One hundred days …

You know that last post?
The one about the Christmas dream?
I should have been more clear.
I meant the Christmas of 2015, but I’m not picky.
Christmas of 2016 will do.
In fact, I would prefer it.
So much has changed since I last wrote:
I took a part-time paying job to help meet mortgage payments on our old house until it sold. (Yep. I am now a taxonomy specialist. Ever hear of that? Neither had I, but it’s kind of cool.)
My mother-in-law broke her hip and came to live with us. (She calls herself my fifth child, but don’t let her fool you. She’s 88, but she’s already back in the commander’s seat, itching to permanently move back home.)
My agent and I agreed to switch submissions strategies after only a handful of publishers, shelving the thriller for a bit while we push the rewritten mystery/suspense series. (Working on book three of the series now!)
So my time has not been my own and the timing for my debut into the publishing world would not have been great.
At least, that’s how I rationalize the situation to quell by my impatience.
Distraction is key, so I plan to hunker down for the upcoming months and devote any free time to my work-in-progress. But I hope you’ll forgive me if  I steal a few moments to toss pennies into fountains with my eyes closed, cross my fingers and write a few letters to Santa.
Christmas of 2016 is only 100 days away.
Anyone know of a stocking appropriate for a book contract?

One kind deed after another. Yes, it’s a sappy holiday post

I was bumming.
Big time.
The memorial ornament I had ordered for my aunt had finally arrived late last week, too late for me to make the hour’s drive to the mall to have it engraved. I would have to wait until Monday and then mail it Tuesday, risking that it would arrive after the holiday.
Then I remembered the local contractor who does engraving on the side.
I called him that evening and left a message, telling him how important this was to me.
I held out little hope.
Why should he care? He didn’t know me and it was almost Christmas. Most everyone is overwhelmed during the Christmas season and this guy had a contracting business to worry about as well.
So I was thrilled when he returned the call at 7 a.m. the next day, telling me to leave it in his drop box as soon as possible.
And I was stunned when the ornament was finished by 2 p.m.
But that’s how this holiday season has gone.
It’s been amazing really.
In this time of high unemployment, nationwide protests and political childishness and I would expect … well … depression. I would expect people to be less kind than usual, more bitter, less generous with their time, energy and good will.
Grumpy.
Yet I look at my Facebook page and see links to articles about someone who paid off gifts people put on layaway. A friend posted that someone ahead of her in a drive-thru paid for her meal. She was so tickled that she planned to do the same for someone else.
Her story inspired others to follow suit.
The holiday basket drive in my kids’ school raised so much money this year they were able to buy staples to fill voids in recipients’ pantries. A woman ahead of me at the Post Office gave another woman the extra change she needed for postage, saving her a trip to her car.
It’s just been one kind deed after another.
I first became aware of it — really aware — when I left a toy for my son on the bottom rack of my cart in the parking lot at Target. I didn’t remember until the next day when I was sorting gifts. I didn’t dare even dream I’d ever get it back.
Someone could easily have swiped it.
Even if it had been found, what were the chances Target employees would have held onto it for me? Why bother? It would have been easier to put it back on the shelf. Besides, I couldn’t find the receipt. I wouldn’t be able to prove anything without the receipt.
I called anyway.
It was waiting for me at customer service.
No hassles.
No suspicions.
Just smiles and holiday wishes.
A few days later, I finally came up with a decent gift idea for my father.
I’d been struggling for a while.
He is in a nursing home down south in the late stages of MS. His memory is failing him, especially his short-term memory. He loves literature, but novels are not easy for him these days because he can’t remember what he read the day before, or even minutes before.
The editor of Short Story America had sent an email. He offered a reduced rate and free shipping to me and all other writers whose stories were part of the debut anthology. I replied, telling him I would like to get one for my father as a Christmas gift.
They are my father’s kind of short stories, my kind.
The good, old traditional kind.
They are short enough that he might be able to get from beginning to end in one session, I explained.
The editor, Tim Johnson, wrote back quickly.
He told me he would mail the anthology out immediately to ensure it arrived before Christmas if I would just send him the address. He knew I was good for the money, he said.
Tim has a family — a wife and twin girls. He was leaving soon to spend Christmas with even more family. He had other things to think about. Yet he took the time to do this favor for me, someone he knows only through a phone call, Facebook and a story.
It’s affected me, all this good cheer.
I find myself leaving the packaging tape at the Post Office for others to use, being more gracious to other shoppers and drivers who seem to be in a hurry, dropping bills instead of coins into tip containers and charity boxes.
I’m itching to pay for a drive-thru meal, but there aren’t many opportunities in the middle of Amish country.
It’s not enough.
I know that.
I have not repaid the kindnesses that others have shown me this Christmas, not yet.
These kindnesses, this unexpected generosity, have helped me to put my writing aside, even my running aside, and most definitely my aspirations of a clean house aside as we prepare to celebrate this day of giving and sharing and loving.
This day of hope.
It has helped me to concentrate on what is important this season — people.
The rest can wait.

A holiday confession

I used to apologize for it, but no more.
I AM one of those people.
I am thrilled when Christmas decorations appear in the store two weeks before Halloween, toy catalogs arrive in September, and magazines with holiday craft ideas on the cover (projects that I must admit I lack any talent for) fill the grocery store racks while we are still shopping in short-sleeved t-shirts.
Santa and his train appeared on our front lawn last night. They would have been there sooner if I could have convinced my husband and the kids to forgo Halloween.
All the kids have Christmas lights in their rooms and our twins have a miniature tree on their train table.
So don’t complain to me about any of it.
I love Christmas.
I love the build-up.
I love that cozy feeling.
Bring it on.
But for God’s sake, take it down when it’s over!
There is a trade-off for the early infusion of Christmas spirit.
When the day is over — we’ve been to Christmas service, the gifts are unwrapped, dinner has been eaten and my husband and I have had our nightcaps of calorie-packed Bailey’s Irish Cream — I am so ready to tear it all down.
I try.
I try to keep it up until New Year’s, but I usually fail.
One year, the stress was too much.
My husband came home from work on Dec. 27 to find the tree in the bushes behind our house and all the ornaments packed in their boxes. The lights were coiled, the rug was vacuumed and the furniture was back in place.
It was such a relief.
So let’s do this:
Let me have my pre-Halloween Christmas giddies.
In return, I will lock all our doors in hopes that I will not sleepwalk through town on Dec. 26, ripping lights off trees, tossing ornaments into boxes and stuffing the greenery into recycling bins.
I’ll try if everyone else does.
Happy holidays!

I own a Kindle!

I got it!
I got it!
I got it!
I got a Kindle for Christmas!
Yes, yes. I know. Kindles are the demise of the publishing world.
With these electronic gadgets in hand, no one will ever buy a physical book again.
All kinds of literary geniuses will be out of work–big publishers, indie presses, authors, editors, agents, bookstores.
Amazon will have the corner on the e-publishing market and will dictate prices, terms, everything, putting all other publishers out of business. It will be the end of an era. No more freedom of written speech.
Gone.
It will all be gone.
As a writer, I should be screaming.
But I don’t believe it.
A Kindle, for me, is for the books I would normally read and then pass along.
It’s for the fast-reads.
The pure entertainment.
The books that I read simply to get to the end.
And thanks to the Kindle, I will be unable to pass these books along.
My friends and family will have to go out and buy these particular books themselves because they are not getting their hands on my Kindle. Maybe they will get Kindles too, and then they will be unable to pass their copies along.
Who benefits from that?
Yes. The right to share and resell books is something that we have cherished as a culture from the beginning of printed time. But here’s what will happen: e-book prices will have to come down, way down.
Buying an e-book will be cheaper than buying a used book.
And guess what Amazon?
Eventually, you will have to share.
Just like physical books, e-books will become available through all e-book publishers, which will pop up all over the place. Our capitalistic society will not allow this monopoly to continue. It will start with the black market, just like it did in the e-music industry.
Pirates will hack into Amazon’s book files, convert its books into formats compatible with Sony readers and other e-book devices, and either give them away or sell them cheap. It will all come to a head in court and the industry will be forced to change.
And people will still crave physical books.
I know I do.
And I got plenty of real books for Christmas: the latest from John Irving and Philip Roth. Immigrant, Inc., a nonfiction book co-authored by my dear friend Robert Smith.
Another novel with a title that escapes me.
And I will still buy physical books.
A novel by a new friend, Beth Hoffman, is due for release Jan. 12. I will be at her first book signing that same day with five copies in hand of Saving CeeCee Honeycut, waiting in line for her autograph.
No, my Kindle could never replace the real thing.
It will simply make reading more fun and more portable.
It will allow me to read while my twins play at Jumping Joey’s or while I’m waiting in the parking lot for the older kids to be released from their Architecture by Children club or while my oldest son is practicing basketball.
It will allow me to read more books and read them more often.
And I will pay for it.
I will probably pay lots for it because I will be reading lots more.
No.
The Kindle is not the demise of the publishing book.
The Kindle is the answer for the publishing world.
And the answer for time-strapped, stay-at-home, writer moms like me.

Christmas the online way

I almost did it.
I almost bought book 6 of the 39 Clues series at a mall book store the other day for nearly $13.
Full price.
Then I stopped myself.
Wait, I said.
Wait for Cyber Monday.
The wait paid off.
Today, I ordered the same book online for $6.50, about half the price, and book 7 for $8.76.
I love Cyber Monday.
And even more than that, I love online Christmas shopping.
I first became familiar with online Christmas shopping when my oldest children were four months old and 22 months old. My infant daughter was allergic to milk protein and had an intolerance for soy.
She could drink only breast milk and she refused to take it from a bottle.
I don’t mind nursing in public, but nursing in a crowded mall at Christmas time while trying to entertain a toddler was just no fun. So, one day, I put my son down for a nap and my daughter in her vibrating infant seat and started clicking.
I couldn’t believe it.
In about an hour’s time, I was done.
Not only had I finished my shopping, but I was easily able to comparison shop, and most online retailers offered free shipping. I saved a bunch of money. I knew then and there that I would never fight the Christmas throngs at a mall again.
That doesn’t make me a Scrooge.
I know that the whole mall-battle thing is part of the holiday tradition.
I still enjoy wandering its halls on a weekday evening (never on a weekend) during the holiday season, checking the displays and the quirky novelty items that retailers somehow convince us everyone needs (How about a hand deodorizer? Or maybe a fancy set of nose hair tweezers? That will impress your significant other.).
Sometimes, I pick up a few stocking-stuffers, or wander into a book store and spend way too much money (I’m addicted to book stores). Or maybe I’ll just have a slice of pizza in the food court and buy a Far Side calendar for my husband from a kiosk.
But I don’t have to buy anything.
I feel no pressure.
And I don’t have to stand in line for a register.
I can just leave if I want to.
I can take the twins on a Monday afternoon, let them ride the carousel or the train (with the money I saved online), let them play in the kids’ play area, then slather their little hands with sanitizer and buy them some ice cream (with some more of the money I saved online).
Or I can take the older kids to the temporary game store (You know. The one they set up for Christmas with all the cool stuff you usually see only in catalogs.) and let them peruse the aisles as long as they want.
Maybe I’ll take them to Hallmark, where they’ll wistfully examine all the Webkinz and press the buttons on all the silly little talking ornaments that cost a fortune. We can even wave to Santa and pass by the line that snakes down past the customer service desk, knowing they’ll get a chance to chat with him at an upcoming Cub Scout pack meeting.
Better yet, thanks to Cyber Monday and to this whole online shopping craze, I can stay home if I want to.
I can tickle my twins, play board games with my older kids, or settle on the sofa with my husband after they’ve all fallen asleep, watching A Christmas Story for the zillionth time and sipping on juice glasses half full of Baily’s.
All this, while my friends, neighbors and relatives are at the mall.