actually, my heart’s choice is to have my children back as babies, living under my roof where I can cradle, love and project them again. Kiss them goodnight and good morning every day 🙂

We are trying to spend as much time as we can with my son and of course, he is also trying to see as many friends as he can before he flies out. Time is short. This is what he wants and he was raised overseas, so I get it. I do. He will be happy there and my daughter and I pray for his safe travels and for a beautiful life for him. We are proud of him. He has carefully researched this move and I know this wasn’t an easy decision for him to make.

I know all these things and still, my heart is heavy. I’ve run out of tissues and am down to using paper towels. My tears threaten to stream down my cheeks every few seconds and I’m trying to hold it together. At times, it doesn’t seem like I’m doing a great job and my dear friends are here for me, thank God. I’m not used to being such a baby, it feels alien to me, but I’m thankful for their care today and during these coming weeks. I’m reminded that my son is not going off to war, he’s happy, healthy and strong and I’m grateful for that. Very thankful. I just have to get a grip and stay there.

Editing Part I of my historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, hopefully for the last time, is keeping me distracted and grounded this morning.  It’s been helpful to tackle my book edits in three parts. I’m making good headway with Part I and am happy with what I’ve written. I’ll soon be ready to tackle Part II and by the time I finish with those edits, my son will already be back in Europe. Which leaves Part III of the book- the end of the book which will signify his new life and beginning. It will also signify the launch of my book and my new beginning as a published author.  Part III will not signify the end by no means.  My historical novel will be launched into the world and with that will come much excitement, more hard work, marketing and hopes for good reviews and sales. I’m proud of this book.

The book of my children that began the days they were born is a great book, too. It has been a pleasure to write this masterpiece with my children. It is a story of love, joy, adventure, trust, understanding and compassion. The book features celebrations, shared losses, many laughs, surprises and twists and turns as is life. I realize this morning that our book is in Part III-with adult children making their way out into the world without me. The family unit has grown and expanded and I will remain on the sidelines watching, cheering and loving them from a distance.  As it should be.

As with A DECENT WOMAN, there will be a sequel in the book of my children and probably, one after that. It is not the end of the world, although it feels like that this week. As a family, we will continue adding chapter after chapter until my children take over writing the book in their new voices and different perspectives.

Actually, it  just occurs to me that the book of my family that I began writing as a young wife and new mother will continue, but each of my children have already started new books of their own. Although we live close by and are very close, they’ve not lived with me for four years. It’s fitting that they’ve begun to write their own books and new chapters are being written with my son moving to Europe and my daughter graduating from her Masters  program in December and her marriage next year.

My job will be to make cameo appearances in their written entries of the joyful celebrations of their lives. I will continue writing entries in our book wherever I happen to be. Maybe one day, I will start a new book, a joint venture. You never know 🙂

And so, life goes on…

PLEASE JOIN ME FOR AUTHOR INTERVIEW FRIDAY on April 18!

Our guest will be Jennifer Hotes, illustrator and Booktrope author of the exciting cross-over YA/suspense/mystery/thriller novel, FOUR RUBBINGS.

We are excited to have Jennifer join us!

Life’s Challenges, Surprises and Joyful Moments

Big sighs on this beautiful Spring morning. My son has decided to pack it up in Northern Virginia and move back to Europe.  Not an easy decision for him. What did I expect? I live in West Virginia where I’m growing roots, originally from Northern Virginia where my parents retired after my Dad’s Army career and before that, I was a citizen of the world. I understand my son’s feelings very well. I was an Army brat and later, an Army wife. It is a life I know and understand, living overseas and starting over. I’ve lived in five European cities in my life. Back and forth across the Atlantic. I just didn’t think my son would return so soon to start a new life in Europe, but it’s in his blood-travel and living the ex-pat life.

My kids were raised in Europe during our tours of duty. We lived in Brussels, Belgium for 13 years and that is home to them, but it doesn’t take away the heartache I feel this morning. My youngest is moving overseas. I tell myself that he isn’t going off to war, only moving an ocean away where we know he will be happier, but all that is little consolation this morning. I went to my neighbor’s house at 8 am this morning. She opened the door, gave me a hug, put the coffee on, and let me talk. It takes a lot for me to cry in front of others. I didn’t have a problem this morning. I hate appearing weak which I know is poppy cock. I can be strong during adversity and can hold it together for friends going through challenges and hardships but, I don’t give a rat’s ass about being strong this morning. My friend has said goodbye to two military sons who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, welcomed them home only to have them leave on another tour. This went on for years. I knew she was the person to speak to this morning and I am grateful that she was up early!

So not only do I have my historical fiction book, A Decent Woman, to publish this summer, frenzied marketing after the release,  my daughter’s university graduation in May and her wedding next Fall, I now have one month to spend with my son before he moves this May. Good Lord. All great opportunities, joyful celebrations and blessings, but sheesh. All at once.

So what do I have to do? How am I going to get this all done and still have my marbles in the end? How am I going to say goodbye to my son in one months’s time and again when my daughter and son-in-law get into the limo to start their new lives? With a smile and lots of tears and prayers.

I will do this and more by putting one foot in front of another. I’ve raised my children and they are going off into the world. As it should be and how I’ve always hoped and prayed. I couldn’t feel more proud, loved and grateful to be their mother. They are awesome young adults. So, it seems my life will change drastically in the coming month and there’s nothing I can do about it. I must continue moving forward and remember to be in the moment. I’m actually happy for the distractions of planning a wedding and getting my book ready for publication this summer. I will take it one day at a time and the future looks good. I am choosing joy.

I welcome, encourage and thank you in advance for following my author blog, The Writing Life.  April will begin with my first book review ever of Jack Remick’s fantastic book, Gabriella and the Widow and there are two author interviews in the works for you, as well.

So please put a smile on my face (you know I need it), follow my author blog here, find and friend me on Facebook Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads and also on Twitter. I would love to hear from you and if you can relate to this blog post, please let me know. I could use some friendly comments, suggestions and advice! Thanks in advance!

Ellie