Learning to let go…just a little

IMG_1299I was born with a moderate fear of heights.  Something I realized when I was on top of the faux Eiffel Tower at Kings Dominion Park in Richmond, Virginia over 30 years ago.  Walking to the edge had me very shaky and worried somehow I would hurl myself off of the Tower and fall.  Which of course was impossible given the amount of fencing all around the top.  This same fear has only cropped up a few times in life, most recently on ski lifts.  So last month I got to experience a double whammy – taking my 7 and 9-year-old boys to ski for the first time in Crested Butte, Colorado, and riding with and WITHOUT them on ski lifts.  One of the lifts had (gasp) no bar. Damn you Teocali lift!

The kids did so well skiing that after 2 days we were all going on lifts together.  We were there with another family so there were several of us skiing together, kids and adults at different times.  I became so comfortable and was having so much fun that during one run I realized I was behind with my friends and looked up and saw that my boys were getting on the lift with their buddies too.  Without an adult!  Panic struck my heart as I got on the chair behind them and watched nervously as the chair went up and up and up.  About halfway up I realized they were doing great just hanging with their buddies.  Enjoying the beautiful fresh Colorado air and chatting (probably about Minecraft).  So I took a deep breath and realized that: (1) I needed to capture this moment, but more importantly (2) I needed to learn to let go.  Just a little…

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Next lift, of course, I was right there with them but was forced to admit that it was probably a good thing for their self-esteem and confidence to do that lift all by themselves.  And good for me to maybe give them some space when they’re ready.

Guess we all learned some new tricks over spring break this year 🙂

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The Next Big Thing – An Author Blog Hop

I am honored, and a bit terrified, to have been tagged in an author blog hop. Especially an international one 🙂 Here’s how The Next Big Thing Blog Hop works: An author answers ten questions and then tags five authors (if you are able to find them – I am still working on that!) to answer the same questions on their blog the following week.

The funny thing about being tagged is how many coincidences led me to this place in my life. I was tagged by Elizabeth Carden, a historical fiction author and freelance writer, who I initially met years ago as the wife of a coworker (we were both lobbying the Tennessee General Assembly). We had both of our children within days of each other, and I chose a family name – Flanagan – for my son’s middle name which Elizabeth had chosen for her daughter’s first name (although the spelling is different). We subsequently learned we share the same hairdresser, both had children with peanut allergies, both were working on our first novels, and strangest of all, we are very likely related. Yes, over coffee we talked about our Irish heritage and found out we both hail from Considines in Ireland. Oh and did I mention that Elizabeth was runner up in the Historical Novel Society’s 2012 Short Story Award in London? See why I’m terrified?!

So here are the 10 questions:

What is the working title of your next book? Since I just completed my first novel and am starting my sequel, I’ll talk about my first real manuscript. The title that has stuck the longest so far is Warning Signs. I actually had chosen Boys Will Be Boys, but that was thoroughly assailed on some writer blogs because it gave rise to a coming of age book, not a thriller involving an animal cruelty investigator. Always good to check with others! The meaning behind the title is that many perpetrators start with animal cruelty and move onto human violence, usually against domestic partners or family members.

Where did the idea come from for the book? I lost my beloved Cato, a 14-year old Siberian husky, in 2005 and had more than a hard time coping. The saving grace was that I was pregnant at the time, so I knew a new life would be coming into the world just as I was saying goodbye to my canine best friend. Over that first year I began writing to help express my emotions and loss. I actually wrote a poem which is VERY uncharacteristic of me, and started thinking more about becoming a full time writer. I was an attorney/lobbyist at the time, and always loved the writing aspect of my job. I would volunteer to write grants, memoranda, etc. and it finally hit me after losing Cato that I really just wanted to write. After the birth of my second child in 2006 and facing several serious health challenges with my ailing father, I decided to leave my full-time job and focus on writing. The idea for the book just sprang into my brain one day. It was part tribute to Cato, and part tribute to all the animals out there who have been abused.

What genre does your book fall under? The book is a mystery/thriller. There is a bit of whodunit woven throughout the first part of the novel, and the second part is more thriller, as Eden chases down the perpetrators, trying to stop the escalating violence.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? I actually chose pictures of famous people, not all celebrities, when I was working with my writing coach on my first draft. Since that was so long ago, I have updated a few cast members. I chose Evangeline Lilly (but with red hair) for Eden Hayduke; Rooney Mara for Harris Hampton; Aaron Paul for Councilman Jeff Saunders; and a young Benicio Del Toro for George Fuentes. Still working on ideas for Declan and Jillian. Colin Montgomery (British golfer) was the visual I had in my head for Phil Hampton (I’m not his biggest fan), although Kelsey Grammer would be a great choice.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A female investigator for the ASPCA battles Southern politics while solving local animal cruelty crimes and saving an abducted girl.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I do have agency representation and we are actively looking for a publishing home for my novel. So I am hopeful, but also realistic. Not sure where we’ll end up, so for now I’ll just optimistically say it will be published. Somewhere, somehow.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? This is embarrassing. It took close to 5 years to really finish the first draft. I had a rough outline of the novel in my head back in 2006, but it took months for me to really get started. I finally reached out to a great friend, Anne Guzzardi, who is a talented poet and writing coach. I hired her as my writing coach and we worked hard on the first draft for almost two years.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? This is hard because the unusual thing about my book, and the fascinating thing to me, is that I haven’t found any other mystery novel that has an animal cruelty investigator as the protagonist. So unfortunately I don’t have a close comparison, although I do look to authors such as Harlan Coben, Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson for inspiration.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? I have always loved animals since I was a child. I was part of a team who worked on changing animal cruelty laws in Tennessee (from a misdemeanor to a felony) and learned so much about how crimes against women and children often start with crimes against animals. I wanted to highlight this link, but also entertain because I do love a cheesy novel I can pour through while sitting at the beach.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? In addition to the criminal aspect of the book, I weave in a lot of Southern politics and issues that are hot topics here in Nashville and throughout the country. And, of course, a bit of romance…

You’re next guys, I mean gals:

Vivian Slade recently published her beautiful audiobook and e-book the Dragon King, which truly was a family project. Her daughter Johannah illustrated the book, her younger daughter Sophia lent her voice to the townspeople, her husband Todd helped produce and sing on the project, and of course Vivian wrote the text and ALL OF THE ACCOMPANYING MUSIC! The score is so special, and Vivian (herself a talented singer/songwriter), pulled in so much of the Nashville musical talent to perform the songs it’s truly a work of art.

Ruthie Mason is working on her first novel, and is a loving talented teacher. We had the pleasure of getting to know Ruthie as she taught our oldest son, and have never met a more compassionate, thoughtful teacher. She now lives in Massachusetts but we are secretly hoping she will return to Nashville 🙂

A beautiful expression of hope and comfort in Newtown, courtesy of our canine friends

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It’s been a horrendous week, in fact a horrendous year. As a mother of a 1st and 3rd grader trying to explain what happened last week is impossible. And shouldn’t be necessary. And things were made even worse on Monday when our school was on lockdown for two hours due to a break-in. But I saw a story that brought me so much hope I wanted to share.

We are the proud, and sometimes angry, family to a rambunctious Golden Retriever named Rudolph who will turn 4 on Christmas Eve (hence the name Rudolph). We switch between yelling at him for eating unmentionable items and loving him so deeply it hurts. Well, we aren’t alone.

This week, a group of Golden Retrievers made the 800 mile trek from Chicago to Newtown, Connecticut to bring comfort. That’s it. Just to bring comfort. Because you can’t see an adorable dog looking at you, begging to be pet, and not rush over and smile. And kids more than anyone adore dogs and will accept the gesture of love and hope without question. No judgment, just pure love.

This week has been one of the saddest in our country’s history. But I am so proud to see our animal friends stepping up to the plate and bringing even the smallest amount of comfort to those who need it the most.

I just hope, as human beings, we’ll be able to do the same.

THANK YOU DOGS…YOU RULE!

Learning how to say goodbye is never easy…

It’s been a while since my last post! Quick writing update:  I’ve been editing my novel with my agent, and he is working his contacts now, hoping to find some interest out there.  Then the rejections can roll in…!  Trying to get further in my sequel (yes it’s a mystery series), and will make that my New Year’s resolution to finish in 2013.  Luckily my real job has kept me busy, along with my family, so it’s a good thing to still be employed and receiving a paycheck 🙂

It’s been a hard summer and fall, there’s no other way to say it.  I lost a dear friend to ALS which still seems unreal.  Another good friend lost her husband at the tender age of 33 recently too, and it’s so hard to accept such a shocking loss.  I’ve spent the last few years going to funerals for my parents’ friends and friends’ parents, but can’t believe now I’m having to watch my friends say goodbye to their husbands and wives.  I have been amazed at the strength they’ve shown, and the outpouring of love and support for them and their children.

I also helped my mom say goodbye to her beloved Pug Jessie, who is pictured here.  He has been such a wonderful companion to my parents, especially my mom who now lives alone since my Dad has been in a special Alzheimer’s assisted living facility.  My mom is a super active spry 83-year-old, and walking the dog each morning, afternoon and before bedtime has kept my mom young.  It’s been another wonderful example to me of how much animals give back to us, and all they want in return is a little love.  And in Jessie’s case, also a few scraps now and then 🙂  Jessie was also so loved by my dad, and it’s unclear whether he can understand or comprehend that he’s gone.  Maybe that’s a small blessing of his dementia, but I know the other residents at his facility will all miss seeing little Jessie strut around on his visits.

So I am ever thankful for all the human and canine loved ones in my life.  Even though I know someday we’ll all have to say goodbye, I will try to enjoy each and every moment until then.  And we are making the next few days extra special.  My mom has become motivated to travel again, and we are now taking a Murphy girls’ trip to Italy in a few days which will be a blast.  Compliments of my more than generous sister Kathy who is treating the 4 of us to a fabulous trip.

So if you hear there’s a shortage of wine in Rome or Florence….now you’ll know why 🙂

Signing on the dotted line….

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I’ve been out of the loop for a few weeks now mostly due to the entire family’s bout with the flu (on spring break believe it or not). Then the flu again once we were home. Then strep throat, then full body rash accompanied by a recurrence of strep throat – these last few were all suffered by my poor six year old 😦 Fingers crossed we will be returning both children to school tomorrow. But I have news….I am officailly signing my contract with a literary agent as we speak!

I am so thrilled to have come to a place where I will have someone advocating on my behalf. Kind of ironic since I have spent years as a lobbyist advocating for others.  Even if nothing happens I feel a small personal triumph. And no, it’s not a huge NYC agency, but perhaps more importantly for this unpublished author, it comes highly recommended from a friend and fellow attorney who has been in the publishing industry for nearly 30 years. The honest, personal recommendation meant a lot to me, in addition to the fact that this agent totally gets my book and thinks combining animal issues with a modern mystery is a great idea. I think so too 🙂

The best part of my news is that it has truly freed me to focus on my sequel which is finally in the works. It took me a while to find motivation (I am a professional procrastinator) but now I have a new plotline (well almost), and have some research ahead of me, which is what I love to do. After working for years on my first book, it’s a welcome relief to move onto something else. I honestly don’t know if I could have reviewed that darn thing one more time!

I’ll post more news if and when I have it, and will keep updates going on my books.  I’m getting more and more attached to Eden Hayduke, Animal Cruelty Investigator and of course her best friend/Siberian husky Buck (aka Cato) each day.  This is a new world for me so who knows what changes lie ahead?  Just hope that someday I’ll be able to post a link where you can purchase a copy of my first novel Warning Signs!  And if not, I am sure I will be happy to email copies to those who have a few spare hours on their hands.  Just like other things in life, hopefully the first time is a great learning experience, and the second time is…at least better written and more interesting???!!!

Happy April 24th!

Who do you gather in your safe place?

This week we were huddling in our safe place, along with several other midwestern states, as the storms rolled through. Since we don’t have a basement, it’s always tricky to figure out where we should go. To the tiled shower off the master bedroom? To the closet under the stairs, which houses all of our tools since we also don’t have a garage? Nowhere seems exactly safe.

Our friends had texted that we could join them in their basement. Which immediately prompted a question from my 8 year old – what about our dogs? can they go too?

Well, since our friends have a cat, a dog and a hamster, we didn’t even ask. My quick answer was no – our 80 pounds of pooches wouldn’t fit and probably would try to snack on their pets. Not a reassuring answer for the kids.

This is a stressful choice for many families. I immediately thought of friends and family who are in wheelchairs – how do you get them in your safe place? What necessities do you bring with you? We had time to plan this since we were on high alert all day and the storms didn’t hit until after 4pm. But it brings back a basic question – who do you gather in your safe place?

As usual, we decided to stay home, and did a last minute clean out of the closet under the stairs so that all four of us humans, and the 2 dogs, could all fit without sitting on something sharp and dangerous. We were quite a sight – bike helmets on, dogs panting on our laps, sitting on top of a mound of stuffed animals that my 6 year old insisted on bringing. We were lucky. Only hail passed through our neighborhood. All of our friends and family were safe.

If the storms had been worse we may have needed to find a basement. What then? How difficult would it be to look at your pets and leave not knowing if you’d see them again?

Almost 14 years ago a tornado came through our neighborhood – we were living only a block from where we live now. My husband and I were at work, both safe, but our house and area did suffer some damage. It took hours to get home, driving up and down streets blocked with fallen trees. All I could think of at the time – long before children – was what happened to our dogs? We had a doggy door and fenced in yard so who knew what the dogs did or where they went. And they definitely heard and saw a lot. Our shed was destroyed, part of our fence was ripped down, and sidewalk and trees were ripped out of the earth beside our house. I’ll never forget running into the house calling “Cato! Solo!” and seeing 2 terrified dogs running at me, jumping and licking my face. What did they think when they heard the freight train sounds rolling over our house?

Once again we are safe, and I am ever thankful. But secretly hoping to find a house with a basement!

Behold the power of dog hugs!

This week we celebrated Valentine’s Day with our loved ones, but it was also a time to remember loved ones who are no longer here. A close friend lost her beloved golden retriever this week and as we talked and laughed and cried together, I kept thinking how cruel it is that pets live such short lives, but also how LUCKY we are to share them. She, like I, was head over heels for our dogs and often regarded as “crazy” by our friends and family. In a good way I hope 🙂 But we both know that the pure unconditional love you share with special pets is so powerful. I don’t feel embarrassed, in fact, I feel sorry that some people will never experience this type of love. Because it is simple and uncomplicated and something we all deserve and need.

As we age, we are losing so many dear friends that sometimes it’s overwhelming. It’s like a clock is ticking and we know we will be next. It’s unavoidable. And we don’t always see eye to eye with our relatives, sometimes there are so many mixed feelings we have to reconcile at the end of life. But our pets are always just there, not judging us, not staying mad at us, never ignoring us, just loving us. How special that relationship is, and for me, as I struggle with aging parents, I am ever thankful that I have had and will always have a furry dog to hug.

And hugging a dog can be true therapy. As you can tell by the photo of my oldest son, I am (hopefully) passing on the dog hugging gene to my boys 🙂 Because they will need it too. During one of the most painful times in my life when I lost a close friend to a car accident at a very young age, I remember feeling like life was spinning out of control. It was my first time dealing with death and I was in shock. We were all grieving at my friend’s house and so was their family dog. I remember this little dog gingerly walking up to me and bowing her head and it dawned on me that she also needed a hug. That hug meant the world to me and now I don’t hesitate to grab my dogs when I need a hug. Of course I grab my kids and husband as well so don’t think I’m ignoring them! But sometimes it’s nice to huge someone without having to explain, without having to go into details, to just feel that love. Because your dog will always give it back to you. (Well, assuming you treat it with respect and dignity of course.)

This past week I was awakened at 2am to clean up vomit – yes once again Rudy ate something hard and plastic – and I was irritated and cranky and couldn’t get back to sleep. But then the next day I’m reminded how fragile life is. For all the hassle and cleanups, it’s truly a small price to pay for the love I get in return.

Now go hug those doggies 🙂