Looking to 2021

Do you set yearly goals? What’s your big, hairy, scary goal for 2021?

Aside from getting back to focusing on my health, I’m also putting a big emphasis on my creative health.

Mine? I’ve got one book set for release in June (SURPRISE 🎉) and am planning to possibly dip my toes back into the querying game. That one is TBD.

I also plan to get back into a consistent writing habit.

I’ll share my reading goals in a few days.

Where #Bookstagram Meets #AuthorsofInstagram

When you were a kid on vacation, did you ever beg your parents to stop the car at a state line so you could stand with one leg in each state?

It never really felt any different, but you still somehow felt as though you were straddling two worlds and suspending reality for a brief moment. Never mind that borders are a figment of our imagination that we’ve somehow turned into the basis for far too many wars … but that’s a completely different post for another day.

This is often how it feels to be an author and a Bookstagrammer. I live suspended between two worlds and the line between the two often blurs.

For example, anytime a publisher sends an email with the words “I have the perfect book for you,” it takes a great amount of restraint to not go … “OMG! Me too!” (Yes, I know this is not how publishing works, and I would NEVER do this … but it gives me a good giggle every time.)

There are times, however, that the divide between #authorlife and #readerlife becomes as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon.

Like, when I have a new book coming out, and I have to switch into marketing mode and I worry about annoying or alienating my followers who don’t read my genre or care that I wrote a book. Or, when a Bookstagram friend reads my book and doesn’t love it. Or, when someone I’m hesitant to share my book with asks for an ARC or a free book. This one is always a strange place to be, and I have to toe the line. The last thing I want to do is hurt someone’s feelings.

Or, when someone shares a negative or nasty review. I follow my hashtags for my author name and my books. As a marketer by trade, I understand how social media works and know that to stay relevant, I need to be active and engaged. Sometimes, this means I find reviews not meant for me. (For the record, reviews are for readers not for authors. If you think an author is looking at reviews for editorial feedback so they can change their writing style or voice, you’re targeting the wrong audience.)

Another time when being an author and a Bookstagrammer collide in a less than pleasant situation? When my views/opinions as an author contradict whatever controversy is trending in the Bookstagram community. This is usually because a big name author has done or said something taboo that gets the Bookstagram community riled up.

Do I stay out of it? Do I share my author insight? Do I let it stew and stew until my eye starts twitching?

If you know me, you know I’m pretty quick to share my opinion. Whether it’s politics, the pandemic, BSB vs. NSYNC, or whatever, I’m an open book. But every single time I do speak up, I worry that I’m going to trigger the ire of the community and potentially alienate the small reader base I have.

More often than not, I try to be open and honest. Those that follow and know me have come to expect it. So far, this has been the approach I’ve taken—even if it costs me followers. At the end of the day, if someone doesn’t like me as a person, they probably won’t like my book (and that’s okay, not every book is for every reader).

I do find myself asking a lot of questions before I share. How open should I be? Should I share when a negative review left me in the fetal position, crying on the floor? Do I only share positive reviews? Does anyone care?

The one I struggle with the most? Do I, as an author, belong on Bookstagram? Is there a point where my position as an author trumps my status as a reader?

Because it’s hard for me to deny that being an author changes the way I see books. I know what goes into creating characters and stories. I know how exhausting it is and how emotionally draining creating can be. I don’t let little things like typos or grammatical errors change the way I feel about a book. I refuse to make personal attacks on authors or books. And, I don’t share books that I don’t enjoy because I don’t want to write a review that could hurt someone.

As a creator and writer, I’m sensitive to the mental and emotional toll writing a book takes on someone. Maybe too sensitive.

Earlier this week, I had someone tell me (in essence, not verbatim) that taking Instagram photos and writing captions is the same as writing a book. While, yes, I agree that there is creativity and effort behind both of those things, neither come close to the process of writing a book.

Every single character I write and story I tell is a piece of me. Sometimes, I share these pieces with the world. Other times, I keep them close to the vest because letting go of them is too painful. This is why negative reviews hurt. This is why I remind people that authors are human beings. Yes, readers are too, but I can tell you the experience is vastly different.

Both experiences are valid. Both are human.

As a reader, my job is to get lost in a story. As a writer, my job is to create that story that people get lost in. Can I be both? Can I be both a reader and a writer and live in those two worlds? More often than not, the answer is yes. I don’t compare my books to the books I read. I try to avoid nitpicking books to see how I’d do it differently—those aren’t my characters or stories to manipulate.

This brings me back to the question that I still cannot answer. Do I belong on Bookstagram?

12.10.20 – INSTASHORTIE – WORK LIKE A MOTHER (CH. 3)

Read Chapter One Here!
Read Chapter Two Here!

Sunday mornings were my one saving grace. Every Sunday, Stephen dutifully packed the kids in the car and drove an hour from our home in Mt. Juliet to his family church in Brentwood. He’d sit in the front pew next to his mother while the kids went to Sunday school. I’d made it very clear early on in our relationship that I respected his religion and his choice to attend weekly service, I would not be participating.

Instead, I lounged around and lazily drank coffee until ten. Then, I’d get in my peaceful car, thank God for a silent morning, and venture down to the Gulch to meet my sister and friends for Sunday brunch. The tradition started the year Stephen and I moved in together, and I almost made him work it into our vows. I promise to always be okay with Amanda going to brunch with the girls every Sunday. But I trusted him enough to not make him swear that promise in front of God and everyone. In the seven years since I’d only missed it four times. Both because I was recovering from childbirth. Those four Sundays, the girls brought Sunday brunch to me.

This time was sacred to me. It was the only three hours a week I had where no one needed me. No one touched me. No one demanded I feed them, change them, tie their shoes or play with them. There were no nagging deadlines. No emails. Nothing. Just adult conversation, mimosas and eggs Benedict. Every time I got in my car to head home, I felt refreshed and ready for whatever disaster I would walk into when I got home.

I handed my car keys to the valet outside Saint Anejo and passed a gaggle of hungover bachelorettes. I don’t recall when exactly Nashville became bachelorette central, but every weekend, they showed up in droves and took over the city. If I were still single or childless, I’d be highly annoyed by these young women infiltrating my city’s nightlife. But I’m not, so I just join in the chorus of groans about downtown traffic on Thursdays and Fridays and spend my weekends at soccer, the zoo and the Adventure Science Center; all of which are blissfully bachelorette free. My only encounter with them is on Sundays and by then all the wooing had made their voices too hoarse to get on my nerves.

Clad in a pair of clean leggings, a loose floral top and TOMS sneakers, I look every bit the soccer mom I was. Their size two designer jeans may be cute, but my not size two self is comfortable. I’d live in leggings and flats if I could. Some weeks I do. I don’t know at what point I decided leggings could fit into a business casual wardrobe, but I’m grateful I did. Never again will I force myself into uncomfortably pants or suits. I worked in marketing where it was important to look cool and creative. I could do that in leggings. Thankyouverymuch.

I walked past the hostess to find Amber, my sister. She was always there first. She lived in the Icon, a swanky condo building in the Gulch. She paid more for her one-bedroom condo than Stephen and I paid for our four-bedroom house. I reminded her of this every time she complained about being broke. Amber worked in the music industry as an underpaid publicist. She could have moved a little further out and gotten way more for her money. But my baby sister swore off marriage, babies and the suburbs. I imagine watching me inspired this decision.

I caught her eye and she waved me over.

“Hey, Manda,” she said. I leaned in and hugged her, gritting my teeth. She’d called me that ever since she could talk. I hated it as much now as I did then.

“Ambs,” I said, using the nickname I’d given her that she also despised. We irritated each other just enough to remember we were sisters.

“How is Barrett? Did Carly get over Croup? Did you kick your boss in his non-childbearing balls?” she asked in a rapid-fire sequence.

“Ornery. Yes. No,” I answered just as quickly.

“Sounds about right. You need to get over worrying about upsetting the patriarchy. You can’t let your boss talk to you like that.”

Easy for her to say. I rolled my eyes. “Anyway.”

“Have you heard from Morie or Jessica?” she asked.

“They are on their way. I text both just before I left.” As if on cue, I heard Jessica’s signature timid giggle behind me. I turned around to find her and Morie walking in together. Morie at almost 5’11” with electric red hair stood in stark contrast to Jessica’s petite frame and mousey brown hair. Jessica wore prim Ann Taylor capri pants and a pale pink sweater. Morie, as usual, was decked out in Lululemon from head-to-toe. She probably had a barre class after brunch.

Jessica, Morie and I went to college together. Amber got thrown into the mix a few years later when she moved back home after our parents died. She moved in with Stephen and me just after Barrett was born—hence her proclamation that she will never have kids. She’d witnessed first-hand the agony of breastfeeding and caring for an ungrateful newborn tyrant while trying to recover from a third-degree tear. I’ll never forget the horrified look on her face when I asked her to make me more padsicles. Her mouth hung open in disbelief as I explained the soothing benefits of aloe, lavender oil and witch hazel poured onto a maxi pad and frozen. I’m pretty sure she was celibate for a year after.

“Todd has the kids this weekend,” Morie announced as she sat down. “The house has been amazingly quiet. I got so much done and even had a date last night.”

“Still on Tinder?” Amber asked. Morie laughed and shook her head. “I’m telling you there is nothing better than a right-swipe one-night stand.”

“Amber!” Jessica scolded, shaking her head. “How are the kids adjusting?”

Two years ago, Morie became our first friend to get divorced. In the cliché of all clichés, she caught her husband red-handed with his secretary when she showed up to bring him dinner one night when he was working late. With her then-infant son on her hip, she walked in to find his secretary bare ass naked, sprawled out under her husband. She’d explained the scene to us in such detail, that Jessica had to excuse herself. Two weeks later, she’d found out she was pregnant with number two and was forced, by law, to stay married to the bastard until after the baby was born. Their divorce was finalized in January exactly eight weeks after their daughter was born.

“They barely even notice. I don’t think Evan even remembers when Daddy lived at home and Valerie hardly knows him.” She yawned. “He’s getting married next month.”

“Gross,” I said. Amber nodded in agreement.

“Such a shame,” Jessica said. “You guys were the it couple in college.”

Morie and I rolled our eyes. Jessica idealized every relationship. She’d met her husband Bill in elementary school and has never been with anyone else. They have three kids and the patience of saints. Sometimes I am completely baffled by her. Her entire world revolves around her kids. Bill is a surgeon, so she stays home. She doesn’t understand how Morie and I can go off to work every day, and Morie and I can’t understand how she survives surrounded by diapers and babies all day. But we all love and support each other.

“Did you talk to your boss?” Jessica asked. The waiter came by and we all ordered mimosas.

“Not since the priorities conversation.”

“At least he didn’t pull a Gary,” Amber said. I kicked her under the table. She knew better than to mention his name to me. “What?”

“Just don’t, Amber,” I said. I didn’t want to talk about Gary. Or Peter. Or my inability to stand up to my boss.

“Peter seems like a royal ass,” Morie said. I gave her a grateful smile.

“I know his wife,” she added. “Her son plays soccer with Hayden.” 

I cringed. As much as I loved Jessica, her kid’s names were hard to stomach. In addition to her son Hayden, who was Barrett’s age, she had two daughters, Haylie, two, and Hayven, six months. I was scared to see what they might name a fourth kid if they had another. 

“She can’t stand him,” she said. “He’s never home. I’ve never seen him at a soccer game and, apparently, he worked the entire time they were on vacation. And, get this, he is pushing for another kid.”

“What?” I asked, astonished. Peter didn’t strike me as the type to want one kid, much less four.

“Now this is just gossip,” she said casually. “But what I heard was she wanted to go back to work, but he is against it. Did you know she used to be some big shot lawyer?”

I shook my head, completely fascinated by what I was learning.

“Yeah. She stepped back when the first was born, but by the third, she’d quit altogether. Said it was too much to balance with a husband that didn’t pitch in.”

“That’s bullshit,” Amber said.

“Four mimosas,” the waiter said, pushing his way into the conversation. He placed a glass in front of each of us. “Are we ordering food too? Or sticking with a liquid brunch.” He laughed at his own cleverness.

We went around the table, each ordering something different so we could all share. This wasn’t something we planned. It just happened naturally. Once the food came, we’d all grab a fork and start stealing bites off each other’s plates. We’d been friends long enough to know what we could steal a bite of and what we couldn’t. For me, bread was off-limits. If anyone touched a biscuit on my plate, they’d pull their hand away to find a fork stabbed in it.

“He sounds like a royal douche,” Morie said. “And just like Todd.”

“At least Todd showed up for the births of both kids.”

“Even if you kicked him out both times,” I said laughing. “That should have been your sign. You were experiencing the miracle of birth and wanted nothing to do with the man that put you in that delivery bed.”

“Wait,” Amber said. “You’re saying he didn’t show up for the birth of any kid?”

Jessica shook her head. “According to Tiffany, he was working late or out of town for all three.”

“I feel bad for him,” I said. “He has no idea what he’s missing. But, I don’t understand why he thinks having another will change her mind about staying home. If she wants to work, what’s the big deal?”

Jessica shrugged. “Being a stay at home mom is hard, but so is being a working mom. I can’t imagine life from the other perspective, but I know Tiffany is more like you than me. She is miserable at home all day. She got an IUD put in a few weeks ago to ensure she won’t get pregnant again. Peter was livid.”

I shifted in my seat. As much as I loved bashing the asshole who asked me to prioritize his bottom line over my kids, talking about his personal life in this intimate of detail made me uncomfortable. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Morie looking at me. She shook her head.

“Are we still on for the Hayden and Barrett play date?” I asked in an obvious attempt to change the subject.

“Two weeks from Saturday?” she asked. I nodded in confirmation. “Yes. Bill is not on call that weekend, so he will be home with the girls.”

I smiled. “Perfect. I know Barrett is looking forward to it. Once summer hits, we should take all the kids on a zoo trip.”

“On a Saturday,” Jessica added.

“So we can bitch about it on Sunday,” Morie said. “We can drag Amber along to reinforce her birth control routine.”

Our laughter echoed through the restaurant causing the bachelorettes to cringe and cover their ears. Shrill girlfriend giggling was brutal on hangovers, but we didn’t care. We spent the rest of the morning laughing and talking loudly. This was our time and we were going to make the most of it.

12.3.20 – InstaShortie – Work Like a Mother (Ch. 2)

Read Chapter One Here!

It was nothing short of a miracle that I walked into Langston Creative’s office at five ‘till eight with a Starbucks in my hand and a normal heart rate. Traffic was on my side this morning. I silently thanked whatever gods decided I was worth the extra energy today. I practically floated to my desk. I must have looked blissful because the second I sat down Wendy, my coworker, came rushing over. Normally, I was scowling or half-asleep in the mornings and no one talked to me. I much preferred the no talking mornings.

“Amanda, do you meet with Peter this morning?” she asked. Her voice was hushed. She glanced in the direction of my boss’s office and then back at me. Her eyebrows furrowed and her lips twitched into a frown.

“Yes, why?”

“He’s on a tirade this morning. He’s already snapped at Ethan.”

“Ethan?” Ethan was the golden boy. He was a master brown noser and was always shoving it where it did not belong—mainly with my clients. Technically, he was my junior in the office pecking order and reported directly to me, but the way he acted you’d think he was my boss. “Peter is never cross with Ethan.”

“I know,” she hissed. “So, it must be bad.”

“I wonder if his wife is pregnant again,” I said. I’d meant to just think it, but the words tumbled out. I was comfortable with Wendy, but like Ethan, she was my employee and I knew better than to disparage the boss in front of her even if she was my only mom ally in the office. Peter had three kids, but his wife stayed home, and I was certain he didn’t even know their names or birthdays. Ethan was a bachelor, as were most of the younger men in the office. The women were either older and empty-nesters or younger and well-rested. Wendy had two kids, a boy and a girl like me. Unlike mine, hers were twins. Yet, she somehow managed to come in every day with perfectly coiffed hair and makeup. I’d not met her husband, but I assumed he was a saint.

“Probably.” She laughed. She knew what I was implying. Wendy and I spoke the same tired, cliched language of the working mom.

I took a deep breath to brace myself for whatever I was about to walk into. I didn’t bother turning on my laptop. I’d checked my emails while waiting in line at Starbucks. Nothing blew up overnight, so it seemed everything was fine. My pulse quickened and sweat beaded under the waistband of my black wool slacks. I don’t know what possessed me to wear them this morning, but I was deeply regretting my extra hot choice.

Peter’s door was closed, which was unusual. He was one of the most standoffish people I’d ever met, but he insisted on having an open-door policy. Going through the motions was Peter’s entire management philosophy. He didn’t smile. He never said please or thank you. He didn’t offer false platitudes. If he asked how your day was, he was doing it out of habit and not care. When I first interviewed with him four years ago, I almost walked away from the offer because of him. But over time I came to understand it wasn’t personal, it was just Peter.

Tentatively, I knocked on the door. His deep, muffled voice, invited me in. I turned the handle and carefully pushed the door open. I don’t know why I was so hesitant. Peter was known for his tirades. Sure taking one out on Ethan was new, but that was probably because I wasn’t here at seven when he started ranting.

“Good morning,” I said, forcing my voice to remain calm and steady. He didn’t need to know I knew he was a live wire this morning.

He barely looked up from his monitor. His fingers typed furiously. The crease between his brows deepened with thought, or concern, I wasn’t sure which. His pale skin tinted red. His chest rose angrily as he heaved with each breath. The buttons of his too-tight shirt threatened to explode. Why don’t more men wear those Spanx undershirts for men? Reign in the buttons and tame loose chest hairs.

I took my usual seat, the comfortable one on the left side of his desk. I sat down, crossed my legs and rested my planner and notes on my lap. We usually had a loose agenda for my weekly one-on-one. Today I needed his approval on a client pitch and two ads Ethan and I had worked on. Both were for big accounts that brought in more than enough revenue to cover the salaries of his entire team. I’d fought hard to be assigned to them and even harder to get promoted to an account supervisor. I now had four accounts under my management and was on track for a promotion to a director role. Ethan and Wendy were on my team for all four of them. Two of those clients accounted for a quarter of the agency’s financials. No pressure.

“Your kid was sick last week,” he said. No good morning. Not even his usual, whatcha got for me. Just straight into an accusation on my kid’s health. “And you missed another  meeting with the Kyle Team.”

I flinched. I hated missing that meeting because it had been an important one but it was unavoidable. “Yes, my youngest had croup.” I wasn’t sure he knew what that meant, or if his own kids had ever had it. Carly was my problem child. At six months old, she’d already been to the emergency room for breathing issues twice. We were regulars at our pediatrician and the after-hours children’s clinic. I often wondered if they offered a punch card. Every sixth visit is free! As a marketer, I thought it was genius. As a mother, our insurance and bank account desperately needed it.

“That’s the fifth day since January that you’ve missed because of a sick kid.” He came at me again with more accusations. An atomic bomb exploded in my stomach sending shrapnel through my veins. I did not like where this was going.

“Carly, my daughter, has a weak immune system,” I said. Born six weeks early, her health was a constant battle that she never stopped fighting. She was a tiny baby. Just last week she’d finally hit fifteen pounds. Her little lungs were prone to viruses and infections. Stephen and I alternated as much as we could. “I did work from home. I tried to call into the Kyle Pharmaceuticals meeting, but no one shared the code, and I worked with the buyers to secure the entire Q4 media plan for Burgers & Waffles.” I intentionally mentioned the two biggest clients. They also happened to be the ones who loved me the most. Both of their marketing teams refused to work with Peter. He knew it, too.

“Our work from home policy is meant to be an as-needed situation. Not whenever you feel like it.” Like when your kid is sick and can’t be at daycare, and you can’t leave a six-month-old home alone?

“I understand that. I work hard to ensure I do not abuse the flexibility. My husband and I take turns staying home when it is necessary.”

He grunted. “What does your husband do?” He said it with an odd mix of curiosity and disgust.

“He’s lead engineer at Kramer Judd.” I tried to say the name casually so as not to brag. Kramer Judd was the it technology firm in Nashville. They built apps, websites and software for anyone and everyone. Their largest projects were in the healthcare industry; an industry Peter was desperate to break into.

“Interesting,” he said. He rubbed his chin with his fingers and looked up at me. Our eyes met for the first time. “I’m surprised he babysits the kids when he should be working.”

“He is their father, he does not babysit his own children,” I replied before I could stop myself. “His job is flexible, but sometimes he has meetings he cannot get out of. So, we both bear the responsibility when our kids are sick. We’re both fortunate that the work we do can be done anywhere.”

He paused for a moment as if he were contemplating what I’d said. He himself worked from home on occasion. He’d even worked from the beach when he took his      summer vacation last year. He worked so he didn’t have to use his vacation time, or so he said. My guess was that he worked so he didn’t have to deal with kids on the beach. We’d taken our son to the beach last summer. Never again. There is nothing relaxing about chasing a toddler on hot sand or in the ocean.

It was infuriating that he didn’t even see the contradiction in his words versus his own behavior.

“Can’t your mother-in-law help? Doesn’t she live here?”

His question stopped me for a moment. I wasn’t sure I’d mentioned her before or how he knew she lived here. What he didn’t know was that even if she could watch the kids when they were sick, I’d never let her. Betsy Harris didn’t approve of my working outside the home. If I dared to call her when the kids were sick, she’d just use that as another arrow in her bow.

“No,” I said without further explanation. I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back into the chair.

“Bottom line is      this; I need you to find a solution for your sick kids. I can’t have you missing deadlines or leaving meetings.”

     “I have not missed a single deadline or meeting,” I said. I rarely pushed back or argued with him, unless I was defending a client request, but this conversation was pushing every one of my buttons. Tears threatened to expose my vulnerability, but I fought them back. I would not give him an ounce of emotion. “Sick kids or not, I always deliver on time. And I always exceed client expectations.”

I was quoting directly from my mid-year review. The very words he’d written. He’d delivered them hastily as if giving me a compliment put him in serious pain.

He sighed and said, “What I’m saying is you need to get your priorities in order.”

My priorities?! The audacity of what he was implying slapped me in the face. My family was my priority. Full stop. It was for Stephen too. I guaranteed his boss wasn’t having this conversation with him. When he left work to care for a sick child, he probably left with a chorus of applause chasing him. A standing ovation for Kramer Judd’s father of the year. 

But when I, the one who pushed those children out of her vagina, leaves to take care of them, my priorities are out of whack.

I fought back another wave of tears. I was damned if I do, damned if I don’t. I found myself annoyed at my daughter for being sick. Angry at myself for not being able to carry her the full 40 weeks. I blamed her daycare for calling for even the low-grade fevers.

The guilt overwhelmed me. It hit when I was at work and not with my kids. Or when I was with my kids and not at work. Or when I was at work and angry because daycare called. I couldn’t be everywhere at every moment, but that’s what was being asked of me. Be a good mother. Make family a priority. Be a good employee. Make work a priority. Be there when your kids are sick, but don’t make others at work suffer because of you.

I sighed, nodded and stood. “Is that all?”

“No,” he said. “The meeting with Geoff is canceled. He’s in Atlanta this week.”

“Okay,” I said. After the five-minute assault on my sick child and value as an employee, I wasn’t exactly in the mood for an hour-long meeting about financials and project statuses.

“Do you have the Burgers & Waffles ads?”

“Yes.” I pulled the proofs from my folder and hand them over. “I also have the Kyle pitch. The team has reviewed it and it’s aligned with their RFP.” Kyle was already a client for creative services and traditional media, but they were looking for a new digital and social media agency. It was my idea to pitch for the business. Thanks to my relationship with Leah, their VP of marketing, we’d gotten a two-week heads up on the request for proposal. At this point, the pitch was a formality. Leah was on board and impressed with the work I’d shared with her.

“When are we pitching?”

“With your approval, I will send the proposal over today. Once they review, they will schedule our presentation at their offices.”

“Do you have a print out?” I always had a print out. Peter hated reading emails or PDFs. He needed to kill a minimum of ten thousand trees a year to do his job. I slid the fifty-page, spiral-bound presentation across his desk. “Has legal reviewed?”

“Legal, finance and the digital team have all reviewed and signed off. All I am waiting on is your approval.”

He nodded and picked up the book. “I’ll have it to you by the end of the day.”

“Before five?” I asked. Peter considered the day anything before midnight. But I had kids to pick up, dinner to make and a house to run; none of which were on his radar. I couldn’t wait by my phone for an answer. Instead of explaining that, I said, “Leah is on vacation starting tomorrow. If I can get it to her today, we are more likely to get a quick response.”

“I’ll have it to you before noon.” With that, he ushered me out of his office and asked that I close his door behind me. I did as he asked but slammed it. The sound echoed through the office.

I breezed past an inquisitive Wendy, grabbed my pump bag and rushed to the tiny broom closet designated as the Mother’s Room. The space had no ventilation, which meant it was a sauna in the summer and an icebox in the winter. But it had a chair, a mini-fridge and a lock. More often than not, I had to chase someone out. Usually that someone was in the middle of a phone interview. If I were a spiteful person, I’d turn them all into HR for using the Mother’s Room to find another job. The worst, though, was when the secretary ate her lunch there and threw the leftovers in the trash. I’d spend my afternoon pumping session holding my breath, so I didn’t retch from the smell of stale ketchup or old Chinese food.

With the door safely locked behind me, I turned off the lights and sat in the soft chair. I didn’t need to pump, but I needed the fifteen minutes of silence to recover. My entire body vibrated as the tears threatened to explode. I counted to ten and then started my mental math routine. Two plus two is four. Four plus four is eight. I repeated this until I couldn’t add the numbers and started over. The routine always centered me. It took several rounds to get my breathing back to normal. The anger didn’t subside as quickly.

Fuck you, Peter.

Read Chapter Three

11.21.20 – InstaShortie – Work Like a Mother (Ch. 1)

I’ve often wondered what would happen if I got into my car and just started driving. No destination. Nothing but an open road. The air crisp and free of the familiar scent of spoiled milk and cheese crackers. Everything weighing me down, fading into a blip in my rearview mirror. The stress, fear and regret burning away with every passing mile. A gorgeous sunrise exploding into sprays of pink, purple, orange and blue on the horizon ahead. Or, the light from the high midday sun creating false pools of water that I could splash through without worrying about soggy socks.

No screaming kids fighting in the backseat. No Baby Shark blaring over the BOSE speakers to calm a crying baby. The same speakers used to play the hottest songs that made you feel cool just listening to them, now relegated to toddler tunes stuck on repeat.

No rules.

No responsibilities.

No bills.

No unengaged spouse.

No misogynistic bosses.

I closed my eyes and permitted myself to slip into that blissful daydream. The possibility of it intoxicating. Breathing in deeply, I savored the feeling until a car behind me honked. Forced to face reality, I realized I wasn’t running anywhere. I was stuck.

Screaming kids.

Distant spouse.

Rush hour traffic.

Every day the same as the one before.

The reality of it all crashed my temporary high. I couldn’t dwell on these fantasies for long but the brief moments I did allow were enough to transport me far away from my life so I could breathe for a moment.

“Polly’s Pizza where we treat you like the extra cheese you are. This week it’s BOGO on any two large one-topping pizzas! Tell ‘em Gary sent you!” The commercial shifted into the jingle I knew all too well. I’d written it eight years ago. It haunted me ever since.

Bile rose from my stomach as I reached for knob to turn off the radio. That voice wasn’t allowed in my car. That name felt like fire in my ears. “Piece of shit,” I mumbled under my breath.

“Mom!” Barrett shouted from the back. His feet pummeled the back of my seat, jolting me forward. Kick. Kick. Kick. I gritted my teeth and counted to ten. I loathed the day he outgrew the rear-facing requirements. He couldn’t kick my seat then, and I met the approval of the judgmental eyes of social media moms. I glanced in the mirror to confirm that his five-point harness was properly placed at armpit level. It was. It always was just in case I decided to snap a photo of him asleep in his car seat or get a video of him singing along with the radio. Then I knew it would be fine to post without the threat of ten thousand angry mom mob comments. And, of course, it meant he was safe and secure. That was the important part of this equation.

“Do not kick my seat, Barrett James.” My tone was clipped but controlled. He stopped kicking for a moment before grunting loudly and kicking even harder. The breath hissed from my mouth as I held in the four-letter word I didn’t dare utter out loud.

“One more time and you’re going straight to timeout when we get home.” My pulse quickened. An all too familiar sensation drifted up my spine. I snapped in a sharp breath and shoved it back down.

“Carly touched my hand,” he whined. His baby sister giggled from her car seat. In the rearview mirror, I could see both his scowl and the reflection of Carly’s smile in her car seat mirror.

“She’s six months old, Barrett, she didn’t do it on purpose.” The sound of a tiny hand slapping skin echoed through the car. It was immediately followed by the high-pitched wail of a baby sister who already knew how to get her older brother in trouble. The sound reignited the fury I’d shoved away. It bubbled below the surface for a second before exploding into the chaos of the car.

“Barrett!” I shouted in the voice that made even me cringe. The one that started deep in my stomach and burned when it exited my throat. The one that sends flames of guilt burning through my veins, chasing and haunting me well into the night when I lie awake and recall all the ways I’ve failed as a wife, mother and woman.

He retreated back into his seat, farther away from me. His lips pressed together, forming a deep frown. Tears stung my eyes. The light turned green, and I gently pressed the gas as both children burst into a chorus of wails. Once again the tears are my fault. Mommy lost her temper. Again.

“Mommy is very sorry she yelled at you,” I said in my softest mom voice.

“Can I watch Power Rangers when we get home? And I want fruit snacks and milk.”

“Sure, buddy.” I leaned my head into the seat and rubbed my temple with my free hand. “How about we play the quiet game the rest of the way. Winner gets a dollar.”

“Okay!” His eyes met mine in the mirror. I smiled as his mouth flattened into a serious line. His jaw set tight, and his body shifted as he crossed his arms over his chest. Barrett was as competitive as his father. No game or challenge too small for the Harris men.

My phone lit up on the seat beside me. Speak of the devil. “Hey hon,” I said, answering. 

“Hey.”

A very small part of me was holding onto the comical hope that he was calling to ask what page tonight’s recipe was on because he was already home and wanted to start dinner. Once upon a time that might have happened, but not now. Not when he spent every day trying to prove his worth to the new owners of the company he’d dedicated his entire career to.

“Daddy!” Barrett. The quiet game was officially paused. “Mommy said shit today”

I rolled my eyes. There was no point in arguing with him. Aside from the fact that he was right, he was also a toddler. Even the most naive of mothers knew not to argue with them. There was no way to win. If mansplaining made me crazy, toddlersplaining was on a whole other level. It’s kind of like arguing with a troll on Twitter. There is no reason, and no matter how wrong they are, they adamantly believe what they believe. Facts be damned.

“Amanda,” Stephen scolded. I detected a slight chuckle in his response. I was quite certain Barrett heard far worse when Stephen drove them to daycare in the morning. My son had told me as much.

“Sorry.”

“Shit. Shit. Shit,” Barrett sang in the backseat.

“Listen, babe.” My body slumped into the seat. I knew that tone. It was new but had become all too familiar in recent weeks. That was the tone that said he was working late. Something more important than his family had come up.

“What time will you be home?”

“Eight?” His answer was more of a question than a statement. “Maybe nine. The transition team is here, and they need me to walk them through some app functionality for a meeting with investors tomorrow.” He sounded more strained than normal, and I could hear his boss shouting in the background. Stephen sighed. His job used to be the calm predictable one.

I wanted to offer sympathy. Instead, I said, “It’s bath night.”

“I know,” he replied. There was no guilt in his voice. “We can do them in the morning.”

“We can’t. I have my morning meeting, so I have to leave early.”

“Oh, I forgot.” Obviously. “I’ll try to get out of here as quickly as I can. Can you just wrap up a plate for me?”

“No,” I replied. “I am not making dinner, wrangling two kids in the bath and doing bedtime solo. I’ll pick them up McDonald’s.”

“What will I eat?”

“I don’t know, Stephen. Figure it out.” He exhaled sharply. Painful silence settled over my car’s Bluetooth. I could sense his hesitation. He wanted to respond as harshly as I had.

“Okay. Love you.” His was voice barely above a whisper. He’d given up and let me have the last word. This, our typical fight. Ending before it began. Resentment building.

“Love you, too.” I hung up before he could say goodbye.

“Bye Daddy!” Barrett said, unaware that I’d already hung up the phone.

“What do you say we pick up some Happy Meals and have a picnic in the living room?” I asked. My son replied enthusiastically and started singing a song to himself.

Nothing like fast food and the promise of a cheap toy to flip a kid’s mood.

After a lengthy debate in the drive-thru over whether he wanted chicken nuggets or a hamburger with cheese—not a cheeseburger, he does not like cheeseburgers—we finally pulled into the garage at a quarter to seven. I quickly set him up at the dinner table with Power Rangers playing in the background before hurrying to get a bath started. If I timed it right, I could bathe Carly and get her to bed before Barrett finished eating dinner. Using his Happy Meal toy as leverage, I hauled his sister into her room.

“Da da da,” she cooed. She’d yet to utter Mama, but she had Dada and BaBa down pat. It figured she’d take to the father who never woke up with her at two in the morning and the brother that tattled on her over the mother that birthed her and kept her fed. 

“Mama,” I said.

“Dada,” she replied. I shook my head and silently scolded her. I’d win her over eventually. After all, my breasts provided milk where her father’s only offered hairy nipples.

In the bath, she played with the water and kicked her feet, splashing me with enough water to classify as my daily shower. She giggled and splashed until I had to rinse her hair then she screamed and swatted me. She’d been cursed with a head of fine, thin blonde hair like me. If her hair followed the path mine did, she’d be dying it in a few years desperate to have it back to the blonde of her youth, rather than the dirty shade that popped up once the days of recess and endless sunshine ended. Barrett took after Stephan with his deep brown eyes and hair. My girl and I had matching blue eyes. At least for now. Stephan liked to joke they could turn brown at any given moment. He already had their first words, the least he could give me was their eye colors.

Much to my surprise, my plan played out exactly as I’d hoped. Barrett ate his dinner and turned into a TV zombie and Carly fell asleep in record time. I knew better than to celebrate my mini victory, though. Motherhood was a constant loop of I told you so moments. Just when you thought your night was on track, your almost-four-year-old finds his way into the laundry room while you’re putting your daughter to bed and manages to pour an entire container of Tide laundry soap all over the floor. I found him lying in the pool of blue liquid pretending to swim. 

“Look, Mama!” he proudly announced when I found him. “I made the beach!”

Read Chapter Two!

After Everything is Here!

Somehow, I missed posting about After Everything on release day. When I say this week has been a whirlwind, I am not even exaggerating.

The release of After Everything has felt so different from all my previous books. There’s something magical about all book releases, but this one made my heart burst into a million tiny pieces.

Ya’ll, my book is in a bookstore! A real live bookstore! And, not just any bookstore, but Parnassus Books here in Nashville. I don’t even know if I can put into words how amazing that feels.

The early reviews have been amazing, and as I read each one I am reminded of why I wrote this book. I wanted to write a book that felt real, honest, emotional, and raw. After Everything is all of those things. Abby is real. Her struggles are real. Her dreams are real. She makes terrible choices and has to face the consequences, but each choice she makes is made with one goal in mind: to be true to herself.

Thank you to all of the readers, bloggers, and Bookstagrammers who have helped make my dreams come true. I love you all!

Why I Self-Published (Again)

I spent nearly all of 2019 researching literary agents, querying those agents, writing books that said agents might be interested in, writing queries, sending partial and full manuscripts, and crying and stressing.

I doubted myself.
I hated my writing.
I questioned my dreams and goals.
I felt like crap.

When people would ask why I wanted to go from self-publishing to traditional publishing, my answer was (and still is) because I want to seem my book at Target. Yup. Is that silly? Sure, but I’m owning it.

Why Target? This answer is two part … 1.) I write books for women like me and women like me love Target. 2.) I dream about walking down the aisles at Target with a latte in one hand, a child-free shopping cart being pushed with the other, and seeing MY BOOK on an end-cap begging to be found by new readers.

That last one is the true answer for why I tried the agent and traditional publishing route—I want to reach more readers. It would also be nice to not have to do everything myself. Then again, having 100% of the control is a hell of a drug.

So, why am I going indie again? This one is a little harder to answer.

The first reason has more to do with my mental health than anything. Querying agents and going from the high of getting a request to the low of a generic rejection is exhausting and painful. It’s a gut punch. I queried three books last year and became obsessed with my numbers and checking my email. Not healthy.

Control is the second reason. Some of the feedback I got with rejections made sense from a “what sells” perspective, but the stories that “sell” aren’t always the stories that need to be told. I don’t want to write solely for the sake of selling. Yes, being an author is a business but it is art first. Along those same lines, I like having control over cover art and timelines and edits. Do I always make the right choice? Probably not, but I learn something every time.

Timing is the last (big) reason. Y’all publishing is sloooooooow. Like, slower than Christmas. As in, I could write a perfect book tomorrow, land the dream agent, and earn a 6-figure advance and it would be at least 2-3 years before that book landed in readers hands. I do not have that kind of patience. The 1.5 minutes it takes my microwave popcorn to pop is too long. So, yeah, waiting 2 years to publish a book sounds excruciating.

Do I still want to see my book in Target? Yes, please (if you wanna reach out to your store or corporate and request my book, that would be cool). For me, though, it’s more important to get my books out into the world and reach readers. If the right opportunity came along, I’d definitely be open to traditional publishing, but right now, I’m happy where I am.

Instagram for Indie Authors

Instagram, and particularly Bookstagram, can be an invaluable tool for indie authors, but Instagram can often seem like a daunting platform. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a huge fan of social media and love how I am able to connect with readers.

As an Indie Author, one of my biggest tasks (aside from writing books) is figuring out who my readers are and how to reach them. This is the one business side of self-publishing that I actually enjoy … I’m sure it also helps that my day job is in marketing.

A few years ago, I stumbled on the Bookstagram community (#bookstagram) on Instagram and knew I’d found my people. Without a single hint of hesitation, I decided to dive head-first into the community. I’d be lying if I didn’t join in-part because I wanted to sell books, but my primary goal was to connect with people like me. I love to read almost as much as I love to write.

At first, I was intimidated by the gorgeous photos and massive followings I saw on the “big” accounts. It took a few months for me to find my footing and balance. I learned what worked for me and my books.

Here in it’s most basic form is what I’ve learned about how to use Instagram as an Indie Author:

Instagram for Indie Authors:
Know who your ideal reader is (general demographics and a bit deeper. I.E. women, aged 25-45 who enjoy books by Elin Hilderbrand, drink coffee, and have families)
Follow Hashtags & Accounts that align with your ideal reader
Be Yourself – this is one I cannot stress enough. Your readers want YOU. Yes, pretty, overly-staged photos are nice, but what matters most is the authenticity behind them. They don’t want another influencer selling them BS. Use your bio to share you & link to your website (if you can, create your own Instagram link page and avoid Link Tree).
Be Consistent find a posting cadence that works for you and stick to it
Utilize Stories post in your stories consistently, reply to stories, use the tools IG gives you (polls, quizzes, questions, etc.). Keep highlights of the best stories on your grid.
Engage. Engage. Engage. Like, comment, follow, post content that drives conversations. Don’t post and ghost.
Don’t Dive Into an Ask please, please, please. Do not blindly message someone you have never engaged with and ask them to buy or read your book. No one likes being sold to or feeling used.
Don’t Play Follow/Unfollow Games they don’t work. It’s an old trick and no one likes it.

Most importantly: Be you. Be real. Be the type of person you’d want to follow.

While this may seem simple, it does take work. You probably won’t hit a million followers or sell a million books, but you will find an engaged, supportive, and real audience that could become your biggest advocates.

Remember, social media is a great marketing tool BUT it’s a community first and foremost. Treat it as such.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at your social media or Instagram, check out the Author Services section of my website.

Where to Start

So, you want to write a book. Maybe you have an idea or maybe you have a character in mind. Either way, you’re itching to get those words down on paper.

What now? Now, you grab your coffee and writing, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

Let me start by saying this, the process is different for every single writer and that’s okay. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa, but every great book starts with a few basic questions.

These are the questions I sit down to ask before I plot or outline any book:

Who is/are your character(s)?
What do they want?
How are they going to get what they want and what stands in their way?
What do they stand to lose if they don’t get what they want?

Simple enough, right? On the surface, yes, these are simple questions. The difficulty lies in answering them in a unique way that drives your story forward and ultimately engages your readers. The most important question to ask is this:

What makes this story unique/different?

The hard truth of publishing is that the marketplace is saturated and finding that one hook that will make your book stand out is the single most daunting task facing a writer.

So, what makes your book or idea different or special?

New Author Services

Y’all … I’ve been sitting on some pretty big ideas the past few months, and I’ve finally decided to take the plunge.

One of my biggest passions and favorite things to do is to help my fellow authors and writers develop their craft and promote their books and brand. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a marketing and social media junkie.

I’ve also spent the past few years really diving into publishing and learning the pros and cons of both traditional and self-publishing.

Now, I want to use what I’ve learned to help other writers realize their dreams.

Ready to learn more? Click here or on the Author Services link at the top of the site.