Category Archives: Writing stories

The end of my newspaper column

I just found out that tomorrow’s family article I write for the newspaper will be the very last one to be in print. This makes me so sad! Thankfully, you can still catch me online at the Press Democrat’s family blog at village.blogs.pressdemocrat.com, or here in my personal family blog at winecountrymom.com, where I will continue to write tips on raising families and share our family stories. You can also catch me at my writing blog at crissilangwell.com, where I give writing tips and share tidbits of my latest projects.

For the record, I will still be writing feature articles for the newspaper. But my regular column will no longer be in print.

Thank you for the past two years of reading my columns in the paper. It’s been an absolute honor to see my name in print every couple of weeks, and I’ve enjoyed all the kind notes I’ve received throughout this time. Come visit me online, and leave a comment to let me know you’re there!

xoxo

Crissi Langwell

P.S. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for an easy way to be kept up to date!  I follow back, so leave me a link when you do!

From blog to book

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I’m doing it. I’m joining the masses who have decided to repurpose their writing and create a book out of it. If you’re a regular reader here, this is probably not news. In fact, you’re probably wondering what took me so long to do something about it.

Yesterday I was laid up on the couch, sick with the cold of my life. I had an old manuscript next to me that I planned on working on while I stayed home from work. And as I did my routine perusal of the Internet, I came across some advice for blogging a book.

In this blog, I have collected 4 years of stories. They date back to when the kids and I were a single parent family, and the relationship I shared with Mr. W was new. It evolves over the years, going from our tiny family of three making it on our own to blending into a family of five. And I shared all our adventures that happened in between.

So I set my manuscript aside and decided it was time to do something with the years of stories I collected. I gathered all of my favorite posts from 2009 and began editing them into a book. I’ll start with that year, because that is where this blog begins. And then I’ll go from there with future book blogs. I may even share the stories that happened before 2009. But for now, this is a good place to start.

At any rate, I anticipate this project to be finished rather quickly – perhaps a month or less. The stories are all already written. And there’s very little editing that needs to be done. I want to keep the writing pretty true to how it was already posted. This will be a book for mostly family and friends, and those of you who have been following along. And it will be a book for our family too, a history of where we were before.

Want a preview? Check out the post that will be the very first chapter.

Can love endure after “death do us part? Sometimes the end is just the beginning…. Check out my debut fiction novel, A Symphony of Cicadas, only $2.99 at Amazon: http://amzn.to/ZwhBLZ

Where has Wine Country Mom been?

It’s been an abnormally busy couple of months lately. You may have noticed by my lack of writing lately, or you may not have. But this blog has been a bit neglected as of late. I have even pulled back on my weekly newspaper articles from this blog, taking a full two months off. But I have a really, really good reason.

You know that book I was writing? Well, it’s done. And it’s published!

Say hello to the new book:

After months of edits and rewrites, and my family enduring me totally checking out during that whole time, I finally reached the point in my book where I could say DONE.

You can read all about my noveling process at my author blog, crissilangwell.com.

Or you can just buy my book, A Symphony of Cicadas at Amazon.

Ooooorrrrrr…..you can get it for FREE through the end of April 3rd if you own a Kindle. After that, however, it’s only $2.99.

So that’s the biggest part of my news. 🙂

But along with that, life just took a really busy turn in general.  DQ moved back home, and we went through a little bit of an adjustment period.  For awhile there, it felt like the whole family was going off the deep end.  In particular, the whole blending family part was feeling really, really impossible.  She came from a house with no rules, entering a house with a lot of rules.  Mr. W was frustrated by her argumentativeness.  DQ was getting frustrated with constantly being nagged.  The whole house was turned upside down as we all shuffled and refound our positions again.  I think we finally, or at least partially, reached the positive side of things.  But it took a few counseling sessions, and a huge dose of patience.  There really wasn’t any one thing to blame, just a lot of changes and adjustments.  However, with things feeling so chaotic, I couldn’t really bring myself to write anything personal – particularly for my bimonthly column.

For a moment, I had toyed with giving up the column completely.  I even wondered if I should finally retire this blog, as well.  I didn’t think I had it in me to share any part of my personal life when my personal life felt so horrible.  But then, something happened.  While I was on my break, a few readers reached out to me to let me know how much they enjoy the column.  I realized that if I gave it up, I would be giving up the best part of my job – the part I loved the most.

So I’m not going away.  And I am keeping my column.  However, I am reducing it to a once a month column.  It will print every first Friday of the month, beginning in May.

As for here, now that the book is written, I’ll try to update more.  However, if you want to be kept up to date, follow me over at crissilangwell.com.

Now go download my book for free!  http://amzn.to/ZwhBLZ

How to make the first move

I went out to lunch with a coworker today. She’s someone I have known for years, and have always thought she was just a wonderful person. As long as I’ve known her, she’s been bubbly and upbeat, cheering others on around her in their endeavors, and just an inspiration on how to be a decent person. But being a natural introvert, I’ve never been one to make the first move to get to know her better – or anyone at work, for that matter. I’ve always left it up to others to try and get to know me better because it’s just easier that way, you know? There’s less risk involved. Naturally that must mean I have tons of friends, right?

You’d think, huh.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t work that way. But regardless, this coworker and I connected recently and came to the mutual decision that we should really have lunch. We ended up having over an hour of fantastic conversation as we discussed everything from our kids to our faith, and everything in between. When we got back to our desks, she emailed me the kindest note. In it, she mentioned that while it might not seem like it, she’s actually a very shy person.

“I’m not one to socialize much,” she wrote, “but you make it very easy. Let’s do it again!”

When it’s hard to make friends, maybe we just need a reminder we’re not the only ones who are shy. Somewhere out there is another human being who is longing for a friend and not sure how to go about it. It’s not just us who are afraid to make the first move. Others are too. But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

This truth is currently being illustrated by my stepson, Frizz, as he agonizes how to ask out the girl he has liked for the better part of the school year. As a senior, he is closing in on the end of his high school years. He is also closing in on the last chance he has to even talk to the girl he likes – let alone ask her out on a date, and perhaps even ask her to be his girlfriend. But just making that first step is terrifying enough, let alone any of the steps that follow after that.

Not sure how to advise my stepson, I asked my daughter, DQ, how she has been asked out in the past. She shared her most recent experience with me. The boy got to know her by asking a lot of questions about her, keeping his attention focused on her. The attraction proved to be mutual, and both of them dropped hints about their interest in each other. And when this boy was able to see that DQ was into him, he asked her to be his girlfriend.

“I guess what Frizz should do is just really try to get to know this girl better, then get her number, and when the moment seems right, tell her how he feels and see if she feels the same way,” DQ advised. “If he does it right, he might even know that she likes him back when he gets to that point.”

Of course, she makes it sound so easy. And truthfully, if you put your nerves aside, it really is that easy. But for someone as shy as Frizz, as shy as my coworker, as shy as ME, taking that first step can feel like preparing to jump off a cliff.

But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

I guess this could be a lesson in anything. We never know what will happen unless we make that first move – whether it be making a new friend, expressing a feeling of adoration, publishing a book, taking a stand for yourself, risking it all…. If we live a life so full of caution that it keeps us from living life to the fullest, we can’t claim we know the bad that will happen. We also will never know the good that will happen.

Being social for an introvert might feel totally unnatural. But while painful at first, barreling through that shyness isn’t lethal. It might seem that way, but taking that first step won’t strike you down dead. The worst that can happen is that you might get turned down. Sucky, sure. But you’ll be able to move beyond it rather than getting stuck in the unknown. And the best that can happen? You’ll get exactly what you wanted in the first place. A new friend. That special someone who likes you just as much as you like her. Or a published book (only a few more weeks left until A Symphony of Cicadas is officially published).

We’ll never know until we’ve made the first move.

Life at 35

Well, the worst is over.  I turned 35 today and I didn’t die in my sleep from old age.  Happy birthday to me.

Here’s what 35 looks like:

I always struggle with my birthday before it happens, usually ending up a pathetic mess of tears on the night before or the morning of my birthday. Each number I increase in is one more number away from the time I had less crow’s feet around my eyes, less sparklers in my hair, and less sag in my behind. You know, that age when I took it all for granted. The time before the big day, I spend it in a constant state of mourning. In fact, Shawn almost laughed at me in my misery last night, telling me he couldn’t understand how someone who professed so strongly about the power of positive thinking ala Wayne Dyer was actually focusing so intently on getting older and withering away. I had to remind him that he was a rather big baby when he didn’t get enough sleep or his bank account was lacking, and that he really should be more gentle with me because I was in a rather fragile state of mind.

Of course, once my birthday is actually under way, I’m able to get out of my self-induced misery and enjoy a day that’s all about me. Each text, Facebook comment, and phone call has made my day so incredibly special, how could I even be depressed? Besides, there are tons of really great bonuses to turning 35. Like, I can now be president of the United States!

American Me

I don’t know, President Crissi has kind of a nice ring to it. Nevermind that I don’t have any experience in government. Look at the mess those WITH experience are creating? I might just be the answer to turning things around. First order of business? Declare Mondays a mandatory day off with pay. That should turn the economy around.

But seriously, this upcoming year has some exciting things coming my way. And it will be interesting to see if it can overcome the greatness of 34 – when I got married to my best friend! But 35? There are lots of things to look forward to.

And in Top TEN fashion, here are my favorites of things I can’t wait for, and things I resolve to accomplish before 36 rears its ugly little head:

10. It’s the year of the story book. You guys, I am in love with this latest craze of taking childhood storybooks and twisting them into something dark and so rock & roll. I love the TV show Once Upon a Time (in spite of the absolutely horrendous acting). And same with every other movie that’s been created from fables and stories. Of course, we’ll just ignore the fact that all of them have been bombs, ok? Because HANSEL & GRETEL is going to be expanded upon in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. I can thank my lovely daughter for alerting me to this fact just this morning, before we proceeded to drool over the epicness of the trailer. Besides the fact that is freaking awesome and totally kickass, you just can’t go wrong with Jeremy Renner. This movie is going to be awesome.

9. And on the movie note, we also have the 2nd book of the HUNGER GAMES (omg!), Les Miserables, The Great Gatsby, Beautiful Creatures, Oz The Great and Powerful (below), and Warm Bodies to look forward to.

8. Getting back on the wagon. Ok, I have whined about it enough. This is the year I get back out to pound the pavement and get back in the shape I was in just a few months ago. It’s not like I have much to make up for. I can do this!

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7. Excelling at work. My job is pretty cool. I get to manage the websites for both SantaRosaMom.com and 707.pressdemocrat.com. I get to write both parenting and entertainment articles. I get to peruse the internet for material. I am in charge of our events calendar and of any contest that rolls our way. I have a lot of responsibility. But you know what? Almost all of it is really fun. I’ve come a long way from where I once was. And this year I see myself making even more leaps and bounds professionally. That makes me really excited about this next year.

6. Read more.  That’s right, along with #8 of getting rock hard abs, I also plan to sit on my ass more and put my nose in a book.  With my new eReader (a Nook), this shouldn’t be too hard.  Currently I’m breezing through The Life of Pi (loving it).  Next up, by recommendation from another blogger, is The House of Mirth.

5.  Write another book.  Because why stop at 3 rough drafts?  As I finish editing my latest novel, I already have a few ideas hitting me from all directions.  It might be at next year’s NaNo, or it might be sooner.  But writing books is about to not just be a thing I’ve done, but a thing I DO.

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4. Celebrate one year of marriage on October 13, 2013.   🙂

(photo by Lisa Baylacq)
(photo by Lisa Baylacq)

3. Take tons of vacation time! Joining the Writer’s Guild this year gave me a few added benefits in my job, and that included upping my vacation time. Now I will be able to accompany my son on his 6th grade camp, be a chaperone at my kids’ summer camp, and even have a little time left over to visit my sister for an extended weekend in San Diego. And that brings me to #2…

2. Hawaii! This year, Shawn and I have plans to take the whole family to Hawaii. Since we are still paying off the honeymoon, it might be a little bit of a stretch. But we’re still bound and determined to make it happen. And you know what? I really can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to.

1. And, of course, my book HAS to be #1. This is the year. I am almost through with the 2nd set of edits on A Symphony of Cicadas, and it’s coming together beautifully. I can’t wait to see it on bookshelves – both online and in stores. But mostly, I can’t wait to be able to share it with you! I have tentatively slated May 2013 for the release date, though with all the progress I’ve made, it may be even sooner. We’ll see!

Today is a good day to be 35.  Here’s to making it the best year of my life so far.  🙂

What I bring to the table.

Table

“Your writing is so amazing,” Shawn told me, coming downstairs after spending an hour with the rough draft of my novel he’s been proofreading for the past several days. “I can see that you’ve taken some of the suggestions I’ve given you and grown as a writer.”

He meant it as a compliment. And I swear I heard it in there. But what I also heard was, “I’m glad I happened to come along and save you from a doomed life of writing badly. How would you have every survived if I weren’t here to hold you up?”

“I haven’t even read the revisions from the last novel,” I told him. Well, that was only partially true. Admittedly, this was at the same time I was revising a novel I wrote last year, reading over the notes he had made in the margin on parts that needed a little more help. While I hadn’t taken the time to pore over the suggestions he had left me, I had skimmed through it and appreciated the honest remarks he had left, both exclaiming over the parts he loved and suggesting places that needed a little more fleshing out. And now as I went through the physical act of revising, his notes gave me clear-cut clues on what a reader would be wondering as well.

But still, my pride wouldn’t let him take credit for all I had pored into it.

“What do you mean?” he asked. I could already feel the half-eaten foot in my mouth swelling to try and prevent me from speaking. But I only pushed it aside and continued.

“I mean, I’ve grown as a writer because of continued practice, not because you’ve taught me how to do it,” I said, trying to sound light but feeling backed into a corner.

“I’m not trying to take credit for your writing,” he told me. The smile on his face had long since disappeared, leaving behind a look of bewilderment at a reaction he hadn’t been expecting.

“I know, I’m sorry. It’s just, what if I were to say ‘Great job on selling search engine optimization at your new job. Thank goodness you have me to teach you all about the internet so you can do your job properly’.”

“I’m not saying that, though,” he stammered. “I’m trying to pay you a compliment! Maybe I should just stop reading your novel.”

“If you don’t want to read it, then don’t!” I yelled at him.

And just like that, things went from dumb to completely idiotic.

I didn’t know why I was reacting so strongly. Of course he wasn’t taking credit for my writing. I knew that deep down. But for some reason his statement was pecking at me, taking away from my accomplishment even when that wasn’t Shawn’s intention at all.

When we had cooled down some, we gave each other a wounded offering of apology. I’m not sure either of us meant it completely, both still smarting from the earlier argument. But it was the only way to move past the surface and dig deep into what was really going on.

“What is going on?” he asked me.

“I don’t know,” I told him.  But it was starting to come to me, a series of past hurdles I’d overcome that decided I wasn’t done running from them yet.

“I once dated a man who told me to my face that he had saved me from being a white trash nobody, how he had single-handedly raised my standard of living just by his presence alone,” I admitted to him, detailing how even then that statement hadn’t sat well with me, yet my meek little self had accepted it in the moment. I described how my ex-husband had also placed himself in this pedestal position – or rather, I had placed him there on my own. I had spent so many years building him up and letting him shine that I had forgotten to work on my own being. And somehow I was able to explain something I hadn’t even realized was haunting me, how important it was for me now to stand on my own two feet in recognition of my accomplishments.

“You’re organized and responsible,” I told him. It was in reference to a statement he had made earlier last week, stating that he must be rubbing off on me as I encouraged the kids to clean up their mess. “But I have some of those traits as well, and I had them before I even met you.” I was firm in my insistence of this, but we both could hear the question that lingered within it.

“Are you unsure of what you bring to the table in this marriage, how you help ME to be a better person?” he asked me. I paused, suddenly realizing I didn’t know the answer to this question, at least not in this moment. I had spent so much energy fighting against another pedestal that  I couldn’t think of any of the strengths I possessed that helped bring Shawn up.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I help you with patience, and how to parent a teenage daughter.” The answer was weak, I knew it.

Unfortunately time was not on our side. We were minutes away from needing to get in the car and drive to my parents’ house for dinner. We made peace with the conclusion of our discussion, deciding that even if the conversation wasn’t finished, we could still end it with a hug and a mutual unspoken agreement that it was over.

We spent a really good evening at my parents’ house, visiting with my family over dinner and dessert before saying goodbye and driving back home. On the way, Frizz turned on the radio and let it scan through the stations. Every time it landed on a song we knew, the kids and I would break into song and fill the car with mostly on-key versions, belting out the words we knew and stumbling over the ones we didn’t. Even Frizz joined in, the act of singing in the privacy of our car still cool in his 17-year-old mind.

Once home, I began to decorate the Christmas tree, a task we had been putting off for days. Little by little, everyone joined in, placing their favorite ornament on the tree as we remembered where each one came from. It was done in no time, slightly lopsided in the areas that were decorated more than others, but beautiful just the same.

DQ and I then set to filling out December’s activities on the dry erase calendar that hung on the wall. We took turns giggling as we noted the End of the World with a zombie apocalypse on December 21st, adorning it with pictures of hungry zombies that invaded the day’s space. We continued our giggles as I noted the San Francisco trip we were taking the very next day when we ultimately survived the day of doom. I finished up the calendar with various doodles depicting a month of activities in a colorful display.

Calendar1

 

 

Calendar2

Shawn leaned over me in my dedication to the calendar, kissing me lightly on the neck. “Do you know what you bring to this marriage, and to the family?” he asked me. “Fun.  You help me to be more fun, and you make things more fun in this family.  I never would do stuff like this.  But you do, and we all appreciate it.

The whole family was in the living room, enjoying a few last moments of silliness before bedtime.  The evening had been spent with mostly smiles.   The calendar had become a monthly point of anticipation as everyone wondered how I would decorate it at the turn of the month.

And I believed in what Shawn said.

I know I have improved in every facet of my life by the steps I have taken to get to where I am today. This is true in the quality of my life, just as it is true in the skills I possess in my writing. But these accomplishments didn’t just manifest entirely of their own accord. They were inspired partially by those that influenced me along the way. Each novel I have written in the past few years has proven to be better than the last, proof that practice makes perfect. But admittedly, this last novel improved leaps and bounds as I (ok, I admit it) took the suggestions Shawn had made and kept them in mind as I extended my description and prose. It’s ok to be inspired by others. In fact, it would be a lie to believe otherwise.

And it doesn’t make my accomplishments any less great than they are. 🙂

Finishing the novel

You’d think there would be fireworks when you type the two very last words to the novel you’ve been working on every day, the one you’ve lost sleep over as you wake up at 4:30am – even on days you accidentally went to bed after midnight. It’s almost expected that the ceiling to the dining room where the computer sits will suddenly open up and cascade down balloons and confetti upon seeing those two words, interrupting the quiet you’ve tried so hard to maintain in those early hours with explosions and whistles in a celebration that the whole world you’ve created in over 100 typed pages suddenly makes sense, wrapped up in those two tiny words.

The. End.

I wrote them out this morning, tying a bow on the mess I’d created with characters who never asked to be born, but who behaved mostly beautiful in 25 chapters of chaos. I threw them to the wolves, breaking their hearts over and over. But I also promised them it would all make sense in the end, and to just hang around a bit longer to see where I was leading them.

“I have better plans for you than you know,” I promised them, playing god to these imaginary beings that became truly real within the confines of my imagination.

The. End.

There were no balloons, or fireworks, or confetti, or noisy horns. But here’s how it actually happened.

I brought my characters to their breaking point, placing them at the very edge where one wrong step meant certain death (kind of like a Bear Grills episode). And then, just when they were about to fall into the abyss of the situation, I plucked them out with my god-like reflexes, saving them from the depths of hell. Except the gratitude I received was more like a limp handshake, the visions I had of their miraculous recovery coming out in fits and spurts, not exactly translating well on the page. So I just wrote out what I could actually wheeze into typed out thoughts, crossing the finish line with the right amount of words (50,376 for NaNoWriMo, which amounts to 76,657 total words in 167 typed pages) and a promise that it would come out beautiful in the editing process.

At any rate, there it is. The shitty first draft of my novel is done, the bones to my magnificently beautiful final draft in the making. Year 3 of NaNoWriMo is a success.

And maybe I’ll just treat myself to a cupcake to make up for the missing fireworks. 🙂