Writing Without Regret

Today is the release day of my second book, and according to all marketing logic, this is the day I should be posting some big announcement about how awesome my book is and how you need to buy it because it will forever change your life. I should be smothering you with photos of me opening up my newly minted novels, saying things like “here is my sixth baby!” while I lift up the book, pose, and give it a kiss for the cameras.

But today I am going to break all rules of book promotion and tell you that as great as I think my book is, it is not why I breathe. It  does not hold my hand, it does not sing silly songs, nor make me cry, nor make me laugh. It does not crawl in bed with me early in the morning and commandeer the sweet spot between me and my spouse. Besides, I have always been uncomfortable when people kiss inanimate objects like trophies, medals and books, because I don’t kiss things. I kiss people.

A person in the United States can expect to live about 80 years. Raising a child takes 18 of those years. But they are really only a “child” for 12 years, and they are only a young child for five years. So out of the 80 years I will be alive, I have only five years to mother this young child. Five years out of 80 does not seem like much time.

Here is another way to look at it:

It is always tragic when a child dies, but in a way, all children die. They die every year, at every age. I adored Naomi as a three-year-old. She was so spunky and fun and quirky. She and I would dance to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue until I would collapse on the couch and she would tug at my arm to get me to stand up and dance again. (Rhapsody in Blue is a long song.) But the other day Naomi (now age 9) and I were in the car when we heard Rhapsody in Blue come over the radio. I asked her if she recognized the song. She said no. I reminded her that it was the song we used to dance to over and over. And over. She smiled but she could not remember. My three-year-old Naomi had vanished.

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But now I have a 9-year-old Naomi, and she bounces around the house singing jingles. Anytime anyone says anything she makes up a jingle on the spot. When she finishes she says “Woot!Woot!”, makes two kissing sounds, and then strikes a pose. In her spare time she goes out to the garden and belts out Broadway songs to the tomatoes to help them grow. She doesn’t even eat tomatoes. I’m pretty sure she won’t be doing these things when she’s 13. How sad will that be!

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But when she is 13 she will be doing something else interesting . . . and on and on. So there is loss, but there is also such great discovery! How wonderful children are! Yet how fleeting!

It was always the great dream of my heart to have a family. But hearts do have room for more than one dream, and when I got the idea for my first book I knew that it had to be written down, and I had to be the one to do it.

So I started writing, and right away my imagination took me to places that were far more interesting and exciting than laundry, sweeping, diapers, repeat. My mind was electrified with ideas–ideas that turned doing the dishes into brainstorming sessions and vacuuming into opportunities to solve plot dilemmas. Everything around me was punctuated with meaning and symbolism, from the feathers of a bird to the perfect swirl of hair at the back of my baby’s head. I certainly knew my life had “meaning” as a mother, but now I had a dazzling new purpose. I had become an idea volcano. If someone had hooked up a brain scanner to my head during those first few years of writing I’m sure the machine would have exploded.

Mothers need kids. But mothers also need something to keep their minds from petrifying. My antidote was writing, and wow, was it effective. I could easily sit in my room and write for hours a day, oblivious to the world, and I would be as happy as bear at a boy scout jamboree. It was my husband who stepped in and made me realize that my writing had become my drug. He reminded me that the real stories are happening outside my bedroom door. And if I am sitting in here typing away while they are out there, I will not be in their stories.

Scccrreeeach, went the brakes.

After that I restructured my writing schedule. I did everything I could to not write when my kids were around. I wrote early in the morning, while they were at school, and while they watched tv. I sacrificed my free time, not theirs, and I never wrote on Sunday.

What this means is, my progress was very, very slow.

But that was okay, because I was consistent. And ultimately it all worked in my favor. You see, I always got interrupted before I could conclude my writing sessions, so during dull moments (folding clothes, driving, loading the dishwasher) I would re-work the scene in my mind, and in the meantime my kids were constantly giving me new ideas to spice it up. It was the perfect writing environment: I was surrounded by inspiration yet I was kept away from my computer. Then, when I was finally able to get back on my computer the ideas poured from my fingers like Niagara Falls.

And now I have two books and five kids and I don’t have regrets about the time I spent because I did everything I could to put my kids first. I didn’t let writing bewitch me into slicing away time from my kids. I was part of their stories, just as they were part of mine. Plus, they had a mom who was energized and happy because she was in the midst of creating something extraordinary. And when Mom has a skip in her step and a sparkle in her eye, the kids are the first beneficiaries.

I went to LDStorymakers conference last spring. It was bigger than I expected. There were 700 writers there! Who knew that many Mormons liked to write? The conference chairperson was Jenny Proctor, author of several books and mother of six kids.  I was not acquainted with her and wanted to introduce myself (since we are both from North Carolina), so after the opening ceremonies, as people drained from the room to go to their classes, I followed her, waiting for my chance.  As she was finishing up her conversation with the conference photographer, I couldn’t help overhearing what she was saying.

“I want you to take a picture of me when I am up at the podium. Only, I want you to take a photo of me from behind so that you can see me and the audience. I really want to my kids to see what I do. I want them to see how big this is.”

She didn’t say “I want to post this on Facebook so people will see what I do and how big this is,” or “I want to post this on my blog so people can see what I do and how big this is” but she wanted to show her kids. Because kids trump everything.

My favorite characters are not the ones who live in my head, but the ones who live in my home, and my favorite stories are the stories they are making for themselves. They constantly surprise me with their plot twists and cliff-hanger endings, their unpredictable, entertaining, laugh-out-loud fun. I want to keep turning the pages of their stories for as long as I live. They are books I never get sick of (though they DO make me tired) and books I want to keep reading over and over again.

When you have the opportunity to choose between your child or your muse, always choose the child.

Okay, I’ve said enough. Buy my book if you want. It really is good, and it gave me a lot of joy to write it. But if I accomplish anything of importance in my life it will not be writing novels. That is why you will never see me kiss my books, and you will never hear me call my book “my sixth baby” because my baby are sacred words, reserved only for the choicest people I know, with whom I have the privilege of sharing my home, my life and all my stories.

 

 

 

 

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Arthur Ashe & Me

When I was a teenager I came across a quote that made a profound impression on me. It came at a moment in my life that, when I read it, it leaped out at me and landed right in my heart.

At the time I was competing in several local and statewide scholarship programs, and this quote got me through many shaky moments. I would think of it before I went out on stage, I would think of it before I had an interview, I would even think of it before I entered a new social situation. I probably repeated it hundreds of times in my head, and it always helped me stay poised and level my nerves. In a way you could say that this short little quote gave me the confidence to successfully earn enough scholarship money to pay for almost all of my college tuition. After 20 years I can still repeat it:

Regardless of how you feel inside, always try and look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of confidence and control can give you the mental edge that results in victory.

This was said by Arthur Ashe. But even inspiring words like these mean little until you know the background of the person who said it.

Arthur Ashe was the first African American man to be ranked the number 1 tennis player in the world, the first (and still only) African American to win the USOpen. He became a devoted civil-rights advocate. Tragically, he became HIV positive after receiving a blood transfusion. He died of AIDS when he was 49. Arthur Ashe was a man who is remembered for his dignity and courage in a time of fear and injustice.

I still use his quote all the time. It is a great mantra for motherhood. For instance when all of your children are crying or yelling at the same time (which my children never do), instead of throwing them out the window or putting them up for adoption, just close your eyes, take a deep breath and repeat, “Regardless of how you feel inside . . . ”

Because if Arthur Ashe can have grace under pressure with big challenges, we can have it with small ones.

Last week my twin daughters auditioned for an orchestra. One daughter was feeling particularly inadequate, so I introduced her to Arthur Ashe. “Regardless of how you feel inside…” As she listened to the words I saw a change in her features. A light, a spark. I don’t know how that quote made her feel on the inside, but it seemed to do the trick. She was successful in her audition and she made the orchestra.

And so Arthur’s words inspire yet another generation.

As it happened I married a tennis player. One of the perks of marrying into a tennis family is that every now and then we get to go to amazing places like this. This week I got another once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Arthur Ashe Stadium, home of the US Open.

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In the center of the complex, right as you walk in there is a statue of a man poised, mid-serve. Around the statue, carved in stone, they have this quote from Arthur Ashe:

From what we get we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.

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You don’t have to play tennis to have your life changed by Arthur Ashe.

You just have to be human.

If you have an Arthur Ashe story or quote I would love to hear about it in the comments.

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True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.   –Arthur Ashe

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Looking for God

This afternoon I was sitting on my porch watching the prelude of an August storm bend the tree trunks in my front yard. The wind tossed the leaves and snapped the American flag hanging from the eaves so hard that my dog tucked his tail between his legs and pawed the front door. Thunder rumbled overhead and I leaned back in my rocker and soaked it in. This is my favorite weather. The only air that feels better than the air right before the storm is the air that comes right after. New air. Swift air. Air that rushes in, shakes everything up and makes the world clean again.

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As I was savoring the drop in barometric pressure I remembered that my friend told me that thunder is God’s Testimony. Could there be a more wonderful way to think of thunder?

God: I LIVE.

The more I watch the people around me the more I am convinced that you cannot find the answers to spiritual questions on the internet. The only thing you will find are the musings of others.

But when I am outside, my thoughts become my thoughts again. Ever since I was a child I have felt God’s presence when I am outside. But we don’t go outside as often anymore. (At least not in August, in the South.) We stay inside with all of our man-made stuff looking into our man-made screens, and we start to believe the lie that the things our brains have made are the most sophisticated things in the world, and that we can learn anything the internet.

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But, of course they aren’t and we can’t, because people are just people after all. So when I get these moments outside, especially on gusty, stormy afternoons like this, I am reminded of His presence again. I can hear His testimony. And His testimony isn’t just in the thunder. It is in a leaf. It is in a bumblebee. It is in everything. Like any great carpenter he left his signature all around us, reminding us that not only He created this world, but that he lives, and that someday he’ll come back.

If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words. But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.   Alma 30:44

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The Last Messenger: FAQs

It is one month until my book The Last Messenger of Zitol will be released. I’ve been getting questions from people about the book so I thought it was time to make sure everyone knew what was up. Here is are my best answers to the most frequently asked questions:

I ordered the book a month ago, why hasn’t it come?

Because you are an early bird! The official release date is September 13th. You will probably get the book earlier than that if you pre-ordered it, but probably not until at least Aug 30. (And you can still pre-order! If you order today you will get a 19% discount!)

On Goodreads I see that some people have already read the book and posted reviews. How can that be if the book hasn’t been released yet?

During the editing process I sent out some Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) to a limited number of people to give it an early review. Some of these people I knew, and some were complete strangers. These copies were not proofread yet, and not ready to be seen by a wide audience, but they helped give me an idea of what the response will be to the book. You can check out their reviews on Goodreads here.

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Can I order it now?

Yes! click here. It will be delivered around the release date, Sept 13.

What is your target audience?

Anyone who enjoys reading Young Adult fiction. People who will particularly enjoy it are: teenage girls, teenage boys, anyone who has ever been in love, anyone who has looked up at the stars, anyone who has paddled a canoe in the ocean, and anyone who loves chocolate. I would definitely recommend this book for mother/daughter book clubs.

Is this book a sequel to your first book The Cenote?

Nope. But, like The Cenote, this book was inspired by the Aztec and Maya cultures of ancient Mexico. The setting for The Cenote was a small village, but The Last Messenger takes place in a dazzling ancient American city at the pinnacle of its prosperity.

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Is this book an allegorical novel like The Cenote?

Yes and no. The main message of this book is a little more obvious than the more covert message of The Cenote, but I love books that take some deciphering, so I included plenty of allegories, metaphors and symbolism for you to savor and mull over.

Tell me what the book is about in one sentence.

This book is a young adult romance/adventure/coming-of-age-story about a girl who is kidnapped and taken away to a faraway city to be sacrificed to the gods.

What point of view is the story told in? 

The story is told in 1st person, from the perspective of a selfish prince.

Will there be a party? 

Yes! There will be a party/book-signing in September here in Hillsborough, NC. More info TBA.

That is all I can think of for now. Did you have a question I didn’t answer? Ask it in the comments and I will get back with you asap!

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Rowing Off Into the Sunset

So there once was a mom who was jealous of her kids.

She was jealous because they got to have piano lessons and violin lessons and swimming lessons and soccer and tennis and etcetera.  The mom watched them learning all of these wonderful things and she wanted to learn something, too. So she decided to sign up for lessons of her own.

IMG_9127She had had her eye on rowing for a long time, and finally a friend told her about a nearby masters crew club that had lessons for novices. The only requirements were that you have to be fit, know how to swim (no one wears life jackets), and you have to be able to lift 40 pounds over your head and walk 75 yards. (The team carries the very long and heavy boat from the boathouse to the water.)

She had the first two requirements down, but she was a little nervous about the last one. (Have you seen the size of her arms? They are like broomsticks!) IMG_9105

Fortunately for her, she was not as tall as the other rowers and once they had the boat over their heads she couldn’t even reach it. A lucky break!IMG_9111

The coach was a fountain of rowing knowledge, and most of the other women were experienced rowers so there was nothing to fear. (Except catching a crab, which she did on the third day of practice. Yikes!)

There were lots new things to learn. Anyone even casually familiar with boats knows that when facing the bow the right side is starboard and the left side is port. But in a row boat you are all facing backwards. So your left side is starboard and your right side is port. It took some getting used to.

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The coach was careful to teach by degrees . . . Sometimes only two rowers would row while the other rowers kept the boat set with their oars. Then the coach increased it to four, and the six. When it wasn’t her turn to row the star of our story would close her eyes and pretend like she was Cleopatra going down the Nile.

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I am in seat number 5, right in the middle with the white hat.

It wasn’t until the third practice that the coach allowed all eight rowers to row and she could now understand why her coach had added rowers by degrees. Eight people rowing with no one to set the boat was quite exciting! And a little chaotic, at first. But eventually she got the hang of it.

IMG_9113The whole experience was a little dream come true and definitely one to repeat in the future. But now it is back to taking the kids to lessons, and watching them grow and learn. Which is not so bad, especially when you have a view like this:

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Giveaway! Contest! Win! Win!

Hi everyone! Over the next two weeks I will be having a Goodreads Giveaway! (For real, this time!)

Five lucky people will receive a FREE, SIGNED copy of The Cenote, no strings attached. All you have to do is click on “Enter Giveaway” in the widget below and follow the instructions. That is it!

After June 4 five random winners will be selected and I will mail you a signed copy of The Cenote. But wait–you already have a copy? No problem! Just forward this to a friend or family member so they can enter the contest.

This is the first giveaway I’ve done (sorry it took so long!) and if goes well there will be an even BIGGER giveaway for my next book, The Last Messenger of Zitol when it comes out in September. So stay tuned!! Everybody loves free books!

(Have I told you The Cenote is a great bookclub book? I’m about to go to visit my fifth bookclub for this book next month!!)

 Goodreads Book Giveaway
The Cenote by Chelsea Dyreng

The Cenote

by Chelsea Dyreng

Giveaway ends June 04, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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Teaching Children Obedience and Other Great Mysteries

If there is one thing that gives me panic attacks it is reading parenting books.

Once I read one about raising sons. In it the author encouraged mothers to develop a Look. Some kind of glance, some sort of frown, some frigid, I-am-this-close-to-mailing-you-to-Australia facial expression that would strike instant repentance in the heart of even the most mischievous boy. I practiced The Look in the mirror until I scared myself, and then vowed to incorporate The Look into my parenting as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Recently I took my kids up to D.C. to see the sights with my sister. My husband had a business conference and could not join us, so it was I, the single mother, who felt the awesome responsibility of preserving her offspring from a myriad of metropolitan dangers.

I wasn’t worried about my three older daughters (a mistake, as you will soon see), since it was my two younger sons (ages 6 and 2) that were the main source of my anxiety.

The Look was a major part of my method.

First there were the metro trains. (Don’t get too close to the tracks–you’ll get electrocuted. Hurry on, hurry off–you don’t want to be left on the train by yourself! Don’t stick your hand out and touch the trains while they are moving, unless you want to look like a pirate for the rest of your life. STAY RIGHT HERE ON THIS LINE until I am done with this gosh-dang-it-ticket machine.)

And there were the streets. (Get off that ledge. Look both ways. Just because you can see the car doesn’t mean it can see you. Hold my hand. I’m serious, you have to hold it or your head will be smashed like a pumpkin.)

And there were the museums. (Stay by me. Don’t get separated. Don’t climb on the statue. Wash your hands. Don’t crawl under the bathroom stalls! Wash your hands again. Please.)

All the while The Look was heavily employed.

Then we went to the International Spy Museum, and while I was engrossed in Looking at my two younger sons, my phone buzzed. It was my 9-year-old daughter calling from a stranger’s cell phone, informing me that she had been lost . . . .for the last 45 minutes.  I eventually found her, teary and trembling, in the part of the museum called “Behind Enemy Lines.”

After that I hovered over everyone, slathering The Look over my children like poisoned peanut butter, and after three days of non-stop anxiety in Washington DC The Look had become my face. I felt like was trying to gather my children like a protective hen gathers her chicks, but to my children I seemed more like Cruella DeVil trying gather puppies. It is no wonder that when we got on the Metro my kids fanned out among the seats to be as far away from me as possible. At one point my six-year-old son turned to me and said, “Next time we come to D.C. I want it to just be me and DAD.”

 

Another Reason to Hate Little Dogs and Love Little Boys

A couple weeks after the Washington D.C. Naggathon, it was Sunday and time for church. It was a rare morning when my husband didn’t have early meetings and we were going to go to church together as a family in one car! Yippie!

Normally I leave for church 45 minutes early, even though the church is 15 minutes away. Why? Because it takes 15 minutes to get from the door of our house into the car. I’m not sure why, but everyone, myself included, has to go back and get something, and sometimes several somethings, before we are actually settled in the car. And what about the other 15 minutes, you say? I also have to allow 15 minutes for the ritual “dog escape” that happens Every. Sunday. Morning.

Inevitably, when the door of the house is opening and closing so many times in succession the dog will find an opportunity to escape and then we have to catch him. The dog was getting faster and faster and running further and further until this particular Sunday when I had not allowed for my extra 15 “dog escape” minutes, and on cue, the dog escaped. There was no time for this circus, so I told everyone to get in the car anyway, the dog will just have to face the consequences of running away: abandonment. No food. No water. No love. For five hours. Because that is how long Mormons are at church. (We tell people it is three, but that is a lie.)

But my son didn’t listen. “I’ll get him!” He shouted as he ran after the dog down the driveway. “No! Stop! Come back!” I called. I put my hands on my hips and gave him my most deadly Look but he was already gone, running across the street, up the hill and disappearing into the trees.

Now I had a runaway dog and a runaway son. Nothing obeys me!

Alas, we would have to take two cars after all. I took the rest of the kids to church, and left my husband to stay behind and find our son and dog.

Eventually my husband and son made it to church, and I silently noted that my son was wearing a different set of clothes than the ones I had ironed and put on him that morning.

When I got home and found the original set of church clothes, caked with mud, on top of the washing machine, I couldn’t suppress my smile and admiration for a son who is willing to chase down a runaway dog no matter what the distance or terrain. What determination. What tenacity! What a great sense of responsibility. With all of those great virtues, who cares about obedience?

Kidding.

We recently went to Kohls and found the perfect shirt for Danny: IMG_8400As you can see, he was totally excited about it.

But we ended up getting him a shirt that says “Nothing But Awesome,” which is more his style.

As for The Look, after much experimentation I have found it is not very effective, for, not long after I had started using The Look I found that my son developed his own Look, so that when I narrow my eyes and draw my lips into a tight line, his smile widens, his eyes sparkle, his cheeks get all rosy and, ever so slightly, one eyebrow lifts.

Do you know how hard it is to glare at someone who looks at you like that? Especially when he has golden eyes and long black eyelashes?

So now here I am typing this at the foot of my son’s bed. He is asleep now, and since one cannot disobey when they are asleep, it is most likely he will live for at least another 12 hours.

How do six-year-old boys ever make it to seven? To ten? To sixteen? But then, when I am around people who have sixteen-year-olds it makes me oh so grateful Danny is still little enough that when we are mad at each other I can pick him up and flip him upside down and hold him until he is laughing.

Perhaps I am making this too complicated. Maybe instead of giving The Look I need to focus on giving The Smile.

Luckily, tomorrow is a new day. Tonight I will review my parenting approach, amend it, refine it, rehearse it, pray over it, etc. Perhaps I will even spend some time in front of the mirror and practice my smile. And tomorrow I will try again.

And if you see happen to see a child running though the streets after a dog, please send him home. You can keep the dog.

 

 

 

 

 

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