A legacy of reading

Me: Who gave you this book?

Him: You did.

Me: And this one?

Him: Aunt Patty. I love reptiles.

Me: That’s right! What about this one?

Him: Oh, Nina got me that before I was even born!

My husband and I may often read on our tablets instead of holding a paperback, but our children have inherited our love of reading. But I have to back up and point out that we didn’t start the cycle… it’s been passed down. We are so blessed to be in a family of readers. That particular blessing always makes me smile when I read books with my kids.

It’s so special to me that my sons know where their books have come from. It gives me a giggle when I hear the 6yo tell the 3yo, “Be careful with that one, it was daddy’s when he was a little boy and it’s very, very, VERY old.” (Yep, just like Daddy, it’s being held together with six layers of scotch tape!)

We use our books hard, and of course there have been the occasional tearing incidents that any kids go through that make me angry… but the truth is that books don’t really get old. The story is always there, frankly, even if the middle spread where Thomas finally gets to the bakery and picks up the milk is missing. You can just sort of figure it out and keep going. (Plot points in children’s books aren’t that hard to improvise.)

Looking through my children’s bookshelves, I found at least one signed book from basically every living family member (except my one sister doesn’t sign her books!), plus books from those who are already with Jesus. I found books inscribed to my husband on various childhood occasions plus books inscribed in my amazing aunt's childhood cursive (the original Curious George book), one inscribed to my brother-in-law (#sorrynotsorry, Mike), and one addressed to my cousin from our mutual uncle with a note dated 1977 (In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak). I was particularly pleased to find one my husband received on his first Christmas from his Great Aunt Naomi who just went to heaven this week. A legacy that lives on...

Thinking about all the little hands who have read these words makes me so happy. The legacy of reading in my family is such a blessing, and I’m thrilled to be able to pass it on to my kids.


mom armor

I took my son to his first funeral yesterday. We honored a family member of a family member -- someone not related to me but close to several people I love. I wasn't sure exactly how a 6yo would do, but I wanted him to be able to meet some extended relatives who were traveling in for the service. 

Since it was a Sunday and he'd already sat through Sunday school and church, I was really hoping he'd be able to sit quietly for another service. Thankfully, he did great! I was wondering if he'd have questions about anything, and he did not--partially, I think, because the gentleman was cremated so there wasn't a viewing or a casket. Also, maybe because we were in a new place and he had plenty of new scenery to look at (including the occasional uncle in the crowd making a funny face at him).

I got to thinking that my kids are both something to be protected and my strongest armor. The protection part is obvious -- my job as their mom is to keep them alive and help them thrive. But the armor aspect is a new experience for me.  I realized, I wanted him to come so I wasn't alone. He's his own little person now, and frankly, my friend.

Without my kids in tow, I'm exposed to the world. They are an energetic little hive that surrounds this queen bee, always giving me a socially acceptable excuse or a side-splitting story. It's not that they never frustrate me, it's just that balance of having fun with them and bringing discipline to them is my normal. Without them, I'm wondering about more than where I left the diaper bag... I'm wondering what to do with my hands, how to get out of this tedious conversation, and how to eat all this cake without people wondering what is wrong with me.

(Kids are the best cover for eating nasty food. People always assume you are dipping the french fries in chocolate milkshake for them instead of the truth which is that that you're gross because you think it's freaking delicious.)

My kids are my armor against awkwardness -- because they would pick a booger and wipe it in my hand were I ever speaking to the Pope. You really can't feel awkward about yourself when there's a 3yo nearby who has his undershirt sticking out the wide-open zipper of his pants, can you? It's like you have a built-in Jerry Gergich (Park 'n' Rec) following you around to always make you look polished. These jeans may not fit my mama figure so well anymore, but at least I look better than THAT GUY with the nutella smeared up to his ears, am I right? 

My kids are my armor against boredom. I don't mean just the endlessness of the laundry, dishes, and toy clean-up... I mean the endlessness of the laughter and new discoveries. Following a series of unfortunate events, my kid bit into a mayonnaise and jelly sandwich the other day.  That's both new and hilarious.  They get excited over everything: the dead stink bug in the corner, whatever that thing is the dog is poking, new packaging for their favorite cereal, the way my lotion smells. My 3yo son will literally look out the window and come running to tell me that he saw a tree. You can't buy that kind of excitement.

My kids are my armor against self-loathing. I don't need to reiterate what you already know about our culture and the way it pressures women. But my kids are full of compliments. Just the other day, my 6yo told me I was gorgeous when I handed him a hamburger.  The 3yo called me "beeeeeeee-yootiful" when I lifted him out of the grocery cart this morning, and the 2yo has started giving really loud kisses. I can feel pretty crappy about myself in the morning as I shuffle the house in my slippers, but then my 3yo looks at the same robe I wear every day and exclaims, "Mommy, I love your new dress!" And I think to myself with a smile, Ok, Cinderella, we can make it one more day.

I think it's weird to say that I "enjoyed" the funeral, because it was a solemn time, as expected. But it was wonderful to gather with people I love and catch up with some I haven't seen in a long time. But even better, it was great to be a mom and enjoy watching my kid be a kid. He blissfully ran around a church fellowship hall with two other kids he'd never met, who were of course, instant best friends because of the following conversation:

6yo: Hi, I'm Lincoln. Are you wearing a dinosaur shirt?

4yo: Yes, I like dinosaurs.

6yo: Me too! 

By the end of the hour, they were growling together in a secret language. As the first-cousin-once-removed or possibly the second cousin (I always forget how those relations work?) left for his long drive home, he turned to my son and growled loudly. Linc waved, then got a little misty as he turned to me and said, "I know what that means. I can translate dinosaur. He said 'goodbye.'"

I like my kid.


What is Family?

My family has always been my world: my parents and sisters, then my husband, and now my sons, too. Growing up, my cousins were my best friends, and Matt and I hope our kids will someday say the same.  I am very close with my Pop-Pop (the last grandparent for me), my in-laws, and several of my aunts and uncles. 

Matt and I are also blessed to have friends that have become another level of family.  (We've already made zombie apocalypse plans with these guys, so look for the band of us in matching t-shirts should the worst happen.)  

All of these people love me, love Matt, and love my children.  They've walked awful roads with us, holding hands, holding me, praying.  They are a united front that keep me from ever thinking, "I'm alone in this."  They make me laugh harder than is really responsible, and trash talk me during board games.  

Family is the central focus of The Senator's Youngest Daughter.  I'm blessed to have written about a loving family, committed parents, and a faithful husband from personal experience.  The truth that many people may see this and wonder if families are still like that... but I assure you, by the grace of Jesus, mine is.  

To be honest, when people say something like, "My family fights, but any of them would take a bullet for me," I sort of cringe.  Is that what love looks like?  I might take a bullet for a stranger in a certain situation, but I wouldn't live in happy, cooperative, supportive relationship with someone I didn't like.  Family should be both -- the sudden, passionate, explosive love that calls you to action and the steady, mundane, just-another-Tuesday plodding love that fits and feels comfortable.


political fiction is cool

Some people who know me have asked why I'd choose political fiction when I decided to write a novel.  First, I didn't sit down to write The Senator's Youngest Daughter.  The story, the setting, and the characters all evolved as I wrote.  When I write, I basically type up a movie I'm watching in my head.  There wasn't a great deal of planning, especially during this first novel-writing process.

The question surprised me, because it's a genre I often enjoy to read.  But apparently I'm in the minority.  Many of my female friends lean more towards romance, historical fiction, and YA books.  (I'm not ripping those genres; I have some favorites on those shelves, too.)  Apparently, I'm also in the minority among female authors.  Lots of women write crime, supernatural, thrillers... but it's much less common to find a female writing about politics.

I'm not going to digress into a feminist rant: "I wrote this because anything a man can do, I can do better."  Because that wasn't my reason.  I wrote about politics because it's something I'm passionate about.  I wrote about a future that I fear we're heading towards.  I wrote about conservatism and socialism and capitalism for the same reason I wrote about family.  They're on my mind a lot.

I did some research and while there are plenty of great names (authors I like!) in the genre (Dan, Christopher), there just aren't a lot of women.  Ayn Rand shows up, of course, but that's not exactly recent.  I did stumble upon an older great read, though, by Gayle Lynds called Masquerade that I can't not mention.  Aside from a rather dating moment where a dude on roller blades (roller blades!)  mugs someone, it's the real deal.  The worldwide scope is huge, and the legends say that she got rejected for publication over and over because it was so realistic the male publishers didn't believe a woman had written it. (Girl power. Boom.)

Political fiction, in this case, is a loose descriptor for my book.  There are a lot of words I'd use to describe it, and of course "political" is one of them.  I don't shy away from my political viewpoint, and many of you will disagree.  But the political fiction element of The Senator's Youngest Daughter is more the setting than the plot itself.  At its heart, this is a story of family more than a story of a revolution.

I am obliged here to bring up science fiction.  Sci-fi and politics usually only align in tabloids, but I think they occasionally get similar bad reps among women. 

I've known those who've made the suggestion that they think it's weird that I like sci-fi.  One went so far as to comment that she thought I was "smarter than that."

Whoa.  So, to clarify, a story can only be good if it's in one of your approved/comfortable settings?  No, no, no.

All genres have good stories and bad stories.  Good fantasy and bad fantasy, good horror and bad horror, good romance and bad romance (gaga ooh la la), good historical fiction and bad historical fiction.

So I'm not going to judge a story as good simply because the protagonists are fighting Nazis just like I won't judge it bad because they're fighting cylons or aliens.  I like stories of family survival, so I love Battlestar Gallactica and I wrote my book on the same topic.  (Family survival, not cylons and resurrection.) 

Brenna Jefferson in The Senator's Youngest Daughter happens to be fighting humans, but I don't really see a difference.  Either the story is good or it's not.  Setting, enemies... make them what you will.  If I love the character I will cheer for her to defeat/eat/cross-over/deactivate the appropriate warlord/prey/ghost/Terminator.

So, political fiction is cool.  And if you're a sci-fi fan, you'll know that bowties are also cool.  (Eleven says so.)



redheads, glasses, and accepting who you are

In the final stages of polishing my novel, I had an epiphany.  Many of the pre-readers of The Senator's Youngest Daughter had drawn the conclusion that my protagonist Brenna was me, that her husband Tate was my husband Matt, that her mom Denise was my mom Debbie, that her dad August was my dad Steve, that her sister Esther was my sister Caryn, and so on.  (My other sister Laure will interject her sadness here that she and her husband together are some sort of weird collective amalgamation in Ike and Reese).  

Obviously, they're wrong.  Just because I happened to have written about someone who's similar in personality and looks and home state and family circumstances doesn't mean it's me, right?  Just because there are a hundred other similarities between my family/friends and my book characters doesn't mean they're them, right?  

Back to my epiphany.  I had decided to give Brenna red hair.  Their last name is McFerren, after all.  So why is she blonde?  It's only real relevance in the book is that her dad calls her "Blondie'.  So, BOOM, Brenna's a redhead and then no one will think she's me, right?  August can call her Red.  Problem solved!

Now is the time to watch the Mystery Men clip I've included above.  The relevant part of the script is:

Mr. Furious:  Lance Hunt IS Captain Amazing!

The Shoveller: Oh, here we go...Don't start that AGAIN. Lance Hunt wears glasses, Captain Amazing DOESN'T wear glasses.

Mr. Furious: He takes them off when he transforms.

The Shoveller: That doesn't make any sense, he wouldn't be able to see!


Case in point: Changing the hair color/optical prescription needs doesn't change who you are.  Life lessons from a Ben Stiller movie.

Fortunately, my sister saved me from the redhead idea.  (Not that there's anything wrong with gingers, everybody settle down.)  She pointed out that the similarities between Kelley and Brenna were far deeper than hair color.  And what's wrong with writing a version of myself into my first novel?  And my family?  And settings I know?  

It started out as a way to keep track of the characters. Characters had similar names to people in my family so it was easier to remember the relationship.  But then my characters started to look, act, talk, and think like them, too.  (What can I say, I have a smart family and we spend a lot of time together.  Therefore, so does Brenna.)

I was embarrassed when I began to realize how many correlations I found.  It even made some of the readers who knew me uncomfortable when they were picturing me and my hubby instead of two book characters when their marriage was showing. (wink)  

Nonetheless, The Senator's Youngest Daughter, in all its life-reflecting-life glory is my offering to the world, directly from my brain to my reader's eyes.  They're probably blue, since mine are blue.  And I only write what I know.