Just One?

It’s always fun to be interviewed or contacted on Twitter. Under my Laura Langston persona, I have a YA novel coming out this month (Stepping Out), and another up for several reader’s choice awards (The Art of Getting Stared At). Because of that, I’ve been receiving lots of tweets and emails. I’ve even been interviewed for a couple of blogs which is both cool and a little weird (as a former journalist, I’m used to asking the questions, not answering them).

Last week, a theme of sorts emerged. I was asked to identify my favorite color, my favorite meal, and the book that had changed my life. In other words, a kind of favorite too.

The last question was posed on Twitter and I wasn’t the only writer asked. There was also a deadline. A book club wanted to know as they were discussing our latest releases the next day. I read tweets from the other authors offering up their single life changing book. I mulled and fretted and walked Team Sheltie and got my daily writing done and mulled and fretted and went to the gym and mulled and fretted some more. Eventually, I responded with several tweets saying I couldn’t pick a single book because different books had impacted and changed my life at different times. I picked a couple: Charlotte’s Web, Mrs. Mike, Karen, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Alchemist, The Lovely Bones. But there were so many I left off: Green Eggs & Ham changed my life because it taught me to read; Jonathan Livingstone Seagull changed my life at thirteen because it affirmed for me that there’s more to life than meets the eye; every single Junie. B. Jones book I read to my daughter changed my life because I saw the importance of humor in storytelling. Interview with a Vampire changed my life because it opened my eyes to a completely different style of writing and a new genre. Lady of Hay changed my life because I read it and said, “I want to write a past life novel too.” And I did.

I can’t pick a favorite color either. I adore the pale green of a seedling bursting through the soil. The blazing orange of a sunset. The black of my velvet throw. The rich purple of an amethyst cluster. The voluptuous white of summer clouds. The shocking red of fireworks. Even gray, which I never really thought much of before, has become a favorite. I’m letting my gray hair shine and, to me, the color speaks of authenticity and courage. Because in our culture, it is still far more acceptable for men than women to embrace their gray hair.

Don’t get me started on food. How can people pick a favorite food? Or even a favorite meal? A last meal? Faced with that challenge, I’d be starting my last meal several weeks in advance. I’d feast on crepes and smoked salmon . . . avocado and shrimp on a ciabatta bun . . . baby greens with my homemade raspberry vinegar . . . juicy peaches with wedges of brie. . . dim sum . . . curried scallops and biriyani rice . . . scones with clotted cream and chunky strawberry jam . . .spicy basil tofu . . . and steamed crab and mushroom risotto and a fatty rib eye and baked potatoes loaded with everything and French press coffee and popcorn with lots of butter. Lots and lots and lots of butter. Oh, and halloumi cheese. Maybe not with the popcorn but crispy fried halloumi would be in there somewhere too.

I can’t pick a single favorite anything. Except when it comes to love. I do have a favorite man. I married him. I also have a favorite son and a favorite daughter but someday, when they commit to their ‘one and only,’ my list will surely expand. I hope it does. For their sake and for mine. For them because we all deserve a life filled with love. And for me because I like my favorites multiplied.

Million Dollar Blues

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. On this date back in 1690, the first piece of paper money was issued by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the United States.

And life would never be the same again.

I’m thinking about money quite a bit these days because I’m working on Million Dollar Blues. It’s a women’s fiction novel about a contested lottery win and the impact it has on the lives and loves of three different women. I’ll be self-publishing it under my Laura Tobias name but first I have to get it in some kind of shape for the editor. There’ll probably be revisions to tackle after she’s finished with it too. And then there’s the cover to commission and the formatting to take care of and all the other details that go into self-publishing a book.
It’s been a real learning curve since I uploaded What Lainey Sees a little over a year ago. Changes are afoot with that title too. It started life as an ebook available only on Amazon, but in the coming months I’ll be making it available on more platforms and getting print copies made too.

Stay tuned for details.

Meanwhile, happy February!

Happy New Year!

And so it begins! A new year (a leap year, no less), a fresh start, a blank calendar to note down dates and events and maybe, if I’m very, very lucky, a holiday getaway somewhere warm.

One can dream!

2016 is a 9 year which is supposed to be a year of completion and fulfillment if you lean to numerology. Culturally, nine is considered a sacred number. There are nine muses in Greek mythology. The universe is divided into nine worlds in Norse mythology. Literature utilizes the power of nine too. There are nine circles of hell in Dante’s’ divine comedy. In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, nine rings of power are given to men; The Fellowship of the Ring consists of nine companions which represent the free races.

I hope this year brings you surprises so wonderful you end up on cloud nine. I hope too that you get a chance to dress up to the nines and enjoy your friends and family, and that you have somebody in your corner who has your back and would go the whole nine yards for you.

Happy 2016!

Gifting Memoirs & Biographies

I have eclectic reading taste. I love everything from literary to genre fiction . . . from serious, intense reads to frothy escapism. I read quite a bit of non-fiction too and I particularly love memoirs and biographies. When I’m in the middle of writing a novel, they offer a change of pace and a welcome break from thinking about character and conflict and resolution. Right now, I’m waiting to get my hands on a copy of My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichel. I’m told it’s a cross between a memoir and a cookbook (my current favorite hybrid!) and well worth the read. If you’re thinking of giving a memoir to the readers on your gift list, here are some to choose from.

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. A classic, what more is there to say? Anyone who has read Frank’s account of hiding during World War 11 never forgets it.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. A memoir about growing up in extreme poverty with a shockingly dysfunctional family and not only surviving but thriving. Walls believes everything that happens in life is both a blessing and a curse. It’s up to each person to decide what to focus on. Riveting.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Angelou’s coming-of-age story shows how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome low self-esteem, racism and trauma. Graphic and gripping.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Not an easy read, this book details the grief Didion worked through following the death of her husband, John Dunne. At the same time as she’s trying to grapple with her loss, she must deal with the hospitalization of her daughter, Quintana.

Brain on Fire; My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. Cahalan is a New York Post reporter who crossed the line between sanity and insanity when an unknown pathogen invaded her body and caused an autoimmune reaction that jump-started brain inflammation, paranoia and seizures. Hospitalized, she was lucky enough to have a doctor determined to get to the bottom of her illness (and lucky to be insured too; her treatment cost $1 million). Haunting and intense.

Delancey – A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg. Funny, frank and uplifting, this memoir details the trials and tribulations of opening a restaurant soon after being married. I discovered Molly Wizenberg through her blog, Orangette (which I also recommend) and have subsequently read Delancey and her first memoir, A Homemade Life. I enjoyed both.

Home Cooking – A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking – A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. Colwin was a novelist and food writer for Gourmet Magazine before her untimely death in 1992 at the age of 48. Less memoir and more a series of essays, I turn to these books again and again for Colwin’s wit, warmth and love of food. How can you not adore a chapter called Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir or one called Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant? These slim little volumes are two of my most treasured books.

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson. I’m a sucker for a well done celebrity biography, especially if they’re funny, honest and contain more grit than fluff. Ferguson’s biography delivers all three. It’s also well-written, full of insights and heavy on the theme of second chances. Highly recommended.

The Land of ‘What If?’

I spend half my life playing in the imaginary land of ‘what if?’ What if a girl who doesn’t care about her looks suddenly loses all her hair and becomes obsessed with her appearance (The Art of Getting Stared At)? What if a woman who doesn’t trust her intuition must rely on it to save the life of a child (What Lainey Sees)? What if a girl who doesn’t like being the centre of attention must go on stage in front of thousands to have a shot at achieving her wildest dream (Stepping Out)?

‘What if’ is story oxygen. But the phrase is also part of my DNA. I probably came out of the womb crying ‘what if.’ You might say this is catastrophizing. I prefer to think of it as exercising my writing muscles while preparing for all eventualities.

Case in point: while gardening several weeks ago, a small twig (about the size of a paper clip) made its way into my boot. When I discovered it, I tossed it away. Later that night, the bottom of my foot began to hurt. The skin wasn’t punctured, but to be safe I put on some Polysporin before bed. The pain was back the next day, sporadically coming and going, and increasing as night fell. I checked my foot again; there was nothing. The same thing happened on day three: sporadic pain when I walked, especially if I was in bare feet or going uphill. By the end of that day, I’d started my trek through the land of ‘what if?’ What if that twig had minutely punctured the skin releasing some kind of invisible spore that was infecting my blood stream? What if some kind of deadly pathogen was coursing through my veins and heading straight for my heart? Or my head? What if I lingered in a coma and died right before Christmas, thereby ruining future Christmases for my children. Scratch the lingering coma and ruined future holidays. What if had some kind of muscle damage on the bottom of my foot? What if I had to get rid of my treadmill desk? Write sitting down? What if it got so bad that, eventually, I couldn’t walk? What if we had to sell the house because of all the stairs? What if Mr. Petrol Head decided we should move to Mexico and live in one- level hacienda and what if we met a doctor who specialised in treating rare and unusual afflictions and he cured me and what if I wrote the whole thing into a book which was made into a screenplay starring Jamie Lee Curtis Julianne Moore and what if it was nominated for an Academy Award. For the screenplay that I wrote.

I wish I could say this didn’t happen. I really do. I wish I could say that I took an oversized, extra- strength magnifying glass to the bottom of my foot immediately after it began to hurt to see if, perhaps, there was something I’d missed. Because that’s what practical, down-to-earth, clear-thinking adults do (to give myself credit, I would have done it had it been one of my kids). Instead I detoured to ‘what if’ land because that’s where I live most of the time.

I don’t know if it was intuition or my embarrassment at the thought of going to the doctor with an invisible foot boo-boo but on day four I pulled out my grandmother’s old magnifying glass, turned on a spotlight and took an up-close-and-personal look at the bottom of my foot. I discovered a tiny, microscopic, flit-of-a-thing (the size of a child’s eyelash) lodged into the pad of my foot. It was white-blonde, nearly invisible, and had probably been part of the twig before it claimed part of my foot.

Along with claiming several days of my creative ‘what if’ energy.

To give myself credit, the ‘what if’ factor works the other way too. I stumbled down the basement stairs the other day while carrying a basket of dirty laundry. I ended up with a bad sprain. My ‘what if’ litany afterwards was largely one of gratitude: what if I’d broken my ankle? My leg? Hit my head? Blah, blah, coma . . . blah, blah ruined Christmases forever. I was incredibly lucky and I knew it. Mixed in with my gratitude was a trace of self-reproach: that basket was too full and too heavy and you knew it.

I find it interesting that it’s my right foot that’s badly sprained – the same one that had the boo-boo that could have totally ruined my life. Symbolic, don’t you think? So I won’t be visiting the land of ‘what if’ for a while. I’m taking a side trip to the town of ‘making meaning out of the mundane.’

Because writers are good meaning makers.

The Renovations Continue

We’re still working on converting Teen Freud’s bedroom into my new office. In the process, we painted and put down a new oak floor. Team Sheltie didn’t like the noisy air gun or all the activity so I sat with the two of them in my current office while Mr. Petrol Head nearly broke his back doing the floor. That was a few weeks ago. It’s almost time to put the handles back on the door and start moving furniture.

But one half of Team Sheltie is not impressed with all the changes. Trace, our male, is not at all sure of this new space.

No, Mom, I can't come in and walk on the shiny, new floor.
I'm leaving and you can't make me.
I can maybe sit here if my sister is beside me.
But there's no way I'm going past the doorway.

Hopefully Trace will change his mind when we get my filing cabinet and desks upstairs. Stay tuned!

Lessons in Birthing a Book

In April I wrote about how I self-published What Lainey Sees, a paranormal romance novel I’d had in the works for years. (If you want to know why I went the self-pubbing route, go here http://lauralangston.com/blog/2015/03/26/and-now-for-something-completely-different/
It’s been an interesting six months. The indie book birth reminds me of childbirth, only my breasts aren’t leaking milk and I’m getting more sleep (most nights). When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was as prepared as most first-time mothers are: I’d read the books, taken the classes, listened to the advice of those who’d given birth before me. I’d made decisions on everything that mattered (and many things that didn’t).

I had a plan. I knew what to expect (You can stop laughing now).
Because then the contractions started and the plan I’d written and the decisions I’d made were blown out of the water by the reality of having a new person in our lives. A new person with her own needs, her own personality, and her own agenda.

However, What Lainey Sees was a book. There was no life I might ruin if I started solid food too early or used the wrong diapers or – God forbid – didn’t get her into the right preschool. Compared to childbirth and parenting, this was a breeze. This was in my control. And I had a plan.

You’d think I’d learn.

I did, finally. And this is what I’ve learned in the first six months of indie-publishing.

Nothing ever goes according to plan – book birth or childbirth – and that’s okay. Being flexible and going with the flow is a very good thing.

Everybody has an opinion. Some people are opinion bullies. You can spot them by the phrase they use: I would never. As in: ‘I would never supplement with a bottle.’ And ‘I would never give my book away for free.’ Curiously, some of these opinion bullies don’t have babies – book or otherwise. They opine hypothetically. Unsaid but implied by opinion bullies is that what you’re doing is, at best, wrong or, at worst, ruining your child’s psyche or the entire publishing industry.

You will change your mind. The things you thought were sacrosanct (staying home with your child; not worrying about reviews for your book) will be challenged. I didn’t know that working would make me a better mother. That those reviews self-pubbing authors are always clamoring for aren’t ego cookies, but are critically important when it comes time to buy advertising or to keep your book visible.

Most of it isn’t life and death. Those opinion bullies would have you believe that every choice you make will make or break your child or your career. That failure to teach your child a second language will leave them with the mental skills of an amoeba. That launching your ebook on a singular platform (or multiple platforms, or pricing it too low or having a puce cover) will ruin your career forever (Note: I don’t recommend a puce cover and I do recommend a second language but it’s still not life and death).

Finally, remember the end goal. In those euphoric and exhausting days following any birth it’s easy to get caught up in minutiae and forget what really matters. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: healthy, happy children and well-written, entertaining books. Children and books we can send out into the world with love and a prayer that they’ll find their place and be embraced whether that’s in the board room or the bookstore.

Forget the Pheromones, Bring on the Chicken and Dumplings

Certain smells can make me cry. And I’m not talking trash that’s been sitting under the sink for too long. The truth is, while some people are moved by commercials, I’m far more touched by scent.
The smell of sweet peas reminds me of my son’s birth when the neighbor brought over a huge armload of flowers from his garden. Given that I was overwhelmed by hormones and lack of sleep, his simple kindness made me cry. A whiff of chicken and dumplings with plenty of sage reminds me of my grandmother and, depending on my state of mind, it sometimes moves me to tears too. I miss her still and I only use Ivory Liquid dish soap because the smell reminds me of her.

Here’s a piece of technical trivia: Our olfactory receptors are directly connected to the limbic system, the most ancient and primitive part of our brain, which also happens to be the seat of emotion. It’s no wonder smells bring up feelings, and those feelings will be different for every one of us.

For me:

The smell of the ocean is the smell of home.
The smell of diesel exhaust makes me smile. It reminds me of my first trip to England.
Wood smoke makes me nostalgic. It reminds me of camping with my kids when they were young.
A whiff of hairspray brings a wave of anxiety.
The smell of pine is the anticipation of Christmas.
The smell of Earl Grey tea reminds me of my grandfather.
The smell of ouzo takes me to a beach in Greece, a wrinkled old man and the freedom of no responsibility.
The scent of chlorine takes me to childhood swimming lessons and that makes me panicky.
The smell of rain makes me want to read.
The waxy smell of crayons brings an ‘anything’s possible’ feeling.
Corn dogs bring on a wave of nausea (don’t ask).
The scent of Love’s Baby Soft perfume takes me back to high school.
And the smell of anything baking – sweet, savory, or savory-sweet – makes me calm.

A Different Perspective

You know that feeling when you come home from being away, take a look around your house and see it through fresh eyes? That happened to me last Sunday, only I hadn’t been away and my eyes were anything but fresh. They were scratchy and bloodshot from all the smoke in the air.

Extreme heat and record breaking temperatures have led to nearly 100 active wildfires in B.C. Half the province is sitting at a high danger rating, verging on the edge of extreme. It’s scary and worrisome, particularly for firefighters and for those living close to the hot zones. But it’s also impacting Vancouver and Victoria. A massive blanket of smoke has hovered over both cities for days. We’ve experienced wildfire smoke before, but nothing like this.

It started early Sunday. By noon, the sky was a dull, apocalyptic orange. There was a sense of expectancy in the air, a hush almost. The birds were silent. There were no bees buzzing, no flies flying. And the colors in the garden were . . . just off. The greens were almost fluorescent in their intensity. Our string of white LED patio lights, which are normally invisible during the day, took on a brilliant, otherworldly blue glow. My blue lobelia and blue salvia patens flowers turned a rich amethyst purple.

It was oddly surreal, like stepping outside the back door and landing in the Twilight Zone. Or waking up and finding a giant orange filter has been placed over your entire world. The smoke cover cooled things off and without the bees buzzing around gathering nectar, I spent some time outside picking raspberries, weeding the lettuce bed and doing a little tidying. It was a different perspective alright. A new look at old digs, so to speak.

The smoke is starting to clear- which is a good thing – but I hope the new perspective holds. I have a couple of manuscripts waiting for a set of fresh eyes. Maybe I should read them wearing extra-strength sunglasses. That orange glow worked wonders on the garden.

Support Your Favorite Author

As authors, we love it when people buy our books. But from a personal point of view, I can’t buy every book I want. It’s not practical or possible. For one thing, my house won’t hold many more bookshelves and, for another, my Kindle is quickly reaching capacity. I know I’m not alone. But even if you can’t buy an author’s book, there are a number of other things you can do to support them.

Write a review. Leaving a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads is a huge help to authors and other readers too. There’s nothing like a recommendation to encourage someone to pick up a book. And, honestly, having someone read our book is almost as good as having them buy it.

Tell others. If you loved a book, spread the word. Tell your friends. Let librarians know. If it’s not in circulation, ask them to order it. Make a point of telling booksellers if you enjoyed a book too. It’ll help them when they need a recommendation for a customer.

Use social media. Mention a book you liked on your blog. If you’re on Facebook, share the title in your status update. If you’re on Twitter, send out a tweet about how much you enjoyed it.

Contact the author. Authors love hearing from readers and most of us are pretty easy to find. Drop us a note through our website or via Twitter. Let us know you enjoyed our work. That kind of feedback is literally priceless. And it’s appreciated far more than you could ever know.

Happy reading!