I started this blog in early 2012, at the request of my publisher. I’ll admit I was worried about it. I’d written a weekly online column before, but that was different. This was a BLOG, something I’d resisted for years. Would I have time to blog and blog well? Would people (other than my mother) care enough about what’s going on in my head to read it? And what in the hell would I write about?
Well, I haven’t kept up with the blogging schedule I’d hoped for, but I have written a few fun pieces. Below, I’ve featured links to the 10 most popular posts, just in case you missed `em. Even I enjoyed rereading a few.
Oh, and just to recap this AMAZING year in publishing for me (because that’s what you do on New Year’s Eve-Eve) … after becoming an Amazon bestseller in the spring and summer, Blue Straggler (released as an ebook in August 2011 and in paperback in March of this year) remains in the top 30 in sales and customer ratings in comic fiction on Amazon. It hit #2 again right after Christmas and #5 in a different category (humor). Pretty cool. Or rather, a huge dream of mine come true. A Good Kind of Knowing was released in ebook in October and in paperback earlier this month. It made it to the #10 spot in its category (fiction/drama) on Amazon and remains in the top 30 in ratings. It also made the top 100 in customer ratings in literary fiction. Whew. That’s as good for this writer’s soul as crab legs, cheese biscuits and a Bahama Mama from Red Lobster.
I’m so thankful to everyone who has supported me this year and always. Having my work touch just a few people would’ve been satisfying. But this kind of success has been overwhelming. Thank you!
New and old friends and family who support my writing. A six-year-old who can already cook up a mean batch of fried catfish. Sonic ice and Dr Pepper. A husband who buys me Sonic ice because he knows it makes me happy. Two furry babies who make me smile, no matter how very bad they can be. My publisher, 30 Day Books (Laura Pepper Wu and Brandon Wu) — it’s so darn awesome to know that there are good, kind people all over the world, and that I have these folks on my side. Jeremy Kron for his wonderful work on my novels’ cover and interior design. My new job with Truven Health Analytics. I’m loving the work so much. Knowing that I’ll get to see my family and taste my mama’s cooking in just a couple of weeks. My Kindle Fire. Brilliant writing by people who inspire me. The herd of deer hanging out on our road this evening. The Rocky Mountains. Fresh mountain air. Memory foam. This laptop. Friends I know will be there for me if I need them. Texas Hill Country pecans, found at a Target in Colorado, believe it or not. Cool cotton pillowcases. Good wine. Stand-up comedians. A mother- and father-in-law who adore my son and treat us all with overwhelming generosity. The good health of myself, my family and my friends. The music of Lyle Lovett. Sara Lee pies because I don’t have time to make my own. Readers out there in the universe who are reading my novels and taking the time to let me know that my words touched them somehow. Every single person who has written a review of either of my novels. My eyesight. A soft, warm blanket on a chilly night. Stars. Avocados. Dark chocolate. Ariat boots. Vacuum cleaners. Wild Orange essential oil. A massage therapist as a spouse. And the sound of my angel-son saying, “I love you, mama,” as he drifts off to sleep.
What are you thankful for right now, in this moment? (Don’t think about it deeply, just spit out what comes to mind. It’s nice sometimes to just Let. It. Out.) PS: Vacuum is a weird word, isn’t it?
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I’m cheating a little tonight. I was going to write a quick blog post before hitting the hay, but then I realized I had recently answered an Author Q/A for a blog during my two-week blog tour, but the content was never used.
So I think I’ll publish it here, just for kicks. The really cool thing? It includes a quick teaser of content from my second novel, A Good Kind of Knowing, which will be out this summer. I hope you enjoy it. But first, the Q/A.
Q: What inspired you to write this book, Blue Straggler?
I had written a short story with three of the characters that now appear in Blue Straggler (Bailey, Rudy and Idamarie), and I just loved them so much that I needed to put them into a broader story. Plus, the main character in the short story (Bailey) was going through a kind of early mid-life crisis, and I knew a lot of friends who were going through similar things, as was I. I thought the story could be universal and really explore what it means to find out who you are and where you’re meant to land in life.
Q: Do you have a favorite place you like to write?
Our deck in the summer = paradise for me.
Yes! On my deck in the spring, summer and fall. I live in a log cabin in a beautiful area in the Colorado mountains, in the middle of a national forest. It’s so peaceful; I can’t think of a better place to settle in and crank out stories. When winter rolls around, and the deck is not an option due to 20-below temperatures and snow, I write in my back bedroom or in the great room, next to a warm, crackling fire. Thank goodness for laptops (and golden retrievers to keep my feet warm)! We’re talking of moving to a lower elevation soon; it’ll be interesting to see how it affects my writing.
Q: Do you have a favorite author of your own?
So many. I love Barbara Kingsolver. She’s probably at the top of my list. Anna Quindlen would be there, too. (Her new memoir is brilliant.) Anne Lamott and Lorrie Moore. Larry McMurtry. Cormac McCarthy. Toni Morrison. I just can’t choose; it’s like asking me which of my many furry babies (dogs) I’ve had through the years I like best.
Q: A favorite character? One of yours or someone else’s that touched your heart?
A: Not to toot my own horn, but in my Blue Straggler, I love, love Idamarie. She’s just so down-to-earth and real and colorful and she always shoots from the hip. She’s the kind of Texan I miss most, living in Colorado like I do now. If I could have an Idamarie in my life, I think life would be even more fun than it is now. And I’d likely be more grounded with her sage advice around.
Q: Are you currently working on anything? If so, can you give us a tease?
I am putting the finishing touches on my next novel, A Good Kind of Knowing. It’s set in a small, rural town in Texas, and explores how all of these small-town lives are interconnected, and how even though we all come from different places in our lives, we have a lot in common — big things like humanity and small things like a love of good music.
So, I’ll leave you with a super tease! This is the most I think I’ve revealed of any part of the book. As you’ll see right away, A Good Kind of Knowing is a different kind of novel than Blue Straggler. It’s not comic fiction, though there is some humor.
This is the kind of jukebox mentioned in the excerpt below.
This is an excerpt from about halfway through the story. Sera is the main character in the novel; she owns a local music store. She’s married to Bill, but has a “special” relationship, which is growing in intimacy and closeness, to a handsome young musician (Mack). She’s been pretty sick for a while, and most people in town know it. Some of her friends have been trying to help out at her business while she deals with her illness.
Mack waited for her at Antonio’s bar. Antonio stood over by the pool tables, emptying ashtrays from the night before. The afternoon sun filtered in through the small windows up front, sending sleek slats of light into the otherwise dark room and catching the perpetual dust of the place in a kind of suspension around the room. Two men, both in their eighties, sat at a square table in the corner, smoking thick cigars and playing cards. Every now and then, one of them would chuckle and cough. Antonio had turned on the jukebox—an old Wurlitzer with just one remaining front bulb flickering—and pushed the numbers for his favorites, mostly Freddy Fender hits.
Antonio mumbled the words to “Vaya Con Dios” as he picked up the previous night’s litter around the booths in the back. Empty beer bottles knocked together in his hand.
Mack sat at the bar, his felt hat on the barstool beside him, his hands working to fold a square bar napkin into the shape of a flimsy paper airplane. He shifted his weight on the barstool, glanced back at Antonio, then shifted again. “Sure I can’t help you back there?” It was the third time he’d asked.
Antonio hollered his response. Same as before.
The front door squeaked a little, drowning out the low-playing music for a second, and Sera stepped into the bar, jeans hanging loose on her hips and one of Bill’s sweatshirts tied around her waist. A blast of fall slipped in behind her and the wind sucked the heavy door back hard as she came in.
“Hey there. Been waiting long?” She greeted Mack with a quick kiss on the cheek. He wondered if she’d meant to let her lips linger, or if it was only in his mind.
“Thanks for meeting me, hon. I needed to get out of the house for a while.” Sera waved to Antonio as she talked. “I don’t know how long I can stay, though. I never know when my body’s going to give up the ship for the day.”
“I was glad you called,” Mack replied, nodding again at Antonio as he motioned for them to help themselves to the cold longnecks chilling in a long, aluminum tub next to the bar.
Mack picked out a couple and used the corner of his brown work jacket to twist off the caps.
“Can you even have beer?” Mack hadn’t thought to ask before he handed it to her.
“Oh hell yes. Why not? Not like a little beer every now and then ever killed a person.” She laughed at her joke and nudged Mack’s shoulder.
“Funny.” He didn’t mean it.
Antonio walked over to them and put his hands on Sera’s neck.
“How’s my favorite lady today?” Antonio asked, squeezing her thin shoulders. Mack straightened next to her.
Sera smiled and swirled around on her barstool to face Antonio. “Tony. Join us? I’m taking a walk on the wild side, going to see how hops and barley affect pancreatic distress.”
Antonio glanced at Mack, then back at Sera. “Maybe later, okay?”
“Later,” Sera agreed.
As Antonio left to check on his two customers, Sera turned back to Mack and asked how things were at the store.
“Nobody’ll tell me a thing, Mack. Bill hardly even speaks to me these days. I’m lucky if I get a good morning from him, much less a report on how things are going. And I went by the shop on my way here, and Tommy Lee and Ruby D. were down there—on a Sunday, mind you—arguing over shelf space.
“I think it’s all gonna be alright, Sera. Everybody’s tryin’ real hard.”
“I know,” she said, letting out a long sigh. “You know, I’m really thinking you all are crazy and we ought to just close the shop for a while. It would ease my guilt of you all trying to make this work.”
Mack cleared this throat and nodded toward the bar door. “Guess this weather’s gonna stay cool for a while longer,” he said, doing his best to change the subject.
Sera didn’t answer. They sat together, listening to Freddy Fender sing about being there before the next teardrop falls. One of the men sang out to the chorus in Spanish.
“I’ve been thinking about heaven, Mack. I mean, there’s a side of me that wants to believe there is this garden of sunshine up there waiting for me with all the people I’ve ever lost in the world sitting around sipping lemonade in the shade. The weather would never get hot, and there’d be cats everywhere and my mother and Otis Redding and Patsy Cline would all be singing every night at a little dive. But something tells me it isn’t that simple.”
“It could be.”
“Yeah, but what if we’re living in heaven right now? I mean, what if we’ve got it all wrong, and we’re already there.”
“I guess there’d be some people going around missing out on the lemonade.”
Sera smiled. “Maybe we ought to switch the lemonade to Shiner Bock.” She clicked her bottle against Mack’s.
In the back, Antonio turned the key on the jukebox and punched in new codes to start the music up again.
An old Johnny Rodriguez song dropped into play, a melody about being down on the Rio Grande, lovers walking hand in hand. Sera hummed, and Mack watched the beer swirl against the glass as he moved his bottle in circles with his wrist.
“Do you realize we’ve never danced together?” Sera turned to face him.
Mack smiled slightly, concentrating on his beer. “Guess there was never a time, what with me on stage and all.”
Sera waited for a moment. “What about now?”
Mack surveyed the room. “Now?”
He looked at her—this woman with eyes that danced no matter what the music, with a face that could weaken any man, with a spirit that spread around her like a magician’s stardust.
He blushed, then stood up and offered his hand. She grinned and he grinned and the old men in the corner grinned. Even Antonio looked up from his calculator—and slowly grinned.
Together, Mack and Sera swayed and moved in a slow two-step around the center of the hardwood floor. Daylight streamed in around them like nature’s spotlight. Mack held her loosely at first, but Sera moved as close to him as she could, her left hand at the nape of his neck, her right in his leading hand.
He heard her breathe in, but was not aware that she was actually trying to hold on to his scent—an earthy combination—part leather, part cotton. Part hay, part rope. Part beer, part coffee. Part horse mane and part crushed wild weeds.
As she rested her head on his shoulder, Mack let his own breath out slowly, for fear she’d know, finally, full well, the effect she had on him. Her hair, blown in many directions from the wind when she came in, tickled his nose. But he couldn’t brush it away, didn’t ever want to brush it away. He closed his eyes and memorized how her body moved, how somehow he was no longer leading and his body was only reacting to the sway of Sera’s hips, his boots following the sliding of Sera’s across the floor.
Not many places in Colorado remind me of home so resolutely as — believe it or not — Sheplers Western Wear.
Sheplers is really the only game in town (Denver) when it comes to true western wear — you know, the kinds of clothes you’d wear to the rodeo (or to rodeo, when used as a verb).
Yesterday, I visited not one but two Sheplers stores, looking for the perfect pair of jeans in my size and length. Didn’t find them, darnit.
But I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy my time in those stores. Unlike when I shop for typical clothes for work or play, at places like Dillard’s or Macy’s or Kohl’s, I find myself feeling quite happy at Sheplers.
After all, I like the people shopping alongside me. For instance, there was a mom-daughter duo, who had just drove down from Wyoming. Sheplers was a destination for them, and they were having a good time hitting the sale racks. Watching them made me miss my mom terribly. There was also a father in the store with his elementary-school-age daughter; he was wearing Wranglers and she was, too, along with some mighty fine pink
Kickin' red boots. Maybe I should have bought them.
boots. And there was an older couple, probably in their 70s, who gave me some pretty funny commentary as I tried on some awesome boots in deep red. The wife said they were too flashy; the husband thought they were fine. Unfortunately, I would’ve needed a loan to take those babies home with me.
I also love the country music piped through Sheplers store speakers. It’s GOOD country music, too, not just radio-friendly crapola. We’re talking vintage George Strait and Reba (before she was overproduced) and even Keith Whitley and Waylon. The kind of music that makes me miss the South Texas dancehalls I grew up in.
I miss Texas dancehalls like this one.
As weird as it may sound, I also happen to love the smell of Sheplers. Leather boots and belts. Stetsons being steamed in the middle of the store. Ahhhhh.
And just shopping for the jeans themselves reminded me of all those trips to D&D in Seguin, or to Cavender’s in College Station when I attended Texas A&M and was, shall we say, very into cowboys and All That That Implies (bonus points for any reader who knows what movie that line comes from). I remember my sister and me trying on about a million pairs of Rocky Mountain-brand jeans back then. I had a pair in just about every color and wash of denim possible. They went well with my cowgirl-spiral-permed hair and purple roper boots. (What was I thinking??? And no, I’m not posting a pic of that hair.)
One thing, though, that has changed dramatically since those days is the price of jeans. Holy guacamole! There wasn’t a pair of jeans in that store for under $50. Even my beloved Wranglers were $60! And I thought $30 back in the day was expensive. I am officially old.
Move over, Willie Nelson. There's a new kid in town.
I’ll leave you tonight with a photo of my beautiful son on the stage at Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dancehall, and an excerpt from A Good Kind of Knowing, my second novel that will be out later this year as an ebook:
As always, the hall smelled of stale cigarette smoke and cheap beer. Most people probably hated it. But Sera cherished the feel of rural Texas dance halls. She preferred arriving early to beat the crowd and the inevitable clouds of smoke. She felt the fusty smell of Saturday nights past was somehow familiar to her, even though she was certain she’d never stepped foot in a VFW hall before she came to Texas. But it all seemed comfortable. Like an old pair of jeans you throw on for a Sunday afternoon, she’d just slipped right into it, almost forgetting it hadn’t always been her life. To her, a dance hall just beginning to fill with people, just beginning to get all wound up, meant possibilities. You never knew what the night might bring, what songs would be played, who would come by the table to talk, who would have too much to drink, who would start a fight, who would wind up dancing a little too close to someone they shouldn’t, and who would leave with someone new. For better or for worse, an empty dance hall practically shouted anticipation.
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