DRAWN Haunt – Why it’s Positively Medieval!

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Castle drawing by Marie Lamba…from my sketch pad during my college semester abroad in England (illustration copyright M. Lamba)

The DRAWN Haunt party continues! I’m celebrating the 5-year-anniversary of my award-winning time-travel novel DRAWN all month here. In today’s post I take a close look at those knights in shining armor — why does the idea of chivalry still haunt us? First, a quick reminder! ***Today is the last day to get the Kindle version of my award-winning time-travel novel DRAWN for just 99 cents by clicking here!   This special 99 cent sale ends today, Wednesday 10/11 at 8 p.m., when the sale price will then become $1.99, but only through this Friday. After Friday at 9 p.m., DRAWN‘s ebook will return to its regular $3.99 price.***

To catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts this month, check back often or subscribe to this blog (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about DRAWN, click here. 

Now, about why chivalry still makes us sigh. Here’s my essay on…

WHY IT’S POSITIVELY MEDIEVAL!

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“…this book deserves to be shouted about from the rooftops! The author’s imagination and plotting skills are phenomenal. I think this is the 4th or 5th time I have read Drawn, and each time, the second I start that first paragraph, I am a captive in her perfect, imaginary world, and I never want to leave.”
— The Geekery Book Review

A knight in shining armor… Yes, there’s definitely something swoon-worthy here.  But why is a medieval hero so appealing?

It may have something to do with sheer strength, or perhaps with those high leather boots. But what I really think it’s about is a romantic sensibility that took root in those times. Tales of ill-fated lovers like Tristan and Isolde, or Guenevere and Lancelot. Countless ballads of longing and lost love.

This tradition definitely influenced me as I wrote Drawn. In the book, a young artist from New Jersey named Michelle De Freccio has just moved to England with her dad when a guy starts appearing in her sketches. When she meets him in person, she’s pretty sure she’s losing her mind. She’d definitely have to be crazy to fall for a guy who has been dead for several hundred years.  Or to become entwined in his past and the mysteries and dangers that surround him…dangers that include treachery and murder. Talk about ill-fated.

Michelle tries not to get involved, but she’s drawn to Christopher:

He suddenly grabs my arm. Pulls me close. “You are the one who is not of this castle. No one knows of a Michelle from Jersey. Not one soul swapping the latest news in the castle courtyard has heard of you. What is your game?” When I don’t respond, he says through gritted teeth, “Tell me!”

“There’s no game,” I say, my voice unsteady.

“Liar. For some reason you are sent to undo me. Or you plot about things far worse, far more traitorous. And fool that I am, I had thought you were the one who would…”

We are very close now. His intense eyes grow sad. I am all too aware of his fingers wrapped around my arm. Of his face bent toward me. Of his auburn hair falling over his forehead. Of his soft full lips. I again feel myself drawn powerfully to him. Feel my breath catch as his grip loosens and his hand slides up my arm. This is crazy.

MP900385307While writing this novel, I did a ton of research about the 1400s. I wanted to create the feel of another era, but I also wanted to connect to a world that really wasn’t so different from our own. What I found was that people back then spoke of love in ways we can still relate to today. In fact, at one point in Drawn I have Christopher express his feelings using words I’ve lifted from the Paston Letters (a collection of family letters that dates back to the Middle Ages).  Here’s a glimpse at that scene in my book:

I feel Christopher’s hands tighten at my waist.

He swallows. “I realize you do not feel so of me, yet I must avow my heart to you. If we can secure my noble title and wealth through deeds for the Earl, then I will not have need of a wealthy wife.” He takes a deep breath. “And then I could lay my very life down to give you my protection and love, no matter what obstacles rest between us. Your indifference is to my heart a very spear. If I had even the slightest hope you would one day suffer to have me…”

And in a later scene in my book, I have a wounded Christopher sing the following authentic medieval ballad to Michelle:

Westron wind, when will thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again

As a writer, it’s fun to breathe fresh life into these long-forgotten words.  And because some of the phrases I use in my book are from private letters, it feels a bit like spying and then tattling, which I find wickedly entertaining.

But back to the whole knight in shining armor thing.  Maybe the appeal has to do with chivalry.  A man who not only opened the castle door for his lady but also wore her scarf tucked in his armor as he fought to the death defending her honor. These days guys wear sneakers instead of those high boots, they wield cell phones instead of swords, and go off clubbing instead of off to battle…

Fortunately love and romance do remain today. In the pages of books like Drawn, in the stories and ballads of the past, and, yes, in the arms of modern guys, too. Sure, today’s guys may wear sneakers and carry cell phones, but the good ones are still propping open that castle door.

***Remember, the 99 cent sale of DRAWN ends today, Wednesday, 10/11 at 8 p.m. Then the ebook will be sale priced at $1.99 till Friday at 9 p.m. before returning to it’s original $3.99 price. To take advance of these special DRAWN Haunt celebration prices, Click here!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

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DRAWN Haunt – Definitely Not Normal

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…a wonderfully spooky tale of romance and discovery. It’s a magical exploration of the unconquerable power of love. Highly recommended!
— Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestseller

DRAWN Haunt month continues today with a post about some truly ghostly occurrences, but first – here’s a special limited-time deal! ***Get the Kindle version of my award-winning time-travel novel DRAWN for just 99 cents by clicking here!  Note: Sale is ONLY today 10/9 through this Wednesday 10/11 at 8 p.m. The regular price is $3.99, so grab this 99-cent-deal fast before it disappears into the dark and spooky night.***

The DRAWN Haunt is the month-long celebration I’m having here in honor of DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. To catch all the spooky posts check back often or subscribe to this blog (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about DRAWN, click here.

Now for today’s DRAWN Haunt post…

DEFINITELY NOT NORMAL

…my eyes again stray to the drawing of that guy. In the sketch I can now see the very edge of his cheek. It’s as if he’s just turned ever so slightly toward me.

But that’s crazy.

In my novel Drawn, young teen artist Michelle De Freccio moves with her dad to England hoping for a more normal life. In England, no one will know that back in New Jersey everyone calls her family the De Freakos. They won’t know about her supposedly psychic mother (A.K.A. Madame Florabunda) or her mentally ill brother.  But when Michelle starts drawing a medieval ghost, and then she meets him and falls for him, well clearly nothing is going to be normal again.

The thing is, while Michelle is looking so hard for normal, I find I’m actually doing the opposite.  I can’t say I’m a believer in ghosts or the paranormal, but I’d really REALLY like to be. Show me, I think. Prove it.

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Christopher from DRAWN. Illustration by Marie Lamba (copyrighted material)

Like Michelle in my novel, I’m an artist too. Maybe that’s why a particular guest speaker I heard way back in high school made such an impression on me.  It was a woman who created colorful oil paintings of the Hermitage, a Colonial-era mansion in Hohokus, NJ.  She pointed to the shadows in one painting, the stairway in another, the roof tiles in still another.  “See?” she’d said.  “See the figures?”

I drew in my breath. I did see. In one painting dappled shadows revealed a Colonial soldier in military regalia. In another, a bride seemed to materialize on the stairway, her image woven into the wall texture.  In an exterior painting, a few roof tiles were shaped into a face, the expression leering, malevolent.  The artist claimed she never intended to paint any of this, that she didn’t see these figures until the painting was completed. That she was clearly channeling spirits through her art.

My first thought was: Cool!  I want to do that.  I want to go there and pull out my charcoal and find these spirits materializing in the shadows of my own sketches. But of course my next instinct was to narrow my eyes and scrutinize the painter. She seemed sweet, grandmotherly, but was she nutty?  Well of course she was, I thought.

Hey, even Elijah Rosencrantz, a resident of the Hermitage in the early 1800s, thought ghosts were a lot of phooey. According to the website thehermitage.org, he wrote a statement titled “If the Hangings Flutter,” saying supernatural beliefs were “absurdities,” something to only be believed by “persons of the lower classes and from poor early education.”  Hm, then again, what if Elijah became a ghost himself?  I bet he’d be beyond pissed.  Maybe that explains that angry spirit leering from the roof tile…

I guess the question I want to ask everyone is: Is it normal to hope, yet disbelieve?

tombphotoIs it normal to travel the world exploring graveyards? Because I’ve done that. I’ve sketched tombs throughout England and visited crypts in Italy and wandered through ancient cenotaphs in India, fascinated by the culture of death, the promise of the supernatural. The cold breeze on my neck could have been a ghostly breath, right? The orbs in photos might have been dust, but what if they weren’t?  A few years ago my daughter visited Greece and sent me this picture.  Take a good close look. You see the orbs, right?  And the FACES IN THE ORBS?  I pointed this out to my daughter who wrote back freaked out saying, “THIS IS A TOMB!”

But is this proof? I’m still not completely convinced myself.

Wouldn’t you give anything to have some undeniable proof? Do you dream of going on a ghost tour in a castle? Do you watch ghost-hunting shows hoping that it won’t be silly? Do you get lost in novels laced with the supernatural?  The Woman in White, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, even The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman?

Well, I do. But of course artists are a little out there, anyway.  Writers too.  Especially writers. We spend all day hearing voices that aren’t there. Writing things that haven’t happened as if they did.

So, yeah, maybe that’s partly why I wrote Drawn.  Why I have my main character meet a ghost and step into his world. Why the final scenes are in a castle dungeon during a ghost tour.  Because I’m a little out there.  And because, unlike my main character Michelle, I’m not looking for normal. I’m hoping for the weird, the strange, the haunting.

Aren’t you?

***Remember, the 99 cent sale of DRAWN only runs today through this Wednesday, 10/11 at 8 p.m. Click here!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

DRAWN Haunt – Catching a Spirit

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A Night Owl Reviews Top Pick: This is a thoroughly enchanting novel. The characters are beautifully written, and the story is witty, charming, and an utter delight to read. I could not put it down. This is a fantastic romantic and tender story that will continue to enchant readers for years to come.”

October means dark chilly nights and ghostly goings on. So I say lets have some spooky fun here! I’m declaring this DRAWN Haunt Month in celebration of my award winning novel DRAWN‘s 5-year anniversary. It now has a brand new cover, and every day it’s being found by more and more new readers, including OUTLANDER fans looking for the next smart time-travel romance. I’m so happy that my book is still making readers swoon!

Throughout October I’ll be featuring special DRAWN-related posts about magic, fantasy, spirits, romance, writing, and time-travel (plus some special deals). So cozy up and enjoy the DRAWN haunting! And if you want your own copy of DRAWN to read as you sip hot cider by a crackling fireplace, order your copy by clicking here.

Now let’s kick off the fun with…

CATCHING A SPIRIT

There’s something about touching a letter that was handwritten hundreds of years ago. Or walking through an old graveyard at dusk. Or exploring the abandoned corridors of a musty medieval castle. At these moments, the barrier between the present and the past feels as thin as a sheer veil. The people of those long ago times seem almost palpable. Have you ever felt this?

In a castle I notice the worn steps, the ancient graffiti cut into a wall, and to me the air is suddenly thick with long lost memories, heartaches, whispers.  With people not so different from us. If only I could turn a corner fast enough, maybe I’d catch them unaware. That breathless maiden racing up the staircase to meet her lover. That young knight trying to swallow down the fear of his first battle. With his dagger he etches his initials in the coarse stone wall.  He wishes to be remembered…

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As an artist myself, I made sketches of my hero Christopher as I was working on DRAWN. Here’s one I imagined Michelle might have made in her sketchbook. (Drawing by Marie Lamba – note: copyrighted material)

I guess you could say Drawn is my way of finally catching a spirit by his sleeve, and really getting to know him. In my novel, Michelle De Freccio first draws a mysterious young man in her sketch pad. And later, when she runs into him, she does far more than catch his sleeve – she captures his heart.  At first she definitely doesn’t realize just who and what this guy is. But by the end of the novel she’ll learn just how close the past really can be.

Here’s a glimpse of their first meeting for you. Enjoy!

Excerpt from Drawn:

The smell of cinnamon fills the air. Past the tapestry, a very narrow flight of stone stairs leads toward a dim light. I immediately decide I won’t go up. It’s too confining.

But the cinnamon smells even stronger here. It makes me think of warm cookies and my home from a long, long time ago. I change my mind and climb the steps. A small alcove is at the top and someone sits at a wooden table with his back to me. He studies a paper by candlelight. His auburn hair reaches his shoulders and he looks familiar.

With a jolt I remember the drawing of that guy in my sketchbook. To get his attention, I clear my throat.

In an instant, he stands, grabs my arm and shoves me against the wall. His face is close. His eyes filled with fury.

Sharp stones bite into my back. Tears spring into my eyes. “Let go!” I shout. I try to pull from his grip.

His glare softens, his grip loosens. “Forgive me. I thought…”

“You thought what?” I pull my arm from him.

He takes a step back. “I beg your pardon. I was taken by surprise. There have been dangers…”

I’m rubbing my arm. Blinking away tears.

“I have hurt you.” His voice is surprisingly gentle. He’s around my age and wears a brown woolen cape over an emerald-green tunic that fits him better than most of the rental costumes I’d seen tonight. His square jaw and strong chin add ruggedness to his face, and his eyes…

His eyes are studying me. I feel my cheeks burn. “It’s okay,” I say. “I’m fine.”

“Let us begin anew. I am Christopher.” He bows his head.

“I’m Michelle.”

“Please, join me.” He pulls out the only other chair.

“Oh.” The space around us feels tight. “I don’t think—”

“Please,” he says.

So I sit. He shakes back his hair and sits beside me. I notice the fine gold embroidery around the wrists of his tunic, the bear-shaped golden clasp that holds the cape around his shoulders. “You really look authentic.”

“Do I?” He seems confused. His eyes are a strange pale green. Like the color of a glow stick just before it fades. Then again, maybe this is just from the reflection of the candlelight.

“Yeah, this is great.” I wave my hand toward his outfit. The candle flickers. “Much more authentic even than the prince or the king.”

His jaw tightens. “Be careful of what you speak, Milady.”

“Careful? Why?”

He rests his chin on his fist. “You are obviously a newcomer, and a delightful one at that.”

“Really?” I rest my chin on my fist too.

“And your words have a most unusual quality.” He leans closer.

“It’s just a plain old Jersey accent.”

“Jersey? I think it is lovely.”

“You do? Huh.”

“I do,” he says, very, very softly.

He leans in even closer.

It’s crazy but I find myself leaning toward him, as if I’m drawn. My heart pounds. The smell of cinnamon saturates the air. I wonder if his lips will be soft like his voice, warm like fresh cookies. Sweet. He closes his eyes. My heart races. Our lips nearly touch when an icy blast blows through the room, ruffles the papers, snuffs out the candle and leaves us both in the dark. The smallness of the room seems to close in around me. I give a nervous laugh. “At least I’m not alone, right?” When he doesn’t answer, I reach out my hand.

He’s gone.

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: The “Your book’s too quiet” Rejection

Childhood GirlsHappy hot and steamy Agent Monday, everyone! Ever received the following rejection and wonder what it might mean?: “I have to pass because I found your book too quiet.” Too quiet? What’s that mean? And how do you get it to make some noise? Let’s take a look… (Thanks again to client Caroline Noonan and her writer’s group for this great post idea!)

To me, too quiet means that while the book may be written in a lovely manner and the manuscript clean and the plot interesting, overall the book lacks characteristics that would make it stand out in the commercial marketplace.

Remember, an agent’s job is to sell your book to commercial publishers, and an editor’s job is to purchase books that will become stand outs on the shelf and sell.

So what can you do if your book is consistently rejected as “too quiet?” Well, first of all look hard at the type of book you are writing – what distinguishes that sort of book? Have you elevated those elements in your manuscript?

For example, if you are writing a literary novel, is your language and imagery more than adequate? Does it stand out? Are the observations and revelations unique and transforming?

If you are writing for the YA market, is your book different from what’s already out there? Can you come up with a one-liner about the book that’ll get everyone’s attention because your story has a unique approach? Is there a hook that’ll make it stand out – and if so, have you put that unique part of your story front and center in your plotting?

If you are writing for the thriller audience, is your story truly gripping, your plotting original and does your character command the page?

And if you are writing romance, does your hero truly break your heart and does the passion sizzle?

In the historical realm, are the characters riveting and are we fully caught up not only in the lovely and accurate details of the time but also the true drama and personalities and stakes you present?

What are your strengths as a writer? Characterization? Scenery? Plotting? Imagery?  Have you heightened these so they are truly stand out?

Another thing to look at is how you are labeling and targeting your manuscript submissions. If you are calling your book a thriller but it’s really a cerebral mystery, you’ll be missing the mark. If you are directing your submissions to a commercial press, when your book is really a lovely lyrical literary novel, then your piece won’t be judged within the context that you want it to.

So next time you get a “too quiet” comment in a rejection, give your manuscript a hard look. Make sure you’ve really made its most important elements unique and stand out fab, and that you are labeling it correctly.  Then send it back out there and go make some noise!

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Slice of Life Friday: Giving Thanks, Kinda?

Basket of Fruit and Pumpkin PieHappy Friday, everyone!  I’ve been in the process of shifting my writing studio, and the craziest part of it all is my many, many, MANY (!!!) unpublished manuscripts I’ve unearthed. Novel manuscripts, short stories, countless articles. So many. So many I’ve forgotten about, actually. What to do with them all? Mind boggling. ANYWAYS, I ran across a humor piece I’d written a number of years ago that seems fitting at this time of year, what with Thanksgiving coming up and all. So here it is, excavated from the dusty piles of paper in my office, and ne’er before seen (I know, exciting, right?):

I am NOT Complaining, But…
By Marie Lamba

 

I am soaking in money from my book advance. Oh yes.

I know what you are thinking. That gloating skank. And I know what you are imagining. Me, naked, rolling around in a room full of $100 bills. Perhaps I have the fan on to make the money flutter like it does in those 30-second grab-what-you-can booths on TV quiz shows. You hate me, right?

Well, don’t be hating. I am naked. But that’s because I’m in a tub in a brand new bathroom funded by my book advance. And the new bathroom wasn’t some luxury. Some, “Oh, I always wanted one” decadent purchase. It was a necessity. It was “just my luck.”

See, I am a living breathing example of “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” The very day that I signed my contract for my first novel (giveth), I went down to my kitchen to nuke some tea, and found the microwave mysteriously full of water (taketh). So I called the plumber, who ripped up the wall in the bathroom above the kitchen, but couldn’t find the leak (taketh, taketh). He ripped up the floor around the toilet and found it all rotted away, and two hours later decided that the leak might be beneath the tile floor, involving the tub line. But he wasn’t sure. One thing was for sure, I needed a completely new bathroom, and my check for my book was just about the right amount (supreme taketh, combined with evil laughter).

My whole life has been like this. And, I know, I should be grateful. Whenever something major has come up, there has been a freelance job or timely tax return that pays just the right amount. I suppose I should view the bathtub (or the microwave) as half full.

And I should be used to this. See, there are the Haves and the Have Nots, and then there’s my family, the “Have Barely Enoughers.” I come from a long exhausted line of them, starting with my grandmother who went from riches to rags during the Depression, yet managed to scrape through. Then my parents, who dealt with unemployment during my father’s middle age, and tottered for years on the edge of ruin.

In elementary school, I became a Have Barely Enougher in training. When the charitable Lion’s Club truck delivered a Thanksgiving dinner to our door, there was turkey and those tasty little heat-in-the-oven rolls, but no cranberry sauce, and no pie. At Christmas they brought me wrapped presents, including a sweater that was too big, and pants that were too small. But they also give me the game Payday (which, I’m sure, was someone’s good-natured way of teaching me about fiscal responsibility). By junior high, I was tough enough to survive the daily embarrassment of handing over a state-provided meal ticket to the sneering cafeteria lady. In exchange for this humiliation, I was rewarded with a hot lunch featuring some variety of gray mystery meat.  I’d like to say I was grateful.

I couldn’t help but wonder, why me? Why my family? None of us were lazy. None of us were fiscally irresponsible. I guess we just had bad luck. Medical and employment catastrophes dogged us. Yet, through it all, we worked as hard as we could, and never lost our house, or our sense of humor.

By the time I had reached my 20’s, I was an accomplished Have Barely Enougher. My expectations were low, my skin thick. Therefore, it was no huge surprise to me when, after I got my first real job and put down the deposit on my first apartment, the publishing company I was working for abruptly closed. Also not a shocker: the day my insurance from that job ran out, I broke my leg.

Sure, there was a lot of taketh, but how could I complain? The Lord provideth the unemployment office, unto which I could hobble and collect the money that almost covered my most basic bills. And the Good Lord leadeth me unto the library where I could enjoy all the free books I wanted. He gaveth me all the TV I ever hoped to watch (until my apartment was broken into and my TV, along with most of my clothes, were stolen). I discovered I could even enjoy day trips to Atlantic City. As long as I could scrape together enough money for a casino bus fee, they’d refund it in quarters, plus $5 in additional quarters. Hell, if I only ate a $1 hot dog there, I was vacationing AND making money. Amen to that, sister.

I have been lucky in a way. I’m in my 40’s now, and I’ve gotten by. My whole family has. KNOCK ON TONS OF WOOD. Why tempt fate? Why ask for more? We don’t have money, but so what? If our “luck” continues to hold, we’ll always make it through. Endure. Soldier on and all that crap. Just think of the Have Nots who have all the hardships and never have just what they need to survive, never mind bus fare to AC. I mean, wah wah. Why am I such a whiner?

And yet I can’t help but think, what if God skipped a few takeths, just once in a while? Imagine if the money that never seems to rest in my account for more than a month, actually got to stick around long enough to accumulate interest? The amount of cash my husband and I have earned and had to immediately spend over the past 25 years is staggering. What if there had never been a leaking roof (and rotted rafters), or zapped out electrical panel from a freak storm, or totaled car (not my fault), or emergency double root canal?

I imagine myself like those people, the Haves, whose cars are bigger than my living room, and whose dogs get more expensive haircuts than my whole family combined. Who never have to limit their shopping to end-of-season clearance racks and who wouldn’t give reduced bruised produce even a glance.

Hm. Somehow I don’t think I’d ever quite be like that. If I were literally rolling in dough, wouldn’t I still drive a little car and be scandalized by overpriced jeans? Penny pinching is in my blood. But it would be nice to have money for my children’s college, and to not have to worry about meeting all the bills, and to take a dream vacation without a gripping terror that I am crashing into bankruptcy. I guess my luck could get worse (God forbid), but couldn’t it also get better?

MP900309434Soon my novel will be out. Will it sell well enough to change things? Will it undo the generations of struggle and transform my family from Have Barely Enoughers to the best sort of Haves? The kind of Haves that wisely use their money to improve the environment and find a cure for cancer? (Are you listening, God?)

Actually, I KNOW the book will sell. How can I be so sure? Well, let me put it this way…there are some wet spots blooming on my ceiling, the heater is acting up, there is a strange mold in my bedroom closet, and my tooth is just beginning to throb.

 

Slice of Life Friday: Let there be Light!

Glowing Christmas Tree in SnowDuring Hurricane Sandy, we lost power for 5 days.  Really can’t complain. It was awful not having heat, not being able to cook and of course living in darkness daily from around 4 p.m. on, but that’s nothing compared to what people on the coast went through. What many of them are still going through. It tears at the heart to think of the loss and the helplessness. And the darkness.

Light is such a powerful force. Of hope and optimism and possibility. Sitting huddled around the fireplace at night, trying to get some warmth, it really got me thinking about just how very revolutionary electricity must have been. Without light in the house, why stay up late into the evening? Reading by fire or candlelight is difficult, and it’s damned spooky beyond that glow.

What it must have been like for man centuries ago, as the days grew shorter and shorter when winter approached… And how clever it was to have a celebration around the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice.

It’s still clever.

You know, normally I kinda roll my eyes when people put up all that holiday stuff in their yards too early, and plug in those lights. But this year feels different. This year I’m thinking bring on the light and the color and the flashing brilliance. Even bring on that tacky glowing plastic snowman (but maybe put a hold on those giant blowup ornaments…shiver).  We even strung up our looping white lights along the property fence and a line of electric icicles across the porch the day after Thanksgiving.

This year it feels like: hi yah! Take that darkness and cold!  It’s extra cheerful when at 4:30 darkness tries to descend, sending along with it a depressing chill to my very bones. But then wink, zap, pow! House after house flares with glowing bushes, sparkling eaves, multicolored conifers. And I can’t help but feel like I’m walking in daylight.

In whimsy.

In hope.

So bring on the holidays! Make em tacky and bright, garish and brash. We laugh at the darkness. We feel like going out instead of huddling alone inside wrapped in a blanket.

This holiday season, step out, catch the sparkle and whimsy. Clasp hands with each other and laugh often. The longer days will come again, but in the meantime, let there be light in your life.

Happy almost December to all.

 

Reinvent Yourself

How many times in your life do you get to reinvent yourself? To leave behind your past and become the person you really want to be?

For some of us, it can happen when we move to a new place or switch schools. Sometimes it’s a goal we set for ourselves, like by the end of this summer you’d like to eat healthier, spend more time with those you love, learn a new skill, be happier. For writers, sometimes we want to create a novel with an entirely different voice, or in a new genre…like I did when I wrote my newest novel Drawn, a paranormal about an artist who channels a hot ghost with a sketchy past.  Pretty different from my earlier contemporary YA novels What I Meant… and Over My Head.  Writing aside, when it comes to do overs in your own life, maybe you simply decide that this is the moment when you will make a BIG change. To alter the course of your future. Yet sometimes that seems impossible. Sometimes your past gets in the way.

In Drawn, Michelle longs to escape her past and have a fresh start. As she says in this early scene from the book:

The two of us have only been in England for a few days, yet I’m already convinced it’s the best place in the universe. Not because of the quaint little shops or everyone’s adorable English accent, or even because of this supposedly grand castle on the edge of town. No. This place is perfect because here no one knows that back in New Jersey my family, the De Freccio’s, are called the De Freak-o’s.

Back in New Jersey, Michelle’s mother was an eccentric psychic who suddenly up and left the family without a trace. And her brother was a diagnosed schizophrenic. And Michelle had been friendless, an outcast. But in England, she hopes for a new life. A normal one.

Honestly, while writing Drawn I could really identify with Michelle’s do over moment. In elementary school a bunch of snotty girls used to push me around during recess, and it crushed my spirit.  So in middle school, where lots of new kids filled the classrooms, it looked like a clear do-over moment to me.

But reputations tend to cling to a person, so it was pretty rocky for me at first.  Those nasty kids still were in my school, even though their power was now diluted. Still I was too self-conscious and too worried about what I said and wore and how people looked at me.

Now looking back I can see the real problem wasn’t those girls, it was what I carried inside myself: the loser image I wanted to ditch, but that on some level I’d bought into.  What if they were right about me?

In the novel, Michelle may have left her past behind, but her insecurities have come along for the ride:

I get that familiar hot burn of humiliation. I always felt it whenever someone back in New Jersey would pull a trick on me, convincing me that I really was invited to a party, or that science class was actually meeting out near the woods on the edge of school grounds. I discovered I was an easy mark. Too trusting, too eager for friends.

I’d promised myself that those days were over. But here, an ocean away from New Jersey, it’s starting all over again. It’s like I’ve got a permanent “KICK ME” note stuck on my back.

Luckily for me, by the end of middle school I did have friends. I was liked. I remember wondering, why? It mystified me. Wasn’t I the same person who was so looked down on earlier?

In the novel, when things start looking up for Michelle, it mystifies her too:

I sigh, realizing I’ve disappointed my friends. I blink a few times, as this all sinks in. I’ve just turned down an “in” with the popular kids. And I actually have friends. It seems that by simply moving to a new place, I’ve somehow climbed out of my social wasteland. I think of all the high school kids in the world who are teased and shunned. They should all have the chance to move and start over—kind of like a witness protection program, but for outcasts.

Actually, I believe there is a sort of relocation program for anyone who needs it. And you don’t need an airline ticket to England to get there. It’s not a place, but a state of mind deep within ourselves. Michelle started to have friends not because she moved but because she had already begun to change inside. To trust others and have more faith in herself. She truly wasn’t that same person anymore.  And that’s what happened to me, too, in a way.  I’d started to genuinely feel good about myself and to open up to people more and that made all the difference.

Of course nothing is simple, and real change doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just wake up one morning and DING! Everything is all butterflies and happy songs.  It takes time to gain inner strength and for those better choices in what you do and who you hang out with to all gel and reshape your days into the life you truly want.  For me, it was a process of feeling better about myself and discovering what was most important to me. It did take time, but by the end of high school I felt like really strong, really happy.

In the book, not all Michelle’s new friends are good ones. And her life is NOT easy, especially after the appearance of Christopher who is either a delusion or a ghost.  This definitely spells trouble for a girl trying very hard to blend in. And it forces her to wonder about who she really wants to be. And what she should truly believe in.

She comes to learn she can’t control how others feel, only how she feels. And in the end she must choose whether or not to believe in Christopher, a spirit who may or may not be a murderer. Who may or may not love her back. His life, their love, and Michelle’s hope all hang in the balance.

Michelle does a lot of incredibly brave things in the book, but to me, she is most courageous when she owns up to this:

Maybe I am a fool. Maybe Christopher doesn’t love me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in love with him…

It’s a huge risk, trusting that this is enough. And it propels Michelle into a life threatening struggle where she puts everything on the line. But in the end, trusting her own feelings opens Michelle up to true friendship and to true love.

Taking risks and believing in yourself.  It’s the bravest thing you can ever do, and what do overs are all about. So believe!