My Life

“…This is your life, are you who you want to be?
This is your life, is it everything you’ve dreamed
That it would be when the world was younger,
And you had everything to lose?”
-This is Your Life by Switchfoot

When I was fourteen/fifteen, I listened to this song with hope that one day my life would be everything that I ever dreamed it would be. Because, I don’t know if you remember, but being a teenager isn’t as fun as they make it seem on TV. Your choices are pretty limited. You go to school, go to church, do your chores, do your homework, mind your manners, hang out with your friends, maybe get your driver’s permit, learn a life lesson or two. Sure, you have less responsibility and less to worry about, but that to me always meant being stuck in the same old routine.

I longed for the day when I’d be older because I couldn’t do any of the things I actually wanted to do until then. I figured if I finally finished school, published a book, got married, and started my own family, then I would have “arrived.” I would’ve been done with the farming and gaining XP part of this video game, and be leveled up enough to get to the good stuff. Do you know what has happened the older I’ve gotten? Nothing. I still feel exactly the same, like I’m waiting for the “good” part of my life to start.

Don’t get me wrong; I have A LOT to be thankful for. I have a good-paying job with incredible health insurance. I have a car that works (most of the time). I’m living in a rental house that’s in a good neighborhood. I have a husband that I don’t deserve. We have loving and supporting families, a nurturing church, great friends, and pets that are practically angels (when compared to the animals in all of those shaming memes). I’ve published three books and will be self-publishing a fourth in the next month or two (fingers crossed). I have a bouncing baby boy on the way.

According to the logic of Teenage Me, this should mean that I have “arrived,” right? My days of striving and waiting and working are over. I have everything that I’ve ever wanted, but nothing is at all like I thought it would be. I’ve always known that I’m something of a romantic, that I see life through rose-colored glasses. The truth is I don’t see life at all.

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I thought this meme only pertained to the fantasy worlds I wrote about. I was wrong. This is just how I view everything. Unrealistically. Positively. Naively. I set myself up for disappointment because I’ll always be waiting for my circumstances to align with my view of how things “ought to be” after all my years of “farming.” When in reality, life is hard and is always going to be. People tried to tell me this when I was younger. Sometimes I believed them. Most of the time I didn’t. Now, I think, I’m finally starting to see.

Because–shocker!–the things I’ve been looking forward to? They have their down sides too. For example:

  • I’m done with school (for now); that’s great. But trying to make writing my full time career or trying to get an internship at a publishing company is a drag. There’s always a better writer, a better candidate.
  • I’m published. Again, great! I’m super proud of the fact that I have books out there for people to enjoy! But book promotion and marketing are soul-crushing. There are so many articles and blog posts and YouTube videos chock full of information that has, so far, not helped me very much.
  • I’m married. Woohoo! But…actually, I have no complaints there. Being married to Devo Fox is pretty amazing. Sure, sometimes we confuse and frustrate each other, but we never go to bed angry. He’s still the first person I want to see when I wake up in the morning, the person I can’t wait to get home to. Moving right along…
  • I’m pregnant. Guess what. Feeling nauseous and exhausted all the time sucks. There are things I used to do with ease, things that I can’t do anymore because I literally don’t have the energy. I keep hearing that it’ll get better with time but it hasn’t. I’m thinking I’ll keep feeling sick and tired right up until I pop this kid out.

There is no giant scale where all my hours of farming go in and, after I’ve reached a certain point, I’ll have “earned” an easy-breezy end to my life. I’m always going to have to work for what I want. I’m never going to “arrive,” not until the second coming. If I get a little extra money to travel or purchase something big that I need, it’ll be a blessed miracle. If I ever look around and feel any measure of peace or contentment, I need to cherish that because those moments are so fleeting.

But nobody wants to hear about that, do they? Complainers and downers get nothing but eye-rolls and cricket noises. Plus, I don’t want to stay in this depressingly realistic place either. I want to continue seeing the bright side of things, to continue believing that my circumstances will get easier with time. Because if they don’t, then I might actually give up. What kind of life would that be?

There’s a not-so-subtle theme in The Andromeda Trilogy (cool name pending). It’s something along the lines of “do the best you can with what you have and try to find happiness no matter where you are in life.” It makes me sound wise but, as you can see, I’m still trying to figure out how to put that into practice. How to be content without getting complacent. How to see things as they are without giving in to depression and discouragement. How to explain to my kids the difference between living in the moment and being reckless. Because I can’t wait for the day my unrealistic expectations come true. Not anymore. This is my life. It’s happening right now. There is good and there is bad. There are things I can do and things I can’t. What am I going to do with this knowledge, this new outlook? Time will only tell.

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Family and work

Finding myself with nothing specific to blog about, I decided to just recap on my week thus far.

Last weekend I got to spend time with my family. We all pitched in to rent a cabin in Munds Park, Arizona, where we could spend the weekend together. Before this, it had been a year since we’d all been together. It was a special time of food, games, puzzles, and a watered down version of Dungeons and Dragons which included every geeky thing imaginable (from sonic screwdrivers, to Lord of the Rings riddles, to Star Wars quotes, to Indiana Jokes traps). Ezra did a great job as Dungeon Master.

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From left to right: My big brother (Ezra), his wife (Ceceilia), and their two boys (Micah age 3, and Thomas age 1). My “little” brother (Joe). My big sister (Anna) and her boyfriend (Ivan). Me and my husband. My parents (Becky and Isidro) are the ones sitting down, of course.

My sister got to give me her notes on my latest WIP in person. That’s always fun. I always get thrown back in time, to when we’d sit in our room (me in the swivel chair by the desk, her on the bed), discussing ideas for our stories. We were just girls with dreams back then. Now she’s got a Bachelor’s in English Literature and I’m a published author. Who would’ve thought?

My sister-in-law was amazing, doing all of the cooking while defusing any little tantrums her sons had (which were few but still!).

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I also got to play and get lots of cuddles from my nephews. Yes, they’re adorable and they love their Auntie Becca. Be jealous.

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And then we came right back home to begin another week of work. Back to sitting duty for my husband, and receptionist work and book promotion for me.

In the Dark was published yesterday, by the way. Hooray!

I’ve been looking forward to this since the day I signed the contract for it but was super disappointed when I found out how many people pre-ordered it.

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I guess because my first book did so well, I assumed that the second one would be just as popular. I’m doing all the same things for In the Dark as I did for I Dare You to Love Me, the one difference being the book reviews. I Dare You to Love Me had reviews up on Amazon the day it was released, thus boosting its popularity. I was only able to acquire one review for In the Dark‘s release date. Others are coming, though. I can only hope that they’ll be positive and spark the interest of more readers.

In the mean time, I’m utilizing reader and author groups on Facebook and Twitter, posting quotes, snippets of reviews, and links to purchase. Three times a week. Of course, I’m using this blog too. I’ve heard conflicting opinions on whether hosting contests and giveaways are still popular ways to inspire interest. My publisher recommended talking about the book and any other books I’m working on, but I’m not sure how to do that without giving too much away…

Night Owl Reviews is putting together packages of bookmarks, thin coasters, business cards, and short excerpts to mail to their readers. They’re currently looking for romance authors to provide some of these promo items for them to mail and I’d love to get all over that. I’m just waiting for the next paycheck. Because it costs some money to sign up. That’s the hardest thing, I’ve found. A lot of promotional services cost money these days and I’m living on a budget.

Anyone have any suggestions on free, effective ways to promote? I’d appreciate any thoughts you might have on the subject. What are some things that have worked for you, authors? What are some things that have spurred your interest in a book, readers?

Concerning dirty dishes and interruptions

Quite unexpectedly, my husband and I found ourselves attending a marriage conference last Friday. My husband’s cousin and his wife just so happened to have extra tickets to the conference and invited us to go with them. We hadn’t seen them in a while, plus we’d never been to a marriage conference before, so we went. The four of us drove over to a church I’d heard about but had never actually attended. The large auditorium was full with several hundred people. After some announcements from the hosts and a short introduction, the speaker, a Dr. Randy Carlson, came on the stage.

His points and insights, although familiar, were good reminders of things married people can do to create a happier marriage. Saying ‘I love you’ every day, listening without interrupting, abandoning criticism, forgiving one another, using words of affirmation, and etc. He called them Love Habits. By the end of the hour and a half, he challenged us to pick one thing we could do for our spouses for thirty consecutive days. Stopping bad habits and creating entirely new ones can be daunting, but doing one thing is all it takes to start the process. Or at least, that’s what he said.

I sank in my seat when Dr. Carlson mentioned listening without interrupting, sure he was talking to me. It was just too coincidental that he would mention it days after my husband himself pointed out this bad habit of mine. I don’t interrupt to be malicious or to hog the spot light. Sometimes, as he speaks, ideas or opinions pop into my head and I verbalize them so that I don’t forget. Half the time, I don’t even realize I’m doing it. During one conversation, it got to the point where my husband just stopped talking. Once I was through with the point I wanted to add to the conversation, I turned to him expectantly, waiting for him to finish whatever he had been saying before. When he didn’t, I asked if there was anything wrong. He admitted he was frustrated with me and was trying to collect himself. Surprised, I asked him what I’d done to upset him.

“You kept interrupting me and I kept having to repeat myself,” he said. “I don’t like repeating myself so I’m just not going to.”

Feeling like a jerk, I apologized and promised to work on it.

After the marriage conference, I used my added guilt to make that committment. I was going to be a better listener. I was going to be more considerate of my husband and that was that.

Well, it’s been more of a challenge than I thought. I’ve found myself literally biting my lips to keep myself from interjecting. Worst of all is trying to really listen to what he’s saying while I’m trying to remember what it was I wanted to add. Who knew something so simple would be so difficult? I’ve messed up a couple times and spoken when I should’ve been listening, but my gracious husband has forgiven me every time. I’m happy to report that it is getting easier! I just have to keep focused.

My husband had been having some trouble thinking of one thing he could do for me. Not to brag or anything, but he’s pretty awesome and he does a lot of the things Dr. Carlson mentioned in the marriage conference. I cook every evening (with the exception of those rare mornings when I get up early and make dinner then or when we’re having lasagna and I can just leave a note for my husband to throw it in the oven an hour before I get home from work). But I also wash the dishes 99% of the time. I hate having a dirty kitchen. It immediately sucks the energy out of me when I come home from work to see a pile of dirty dishes on the counter. I finally expressed my frustrations to my husband, who gets home three hours before I do.

“I’m sorry, babe. I just don’t notice when the house is dirty,” he admitted. (Which is hilarious because he can spot a finger smudge on my car window from a mile away while I can go weeks, even months, at a time without washing my car.)

Men and women are different; I’ve seen evidence of this all my life. I never realized just how different they were until I got married. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I believe it’s perfect. We complete each other this way. But it’s so easy to allow those differences to drive us insane! I expect certain things from my husband because, to me, they’re obvious. I mean, why wouldn’t he notice the dishes? It’s the first thing I see!

It takes a lot of selfless love to be able to set our expectations aside and see someone for who they truly are, how they operate, how they think and feel. I’ve decided to let my expectations go, face reality, and try to see my husband for who he is, not necessarily who I want him to be.

My husband decided to make his one thing washing the dishes every day, even if there’s only a handful of plates in the sink. He doesn’t care about the state of the kitchen so long as there’s food in the fridge. But I’ve told him it bothers me, so he’ll do it for me. A whole week has gone by. My counters are clean. The sink is empty. The dish drainer is full. And I’m considerably less stressed. It’s amazing how something so small can make such a difference. I’m so thankful! I hope my one thing is making a difference in his life as well.

So, married folk, what’s your one thing going to be?

On branches and weeds

“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you decided what you want to do about the yard?”

A casual glance through the front window. “Nope.”

“Okay.”

My husband and I had been having this same conversation for four months. The two trees in our front yard were so over grown that the leaves were only inches away from the ground. One exceptionally long branch was hanging over the street, waiting for a strong wind to knock it into one of our neighbor’s cars. Our yard was a hazard and an eye-sore. We both knew it and we both wanted to do something about it. We looked into hiring a landscaper. We had seen several trucks on our block and they had all very helpfully stuffed their cards through the screen door. Still, every offer seemed too expensive. In my eyes, the logical thing to do would be to trim the trees ourselves, but we didn’t have the tools or friends we could borrow the tools from.

“Besides,” my husband would always say. “Our trashcans are too small to fit that big branch and all of those leaves. They would just end up in a big pile in the back yard, and I don’t want to have to deal with that.”

I asked if he could borrow some tools from work since they sometimes have to do landscaping around their billboards. I volunteered to help him so that we could get the task done quicker. I suggested renting a dumpster to put the branch in. I did everything in my power to make the job sound easier than it was. There was always a good reason why he couldn’t ask his boss about the tools or why this weekend wasn’t a good weekend to take care of the yard or why renting a dumpster wouldn’t work. Meanwhile, the wind kept blowing and the rain kept coming and before we knew it, there was a jungle of weeds in our backyard tall enough to touch my hips. I started pulling them myself but the task was daunting, especially since four hours of pulling weeds had barely put a dent in the sea of plant parasites in our backyard.

I didn’t want to nag him. Nagging men doesn’t ever seem to work. I watched my mother do it and it only ever seemed to make my dad angry. He would make his decision/do that one chore/buy that one appliance/paint the fence/file that document/get rid of the clutter in the backyard when he was good and ready, and no amount of complaining or begging was going to change that. (He always did get it done, just not when my mother wanted it done.) I tried nagging my little brother about his chores in the years after my older siblings were out of the house, my parents were both still working, and it was just the two of us on Saturday mornings. Mom had given us both responsibilities and I had done my share. I didn’t think it fair that he got to laze around and told him so. It would take an hour of his day tops to do his laundry, clean his room, and take out the trash. But no! He didn’t feel like doing it right then so he wasn’t going to do it. I would yell and scream until I had no voice and no dignity, and he would still sit there, very calmly, and say, “Nope. Don’t wanna.” (My little brother and I get along great now, by the way.)

The same thing pretty much happens with my husband. Neither of us have ever gotten angry enough to yell at each other, but we’ve gotten frustrated and annoyed with each other when I ask him do to anything repeatedly and he doesn’t do it immediately. Every time, he has stated very clearly that he heard me the first time and he does indeed plan on doing that thing I asked him to do, just not at the exact moment I would like this thing to be done. At times, I’ve been able to remember that I love this man and I chose to marry this man and, with that choice, I also vowed to respect this man whether he drops what he’s doing to do what I want him to do or not. And at other times, I simply stew in the corner, muttering under my breath about the “stubbornness of dwarves.” (Hobbit reference to those of you who are raising your eyebrows right now.) As you have probably concluded, the former response is the more mature and loving response, and the one I think we should all strive to achieve in situations like these.

So I decided to be patient despite the fact that the yards made my stomach turn every time I looked at them. He knows it bothers me, I reasoned. To some degree, it bothers him too. I just have to wait until it bothers him enough to push him to do something about it. That’s not to say I didn’t gently prompt him now and then with the, “Have you decided what you want to do about the yard?” question. But I don’t think he considered that to be nagging because he never became frustrated or upset with me when I asked.

Finally, the blessed day arrived when I pulled into the garage and looked over at my husband’s truck to see heavy duty gardening tools. Once inside, I saw my husband sitting before the TV, playing his video games, with the curtains drawn away from the sliding glass doors. (Usually, he keeps the curtains closed because he claims the light from outside causes a terrible glare against his screen.) It was a wonderful sight to behold; a clean-cut back yard without any sign of weeds. I expressed my joy by falling into his lap, throwing my arms around his neck, and kissing him repeatedly. I might have been a tad overly dramatic, but I have no regrets.

He trimmed the trees the next morning. I raked up all the leaves and thinner branches for him and we filled our trashcan plus two large garbage bags. He took out the chainsaw and cut down that dangerously long branch. Then he cut it into smaller pieces and we loaded them into the bed of his truck. We took a little trip to the landfill and bid a very short farewell to that branch. Then it was off to Smashburger for a date we couldn’t afford. While I’m usually very frugal and disciplined about going out to eat when we really shouldn’t, I was happy to charge it to the credit card. And while I’m usually very self-conscious about the way I look in public, I sported a messy high pony tail, an old Spider-Man T-shirt, jean shorts, and my running shoes without a care. Because our yards were clean, our trees looked beautiful, my husband was in a good mood, and we were eating great food.

“In the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” I don’t know who Khalil Gibran is, but he’s a wise man. I think sometimes I get so caught up in being a wife that I forget to be a friend. I could’ve said something along the lines of, “Finally!” or “It’s about time you finally got this done!” or “If you’d just listened to me four months ago, this would have been done by now!” but that would’ve changed the day completely. It would’ve led to an argument. Instead, we were able to work as a team and enjoy lunch afterwards, teasing and talking and just being together. As a couple but also as friends.

I’m so thankful that my husband and I can do things like that. We can work, run errands, do chores, even sit together in the same room (him playing his video games, me watching Gilmore Girls on the laptop), and be refreshed. Together. And I think it’s because of the way we choose to respond to one another in potentially upsetting situations. Did I have a right to be mad? I think so. Did he have a right to lay into me for asking him about the yards every so often? No matter how gentle or nice I was about it, I was still repeating myself so, yes, he probably did have a right to become frustrated with me. But I know my husband; he’s not a lazy, good-for-nothing, moocher who waits until I get tired enough to just do whatever it is I want done myself. He had a timetable that was different from mine, and respecting that brought forth good results. And he knows me; he knows my intentions are good, even if I sometimes let my emotions or other circumstances get the best of me. The key, I think, is remembering the truths about each other and using those truths to shape our responses.

I don’t pretend to know everything about marriage. After all, I’m still a newly-wed. (We’ll be celebrating our second anniversary at the end of May. Woohoo!) But I think we’ve got a good thing going on here, and if I can share it with others, maybe even be of some help, I will.

The truth about creative writing

There is no right way to write.

There are different methods, different formats, different verbiage, different voices to choose from. But there is no right, guaranteed-success way to write. I’m continuously reminded of this thanks to the different people who have read my writing and given me constructive criticism, and the articles that have been written about the subject. But it’s still frustrating.

Some readers say I don’t give enough details about the setting, while some articles encourage writers to leave certain things to the readers’ imagination. Some readers want more verbs throughout the dialogue, want to know what the speaker is doing while they’re speaking. Others would rather not have the dialogue interrupted. Articles speak about the less-is-more concept when it comes to words and how important it is to be concise, while I’ve gotten comments about my transitions being too “choppy” and “sudden.” My creative writing teachers stress showing rather than telling, while some readers suggest I write a prologue to explain the rules of my little world. Teachers and agents recommend using writing tests, prompts, outlines, and lists while writing a story. Some writers claim to use none of these things. They just write, go wherever the story takes them.

Personally, I get annoyed at those characters in books who do a lot of inner monologuing; I don’t need to know how the main character feels or what they are thinking all the time. Yet other readers do want to know. I am easily frustrated with female characters who make stupid decisions, especially when it comes to romance. If you’re on the fence about Peeta, don’t kiss Gale. I love you, Katniss, really I do but come on! Nothing good ever comes from leading a guy on. (Catching Fire was a hard book for me to read.) And yet, if my female characters don’t make similar mistakes, readers don’t find them relatable. I love it when authors describe everything to me; the furnishings of a room, the architectural structure of a building, the clothes people wear, the smells in the air, the sounds echoing through the woods, the feel of the brisk morning breeze against the character’s face. Being able to picture everything brings the book’s unique world to life inside my head. Many readers (and agents, I’m told) don’t share this opinion.

My writing is based off of my personal preferences and who I am as a person. Some of my qualities, life experiences, or moral convictions leak into the characters I write. It’s the greatest part about being a writer; having the power to create a world, story, or person the way you want. If you want anyone to read and enjoy your writing, however, you must also cater to their preferences. Grab their attention. Make them feel something. Ignite curiosity. I thought the best way to do this would be to ask a bunch of people to read one of my stories and listen to their advice. The result of this was a bout of depression and a migraine. There were just too many differing opinions. I didn’t feel like it helped my writing at all. And most of the time I felt like the readers misunderstood the whole point of the story. Was that my fault? Was there something I could have done differently? Who’s advice should I take? If I listened to everybody and changed all the things they mentioned, it would no longer be my story. But I didn’t want to be proud and change absolutely nothing about my story. I couldn’t grow if I didn’t change. So what was I supposed to do with all the feedback I received? It was maddening.

There were a few instances in which two or more people mentioned the same issues in one of my stories, and I’ve changed those things without a second thought. It has been my experience that, if a group of people agree on something and give the same advice without first discussing it between themselves, odds are their advice is sound. Doesn’t matter what they’re giving you advice about. If your mother, your co-worker, and the lady who lives two doors down think the popular nail salon on 82nd street is crap, they’re probably right. If your brother, your best friend, and your sister’s husband think the guy you’re dating is no good for you, you might want to take a closer look at your boyfriend. If your grandfather, your cousin, your roommate, and your childhood friend say you have to try the chocolate covered ants at a certain restaurant, you should probably try to ants. It’s basic common sense. I just wish there was more consensus when it came to my stories.

Sometimes, I think my life would be easier if there was a sure-fire way to make everyone fall in love with my stories. But then there would be no room for improvement, would there? Writing wouldn’t be a creative expression or an art or an experiment or a journey. It would be more like homework.

*sigh*

Now that I’m done ranting, I guess I should go back to writing, huh? So long as I keep going, my stories are bound to get better. That means there’s hope.

“Mr. Frodo, look. There is light…and beauty up there that no shadow can touch.”