Writing Tip Wednesday – WRITING IMMORTALS

Immortals.

A lot of us writers who dabble or write full-out fantasy or science fiction deal with these little devils. But what does it mean to be immortal? And what does it take to write them?

Marguerite Duras Wrote:

It’s while it’s being lived that life is immortal, while it’s still alive. Immortality is not a matter of more or less time, it’s not really a question of immortality but of something else that remains unknown. It’s as untrue to say it’s without beginning or end as to say it begins and ends with the life of the spirit, since it partakes both of the spirit and of the pursuit of the void.

And BEN FRANKLIN WROTE:

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.

Us, writers, are pretty obsessed with immortality and mortality, not just as a conceit for our own lives, but also in our work. But immortality is a messy beast in writing.

Why?

Immortality lowers the stakes. In our culture, we tend to think of death as the worst possible outcome. It’s the big evil that we often use to justify our own evil deeds. We usually try to avoid it at all costs and it makes the stakes in our writing really high (and therefore the reader really interested) if we put one of our character’s life at risk.

It’s hard to get the reader worried about a character that is immortal.

There are some interesting thoughts on how to deal with immortal characters in fiction here and here and especially here where CLEVER GIRL HELPS breaks down types and degrees of immortality.

Once you’ve read those hints, let’s talk about the big question, which is:

WHY DO WE WRITE IMMORTALS?

So, if immortality is so difficult to write, why do we keep writing immortal characters?

In an interview with Salon’s Sophie Roell, author Stephen Cave says of our obsession with immortality,

It’s a human universal. Among all of the animals, we probably uniquely are aware that we’re going to die. We try to avoid the worst, to keep going one way or another, yet we must live in the knowledge that it is futile – that ultimately, the worst thing that can possibly happen will happen. That all our projects and all our dreams — everything we’re striving for — one day it will all be over. And this is terrifying. So we are very keen to hear any story that can allay this fear and say death isn’t what it seems, and we can just keep on going indefinitely.

Longing for immortality and grappling with our mortality is pretty close to a human universal. It’s something all writers (who are humans) can relate to and therefore are compelled to write about.

So, we do.

And we try to do it well, but it’s hard. When the highest stake of death (of the immortal) isn’t possible, what is the second highest stake you can put in place of that?

  1. Death of the immortal’s loved one?
  2. Eternal entrapment?
  3. Forced to eat uncooked lima beans?
  4. Success of another immortal that there is past history with?
  5. Living with your own moral failures like in Doctor Who?

It’s up to you and your character to decide. Decide well!  It’s a cool thing to think about for you, your life, and your story. What is the highest stake in your own life? If you say death, what’s the second highest? Sometimes it’s good to put our own brains through the same questions that we launch on our characters.

Writing News

Next and Last Time Stoppers Book

It’s  out! You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

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Moe Berg

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

dogs are smarter than people carrie after dark being relentless to get published

Writing Coach

I offer solo writing coach services. For more about my individual coaching, click here.

Ebook on Sale for October! 

And finally, for the month of July, my book NEEDis on sale in ebook version on Amazon. It’s a cheap way to have an awesome read in a book that’s basically about human-sized pixies trying to start an apocalypse.

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I’m WRITING BARN FACULTY AND THERE’S A COURSE YOU CAN TAKE!

I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn!

Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?

Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.

Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here

 

Apply Now!

 

 

 

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Hugging Strangers is Possibly the Best Way to be Human

She had stayed at our camper site for nine years, not continuously, but for a couple weeks at a time each summer while her husband came to Maine  to abandon the Alabama summer heat. She’d had to stay home and work those summers, visiting him twice. They thought they’d spend a lot more time here soon.

 

But this year, she walks across the campground road (Road 4) towards me, in a black summer dress, loosely draped across her body. She is half slow, half purposeful, which means that she’s trying to do something that’s hard to do. I stand up from the picnic table where I’m working and meet her.

Her arms open wide. Her hands shake and she says, “This… this used to be our campsite.”

 

And I instantly know who she is.

 

“Oh,” I say. “I’m so sorry.”

 

I have no words.

 

I open my arms and she steps right into them, this stranger who is not a stranger. This stranger who is human like me.

 

It’s our first of three hugs.

 

Her husband died last year, in between summers, and she sold the fifth-wheel that they stayed in. Someone is possibly using it for transient agricultural workers up in the Machias area. She’s not sure.

 

“Our shed was right here. There was a deck, a huge deck right here. They took all of it.” She shakes her head.

 

Her husband built the deck. He had her antique music box in the shed and the music would play out into the road. All their friends were here, a group of 60 to 70-year-olds, mostly, and they would gather every night, talking, laughing. Her husband kept one man from drinking for the six weeks they were together here. He built a deck with a baby gate (for free) for a wormer and his wife because they had an 18-month-old baby and the wife was always alone with the baby, always watching it, always exhausted and trapped.

 

“He’d spell her for a half hour or an hour each day. She couldn’t believe how kind that was,” the woman tells me and she breaks down again.

“Everything is so different. Our shed,” she repeats. “It was right there where your fire pit was. We couldn’t have a fire pit. The smells and sound. It reminded him of Vietnam.”

 

We hugged again.

 

I don’t know her first name. It doesn’t matter, honestly, because I know parts of her – the raw, authentic parts, the love and the grief that came flowing out when she saw us at her campsite, which is now, our campsite. And I’m so honored.

 

She had been a woman in love and she still is – and here was the place where she and her husband would play Wii Bowling, and serenade the campground road with jaunty music that echoed out of the music box they kept in the shed. They’d hike up the steep hill into a scattering of spruce and pines, neighbors’ campfires trying to erase his bad memories and recreate the good, squirrels and chipmunks racing from tree trunk to branches. And all of this was a home.

 

And it isn’t hers any more. Just like some day it won’t be mine.

 

“I’m… I have food in the microwave,” she says.

 

We’ve turned off the grill where dinner was cooking so I could talk to her, but I don’t tell her that. It’s not my job to tell her things. It’s my job to listen.

 

“I… I might come back next year.”

 

“If we’re here,” I tell her, “I hope you stop by and say ‘hi.’”

 

“I will. I will,” she says and she nods bravely but her lip loses its firmness and she starts to crumple. I hug her one last time and try to hold her up. We all need to be held up sometimes. Strangers. Friends. Family. Ghosts.

 

We often imagine that our experience is the real experience. We forget the others who have come before – who have belonged in our campsites, our house lots, our countries and lives. The lives that come before and after us often seem so unreal. We claim things as our own, but are they ever really ours? Only for tiny fractions of time.

 

And that’s okay. Lives and experiences can pass astonishingly quickly; some of us can barely remember moments in our own lives, let alone the lives of the people and peoples before us. But they were there. They are there. Sometimes they walk across a tiny road and open their arms to us. Sometimes they are scents we can barely catch at night, little mewings and whispers of pasts and futures we won’t get to be a part of.

 

And that’s okay, too, because we get to be a part of our moments, live them, listen to them, and experience them ourselves. And we can try to be stewards, prepare for other futures and remember others’ pasts. That would be best, I think, if we could act with kindness for those who have suffered losses and for those who have to bear the future burdens. That’s what humanity should be about, not just the cold shivers, but the hugs, the wishes, the hopes and the stories.

 

ENHANCED PAPERBACK RELEASE!

Carrie Jones, the New York Times bestselling author of Flying, presents another science fiction adventure of cheerleader-turned-alien-hunter Mana in Enhanced.

Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn’t done yet. Her mother may be out of alien hands, but she’s in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.

Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her. Lyle, her best friend and almost-boyfriend (for a minute there, anyway), seems to want nothing to do with hunting aliens, despite his love of Doctor Who. Bestie Seppie is so desperate to stay out of it, she’s actually leaving town. And her mom’s hot but arrogant alien-hunting partner, China, is ignoring Mana’s texts, cutting her out of the mission entirely.

They all know the alien threat won’t stay quiet for long. It’s up to Mana to fight her way back in.

“Witty dialogue and flawless action.”—VOYA

“YA readers, you’re in for a treat this week. Hilarious and action-packed, this novel is sure to be the perfect summer read.”—Bookish 

“Funny and playful, with a diverse cast of characters and a bit of romance and adventure, Flying is the perfect light summer read.”—BookPage

 

Our podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of.

The Final Time Stoppers Book

What is it? It’s the third TIME STOPPERS book!

Time Stopper Annie’s newfound home, the enchanted town Aurora, is in danger. The vicious Raiff will stop at nothing to steal the town’s magic, and Annie is the only one who can defeat him–even though it’s prophesied that she’ll “fall with evil.”

Alongside her loyal band of friends Eva, Bloom, SalGoud, and Jamie, who still isn’t quite sure whether he’s a troll or not, Annie journeys deep into the Raiff’s realm, the Badlands. The group will face everything from ruthless monsters to their own deepest fears. Can Annie find the courage to confront the Raiff and save everyone, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice?

What People are Saying About The Books:

An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” –  School Library Journal

“The characters show welcome kindness and poignant insecurity, and the text sprinkles in humor . . . and an abundance of magical creatures.” – Kirkus Reviews 

“An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” – School Library Journal 

How to Get Signed Copies: 

If you would like to purchase signed copies of my books, you can do so through the awesome Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor, Maine or the amazing Briar Patch. The books are also available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For signed copies – email barharbor@shermans.com for Sherman’s or email info@briarpatchbooks.comand let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!

 

 

 

 

I was Nominated for Woman of the Year and My Heart is Hitching All Over the Place

My heart hitched yesterday.

This email came that I was nominated for the local YWCA’s woman of the year. I stared at it.

And stared at it.

And stared.

I know this might not be a big deal to some people, but me? I flipped out.

It had been a weird rollercoaster day. I signed with a new agent of awesome. I traced down the smell of dog poop to Gabby’s front paw and managed to pry the smooshed and stuck poop out of those giant doggy paw pads five minutes before I had to go lead a Rotary club meeting.

It was disgusting. I had to bleach floors.

I made a resume.

I ran a meeting.

I did all my writing work.

I figured out what I was going to say at a breakfast Rotary meeting the next day that started at 7 a.m. and was three hours away.

I cleaned a toilet.

But that email? It kept resonating.

That email meant something big inside of me – something so big that I couldn’t even talk about it for 24 hours.

“People can nominate women of all ages who make a difference in this community,” said Jackie Davidson, executive director of YWCA MDI. “You can nominate anonymously as well. We want as many women as possible to be recognized for what they do to make our community a better place.”

Make the community a better place.

That email made my heart hitch, the same way that selling my first piece of art made my heart hitch. I know I won’t win and that’s totally fine. Someone awesome will. But the thing is.. someone thought I deserved this.

That means so much to me.

Why it means so much

I grew up poor.

There’s no getting around that.

My mom tried really hard to pretend we weren’t poor. She tried to hide it from everyone, including my much older brother and sister who grew up 15 years earlier than me in a  much nicer working class reality. But when I came around we were poor.

My nana stood in food lines to get us commodity cheese because my mom wouldn’t do it herself because she was too ashamed. Credit card companies and collection agencies would call constantly. I was taught early on to lie on the phone when I answered it and say my mom wasn’t home if it wasn’t my sister or one of my aunts calling.

We had a typewriter, not a word processor, not a computer. Every time I had to get clothes, I’d feel full of guilt. It didn’t help when one of my older siblings taunted me for my quirky style. Goodwill sometimes makes you have a quirky style.

As a child, we would go to my wealthy uncle and aunt’s house for gatherings with their friends. Their friends were senators and doctors, people who worked for WHO, people who helped create the measles vaccine, documentary filmmakers who headed AIDS awareness efforts. I remember looking at their fancy clothes and listening to them and being both inspired and terrified.  They placed napkins in their laps. They kissed people on both cheeks. They made eye contact when they talked, and they used different forks for different things.

They were all kind to me. That wasn’t it. But I knew that I didn’t know how to play by their rules. I went to a window seat that looked out on Lake Winnipesaukee. There was a bookshelf at the end of the seat and in that bookshelf was an etiquette book full of how to eat at the table, what manners were, how to write ‘thank you cards,’ exchange greetings, and so on. It was a beautiful summer day. All the other kids were swimming and playing tag. I was reading and memorizing and trying to learn how to be like the others.

Getting Called Out

Eventually my Aunt Maxine noticed that I was sitting there, reading.

“Carrie. What are you doing? Go out and play,” she said. She liked to use people’s names a lot. She also was sort of bossy in a nice way.

I was afraid of bossy, but I also loved my aunt so I said as bravely as possible, “I’m reading.”

“Don’t you want to go swim with the other children? They’re all outside getting sun, having fun.”

They were. They were splashing around in the water, doing cannonballs off the dock, or perfect dives. They had perfect bathing suits from L.L. Bean and every single one of them seemed to know how to play tennis.

She took the book from me and read the title. After a second, she sat down on the bench next to me. “What are you reading this for, Carrie?”

And I said, “Because I want to be better.”

“Be better! That’s ridiculous. You’re wonderful as who you are.”

“I want… I want to fit in.” I looked her right in the eyes and she got it. I knew she got it. She understood all the things that I couldn’t figure out how to say.

She handed me back the book. “I will make a deal with you. You read this for another half hour and I’ll set the kitchen timer. When it goes off, you go play with the other children and get some exercise.”

Nodding, I thought this was okay. “But I might not finish the book.”

“You can finish it after dinner and games.” She pet me on the top of the head. “I’ll bring you the timer.”

I was five.

That book changed my life and so did my aunt and uncle. They realized that there was a social code and a way of being that wasn’t easily accessible for me no matter how hard my mom tried. I was a poor kid in a wealthy town. I was a latchkey kid who was awkward and driven and terrified of failure. Paying for acting lessons, to play on the soccer team, to play piano were huge stretches for us. Sometimes they happened. Sometimes they didn’t.

I want to be better

My aunt and uncle understood my situation and my want because my uncle was the same way. He was the oldest son of a single mom. He pushed himself hard to succeed, to learn the social code of success and wealth. He went to UNH because it was the only place he could afford and he was valedictorian there, desegregating the fraternity system while he was class president. He eventually went to Harvard Law, married Maxine who had so much intellectual stock and prowess it was just ridiculous. He ended up being the head of an international law association, head of a law firm, chairman of the board of trustees at UNH and so many other things.

My little five-year-old self was trying to do the same things as he did. I wanted to make a difference in the world, to make it better.

Somehow. I took the first and only step I could think of taking – reading that book, trying to crack the social codes of behavior that made his friends and him so different from me.

You Aren’t Death

I was in college when he was dying. We had all gathered for one last Thanksgiving. There were tons of people there, the same kind of brilliant, world-changing people that were there when I was five and when I was ten and when I was 15. My mother and my nana were barely able to sit still because they were so overwhelmed with Dick’s impeding death. They’d have to leave the room every time someone mentioned his name.

During dinner, Maxine called them into his bedroom with her. They stayed for about two minutes and left sobbing.

“He’s too tired,” Maxine said at the threshold of the hallway that led to those bedrooms. “He needed them to go.”

But then, a minute later, she called for me. “Dick wants to see you, Carrie.”

I remember pointing at my chest. “Me?”

“Yes.”

“He’s not too tired?”

“No,” she said. “Not for you.”

There was a bit of a murmur at the table because Uncle Dick wasn’t really calling for anyone to come see him. He was barely holding on.

She ushered me into a back bedroom that wasn’t their normal place to sleep. The wooden walls were dark because the shades were drawn. There was only one bedside light on. My uncle was thin and his breathing was so heavy. It seemed like there were a million blankets layered on top of him.

He met my eyes as I came to his bed and sat on the edge of it, ignoring the chair.

“Everyone sits in the chair,” he rasped out.

“I wanted to be close to you.” I grabbed his hand.

“Nobody wants to be close to death.”

“You aren’t death. You’re my uncle.”

We were quiet. The weight of his hand in mine seemed like nothing and everything all at once. I think he might have fallen asleep, but I sat there thinking about how beautiful he was, how elegant, how he changed systems of injustice one at a time, as best he could, how he taught himself Japanese, how to play the organ, how to be wealthy, how to fit in with an entire class of successful people that he wasn’t born to, and how he and my aunt Maxine both tried to lift other people up into that class with them.

He opened his eyes. “Carrie, I’m throwing down the gauntlet. Will you pick it up?”

There was only one answer.

“Yes,” I told him. “Yes.”

It was the last thing he said to me. He fell asleep again. We left for home. I left for college. And since then, I have spent years trying to figure out how to make my words to my uncle not be a lie. How to meet the challenge of his life so well lived.

How to pick up that damn gauntlet.

And I know I’m not doing enough.  It’s hard to motivate other people. Sometimes it’s hard to even motivate myself.

I have a friend who recently said to me, “You do so much volunteering. I don’t. I can’t. I’m a selfish person. I want to make money.”

And I didn’t know what to say.

I still don’t.

I have only succeeded as much as I have because people were willing to let me read a book, to be examples of goodness, to give me the opportunity to interact with senators, opera singers, doctors who have saved thousands of lives. Humiliation and exclusion are not what we should aspire to. Inclusion and praise are not things to be afraid of giving to other people. Enjoying other people’s successes and happiness doesn’t make you any less likely to succeed.

That’s why a nomination for making a difference means so much to me. And to have it be at a YWCA event? The YWCA that’s all about empowering women and fighting oppression? That means even more.

Aunt Maxine and Uncle Dick told me throughout my childhood that intelligence was a privilege I was born with. It could be cultivated and expanded on, but what was the most important thing was finding a way (or many ways) of using that privilege (intelligence, class, race, gender, being physically fit, and so on) and using it to better other people’s lives, your own life, the world not in a way that makes you a hero but in a way that makes you a friend.

Yes, we need to take care of ourselves (thus being selfish), but we also need to not live in bubbles – to see where our language and our rules, our so-called ‘cultural norms’ can be a code that even five-year-olds realize doesn’t include them.

I don’t know how to fix this, but I know we all have to try. I was so lucky to have an Uncle Dick and Aunt Maxine. Not everyone is. And when you feel excluded because of economic, racial, gender, religious codes? How can you not hurt?

I’ve tried to pick up the gauntlet by being friends, writing books, and I’ve even tried to be a politician. I’ve tried by how I raised my daughter, by being on boards, on fighting against bullying, for literacy, against domestic violence, by promoting diversity in children’s literature.

It doesn’t feel like enough.

Honestly, it feels like nothing, like I am barely touching the surface of need, of change.

Part of why I’m in Rotary International, and even why I decided to be the volunteer Public Image Chair for a huge part of Canada and the United States is because this organization of 1.2 million people are picking up the gauntlet, over and over again. From helping to eradicate polio (one vaccine and one fundraiser at a time) to building a local playground or a creating a book festival, Rotary grabs that gauntlet. The only difference is, they do it together.

How are you picking up the gauntlet? How do you feel excluded? Included? I’d love to know.

If you could nominate one of your friends for helping her community, who would you nominate as a woman of distinction? Tell her. It will mean everything. I promise you.

 

*I’ve posted pieces of this before, I think. I’m not sure. But it’s my story and I want to make sure I remind myself of it a lot – of how grateful I am to have a story and for the people in my life who have been so good to me. I hope you have those people too.

Writing News

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ENHANCED PAPERBACK RELEASE!

This is the book that I forgot was coming out. I am so sorry, little book!

Carrie Jones, the New York Times bestselling author of Flying, presents another science fiction adventure of cheerleader-turned-alien-hunter Mana in Enhanced.

Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn’t done yet. Her mother may be out of alien hands, but she’s in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.

Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her. Lyle, her best friend and almost-boyfriend (for a minute there, anyway), seems to want nothing to do with hunting aliens, despite his love of Doctor Who. Bestie Seppie is so desperate to stay out of it, she’s actually leaving town. And her mom’s hot but arrogant alien-hunting partner, China, is ignoring Mana’s texts, cutting her out of the mission entirely.

They all know the alien threat won’t stay quiet for long. It’s up to Mana to fight her way back in.

“Witty dialogue and flawless action.”—VOYA
“YA readers, you’re in for a treat this week. Hilarious and action-packed, this novel is sure to be the perfect summer read.”—Bookish 

“Funny and playful, with a diverse cast of characters and a bit of romance and adventure, Flying is the perfect light summer read.”—BookPage

Order Your Copy:

amazon bn booksamillion  indiebound

 

I made a video about copy editing my next book, co-written with Steve Wedel. It’s called IN THE WOODS and its scary self arrives in 2019. BUT HERE IS THE GOOFY VIDEO!

Our podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of.

Dogs are smarter than people - the podcast, writing tips, life tips, quirky humans, awesome dogs

The Final Time Stoppers Book

What is it? It’s the third TIME STOPPERS book! It’s also one of the reasons that I forgot about ENHANCED’s release.

Time Stopper Annie’s newfound home, the enchanted town Aurora, is in danger. The vicious Raiff will stop at nothing to steal the town’s magic, and Annie is the only one who can defeat him–even though it’s prophesied that she’ll “fall with evil.”

Alongside her loyal band of friends Eva, Bloom, SalGoud, and Jamie, who still isn’t quite sure whether he’s a troll or not, Annie journeys deep into the Raiff’s realm, the Badlands. The group will face everything from ruthless monsters to their own deepest fears. Can Annie find the courage to confront the Raiff and save everyone, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice?
What People are Saying About The Books:
An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” –  School Library Journal
“The characters show welcome kindness and poignant insecurity, and the text sprinkles in humor . . . and an abundance of magical creatures.” Kirkus Reviews 

“An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” – School Library Journal 
How to Get Signed Copies: 

If you would like to purchase signed copies of my books, you can do so through the awesome Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor, Maine or the amazing Briar Patch. The books are also available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For signed copies – email barharbor@shermans.com for Sherman’s or email info@briarpatchbooks.com and let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!

 

 

 

 

My Mom is Dead, But It’s Her Birthday

It’s my mom’s birthday today, but she’s dead.

And that’s weird.

It’s been a few years now, and I’ve got to admit. It’s still weird.

A lot of time we talk about the writing life as if it’s this entity that exists out of regular life. So many of my students spend a lot of time apologizing for not writing for a week because they were out living, having a vacation, dealing with a hurt or sick loved one, or just visiting people they care about.

There are some writers who can only write if everything in their life is amazing.

There are some writers who write because everything else in their life is miserable.

carriejonesbooks.blog

There’s no one way to be a writer just like there is no one way to be a human. We just live. That’s the best we can do.

 

For years and years I’ve wanted to tell the story of my mom’s complicated, passionate, messy life and I’m finally writing a fictionalized version of it. And it’s hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

This is my mom surrounded by her brothers. She has another half brother and some half sisters because my family is complicated like that. My mom was 5-1 so we are short people.

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This was my mom’s eulogy that I gave at her funeral. 

Our mom, Betty, was propped up in a hospital bed in Manchester, NH just about a week ago today, and if she saw herself then she would have had a fit. Believe me. She didn’t like to be out of the house if her hair wasn’t combed or her lipstick wasn’t perfectly applied. I can not begin to tell you how many times I sat in her car, waiting to go to the grocery store, the library, a birthday party, or even the dump, and counted the seconds while she reapplied her lipstick in that painstaking way that mothers have.  Let’s just say that she took her time, and I was a very impatient kid. But there was a reason she wanted to put that lipstick on: She wanted to make sure she looked beautiful.

She always did though. She always looked beautiful.

And in the hospital last week, ravaged from illness, with her heart trying so hard to beat, with her lungs trying so hard to breathe, my mother wouldn’t have thought she was beautiful.

But she was.

She sat up in that hospital bed and my brother and sister used a plastic spoon to feed her some chocolate and vanilla ice cream from a tiny Styrofoam cup. The moment that first spoonful of ice cream hit her lips, our mother, with her eyes closed and her heart failing, broke into a smile that lit up her entire face with a joy so sheer and absolute that it brought tears to everyone’s eyes.

She was beautiful.

She was always beautiful, but that beauty didn’t come from her lipstick, or even from her smile. That beauty came from her soul. That beauty came from her love.

Our mother was an expert in love.

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“I love you with every ounce of my being,” she would write on birthday cards, Easter cards, those little tags that go on Christmas presents and emails.

And proud? She was brilliant at proud. Every grandchild was a trophy to her – shiny and gleaming full of light and importance. She polished them with her love and words and pride in their deeds. Keith, her firefighting hero boy, her handy man, the first of her grandbabies. Kevin, the one she thought looked the most like her – so smart and now a hero boy police officer who helped bring her the great grandbabies that she thought were so beautiful. Kayla. She would tell me sooo many soccer stories about Kayla but her favorite story was how when Kayla was in first grade she learned sign language because a little girl in her grade didn’t have anyone to talk to. She was so proud of Kayla’s kindness and intelligence. Brooks, the grandson who made her laugh with his quick wit and indomitable spirit and zest for life that matched her own. She was always hugging on him when he was a baby, and when he was a toddler, and talking about how neat he was. And Emily, the youngest of them, who she saw the moment she was born and declared, “She’s so smart. Look at her eyes. She’s taking everything in. Oh… she’s so beautiful. She looks like a Morse.”  Nana was so proud of you, Em, proud of the love you gave her, your goofiness, and your accomplishments.

My mom’s pride didn’t just extend to her grandchildren. She was so proud of her children and friends as well. I remember one day after one of the 80,000 holiday or birthday parties that my sister Debbie hosted so effortlessly, I got in the car with my mom and she started to tear up. She was always tearing up. Deb and Bruce take after her. We are weepy sort of people given to strong love, strong sorrow, and strong joy.

Anyways, I asked her why she was crying. I was probably impatient about it again, but she said, “I am just so proud of my Debbie. She works so hard. She is so good. She is such a good mother.” It was her highest praise. And then she wiped away her tears and reapplied her lipstick.

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She recognized the beauty in Debbie and rejoiced in it so much it made her cry like she’d just read a Hallmark card with the word love in it.

One time we were at a wedding and my brother Bruce was in the wedding party and these women in the pew behind us were gossiping about the gorgeous usher with the dimples and my mom turned around and proudly announced to those women, “That’s my son! He has my dimples.”

“He’s so handsome,” the girls said.

“He has a kind heart,” my mom said. “He has a beautiful heart. And beautiful dimples.”

My mom loved deeply and without reservation. She loved her friends, so many of them are here today. Thank you for being here Mel and Steve and Marie and Clem. Two of you both claim to be my mom’s first boyfriend. I’ll let you fight that out amongst yourselves.

My mom also loved her husbands. Her first love and her second husband was my stepdad John, and their love was a beautiful forever thing. Her funeral is exactly 29 years after his on the same date. There’s a symmetry in that, and a beauty to their love. But what really shows how remarkable she is was her relationship with my dad, Lew. They chatted and gossiped pretty much daily; even though they were divorced for decades and decades, they were supporting each other constantly even until the very last days of her life. Once, they came to visit me in Maine and people compared them to the Costanzas on Seinfeld. They talked simultaneously, teasing each other constantly, voices getting louder and louder. When I said they were divorced, people wouldn’t believe me because the link between them was so strong. Their friendship was a forever thing.

My mom was born 77 years ago to a brilliant woman and a talented jazz drummer, grew up with two brothers that she loved and was proud to call siblings. She was a wife, a homemaker, an office manager, a Welcome Wagon Lady, a town employee, a real estate broker, and then worked for the Bedford school system. But those are just titles, just occupations. Those aren’t about her soul. She could slam doors with great passion for her small frame. She could laugh hysterically over things as silly as saying ‘in bed’ after you read a fortune cookie. When she got mad she would yell, ‘sugar diabetes,’ the disease that would eventually take her body. She would gossip with her friends about the results on Dancing with the Stars and The Voice and argue her political opinions without reservation. She was a firecracker and a charmer, spunky and sweet, funny and intelligent, and always, always interested in people’s stories.

It is hard to watch someone dying and in the time that Emily and I spent with my mom I noticed something interesting in her murmurings. She called a lot for her brother Richard who she adored. She often said with her eyes closed, “I see you Richard. Richard. Richard, is it okay?”

I imagine he told her that it was okay. I imagine that he took her hand and then gave her a hug, the way she would have hugged anyone at anytime. My mother was the kind of person who hugged her children and grandchildren for ages. We would call it entering the hug-off with Nana and joke that she never let go first.  My mother didn’t let go of people, not of her dear friends, not of her family members. No matter what we did, she held on to us, was proud of us, listened to our stories of joy and pain and goofiness. She hugged you as long as she could physically, and when she couldn’t hug you with her arms any more, she hugged you with her head, loving you no matter how many miles were between you and her.

Her hugs lasted forever. Her love was that way, too.

But one of the other things my mother yelled when she was dying was a little bit different. She yelled for toast. Honestly, she hollered for toast like it was a long lost love. “TOAST! TOAST! TOAST!” And when she got it and took a bite she whispered to me, “So good. Do you want some?”

And it is such a goofy thing, and so sweet, and in a way encapsulates a major aspect of her personality. She liked to feed people toast and roast chicken and chocolate chip cookies and Boston Cream Pie. She liked to give sustenance. She liked to give.  Whether it was food or love or hugs or an ear, my mother was a giver.

We can all learn from a life like that, a life where one woman created a web of love that connects very different people and friends across space and time. It was a life where love trumped all, a life where helping friends and family ruled, where it was important to  listen to the stories of children as they went into a dance studio or teachers calling on the phone asking for subs,  where it was natural for her to smile at nurses and doctors no matter how much pain she was in, a life where she wanted so badly to know everything that went on in the lives of her loved ones because she cared so very much.

And we care about you Mom. And we were proud of you. And you were and are very loved.

So off you go Mom, off you go, holding the hands of the people you have loved you, with those of us who still love you, waving goodbye, singing you songs, telling you stories, making more stories for you to enjoy from your perch in Heaven and eating lots of toast and Boston Cream Pie and chocolate chip cookies in your honor. May the wings of the angels wrap you up as one of their own and may we all live our lives as you did – with love and pride and beauty.

* I totally stole the ‘off you go’ line from Kevin Costner. Hopefully, he doesn’t mind.

Random Life Tip: Hug like my mother, damn it. Also, don’t worry about how many times you’ve been married. Worry about how big you’ve loved.

Random Marketing and Book Things Since I am an Author and Need To Make Money.

I KNOW! I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO ADMIT IT. 

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy was all official on March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can order it!

Kirkus Review says:   A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, has a new podcast that came out Tuesday.

And finally, I made a little video for my TIME STOPPERS books.

Time Stoppers’s third book comes out this summer. It’s been called a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but with heart. It takes place in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. I need to think of awesome ways to promote it because this little book series is the book series of my own middle grade heart. Plus, I wrote it for the Emster. Plus, it is fun.