The Writing Journey

You’d think writing a book would be the hard part. The months of waking up while it is still dark out and then for hours straining your fingers and eyes, stretching your mind like saran wrap in an effort that your ideas may cling smoothly to the page. You’d think it would all be downhill–or at the very least flat–once you wrote your book’s final word. But this is when the real work begins.

Now that I’ve completed my most recent project, I’m toiling to query agents. It’s a lot like submitting college or job applications. Every agency requires something slightly different, and your writing is only one piece of the large and intricate puzzle that will land you a literary agent. For example, in today’s world agents are looking for authors who have a platform on social media, that is, a following. They are looking for authors who attend writers’ conferences and book signings and who aren’t afraid to speak in public. They are looking for authors who are writing what the general public wants to read.

I’ve already received two rejection letters. I told myself to expect this and to not get discouraged, but the truth is, it’s hurtful to read that the work you’ve poured your all into over the last year, knowing and believing as you poured it all out that this was what you were meant to do, is not the right fit for someone who specializes in finding the right fit for the world you’re trying to fit into. It’s a bee sting to the heart.

But, in the words of my beautifully wise husband, this is the time that defines those who realize their dreams vs. those who don’t. This is the time, he said, when people either throw in the towel or clench their fists, resolving fiercely, “Nothing will stop me!” He told me to persevere, which of course I intend to do, one query letter, one book proposal, one prayer at a time.

And the prayer is this: that God pairs me with the right agent who will help bring my work to readers at the right time.

And hopefully sooner than later. 🙂

Journey on!



The Straw that Renewed the Camel’s Back


Dear Levi,

It had been a day. We were late meeting Betsy and her baby John at the Riverwalk because you napped longer than usual. Don’t get me wrong. I love it when you nap. You need the sleep; I need the break. But we had some place to be. But you never wake a sleeping baby. Never. Unless you get a thrill out of all hell breaking loose. I for one do not.

When I parked, you pooped. Quickly, I changed your diaper in the cramped trunk of my car, getting poop on my hand as I wiped your bum while the chic, sophisticated class sipping coffee and nibbling coconut macaroons on Rembrandt’s European patio in the heart of the clean and upscale Bluff View Art District watched me, I know, in horror. It was a lovely fall day. I broke a sweat, wiped my brow with my soiled hand.

Betsy was waiting for us in the Sculpture Garden, nursing her five-month-old next to the statue of Icarus taking off from the ridge over the Tennessee River. This marked my first rendezvous with Betsy, a television reporter turned real estate agent who works in the same office as my mom. Like me, Betsy is a novelist and new mom; it only made sense that we should meet.

“John started to get fussy,” she said as I parked the stroller next to hers. “So I had to go ahead and feed him.” She was crouched over her babe in the classic nursing-in-public position I too am familiar with. “So sorry,” I said, “I was late.”

It was sunny and cold. You were still wearing your fleece penguin pajamas because I hadn’t had time to change you into “real” clothes. John had on blue pants and a matching hooded jacket with bear ears that made him look like a Baby Gap model. You had oatmeal all over your face from where I sped fed you minutes before in the parking lot.

The river glided and gleamed as we strolled next to it down the paved path. Betsy, bright and upbeat, asked me many questions about my memoir Mile 445, which tells the story of how I married your Daddy on the Pacific Crest Trail after knowing him for less than thirty days. I tried to answer Betsy, have a grown-up conversation. But you started crying, and you kept on crying, even when I gave you your beloved donkey Clip Clop; and even when I pulled you out of the stroller, held all twenty pounds of you in my left arm while pushing your mammoth stroller with my right; and even when I stopped at a grassy bank, sat on the wet ground and unclipped my bra to nurse you—well, you did stop crying then, but only because you saw the wild onion grass, grabbed some, and ate it. I swiped my finger down your throat. You wailed. “Way to make a first impression, Buddy,” I said. Betsy’s baby John fell sound asleep.

We cut our walk short because you just weren’t having it. “I know it can be hard, but isn’t being a mom great?” said Betsy, trying for my sake to stay positive. “Some days are better than others,” I said. Levi, thank God you’re cute.

By the time I regained my car I was sweating like a cross-country runner from having carried you the whole way. Your crying turned to screaming as I buckled you in your car seat, which is your least favorite place on earth. I was adjusting the straps (loosening them so you’d feel less confined) when a pudgy, gray-haired man came up to me holding a knit baby hat. “This yours?” he asked. Shoving your pacifier in your mouth, I looked up. “It is,” I said. “Must’ve fallen out just now.” “I’ll just put it in your beer holder,” said the man, referring to the stroller’s cup holder. “Thank you,” I said. “I could go for a beer right now.” The man looked at you flailing and laughed. “I bet.”

He left. I heaved your heavy stroller into my tiny car, which now smelled like your dirty diaper since I forgot to crack the windows. I took a deep breath, said a prayer that there wouldn’t be traffic and that you wouldn’t cry the whole way home, and I was about to get in the car when the man returned, a lit cigarette between his lips. “Want some flowers?” he said, this time holding up a cup of hedgerow roses. “I snipped them this morning.” “Really?” I said. “Yeah. Really. Just took the garden shears and—” “No, I’m sorry. I mean are you really offering them to me?” The man grinned with pursed lips so his cigarette wouldn’t drop. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I really am.”

He gave me the cup, tipped his head, and left. Now, Levi, I don’t know who this man was or why he had fresh pink roses with him that he readily doled out to me, a complete stranger. But I do know this. His unexpected act of kindness renewed my weary spirit. The whole way home I smelled the roses, and not your dirty diaper.

img_3960-1Thank God he’s cute 🙃

The Longer You Look


Dear Levi,

You’re napping on sand, wrapped in my red shirt atop the teal striped towel, in the shifting shade of the beach umbrella. Sitting beside you, your Daddy grips the umbrella’s white base so the wind won’t rip it out. Cirrus clouds glide like seagulls through sky. An old couple plays bocce ball, their saggy arm skin swinging like hammocks as they throw the jack. A mother and toddler sit on tidal pool’s edge building sandcastles. Far down the beach, a kite bobs like a buoy in air.

It’s low tide. Ocean is calm. Infant waves coo under sun. Minutes ago, after I rubbed in your sunscreen, slipped your blue sunhat over your blonde fuzz, then stripped off your diaper so it wouldn’t swell with seawater, your Daddy and I dipped you in. The ocean moved like a stirred-up creek, cool and murky blue. I couldn’t see below my sea-wrapped waist. Something slimy slid out from under my foot. I cringed. “Please tell me that was you,” I said to your Daddy. Eyes widened in his bronzed face. “Wasn’t me.”

The ocean lapped your chest and back as we swiveled you around. You sucked your hand for the salt, cried in joy, “Da da da da da da.” Shimmery fish leaped up into air. Like us, if they look, they’ll catch glimpses of the world beyond their own. Wind charged and nipped with cold teeth our skin. We went to the tidal pool, shallow and warm, and sat in it like a bath. Mole crabs burrowed in the wet sand. You kicked your feet, splashed saltwater in your eyes.

It’s a short autumn trip on Hilton Head Island; we’re staying at my Aunt Judy’s condo over Shelter Cove Harbour. Here, sleek white boats sway silently in the marina. Designed to roam the sea, the yachts live leashed like domestic dogs. Their owners have named them flashy things like Moonshine and Mimosa. They keep these beautiful beasts for show.

Aunt Judy’s condo is minimalistic and fresh. She calls it her Zen. It has baby blue walls, dark hardwood floors, rocking chairs with bone-colored cushions, white bedding tucked into a brown wicker frame. The wooden sign in the living room says, “I hope you always have sand in your toes and a seashell in your pocket.” The one in the bedroom says, “The longer you look at the ocean, the more you will see.” That goes for anything in life, I suppose.

This morning it was cold. Your Daddy and I snacked on last night’s scallops, buttoned you in a hooded sweater, then drove the mile to the beach for a sunrise walk. Clouds the color of Himalayan salt seasoned the gray sky. Wind darted from bows of howling waves. Your Daddy zipped his jacket, tied a red bandana around his neck. I carried you against my belly and chest for your warmth and mine. Since your origin, Son, we’ve made a good team.

We passed a woman shelling. Hunched like a horseshoe crab, she scanned the beach slowly for her gems, wavering as she walked as if she’d had one too many. From her sifter jutted fragments of sand dollars and conchs. She looked up at you, and you smiled—big like you do, with your whole face. Awed, the woman stood. “I’ve never seen a baby smile like that before. The heavens,” she said, “just opened up.”

Now, under the umbrella you wake, still smiling. You roll on your white belly, cock your head toward the sea. You look, you look long, your azure eyes reflecting its deep wide reach. If only you could talk. Instead, you grab for sand to stick in your mouth, your gaze still flowing like waves. How I wonder what you see.


Blood Mountain and World Famous Boiled Peanuts


Dear Levi,

The drive to Blood Mountain spoke. It was morning. Your Daddy drove; I sat with you in the Scion’s backseat as we twined through Cherokee National Forest, beside the Ocoee. Sunlight danced on your cheeks. You slept, calm as an eddy. Golden hues dyed the air. The leaves were starting to change. Some had fallen and were floating, red and taupe, on the river. “Water stars,” your Daddy said.

Big rapids ahead set the stage for kayakers in helmets and wetsuits to paddle and surf. Purple and green boats bobbed up and down like seesaws. It must have been loud in the whitewater. But our drive was quiet as sleep. Few cars took this road. Trees like elders bowed.

An hour in we stopped at the Citgo off US-64 for snacks. Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream, Snickers, Coke, Lipton Green Tea—junk food, some might call it. I said, “It’s Saturday. We can do what we want.”

At the North Carolina, Georgia border we passed Foster’s Flea Market, where mothers with young children swarmed produce stands, and old men in straw hats tapped their feet to folk. We reached the Byron Reece Trailhead at noon. The parking lot was full. Cars stacked behind us while we waited for the couple with a chocolate lab to leave to slip into their spot. Blood Mountain was rocky and steep. I toted you the two miles up in a gray front carrier. Mountain laurels shaded the trail. It was overcast, but I sweated like a cold soda can in sun. The hiking bounced you as if you were riding a horse. Somehow, you slept the whole way.

I nursed you at the top, where granite slabs replaced trees, and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains rolled in. Your eyelashes grazed my chest. I looked out, sitting on stone behind your Daddy who, as always, served as our shield. Our elevation was 4,458 feet. The mountains beyond crawled over each other like migrating turtles. They waved wide and far as the sea.

Before hiking back, we entered the stone shelter built in the 1930s by the CCC. Inside was cool and dark. How many Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, I wondered, have slept within these walls? A father and son stepped in after us, tied their hammock to a hand hewn beam. It thundered. “Can we stay here until the storm passes?” asked the boy. “Sure we can, son. I brought cookies.”

The thunder continued. “Think we’ll be okay?” I asked your Daddy on our descent. Levi, as your mother, my utmost duty is to keep you safe.

“We’ll be fine,” your Daddy said. “It’s just the angels bowling.”

On our drive home we stopped at Sunrise Grocery, where obese pumpkins lounged around the screened porch, below the wooden sign that read, “World Famous Boiled Peanuts.” The fattest pumpkin cost forty-five dollars and was easily the size of a supermoon. I placed your palm on its fleshy orange ridges, sat you on its peak. Had that pumpkin been hollowed out, it would have swallowed you whole.

Inside, the store sold specialty items like local honeys and jams, peach and blackberry ciders. We bought the world famous boiled peanuts, which the clerk ladled straight from the Dutch oven into a paper bag that instantly started to steam. Your Daddy, who’d never had boiled peanuts before, was surprised they came with the shell. “Not the best food while driving,” he said. Still, he ate them to the bottom of the bag.

A Taste from my New Novel

Hello! For the last seven months I’ve been working on a novel called The White Showing Through. It is about a father and his 10-year-old daughter who take a big road trip west to run into freedom and be absolved of their past. I’m in the first phase of editing it now, which is a timely process, but great. Here is a snippet from Chapter 3. I am hoping to go the traditional route for publishing this book and need a literary agent…any leads you may have for me would be greatly appreciated. Thank you and enjoy!

From Chapter 3. of The White Showing Through

Joseph stood. “How about we get on our way.” He whistled the tune to “Time to Move On” as he and Shiloh broke down camp. Then they hit the road. The day was hazy, hot. Before merging back onto I-40, Joseph stopped for gas. He sent Shiloh, wearing jean shorts and a lilac top, into the station to buy two Cokes while he pumped the fuel. It was a deserted place built at a deserted junction, concrete on more concrete, pasture and sky beyond. The only sound was the truck’s tank guzzling its lifesaving drink. $1.95 per gallon. Seemed high. But Joseph didn’t mind. He knew it would cost, in some way or another, to continue on their course. Which was necessary, if not mandatory. Perched on the power line above, a red-tailed hawk stared.

The pump clicked, informing the tank was full. Shiloh walked up to her father, handed him a red shiny can. The can was sweaty but cold. Joseph popped the tab and the Coke fizzed. It ran down his throat cool and sweet. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Man,” he said. “Is there anything better than this?”

The day of travel was long but good. Joseph felt alive behind the wheel as they rolled through the rest of Arkansas into Oklahoma where plains spread, vast as sky. He’d forgotten how much he loved this—life on the road. Out here, the open cradled you, and you rocked to a natural rhythm as you made your way deliberately, adventurously, toward your destination. Out here, the worries of the world (money, war, natural disaster)—which, at home, devoured you—chipped away like old paint. It was just you, time, and space out here on the steady road. Like an easy current, things flowed.

Happy day!


From the Mountain to the Plains


Dear Levi,

Tellico River runs next to our campsite. It’s Saturday; I’m in our blue camp chair with you in my lap, my arms buckled around your waist. We’ve been watching the river, how it snakes through rocks, transporting glints of sun. Rhododendron arcs over it like a dome. Indian paintbrush pops like lipstick from the tawny bank. The river roars, but it’s quiet here. Big clouds loom. Air smells like rain.

Thursday, when we arrived at Sourwood Campground—a densely wooded, primitive place—your Daddy and I pitched our tent on flat ground then took you down to the water for a swim. It was cold, the kind of cold you’d be a fool to enter without a wetsuit. I dove in naked.

You flinched when your Daddy dipped your feet in. I thought you might cry. Instead, you let your Daddy slip you in up to your chest. You sucked your wet hand. I sat on a sunlit rock curving up from our pool. A blue heron waded in downstream. He blended in so well—still as stone against current and sky—I almost didn’t see him. What else, I wondered, am I missing? The heron scanned for trout.

That night your Daddy built a fire, using limbs he’d hacked from a dead tree lying over the river. He also used the logs the old man with the bushy white beard—who’d been driving around the campground in a blue van selling watermelons—brought us after your Daddy said we’d take a melon, but what we really needed was firewood. We hadn’t realized the general store a mile down the road, which sold six-dollar bundles, would be closed, of all days out of the week, Thursdays. The old man grinned. “City folk.”

The fire was nice. Your Daddy thought otherwise because of how much it smoked due to the waterlogged wood. The burning bark foamed as if it had rabies. Smoke got in our eyes. Your Daddy, who is quite skilled in the art of campfires, shook his head. “At least the mosquitoes backed off,” I said. “I hate white rabbits.”

For dinner we heated chili in a pot over the fire, stuck spoons in when it was ready, blew off the steam. Flames warmed my shins. Breeze brushed over us, and you laughed, loud and bright, like when fire pops. I kissed your swoop nose, put you to bed in the tent atop goose down. The river sang you to sleep. I rejoined your Daddy to sit by the fire a while longer and see the stars. They soaked the sky like silver ink until no black remained. “The stars are great,” said your Daddy. They’re always great, I thought. You just have to be in the right place to see them.

Soon the fire shrank. Your Daddy pulled on his leather gloves and, with his hands, rearranged the burning wood. “Needed more air,” he said. Flames swelled and sparked. “That’s a common mistake people make, not giving their fire room to breathe.” I sucked in the cool night.

Next day we swam in Indian Boundary Lake, a pristine body tucked in Cherokee National Forest. This is my favorite lake of all—growing up, we’d come to Tellico in the summer, stay at our grandfather’s river cabin Tiekilew (which is “we like it” spelled backward), and spend whole days in the coves and lake, looking for black-striped stones we called tiger rocks, treading water until we thought our arms would fall off. Levi, I love sharing my heritage with you. You fell asleep on the grass hill, beneath a shady oak. Beyond, the lake slept, cradled by emerald mountains.

At Tellico Beach Drive-In that evening we stood in line behind a biker brigade. Big, bronze-shouldered men with doo rags and tattoos walked off, after paying, with ice cream cones. One woman, wrinkled and thin, wore leather pants and a belly shirt. Their parked Harleys gleamed. Soon they would zip up Cherohala Skyway, hair flying, free. We ordered, and while waiting under the awning for our burgers and onion rings, the toothless woman at the window noticed you gnawing your hand. “Here,” she said, giving me a vanilla ice cream cone. “Might could help his discomfort.” Levi, at four months old, you’ve already cut two bottom teeth. Toothless strangers, it seems, take note of this. I let you take a lick. Your Daddy ate the rest.

Early this morning we had a fire using leftover wood from last night. Smoke slid over the river; black cap chickadees crooned. We’re going home today, and now I sing to you, watching the water, inspired by you and this place:

“It’s been nice in the forest,

it’s been swell by the water,

but we’re going home today.

Breeze has been blowing,

fire has been warming,

but we’re going home today.

Wherever you go,

I’ll be with you—don’t you know—

from the mountain

to the plains.

Forever you’ll be

my baby,

and I’ll carry you with me always.

It’s been nice in the forest,

it’s been swell by the water,

but we’re going home today.”

I’ll call it “Levi’s Song.”

Swim Break


Dear Levi,

We have lived in Chattanooga one month and nearly every day it has rained. The window in your nursery peeks into the backyard. I rock you in the turquoise wicker chair and we watch the storms. Hackberries shimmy and our potted petunias pierce with purple the gray. The rain glosses everything. Squirrels sit on bark like silver trays. Grass glows like sea glass.

Yesterday afternoon the June showers paused long enough for your Daddy, you, and me to visit North Chickamauga Creek. Mist puffed up from the mountains on the drive. “Dragons’ breath,” I said.

Trucks and cars smothered the gravel lot. We parked in the last spot and got out. Humidity hung in the air like spider webs. Your Daddy batted away the mosquitos while I slipped you in the backpack stitched with stars that straps around my front. I buckled you in and began to sweat.

The path down to the water was slick. Your Daddy grabbed my forearm when we approached big rocks and roots; I pressed your head against my chest with my free hand. We got lucky. A Mexican family was leaving our chosen swimming hole as we arrived. A group of teenagers hiked at our heels. We claimed the site by draping our purple beach towel over the boulder by the bank. The towel absorbed the rainwater on the stone; the teenagers hopped over to the next pool.

The creek captivated you. You poked your head up like an otter and scanned your surroundings. The bank dipped into a cavity of calm water. Beyond this, white water rolled. You cocked an ear to listen and your denim eyes grew. You turned silent and still like the overhanging cliffs. What is this place, you wondered. You took it all in.

Your Daddy waded in first while I held you on land. “Cold!” he called. Then he dove under because, as he says, that’s the only way to beat it. The sun soaked through the clouds as he swam, splashed up from the creek like sparklers. It bounced off boulders and saturated trees. It struck your Daddy in his azure-eyed face.

Then came my turn. Your Daddy returned to the bank, dried off with his blue polyester shirt, and capped his blonde head with his olive boonie. I handed you to him and peeled off my clothes. My bathing suit clung to my postpartum curves. The dark line I had developed during pregnancy ran down the center of my stomach like a tribal tattoo.

The water wasn’t cold but glacial. Chills danced upon me as I tiptoed in. “You have to just go for it,” your Daddy said. I nodded, lifted my feet, and dropped. I opened my eyes under water. The current bubbled by overhead and boulders sat at the bottom. Swimming is like flying, I’ve always thought. You hover above ground and beneath sky. You are weightless, Levi. You glide.

Soon clouds piled in and again kicked out the sun. “The angels are smoking cigars,” said your Daddy. Then thunder snarled, so we left. Rain nipped us as we regained the car. It chased us like a pack of wild dogs the whole way home.