Giving Up Control

No man is an island.
No one does it all on their own.

I fear I am a freak. A control freak.

I like to have all ten of my fingers in the pie.

For me, this is the hardest part of the writing process.
Actually it is one of the hardest life lessons I have (yet) to learn.

Losing control? That, I have mastered…I am a sensei in that department.
But willfully, willingly, knowingly giving up control. Giving into the huge what iffedness of it?

I’ve been trying. I feel as if I am constantly railing, beating my fists against the posts. Wasting effort trying to change or influence that which I can not.

I can not.(*bangs head on desk* very hard desk)

Old people and wise people seem to grasp this much earlier on.

Alas, I am getting older but no wiser.

I have no control, but still I act as if I do. I have it all scripted out. As if I am my six-year old daughter who knows exactly how it’s all going to go down in the movie which is her life. Bless her.

Along with those older, wiser people are those who have willingly given up control to someone/thing else.
I know many people like that. And I envy their calm, their acceptance, and I wish I could be like that, but I can’t.
See above: I am a freak.

Vagaries of life? check.
Ups and Downs? check.
Turns on a dime? Turns of the screw? check. check. In fact, I like change.

Wearied willingness to accept that there is not much I can do to affect or alter when or how things happen, what opportunities or disappointments will present themselves?

How much easier THAT would be.

Part of the difficulty is that choosing to work outside an office environment, to be self-employed and self-directed, already means that I am of a certain personality type. Is it A? That’s the super bitch one, right?
I like to be the boss. I decide my work hours (approximately 20-24 hours per day), my vacation schedule (not very often), and how much I think I should be compensated for my work (still figuring this bit out). So that gives me this false assumption of control. Within the bubble that is my work life, I must also sometimes wait for inspiration to strike, something else I am not in control of, but fortunately (knock on wood) thus far, new story ideas have not been an issue. Doing the work is hard, but I love it and I do it, and I am beyond GRATEFUL for it.

This I can control. And these five things too. The manner in which I live my life. The way I choose to parent. The care I take of myself and my loved ones. Who it is that I love. The work I do.

Everything else? Pah.Pish. Que sera, sera.Suck it UP, Jo!

I should move out the clutter. All those expectations, thwarted plans, errors of judgement, mistakes, experiments gone wrong.
They are in the past.
The future is, as yet, totally open.

Those feelings which nag and weigh on me are like manuscripts that just didn’t work. I stuck them in a drawer thinking that perhaps some day there might be something salvageable, only to realize two or three years down the line, that I had moved on (in my head, in my craft, in my abilities maybe) and they hadn’t.

But it was OK because it just meant that things were not static. Change might come microscopically but it still comes.
I just can’t force it.

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The Waiting Place

Do you know the book, Oh The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss?
I picked it up at a garage sale years ago with a bunch of other kid lit classics- The Cat in the Hat, Goodnight Moon, The Snowy Day, Where the Wild Things Are– when I was pregnant with my first child. For the record, I consider those to be perfect read-alouds, especially WTWTA, and the reason why I don’t feel skilled enough as a writer to attempt a picture book. Trying to distill human experience into its truest form in 300 words or so? Very very hard to do well, and age-appropriately.
Anyway, those books went from my son’s bedroom to my daughter’s bedroom, and she is just about grown out of them now but I’ll probably keep them for the memories they bring back, and for any young kids who might come a-visiting.
Is there anything better than reading to a child tucked onto a lap or under an arm?
Oh the Places You’ll Go is a little different. It lives on my sitting room bookshelf, and I read it for myself, frequently, as an emotional panacea. I think of it as a self-help book. A reminder to myself that a lot of life consists of waiting for something to happen.
Perhaps this state feels more acute and agonizing to a writer. I don’t know. I do know that we work, squirreled away mostly, on our own, and then we send our work out and then we wait.
I usually try and start work on something else so that I don’t brood. But I’ve written a few manuscripts in the last twelve months or so, and even though I have a pretty good idea for a new one, I don’t want to rush it. I want to be fresh when I go in, so right now, I am letting the idea take root, lengthen and strengthen, grow a little in my head.
Read this:
…You’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

And this:
…waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break,
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Or a book to sell…
I think it’s the break-necking pace of getting a story down and revised and polished, followed by the days when nothing seems to happen at all.The dichotomy of this is hard to take but such is life, eh?

Dr. Seuss goes on to say that although waiting might seem interminable it does end eventually. Basically you just have to tough it out.

Sometimes I need a reminder in stoicism. Sometimes I need to open my arms to stubborn optimism. And think in terms of years rather than days.

There are certain times when it feels as if no one is around.The phone is silent, the internet is quiet, except for the Kardashians and royal families. But where are the people whose lives intersect a little with mine? Perhaps they are all in the waiting place too?

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On Being a Writer and Identity

I am a writer.
(This is an attempt to claim it for my own. Or reclaim it).
Nope. I don’t think I have fully embraced it as a job description. Not even now, with three books published. When, besides looking after my children, this is ALL I do.
I remember my first business card.
After much deliberation and numerous consults (and margaritas) with my mystery writer friend (the fantastic Alison Gaylin), we decided on ‘author’. That’s what hers said. At that time she had about a gazillion books out and I had one. But still. Author.
“I am an author.”
“You’re an arthur?”
“No, an author.”
See, it just doesn’t sound right. The word sticks in my throat. It’s hard to say with clarity. And emphasis. Really someone should say it for you. Someone who can really roll their ‘r’s and has a deep velvety voice. Like, they could follow you around, as if to sprinkle rose petals in your path but actually they would just keep up this steady stream of whispering- “she’s an author”, “oh her, she’s that author”, “make way! author coming through”, “she’s an author didn’t you know?”
Plus, I’d rather be an auror.
I’ve been thinking about identity and how much it is tied up in what we do. You know, for a living. (I just barely stopped myself from making air quotes as I wrote that last word).
And how it’s even more convoluted when what we do is art and so deeply personal.
There is pride in a job well done. Even though I can’t rap worth a hill of beans, I still took pride in the records my company produced. Especially the gangsta rap ones with no social merit.
But a book. A book that I write. There is no middle man. Yes, there is my editor and my agent and my beta readers and everyone else whose job it seems to be to keep me from totally humiliating myself with poor prose, but the meat of the manuscript? That is mine. That is me. I am it.
I cannot separate myself from my work. I realize that at some point- most agree that it’s when the work is published- I have to let the work go and be free in the wide world where it will be praised and more often, criticized, and I have accepted that. Once the book is published it is not mine anymore. It is still me though.
And what happens if the work is not published?
And this happens more than you would think.
If a writer writes but the manuscripts aren’t sold, does she make a sound when she topples over in the forest?
Is she still a writer?
I know that people will say that if you write, you are a writer. And that’s true, and hurray!!!
But what I have been wondering about myself is, do I still identify as a writer if I am not regularly being published? How much of my identity-all the different bits of me that I identify as being ‘Jo’- is connected to my book release schedules?
No one wants the recognition after our deaths. I mean, we’ll take the recognition any way we can get it but we’d rather it not be in 100 years when some intrepid explorer stumbles across a trunk of manuscripts in a dusty attic.
I am the writer who was once published. The writer who will soon be published again. The writer who may never again be published?
The one thing I am reasonably certain of is that I am not an author. Or, worse luck, an auror.

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A little something something

LYLS cover small

Hey you guys! So for a short time you can download my punk rock fictional narrative novella, LOVE YOU LIKE SUICIDE, for free for KINDLE.
Just go visit or click here

Book blog, Escape Through the Pages, called it an “…incredibly well-written, creative non-fiction piece that shows some of the tougher sides of growing up, loving, and learning.”

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I know, I know….

…I have been very lax with posting.

Look at my last post. We were submerged in snow. And now it is all green and golden and lush out there and winter is but a memory, except if you look at my blog where winter still dwells. Like something out of Narnia for Pete’s sake.

Anyway, the good news is that I have not been very active on the internet because I have been working very hard on a couple of books.

The first, THE HOLLOW, a psychological thriller, is officially out on submission RIGHT NOW! I am very excited about this book. It scared the pants off me while I was writing it. And I know it cemented my small town rep as an eccentric. People heard me muttering about the most atrocious things and there was that one memorable day I dropped my notes on butchery and serial killers outside the local school. I eventually found them.

I should have a good draft done on the second, LIES LIES LIES, a contemporary with a JO twist, by the middle of the summer. Then of course I’ll need to revise revise revise.

I’m also adapting to being a single mom with two kids home on vacation. I did this last year for the first time but I seem to have forgotten how to do it.

So in the meantime, look at this wonderful jellyfish I found floating in the water at beautiful Carter’s Beach. ‘Cause nothing says ‘summer’ more than painful stings when you least expect them.

little jelly

*photo by Rowan

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Story Boarding

Jo Bo snowstorm smaller

When I begin writing a new book and it’s still just a fragment of an idea whirling around in the maelstrom of my mind, one of the tools I use to let my imagination fly is photos or pictures that evoke a reaction from me. At present on or near my board there is artwork by Yuri Arajs, and Amy Rice, an Audubon hawk, a painting of a girl with a dog, a quote from poet Mary Oliver, a grotesque from Oxford with its finger in its nostril, and a long thin smooth beach rock I like to worry between my fingers while I have a think.
My boyfriend (oh yeah, there’s a nice picture of him on the board too) just took the photo above during the blizzard.Click on it to see a larger image. You can see more of his beautiful work over here
Although it does not apply to the book I am currently writing, I found it to be such an inspiring image. It tells a story all on its own.
They hadn’t plowed around the old school and graveyard yet, wind was still beating the snow and ice into drifts and mounds, we walked thigh-high through powdery snow in some places and the dogs looked like they were swimming through it.
I think it’s important to rest our eyes on something quiet and lovely, stirring or provoking. A respite from looking at the glare of the screen all day. A way to dream, let our thoughts float unmoored, maybe remember some buried emotions, or what it’s like in its truest most basic form, to live and breathe.

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Ditching the social internet thing…..

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time…
Being me, I wavered back and forth, back and forth, like a willow in a strong breeze before finally deciding to shut down my personal Facebook page and hide my Twitter.
This action, though hardly life-changing, made me feel strangely adrift.
It was so hard to decide. On the one hand it’s nice feeling like I’m part of a larger community of writers, readers and bloggers. On the other hand, it takes up big chunks of time (I have absolutely no discipline!) and is distracting.
The thing that decided me though was this. I love getting messages from readers. I love seeing what my agent and writer friends were up to or what good fortune was shining on them. I love feeling in touch with friends old and new, and sharing photos with my wide-spread family BUT–

It is an oddly empty experience in some ways too, like eating a whole bag of potato chips/cheezits/lindt chocolate balls. It feels good. It tastes good. But is it good for me?
It seemed that the more I surfed, the more dissatisfied I felt. In fact, it bordered on a feeling of depression and I wondered why?

I think that because posting a status update or a tweet reduces life to small bites, it almost takes away the uniqueness and specialness of all those moments. I wasn’t really savouring those moments because almost my first thought was to go post a witty or smart update about whatever it was my hilarious children had just said/done or whatever brilliant, incisive thought had just switched on in my brain.

And for the most part, people (myself included) post about the exciting/wonderful things they are up to and it gives an incomplete picture of what life is really like. Life is a series of pretty dull non-events sprinkled with a few thrilling ups and some heart-breaking downs. It’s not all thrill all the time and we cannot/should not expect this. But I found myself feeling envious of other friends who seemed to be having all the luck and it made my own experience and my downtimes seem lacking. And I know, for others, my updates would cause envy and maybe a lack of confidence or excitement about what’s going on in their lives.
But that is misleading.
Most of the time we are all working. Terribly hard. And though in my case working terribly hard can lead to a book at the end of it (yay!), the journey isn’t that cool and nothing much to talk about. It is just hard.

I want to enjoy the journey. And I do. I’ve been trying to write books for quite a long time now and I know most of my pitfalls, the times I slump and need to bring out the whip, the few and most beloved days when things just flow. I LOVE being a writer but it’s just my job.

I’m not one for resolutions (at least not at the beginning of the year) but my two resolutions this year are to be as good as mother as I can possibly be, and to write to the best of my ability and to keep on doing that.

There’s a fair amount of self-promotion involved in writing these days. You can’t really pull a Salinger and hide from public view although some people can do it. I love that Suzanne Collins bows out of pretty much all the Hunger Games hoopla. (She just does the work).
And I love communicating with fans and I love doing blogs (my own and other people’s), and interviews and I’ll continue to do all those things but really there are other people (my agent, my editor, the publicity team) whose jobs it is to promote my books. My books are where the focus should be, not me and my recalcitrant hair, and my weird squishy ego.

It’s only been a few days and I still feel somewhat adrift but I also feel free.

And I’ve been writing something new that thrills me in a quiet way. So many quiet moments to look forward to and so much more time than I had before.

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Sick Lit

There was an article recently in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper (which by the way is not high-brow journalism at its finest AT ALL) but still I wanted to talk about it a little here. Here’s the link for that if you want to read it Daily Mail and here’s a link to a rebuttal from the Guardian online Basically what the author said was that he has noticed a trend towards taboo subjects in YA lit recently. He listed John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars as one example of these ‘sick’ books which address teenage sex, alcohol, drugs, death/suicide, depression, intolerance, hatred, bullying, and other hot topics.

Of course there is some titillation factor, the same one that makes some of us slow down for a car accident but that’s not the author’s motivation for writing these books. I am almost completely sure that that is a fact. Writers write about what interests them, the ideas that burrow under their skin and keep them up at night. And teenagers read to escape their lives or to explore their feelings or maybe even find answers to questions that seem too big or complicated or frightening or nebulous to ask someone else about.

That’s what I found in books when I was ready to go looking. And I think it gave me experience and insight into lives I might never have been aware of. It gave me a far bigger perspective and knowledge from the safety of my armchair.

I firmly believe that kids read books when they are ready for them. If they are bored or uninterested, they put the book down and may never pick it up again. But for that kid who is searching and feeling lost, a book may well show them that they are not alone after all.

I have a personal interest in this subject. Recently I have realized that my books are getting darker. It’s not by any plan, it just keeps happening.Conflict. Pressure. Having my characters make difficult decisions in difficult circumstances- I guess that’s what it all boils down to.

Since Ashes, Ashes I’ve written a punk rock coming of age, a neo-gothic horror, a psychological thriller and my current WIP is another coming of age, though for the first time my protagonist is a teenage boy (yay!). There is some scary stuff in all of them but that’s not the main plot.

Horror/adventure/thriller/whatever- those are just vehicles which drive the story but the stories are about the teens at the centre of them and the choices they make and the changes they face, and I don’t think these books are titillating, I think they are empowering.

But what do YOU think? Is any subject too ‘sick’ to write about?
Are there lines that should not be crossed in YA lit?

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Winners of the Paperback giveaway contest

Hey you guys,
It was tough but I chose two winners for the signed, personalized Ashes, Ashes giveaway.

Katrina wins for her global pandemic prediction. Here’s her answer (and ewwww!):
Hi Jo, it’s Katrina/PuppyTypewriter. I love your book! Ok, so I’m going to answer question number two: what will be the next global pandemic?

So my prediction would be on erysipelas. Erysipelas is a bacteria caused disease that causes red patches on the body. I believe it would be caused by handling money. Nowadays, we use debt and credits cards, but paper money is still very much used. If you think of all the ways it might of been spent, on drugs, diapers, powder, alcohol, it’s really a scary thought, and we have been using this money for forever! It probably has accumulated so much bacteria. Most doctors recommend you wash each and every time you use money and we rarely do. We don’t even wash our money! The bacteria can even be dormant but reactivate at any second. Erysipelas could very well be affecting us right now and we would never know.

Ok, after that long story, my answer is Erysipelas that is caused by just handling paper money.

Thanks for reading ~ Puppy

And Danielle won for her food answer (also, ewww!):

I’m a vegetarian so I think my meals would be limited to most vegetation… Assuming I could maintain my diet in the situation, I would probably be feasting on some freshly stewed grass and or dirt. Otherwise I will be dining on my left foot with a side of my less important fingers!

Drop me an email ladies with your mailing addresses and who you would like your books signed to.


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Our new Holiday tradition

So this is the first Christmas since my husband and I split, where the kids are divided between us. Not as in half a kid here and half a kid there (though I call heads!) but they’ll be with me for Xmas eve and half of Xmas day and then with their dad. We try to be fair in all things and actually I think we do a pretty fine job of it but it’s HARD!
Xmas to me is all about family and especially kids. Not all the consumerist bullshit but as my 5 year old says (though bear in mind she is fishing for a flubber machine, some playmobil, and a giant anatomically correct costume of a sort which I will not identify here just know that it is *points* of an organ down there. I’m pretty sure she’s going to grow up to be a scientist) “Christmas is about kindness and love.”
The way my family celebrated Christmas: a long cold bundled up walk, stockings on the bed, a yummy large breakfast, these are the things I remember long after the toys were broken or outgrown. Although I fondly remember the ‘first’ watch inside a succession of boxes, each wrapped and each smaller than the first gigantic one.
So me and my kids will keep the opening stockings on my bed tradition, and yes, I will haul them out for a brisk walk before breakfast, and then stuff them full of pancakes/waffles/or French toast but we’re going to have a couple of new traditions in my house.
One is a Xmas craft. Like this one:

These are over-sized papier mache ornaments. A woman was selling some beautiful and far less lumpy ones at the Farmer’s Market last week for *gasp* 30 dollars each. I’m a single mom on a budget so I didn’t buy one though I dearly dearly wanted to. Instead I decided to make them using balloons and paper cups for the tops of the ornaments. Then the kids and I painted them and glitterized them and I took them outside and hung them on the washing line while I spritzed them with some really toxic clear varnish stuff. Cool, right?

And the other was inspired by some other creative types who have taken it upon themselves to select random conifers along the old rail trails that cut through town and decorate them every year.
Me and the kids went for a walk this morning after baking and decorating sugar cookies, and we chose and ornamented this one:

Hoping that your holiday is as wonderful as mine.

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