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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
(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!
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.
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.
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!
We also got a picture with Dax Shepard:
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.
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!
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,