Thankful

Usually, I can always think of something blog about.  Books, writing, polymer clay dragons, but today I’ve kind of got nothing, except to say that I hope that our nation, heck, that our entire world, can find peace.  That’s probably a long shot, but it’s something I know a lot of people are praying for.

As it is the week of Thanksgiving, however, and I probably won’t be posting again until after the turkey comas have come and gone, I would like to dedicate at least a little bit of my blog to the people, places, and things for which I am thankful.  I know, I run the risk of sounding terribly hokey, and I apologize.  But it is the season.

I’m thankful, first and foremost, for my family, my parents and my sister.  They are, without a doubt, the most important part of my life, and I’m so grateful for their love and constant support.

I’m thankful for my sweet kitty, my Midnight.  She has been through a whole lot in her life, but I hope she knows just how loved she is and that she is safe and sound inside her forever home. I think she does.

I’m thankful for friends who make me laugh and listen to me when I’m crazy and who I know I can count on no matter what.

I’m thankful for books and for the gift of words.

I’m thankful for my home.

I’m thankful the opportunities I’ve had in the past year.  To be honest, getting to participate in book events, being asked to speak (I’m actually speaking at a writer’s group on Saturday!), I just never could have imagined that I’d get to do stuff like this.  I made the decision to become an author five short years ago.  It’s insane to look back and think about how far I’ve come.  And I’m hoping it’s just the beginning.

I’m thankful for this holiday season and all the joy it brings.

Finally, I’m thankful for you, all of you reading this.  To everyone who has supported not just me, but any author, traditional or indie, a huge THANK YOU.  I know several of you are authors yourselves, so I know you’ll agree with me when I say that we owe our readers everything!  Thank you so, so much.  You make our worlds go ’round!

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Cool Things

So, I’ve been so preoccupied with my trip to Lubbock and seeing my sister’s first professional production (it was AWESOME by the way) that I haven’t really been keeping y’all up to date with a lot of the really cool things that have been happening lately.

So first, a few pictures from the trip.  Lubbock wasn’t quite as awful to me this time around, but I did suffer some nasty hay fever and my friend totally burned the back of my hand with a fresh-out-of-the-oven baking sheet.  Thanks, Rachel.

Seeing my sister, though, was absolutely the best!

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We caught up on a lot of important issues, like final exams, The Hunger Games, and the new One Direction music video.

There were also several Christmas decorations around, which I loved.

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There was also tea and and an awesome Lubbock sunset.

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Then I hopped on a plane and flew home.  I had a great time, but now that it’s over, I’m so excited for Thanksgiving week, I can’t even tell you!

Okay, finally on to the other cool updates.

First of all, I got to meet one of the most iconic writers of our time and a fellow Texan, Anne Rice!

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My friend and fellow writer (soon-to-be published author) Savannah graciously accompanied me and we had a lot of fun browsing old books, enjoying White Rock Coffee, and of course, fangirling over writing.  We really lucked out too, because I didn’t realize we needed a ticket to meet Anne Rice.  A very kind and thoughtful man overheard our conversation, walked right up to us, and gave me an extra ticket!  What a cool guy!

Ms. Rice, in case you were wondering, was very polite and soft-spoken.  She signed my copies of The Vampire Chronicles and Prince Lestat, which I am very much looking forward to reading.  Then, I gave her a copy of Cemetery Tours.  I’m not sure if that was a gutsy move, or a very presumptuous one, but I wanted to give it to her A) because I admire her work and B) as a way of saying thank you.  I have no idea if she’ll read it or not, but she was very gracious.

The next cool thing to happen is I finally ordered a dragon from Donna’s Dragons!

This is Simon the NaNo Dragon.

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For those who don’t know, Donna is an independent artist who makes polymer clay dragon statues.  Ever since I stumbled across her on Facebook, I’ve been in love with her dragons!  You can find her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/DonnasDragons

Cool thing number three is that Cemetery Tours is featured in Pose Magazine’s December Issue as Book of the Month!  I am so humbled and honored and I want to send a huge thank you out to editor Tiffany Jones for including my book in this month’s issue!

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You can find the issue here: http://www.joomag.com/en/newsstand/pose-magazine-december-2014-pose-magazine/0457396001416541990

Another really, really cool thing is that I recently joined Ancestry.com.  I’ve always been curious about my ancestors and where I come from.  I have found a lot of Yankees, Sons of the American Revolution, Swiss people, and Scots.  It just so happens, however, that one of those Scots is Robert the Bruce.

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This is a picture of Robert the Bruce I took at Stirling Castle in Scotland a few years back. I had no idea at the time that he is, in fact, my 22nd Great Grandfather.

It turns out my dad is a direct descendent of Kings Robert I (the Bruce), II, and III of Scotland.  This is a really cool thing for me, not only because of how much I love Scotland (I love it a whole lot) and Robert the Bruce is remembered as being one of its greatest heroes, but because growing up, I wanted nothing more in life than to be a Princess.  Well, maybe I just have a minuscule fraction of Robert’s DNA swimming around in my veins, but you know what?  It still counts.  Childhood dream is officially a reality.

Finally, and perhaps this isn’t as cool as all of that, but after taking a few days off, I went back and reread my NaNoWriMo project.  Y’all, I really love it.  I love Cemetery Tours also and I’m still so excited and proud of it and the third one is definitely coming next year, but I am really enjoying this new book.  I can’t wait to finish it and get it out there.  Granted, I’m not sure the same crowd that liked Cemetery Tours will be as into this new one as I am, but that’s okay.  There are a lot of readers out there.  And I love you all.

Enjoy your weekend!  Mine is rainy and cold, but that’s okay, because I have warm pajamas and a kitty.

Old Deuteronomy

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  As an older sister, your little sister is the most important person in your life.  She’s the one you would take a bullet for… or volunteer for the Hunger Games for.  She’s also your built in best friend and she’s stuck with you for life, no matter how many times you embarrass her.

My sister KJ and I are seven years apart in age, but she is my absolute, very best friend.  She’s my favorite person in the world and I am always so stinking proud of her, more proud than I am of my own accomplishments.

Tomorrow, I get to fly out to Lubbock to see her in her first professional production.  She’s a vocal performance major.  She’s been performing since I don’t even know when.  She loves singing.  She loves it the way I love writing.  It’s her thing.  And she’s good at it.  Oh my gosh, she is so good, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my baby sister and I’m biased.

Since the moment my family found out that she was going to be a singer in Lubbock Moonlight Musical’s production of Cats, we’ve all been ecstatic.  Cats is one of our favorite musicals.  We own the DVD featuring the London cast and have watched it about a million times.  And of course, my mom and I just love cats in general.  We’re total cat people.  Dad and sister?  Eh, not so much.  But that’s their loss.  What makes this performance even cooler is that she is working with professional actors, including the incredible and hilarious Todrick Hall and Ken Page, the original Old Deuteronomy.

I didn’t really realize how cool this whole experience was for her, however, until last night when she sent the text, “I remember being a little kid and watching Cats and seeing Ken Page.  If I had known that one day, I would get to sing with him…”

That’s when it all kind of became real to me.  This is only the beginning for her.  She’s always had it, that natural charm, talent, and determination, that helps her excel in everything she does.  I’ve always been envious of her in that respect.  Best of all, she’s making her dreams come true doing what she loves.  This is a huge moment for her, and I can’t wait to be there tomorrow night.

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Sister on a Segway.

And to those wondering, yes, I will totally be stalking Todrick Hall and Ken Page after curtain call.

NaNo Update

Hello friends and fellow writers!  How goes it?  I hope you are all warmer than I am.  In case you don’t know anyone who lives in Texas, it totally snowed here last night.

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Look at that.  Snow.

So yeah, it is uncommonly cold around here for November.  I mean, I actually really love snow.  It’s so rare here that every time it comes, it’s like seeing snow for the first time.  Of course, I’m not a fan of the hazardous driving conditions (both the roads and already dangerous Texas drivers), but I love snow itself.  It’s magical.

As far as NaNoWriMo goes, I’ve fallen a bit behind.  I’m still working on my book every single day, but if I’m being totally honest with you and myself, I’m not thinking I’m going to finish it by November 30.  Why, you ask?  Several reasons.

1) I’m fairly certain the book is going to end up being longer than 50,000 words.

2) I’m still working on Cemetery Tours 3.

3) I’m going out of town this week to see my sister in her first professional musical production.

4) My sister is coming home for Thanksgiving next week and I plan on spending as much time as possible with her.

5) The holidays are a time for family, not obsessively trying to finish a novel.  It is very important to finish what you start, but for me, finishing this book in thirteen days is not worth what I would have to give up with my friends and family.

Don’t get me wrong.  I WILL finish this book.  I absolutely love it.  I’m having a blast writing it, and I do think NaNoWriMo is still a good thing.  It encouraged me to begin this project that I wouldn’t have even touched otherwise!  Now I’m kind of thinking I’ll be ready to publish it before the next Cemetery Tours!  But I’m not sure I’ll be one of the ones who is able to claim that they finished within thirty days.  And that’s okay.

Again, I’m so thankful that NaNoWriMo exists.  I’m going to participate every year, I’m sure.  I might never finish within the thirty days, because let’s be honest, November is a crazy busy month!  It’s the beginning of the biggest holiday season of the year!  But I will finish it.  That’s a promise.

Peace out!

The Pros and Cons of Cold Weather

Ladies and gentlemen, it is that time of year again.  The time of year where I will start every single blog post complaining about how cold it is outside.  As a Texan, this just comes as second nature to me.  We southern folk tend to prefer heat.  It’s just what we’re used to.  And even though cold weather usually comes around every year, somehow we’re always so shocked when it actually happens.

Believe it or not, there are things I actually like about cold weather.  Before Christmas, anyway.  After Christmas, cold weather can take a hike back to hell where it belongs, but before Christmas I actually appreciate it.  Parts of it, anyway.

So, in no order in particular, I present Things I Like and Dislike About Cold Weather.

What I Like About Cold Weather

Christmas Socks

Christmas Music

Christmas Movies

Basically Everything Christmas

Drinking Hot Chocolate

Scarves

Christmas Lights

The Smell of Fireplaces

Guys in Sweaters

Baking Desserts

The Smell of Cold Weather

I Really Appreciate My Warm Bed

Pretty Snow

The Fact that I was Born in the Middle of a Rare Texas Snowstorm

My Snowflake Necklace

Thanksgiving

The Annual Thanksgiving and Christmas Kiser/Smith Holiday Festivities:

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Cuddling with Blankets and my Kitty

A Sense of Home and Coziness

Winter Sunsets

Things I Don’t Like About Cold Weather

It’s Cold

I Have Terrible Circulation

Icy Roads that Kill my Car

Cold Makes my Nose Run and my Ears Hurt

Getting Out of My Warm Bed in the Mornings is The Second Worst Thing in the World

Cold Toilet Seats are the Worst

I Actually Have to Wear Pants and Socks and Closed Toed Shoes to Go Outside

I Like Shorts and Skirts and Flip Flops

Again, It’s Cold

Power Outages

After Christmas Cold Weather is Just Dull and Awful and Cold

Looking at my list, it turns out that there are more things I like about cold weather than dislike… at least before Christmas. Take away all the holiday joy and cold weather is just a drag.

Thankfully, the holiday season is officially in the air and I will be enjoying the weather and the festivities until December 26!!!

Stay warm, everyone!

My Idea of Heaven

Today, a friend said to me, “I notice in Cemetery Tours, you fall short of describing what Heaven is like.  Have you ever written down what it might be like?” And I realized, no, I haven’t.

Have I thought about it?  Of course.  I think that anyone who has ever lost someone close to them has wondered where they are.  Or perhaps wondered where, as mortal beings, we’re all going after we die.  I know some believe that there is no after.  We die, that’s it.  We cease to exist.  But I don’t believe that.  I can’t believe that.  If that’s the case, then what’s the point of anything?

Seriously, have you ever thought about how the human body works?  Heck, how life itself works?  The fact that our bodies work at all is a miracle.  Life is too brilliantly designed to end with death.

That leads me to my idea of Heaven.  I’m not sure I can tell you what I think it will look like or how you get there.  I’ve read multiple accounts of Near Death Experiences, including 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper and Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon.  I notice that with all of these accounts, however, the description of Heaven itself isn’t as visual as it is experienced.  Instead of a physical description, all these authors describe a feeling of warmth, love, and exceptional joy and happiness.  They know that they are in the presence of their loved ones who had gone before them and in the presence of God.  It’s a very comforting thought.

Whenever I personally think about Heaven, I think first about the people (and animals) I will get to see.  I’ll get to see my Mimi again.  I’ll get to finally meet my grandfather, Jack, for whom I am named.  I’ll get to hold all my kitties again.  I’ll get to ask all the questions that I’ve carried with me throughout my life.  I’m really hoping I’ll get to meet Shakespeare and John Lennon and Steve Irwin and Walt Disney.  I’ll probably be just as much of a fangirl in Heaven as I am here on Earth.

As for what Heaven looks like, I’ve always kind of had the idea that it will look like Earth as it was intended at the dawn of Creation.  Perfect nature: crystal blue oceans, towering mountains, vast, endless forests.   When I was in college, I took a philosophy class.  For the life of me, I can’t remember who the philosopher was, but he said something along the lines of how he felt closer to God amidst the trees and nature.  Nature is a tabernacle hand-crafted by God.  It’s His own temple.  That really resonated with me, so I imagine that, just as we are crafted in His own image, our Earth was crafted in Heaven’s image.

As for the experience, I imagine Heaven will be awesome.  I fully intend to swim with killer whales all day long without having to take a breath.  I imagine I’ll be able to run freely as fast as I can without having to worry about time or place.  I’m really hoping I’ll be able to fly, or at least glide from one place to another.  I’ve always been told that Heaven is a place of perfect happiness.  That leads me to believe that Heaven will be what we want it to be.  It also means that there will be animals.  I’ve been told far too many times in my life that Heaven is not a place for animals.  I can’t even begin to fathom a place of eternal happiness without them.  They’re God’s creatures, and the only ones who exhibit unconditional love.  How could they not be welcomed into Paradise?

So, there you have it.  My idea of Heaven.  I’m very happy here on Earth and I hope I get to stay here for a while, at least another fifty or sixty years, but I do believe that Heaven is waiting, and that it’s going to be amazing.

New Beginnings

This was a busy, busy weekend.  It actually started Friday afternoon when my mom and took my baby kitty Midnight to the vet for her check-up.  Midnight does not like the vet.  At all.  She’s very vocal about this.  Thankfully, after her check-up, the vet gave her a clean bill of health, except for her heart murmur for which she is being treated.  So yay! I have a healthy kitty!  And she even seems to have forgiven me for manhandling her and taking her to the doctor.

Saturday was a big day, not really for me personally, but for my church.  I’ve touched on my faith here in this blog on occasion, but since this is a blog intended mostly for updates on my work as an author, I don’t delve into personal topics very often.  My relationship with God falls under that category.

I’ve been a member of my church since before I was born.  My grandparents were founding members and my mom has been a member there all her life.  As it turns out, my mom is even BFFs with the Bishop of our Diocese (who also bought a copy of my book… Oh Lord…).  I could probably write a book just about growing up in that church, the people I’ve met, and the adventures I’ve had as a result.  However, the book would also include some less pleasant stuff, stuff that I really don’t want to go into for the sake of my church and the people it involved.  If they read this blog, I’m sure they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  Hopefully, they don’t.  It was nothing illegal or taboo or anything.  But it was hurtful.  And it was wrong.

The incident that I’m talking about ignited a part of me that, honestly, I wish didn’t exist.  It’s the part of me that holds grudges and doesn’t forgive easily.  It also marked the beginning of a time when, honestly, I did not feel all that welcome in the church.  I still went, but the atmosphere there changed.  I no longer felt God’s presence.  It all seemed a show.  I’m glad I had my camp in the summers, because I felt closer to God there than I have anywhere else on Earth, except perhaps Scotland.

I could ramble on about this forever. The point is, our church went through a phase where I was not proud to be a member.  However, on Saturday, we welcomed our new Rector, and let me tell you, this guy is the real deal.  I don’t know him very well, but just from having heard him speak, I know he’s going to do good things for our church.  The energy he exudes and the energy he ignites in the congregation is extraordinary.  Once again, I’m feeling hope and excitement and joy inside our church.  I feel God’s presence there again.  I’m so thankful to have our new Rector and to see our church revitalized.  I think he’s going to do amazing things, and I hope he inspires our church to do amazing things as well.

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That night, I went and hung out with my dear friend and editor Kit Kat and her new boyfriend and some of his friends.  We played Cards Against Humanity (always a fun time) and then we built a campfire and sat around and drank hot chocolate.  It was lovely.

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And of course, all the while, I’ve been hard at work on my #NaNoWriMo project.  I’m still working on Cemetery Tours 3 also, which I think is going well.  My primary reader AKA my sister seems to be liking it, but she’s really liking the NaNo project.  I don’t know.  I might just have to publish it under my real name.  And why not?  I’m kind of proud of it.  It’s fun.  It’s SO different from Cemetery Tours but you know what? That’s not a bad thing.  I’m proud of both of them.  I think they’re both pretty awesome.  I should, I’m the author, but still!

I’m sure I’ll do a more in-depth update on NaNo later on this week.  For now, have a pleasant Monday!  And sound off in the comments section how your NaNo project is going!

Looking Back

Last night, I had a dream that I was going backwards in time.  Back to old places, old relationships, old states of mind, none of which were necessarily good for me.  Halfway through the dream, I realized that I didn’t want any of it.  I didn’t want to go backwards.  I’m happy with the way my life is going.  I want to keep moving forward (Meet the Robinsons, anyone?).  To quote one of my favorite bands ever, “I’ve got my heart set on what happens next” (Switchfoot).  I want a career.  I want to keep finding my way in this world.  Going backwards is the last thing I want to do.

That being said, just because I don’t want to relive my past, it doesn’t mean I can’t look back on it every once in a while.  In fact, sometimes I think it gives me the confidence I need to keep going.

A few years back, there was a time I felt I had absolutely no say over what happened in my life.  I felt trapped. I felt anchored.  I felt like I had to follow this one path that everyone else thought was right for me.  I reached the point where I was so depressed and feeling like I had no control that I cut all my hair off.

You read that right.  I grabbed a pair of scissors, I stood in front of the mirror, and I hacked off my long, curly hair.  Right up to the shoulder.

It was a time in my life I never want to relive, but I’m surprised to say that looking back on it now fills me with hope.  I learned a lot about myself during that time.  I learned that I love photography.  I learned that maybe the things that make other people happy don’t necessarily make me happy.  Most importantly, I learned that I’m brave enough to make changes.  I found myself in a situation where I was not happy.  In fact, I was the polar opposite of happy.  I’m so proud of the fact that not only was I able to recognize it, but that I was able to tell myself that I deserved to be happy.

It was hard, but I know I’m better for it.  I’ve never once regretted any of the decisions I made.  And I know, I’m being terribly vague, but I don’t want to project my own experiences out there just in case someone reading this can relate to it.  I also don’t want to go into details out of respect for those involved in my life at that time.  They might not have even realized what I was going through at the time.

That’s why, from time to time, I do look back.  I see the person I was back then and it makes me appreciate the person I am now.  Best of all, it makes me proud of who I am now.  I’m hoping that I’m not done learning or growing.  I hope that the best is yet to come.  And I think it is.

Characters and Controversy

I don’t remember if it was an article I read or simply a comment on Facebook or Twitter, but someone made the point that just because a character is saying something does not mean that it reflects the views or opinions of the author.

I’ll admit, this is something I’ve worried about.  For example, one of the antagonists in the first book could very will be misinterpreted as some kind of social statement on my part.  I’m here to tell you, it’s not.  I write books to entertain, to tell a story, to create characters.  I am in no way trying to inflict any sort of world views or insult anyone.  I haven’t received any notes or indications that readers believe I am, but it’s something that’s been on my mind recently.

Last night, I was working on my #NaNoWriMo project and one of my characters used the word, “Bimbo.”  I’ve never really given the word very much thought before other than to think it’s kind of funny, which might be an insult to my gender, but whatever.  For the first time, I stopped and thought, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t use that word…”  Then I thought back to that article and reminded myself, “Hey.  You’re not the one using that word.  It’s your character.  You might not use that word, but she totally would.”

Being a writer is weird.  It’s like having a hundred different people inside your head at the same time.  You have to think like all of them in order to create a believable world and story.  The weirdest part, perhaps, is that you’re able to.  You can’t think about how you’d react in a situation.  You have to think about how your character would react.  It’s fun.  It gives you the opportunity to be someone else for a little while.  But it’s still weird.