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Today, my little sister turns 21.  I could very well make this a sentimental post about how she’s my best friend in the world and how she’s crossing a major milestone and how I’m so thankful to have her in my life, and all of that would be very, very true.  I don’t know where I’d be without her.

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In honor of her birthday, I decided to release my new book, Backstage, the sequel to Boy Band, a day early on Kindle.  I did this, in part, because she loves the first book so much.  We’re both big boy band fans in real life, and she was the one who really pushed me to finish the first book and to publish it.  She enjoyed Cemetery Tours also, but not like Boy Band.

That being said, I hope you all enjoy the second book!  I did my best not to end it on as BIG a cliffhanger as the first one, but rest assured there is a third one in the works!  Sam and Mel’s story isn’t quite finished yet!

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Love you all!

Backstage on Kindle

 

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Life in Slow Motion: A Guest Post by Katherine Smith

This past Friday, July 17, was the eight-year anniversary of my sister’s spinal implant surgery.  In 2007, she underwent an operation to fix her very advanced, very aggressive case of scoliosis.  Although she’ll never admit it, I actually think she’s a better writer than I am.  That’s why I asked her if she wanted to write a guest post for my blog about her experience and everything she learned from it. 

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People always say that life moves too fast. I remember when I first started high school, my mom stated that the years would fly and, before I knew it, I would be a senior. I remember going on trips, and having people tell me to soak it all in and to make each experience fit into a pocket in the back of my mind. I remember running around in my backyard, the Texas humidity making my hair cling to my face as I ran after fireflies with my palms open to the night sky. These are the fleeting, beautiful, moments in life that we try and run after, hands always reaching for the heavens.

I remember all of this, and yet the day that still sticks out most in my mind was a day in April of 2007.  This seemingly harmless day started a phase in my life that I was not ever warned about. No one took my hands and sat me down, looking dead into my eyes as truths of the world spilled out. There was no warning sign for this day, or a lecture or a phrase that could comfort and ease my heart.

This was the day when my life in slow motion began.

Life in slow motion is a difficult, and indefinable, thing for some people. It is a span of days, or weeks, or months, that seem to be headed in a direction that has no clear destination. It can be a time of waiting – of being stagnant and wanting something wonderful in life to happen. It can be a time of heartbreak – of healing and hope that can be found around a corner that you just haven’t gotten around.

Or, in my case, it can be a time of fear.

After going shopping with my family, my mom had noticed that there was a slight hunch to my back. I remember looking in the dressing room mirror at Macy’s, and realizing that one of my shoulders rose closer to my ear than the other, and how my hips didn’t sit right above my legs. I felt that fear creep into my chest, and for a brief moment I was plagued by a collection of thoughts and worries: What if I was injured? What if I looked like this the rest of my life? What if it got worse? What was wrong with me?

I had been checked for scoliosis before, but after a recommendation from my pediatrician to get x-rays, it became clear that this condition was not something I was going to put in the back of my mind. In fact, it made a home in all of my thoughts, and throughout my entire body. During gym class at school I found myself getting progressively more and more out of breath, and I found myself on more than one occasion with my head against the wall, trying to control the air going out of my lungs as my friends ran past me with ease. Standing for long periods of time became a nightmare, and when I would walk to band class with my French horn case, I felt the weight of my world shooting all up and down my back. This was no way of living; amongst all of the worries that ran through my head, this was the only fact.

On a day in April, I went to Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and was officially diagnosed with an aggressive case of scoliosis. The only “cure” for this condition was not exercises, or even a brace, but spinal implant surgery. My curvature, which was around 79 degrees, would only be getting worse as time went on and I grew. My doctor looked me in the eyes and told me that if I did not have this surgery, it could take up to twenty years off of my life.

Scoliosis is perhaps one of the most common conditions that people have, specifically in young girls who are developing and going through puberty. Some cases of scoliosis relate to other medical problems or birth conditions, while others (like mine) are idiopathic. In layman’s terms, that meant that the doctors had no idea why my body decided to grow like that – it just did. As a twelve-year-old girl, I found that diagnosis to be extremely frustrating; I already had the self image issues that many young people suffer from, but to have it confirmed by doctors on that day? The fact that my body was deforming “just because” was proof that the universe was conspiring against me.

The whole summer (during which my life was in that same slow motion) seemed to drag, and I found going to sleep each night became more and more difficult as the date of my surgery in July seventeenth inched closer and closer. I’ll never forget the night before my surgery, I had an anxiety attack so horribly in the shower that I gave myself a nosebleed. I had to be medicated that night because of my own fear.

I’ll leave out all of the details of my surgery (mostly because I’m afraid I might make some scientific inaccuracy), but it was, by the doctor’s standard, a success. I was in the hospital for around a week, and then I had around a month long recovery period at home. I needed help anywhere around my house if I wanted to sit down, lay down, or stand up, and walking was a task in itself. As a twelve year old girl longing for the independence that comes with almost being a teenager, having to rely on everyone humiliated me.

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I wish I could say I learned to appreciate my surgery experience during my actual operation and recovery, but nope. There were nights I would be so frustrated because I couldn’t move, and the pain in my back was so strong it kept me awake. Sometimes I would be completely envious of all of my friends who were enjoying their summer, and were able to swim and ride their bike with ease. What made it even worse was my own anger with myself, and how I felt fearful still of the healing process. Even though my body was healing and regaining strength, I wanted it to speed up. I was afraid I would never feel like my “old self” again.

But who was my “old self”? I’ll tell you who she was. Someone who was ashamed of her body and who was constantly in pain. Someone who lived her days in fear, and who thought she would never be better, or beautiful, or healthy. Definitely someone who never thought she would undergo a surgery and come out victorious. But, in the end, I had to thank my “old self” for all that she had done for me. I can look back on all of my “old selves” that have been angry and fearful and ugly and beautiful and happy because they have taught me who to be the person that is typing this right now. I can look back and see a difference in myself, and to learn from that.

I am reminded of the words of the Serenity Prayer by scholar Reinhold Niebuhr, which is a prayer I hold near and dear to my heart:  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

What does it mean to truly know the difference though? By looking back on my surgery, I think it’s in knowing that you have to be somewhere before you can get somewhere else. Whether you are in a slow motion life, or a fast moving life, you will always wind up a different person – full of wisdom, and a story. The scars and heartbreak and lessons that we carry and bear are the inspirations for another day, and we should accept these gifts as wonderful paradoxes:

It’s okay to have times when we are weak, because in the end we learn to be strong.

It’s okay to not have all the answers, because from the unknown comes questions, and imagination, and adventure.

It’s okay to be absolutely terrified, because then we learn how to believe in hope.

And I truly hope that I, and you, whoever is reading this, will continue to not only know the difference – but to be it.

The Talk

Okay, friends.  It’s time.  I’m ready to have The Talk with you.

This may or may not be a good idea.  I’ve heard that it’s something that authors need to stay away from, to not even acknowledge, but sometimes, I think it’s good to talk about the things that we’re told to not mention.

I’m talking about unflattering reviews.

I use the term “unflattering” rather than “negative” because, when you think about it, no review is really “negative.”  The person bought your book, they read it, they gave it a shot, and they expressed their opinion.  That’s not a negative thing at all.  I’m thankful to anyone who gives my books a chance, regardless of whether or not they like it.  I’ve read plenty of books that I didn’t like that other people simply loved.  I love lots of books that others can’t stand.  It happens.  No one is going to like every book and not every book is going to please every reader.

That being said, unflattering reviews can still hurt, as any artist, musician, author, or actor can probably tell you.  They hurt, perhaps worse than ordinary criticism, because the arts are a labor of love.  They’re the most personal example of self-expression that we have.  I got plenty of criticism in high school and college, but I didn’t really care, because I didn’t pour my heart and soul into my term papers.

The other night, I was exceptionally tired.  I’d been outside all day.  I was dehydrated and hungry.  And I received my first “unflattering” review.  I’m not going to lie to you.  It hurt.  I ended up talking to my sister for hours about it.  And she ended up giving me the best advice I think that anyone could possibly have given.

“Well, you can either keep writing, or you can quit.”

I swear, she is so much smarter than I am.  It was exactly what I needed to hear.  There was no sugarcoating it.  No beating around the bush.  And you know, I realized there was never a question.  Of course I’m going to keep writing.  I can’t not write.  I think my world would stop if I ever gave up writing.

Unflattering reviews will happen.  Naysayers will always be there.  But I’ve found that for every one person who doesn’t enjoy your book, there will be at least three others who do.  And those are the ones for whom you keep going.

Thank you all for everything you do.  Thank you for reading.  Thank you for your words of love and support.  I love you all.

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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.

A Personal Message to My Sister on Her Birthday

I am so grateful that you made it to 19 without being selected for the Hunger Games. As you can guess, this comes as a huge weight off of my shoulders, as, due to our seven year age difference, I would not have been able to volunteer for you had your name been drawn at the Reaping. I’m not sure either one of us would have actually survived in the arena, but maybe we could have at least made it past the bloodbath at the Cornucopia. Hopefully, we won’t have to worry about the Games much longer now that the Revolution is in full swing. Regardless, I am happy to have you alive and safe. See you in District 13!

Happy Birthday And May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor.

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Back before even I was old enough for the Reaping.

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You were always such a happy kid.

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Even as you got older, you never let the Capitol or the Peacemakers stop you from doing the things you love… be it reading…

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Singing…

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Or eating. Had to enjoy those meals when we could, considering how lousy the districts are treated.

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You’ve always been so beautiful, inside and out…

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Which I’m sure is why you were voted “Most Likely to Get Sponsors for the Hunger Games” at school.

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That time we went shopping for homes in District 12.

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That time we went to District 4 and you had a thing with that cute sailor… What was his name? Billy? Oh well, it doesn’t matter. Anything Goes! 😉

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Then there was the time you snuck into the Capitol and stole Effie Trinket’s wig…

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And you discovered that the Capitol has been breeding a new kind of Mutt Plant! I think I’d take a swarm of Tracker Jackers over whatever the heck that is.

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We’ve had a lot of fun these past nineteen years, but I think the best is still yet to come! Happy Birthday, KJ! I love you!