Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Writing for Mere Mortals

A few years ago, I survived NaNoWriMo. Though I barely dragged myself and my manuscript to the finish line, the process was the perfect balance of challenging and cathartic. Trying to meet a daily word count and competing with acquaintances on Twitter, I typed frantically and let the unexpected dance onto the page.

via GIPHY
I still have the manuscript, with all its gaps and typos from my speed-writing. The book tackled issues I had never written much about simply because I felt naive about them. While some say to write what you know because it will feel the most real and connect with your readers, others say to write what you don't know, to challenge yourself to learn more. If you only write about your own experiences, you've got a pretty narrow spread to choose from. I think I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum-- I am definitely drawn to the unknown, eager to challenge myself and to learn constantly. However, in the back of my mind is a natural low-key worrier, triple-checking everything I write, and I think that keeps me from writing sometimes.

Almost two weeks ago, I was awoken by a terrifying phone call. My husband said his truck slipped on the ice and rolled on his way to work. His 4-wheel drive went out this summer and we hadn't yet had a chance to get it fixed, dealing with our house expenses instead, assuring ourselves that winter was still weeks away. Unfortunately, us mere mortals don't get to decide the weather, and a patch of nasty ice ripped his truck off the highway in the wee hours of the morning. In my shock, I asked, "Were you wearing your seat belt?"

In his always-casual tone, not concerned that his truck had just performed cartwheels over asphalt, he joked, "Of course. You wouldn't be talking to me now if I wasn't."

He calmly called the insurance and towing companies and arranged for a ride. Meanwhile, I imagined myself in a rolling car in various scenarios, glass shattering around me and the pitch-black ditch engulfing me. Sometimes having a vivid imagination is not very fun.

Even though my husband came home in one piece, his truck didn't, and the pictures made me cringe. Unexpected accidents like these trigger reminders of our mortality.  Nothing compares to an accident's ability to squash our fearless exteriors.

Beautiful writing can arise from our tragedies, though. I haven't been writing much since finishing my second book. Instead, I've been pushing my words aside to make time for my two teaching jobs, believing them to be more important. Of course, there is something beautiful, both tangible and intangible, about teaching. However, there is also an immeasurable power in the written word, and I could feel its absence.

It may be too late to jump into NaNoWriMo this year, but it's never too late to start writing something new. I will challenge myself to explore the unexplored in both my fiction and nonfiction. After all, I don't have forever to write about what I don't know.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Excerpt from New Novel in Northwoods Barista Mystery Series


 I'm happy to announce that the second book in the Northwoods Barista Mystery Series will be released in August! The new novel follows Jordan and her BFF Samantha as they investigate a missing person's case, leading them into a dark, supposedly haunted forest. Jordy is now a legitimate part-time investigator with the Eagle River PD, but she still can't seem to quit her day job at the Coffee Cravin' Cabin. Chaos and hilarity ensue as the partners hunt down an increasing list of suspects, fight off raccoons, pursue love interests, and try not to get lost in the woods. 

I'm grateful to everyone who enjoyed Decaf & Drones, and I hope you're thoroughly caffeinated and prepared to join Jordy and Sam on a ghost hunt in the upcoming Lattes & Loony Lights
 
 





Below is an exclusive excerpt from the new book!



Samantha decided that a terrifying 911 call would be just the thing to ruin my relaxing Sunday afternoon, so we planned to stop by the cop shop first. Unfortunately, she sidetracked us by making me change into nicer jeans that didn’t have a hole in the ass before we could head out.
            “Do I really have to dress up?” I whined, as she ordered a switch from the band t-shirt to a simple, high-cut blouse.
            “This is hardly dressing up,” Sam sighed, eyeing the artistic mess that was my closet, “but it’s an improvement. Seriously, I could see your lime green undies through those old jeans.”
            “Spunky, aren’t they?”
            Samantha rolled her eyes.
            “You know, my mother always told me your eyes could get stuck like that...”
            After a few more moments of friendly insults, we piled into Sam’s truck and eventually arrived at the station.
            As we walked in through the back door, Samantha scanning her ID card for access, I wondered aloud when I would receive one of those thingamajigs.
            “You could talk to Judy about it. But she’s not working today, of course.”
            “Is anyone working today?”
            “Well, of course there’s Jim, our phone dispatcher/switch board operator, who we are here to see. And Sarg is usually around off-and-on during the weekends. Unless he’s fishing. After this latest occurrence, he is probably fishing.”
            “Hey, we should go fishing!” I suggested.
            “I’ve seen you fish, like, twice.”
            “Well, that’s because I don’t own a fishing pole.”
            “There used to be some at your parent’s cabin, in the second bedroom’s closet, remember?”
            “Oh, yeah…” That room was currently cluttered with various boxes of things I hadn’t gotten around to unpacking yet. I’d managed to stuff the boxes into the room, but I was a bit nervous about what would happen if I popped open the door again. I envisioned an avalanche of cardboard boxes, paperwork and winter clothing. A furry boot would certainly smack me in the head. “Anyways, where can we hear this suspicious phone call?”
            Samantha led me to the room where the phone dispatcher was. “Hey, Jim, this is Jordy.”
            Jim was wearing a headset over his balding brown hair but apparently wasn’t receiving any life-threatening calls at the moment because he was kicking up his feet on the desk and eating what looked to be a bologna and cheese sandwich. His office chair tipped back dangerously under his impressive girth.
            “Hey, Jordy, good to meet you!” He swallowed a large chunk of sandwich. He stood up, taking off his headset, and brushed breadcrumbs from his hands before reaching out to shake mine. “You ladies must be here about last night’s call.” He wheeled over to a nearby recording machine that held previous emergency calls. “Let me just cue it up…”
            “Were you working last night?” I asked as he was fiddling with the machine.
            “Yes, indeedy. I cover the night shifts. Make a local 911 call from 5pm to 5am— I’m your man.”
            “That’s helpful. So then you must know what the call was like?”
            “Yes, I was the one who reported it to Sergeant Jones and the guys in the patrol cars last night. By which I mean Paul and Johnny. Johnny’s the guy who actually drove all the way up there to the Light, only to find an abandoned car, no body and no witnesses.” He gave a little shiver. “Creepy, eh? We do occasionally get some weird and dangerous situations up here, but for the most part a typical night involves me and my bottle of Fanta, maybe a domestic disturbance or a drunk driver or two…” He looked off into space. “Sure, there are lost pets, bears wondering onto folks’ porches, car-versus-deer accidents…couple times we get a call about a wolf in someone’s backyard or a raccoon throwing garbage around like confetti…One time an eagle picked up a wiener dog in one swoop…” He shrugged and gave a crooked smile at us. “We’re fortunate that we don’t have a lot of trouble up here…mostly animal-related—” Listening in on his headset with half an ear, he must have found what he wanted in the recordings, because he unhooked the connection and cranked up the volume so that the emergency call would fill the room. The first thing we heard was a woman’s panicked, heavy breathing.
            “911, what’s your emergency?” Like it was in real life, Jim’s voice on the recording was the picture of calm, cool, and collected.
            “Someone’s out there! Someone’s watching--” The woman’s voice was a hushed whisper and difficult to hear. The call kept cutting out, likely due to the poor cell reception up in the forested area near the Paulding Light. “The light is— is changing colors—”
            “I’m sorry, ma’am,” Jim’s voice said, “I will need some more information. Are you at a stop light? Has there been a traffic accident? Can you give me your location?”
            “Paulding, Michigan— at that light, the Light,” the woman whispered, “Please help me!” There were some shuffling noises and then her voice cut back in, sounding more muffled than before: “—out of the car—” (static) “—got him. I think—” (static) “—think I’m next. Please help me!” This was followed by a crashing sound, a terrified scream, and silence.
            Listening to the recording, I felt equal parts confusion and fear. It was obvious from the wavy and panicked tone of the woman’s voice that she was scared out of her wits, but it wasn’t clear why. “Can we hear it again?” I asked; I hoped to gain a better understanding the second time around.
            “Sure.” Jim cued it up.
            Samantha tapped her toes thoughtfully as we absorbed the frantic 911 call a second time.
            “So, what do we know?” I asked as the call finished.
            “All I really gleaned from her was the location,” Jim answered. A tiny light flickered on the machine in front of him, and he quickly abandoned our conversation to put on his headset and take an emergency call.
            Samantha and I left the room quietly. I peeked into the break room, but there wasn’t a single drop of questionable coffee in the pot. A few people sat at cubicles in the main office space despite the day and hour, but they apparently weren’t coffee drinkers. I sighed dramatically as I joined Sam, who was just grabbing a notepad and pen from the sleek mahogany desk in her office. She widened her eyes when she saw me, observing the woeful dejection that could only accompany a painfully coffee-less Jordan Nimsby.
            “Out of magic juice?” One eyebrow twitched upward.
            I scuffed my foot on the dull gray linoleum. “When you put it that way, it sounds like I’m on ‘roids.”
            A shrug was her only response, but, as we left the building, Sam assured me that we would stop at a gas station for the good stuff. Content, I piled into the passenger seat of Sam’s Crown Victoria, conveniently parked in the back lot of the station, and we resumed our conversation.
            “Well,” Samantha began, “we know that she was with somebody else.”
            “Do we?”
            “Yes, I believe so. She said that somebody ‘got him’ and also ‘I’m next’. Don’t you think she was referring to someone else who had gone up there with her?”
            “Seems like a definite possibility. I took it to mean someone else in another car. You know how people kind of go up there like it’s a fireworks show some nights? They gather around in cars, bring their beer, and tailgate the Paulding Light…It’s sort of like a Brewer’s game, minus any opponent-bashing.”
            Sam chuckled under her breath. “It has been known to happen. Wish I could say that wasn’t the honest truth, but people complain there’s not a lot to do up here.”
            “People are weird and need to get out more. There’s all kinds of fishing and hiking up there. And a few sweet waterfalls and lakes right around Paulding. Oh! And there’s snowboarding nearby!” I couldn’t help but interject my wealth of knowledge.
            “Yeah, you remember that from the time you busted your wrist after ten seconds on the bunny hill?”
            “Hey! I’ll have you know I lasted a solid thirty minutes. And it was a green circle run, not the bunny hill.”
            “Whoop-de-doo.”
            As Sam pulled up to some gas pumps at the edge of town, I scurried in for two tall to-go cups of the dark beany goddess of life’s joys, commonly known to outsiders as “coffee”. It was one of those convenience stores with a plethora of flavors, so I tapped my chin and considered the options. Finally, I selected Vanilla Coconut Peace for both Samantha and myself as it sounded relaxing and, well, peaceful, if a bit hippie-ish. Sam seemed to agree with my evaluation if the serene expression that passed over her eyes was any indication. We pulled out of the driveway cuddling our travel mugs.
            It was a warm evening, but it was cooling off, so we rolled down the windows as we cruised down Highway 45 North. I sipped my Vanilla Coconut Peace. It was still a bit warm for hot coffee, but they didn’t have any of those plastic cups and I’d completely forgotten about the ice in the soda dispenser. Ah, well. For me, coffee had the power to transcend time; it was not a seasonal beverage—it was an eternal beverage.  
            Although I’d hate to admit it, I was grateful for the mid-summer evening sunlight that streamed in the windows and blinded my sight until the road veered northeast. I wasn’t in a big hurry to be attacked by a maniacal serial killer in the middle of the woods near a supposedly haunted location, and I hoped the bright daylight would be a deterrent. I took another sip of coffee and rested my arm on the sill of the window. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to recall the ghost story attached to the place…
            “What’s the story behind the light, again?” I asked Sam. “Maybe that will give us some clues…”
            “Legend has it that a railroad brakeman was hit by a train one night back when the tracks used to run up there. Apparently, he was trying to prevent a collision between an oncoming train and some cars stopped on the tracks, but he was crushed. Supposedly, his ghost still haunts the place, and people can see his lantern shining up at the top of the hill and then moving towards them down a wide, forested valley. People hang out at the dead end of the road nearby. Reportedly, the light will change colors and come toward the people watching it, but it never gets close enough for anyone to ever really figure out who or what it is.”
            “Oh, okay, that does sound familiar now that you mention it. I thought it was like the Headless Horseman, where the ghostie-guy is scrounging around for his head. Is that what the lantern is for?”
            Sam cocked an eyebrow at me. “I don’t think so. I think the lantern was what he used to signal the trains back in the day. The legend dates back to, maybe the ‘60’s or earlier, maybe back when mining was a huge deal up here and they needed all the trains. Either way, it’s not real; it’s just a legend, a ghost story, so what does it matter?”
            I waved my hands in the air and made Twilight Zone noises. “Are you sure it’s merely a story? Maybe the railroad brakeman’s ghost is the one who attacked this girl!”
            Sam was giving me that signature look, the one where she is seriously questioning my sanity, and she even topped it off with some attitude, tossing her silky black braid over her shoulder before finally returning her focus to the road. “We’re private investigators, Jordy. We don’t typically deal in conjecture or legend.”
            I snorted. “I’d say it’s about 40% conjecture, 60% facts right up ‘til the end.”
            “Okay, okay, but we’re not putting down the ghost as a suspect!”
            “Aw,” I moaned, “how about just at the very, very bottom of the list, sort of as a post-script. Like a 'just in case' suspect. You know, ‘just in case’ he’s real.” I waited a bit before I chuckled and admitted, “Okay, I’m pulling your leg, but what if our attacker is some guy who is pretending to be the ghost.”
            Now you’re thinking!” Samantha exclaimed.
            “Hey, I’m always thinking. Just not always logically.”
            “Touché.” 

 That was an excerpt from Lattes & Loony Lights, which will be available next month. You will also be able to purchase copies directly from me as well. Thanks in advance for your support, and stay tuned for the detailed release date! 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cookie Tantrums and House Hunting



I read a ridiculously horrible book at the library yesterday while browsing the shelves with Rayden. (After all, he is a connoisseur of fine literature.) The book was about a girl who goes with her mom to the park and sees another kid eating a cookie. The girl then launches into a ten-page, painfully drawn-out, obnoxious tantrum until the mom takes her home and gives her a cookie. 

I'm not kidding-- it's a real book! Your child, too, can witness ten pages in the art of the perfect tantrum before learning that pure senseless rage = cookie.

via GIPHY

When I was little, I, too, used to throw fairly epic tantrums. I would throw items at my sisters (they will attest to this) and scream obnoxious things I would later regret. I also recall lots of tears. Looking back now, of course, I realize that I was an insane, greedy, little creature, but we basically all start out that way. 
Call me crazy, but I think that one of the positive things about being an adult is that you get used to disappointment. You can’t throw a temper tantrum to prevent the electric company from raising their rates. Tears will not get you into the school or job of your dreams. Your Ford Escape will not get the promised 40 MPG no matter how hard you kick it (trust me on this one).

Eli and I have been on the house hunt for almost a year now, and I’m realizing the housing market brings an entirely new basket of disappointments that no temper tantrum can squelch. We recently lost out on another great house, even though we came in at asking price and were in the process of negotiating a closing date when another, apparently juicier, offer swept in last-minute. When the real estate agent called, his tone dejected, I wasn't completely surprised. We're in a tough market.

Adult life naturally has its disappointments, and we have to take them in stride. I think sometimes this is easy to forget nowadays, because we see all of the bubbly Facebook photos of everyone’s happiest moments, but we don’t often see the difficulties hidden beneath the surface. Eli and I have a ton to be thankful for, including our amazing son, steady jobs, etc. A home just isn’t one of those things yet. We hope it may be soon. But, until then, you won’t be seeing any temper tantrums over here. (Well, I can’t speak for Rayden…)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Old Age and Toddlers


I sometimes wonder how quickly my two-year-old, Rayden, is aging me. Since his birth, this weird, stern line has snuck in over my eyebrows when I frown, and I know my laugh lines have tripled in this kid’s presence. He’s frickin’ hilarious.


The other day Eli and I came across a picture of me from my freshmen year of college.

            “I looked so much younger!” I whined (I'll admit to the whine).

            My husband, always the logical one, pointed out, “Well, it was 10 years ago.”

            “Yeah, but I’m not supposed to look ten years older!” When we’re bombarded daily with photo-shopped faces without creases and eyes without bags, I guess it’s easy to forget that people age, and that lifestyles (and children!) affect that process.

            Rayden impacts all aspects of my life. He’s sort of sneaky in that way, like a ninja. A ninja octopus on roller skates who never sits still—even in his sleep. I recently got my hair cut, and I laughed with the stylist over the need for something short and simple with a toddler running wild in the house. “I basically just want to mess up my hair with some leave-in conditioner and call it good,” I told her.

            “Your son must be about two,” was her reply.

            These days, my daily schedule looks quite different, and even a trip to the mall becomes an adventure—in both good and bad ways. I think the strangest thing I’ve noticed about parenting, however, is something I call the “judgement factor”.
 
Yep, feels kinda like that.
 

            I guess people make snap judgements about everyone they meet on a daily basis. It’s what keeps us from being ourselves, makes us weary of reaching out to new people. Maybe it’s the clothes you wear, your accent, or your facial expressions. When you have a child, though, I feel the bar raises to a whole new level. When I visit “kid-friendly” places, there is the impression that you (and your child, of course) have to behave a certain way or receive raised eyebrows and shame-inducing glares from both the childless and the child-rearing.  

Yesterday, we were at a mall, and I wanted to visit a boutique shop that is usually a bit fancy for my taste, especially with Ray in tow, but we were Christmas shopping. Pulling up with Rayden in his stroller, seated neatly with some Cheeze-Its and his water bottle, I thought we were good to go.

Nope.
            At first, one of the sales clerks smiled at Rayden and said he looked “sleepy”. Ugh. Thanks, no thanks.
Tangent: My automatic feeling when you tell me my child looks “sleepy” is that you’re telling me I shouldn’t be out in public and should instead immediately go home and get him some proper rest. I’m not sure if that’s the intention of people who say that, but people should stop saying that to parents immediately. It might just be me overreacting because Rayden has never slept well in two years, has slept through the night approximately nine times in 858 days, but if he sleeps in the mall in a stroller and gives me a few sweet moments to get my work done in peace, that is between me and him, in my humble opinion. #sorrynotsorry 
            I quickly located the items I was looking for, but, as any parents of toddlers know, five minutes is more than enough time to kick it into beast mode. Rayden managed to pull himself up out of his supposedly “sleepy” demeanor, smash all of the Cheeze-Its into bits, sneeze Cheeze-Its in an Exorcist-style spray across the shop, and undo the strap around his waist, allowing him to climb freely all over his stroller in acrobatic positions that made the old ladies around me squirm. The smiles on the sales clerks tightened, people began muttering and moving to the other side of the store, the couples around us frowned.  We purchased our items and left, but I felt like the bad vibes followed us through the mall like a lingering stench.
            Now, other days are better, and some are surprisingly wonderful. Occasionally, Rayden is a little angel in public and our adventures go off without a scratch. On one of those days I might see another toddler throwing a full-out, arms-flailing tantrum in the grocery store because his mother wouldn’t let him eat the fuzz-covered cracker lying in the corner of the aisle. I know that I won’t frown or move awkwardly away, or, heaven forbid, say “he looks sleepy”. I’ll smile, say “toddlers”, and move on. I think we can all handle that because anyone who has toddlers knows they’re part human, part totally psycho. It would be great to see more of that understanding on a daily basis.
Toddlers: only part human

            On Sunday we were at my favorite church in the La Crosse area. I like it because there is a separate area where kids and families can sit/stand/roam if they like and still watch the service. Plus, the priest rocks. A woman with a three-year-old sat near us and her daughter upended an entire container of Cheerios during the second reading. Eli and another father began to clean up the mess, and soon the entire room joined in. The woman sunk her head into her shoulders, apologizing, “Sorry, everybody, so sorry.” We all assured her that there was no need to apologize. None at all.
            “We’ve all been there,” one man said, on his hands and knees, picking Cheerios out of the carpet in his Sunday best.
            I know I’ve been there, and many others have, too. Maybe some people are blessed with little miracle toddlers who smile on cue and never raise their voice. That would be cool, and those parents should consider sharing their magical spells with the world. For us non-magicians, though, it would be sweet to see a little more support in the world at large.
Yes, toddlers age us, impact our everyday lives, and make Christmas shopping miserable, but they are also some of the brightest lights in this crazy world. Too young to understand time, they live fully and in the moment. Sure, they stress us out, but, at this age, they don’t yet judge us. We’ve all been there. Maybe we should follow their lead on that one.