Checking In and Recent Reads

self portrait, June assignment

Oh, hi there. Life has been rather chaotic around these parts, in the best of ways. We are planning a wedding, the kids started high school this week, and I’ve finished up final (no, really) edits on Basket Baby.

Now, for cover design, and continued work on the next book. I’m also developing an author website. 

I read books differently these days, with deep curiosity to structure, character development and conflict resolution. Reading will always remain one of my favorite past times, but today it also feels like a valuable form of research.

A few things I’ve read/listened to as an audiobook lately that are worthy of discussion:

  1. Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets Whoooo boy, does this one take a darn turn. Have you read this book? If you like creepy stories, dive in. If you have any fear of large lizards, this isn’t the read for you. 2 bananas, absoloodle.
  2. No Baggage This memoir is about a young woman coming to terms with her mental health issues and transitioning to adulthood, all while traveling across Europe with a new boyfriend for three weeks without luggage. She literally only took a small purse, which becomes a problem when her one tampon doesn’t suffice. I really enjoyed listening to it. 2 bananas, absoloodle
  3. Girl on a Train I am excited to see they are making this book a movie, because if I am a sucker for these sorts of thrillers. I did enjoy this book, although as a friend said—my major issue was by the end of the story, there wasn’t a single character I was rooting for. They were all so horribly flawed that they were unlikeable. That’s a problem. It will be very interesting to see how this is adapted to the big screen. 2.5 bananas, absoloodle
  4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Of course, I loved this classic. It is a great slice of American history and reminded me so much of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I love stories told about perseverance and female leads. Winner, winner. 4 out of 5 bananas, absoloodle.

 

I’m currently reading, Evicted, which is important for my public health work. (I’m trying to read more nonfiction.) What have you read lately?

~K

Finding Your Muse

dementia

I working on novel 3: “Counting Coup.” It is in the bare bones beginning stages, where I am throwing a bunch of ideas and characters down on the page and seeing what works. I’m about 15,000 words into this story — part of which is set on a farm in Nebraska in the 1950s and the other side, set in modern day Phoenix.

One of the characters has dementia. I’ve been struggling with how to get the details right about her care and her symptoms without barraging the reader with information that reads like a medical journal entry. Books that accidentally teach me something are my favorite. (A recent example is “All the Light We Cannot See,” and the creation and engineering of radios.)

Writing about dementia that lets the reader experience it emotionally, but doesn’t hit them over the head with sentimentality, is tricky.

This week my boss asked me to attend a health care conference in town. She was presenting and wasn’t able to attend several sessions of interest herself. Imagine my delight when I got the course material and realized one of those sessions was with an expert in dementia behaviors and treatment. Seriously. I took five handwritten pages of notes, was able to ask questions and got the details and nuance I needed to better develop this character.

When the universe aligns in this way, I feel like my friends Creativity and Inspiration are sitting on either side of me, paving the path to something great. I skipped out of there with new motivation to get back to writing and feeling very lucky. Speaking of — time to get back to it.

~K

 

On Publishing

Female Shepherd

More than a year ago, I sent my second novel, “Basket Baby” off to a small publishing house in Montana. A friend of mine had success in publishing with them, and spoke highly of their work. She said she’d put in a good word.

They read the first few chapters, requested the rest of the novel, and returned it with detailed editing and a note that said, “This may or may not be for us. There are a lot of cliches.” (I’m paraphrasing, but the word cliche was definitely used.)

I made their changes, page by page. And I workshopped the novel with a group of people I trust. I watched common errors fall away — word echos that are hard to catch in your own work, for example. I noticed that my dialog skills were strengthened by reminding the reader who is speaking, even if it is just two people and it is wildly clear to you, the writer. My character descriptions became more consistent and true.

These are a few of many areas I worked through before sending “Basket Baby” back to the original publisher. A month later, I got the news: they had decided to publish the book. The edits were good, and I’ve been assigned another editor to work with during the next 60 days to make the story ready for print. I’m working with another staff member on designing a book cover. “Basket Baby” will be on store shelves December 6, 2016.

I KNOW!

I mean… I’ve been talking about this day for decades. This novel, like the first, took years to see the light of day. And then took increasingly thick skin to make something worth sharing publicly. I’ve called myself a novelist since I self-published “Under the Same Moon” in 2010. Today, it feels real. And, it feels absolutely marvelous!

Thank you for hanging around here all these years to see this dream to fruition. I’ll be sharing book signing dates as they are scheduled and hope to see as many of you as possible.

~Kelli

(the novelist)

2016 Books

Read!

In the last month, I’ve read or listened to the following:

Big Magic: This Elizabeth Gilbert memoir on creativity was very entertaining. I listened to this while sewing Christmas presents and can’t tell you how many times I had to stop to find a piece of paper to jot down something she’d just said. I am a big Gilbert fan, so it isn’t surprising I found this charming. Perhaps the most important notion I took away from this is never ask your art to take care of you. As a creative person, you are given a gift by being handed the desire to make. If it happens to come about that your work can eventually take care of you financially, lucky you. But your job is to nurture the process and result and treat it like a dear lover.

I really dig this. Four out of five bananas, absoloodle.

The Thornbirds: I read this epic because my best friend Meghann was named after one of the characters. I’d had this giant dusty book on my shelf for years. It was a delight to read it. I got sucked into the family drama nearly immediately and spent most of my Christmas break with my nose in this one. It is a good story and was satisfying like a piece of warm cheese pizza. Not fancy, but just what you may be craving. 2.5 bananas.

Wool: Okay, this book shook me up. I received Wool as a Christmas gift with a note from a girlfriend who is a bookworm. It was her favorite read of 2015. That got my attention because Rachele reads a ton. So, I dug in, not knowing what to expect. I was taken to a post-apocalyptic America, where a community of people are living in a silo. I’m not a big science fiction reader, but this story is excellent and grabbed me from the beginning. Come to find out, Hugh Howley the author started this as a blog-based story. He’d publish and take votes and suggestions from readers. He then self-published and eventually it got picked up by a big publisher. It is now the first book of a trilogy! I am going to get to the other two this year.

Loved this story and have already sent it twice to others as gifts. 4.5 bananas.

A Good Year: Quick, romantic read about a man who inherits a vineyard in France. It is fluff reading, but what I needed. I enjoyed this.

2.5 bananas.

The Sound of Gravel is a memoir of a woman who escaped a fundamentalist polygamist community in northern Mexico. She was one of a handful of children; her father had something like 39 kids. It is an alarming story considering these communities continue to thrive in Arizona and elsewhere. Ruth’s powerful story of survival and courage is one that will stick with you.

4 bananas.

Not a Fan: I read this book as part of a study at my church. The author, Kyle Idleman, came to speak last Sunday after we’d spent four weeks studying his work. He is an excellent speaker and the book did make me question how I am living my life, and how I can be closer to God.

3.5 bananas.

I’m currently listening to The Goldfinch.

The McNay Museum

My mom had told me the McNay Museum in San Antonio was worth visiting, but I had no idea they would have such an incredible collection. I saw my first (and second) Diego Rivera! If you ever get the chance, spend an afternoon at this collection. The mansion alone is spectacular.

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The art did not disappoint either:

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

(Yes. That is entirely of cheese doodles. What was even stranger was two of the mannequins moved.)

The McKay museum

Diego Rivera — self-portrait

The McKay museum

Diego Rivera

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The next three are all another favorite of mine, Georgia O’Keeffe

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

The McKay museum

And an odd Picasso for good measure.

If you get the chance, GO!

~K

Chapter 15: Happily

Heart o' PB

Our first date was nearly two years ago. He surprises me regularly with his thoughtfulness and ability to make me laugh — especially at myself. (His patience is demonstrated in laughing with me, for example, at the previous 14 chapters.)

Two teenagers, three dogs, one bunny and us: the happy little family I’ve dreamed of.

Our story continues!

~K

 

Chapter 14: Brunch Weather

Nacho who?

T asked me to have lunch with him the next week. It was a Monday and he was doing that “I might have something better” type of communication via text that makes me bubble with anger. Either make plans, or don’t. But stringing someone along until the last moment to see what your other options are is rude in every case.

I needed to eat regardless and figured if he didn’t show, I’d sit outside, enjoy the weather and read a book. It wouldn’t be the first lunch I’d spent holding a fork with one hand and a paperback with the other. T did show, late, and when he sat down it looked like he’d been in a boxing match. All of the small veins on his cheeks were purple and broken.

“Uh, what happened to you?”

“Oh, why?” He tried smiling.

I got a sick feeling in my stomach, and was thankful it was daylight and we were in public. “Why? Because your face is bruised and you look like you’ve been mugged.”

“Oh, that. I didn’t realize it was so noticeable, I guess.” He shrugged. “I was in Mexico this weekend. It was a rough weekend. You know how Mexico goes…”

Yes, I do remember Mexico, from early college years. Not from my mid-40s. I stared and him, waiting for more of a story. There would eventually be a long tale about mouthing off to the wrong police officer, having to pay a bribe and having his wallet stolen.

Obviously, this was the man of my dreams.

It was also apparent that he could not sit still. He was twitchy and nervous and nothing like the man I remembered dancing with. It was more than a bad weekend; I suspected he had, let’s say, a chemical dependence. An illegal one.

I cut lunch short and went back to my desk chalking the date up to yet another odd story. If nothing else, T made me feel good in a blue moment the first time we met. That was enough. My sails were full and I knew I did not want to see him again. As dating goes, as soon as I made this (wise) decision, he wouldn’t relent. He called asking me to see him again. Finally, I agreed to have him over to a brunch at my house — 100% sure he would not show up. I told him it would be a group of my friends, we were potluck brunching, he could come and to bring something to share.

He didn’t show up, but guess who did?

His head poked over the patio wall about an hour after we’d started eating. We were giggling and enjoying the warm spring sun on our legs when I heard a voice.

“Kelli?”

“Yes?”

And there was the man who’d spent the evening talking to Meghann. Jason and the bright blue eyes.

Jason.

We greeted awkwardly. I had not invited him, there was no sign of T, and I had zero interest in explaining what was happening to my guests. He smiled, grabbed a plate of food and sat down next to me. For the next three hours, the conversation and laughter continued. Eventually my guests started saying their goodbyes as we were in the kitchen washing dishes. Jason said his goodbyes too and we shook hands.

My friends Mike and Samantha were helping put food away. As soon as Jason was out of the house, Mike turned to me:

“What the hell is going on here? Why did that rando show up for brunch when he obviously doesn’t know you? Are you giving out your address to strangers?”

I sighed. And as I started to explain, Jason walked back into the house.

“I know it was T who was supposed to show and he didn’t, but I would never forgive myself if I didn’t get your number. Can I have your number?”

Mike and Sam both stood with their hands on their hips, staring with open jaws.

I blushed.

 

This was weird, for sure. But weirder than the previous 13 chapters? I was doubtful.

“Yes.” I smiled.

{TO BE CONTINUED…}

Chapter 13: The Circle Closes

Southern California

Don’t you hate it when old adages are true? When cliche applies to your life?

I do.

It was annoyingly humorous I’d meet Jason “when I wasn’t looking.” Speaking of cliches, if I had a dollar for every time someone said, “Just stop looking” when I’d complain about dating, I’d be Donald Trump. (Phew.)

It was a Sunday night. My friend Sue had come to visit from California and we’d spent the weekend lounging and catching up. My childhood friend Meghann was also in town. I took Monday off so I could drive out to Meg’s family’s house and have dinner with her, her mother and her sister in law.

Something worth noting about Meg’s family: the matriarch, Shanlee, is a force. She is a heart transplant recipient and is a generous, caring, passionate woman who loves me like I am actually her kid. As such, she does not spare in the advice department. Before we left for dinner, over our first glass of wine, she was giving me “the honest truth” about my previous relationship and how I needed to recognize my self worth or I’d never find happiness. I cried — because she was right, and I didn’t want to hear it.

She cuts to the chase. A heart transplant will do that to you. I love her for it.

We went to dinner at a local restaurant and staked out a table on the patio. I hadn’t seen Meg in months and we could talk the paint off walls. Before long, we’d been there for hours and were ordering another entree for us all to share because we still had more to say, and perhaps a bit of sobering up to do before we went back to the family house for a giant slumber party on the living room floor.  The sky had grown dark while a lone guitarist set up at one end of the patio, playing covers of songs everyone knew but no one wanted to sing along to. There were maybe a dozen people on the patio when we ordered a batch of sober fish and chips.

I’d just taken the first greasy bite of cod when Meg elbowed me with the grace and subtly of a drunk elephant.

“That dude is waving at you.” She hissed.

“What dude?” I wiped the grease from the corners of my mouth.

“THAT ONE.” She said it loud enough that he also heard her from the next table over. I looked over her shoulder to see three men, each sitting with a glass of wine. A good looking graying blond man named T waved a wave that said, “Yep. Hi. Your friend is drunk, right?”

I ducked back and looked at her hard. “There is no, no way that man is looking at me.” I laughed. I had no make up on. My hair was in a dirty pile on top of my head and I was wearing jeans and a tank. It was perfect for a night out with girlfriends but far from having any man approach me unless it was a dare. I also could not have been less interested in dating. I’d been in a horrible relationship for the year prior and really just wanted a break.

“Dude. HEEESSS LOOKING AT YOU.”

(In fairness, I was equally inebriated. We’d been there a long time and we were having a fun night out when I would not be driving.)

And then there he was, standing next to me, asking me to dance.

“Dance? But there is no one dancing…” I was awkwardly shaking his hand while saying this and hoping there wasn’t any ketchup on my face.

“That’s okay. We can start the trend.”

By the time we got back to the table, having slow danced in front of five retirees on a patio in east Mesa to a single guitarist who could not believe her groupie luck, the other two men had joined the table.

Meg was talking to good looking man with bright blue eyes. His name was Jason, and he thought she was single.

{TO BE CONTINUED…}

 

 

 

Chapter 12: Chocolate Cake

 

Mexican Cake

D and I met online. On our first date, we sat at a Starbucks in Scottsdale over a busy lunch hour chatting like gossipy high school girls about Rhianna. Her photos of being beaten by Chris Brown had just been released that morning and we had both seen them. I was sick to my stomach for her.

It was weird first date chit chat, but it is what I remember us discussing. He was blond, my height, handsome and built like an Irish boxer — albeit a retired one. He was many things: an attorney, a Yankees fan, a frat boy who went to school in Texas, a man who’d lived and worked internationally, a brother, and a lover of my chocolate cake. (That may or may not be a metaphor.)

We’d spend time together off and on during the next couple of years — more off than on. He was the one I couldn’t wash out of my hair. Even though I knew I loved him more, or maybe because I loved him more, we circled each other for far too long. (I was Alan.)

Let’s talk about that sickening feeling of loving someone more than they love you. It is the worst. THE WORST. There is no righting the ship. Once you realize you want more from the person than they want from you, you’re stuck. In my case, this always headed to heartache. And in my case, I always had some ridiculous fairy tale belief that it was going to turn around this time. It didn’t. Yet, that’s what makes finding the right balance of love that much more magical. When you can both be equally vulnerable, open and excited about the possibility of love, it blossoms.

At one point, D was seeing a woman in another state, but still keeping tabs on me. I finally wrote an extensive (and certainly embarrassing in hindsight) love letter telling him it was now or never. Pick me.

He picked her.

I moved on. Specifically, I moved to Colorado. The geographic distance helped my heart heal, and today — D has a family and a dog and is doing well, which makes me very happy.

Friday

About that chocolate cake, a recipe:

Hot Damn Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

  • One chocolate cake mix (I like Betty Crocker triple fudge)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 dash of nutmeg
  • 1 dash of cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions:

Mix thoroughly. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes in a well greased bundt pan. Cut yourself a slice, and be thankful for the way the crumbs have fallen.

~K

 

 

Chapter 11: Bogie

Nice Up keep

I recently listened to Amy Poehler’s audio book, Yes, Please! As a huge fan, this didn’t disappoint. There was one section that keeps bouncing around my brain, months later: a director once asked her to confess her vulnerabilities, regrets, sorrows. The director wanted to know her biggest mistakes so they could be likely taken advantage of. Or maybe the director just wanted to flex the muscle of power and see how much information he could get.

While it may have been a temporary career setback, she told the director no. Absolutely not, no. She counseled listeners that anytime someone wants to exploit what makes your heart hurt, even for a quick laugh — or perhaps for a quick laugh — say no.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to talk about the golfer in this memoir, namely because our story isn’t funny. It doesn’t softly poke at me and my clumsiness. Instead it smacks of heartache and disappointment. But to write about dating and to not include him would be like trying making a cake without the flour. Our relationship was pivotal. (Divotal?)

Here is what you need to know: we dated for about three years. He was a professional golfer on the small stage when we met, and on a much larger one when we broke up. During that time, we got to travel to some beautiful places — Ireland, the Bahamas, Hawaii, etc. We shared life milestones — weddings, births and deaths in our families. We walked through three fundamental years of our 20s together, holding hands and trying to do our best to manage conflicting schedules.

Life had him in Europe most of one year, and on the road most of the next. We’d go up to six weeks without seeing each other, but checking in as much as possible. While he was working furiously to create a career as a professional athlete, I was finishing my graduate degree and managing international health projects in a handful of countries. There were times we were on the same time zone on different continents.

It is likely if we had spent all of those three years in the same location, our relationship would have ended far sooner. I have nothing bad to say about this man. He was kind and generous and he loved me the best he could. He also was honest that his career was his first priority.

When someone says you will never be the priority — listen.

I didn’t want to listen. I was convinced this he was the one. So, I dug in and traveled as much as I could to be by his side. My insecurities flared. The little bit of time I spent with golfer wives and girlfriends was much like that ridiculous reality show, WAGS. Wives were at the top of the heap. Girlfriends were barely noticed. Mistresses and groupies abhorred. At thew few PGA events I attended, there were swarms of women who sadly decided their best chance at a good life was having a baby with a golfer.

Even in the best circumstance, being married to a top golfer is a tough life. Yes, financially you are set. But there is no off season for golf. Those 140 men are constantly fighting to keep their cards. So, you raise a family by yourself, watching your husband travel the world on television. And you never stop worrying about those swarms of (younger, perkier, more carefree) women who want any piece of your husband they can get.

One Christmas I came home from Mozambique to immediately fly to the Pacific Northwest to celebrate the holidays. It happened to be the same time of year he’d made it to the big leagues, and everyone wanted to celebrate. I couldn’t get my head on straight. There I was standing at dinner party after dinner party holding glasses of champagne toasting a man I loved, when a week prior I’d been holding abandoned toddlers at an orphanage. The juxtaposition left me a mess.

All that considered, when he called things off a few weeks before Christmas the following year, when the presents were already wrapped and under the tree, I was shocked. I thought we were headed toward marriage. It was a dark time that eventually led to a much healthier, happier place.

Somewhere on the back nine, crammed into designer jeans and halter tops, I’d forgotten who I was and what was important to me. Soon, Sundays meant time for church and family. I learned to cook and bake. I pulled out my dusty sewing machine and knitting needles. With less travel, I planted a garden I could tend. I finished my first novel and started the second.

It took a few more years of making questionable dating choices to return to a place of love, but I’m finally there — thankful he could see what I could not.

~K