Shifty

Until him, I never knew about the shops on Royal Street. Actually, until him I never knew a lot of things.

I never knew about real jazz or étouffée. Never knew the second line or Purple Haze.

Didn’t know Saints or Voodoo or Basin Street. Not Port o’Call Monsoons or the fleur de lis.

Never tasted salty, sticky air and beignets.

Never knew Laissez Lez Bon Temps Rouler and joie de vivre.

Never knew love. Never knew life. I never knew New Orleans.

Until him–and, baby, he was a beautiful thing.

“Sgt. Augustus D’Amour,” he said, and I was only twenty-three, wet behind the ears with legs locked at the knees.

“Call me August,” he said. “I just got back from overseas.”

He looked at me with eyes deep as that ocean and I would’a called him anything. In French, his name meant of love, so what else could it be? Like a hurricane, he swooped in with clever words and war stories, and swept me off my feet.

Across a dancefloor, into a back seat, and onto a squeaky mattress in the barracks called D.

“I know a better place,” he said after only one or two weeks.

“It’s pure magic,” he promised. “You gotta come with me.”

So off I went.

And there we suddenly were, thick in color and music and light in a city that really never sleeps.

“The family business is in antiques,” he said as we strolled, his hand on my hip, up and down the length of Royal Street. “As soon as I get out, this’ll all belong to me.”

He fed me food and lines and more than I could ever drink, and it.

Was.

Love.

And more than I’d ever dreamed.

“I want to live here,” I whispered through the darkness and into his ear.

“Let’s do it.” Lips to my neck and hands in my hair. “I belong to you and you belong to me. We’ll make this work. I’ll prove it. Just wait and see.”

And for the rest of the weekend we lived on liquor, and brass, and hopes, and dreams.

“He’s a man of his word,” I said, watching him leave. “Just one month separate and it’ll be reality.”

Oh reality.

I never saw you coming.

Reality is not liquor, and brass, and hopes, and dreams.

Reality isn’t color and music and light, but it is a man who never sleeps.

Over the phone you can’t hold or comfort an angry man who stays up all night and weeps.

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Where are you?” But he couldn’t ever tell me.

It’s impossible to break through and rescue this man, the wounded warrior held hostage by PTSD.

Again, he leaves for the city of blinding light and jazz that ricochets in the streets, but this time there was no talk of hopes and dreams and he didn’t say, “you gotta come with me.”

But he didn’t need to say it. I needed no invitation. I knew all he needed was me and a reminder of all that could be.

I packed my car and quit my job and drove through the night, drunk on love and possibilities, looking for the city and the man that never sleeps. In an alley off Canal, I left my car and belongings, headed straight for the Quarter because all I needed was him back with me.

The City where I found love is the same, but different it seems. It lacks whimsy when you’re not a tourist and just a girl walking the streets.

There is still color, and music, and light; still liquor, and brass, and hopes, and dreams.

But all of that starts to fade when you gotta make a buck doing anything and everything.

I haven’t found him yet, but I will. You’ll see. He’s still in my mind and heart, along with everything that could be.

Until then, until him, I’ll still be here; it’ll still just be me, eyes darting and peeking in windows and checking to see.

Alone at night with the Royal Street shops that have made me shifty.

A Wedding Day

I learned the phrase “it’s a wedding day” as a sixteen-year-old girl who was obsessed with meeting Prince Charming and watched way too many wedding reality shows. One of the featured brides explained to her dad as they waited outside a perfect white chapel on a pretty spring day that the weather was that of a “wedding day”.

“When it’s sunny and warm, but not too warm,” she told him, “you say, ‘it’s a wedding day.’ Because the weather is perfect and what you hope to have the day you get married.”

Eleven years later, I was graced with the good fortune of having a “wedding day” on the day of my wedding, which happened to take place in late December. Seventy-five degrees, sunny, low humidity, a pleasant breeze, and positively unheard of for that time of year.

On this wedding day, inside the bridal room of a perfect white chapel, I sat next to my grandma on a vintage couch that featured a delicate, purple damask pattern, tracing my french-manicured nails over the filigree as my hair was pinned up in curls, and she spoke to me about life and love.

“I stepped off the train at Union Station with a pillowcase full of clothes and a white, patent leather suitcase that I bought when I was planning to run away to New York to become a famous Broadway star,” she said, laughing in that elegantly self-deprecating way she always did when she recalled the wild days of her youth. “Instead it went with me from Oklahoma to Washington DC to marry Grandpa after we’d been dating all of one whole week.”

“You guys were crazy,” I told her, and she laughed again because this faux-catty teasing is a secret language that only she and I speak.

“We were,” she agreed, shaking her head. “We were stupid. We were so stupid. And we did a lot of stupid things that made us poor and crazy, and we were just so stupid. But…” She paused and lifted her palms. “Here we are now. It all worked out somehow.”

I was twenty-seven years old and because of the secret language we shared, Grandma had already told me all of the harrowing details of the 52 years they’d been married. The brief homelessness, the extreme poverty, her own battles with alcoholism and anorexia, temptation of infidelity, taking in several orphaned children when they could barely support their own–but the point, she always told me, was that they remained. Despite all these trials and tribulations, she and my grandfather remained. Remained together, remained committed, remained steadfast in the promise they made the day after she stepped off the train with her pillowcase of clothing.

And on my wedding day they were steadfast and in love as they’d ever been. And sitting on that purple damask couch, with my nail tracing the filigree, I was staring down the barrel of God only knew how many years of marriage, and I considered the ultimate end, and I had to ask her.

“Grandma, what will you do when Grandpa dies? Do you think you would ever try to find someone else?”

She was quick to answer, “No, never.” No. Never. “I’ve had everything I ever wanted and had to work for that every day of my adult life. There’s nobody else I would ever even consider doing that for or with.” I knew that was Grandma’s way of saying soulmates or the love of my life, but she’s too nonchalantly dignified to use such trite phrases.

She lifted the curtain and we basked in a sunbeam as we watched my groom and her groom line up with the men, all handsome in suits and smiling for photos. And it was late December 2010, and the weather was sunny and warm, but not too warm, and I smiled as I thought, it’s a wedding day.

The photo my groom and her groom posed for is framed and sits on a shelf in my grandparents’ bedroom, along with dozens of others, and it is late December 2016, and a blue norther blows through North Texas. It is so frigid that the leaves have turned to icicles, tapping on the windows as if to demurely inquire if someone is at home, but nobody is.

Grandpa is in so much pain from shingles and age-induced injuries that won’t heal that the only thing they could think of to ease his discomfort is to go for a drive. He reclines in the passenger seat and can’t find any relief, and in desperation Grandma drives to the hospital at midnight on Christmas Eve.

It is eight degrees, pitch black, and the bitter cold wind howls outside. It is the polar opposite of a wedding day and there they spend the fifty-ninth and final Christmas of their marriage.

Alone in a hospital room, but together, she holds his hand and tells him, “I’ve had everything I’ve ever wanted. Here we are now. It all worked out somehow.”

 

Crooked House

Credit: Natalia Mindru

There is a crooked house sitting on the middle shelf of the book case. She sees it and thinks of how it wasn’t always crooked. He bought it on their honeymoon seven years ago when they visited a village in southern France named Carcasonne. A local man had set up a table in the square, selling handcrafted wood trinkets, and she’d looked at it and said, “When I think of our dream house, it looks like that. Nothing extravagant. Just something sweet and built by love.”

So her husband bought it for her and she packed it neatly into her suitcase and it flew with them back over the big, blue ocean, where it made its home in their new home.

Before the crooked house was crooked, it was a silent observer of many things. It acquired several neighbors in the form of Hemingway and Frost and Rumi and Steinbeck. It watched from a close distance when she and he kissed each other on the doorstep before they both left for their respective jobs. It eavesdropped on the sounds of inside jokes and laughter, love-making, and bickering over which of them had forgotten to pay a certain bill. It silently sighed with relief as she rescued it from the jaws of the puppy who’d arrived one Christmas morning, bouncing and fluffy and wearing a big, red bow.

Before the crooked house was crooked, she could simply swish a duster across it a few times to clean it, but now she has to carefully pick it up and gently blow the particles. Some days, she can’t blow the dust off because her breath catches on a tight knot in the back of her throat. On those days, she holds it in her lap and recalls the day the crooked house became crooked.

Over the course of five years, she has forgotten what the fight was about. All she can recall is him shouting, grabbing the tiny wood house, and slamming it on the rug. That and sitting up all night long attempting to glue the pieces back together.

He said he was sorry, but sorry wasn’t going to make the crooked house straight again.

Box of Rox

Art: Deliberation by Spanish Illustrator Mario S. Nevado via aegis-strife.net

It was a strange sight, the flint girl who pushed the tin box, but to her it was the most natural thing in the world.

As she passed through each village along the route to her ultimate destination, the residents paused their daily tasks and rituals to marvel at her.

“How beautiful she is,” some would say. “Look at how the sun shines off her facets. See how polished she is? Like black glass; so lustrous you can see your own reflection on her.”

“How strong she is,” others would say. “I wonder how long she has been pushing that box. How will she ever continue to push it all the way to her ultimate destination?”

“Where is your ultimate destination?” others still would ask her as she passed through each village center.

“I cannot be sure, but I know it is at the end of this road,” she would answer.

“Why are you going there?” a man would ask.

“Because at the end of this road is my great destiny,” she would say. “There lies my heart’s desire.”

“Why are you pushing that box?” a child would ask.

“This box belongs to me,” the flint girl would tell the inquisitive child. “It would be silly to leave it behind.”

In some villages, a curious resident would choose to walk with the flint girl until they reached the edge of town. Once there, the resident would sometimes drop a stone into the tin box. The stones varied in size and color. Some were bright yellow and transparent like a jewel or a drop of hardened sunshine. Others were deep blue, opaque, and jagged. There were dusty grey stones; dull and smooth as if they’d spent centuries in a river that had long since dried up. The bottom of the tin box was covered by several inches’ depth of pebbles. The red stones were very peculiar, as the longer they sat in the box, the more their color would fade and dim.

Most curious of all, however, was the reaction of the tin box to the growing load of stones. As if in a chemical reaction, each stone would raise the temperature of the tin. Each color stone elicited a greater increase in temperature, with the lighter colored stones adding only a single degree and the darker stones adding several degrees. True to the nature of their color, the red stones would raise the temperature higher than any other.

As the temperature of the tin increased, the box began to warp from heat and pressure, but the flint girl continued to push it. The heat transferred from the tin to her polished, faceted limbs and the feeling began to worry her.

“You should leave the box behind,” villagers would say to her. “It is hindering your progress.”

“But this box belongs to me,” she would insist. “It would be silly to leave it behind.”

“Then why not empty it of the stones?” they would suggest.

“These stones also belong to me, as they were given to me throughout my journey,” she would explain. “I need to bring them to my ultimate destination. I want them there when I arrive to remind me of those whom I have encountered on my journey.”

Despite all the suggestions and warnings, the flint girl continued to push her warped tin box and its weight and temperature both continued to increase. Eventually, the tin reached scorching temperatures, the feeling of which caused an unexpected, troubling sensation in her hands. There was a small, sharp crack and one of her hands split, leaving her with only a jagged, razor-sharp stump.

A villager saw this and cried out, “You must stop pushing that box! Leave it behind! You do not need it!”

“But this box belongs to me,” she insisted. “It would be silly to leave it behind.”

“Then you must rid it of the stones!” another villager cried.

“These stones also belong to me,” she said. “I will not leave them behind.”

Midway between the next two villages, the flint girl heard a second small, sharp crack and she was left with only a long, fractured shard where her arm had been.

Recalling the words of the many villagers, she said to herself, “This box belongs to me. These stones belong to me. I cannot leave them behind.”

As she continued to make her way into the next village, there were more sounds of cracking and crumbling, and by the time she arrived in the village center, she could only push the box with her shoulder.

“Please leave the box here,” the residents pleaded. “Or let us unload the stones for you.”

“But this box and these stones belong to me,” she said, but found speaking to be increasingly difficult. “It would be silly to leave it behind. I want them at my ultimate destination.”

“That box and those stones are going to destroy you before you make it to your destination,” they warned.

“No, they will not,” she said. “My destination is very close. It is only at the end of this road. I will be there any day now.”

As the flint girl left the village, however, a man appeared at her side holding the largest, most perfectly cut and polished ruby she had ever seen. Seeing the enchantment in her face, the man nestled it into the very top of the pile of stones. And she continued on her way.

It was only a matter of hours later that the extreme heat of the ruby began to radiate through the pile of stones, throughout the warped tin, and into her shoulder pushing against the box’s side. Her shoulder fractured, but she still did not stop pushing and she still had no desire to empty the box.

By nightfall, her torso began crumbling and with each step she left a glittering trail of tiny, black shards. By daybreak, the warped tin box and its pile of stones sat alone at the crest of a hill. Behind it lay a sparkling pile of flint fragments and splinters. In front of it was the end of the road.

RISE | Advance Preview

FINALFront CoverJPEG

From multi-published novelist, Katherine L. Evans, comes a story about recognizing your worth and rising above your circumstances.

In this unforgettable, heartrending story, the impact of childhood abandonment is revealed in the life of a young woman who yearns for something both inexplicable and intangible.

Emma Abercrombie, an inexperienced reporter with lofty aspirations, grew up a bullied outcast in a small town in South Carolina, fled to California after high school, and once there, she believed the worst was behind her. But after two years in a dead-end job and one too many disappointments in her personal life, Emma becomes desperate and manic as she takes matters into her own hands and kicks her career into high-gear.

At the height of her success and despite concern from her loved ones, she accepts an assignment abroad covering the refugee crisis in Syria. In what was intended to be a mission to raise awareness and win hearts and minds, Emma and her team suddenly find themselves fellow victims of the danger and tragedy they were only supposed to be reporting. Emma is ultimately faced with the most basic of choices—whether to live, or whether to die; to lie down and accept her fate, or to stand up and rise.

Rise is the gripping tale of one woman’s journey to overcome a life that kicked her when she was down at every turn. It is a heartbreaking story of loss, a heartwarming portrait of unwavering friendship and unconditional love, and a compelling glimpse into the conditions of the current displacement crisis of the Syrian Civil War.

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Since this fictional story was inspired by so many tragic, non-fictional events, 100% of the author’s royalties will be split evenly between Mercy Corps and the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.

About Mercy Corps:

Mercy Corps is meeting the urgent needs of nearly 4 million people both inside Syria and in neighboring countries. They distribute emergency food and supplies, increase access to clean water and sanitation, improve shelters, and create safe spaces and activities to help children heal from trauma. For more information, please visit their website.

About the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation:

Jim Foley was a conflict journalist who made headlines in 2014 when he was murdered in Syria after an extended period of internment. Since the uprising in Syria, 153 journalists have been killed there. The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation seeks to advocate for the release of American hostages kidnapped abroad by partnering with the USG and American media and by establishing a resource center for American hostage families, support press freedom and the rights of freelance journalists, and promote educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth. For more information, please visit their website.

Disclaimer: Neither Katherine L. Evans (hereafter referred to as “Author”) nor this fundraising effort are in any way affiliated with Mercy Corps or the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation (JWFLF). Author royalties from the sale of each copy and/or unit of RISE (hereafter referred to as “Book”) shall be paid to the Author according to each retailer’s standard payment procedure. Upon receipt, the Author will hold the funds until six months after the Book’s release date (November 4, 2016). At that point, the total amount of funds accrued from the sale of the Book will be divided in half and donations will be issued to both Mercy Corps and JWFLF, with each organization respectively receiving 50% of the total amount of royalties accrued. The aforementioned donation process will be repeated every subsequent six months for the retail life of the Book. The Author can only guarantee donations will be paid with royalties from copies/units of the Book purchased from first-party retailers.

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Available May 2017 in both eBook and paperback.

Pre-order your copy now at:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | iBooks

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Excerpt:

I wouldn’t have called it a depression. It was something else.

An observer of my life probably would’ve pinned that label on it, but it’s not entirely accurate. At the time—at what I would call the beginning—it looked nothing like depression.

I wasn’t sad. I didn’t feel empty or anxious. There was no fatigue or necessity to lie in bed for days on end. No loss of appetite, or any of the other classic symptoms.

At the time, it was just a sense something was off. Merely a little gnat in my ear. Something so commonplace you don’t pay much attention to it other than absently thinking, “This thing is so annoying,” and then you swat it away. Sometimes the gnat is persistent—and the gnat in my ear had been persisting for a while—and you have to break out the fly swatter.

And that’s what I would call the beginning: the day I broke out the fly swatter. The point in time at which everything began.

It was August 31, 2015.

Just shy of four years ago.

One thousand, four hundred, fifty-seven days from the time when I was just an average person, living their life, going to their job, until I finally ended up what and where I am today.

Four years during which the thing I wouldn’t have called a depression compelled me to do things that repeatedly broke me down, brought me to the brink of death, dropped me in the middle of the pit of hell, and left me there to rot.

And it all started one afternoon in a newsroom.

This is what you’ve been wasting your time doing?”

Vern pitched the stack of papers into the trash, causing me to curl my lips between my teeth. The barrier of my pinched-shut mouth prevented me from hollering back at my editor. Hollering was definitely not the appropriate response—but explaining the side project was.

“No, Vern. That was just-”

“I don’t care what it was! It wasn’t the copy for the daily brief or the vlog!”

His shouting sprinkled my face with droplets of stale-coffee-scented saliva. He paused his tirade long enough to suck in a breath, but not long enough for me to get a word in edgewise.

“Vern, I have-”

You are not a feature writer.” His face was now beet-red and a vein appeared to be on the cusp of bursting through his forehead. “You are just the ninety-second source of headlines intended to draw web traffic. When you’ve spent a decade at this paper, that’s when you can come to me with your hackneyed side projects. And I’ll probably reject them then, too.”

I didn’t bother clenching my jaw. He wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know.

He thrust his index finger into the air toward the office door. “You’d better email me the web copy and vlog file for the daily brief within the next thirty minutes or you can consider this your two weeks’ notice.”

I turned, left his office—as well as the piece I’d been perfecting for two weeks—and went back to my desk.

I sank into my chair and stared at my computer screen.

That was the moment I always look back on and consider the beginning. It was the moment—not all that dissimilar from the first of the twelve steps in addiction recovery—when you take stock of your situation and admit it to yourself.

My name is Emma Abercrombie, and I hate my job.

The gnat in my ear was my job and that’s why I didn’t realize something was actually wrong with me. But something was wrong. Even right then I knew something was wrong. Not wrong in a major sense, just… off. For as long as I could remember everything in my life was wrong, but right then it just seemed like the problem was my job.

I held a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, so I should’ve been working as a real reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News. Not just as a low-level staffer recording videos of myself rattling off headlines and exhorting site visitors to click various links. Two years of doing this every single day of my working life had become the gnat that wouldn’t leave. Which was why I attempted to take a step up from my current position by putting together an amazing feature story of a local girl named Gemma Brooks who’d worked her way out of the LA projects and earned a spot in UCLA’s aerospace engineering program. A huge accomplishment and a story worthy of telling.

I’m sure if one of the feature writers had come up with it, Vern would have been jumping up and down, spraying them with his stale-coffee-scented saliva as he sang their praises.

But since it was me who presented it to him, Vern decided it was extracurricular fluff. A waste of my time, and by proxy, his time.

Something was wrong and it must’ve been my job.

I checked my reflection, positioned myself in front of my webcam, and put on a genuine smile. “Good afternoon, Los Angelinos. Emma Abercrombie here with what’s up in LA today.”

Seventeen minutes later, I sent the video file and web copy to Vern and I spent a few minutes perusing articles about the ongoing conflict in Syria and became even more annoyed by my crappy job because I should’ve been one of the reporters writing the real news. Not just tossing headlines into the vacuum of cyberspace for the purpose of generating web traffic. Or writing the human interest pieces. Or something. Something that involved legitimate reporting—and Vern made it clear he’d never give me such an opportunity while working for him.

Something was wrong and I was positive it was just my job.

So that was when I broke out the fly swatter.

I did an internet search for “Associated Press Reporting Jobs.” I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but I found something intriguing.

I came across an organization called Associated Reporting Incorporated. According to their website, ARI was founded by freelance journalists in 2001 with the goal of revolutionizing the way news is delivered. They had a network of hundreds of correspondents on every continent and their business model gave the traditional newswire a run for its money.

My eyes widened as I consumed the info on their About page. ARI looked like precisely the opportunity I needed: the freedom of a freelance reporter with the job security of a traditional staff writer.

So on a whim—and with more than a little wishful thinking—I filled out the application and attached my story about Gemma.

I remember pausing as I hovered the arrow over the Submit button. Something about it made my stomach twist into a knot. I didn’t understand why the idea of submitting my application made me so nervous. At the time, I figured the worst that would happen was I’d be rejected and I’d be no worse off.

In retrospect, it seems more like it was a sense of foreboding, as if I knew exactly what would ultimately happen to me as a result of clicking that button.

But at the time, I wouldn’t have called it that. Just like I wouldn’t have called the other thing a depression.

Click.

And I’d sealed my fate.

 

A-Fiction

I do not expect to see him, but there he is. He looks older, of course. I do too. He also seems taller. I do not go out of my way to say hi, but he’s in my path to exit the wedding festivities and I have no reason or desire to avoid him. So I wave.
“Hey.”

Recognition comes after a beat and he smiles. “Hey! I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“I know, it’s been a while. Like, something like–”

“Like six or seven years or something,” he finishes for me.

“Something like that, yeah.”

He tries to conceal the smirk on his face. “Since that-”

“Yeah,” I cut in. I knew he would mention it. “That party. And that weekend.”

He suddenly appears guilty, so I smile. But it seems he feels the need to explain himself anyway.

“I didn’t mean to, like… I mean if that was…” he stammers, still smiling, but also rubbing the back of his neck. “I didn’t want to be… I don’t know. It probably wasn’t the best idea, but you were really cool about it. I expected you to go a little psycho afterward.”

I laugh lightly. “Why?”

He shrugs. “Because that’s what women do when guys do what I… you know… did.”

“Well,” I say, also shrugging. “I don’t really give that incident much thought.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Why not?”

“Because when I think of you, I don’t think of that weekend.” The words roll off my tongue before I can assess their true meaning.

“Really?” He appears marginally insulted, but he’s still smiling. “So what do you think of instead?”

I look past him to the dusky sky for a second as I think of everything. Then I look back at his green eyes, noticing the crow’s feet that haven’t always been there.

“I think of… seventh grade. First day of school. When you wouldn’t stop poking me in the back with your eraser, and I turned around to tell you to quit and you said, ‘if I quit, will you give me a kiss?’ and then I turned back around with my cheeks burning and wondering if some boy would actually want to kiss me.

I think of high school, when my best friend had such a huge crush on your brother and I had to go with her to a party you threw just so she could talk to him.

I think of my first night after moving back here and going to a bar with people from my new job that I barely knew, seeing you bartending and spending the whole evening talking to you instead of them.

I think of a year later at that same bar when I got into a scary fight with my boyfriend, which you defused by stepping in and casually engaging him in conversation about some video game.

I think of the first time I saw you after you came back from Iraq and noticing you finally looked like a man and not a boy.

I think of the day my best friend married your brother and us walking up the aisle.

I think of the day we stood in front of the glass at the hospital, looking at their newborn baby, talking about how crazy it was. How a baby could be such a perfect combination of two people.”

I stop talking and he’s wearing a wide grin.

“Oh yeah,” is all he says. But his eyes say more.

“Yeah,” I agree, taking a step back. “Anyway. It was nice seeing you.”

I start to leave again when I hear him speak.

“Katie.”

I glance back and see him holding out his hand toward me.

“What?”

He flips his fingertips slightly, gesturing toward the dancefloor. “Come on.”

“What, you want to go dance?”

“Yeah.” He’s still grinning. “Come on.”

“Why?”

He shrugs. “So you can have another thing to think of.”

I smile.

Sometimes it is not, nor should it be, love.
Sometimes it’s just a thread. One you don’t notice unless you go searching for it, skimming over the tapestry of your life. Maybe you can find the beginning, maybe you can’t. Maybe you can find the ending, maybe you can’t. But the thread is there, adding color and intricacies.

And even though you rarely think of this singular thread, it is part you, and you know that without it the whole thing would look a bit different. Like it was missing something.

The EPOCH! | Reflections on DFWCon

I was advised to blog, so here’s a blog. Numero uno. The first ever. The epoch! I am stoked, so you should be too. Or, you know, don’t be. Either way, I’m still going to toss my ramblings into the abyss of cyberspace.

Since it’s fresh in my mind, I think a good topic for this is my experience at the DFW Conference. I had a great time this past weekend, met lots of aspiring and established novelists, and learned some helpful tips about writer life in general.

But allow me to be real with you for a moment–that’s not why I went to this conference.

On December 23, 2015, I started writing my sixth novel. That was approximately eleven months after I started writing my first novel. I wrote five full length novels over the course of 2015, all of which were published with Liquid Silver Books, a romance publisher that deals exclusively in eBooks.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Wow! You got published!”

Or maybe you’re thinking:

“Wow! Five books in one year! That’s amazing!”

I know you may be thinking that because that’s what I thought in the beginning of this journey, but then reality set in. Reality, where your friends leave scathing reviews about your books and where the writers in your family ask you, “When are you going to write something serious?” Or they say, “That publisher is not legit. It’s just a romance mill.”

Among other things.

I’m fortunate to have lots of very supportive people in my life, and it’s important to keep in mind that even the detractors saying these things to me were also very supportive in a tough love kind of way. Nevertheless, it’s hard to not allow such things to get in your head–and get in my head they did.

However, the fact that these detracting words got in my head seemed to benefit me by lighting a fire under my ass to step up my game. And that brings me back to when I started writing novel number six, RISE.

Write something serious, in my mind, meant get the hell out of the contemporary romance genre. This was partially a result of an issue with my publisher that I can’t discuss on a public forum, but suffice to say I learned I’m not really cut out for the romance genre. The natural progression was to women’s fiction, so that’s what I started plotting on December 23, 2015.

As a person preoccupied with politics and current events, as well as having a background in journalism, I decided I wanted write something that touched on the Syrian refugee crisis, but I also wanted it to be something relatable, so I drew from personal experiences and came up with a pretty compelling premise.

About two months into writing this novel, one of my writer friends sent me a link saying, “I saw this and thought of your new book.”

The link was a press release from the DFW Writer’s Workshop announcing that a certain agent would be attending the April Conference and that she was seeking pitches for exactly the type of book that I was writing. I read the agent’s profile and bio, visited her agency’s website, skimmed over the books they represented, and decided this was a good fit for RISE, so I registered for the conference.

This particular agent is–quite literally–the entire reason I went to this conference. But once I started skimming over classes and connecting with other attendees on social media, I realized this conference was a wealth of information and professional connections at my proverbial fingertips.

It’s worth mentioning that the past sixteen months of my life has been more than a bit isolating, because it’s extremely hard for non-novelists to understand how emotionally and mentally taxing it is to write books. Prior to this conference, I only knew two novelists–my sister, Asher Lee, and a friend of mine who lives in San Francisco–and they were the only people I found to whom I could relate about what I was experiencing. That changed the instant I stepped in the line for registration.

The common denominator that drew each person to this conference subsequently drew all of us together. As an introvert, I’m not big on socializing, I’m not very talkative, I prefer to listen, so on and so forth. But I noticed sharing the common of experience of being a novelist helped me to connect with people in a way that I haven’t before. Don’t get me wrong–I am an introvert in the truest sense of the word so merely interacting with too many people for more than a couple of hours at a time causes me physical exhaustion. And I was certainly tired over the course of the two days at the conference, but I was simultaneously quite fulfilled. I remember driving home on Sunday, thinking to myself, “Oh my God. I have found my people.

So what started out as a means to simply get my sixth manuscript into the hands of an agent ended up becoming a defining moment for me as a novelist.

I don’t have to feel isolated, or alone, or like nobody understands what I’m going through,  because there are people out there who do–and now I share a connection with quite a few of them.

Anything and everything in life is better when you have people in your corner–and in the world of attempting to write and sell books, you need those people even more. One of my mottos in life is, “People matter,” meaning that we have to remember the complexities of the human experience is shared by all of us, everywhere. Each of us matter and each of our diverse experiences matter. But last weekend, I learned that people matter because sometimes I need a reminder that I’m human, too, and sometimes I need my fellow humans.