Hey folks…just a quick update. I keep expecting any day to make the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT about my next book(s), but apparently things move slowasmolasses in the world of publishing. In short, I have been extended a book offer and my agent and I have accepted it, but it is taking forever for the paperwork to arrive so that I may grasp it in my grubby hands and ceremoniously sign that puppy. Call me superstitious, but I won’t feel like it’s quite real and official until the ink is dry. So I’m still here, holding my breath and turning blue. Just call me Violet Beauregard.
Remember that song Mr. Rogers sang on his old TV show, the one that goes something like, “let’s think of something to do while we’re waiting, while we’re waiting for something to do?”
No? Anyway, it’s a song, and I’m thinking of it, because I am waiting (and hoping) to have a new book out in the world. Soonish? Maybe. But in the meantime, I wait.
So what is something I can do while I’m waiting, while I’m waiting, for something to do?
Ah, I know. I shall write a blog about Stuff I’m Thinking About While Waiting.
Let’s see. At the moment, I am thinking about chocolate. And cheese popcorn. And sweet potato fries. (Geez, I must be hungry.) But I’m also pondering deep stuff these days, way deeper. Like life, death, and the meaning of life. In fact, I think I’ll write about the night my dog Layla rescued me from a vortex of existential angst. Dogs and existentialism—how’s that for deep?
Here’s how it started, (although I’m not proud of it): with a glass of wine. I do not recommend this right before bed when one is already sad. It only makes you sadder and more susceptible to the vortex. But I’d been dealing with my mom and dad, who are both failing in big and small ways. They are old folks now, with a whole lot of sand in the bottom of the hourglass, and only a handful of grains left on top. It is a long, sad goodbye, and sometimes it can rip the heart out of my chest on a regular basis.
So anyway, back to the wine and the vortex. I was sitting on my bed with my hubby and Layla, my sweet 5-year-old miniature Australian shepherd. She is a sweet, smart girl with intelligent brown eyes that look into your soul, I tell you. This dog (despite the “miniature” thing—she’s a medium sized dog, about 30 pounds) has personality. She communicates. And she and I, we know each other. So there I was, sloshing wine on the bedspread and talking about my parents, feeling overwhelmed, and I started to cry. I couldn’t bear for one more moment, the knowledge that my parents are going to die, and that I will be witness to this enormous loss. How will I survive that unavoidable reality, I wondered? My husband tried to comfort me—something he is usually stellar at doing—but this time, I was inconsolable. I was dealing with death, with oblivion, with what the heck is this all about? How can we be expected to endure an existence where we lose everyone and everything precious to us?
By this point, I was weeping and heartbroken over loss I hadn’t even been clobbered with yet, but know is coming. So as I wept and railed and felt there was nothing, nothing in this world that could comfort me or distract me from the agony of life and loss, Layla came up from her spot at the foot of the bed, planted herself in front of me, and stared at me. She forced her wet nose into my face and made me look at her, made me see her. This made me cry harder. Layla is my first dog ever you see, the only dog of my lifetime.
“Someday you will die too, Layla,” I sobbed with renewed fervor. “My God, some day this beautiful little dog buddy of mine will die, and I will have to witness it. How will I ever, ever bear that?”
Layla’s response was to lick my face and look deeper yet into my eyes. Those bright brown eyes seemed to say, “I know, Cal, I know. It’s sad and it hurts and it’s so very hard. It doesn’t seem fair, but hey, guess what, we’re here now. You’re here. I’m here. We are in this together and we have now. Now.”
Then Layla licked me all over my face, licked up my tears and stuck her tongue up my nose until I had to laugh at this dog all up in my face, getting me slobbery with dog love and dog comfort. My sobbing morphed into laughter. And crazy, wild, unexpected joy. I hugged my sweet puppy girl, nestled my nose in her soft fur, felt her presence, her warmth, the vibrant life of her. And I felt better. Layla made it clear to me that we are here now, and this is no small thing. We have this. This.
So yeah, I get it. In this context, the waiting is not so bad. The something to do while I’m waiting, while I’m waiting for something to do, is to live, and love, and celebrate every second of “now” that I can get my hands on, with my husband, with my parents, with my exceptional daughters, with my amazing, sweet, extraordinary, empathic dog.
Here’s to NOW. Thank you, Layla. <3
Whew. It’s hard to believe the last blog I posted here was way the heck back in July, when the sun was blazing and flowers were blooming outside my window. Now I look outside to a whole lot of brown leaves that need raking. Yesterday, there was even a dusting of snow on the ground…what? (Although I live in New England…what do I expect in mid-November??)
However, as I write this, I also realize one great, stark truth: nobody really cares! I mean, seriously. You’re all busy with your OWN stuff–why would you expend any energy wondering when Cal Armistead is going to update her stupid blog?? It’s a humbling thought…but also kind of liberating, to tell the truth.
So with that in mind, I’m here to say thanks for stumbling upon my page and actually reading this. The title, “Maybe, just maybe…” refers to the fact that I think I’m finally done writing my second book, A GLIMPSE OF ROSES. Geeeez. What a long, strange trip it’s been…to quote an old song. Writing a book is HARD, my friends. And writing a second one is even HARDER. But I’m like an addict, and words are my crack. (Wow, Cal…dramatic much?) Yeah, I’m a little punchy, a little woozy, and can you blame me?
Anyway, this is a poor excuse for a blog, but I did want to write the words and look at them. And now you can look at them, too. I FINISHED WRITING MY SECOND BOOK. Now, I need to go lie down…
I think it is so incredibly cool that people are making videos about BEING HENRY DAVID, and posting them on YouTube. Some of them are made by students, as visual book reports. (How fun does that sound?? I never got to do anything like that in school!)
But this first one I’d like to post was put together by the librarian and her crew at Seekonk High School in Seekonk, MA. My book has the amazing honor of being chosen for their all-school summer read, and I so look forward to visiting them in September! Check out this video–it made me cry the first time I saw it. (Okay, and the second. I might have even teared up the third time…)
Here are some of the VERY COOL, AMAZING videos made by students…
Thank you, thank you, to everyone who read the book and made a video…I am moved and humbled and so incredibly excited to see these visual manifestations of my words. What amazing talent these kids have…
Writing a book is not an easy task. Sometimes the process smacks me around, throws me into despair, wounds my pride, and yet, I keep coming back. Why? Because I simply cannot help myself. Because sometimes it goes right, and when it does, it feels like the best high ever. It feels like being madly in love and finding out the object of your desire loves you madly right back.
Right now, my latest book and I are temporarily at odds, but this is my fault. I was so excited, I wanted to rush the process. But it doesn’t work like that. Sure, cake batter takes about a half hour at 350 degrees to become a cake. A baby takes nine months to become a little human. But a book is done….when it’s done. You can’t set a timer or circle a date on the calendar.
Today, I’m thinking of an analogy I use a lot when I talk to high school kids (or anyone, for that matter) about the writing process. I find the best way to start writing a book is to pound out a rough first draft. I turn off my inner editor, and just let it out, in all its messy, creative, unformed beauty. Then, I have my lump of clay.
Sure, it’s just a blob, and it’s kind of ugly, but at least I have my blob! Hooray! It’s a start! Then little by little, I begin to smooth it into something with a little more form. Editing, brainstorming and re-writing give it more shape and structure.
With time and dedication, little by little, that lump of clay starts to LOOK like something. Hey, this looks like a story! Maybe even a good story! I start thinking to myself…you know what, I know how to do this! I can love and smooth and craft this thing into something wonderful, I know I can.
And so, a few weeks ago, I typed “THE END,” and full of excitement and joy and pride and anticipation–“Look what I made!”–I sent my manuscript out to my agent and others for honest, give-it-to-me-straight critiques. The more excited I got about it as I waited for the responses, the more I imagined in my head that it might just be something good, something beautiful. Something, perhaps, like this:
Uh. But no. This is not how my manuscript was received. It was reality check time. Although the critiques were extremely encouraging overall, it was clear I had not sent out a finished, beautifully crafted work of art. Instead, I worried that I’d actually sent my cherished one out into the world looking something like this:
Okay. Cue the insecurities. (I suck at this! I’m delusional! Gaaaaahhhhh!) Yes, I railed for a little while. (In truth, it was only a few hours, but still…) Once I calmed down, I was able to embrace the kinder truth. No, my manuscript is NOT ugly. It will not make children run away on the streets crying, “dear God, what is that THING??” The truth is much easier to take. My manuscript is still a thing of beauty. It’s just not READY. It needs more editing, more polishing, more shaping. And so, within my process, I’m probably more realistically somewhere around here:
There is still work to be done, and I’m ready, willing, excited, (and yes, obsessed) enough to do it. Writing a book is not an easy task, and even though I have one published novel out there in the world, I am still learning. In fact, I doubt I’ll ever stop learning. There is more work ahead, more time to focus on this manuscript, much more love to give it. And it will be ready when it’s ready.
So I woke up this morning, completely startled by the dusting of snow on the ground. (This happens when you neglect to watch the news on a regular basis. Note to self: get head out of tukas.) It has coated the tree buds I’ve been watching and celebrating, the new spring grass in my yard, and the small green shoots in the garden. But it doesn’t bother me all that much, to tell the truth. Spring is still here. She’s just messing with us a little.
One reason it don’t make no nevermind to me, (to quote somebody’s random Gramma in South Carolina), is because I’m in too good of a mood for a little cold, wet, white weather to dampen my spirits. Especially since the sun just came out, and is starting to melt it all away, even as we speak.
But there are other reasons for my good mood…first, that I had a GREAT visit to the old statehouse in Springfield, Illinois (where Abe Lincoln made his “house divided” speech!) last month for the “Illinois Reads” kickoff, where I got to meet other authors, get interviewed for radio, and sign copies of my book, which was being honored as part of this fabulous state-wide reading project. Then, soon after I got home, I had two school visits that were a blast! At Boston Latin Academy, their book club made me high tea—I’m talking fancy tablecloths, silverware, scones, and pie! (Hey, it was PI DAY!) Then I went to Rockville HS in Connecticut, where I was warmly welcomed, fed pizza (yum!) and got to hobnob with some really fun kids who had read my book. How lucky am I, that I can call this my JOB?
And here is something else that I am EXTREMELY HAPPY to report…I have finished writing another novel! It has taken me roughly two years from the day I got the idea, to the day (one week ago) that I pressed “send” on my computer. It was a moment something like giving birth, but without the doctors and screaming and whatnot. (Don’t worry, I won’t get more graphic than “whatnot.”) The working title of my new book is LIFESHARDS: A GLIMPSE OF ROSES. It’s about a girl named Rose who is able to see alternate paths of her life. That’s all I’ll say at the moment, other than the fact that I loved writing this book. It’s a fantasy/ contemporary/ romantic/ mystery story that also has a whole lot of heart. I missed the characters so much after finishing the book, that I sat right back down this week and started writing a sequel. Three chapters in three days—what?? I guess it’s just my way of refusing to let go of this world and these characters. Anyway, that’s all I have to report so far on the status of LIFESHARDS…I promise to keep you posted if/when there are any new developments. Take nothing for granted, is my motto…especially when it comes to publishing and the weather. Even so, I must say HAPPY SPRING… warmer days are coming!
Well, it’s starting to feel real now, this trip to Springfield, Illinois next week. About time it sank in, since I’m scheduled to fly on Tuesday morning. Why, you ask, am I traveling half-way across the country, from Boston MA to Springfield, IL? It is for a very exciting reason…and the best way to explain is to pull a quote from an email I received last month:
“Congratulations! Your book, Being Henry David, has been chosen as one of the books for the annual ILLINOIS READS program. Under the auspices of the Illinois Reading Council, ILLINOIS READS is an annual statewide project to promote reading for all Illinois citizens. The thirty-six titles chosen, from birth to adult, will be introduced into classrooms, public health facilities, public and school libraries, and bookstores. The website, http://www.illinoisreads.org, will allow adults and students (above age 13) to post book reviews, book trailers, artwork, and discussions about the books. We will be printing bookmarks, posters, public service announcements, television interviews, and more to promote the program… The program will be formally launched on March 12, 2014 at the Illinois Reading Council Conference in Springfield, Illinois. We hope that you can join us for the ceremony at the Old State Capitol, along with a host of state and local officials.”
Seriously…how cool is this?? Not only is my book one of six young adult books chosen to be promoted across the entire state of Illinois, but I get to hobnob with state and local officials next week. A host of them! Of course, I’m curious about who those folks will be. The governor, maybe? The mayor of Springfield? I’m excited to find out.
I wish to extend a public THANK YOU to Becky Anderson, of Anderson’s Bookshop http://www.andersonsbookshop.com in Naperville, Illinois, who has been a proponent of my book even before it was officially released, and no doubt brought it to the Illinois Reading Council. I also want to extend a public thank you to the city of Naperville…it was a wonderful place to live, and we were heartbroken to move away, back in 2000. It is still a place that is dear to my heart (as are the Naperville friends we so treasure!) No wonder the town found its way into my book, and the Illinois ties continue to enrich my life.
Okay, so I will wrap this up for now…I have to start preparing for this trip. Mental checklist: do laundry, pack, confirm travel and hotel reservations, and figure out what the heck is an appropriate outfit for meeting a host of state and local officials…
Illinois, here I come!