31 December 2012


I have escaped to a coffee shop (Anna Bannanas) this morning because I can’t seem to shake the restlessness that seems to have settled into the marrow of my very bones. I can’t tell if the root cause of this constant need for motion is a residual side effect from the shooting and what happened after or if it’s simply that I haven’t had a moment’s pause to catch my breath (scream coughing on the couch doesn’t exactly count) since the retail holiday chaos.

Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, here I am, New Year’s Eve, alone in a coffee shop, ready to break up with 2012.

It’s not that it’s been a horrible year. There are certainly many remarkable and amazing moments to reflect upon and feel great joy. January began with going to meet John and Hank Green with College Brother (and catching a Honey Badger!) and turned to sadness with the death and burial of my dearest grandfather. The rest of the year was scattered with similar juxtapositions. It was a year that seemed to require balance. For every incredible experience I had, there seemed to be a counter challenge.

I’ll confess there have been times when it has felt impossible to keep the negative from overshadowing the positive.

And the truth is, there has been a great deal of positive.

I have met some incredible new people who have influenced my life in all the best ways. I have met some of my absolute favorite authors and agents who have inspired me to be a stronger writer.

I have spent more time writing than ever (outside of my academic life). I have spent immeasurable hours getting my manuscript ready to send out into the querying world. I have read so many brilliant books (and am working up a separate project to highlight them).

I have walked countless miles through my familiar neighborhood streets and have traveled alone over the sidewalks of new towns.

I went on an amazing road trip by myself, relearning how beautiful this country, this world, can be, remembering what it’s like to be alone.

I have spent time with old friends and made new ones.

I have laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed.

I have seen musicians perform live and I have listened to new albums, their notes entering through headphones, into my ears and vibrating their way through my body until they settle in my heart. I have played my ukulele (badly) and I have sung my heart out alone in the car through mountain passes with a pocket full of sunshine.

I have walked along the Pacific, the sand rising between my toes, the salted, cold water reminding me what it feels like to be alive.

I have sat on rocks and let the ocean’s roar drown out my own thoughts.

I have spent many lazy, sun-drenched afternoons reading/sleeping in my backyard hammock.

I have spent countless hours curled up next to the sweetest black dog in the entire world.

I have celebrated graduations, anniversaries, birthdays, and weddings.

I feel like I could go on like this until the daylight has passed to night. There’s something so very therapeutic and beautiful about taking the time to reflect on the many wonderful moments of the past year and all the day to day details which make me grateful for the life I live.

It’s too early to tell what kinds of joys and heartbreaks 2013 is going to hand out. All I can know is that I will take each one as it comes and hope that I am strong enough to appreciate every bit of it. I can do my best to live in the present, be mindful of the future and always grateful for the past.

Now I think it’s time to leave you with a piece of a song that has been in my heart all year:
            I was walking far from home, but I carried your letters all the while.
            I saw lovers in a window whisper, “Want me like time, want me like time."
                            from Iron & Wine's Walking Far From Home


25 December 2012

So this is Christmas...

It's funny how Christmas has changed over the years. First it was the anticipation of Santa and presents and the child-like wonder of it all. Then it transformed to the more subdued teen years. During college it was the thrill of going home for Christmas after finals to finally sleep and spend time with faraway friends and family. Now it is the single day off of a retail slave.

Today, waking up with a sore throat, a stuffed up head, and overall exhaustion, I'm still glad it's Christmas. I'm still glad that I get to spend the day with family. I'm exceptionally glad that I get the day away from work.  And I am going to try my very hardest not to be grumpy.

I can't promise I won't fall asleep.

Zelda "appreciating" her new Zombie foot.

15 December 2012


This is my first day, since Tuesday, that I've truly taken some time for myself.  Right now I feel so incredibly guilty that I'm not sure whether or not I'm actually going to be able to do it. But after yesterday, I think it's probably more important than even I realize. But that still doesn't help with the guilt.

Since Tuesday afternoon, I haven't stopped. I've logged more calls and more texts in the last four days than the last four months. I've slept less in the last four days than I do on a typical night. My brain and my heart feel overwhelmed. And when I heard the news from Connecticut yesterday, I didn't know my heart could break into tinier pieces. I've had to keep myself away from the media simply for my own self-preservation.

Writing is something I've done my whole life, from journals and stories, to poetry, and to more recently, novels. Writing is something that has gotten me through some really difficult periods in my life. On Wednesday I pulled out my journal and tried to write, but the emotion was too strong and I couldn't get words of any consequence to break through. Since that morning, I have pretty much been running non-stop. The store may have been closed for two days, but these days were in no way, shape, or form, like snow days.

Especially Thursday. On Thursday Clackamas Town Center held a meeting for its merchants. One person per store was allowed to attend. They signed us in and then escorted us into the theater. To say that the mood was somber, would be an understatement. Few people talked, few people smiled. After giving us a rundown on the plans for reopening and what we could expect from the mall and from the state of our stores, we were divided into zones and escorted by security. I was very grateful to be in the first zone called so I could move. Sitting still has been the impossible thing.

Even though it had been announced in the theater, it still surprised me to see the busted gate on our second floor entrance. The police had needed to do an additional sweep through our building and so they broke the gate. There were two men working on fixing it when I arrived. They were kind.

After putting my coat and bag in the office and checking on the computers and making sure the system got shut down properly, I took a deep breath and prepared myself to walk the entire store, aisle by aisle, to see what state it was in and look for any additional personal belongings that had been left behind in the chaotic exodus. It is a strange thing to be the only person in a store that size in the middle of a bright day.

In the music department, the area closest to the shooting, there was a small doll left on the floor. My knees went weak when I saw it. I have no idea whether or not the doll was dropped because the child and parents had to run or if it was lost there earlier in the day. Either way, I felt my strength begin to waver.

Most of the items left behind were in the cafe. There were coats, laptop chargers, backpacks, study cards, notebooks. There were drinks left everywhere and food. I checked on the equipment to make sure everything was off and called the cafe manager to help me shut down the espresso machines properly. There was a cup with a name and a shot of espresso left behind, the drink never finished because the cafe server and the customer had to run. I neglected to notice the soup was still on, though it was good to hear the laughter coming from the cafe on Friday morning as they discovered the state of the soup.

After I walked the store, I called my boss to update him on the reopening plans. There wasn't much else to do so I went to check on the gate to see if they were done. The guys were gone and so I grabbed my stuff, called security for my escort back out, and waited. When my escort arrived I attempted to shut the gate. It got 65% of the way down before it quit. It simply stopped working and I could neither raise nor lower the gate. My guard called in and he told me that they would send the guys back, that they were currently working on another damaged gate.

I then proceeded to wait. I busied myself with tasks. I called FedEx and made arrangements to pick up the weekly store mail (with paychecks) at their facility near the airport. I began working on the schedule for reopening, trying to figure out who needed to come in and when so we could at least look and function like the store we'd been prior to Tuesday. An hour went by and there was still no techs and I found myself beginning to lose it.

I don't know if it was just the same feelings of being trapped and unable to leave with no control over what was going on or what, but I began to feel a desperate need to leave the store. I went out into the mall to find someone. The same security guard who'd escorted me to the store in the first place, came to meet me and she must have heard the desperation in my voice and seen the tears welling in my eyes because within 5 minutes, my repair guy was back. He took a look at what was wrong and the security guard stayed with me. She had been ten feet away when the shooting began. She was tough, but I could see that she was struggling too. She began to tease the repairman, he is someone that does a lot of work in the mall so they have a history. She got me involved too and it helped. The joking, the laughter, it helped. It was going to take some time to get the gate working properly, but he told me if I could leave him with a key that he would leave it with security and I could pick it up the next day. I took him up on it.

The security guard escorted me back to the exit. She was funny and kind and I will never, ever forget that.

I got in my car and made my way to our Vancouver store. I needed a place where I could take a conference call and not worry about a bad connection or dropping calls. I also wanted to see some friendly and supportive faces. On my way there, I had my first breakdown while driving on 205.

I had my second when I got home and collapsed into my husband's arms.

Thursday night one of our booksellers had organized an Evening of Cheer and Laughter at the Old Chicago near our store. Though I was exhausted and depleted, I wanted to go and so my husband drove me. I didn't know just how much I needed to be surrounded by my coworkers, many of whom had been trapped those two hours in the breakroom with me and 14 of our customers. Over 40 people came and it was so good to see everyone smile and laugh and talk. As someone who is so often self-reliant, it was important to be reminded that we are sometimes strong simply because of the humans who support us.

Friday morning I got a few hours of sleep before I started watching the minutes tick by on the clock until my alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. At 4:50 a.m., I parked my car in front of my store and began the walk in. With each step I felt a surge of emotion and by the time I opened the doors I began to wonder how I was ever going to do it.

On the escalator upstairs, I managed to pull myself together and kept it together by keeping busy until it was time to have a meeting with the entire opening staff. I stood there in front of my team, having spent a large portion of the morning (including the time when I should have been sleeping) trying to figure out exactly what the right thing to say was. So many of them were with me on Tuesday and were brave and strong enough to return to work. Though there was much emotion, I managed to get through it.

At 9:00 a.m. we reopened our store for the first time since Tuesday afternoon and I was overwhelmed by the amount of customers who came pouring in. It was really hard to know what to expect, but I certainly didn't expect it to be so busy. I ended up in music helping the music manager and rang up customer after customer, the majority of which were Barnes & Noble Members. It was amazing to see how much support came from our community, how many customers took the time on a Friday morning to come back and support the store and the mall. Before I left, pretty much all of our lost and found items had been collected.

With very few exceptions, all our customers were nice, patient, and supportive. There was one woman who was starting to get bitchy about finding help in the children's department claiming there was "no one in there." I had literally just walked out of the department and knew that there had been two of us in there. I found myself on the breaking point so I made my way to the office to take a moment. When I got there, I found some chocolates and chocolate covered pretzels, that had been left in front of our breakroom door by one of the customers who'd been in the breakroom with us. She had brought back the drawing (we'd given the kids crayons and paper) her daughter had drawn along with a note of gratitude for what we had done for them.

After yet another request was asked of me (all day I had been peppered with the usual type of demands/requests/needs), I finally did lose it and went to the bathroom and cried in one of the stalls until my eyes were red. I then escaped into the mall and found a bench where I could sit and gather myself together again.

My memories of Tuesday afternoon are scattered. I still don't know the entire story of how our staff and customers worked together to clear and secure the store so quickly and effectively. Every day I learn another piece of the story. What I do know is that every single person did exactly the right thing. Every bookseller, every manager, even the volunteers doing our gift wrapping, did exactly what needed to happen. One manager was brave and selfless enough to guarantee that all gates were lowered and all doors secure.

I remember one point on the escalator calling out names on the Daily Assignment Sheet, trying to determine if all of our staff was safe and accounted for. I remember grabbing candy from the stash in the cash office to put on the breakroom table for the staff and customers. I remember offering water and tea. I remember thinking, "We should probably call the other stores so they know we're okay." I remember thinking, "I should probably post something on Facebook so everyone knows I'm okay." I remember thinking, "I should call my husband and my parents so they know I'm okay."

As the time since Tuesday has unwound, I have never been more grateful for the people I work with and the company I work for. Barnes & Noble didn't have to pay every single employee for the time lost because of the shooting. It would have been understandable if employees hadn't been comfortable returning to work.

There is a lot of sadness this week, in our community and in our country. There are a lot of broken people. There are also a great many kind, brave, supportive people who care about the important things. I would not have survived this week without them. I would not have survived this week without all the hugs. Hugs from my employees, friends, the VP of Employee Relations, my peers, family who came to shop yesterday, my husband. Even my favorite Brinks Guy asked if he could hug me yesterday.

I still have faith in humanity. I saw some amazing actions come out of an awful act. But we do need to see some changes. We need to reinvest in our communities, politics aside. We need to have a healthy, open, honest debate about guns and how we regulate them. We need to support those in our community who struggle with mental health issues. There's been so much discussion about taxes this past year and this most recent election cycle. Because people, because corporations are selfish, there just isn't enough money to support the programs that need supporting to keep our communities healthy and safe.

That's as political as I want to get for right now. This isn't meant to be a blog about the whys, the hows, and the what nexts. This is about me, taking care of myself, feeling grateful to the community that has supported me as I've been struggling. I know there is so much more for me to process and I am grateful to each of you who've read these words and for all of you who've offered up support.

I am lucky in so many ways and grateful in so many others.

Some of the drawings left behind from the kids in the break room with us.

09 December 2012

Getting in the Spirit of Things

It's been one week since I powered on my laptop.

Certainly there have been other computers that I've used, at work, at home. And certainly I've had plenty of time with my iPhone. But my laptop is where I do most of my new writing. It's where I've written the bulk of my novels (though I prefer editing on my giant of a desktop). It's where I compose most of these blogs.

Today has been a day off and I have enjoyed sleeping in and being lazy and going for a long walk and seeing a rather absurd movie. I'll save myself the embarrassment of confessing which, simply because it doesn't matter. What matters, is that it got me thinking about love.

The book I'm editing is about love, certainly, but more than that, it's about friendship and those people in our lives who are there no matter what, despite whatever is said, whatever is done.  I've struggled a great deal with how to make the female lead more sympathetic to readers and as I was walking this evening, peeking in at the neighborhood's Christmas trees, I realized something rather important. It's hard to explain to those who know nothing about this book, but what I realized may just be the missing piece to Jezebel's humanity. It may be exactly what I needed to show her as the character I know her to be. And it kills me because it's just so simple I feel like I should have understand that about her all along.

This past weekend has been about Christmas. For many years I kind of gave up on Christmas, the decorating and such because my schedule just gets so out of control I get tired just thinking about it. This year, I'm trying the opposite approach.

Last Thursday night we got a tree and then decorated it. We also bought our first ever exterior Christmas lights. I just couldn't resist when I saw them at the store. They are giant lawn versions of the classic glass Christmas lights! They are beautiful!

Friday I watched Love Actually and wrapped Christmas presents. One of these days soon my husband and I will find time to go to the Zoo Lights. I will continue to find time to do these little things that make me so happy.

There are a lot of valid reasons for me to dislike the holidays. But this year, I've decided to spend more time exploring the positive.

Which reminds me that it's time for eggnog...

02 December 2012

Finishing NaNoWriMo with Laini Taylor and Joss Whedon

It is now officially December which means that NaNoWriMo 2012 is over. It's always a bit of a strange transition, rushing from the "I Must Write Every Day" mentality to the "It's Absolute Holiday Chaos!" mentality. This was, without any doubts, the hardest NaNoWriMo of the four that I have participated in, but I knew that would be the case going in. I barely managed to creep across the 50,000 word finish line. But I did. I did it anyway!

It's way too early to tell if Henry's story will become anything worth pursuing. And ultimately, I don't care right now. I'm so proud that I managed write it in the first place. Despite long work hours. Despite illness. Despite time spent with family and friends and a husband and a dog. Despite more days "off" from NaNoWriMo than I've ever taken, I did it. For that, I am proud enough.

There have been a few things that have been percolating in my head for past week or two. Around Twitter and quite possibly Facebook as well, Joss Whedon's Writing Tips have been circulating. I've probably seen them shared around a dozen times. Joss Whedon's first rule of writing is "Finish It."

He says, "Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure."

The first thing I thought about after reading this was, "That is exactly what NaNoWriMo taught me. For years I would start a story, write a page or two or a dozen or two dozen, and then I would quit. It would get hard, I would get bored, I would quit. NaNoWriMo taught me how to plow forward to the end and get the story down.  You can read the rest of Joss Whedon's writing tips here.

This past week I got to spend time with Laini Taylor. Her publisher scheduled an event with my store on Tuesday and several weeks ago we found out that they were also hoping we could arrange a school visit for her. I thought immediately of a friend from high school who is now a high school librarian and called her to see if she wanted to do it...I had recently gotten her to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and knew she had loved it. She did an amazing job of getting the event organized for her school and I was thrilled to get to tag along (even though I was quite sick). Laini Taylor is a smart, clever, thoughtful writer with an inspired imagination. Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight are two of my favorites from what I've read in the last year.

One of the things that Laini Taylor said about writing, both at the school and at the store event, was how important it is to finish. She talked about her struggles with perfectionism and how she'd wanted to be a writer since she was a kid. She talked about how this perfectionism and the desire to tinker with the first paragraph to the first chapter kept her from ever finishing anything. It wasn't until she was 35 that she finished writing her first novel. I could 100% relate.

When I was in 4th grade I filled notebook after college ruled notebook with a story about a human girl (very likely myself) who wandered into a magical land and met these remarkable creatures and had adventure after adventure with them. I wish so desperately that I still had these notebooks or could at least remember the name for these creatures. Since that time I have always wanted to be a writer. It just took me twenty more years to figure out what kind of writer I truly wanted to be.

I had recently turned 34 when I finally finished my first novel and the only reason I was able to do it was because of NaNoWriMo. It taught me how to finish. It got me back into a (mostly) daily writing habit. It inspired me to go back and edit, to put in the time and the work to make my story even better.

Because of NaNoWriMo I now have a manuscript that began in 2010 that I want to see published. I have the passion and the persistence to edit and revise and to make Holden and Jezebel's story into something the world can read. And it's almost there, thanks to some excellent critique advice I've been given over the past two years.

This is why I now participate in NaNoWriMo. This is why I donate money to NaNoWriMo every year. 

Laini Taylor at Reynolds High School, Oregon

Favorite words from Laini's journal as she began Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Signing books for students

Signing books at Barnes & Noble with Clementine who was drawing "books" for fans and giving them away. It was quite possibly the Cutest Thing Ever.