Friday, June 15, 2012

The Most Dreaded Day of My Year

One of the most common questions I (and most writers) get from readers relates to our characters. "Do you base your characters on real people?" The honest answer is, "Of course." It's also, "Not entirely." For example, I tend to base peripheral characters on people I know or meet briefly. One of my favorite pastimes is to look at strangers in public places and wonder, "What is their life like?" When it comes to major characters in my books, however, I steer clear of using people in my life as templates. Way too much drama can ensue.

Case in point:  some of my mom's friends (I'm busting you out, ladies) were reportedly horrified to think that I based Peyton Stratford's mother in The Secret Keeper on my mom. "Does she really think you're like that?" they wondered. That led to an uncomfortable phone conversation between my mother and me (so thanks for that, girls). The truth is, I tried to think of everything my mother is not, and that's how I imagined Peg Stratford to be. I often asked, "What would Kate do/say/think?" and then I'd put the opposite on paper. I think my mom eventually believed me, after I provided a lot of specific examples and compared them to historical events.

Taking a peek at that history, I like to joke that I grew up in a 50's sitcom, but like all things said in jest, there's a nugget of truth to it. My mom didn't cook dinner in pearls, and my dad didn't sit us down for long, character-building discussions, but we led a remarkably angst-free existence, especially by today's standards.  My parents didn't drink heavily or do drugs or hit us or work us like slaves or verbally abuse us. We went to church every Sunday. Dad worked 8-5 Monday through Friday. Mom kept the house running smoothly, which seemed to include a lot of cleaning (much more than I do now that I'm a mom). Did we argue? Yes. Especially when each of the six of us kids went through our teenage years. Did we have family problems? Absolutely. But as I get older and I hear more and more about the experiences of other people growing up, the more I realize, Mom and Dad were as close to June and Ward as my generation gets.

This brings me to the father figures in my books, to date. Those characters aren't my father, either. At all. Not even close. For one thing, it would be impossible to capture my dad on paper. He wouldn't even be a believable character, because he was so good and so ordinary in some ways, yet so extraordinary in others. He wasn't just one of the good guys; he was one of the best guys. For another thing, a drama-free character like my dad wouldn't provide much conflict in a book. There were very few people in life who didn't get along with him. Kent Stratford, with his "my-way-or-the-highway" attitude makes for a much better foil than my father ever could.

I always knew my dad was a great person, but he was such a consistent part of my life that I took him for granted, as we tend to do the wonderful people in our lives. When he died in 2002, very shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my entire family did the mental equivalent of rocking in the fetal position in a corner. To say it was devastating wouldn't even encompass a billionth of what we felt. As a matter of fact, there's no way for me to even say here how it affected us. It's still affecting us, more than ten years later. I can't speak for my siblings, but I still physically hurt when I think about how much I miss him.

My dad was never afraid to tell me how proud he was of me or how much he loved me. He thought I was "something special" and was confident that I would accomplish great things. Whenever I feel like my dreams are silly or unattainable, I think of him, and I plow on. A decade after his death, he's still one of my biggest inspirations.

Which brings me to Father's Day. Oh, the dreaded Father's Day. For the tenth year now, I approach this Hallmark holiday with dread and trepidation. As we draw closer to the day, people start to post on Facebook about the plans they have with their dads, or they share pictures, or they simply say, "Thanks, Dad! Happy Father's Day!"

If I could have him back on one day of the year, I'd choose Father's Day. Not Christmas, not Easter, not Thanksgiving, not my birthday. Father's Day. Because then I could be happy, like everyone else.

I try to focus my energy on making Father's Day special for my husband. After all, he's a dad, too. A great dad. A paternal rock star. But he's so low-maintenance that after he's eaten his Krispy Kreme donuts and opened his cards and gifts, he's content to treat it like any other Sunday. That leaves me with way too much time to brood. And since brooding is one of my specialties, it doesn't take long for me to achieve a full-blown maudlin meltdown. 

And then... I get angry.

I miss my dad, damn it.
What have we learned about anger, though? It's a secondary emotion. That's right, Class. Very good.

So, what's feeding my anger? Grief, for sure (and most obviously). Sadness that I don't get to spend the day with my dad or watch him open a card or a gift. Jealousy that others still have their dads. Frustration that some don't appreciate their dads. Resentment that some dads haven't put much effort into the job and are understandably unappreciated. Guilt that I begrudge other people their happiness.

These are not easy feelings to own up to. I hope you don't think less of me that I sort of want to punch you in the face while you enjoy time with your dad this weekend. Please understand that it's not personal. Understand that I want to punch the next person in the face as much as you. Know that I know it's my problem. And accept my apologies in advance for the not-so-nice thoughts I may have about you in that first second after I read your post or see your pictures or hear your story. I don't dwell on it. After that initial violent urge, the anger quickly fades to sadness and then morphs into happiness for you. Really, it does. I'm not completely irrational, after all. I know it's not your fault that my dad died of cancer. 

Do me a favor, though. If your dad is your hero, like my dad was for me, hug him extra tight this Sunday. Or talk to him for a few extra minutes on the phone, if you can't be with him in person. It may be a silly Hallmark holiday, but it serves an important purpose:  to recognize and celebrate the guy (or guys, if you're lucky enough to have more than one dad... *grumble, grumble... green-eyed monster taking control*) who made your existence possible. Remember those of us who don't have that person in our lives anymore. Pause for a moment to think about how you would feel if your dad were suddenly gone. Don't let it ruin your day, or anything. But one minute's reflection on that will sure put things in perspective for you.

And I say this with all sincerity:  Happy Father's Day.

I am on the verge of more big things, as Dad predicted, with the impending publication of my fourth book, The Secret Keeper Up All Night, which is the third book in the Secret Keeper series. You can find my full collection of books on I also maintain a Facebook page and love to hear from people. Feel free to contact me there or comment here on the blog.

June 16-17, 2012, The Secret Keeper Confined (Book 2 in the Secret Keeper series) is free to download on

Monday, June 4, 2012

Publishing Paranoia & Prayer Request

It's that part of the process, boys and girls, when I lose my mind just a little bit (okay, a little bit more). The Weird Al in me comes out to play, as I spoof songs and mumble them to myself while I edit my manuscript. The latest is to the tune of Madonna's "Erotic:"
"Neurotic, neurotic
Put my marks all over my copy."
Well, it was more clever (or is that "cleverer") when I first sang it to myself.

And I'm stuck in edit mode (see "more clever"/"cleverer" debate above). I edit my speech, even:
"Hey, [co-worker who shall remain nameless to protect your identity and to save you from the embarrassment of the world knowing you work at a place that would hire me], do you need to use the copier? Or should that be 'photocopier'? Does anyone call it a photocopier anymore? What's more conversational? Usually the shorter word, right? But in this context, is it clear that the 'copier' is a photocopier and not some other copying device?"
Aren't you glad you don't work with me? I get on my own nerves.

I'm also a menace to society when I'm behind the wheel of a car (even more so than usual, which is saying something). During the final draft editing stage of one of my novels, I often arrive at my destination having not remembered the journey. Silver lining:  long trips go by in the blink of an eye when you're in Make-Believe Land the entire time. Down side:  you can die and take others out with you. Friends don't let friends plot and drive.

My focus is a joke, too. What's usually a conscious refusal to perform one task non-stop from A to Z, fueled by my addiction to multitasking, is now a downright inability. I couldn't read a paragraph from start to finish if my life depended on it.
It’s time to show him what I’m really made of. So far in our relationship and marriage, I haven’t been tested too much on this “pastor’s wife” thing.
Oh, crap. That's so passive. Wait a minute. This is page 12. How many other instances of passive voice have I skimmed over? I need to go back and start from the beginning. Or maybe I can figure out how to easily and quickly search for all instances of passive voice. No. I just need to read more carefully. Okay. Breathe. Change this instance to... Hmm... It kind of needs to stand, in this case. Moving on.
In most instances, our challenges have been similar to those faced by any other married couple.
Gaaaaaaaaaaaaa! More passive voice!!!! Fluggity, bluggity, gulp! I am a hack. This is hopeless!
In most instances, our challenges have been similar to those any other married couple would face.
Not passive, but not great, either. Narf!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We’ve learned to balance our professional lives with our personal lives; we’ve gotten used to living together as a couple and dividing the household labor between the two of us; and we’ve integrated fairly seamlessly into each other’s families. And now that we’re parents, we’ve entered a new phase in our relationship, but it’s still pretty standard stuff.
Boring!!!! Why would anyone pay to read this?!?!?!? Back to page 1!
And that's just one paragraph. One. Paragraph. On page 12. Page 12 of 303. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Mommy! An hour later...
"Carseat." Is that supposed to be one word or two?

[Consult three sources to be sure]

Two! Oh, crap! I think I've always made it one word! Find and replace! Find and replace! Oh, man! What about every other book I've written? Find and replace! Find and replace!
One hour later...
Now, where was I...? Page 12...
Yeah... it's a little slow going. The thought of a sneaky typo like that getting by me (or my beta readers) keeps me awake at night. Maybe someday I'll have an editor I can trust as much as myself. Nah!

So... please, keep my family in  your prayers during this "difficult" time. Pray for them to endure the aimless conversations, during which I "edit" and "proofread" everything they say. Pray for them to survive commutes to summer school and daycare. Pray for them to not take it personally when I stare into space and hear only 15 percent of what they say to me, and that's only if it's something like, "My arm is on fire." And please, pray for me, too. Pray for me to see every irksome instance of passive voice and spot every errant and missing comma. Pray for the "find and replace" function in Word to remain strong. And pray for me to somehow make it through to pub day with my sanity intact.

But most of all, pray for the poor soul who so helpfully points out my typos after I hit the "publish" button.


I've been through this insane experience three other times, with my book, Daydreamer, and the first two books in the Secret Keeper series. You can find all three at my Amazon author page. Also, despite what you just read, I'm really not that insane (does any crazy person ever think she's crazy, though?), and I love to hear from readers, so please "like" me on Facebook and say hello! One of my personalities will be sure to respond.