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Thanks to a friend.

Okay, so this post is about Good Morning America and Josh Elliott. I know, I know. And I understand if you skip it entirely if you care about neither. Go ahead, skip. I’ll wait for you to go.

Still here? All right, then.

This has been a weird week. Regular readers of this blog know that I LOVE Josh Elliott, the newsreader for Good Morning America. Truth: this was not always the case. (Sorry, Josh, if you are reading this: but I know you appreciate honesty!) When he first came on the show, about three years ago, it was to replace Juju Chang, and I adore her. She’s the reason I first got into the GMA studio (she’s friends with my agent) and has just been SO kind to me. I can totally remember the morning I was at the beach with my family, and there’s this new guy instead of Juju. I was like, “Who is THAT? He looks like he just did a keg stand!” (I TOLD you I was going to be honest!) But my babysitter at the time, Amanda, just smiled. “He’s cute!” she said. “I like him!” I was not convinced. Yet.

Then, however, Amanda went to NYC for vacation. She decided to go stand outside GMA at the Times Square Studio. Because I’m a Twitter addict (sad, but true) I thought it was worth a shot to tweet at this new guy and ask him to come out and take a picture with her. And he DID. Not only that, he sent me a sweet tweet back saying he hoped I’d post it. Okay, I’ll admit it: I was kind of charmed.

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As I kept watching the show, I liked Josh more and more. First, he had a daughter about the age of mine, and they both loved Sesame Street and Disney princesses. He was funny and self-deprecating, serious when he had to be, willing to be goofy when he didn’t. He was REAL, which is what I love about GMA, because all their hosts are. You WANT to have your coffee with them each morning, because they seem not THAT different from you, even though you know they probably are. But Josh—and Sam Champion, his bud—you felt like you knew them. Sam was a teen model and adored his husband; Josh loved sports, cooking, In-N-Out burgers and would do just about anything for a laugh. When they cracked up together, it wasn’t faked. You could just TELL.

The first time I went to NYC after tweeting with Josh, I bumped into him at the Starbucks down from the studio. He was zipping in for a coffee and I was just getting mine. He looked at me, and I totally freaked. I got nervous and furtive, averting my eyes. He went back to the studio, and I tweeted about how I’d made such a jerk of myself. He immediately razzed me about it, saying I blew him off. But then he got me in, and made sure the sign I’d brought got on air.

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From that point on, it was like we were friends. We tweeted each other, and I watched faithfully. Our daughters started kindergarten at the same time, and we both suffered through that first day, breaths held. Every time I went to New York, I stood outside the studio, and when I got in, we got to say hello. Those are some of my best fangirl memories EVER.

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It was after THIS picture was taken that Josh said to me, “I will get your next book on the air. I promise.” I never asked him to do that. He just offered! I was on GMA Live, the webcast after the show, the day THE MOON AND MORE was released. You can see the clip here. Seriously, that was more than I ever would have expected: he owed me nothing. But a couple of months later, he had me in-studio for their Guess Who’s Coming for Breakfast segment. It was a dream come true. I mean, COME ON!

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During this experience, I got to meet Josh’s producer, Rich, who I also loved. He came to my house at 4am and was there with his camera crew for our morning chaos. I was nervous, and would not let just anyone do that! But it was an honor. Seriously.

All of this is a LONG way of saying that Sunday night when I saw (on Twitter, naturally) that Josh was leaving GMA, I was in shock. I just sat here, speechless. Now, I know how big business works. I mean, I’m in publishing. Contract negotiations can be RUTHLESS (I am afraid of my own agent, Leigh, because she is very good at them. Lucky for me! We are like good cop, bad cop.). But it just took my breath away that not only was Josh leaving, but he wouldn’t even be back to say goodbye. On Thursday, they ran a very sweet clip piece, but that was it. The end.

I don’t want to get into the politics of this. I’m a viewer and I will always love GMA and it’s not my place. But I will say this: we, as the fans? He was special to us. I’ll also say that every time I was at the Times Square studio, Josh stayed AFTER the taping was done to pose for pictures and meet fans outside. Not just once. Every. Single. Time. I wish him the best of luck, and I’ll follow him wherever he goes, while still watching GMA each day. I can’t pick between them. It’s not fair. I guess nothing is.  But we will miss you, Josh. Know that. And thanks, for everything.

A long time ago, we used to be friends….

 

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Okay, so yes: this happened. On Wednesday night, in L.A. It REALLY did! I know, I still can’t quite believe it myself. Let me back up and explain.

So a few weeks back, I was over in my office when I got a Kickstarter update from Rob Thomas about the Veronica Mars movie. Longtime readers of this blog know that I have loved the show FOREVER, all the way back to when it was on TV. I was thrilled when I (and so many others) were able to help be a part of giving the series the ending it deserved by supporting the movie. This particular update was about a contest through Omaze, which puts together what they call celebrity “experiences.” (Regular readers of this blog will also understand why this caught my eye, as I am such a pop culture nerd.) Anyway, the upshot of the contest was that the winner got to be Kristen Bell’s date for the LA premiere. You could buy chances and all the money went to support PATH, an organization that helps the homeless. A good deed AND a chance to meet K-Bell? I was in. I will not reveal how many chances I bought, but it was, um, quite a few.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to this past Sunday. We’d just gotten back power, which we’d lost on Friday morning, and I was cleaning my house and making bean salad for a cookout that evening. My phone lit up with an email, so I grabbed it. It was Kay from Omaze, saying I was a finalist in the Veronica Mars/Kristen Bell experience, and was I available for a Skype interview that evening? Um, YES. So a couple of hours later, after serving said bean salad and supervising my daughter making S’mores, I headed over to my office for the interview. I was asked my age, what I did for a living, why I loved Veronica Mars and what I’d do if I won. I gushed, I fangirled, I answered in run-on sentences. I mean, you guys know me. And then, when I finally shut up, they told me I was the winner.

WHAAAAAAAAAAT? I was speechless. Amazed. I got a few details, ended the call, then ran over to the house, where my husband was reading bedtime books to my daughter. I said, “I won!” He said, “WHAAAAAAT?” And then we both busted out laughing. My kid, who is used to us acting stupid for no apparent reason, asked if he’d get back to reading the book. Priorities.

So that was late Sunday. I had to leave SUPER early Wednesday for the premiere that evening. As much as my husband wanted to come (who wouldn’t?) we knew there was no way to line up adequate childcare on such short notice. Even if we WERE able to patch something together, he pointed out, we’d both be so nervous about it we wouldn’t really enjoy ourselves, so I should just go and let him stay and hold down the fort. I have mentioned the awesomeness of my husband many times before. But this just clinches it for good.

I still had a my plus one, though, so I thought about who I knew that really loved the show. My cousin Anna was the first person who came to mind. She had JUST finished watching all three seasons (on my recommendation/order), already had her pre-bought ticket for today’s release in Austin, where she lives, and I knew she’d have a blast. I called her, filled her in, and after screaming a bit, she said she was in. And we were ON.

Wednesday morning, I got up at 3:15am, then left my house at 4 to go to the airport. By noon L.A. time, I was in a cab on the way to the hotel in Hollywood. WHOA! It was starting to feel kind of real, sort of. I met Anna at the hotel, and we shrieked and jumped around and basically made total nerds of ourselves in front of the Very Cool Hotel Staff and Patrons. Whatever. Then we headed off to get our makeup done at a nearby Sephora. Props to the girl who did mine: I’m writing this 48 hours later after three hardcore face-washings, and I STILL have eyeliner on. Impressive.

We were told to be in front of the hotel promptly at 5pm. At this point, we weren’t really sure exactly what the prize entailed. I mean, it said I would be Kristen Bell’s date and we’d attend the premiere together, but I didn’t actually think that would happen. I mean, this is KRISTEN BELL. She is VERONICA MARS and PRINCESS ANNA from Frozen. I was betting we’d meet her in a room, shake hands, get a picture, and be sent on our way. But then Erika, from Omaze, showed up with a car and told us to get in. We did, and my cousin Anna asked, “Um, where are we going?” Erika turned around to look at us and said, “To pick up Kristen.”

WHAAAAAAAAT?

Y’all. Seriously. We went to a HOUSE and sat by a gate and then about ten minutes later there was Kristen Bell, in a gorgeous pink dress, sliding into the seat beside me. She had some green tea in a bottle, a cute purse she showed us (“Snacks!” she announced, displaying munchies she’d brought along) and was just as kind and lovely and real as you hope she would be. We were trying to be cool. I am not SURE we succeeded. The entire drive there, while we talked about the show, and how grateful she is to the fans, and so many other topics (her kid, my kid, her dogs, my dogs, chickens, Frozen, etc) it was like I was outside of my body, watching the entire thing from a distance. SO crazy cool. She signed a Frozen book for my daughter (props to Anna, for thinking to bring one) and posed for some pictures and then we were pulling up to the red carpet. They opened the door, she got out, and the crowd all around us screamed. Oh, my God.

Anna and I watched her get her picture taken, like, a million times, and then go over and talk to fans. Meanwhile, a very nice guy from Warner Brothers welcomed us, gave us our tickets for the movie and afterparty, and Anna and I got our picture taken on the red carpet. Whoa.

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After that, our new friend from Warner Brothers pointed out OH so casually that Jason Dohring had just pulled up. I looked over and sure enough, there he was. I might have gasped. (Okay, I did.) But that was nothing compared to when he came over and met us. “This is our contest winner,” Erika from Omaze said, and he grinned, said hello, and then HUGGED ME, KISSED MY CHEEK AND PICKED ME UP AND SWUNG ME AROUND. I am not kidding. I do not have a picture (I wish!) because it all happened so fast and anyway I was about to pass out from the excitement. He was gorgeous (of course) but also sweet and charming and so gracious. I am not making this up, people. Also, his wife is lovely and beautiful, which SORT of made me feel bad about how happy I was whenever he touched me. Sort of.

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(This was after the spin-hug. That’s his wife behind us, in the pink. Okay, I do feel kind of bad. But: sa-woon!)

Then we were hustled along the red carpet for a group picture. In my wildest dreams, NEVER EVER EVER, did I think I would be a part of something like this. I mean, LOOK!

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I honestly squeal each time I see this. And I may have looked at it, um, a lot.

We watched the rest of the cast arrivals (Wallace! Mac! Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin!) and then went inside to get our seats. Now, again, I wasn’t expecting to actually sit with Kristen Bell. But when we made our way down the aisle, looking for our spot, I heard someone say, “Ladies, right here!” It was Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell’s HUSBAND. OH my God. The seating was this: Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, ME, ANNA, Jason Dohring and his wife. I was about to watch the Veronica Mars movie with Veronica and Logan on either side of me. HOLY SHIT. (Excuse my language. Or don’t. Sometimes, you just need an expletive.) The lights went down, and the movie began. Entire crowd screamed and applauded. It felt like a dream.

I have been looking forward to this movie SO MUCH. But honestly, it was kind of hard to concentrate, since I had Kristen Bell beside me eating a pretzel, which she then offered to share with me. I said no, too nervous to accept, so then she leaned across and asked Anna, who took a bite, and I was like, “I can’t believe you just took some of Kristen Bell’s pretzel!” When she offered again, I said yes. (It was a really good pretzel, BTW.) Finally I was able to lose myself in the movie, except for the few times when she leaned over to tell me something. “We filmed this at 3:30am,” she whispered at one point. “I fell asleep during one take. We have it on film.” When Dax Shepard’s cameo came on, they both giggled and whooped. I was DYING.  But the best was during one part with Veronica and Logan (no spoilers from me) when I looked to my left, and there was Kristen with her pretzel. Then I looked to my right, and there was Anna with Jason Dohring beside her. I leaned over to Anna and said into her ear, “I am freaking the f**k out right now.” She nodded. (Again, sorry for the cursing. I just can’t help it.)

I loved the movie. That’s all I’ll say, because I don’t want to give details. Kristen had snuck out a few minutes before it ended to change for the afterparty, but when the lights came on and everyone started getting up, I was just sitting there when Jason Dohring CAME OVER and plopped down in the empty seat beside me. “What’d you think?” he asked. I told him it was just what I wanted, which is the truth, and then we talked a bit about it AND watched the after the credit bonus parts (yes!) together. (I am not making this up, I swear, even though as I am writing it, it FEELS like I must be.) Then we left, and got into the car, and headed to the afterparty.

It was SO fun, packed with people involved with the movie and supercool Kickstarter backers and the cast mingling around taking pictures with anyone who wanted one. They had a photo booth set up at the front and Kristen Bell, bless her heart, took pictures for the entire THREE HOURS of the event, after doing a hour of red carpet stuff beforehand. I know she was exhausted (I was exhausted!) but she was cheerful and gracious and amazing. We were ones of the last to get a couple of shots before they finally shut the line down and let her go home to her baby.

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Also at the afterparty, I got to tell Rob Thomas, who created the show and wrote and directed the movie, how much I loved it.

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I look SO dorky in these pictures. I am not good at acting cool. Clearly.

At the party, I also bumped into Jason Dohring again. This time, he caressed my cheek. I mean, COME ON!

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We also got a picture with Dax Shepard:

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AND I got to meet Martin Starr, aka Bill Haverchuck from Freaks and Geeks. When I showed these pictures to my husband, he was impressed with all of them. But Bill Haverchuck? That put him in AWE.

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And then, somehow, it was midnight and things were wrapping up. We thanked Erika from Omaze, went back to our hotel, ordered some burgers and onion rings and tried to process everything that happened. We were still trying to do that the next morning, when Anna drove me to the airport to fly home. We just kept looking at each other and saying, “Wait, that happened?” and then freaking out all over again. But it DID happen, and I loved every second, and I cannot thank Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring and everyone at Omaze for giving us truly the experience of a lifetime. I honestly will never make my bean salad again (and I make it a lot, especially in summer) without thinking about how your wildest dreams CAN come true when you are least expecting it. And who doesn’t love that?

Tonight, I’ll watch the movie again with my husband, who is awesome. I might even share a pretzel with him. I’m exhausted today (to go to L.A for 24 hours is WILD) and have groceries to buy, chickens to feed, things to do. Life is so crazy. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have a great day, everyone!

Abandoning. And listening.

So it’s December 20th as I write this. One day until the shortest day of the year, five until Christmas. It’s my kid’s last day of school for two weeks and I can hear her happy voice rising up to my office windows from where she’s playing outside with her sitter. Normally, right now, I’d be busy trying to get in one last day of writing before the holiday made working on my novel in progress difficult, if not impossible. But I’m not, because two weeks ago, after strugging with it basically since I’d started way back in January, I put my book aside. Quit it, broke up with it, gave up on it. Lots of ways of saying one thing that, as an author of eleven published novels and about as many unpublished, is still really, really hard to face. I failed. It didn’t work. Back to the drawing board.

This has happened to me before. It’s just been awhile. The last time was WAAAAAY back in 2000 or so, when I’d finished the book I wrote after DREAMLAND. It was about a girl, her best friend and quirky college student she meets in her dad’s apartment complex, among other things. My agent read it and liked it. My editor agreed and made an offer. Everything was in place, and then my editor called me to have an initial editorial conversation so I’d know her thoughts for the editing process. Totally normal stuff. She started by saying she loved the book, but there were things that needed fixing, and then she began listing said things, and I pulled out a blank yellow legal pad and started taking notes. And notes. And more notes. And by the third filled page, I just had this epiphany: I didn’t want to fix this book. Like, at all. It hit me like a weight, that certain. It had never happened to me before. Normally, I LIKE revising: it’s when you take your big crazy draft and narrow it down to a good story. It’s fun. But the prospect of doing it to this one felt, well, awful.

You know when people say, “Listen to your gut!” and you think, “But how will I KNOW it’s my gut, and not, say, my crazy neurotic brain?” Believe me when I say this: if it is your gut, there is no question. For me, it was not “Give up on this book, you know, if you want.” It’s like Darth Vader voice: “PUT IT ASIDE. NOW! NOW!!!!” So I shut my legal pad and stopped taking notes. A week later, I told my publisher I was taking the book back, which seemed CRAZY to me because only a couple of years earlier I’d been desperate to be published. What was I DOING? I was listening to my gut.

I was also listening to my friend and mentor Lee Smith, who had helped me get my first book published and is basically one of the reasons I am a writer. After taking the book back, I was terrified, and I told Lee so when I bumped into her at a local bookstore. What was I going to do now? How would I ever be sure I could even WRITE another book after that one crashed and burned? Lee is genteel and Southern but also tough as nails, a combination that is actually quite common around these parts. She sat me down and looked at me. “Sarah,” she said, in her sweet drawl, “don’t f**k up here.” I just looked at her. I wasn’t sure I’d even heard her curse before. “Do you know when you love an author and their books, and read all of them, and then there’s one that just is SO not like the others? Not as good, doesn’t have heart, just does not FIT, and it’s so disappointing to you as a reader?” I nodded. She said, “That’s because they got scared. Or wrote for money, or under pressure. Don’t do that. Trust yourself. Borrow money from your parents if you have to. Don’t publish a book that’s not up to your standards. Just don’t.”

So, I didn’t. I set that book aside and stopped writing. I wasn’t sure if I ever would again. I was teaching at UNC at the time and I just focused on my classes, my students, and everything else in my life. I sat on the Carolina quad and read. I went to movies. I fell off my publisher’s radar, telling them I’d be back…someday. And then slowly, when I least expected it, another story began to bubble up in my mind. It started with a girl named Remy in a car dealership, and a boy who plopped down next to her. His name was Dexter.

I started THIS LULLABY in late December. I finished it in March. It was one of the best writing experiences I have ever had, the kind I can only WISH will happen again. The words just came, for the most part. It was like going to a party every day. Like that exhausted, wilted writer part of my brain, so depleted by the book I’d set aside, got a million hours of sleep and came back finally raring and ready to go. THIS LULLABY remains one of my very favorite of my books, mainly BECAUSE of this experience. It taught me to have faith: in my writing, and myself. That things work out, somehow. “How will they?” they say in Shakespeare in Love, one of my favorite movies. “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.” Indeed. But thank god for it.

Which brings me back to 2013. It’s six books after THIS LULLABY, some of which were excruciating to write (JUST LISTEN) and some less so (ALONG FOR THE RIDE). Back in late 2012, I finished much of my editing on THE MOON AND MORE, and it was about that time when I start the next book. I had an idea, a narrator’s name, my basics, so I sat down on January first (what you do on that day, you do all year, so I always make a point to write) and wrote the first scene. It didn’t quite click, but I figured I was just a bit rusty. I pressed on. That’s the thing about writing: it’s never perfect and rarely easy. I’m used to it being hard. But something about this one felt off, right from the start. It’s so hard to explain. It just wasn’t clicking at ALL. The more it resisted, the more I pushed. I cut the first scene. Put it back. Cut it again. I looped back to the beginning, weaving through new threads that I was sure would fix everything. (Note: this is not how I normally write. I write one day, then start the next editing what I did the day before, then press forward, all the way to the end. It was, to say the least, a Bad Sign, the first of many.) I told myself I just needed a break, so I took one when I went on paperback tour.  Came back rested and ready….and when I started again, felt that same, weird heaviness, that THIS IS NOT WORKING OH MY GOD panic. Still, I kept pushing. I went on tour for THE MOON AND MORE, scribbling notes to myself about how to fix the book in airports and on hotel stationery. Then I came back and tried to do that, hitting the same problems. I put the first scene back. Cut it again. Cut another big scene. Went all the way back to the start, wove another thread. I outlined. (I DO NOT OUTLINE.) I talked about it to people. (I NEVER TALK ABOUT MY WRITING TO PEOPLE.) I cried. (I DON’T CRY OVER MY WRITING.) I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep I was so worried. (WRITING DOESN’T CAUSE ME INSOMNIA.) By now, it was fall and the days were getting shorter. My tour stuff was wrapping up: soon I’d have only this book on my plate. I cut another big chunk, added in another thread. Did my last work event, came home, threw myself back into it. And then, two weeks ago today, I decided I needed to re-write an entire subplot and that would fix everything. (I DON’T REWRITE ENTIRE SUBPLOTS MID DRAFT.) I scrolled back to the start, looked at the cursor, and then, finally, my gut finally made itself heard. It used Lee’s words, but it was that Darth Vader voice from 2000. “Sarah: don’t f**k this up.” Okay, then.

I sat back from the keyboard. Looked at my big, festering mess of a draft, with a separate document of scenes/paragraphs I’d cut that was actually longer than the book itself. (MY CUT FILES ARE NOT LONGER THAN THE BOOKS THEY WERE DELETED FROM.) I thought, “I can’t do this anymore. It’s over.” It was a terrifying thought. So much work—almost a year!—so much angst and worry, and tears and lost sleep. I failed, I thought. I gave it everything I had, and it wasn’t enough. I saved all my files, backed them up. Then I turned off the computer, went over to the house, and told my husband, “I think I just gave up on my novel.” He looked at me. “Good,” he said. “You’ve been miserable.” That’s when I started crying.

So that was two weeks ago. Did it feel like a huge weight had been lifted, once I did this? Well, no. It felt sad. I felt bad for my narrator, whose story would now never be told. I was anxious about my career, as to stick to my “schedule” I’m due to hand in a draft in the spring. But when it all gets too scary, I remind myself of that book before THIS LULLABY. I have been here before. Yes, it’s been awhile, and some of the scenery is different. But I found my way out once. Hopefully I can do it again. For now, though, I’m just reading and organizing my office and making paper dolls and baking cookies. I’m sitting in the pickup line at my kids’ school, reading other people’s well written books and feeling about as un-writerish I have in ages. Because with me, in my mind, I’m only as good as the writing I did that day. Not the last book, or all my previous ones. It’s what I just did, and what I just did didn’t work. But rather than forging onward out of panic and fear, throwing more ideas at this giant, gaping maw of mess, I’ve just….stopped. It feels weird and makes me very anxious. But I have to have faith that it will get me where I need to be, wherever that is.

My husband is big into cycling, and we watch the Tour de France each summer. When someone drops out of the race, they don’t call it quitting. They say the cyclist “abandoned” the Tour, and I’ve always liked that. Partly because it sounds so dramatic, like something you’d declare. “I ABANDON!” But also because I bet, after all that training and work and endurance and pain and suffering, that it’s more than just quitting. It MUST feel like leaving a part of yourself on that mountain, even as you’re walking down it. I abandoned my book. I’m not a writer right now. But I am a mom and a wife and a daughter and hopefully a decent person. I am walking down my own mountain as the race, such as it is, continues on above me with great riders in the lead. I’ll get back to it someday. But for now, I’m following my own path. One step at a time.

So there may not be a book from me right on schedule in summer of 2015. And now you know why. I’m not sure if it’s the best idea to share all this on the internet, basically rolling over and showing my soft, tender underside to anyone who peeks in. Admitting your failures is no picnic. But this space, this blog, has always been a safe one for me, and I wanted you, my friends and readers, to know why I might not tweet or blog as much for awhile. I need to rest. I think my book was trying to tell me that: it just took me a long time to listen. I’m listening now.

I wish you all the best of holidays, health and good cheer, and most of all, peace. Here’s to 2014.

lots of love,

Sarah

A Chapel Hill Christmas Story

Many years ago, I worked at a restaurant here called The Flying Burrito. It was my first waitressing job, and I got it when I was a sophomore in college, then stayed there for the rest of my time at UNC and a few years afterwards. The Burrito was legendary here in Chapel Hill, then and now. Even over twenty years later, there are people who still recognize me in the produce department at the grocery store as the girl who brought them chips, salsa and their Flying Chicken. (A great burrito, by the way: just writing it, now I want one.) The Burrito closed awhile back, and it is greatly missed. I have so many memories—a lot of which I have turned into stories in my books—but this is my favorite one.

It was Christmastime, and as usual when I was a waitress, I was broke. Or close to it. I want to say this was before I sold my first book, That Summer, in 1996—yes, I continued waitressing after selling a book, and yes, it was a surprise to me as well I wasn’t suddenly wealthy enough to do otherwise—but I have a feeling it wasn’t. Anyway, it was a few days before December 25th and I was running out of chances to make enough money to cover my bills and gifts for my family. Now, back then at the Burrito, we were old school. We didn’t take credit cards and dealt only with cash and personal checks. So there I am, my last shift before the holiday, and thank goodness it was busy. I was feeling cheered that I might actually pay my power bill AND get my mom a decent gift. But then, at the end of the night, I sat down to do my money and something wasn’t adding up. Despite all my sales, and good holiday cheer inspired tips, I was off on what I owed. WAY off. I finally figured out I’d lost a check a customer had written me for about a hundred bucks. So instead of making that much, I now owed it. And would make nothing.

I was so tired and discouraged. I searched under every table, in every other waitresses’ cash box, every single place I could for that check. It was nowhere. All I can think is it got tossed with some trash by accident. I finally had to accept it was gone. I so remember sitting there, at the desk in the Burrito office, my money in piles around me, trying to figure out what I was going to do about the holidays. Out in the restaurant, I could hear my bosses, Phil and Vicki Campbell, who were hanging out with friends at the bar. Everyone was laughing and “Please Come Home for Christmas” by The Eagles was playing, and I just wanted to cry. To this day, when I hear that song, I feel helpless. Which stinks, because I love that song.

A few minutes later, Phil and Vicki came back into the office, saw me sitting there slumped and choking back tears, and asked what was wrong. The party was still going out at the bar. “I dropped a check,” I said. “I can’t find it anywhere.” They looked at each other. Then Vicki said, “Don’t worry about it. Just count it like it’s there.” I stared at them. “Are you sure?” Phil nodded at me. “We can afford it more than you can,” he said. “It’s okay.”

And so I left with money to buy presents, but also with something more: a true admiration for people I already thought the world of to begin with. It’s just the smallest thing, at the holiday, but all these years later, I still tear up when I think about it, and when I hear “Please Come Home for Christmas.” Kindness counts for so much. You never, never forget it when you are on the receiving end of something like that. The Burrito may be gone, but Phil and Vicki are still around, and while I haven’t seen them awhile, I hope they know what a difference they made for me. And if you have a chance to do something nice, or kind, at this time or the year or any other, I hope you will. You have no idea, really, what it can mean.

Happy Holidays, everyone. (Especially Phil and Vicki Campbell, wherever you may be right now: thanks from the 24 year old struggling writer then, and the mom and author I am today. You guys rock.)

Our man Sam

 

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This was the first time I met Sam Champion. It was the fall of 2008, when I got to visit the GMA studio for the first time. I remember it well because the cast of High School Musical was there, and Juju Chang, who is also in the above picture, was being SO nice trying to make sure I got pictures with them. But what she didn’t understand (and many people still don’t) is that Sam WAS the real celebrity, to me. I watched him every morning. I’d seen him tackle weather disasters of all kinds, up to his knees in snow, getting blown sideways on beaches in hurricanes. So when Juju came over when I was sort-of-okay-totally-fangirling all over him and said, “Quick, Sarah! You can get a pic with Ashley Tisdale!” and Sam said, “Go! Go!” I didn’t want to. I told him, “Sam Champion, you ARE my Ashley Tisdale.” Which was not exactly true, because then, and now, he was even more than that to me and everyone else who loves GMA the way I do. And now, he’s leaving.

It’s hard to even write that. LEAVING? WHAT? That was basically my reaction when I saw the news on Twitter yesterday. (Clearly, a lot of people were worried about me, as I got MANY tweets wondering how I was taking this bombshell.) I didn’t believe it until I saw it confirmed by the man himself. Yes, he IS leaving for a new, great gig at the Weather Channel. It’s a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, he has to take it. And I’m happy for him. But I’m also feeling really sorry for myself, because it’s all about me when it comes to my morning TV habit. It’s like breaking the band up! First Diane left, the Chris Cuomo: now Robin in the last one standing of the First Four that was on when I began watching. SOB! SNIFFLE! And repeat.

Who will be there to remind us he was once a teen model? Or refer to his tween years as the time he spent in Huffy jeans, chasing the ice cream truck? What about all those Miami weather shots, because his heart (and husband) was always there? Not to mention all the tweets of “adult beverages” he enjoyed while traveling there and back to work in NYC. And don’t even get me STARTED on what it will be like to have Josh Elliott without Sam. It’s like peanut butter without jelly! Milk without cereal! Anything that needs anything without that thing! In other words, wrong. And so sad.

This NOT to say I don’t like Sam’s replacement, Ginger Zee. I know from watching her on the weekends she is a 90210 fan, like me, and she basically whupped ALL her co-workers butts in the pumping carving contest this year without even breaking a sweat. But I will still miss, MISS my Sam. Probably enough to start watching The Weather Channel, which I don’t as of right now, if only to glimpse him during hurricane season saying “pulsating areas of concern” with a completely straight face.

Thank you, Sam, for the forecasts and the belly laughs. For the vacation beards and airport tweets and always being able to lighten the mood after a dark piece. Thanks for being honest about who you are, and who you love. (That was huge, and we appreciated it more than you’ll ever know.) I’m wishing you happy days in the ATL with The Weather Channel and hopefully a place where you can get Cuban coffee between weekends. Take care of yourself. We will miss you!

 

 

I know….

…it’s weird for me, too. All day long today, I had this feeling like I was forgetting something. Had I left my flatiron on? Forgotten my vitamin? Then I realized: it was the first time I hadn’t HAD to do a Friday Five in years. So clearly, it will be a bit of an adjustment. I mean, here I am. So, baby steps.

Thanks to EVERYONE who read last week’s entry, and commented (59 and counting!). I feel lucky and blessed to have been part of such a beloved thing (who knew?) for so long. Thanks also for understanding why it was time to go. Now that I’m 43, I’m realizing, better late than never, that it’s better to try to do a few things well than many badly. You would think I’d get it by now, but I am, like so much else, a work in progress.

Good luck to those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. I am with you in spirit. For what it’s worth, I am never DYING to write, and usually have to bribe/bargain with myself to get it done each day. But when I am finished, there is no better feeling. So hang in there. Also, I find chocolate really helps.

Talk soon.

The Final Five.

I began this blog back on August 16, 2001. It was over on Livejournal then. I was 31, teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill and had four books published. I joined LJ because my younger cousins were on there and I liked how I could use it to keep up with their lives. This was my first entry:

When I sold my first book I was working at a restaurant called the Flying Burrito. When the novel was published I felt like I’d been split into versions of myself: burritogrl and writergrl. Burritogrl slung salsa and came home from bad Friday night shifts with beans in her hair. Writergrl did hometown newspaper interviews and appearances at bookstores. It was really weird.

About a year after that first book came out I got an academic job and left behind my waitressing career. I am still nostalgic for it, sometimes. So Burritogrl is gone, for most intents and purposes. But Writergrl remains, the persona I have to take on when I’m doing promotional stuff. Writergrl is much more cheerful and easygoing than I am in real life. She has better clothes, too. But no beans in the hair. That I don’t miss at all.

Over the last twelve years, two months and nine days, I’ve shared a lot of my life both on that blog, and then this one, when we migrated to my new site. Some of you have been reading from the beginning, some for only awhile. But all of you have been part of this journey, and I just want to thank you for coming along for the ride. (So to speak.)

I’ve written here about some great, amazing times. I saw two of my books get optioned for a movie, and I got to see that movie made in Toronto, then attended the premiere in New York:

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(Please don’t say anything about my hair or my weird closed-mouthed smile. This was back when I was embarrassed of my teeth so I never showed them. Not a good time for me. Also, I only have two pictures of me with Mandy Moore and I looked terrible in BOTH of them. But what was I going to do, not share them with the entire world? Of course not. Pride before shame, and all that.)

And there were sad times, ones I shared (like the passings of three of of my beloved dogs) and ones I didn’t address but only hinted at, like my miscarriage. But always more good stuff than bad, because who wants to read bad stuff? Personally, this entry was a personal favorite of mine, mostly because it ended with this:

Let’s see. There was something else I was going to tell, what was it? Hmmm. Oh, yeah.

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I’m pregnant. Due in the fall. Crazy, right?

Sob! Then, of course, there was when this happened:

We are overjoyed to announce the arrival of Sasha Clementine, born September 2nd at around 3 in the afternoon. (Labor Day weekend, indeed!) She was 6 lbs, 15 oz, and we’re all doing really well. More details and pictures to follow!

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Man. I need to take a minute.

*breathes*

When I began this blog, I was doing entries every day. Then I got overwhelmed and went to just weekdays, followed by three days a week, and finally just this Friday Five. Meanwhile, the tech world was changing. Our collective attention spans got shorter and shorter, and people stopped blogging so much, moving instead to Twitter and Tumblr. I did too, finding that I really liked Twitter because it didn’t require the commitment of a long entry each week. But I loved this blog, and knew some of you out there did as well, so I kept at it. But in the last year, it’s just become harder and harder to do it each week. I only have a certain amount of writing energy, and I want to save it for my novel in progress. When something stops being fun, you should think about whether it’s worth the time. So I am walking away from this regular Friday Five. This does NOT mean I won’t do the occasional entry here: I will. Where else will I share bad pictures of myself with famous people? I mean, please.

I’m so grateful to have this archive of the last twelve years of my life, living on the internet forever. (Although I could do without the pictures of unflattering fashion choices/haircuts, but whatever, you can’t be choosy.) And I bet I’ll miss this, in some ways. Maybe you will, too. But if you want to continue to have ENTIRELY too much information about my day-to-day life, please follow me on Twitter at @sarahdessen, or over on Tumblr. And you can links to EVERYTHING I do over on Sarah-Land. And as I said, I will still be posting here occasionally. I have a feeling it will be hard, after all this time, to stay away.

So again, thank you for reading. For commenting. For putting up with all my reality TV obsessions, my GMA fangirling, and entirely too much discussion of chickens and coffee. It’s the end of an era, for sure, but maybe the beginning of something else. What, I’m not sure. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from doing this blog all these years, it’s that you never know what’s ahead. Stay tuned.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

love,

Sarah

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The Friday Five!

1. It’s Friday already? Where did this week go? More importantly, where did the summer go? I remember years ago my husband’s grandmother telling me that the older you get, the faster time passes, and now I seriously believe it. I feel like I closed my eyes in April for a quick rest and now it is almost Halloween. WHAT? What I have noticed, though, is that it’s starting to get dark earlier, which always bums me out. There is nothing quite like the sadness you feel when the sun is fully down by 5pm. Last year, when I felt like I was getting a bit TOO sad during those winter afternoons, I bought myself one of those lights that’s supposed to simulate daylight. I was a bit hesitant but they had been recommended, and I have to say, I busted mine out this week when we had a string of long, gray days PLUS sundown coming earlier and I feel like it helped. Of course, my sitters can see me sitting in what is basically a spotlight in my office while I’m writing: they must think I’m on a serious ego trip. But no! It is for my HEALTH. So there.

2. This time last week, I was getting ready to go to Nashville and The Southern Festival of Books. I headed to the airport thinking my plane was delayed only 20 minutes, only to get a text right when I arrived that it was instead two hours. Okay, then. I was flying Southwest, which is one of the only airlines still flying out of an older part of RDU, my local airport. The NEW terminal is lovely and amazing: the old one, well, not so much. It was packed with people, many flights delayed, and had more the feel of a bus station. But a CHEERFUL one: I ended up chatting with a bunch of students from Elon College, who were heading various places for Fall Break. We were all hanging out, bonding, and then something was said about dorm living and roomates and I realized that I, um, am actually a 43 year old mother and wife, NOT an undergrad. That’s the thing with me. I get so caught up talking to people—and I can talk to anyone—that I start thinking I am just like them. I think it helps me with the writing thing, to be able to assimilate, but to the actual PEOPLE I’m talking to it might be weird. So, Elon College students at RDU last Friday: sorry! And thanks.

3. Once I made it to Nashville, I had a blast. It was my first time at the festival, and I’d always heard amazing things. Plus these things are always great places to catch up with old friends and make new ones. On Saturday morning, I bumped into the amazing Jill McCorkle, who was once my teacher at UNC and is a friend and mentor:

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I had met Jennifer E. Smith, who I was sharing a panel with in the afternoon, earlier in the day. But then I saw her with Meg Wolitzer and of course I had to crash in and fangirl a bit about THE INTERESTINGS. I tried not to come off like a total dork. Not sure I succeeded.

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Then it was time for my panel, with Jennifer and Lauren Morrill. We were in a room where the actual government meets: there was a gavel and everything! I so wanted to legislate. But instead, we had a great talk about writing YA, which was equally fun.

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That night, after a cocktail party, we three headed down to Broadway to catch some real Nashville music. The first place we went was PACKED, had an amazing band AND was selling fried baloney and cheese sandwiches. We stayed awhile, then went down the street to another place where we could sort of hear each other talk and the band was playing more covers. After a couple of glasses of fruity tasting merlot (I was so thinking Sideways, as I always do when I drink merlot) I tipped the band to play David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.” It was AWESOME and I am so glad I stayed out late to make it happen, even if I felt a BIT rotten the next day. Totally worth it. You can tell by this picture we had fun.

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4. After all that excitement, it was back home to real life. Every kid in my daughter’s class gets a week to be VIP—they get to help the teacher, be first in line, that kind of thing—and this week was hers. One thing they can do is invite a parent to lunch, so yesterday I showed up, got my visitor’s badge, and waited in the hallway for her class so I could walk with them to the cafeteria. When she saw me, she grabbed my hand (sob!) and showed the me the way. I tried to stand back and NOT help her with her banana, or opening her milk, but it was hard. We’ve just started letting her get school lunch some days instead of taking her own that we make. This was what she had yesterday. It is very…beige.

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I took a bite of the potatoes and was hit with a wave of nostalgia so hard I almost fell of my (very low to the ground) bench. The world may have changed irrevocably since 1976, but school cafeteria potatoes are still the same. It was totally crazy for me to sit and watch her talk with her friends, eating her (beige) food. She has this whole life without me now! It’s both wonderful and sad. But mostly wonderful.

5. A week or so ago, I recorded a podcast with the fabulous Sara Zarr for her series This Creative Life. Sara’s an amazing writer, National Book Award finalist and all around cool person, and we had a blast talking about writing, neurosis and Mandy Moore’s hair in How to Deal, among other things. If you want to listen, you an find the podcast hereShe’s talked with a ton of cool authors, so check out the archives as well. I left our discussion feeling better about the struggles I’m having with my current draft and feeling very grateful, again, that I have a job in common with such cool people. The only thing that would be better is getting to eat lunch with them in a cafeteria each day. With mashed potatoes.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

 

 

 

The Friday Five!

1.  It’s 8:07am as I write this, and I’m about to go back to bed. I know, I know. Super lame. But my kid was up every hour and a half last night with a stuffy nose, so I got NO sleep, which is not exactly the best way to board an airplane for a festival, as I am doing in a few hours. I powered through wakeup and dropoff—where I saw a mom in her pajamas still, making me wish I hadn’t bothered to change out of mine—but now it’s hitting me like a wave. I learned a LONG time ago that sleep deprivation makes me, well, crazy. Good to know, right? So before I babble on anymore and scare you, I’m crawling back into bed. See you at number two in a couple of hours!

2. Take two! Amazing what a nap can do. Okay, so as I mentioned above, in a few hours I am headed to the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN. It’s my first time going to this festival, and I hear it is GREAT. Plus there are many writers I admire going, which means I’ll have plenty of opportunities to fangirl embarassingly all over them. (Some people call this stalking, but I believe that’s a bit harsh. I am not dangerous. I swear!) If you’re going to be in Nashville too, my panel is with Jennifer E. Smith and Lauren Morrill, both of whom I am so excited to meet and talk YA books with. I’ll also be doing a signing AND exploring downtown Nashville. I have gotten a bunch of good recommendations via Twitter (where did I ever figure out where to eat in new cities without social media?) but if you have others, please leave them in the comments. Lately, all of my travel seems to be about eating. Not sure why that is, but I am embracing it. Pass the fork!

3. Regular readers of this blog know I watch GMA every morning. (If you don’t know that and read this each week, you must read very selectively. Kudos to you!) Anyway, this week they showing the finalists for a contest they ran for high schools around the country to win a concert from Katy Perry. You had to make a video for her song “Roar” at your school. All of the finalists were really good: I don’t know how she’s going to choose a winner. But the one on Thursday just floored me. In part of it, they had students hold up signs saying something that either they were told about themselves by someone else, or believed about themselves. It broke my heart to see what some of them said: “I”M FAT,” “I”M NOT DEDICATED ENOUGH,” “I SUCK,” and the one that just gave me chills: “I’M BROKEN INSIDE.” Because that was SO how I felt in high school. Like I was just messed up already, damaged goods, because of some things that had happened and bad choices I’d made. To see someone else in that place and admitting it…well, I got all choked up. Man. If you want to see the video, it’s here. And the person who is holding that sign: I’m with you. I remember. It WILL be okay. I swear.

4. On a lighter note (whew!) my Halloween costume arrived this week. Before I had my daughter, I was not into Halloween because, well, I didn’t have to be. But then we had this kid, and she LOVES Halloween as all children do and it was no longer an option to just sit home and eat a bowlful of a bite-size Snickers on Oct. 31st and call it a night. So since parenthood, I have been a cat, a Real Housewife, a cowgirl, and Snow White. This year I’m sticking with classic and being a witch. I know, I know. It’s not very original. But there were some cool white and black striped tights AND a pointy hat involved. My other thought was Wonder Woman, but at 43 I was hesitant about trying to rock both a bodice and a short skirt. My kid is going as Rapunzel and my husband will, most likely, bust out the mullet wig he wears every year. Done and done! Bring on the candy.

5. Finally, I just finished packing for the festival and I have to say I am sick of ALL of my clothes. I loved my warm weather stuff, as I declared it the Summer of Dresses. If you saw me between April and, well, last weekend, I was probably in a dress and my denim jacket. Easy-peasy! But this week it got colder here, which means we are back to jeans and sweater and ugh I am just not feeling it. I did buy two new tops at Madewell for this weekend, but I fear both of them make me look pregnant. I mean, I get that peplum is a thing but I worry it is not MY thing. Still, I let the salesgirl talk me into it because I was desperate. The other thing I keep seeing around is leather: leather dresses, skirts, cuffs, everything. But leather doesn’t really pass my Whole Foods test, which is “Would I wear this to Whole Foods?” Um, no. (Although there are some very stylish people at my WF: that’s Chapel Hill for you. They probably look good in peplum, too.) I know there’s nothing I can do about all this. Cold and winter is coming, it’s the tradeoff for the part of the year I love. But that doesn’t mean I can’t grump about it. Also, if anyone asks me if I’m expecting in Nashville, these shirts are DONE. Seriously.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

The Friday Five!

1. I am sick. There: I said it. All week, since the first tickle in my throat on Monday afternoon, I have been in total denial about this. “It’s allergies!” then “It’s a little cold!” then “It’s getting better!” After dinner out last night, though, it hit me like a wave and I gave in, crawling into bed with my tissues at 9pm. I slept for ten hours, woke up and….was still tired. I HATE being sick! (In all fairness, I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys it. But maybe some (sick?) people do?) I do feel like I am on the mend, though, slowly, and on the upside I have gotten a lot of reading done. I finished Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest (I had an advance copy, it’s out in January!) THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY, and it is SO FREAKING GOOD it’s going to blow your minds. In a good way. Also I started Curtis Sittenfeld’s SISTERLAND, which is awesome as well. Being sick is honestly the only time I let myself just STOP everything and get into bed and stay there during daylight hours. My mother is always telling me to slow down, simplify, but it’s hard: life is fast and complex. So I kind of have to look at getting sick as the ultimate mother, the Universe, stepping in and taking charge. Stop. Get prone. Read. Yes, ma’am.

2. Before I was felled by whatever this is I had, I was interviewed by my college newspaper, UNC’s The Daily Tar Heel. Regular readers know I love all things Carolina, since I grew up on the campus, got in trouble there as a teen, then attended as a student before teaching there myself. (Reading over that, I’m like: okay, sort of lame. But I can’t change it now!) Anyway, it made me so happy to be able to get my picture taken on McCorkle Place, one of my favorite spots in the world. (You can see the picture and read the article here.) Every time I go back to campus, especially when it’s so gorgeous like right now, I just want to keep walking up to my old office in Greenlaw Hall and sit down and wait for my students to show up for office hours. Although…I’d be waiting awhile because I left there in 2005 and they’re all long gone now. It’s like that quote from WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE (yes, I am quoting myself):“I mean, it’s not surprising, really. Once you love something, you always love it in some way. You have to. It’s, like, part of you for good.” That’s how I feel about UNC, no matter if it’s in the news for stuff that is not so great, or we stink at basketball, or whatever. My heart is there. Even when I’m not. Go Heels!

3. My kid being in kindergarten has been a whole new world for us on many levels. There’s the fact that she’s now gone all day, that she has a life away from me I know nothing about (unless I press her HARD for info, which she hardly ever gives) and that she seems like she’s aged a year in the month since school began, maturity-wise. Then there’s the parental involvement factor. I didn’t realize how much you CAN do for your kid’s school if you want to, how much help they’d LIKE. There’s classroom hours, and sitting in on art/music class. There’s the Fall Festival, and field trips and special occasion volunteering. I am the kind of person who always feels guilty if I don’t do everything people want me to, so this is a slippery slope for me. Again, I keep thinking I should be the Super #1 Parent, but there are also books that need to be written, and dogs to be dealt with and Life in General. More and more, I feel like I keep coming back to this concept of balance and moderation. Which are big words for just chilling the heck out, please. I’m trying to listen. Although I LOVE the idea of running the cakewalk booth at the Fall Festival.

4. This time last week, I was on my way to Texas for the Austin Teen Book Festival. You guys: this was SO MUCH FUN. First off, it’s Austin, which is such a cool city, with some of the best food I’ve ever had. (I had queso at pretty much every meal, as planned, and ate breakfast tacos every chance I got.) I’m fortunate that I get to go to a lot of conferences and festivals, but there were SO many teen readers at this one. It was awesome. Everyone was so excited about YA, and I got to see a bunch of my friends, plus make some new ones. I did my lunch talk with Rob Thomas, who created Veronica Mars, and managed not to fangirl TOO much. Although I do look pretty excited in this picture:

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And here’s me with YA rockstars Siobhan Vivian and Jenny Han:

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And the fab Lauren Myracle:

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And new new friend Sara Farizan, who is so freaking cool I can’t even:

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Plus the crowd at one of our panels!

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This time NEXT week, I’ll be on my way to Nashville, TN for the Southern Festival of Books. It’s my first time at that festival, as well, and I am SO excited because I get to fangirl again over many authors I know and will just have to stalk. Plus: Nashville! I might even see Rayna James. Or Connie Britton. Either way, amazing.

5. Finally, speaking of awesome YA authors, I also met Maggie Stiefvater in Austin.  Now, YOU may know her as a bestselling rock-star YA writer, but for me, forever, she will now be known as The Person Who Introduced My Husband to Pygmy Silky Fainting Goats. I’ll give you a minute to process that. With me now? I met Maggie (who is so cool, just as you’d expect) and somehow we got talking chickens. Which led me to talk about goats, and how my husband wants one. Turns out she has regular goats (which she says are hellions) and some Pygmy Silky Fainting Goats, which she LOVES. I took a picture of her goats from her phone, came home, and and showed it to my husband. Within minutes, he was on the website where she got hers in VA, doing research. See: I set this into motion! What was I thinking? I believe it was being in awe of Maggie, to be honest. She was so positive about them, though, and he does really want one…oh, man. This is how it starts, people. First dogs, then children. Then chickens. Now goats. What’s next? Wait: don’t answer that. I mean it! DO NOT!

Have a good weekend, everyone!