when writing is not glamorous.

Yesterday, I published a book. 

I woke up like I do every morning, my dog whining and looking at me with her eyes reserved for pleading that she needed to go outside. 

When I came back inside, I worked a little in making sure links were where they needed to be and thanked a few people for sharing the Amazon page and then realized: it's been an hour. I haven't eaten. I should probably do that.

Here's where I tell you it's been a pretty rough week. This summer has kicked my husband and I around a few times, and September has been no exception. However, when I started making macaroni and cheese and realized we didn't have any milk only after boiling the noodles, I may have lost it a little bit. 

Like, screamed the f-word a few times and threw the noodles down the disposal and then made myself some nachos out of generic cheese and stale tortilla chips.

Last night, my husband and I ate leftovers and watched Criminal Minds and I tried to keep from refreshing the Amazon page to watch my ranking. (This is a horrible idea, by the way. Stay far away from the refresh button on your release day. Stay far away from the internet, really).

This is not how I imagined release days when I started thinking hey, I may want to write a book or two.

To me, release days looked like popped champagne and copious amounts of celebration. It looked like a table full of your book(s) and friends and family and those who read your writing gathered around, cheering you on as you sign copies. 

It did not look like a mix of ugly crying (because vulnerability) and desperation (because where are the reviews? will anyone leave a review? what about the reviews?) and joy (ohmigosh I did it. I published another book. THOSE ARE MY WORDS AND PEOPLE ARE READING THEM AND I PUBLISHED ANOTHER BOOK).

This post is a dose of reality. 

Pursuing your dream, in whatever form, is hard. Some days, it kind of sucks. Like, there-are-no-more-groceries-and-pay-day-is-tomorrow-and-our-car-needs-repaired-and-how-will-we-make-rent sucks. 

But here's the secret, and I need you to pay attention: life doesn't have to be glamorous in order to be beautiful. 

Living the life that aligns with your purpose isn't always easy. Most times it kind of makes you want to quit. But the brilliancy of pushing through and doing it anyways because you love it is what makes everything worth it in the end. 

Before I went to bed last night, I received a message from a friend who finished reading Somewhere Between Water & Sky — thank you for writing hope, she said. 

I smiled. 

Mission: complete.

Posted on September 19, 2014 and filed under writing, soft, the in-between, fiction.

prostituting the sacred.

A few months ago, I received this question from a reader: What would you tell a writer who wants to write and create and be artistic but doesn't exactly know how to figure out what her specific bent is? Suppose that one is a spiritual writer, then how does one come to terms with the desire to create good content, original art (even if not artistically inclined), and be true to not just their spirituality but to her God without feeling as though one might be prostituting the gift, the call, the talent, or the sacred? 
This is my response. 

I'm thinking of Flannery O'Connor. I'm thinking of the way she captured the Southern gothic without flinching and wrote of the difficulty of finding good men, the impaired view of racism, the all-too quick way we trust others and lose our leg.

In her prayer journals, O'Connor is noted to having lived in "a deeply human world." Her fiction echoed this belief and yet, in her private pages, she begs for deeper meaning — for more stories — to get down under things and find where You are (4). It was a circle: her writing influenced her prayers, and her prayers influenced her writing. 

You ask how to be true — not only to your spirituality but also to your God. I ask, do they have to be separate? 

When I was writing Come Alive, the original draft of Every Shattered Thing, I ended it much like the books of my childhood: clean, pretty, spiritual. That particular scene was very much where I was at personally in my own working through of memories and hurts.

But it wasn't the answer for a deeply human world. I knew almost immediately I'd done wrong to the character, and when I got my rights back from the original publisher, the ending was the first thing I changed. Stephanie's reaction to Kevin is very much born out of her need for deep trust. The more I thought about it, the more I realized: even the first ending, created out of my own psyche and processing, would not hold true to how I would react had I been in Stephanie's exact position. In fact, regardless of my beliefs, I very much would turn and run. 

This is my calling: stay true to my beliefs in word and deed and show the realism of a deeply human world that longs for an even deeper hope.

I prostitute the sacred when I overstep my bounds and spell it out for my reader. I prostitute the sacred when I don't write, don't read, don't enjoy the artistry around me even though it pulses in my veins. Painting is my worship. Art journaling is my prayer. Writing is my witness.

There will be different levels of conviction for different people. For me, spirituality and God are interwoven into this mystical fabric of being. I cannot separate my thoughts from the Spirit — I cannot move away from His presence — I cannot forget about how I'm held in the darkest of nights. To cut that away from me would be to maim me irreparably. I may not write explicitly spiritual pieces of literature, but every word is irrevocably spiritual.

What I'm saying is this: you don't have to write about faith in order for your faith to be seen. 

But what is most important is that you answer this question for yourself. When do you feel as if you're prostituting the gift you've been given? When do you know you've crossed a line in which you feel uncomfortable? We all have different stories, each of them wild and begging for attention. Listen to yours. Keep your eyes on your page. 

Your Spirit will know what to say.

The Check Yes Tour :: Who is Your Jessa?

Jessa came to me in the middle of my sister's bachelorette party. 

I was sitting next to one of Blanche's best friends and she was telling me this story about chasing the sunrise up a flight of stairs after a horrible break-up. It was a simple story born out of a beautiful friendship, and things just sort of clicked into place. I knew even then that there would be a scene in book two that centered on this incredible friendship between two characters and their fight to believe in the hope of another day.

Stephanie needed someone who believed in the possibilities of beauty and hope winning out in the end not because this person felt sorry for her, but because she genuinely liked her. There was no catch in their relationship — no hidden motive. It was the only way Stephanie would be able to truly heal, really. She had to experience relationships that weren't based on a level of currency (whether it be actual currency or the currency of love). 

Enter Jessa.

.::.

With eight days before the release of SOMEWHERE BETWEEN WATER AND SKY, I want to take a moment to celebrate those friendships in our lives that have meant something. For me, there are numerous memories that served in the completion of this novel. 

A few years ago I road tripped with one of my closest friends. It was on that trip I first encountered Sunset Cliffs and saw Diane Keaton on the pier. We even ran into a traveling poet, although his name wasn't Fitz and I didn't get a poem (a decision I regret to this day). I fell in love with Southern California, and as I stood on the edge of the world and watched the waves crash beneath me, a girl walked up behind us and climbed down into a hidden cave and pulled out her journal to write. I remember grabbing my friend's arm. 

"Ohmigod. That's Stephanie. That's Stephanie. I don't know how I know it but I know it...I'm kinda freaking out right now."

I'm still thankful for Prudence not using that moment to solidify my lunacy, but actually believing me and joining in with the train of thought. 

"Take a picture," she said. "You'll want to remember this moment when you write book two." 

.::.

She was in my kitchen getting lessons in chicken-management. Russ walked away for a moment, and I took the chance to take advantage of the extra space and fill up my drink.

I was turning away when her fingers wrapped around my wrist. She opened her mouth, paused, and then nodded before finally speaking, a trait I've come to know as her brief moment of making sure this is the right and good thing to say.

"I was talking to someone about you the other day, and in mentioning your name, I said 'one of my best friends, Elora Ramirez' and that got me thinking, you know? And I realized that yeah. You're one of my best friends. And I'm thankful." 

I'm fairly certain I won the award for awkward response, because I can't for the life of me remember what I said, but I do remember being deeply moved by the way in which our friendship jumped to another level of trust and camaraderie after that moment because how did she know? I was labeling her the same way, although not publicly, and definitely not in a way I even realized until she said the words.

To this day, when I'm needing a dose of truth, or even if it's a moment of bathing in the sun with a thermos full of blackberry soda and vodka, I know I can go to Ritz.

.::.

We were huddled together, shivering in the brisk late evening air of November. The moon was almost right above us and our hands were shaking (although you could debate whether this was from the cold or the lavender liqueur). 

"I just need you to know I have trouble connecting with people because I'm afraid they're going to leave me."

I stopped cold at her words, not really knowing what to say. This was the one who brought a greasy hamburger, french fries and a milkshake to my house during the worst week of my life. In my head, we already kind of went together, and so to hear this fear surprised me in a way I wasn't anticipating.

How did you know this was my fear too? was what was running through my head, but what came out of my mouth (and proved to be it's own prophetic word) was "you don't have to worry about me. I'm not going anywhere." 

Three months later, I'm leaving her house after her birthday party and she grabs my hands and looks me in the eyes. 

"Where you go, I would go. I would move wherever you moved...." she smiled. "I mean, within reason." 

I think, in this moment I knew what it meant to have a person. 

When I'm flailing or losing momentum or lost in my own mind, I'll go to Sarah. She's a buoy who holds up the mirror when I need it the most.

.::.

There are other moments for sure — the walks along Jekyll Island where I first learned of storm wood, the miles spent driving up and down I-35 and other highways in order to attend a book signing of an author I respect, the numerous tattoo stories and emails and moments of connection. 

But I want to hear your story. How has friendship changed you? Who is your person? What are the moments in which you and those closest to you chased the sunset or made an impulsive decision in order to suck the marrow out of life? Tell me. Use the Check Yes graphic above in your post if you like.

And then come back here and link up your post so we can remember the beauty of relationships around us. All I ask is that you include the Amazon link for SOMEWHERE BETWEEN WATER AND SKY somewhere in your post. And, if you've read the book, I'd love to hear how Jessa and Stephanie's relationship have inspired you. 


Posted on September 9, 2014 and filed under fiction, writing.

the magic of human moments.

...I keep thinking too of the more conventional wisdom: namely, that the pursuit of pure beauty is a trap, a fast track to bitterness and sorrow, that beauty has to be wedded to something more meaningful. 

I purchased The Goldfinch almost a year ago. I kept seeing it everywhere — in bookstores, on the bestseller list, in book reviews, in passing snapshots on Instagram. I one-clicked it knowing I didn't really have time for a sweeping narrative. It didn't really matter. The book was on sale and I knew I would read it eventually. 

I read it last week.

I started slow. Donna Tartt's writing has been noted as Dickensonian, and I could see the parallels early in the book. Tartt begins with Theo, the main character and narrator, hallucinating after a particularly rough patch in Amsterdam. He sees his mother, and immediately grows nostalgic. The scene is set, and we're taken back to when he is 13 and worried about discipline waiting for him at school.

But in that beginning section? Sentences stretched for almost an entire page. I'm all for grand syntax—Nathaniel Hawthorne comes to mind—but I wasn't entirely sold. 

Until the terrorist attack where his mother died and he acquired the painting.

There were at least a dozen people on the floor—not all of them intact. They had the appearance of having been dropped from a great height. Three or four of the bodies were partially covered with fireman's coats, feet sticking out. Others sprawled glaringly in the open, amidst explosive stains. The splashes and burns carried a violence, like big blood sneezes, an hysterical sense of movement in the stillness.

Something shifted within this scene for me—maybe because it wasn't written in the voice of a drug-induced surrealism. The description came alive and never really stopped throughout the novel. The characters weren't flat, and even if I didn't necessarily feel an emotional connection to them, I could see them living and breathing in my head while reading.

Especially Boris. But I liked him, dreg that he is.

As I got into the story, I realized what it was that struck me about Tartt's writing style—what worked for me and what I knew I would be taking away from her words.

She captures the magic of ordinary human moments.

More than any other book I've read before, this one nails the marking of time when your life is altered—the this time last week I was here or she was doing this or ast time I opened this we were talking face-to-face. The study of your surroundings, the honing in on the worn detail of your shoe rather than paying attention to one more person asking how you are doing.

You know. The things we think about when our life has taken the sharp left of change.

And that's not all. Theo, in a way, is an anti-hero. Very early we realize there's not much redeemable about this kid. The death of his mother and subsequently the painting coming into his possession serve as catalysts that push him forward. It's not until the last 20 or so pages that he really begins waking up and living — and by then, he's an adult.

But this is life.

The Goldfinch wasn't a pretty book. Sure. There were some incredible moments when Theo speaks of the perils of beauty unattached—those obsessions we get under our skin that don't really hold any weight. Those are the most dangerous, he believes, because there's nothing to them. No substance. But for the other 700 or so pages, it's situation after situation where he's just living. Just getting by—just scraping one more pill into his mouth and figuring out how to make it to his next conversation with Pippa, his own version of a manic-pixie-dream-girl who happened to be in the museum and one of the only other survivors of the attack.

I loved this. 

Grief changes you. Brush up against it and you won't come away unscathed. And to experience such repeated loss, and to have the closest relationships be tainted with abuse, addiction and co-dependency, I would expect nothing less than how Theo reacted in any given moment.

He was relentlessly human, and Tartt wrote him with scathing grace. Because there is grace —even for those who've experienced the darkest of humanity. Ultimately, this is the choice Theo faces: risk everything and pursue the beauty that matters, or go by the minute for the thrill of the next high.

His choice, to me, made perfect sense.

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under elora reads, words that work.

when stories and dreamers collide.

I don't know when I first saw Melissa in my twitter feed. Her posts she published were guttural, straight from her core. Her stories were vulnerable and hilarious and had the tint of a writer who believes in her words. And her friends? 

One thing was clear immediately: she ran with giants who dream.

When I was looking for partners for Rebel Diaries, women who know what it's like to take the leap of writing what you really want to write—even if it makes your breath hitch—Melissa was one of my first asks. She said yes immediately and within an hour sent me a piece that had been sitting on her computer for months. 

"I've had this written for a while and never shared it," she said. "I think I know why now. Take it. It's yours. Let me know if I can do anything else." 

It's not every day you come across a kindred who understands the way a dream can take over you and fill every fiber and pulse through every vein. Do you know those dreams? The ones that grab you by the ankles and dangle you over a cliff until you leap?

Melissa knows. Over the past few months, we've had conversations surrounding dreams and the relentless pursuit of your purpose. It's hard. There are always setbacks (Resistance is a beast, you know) and sometimes, you want to throw in the towel.

And since I've known her, Melissa has thrown the towel back in my face multiple times.

Last week, she took the leap:

Inside of you is a dream that wants to mutiny. Maybe it already has. Maybe you can feel it growing in you. Maybe you haven't even found it yet. My journey, these stories, let them shine light on your own dream, on your journey. When the desire to the live the adventure you were created for overwhelms the willingness to live the mundane. It comes from certainty of gifting. It is called the mutiny of dreamers...

Anyone can live with a dream inside. It takes someone with gumption to act on those dreams. I want to help Melissa with the mutiny, and so I've devised a little plan.

I have a limited number of spots available for coaching this fall. Do you have a dream inside that's stuck? Do you need to find language for this story haunting you? Maybe there are words vibrating in those bones of yours and you don't know how to get them out.

Let's work it out. I've worked with entrepreneurs needing to fine-tune their packages. I've helped novelists find wings for their plot. I've guided memoirists in the fine line of telling your story well. I've worked with photographers, artists, dreamers, leaders of nonprofits, readers and teachers and anyone with a creative bent that needed an extra boost in getting their dream untangled. 

And in getting your dream untangled, you'll be helping someone act on theirs.

Book a coaching session before midnight on September 8 and 50% of the proceeds will go to Melissa's dream. We'll meet via Skype and with my intuitive guidance we can work through the steps of artistic visioning. You'll leave with cohesion, understanding and steps to find your own rhythm to achieve your dream.

Interested? 

Fill out the form below. I'll get back with you in 24 hours.

Can't wait to work with you.

 

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What are you wanting to accomplish in coaching? What dream is causing a mutiny inside of you?


Posted on September 4, 2014 and filed under creative entrepreneurship, creativity & rest.