Sneak Peek of ‘The Goldens’

Welcome to a sneak peek of The Goldens, my debut novel coming out late 2015. I would love to know what you think!

When David Graff woke up, he was dead. He was surprised at how definitively he knew this. One minute he’d been driving, Billy Joel on the radio. The next minute he was here—although he wasn’t exactly sure where here was—and he was no longer alive.

He surveyed his surroundings. He was in a room, generic but comfortably furnished. There was a bed, a TV, a rocking chair. A window behind a heavy navy curtain did not provide any clues, as it was too dark and foggy to see outside. When David turned back around, a dog was staring at him. It was not a dog he recognized. It looked a little like a collie, but with a little street mutt thrown in. David had never been very good with dog breeds. This particular dog was wearing a fisherman’s vest and regarding him with big brown eyes.

“Hello,” the dog said, and David was not shocked, although he was aware he should have been.

“Hello,” said David. “Who are you?”

“You can call me Barney,” the dog said.

“Where am I, Barney?”

“Heaven.”

David glanced around. “This is heaven?”

“Well, the first steps.”

“I always thought it would be…prettier.” David said.

“I daresay it will be,” said Barney. “Although I don’t know for sure what yours will look like.”

“What mine will look like?”

“Heaven looks different to everyone,” explained the dog. “Suited to their design of perfection. Can you imagine trying to create a place that made everyone happy? Logistical nightmare.” He shook his head. David nodded. This made sense, but something else bothered him.

“What about…I thought there would be people here to greet me.” He shuffled his feet a little, looking down. His mind flashed through images of people he had lost—his mother, uncles and aunts, old friends—and settled on the image of a certain person. “You know, pearly gates and all.”

The dog looked at him kindly.

“You’ll see her soon enough,” he said as if he could read David’s mind. “Her and everyone else.”

“What about God?” David blurted out. If a dog could smile, Barney did.

“He’ll be there, too,” he said.

“So what do I need to do to see them?” David asked. He suddenly felt rushed and anxious. Barney seemed to sense his anxiety.

“It took you a long time to adjust to your life on earth,” he said gently. “Think about it. Nine months in the womb, and years of guidance from your parents. Think of me as your guide to heaven. I’ll show you the ropes before I send you off on your own.”

“But what do I have to do?” David repeated.

“You need to say goodbye to your old life,” Barney said. “It’s imperative for everyone, but especially those like you—who leave unexpected and suddenly.” David thought back to the Billy Joel song. Without realizing it, he sank into the rocking chair and started to sing to himself. “And the piano, it sounds like a carnival, and the microphone smells like a beer…” He paused, and looked up at Barney.

“It was a car accident,” he said. The dog nodded. For the first time since the he got to heaven, David felt sad. Then he realized sad wasn’t even the word for it. An overwhelming, pressing emotion crushed him as he remembered the song, reaching down to turn it up, and looking up just in time to the see lights of the other car swerving into his lane before hitting him head on. He saw himself slumped over in his seat, heard the sirens. Saw the young girl who drove the other car get out, hysterical, on her phone. But David could only think of one thing.

“Gracie,” He whispered. He met the dog’s eyes, and saw his own pain reflected in them.

“You have to let me go back,” David said, jumping up. “You have to let me. I have to see my daughter. I have to say goodbye.” The thought of Grace getting that phone call—it crushed him. The room spun around.

“If this is heaven,” David demanded bitterly, “then why am I so sad?”

“Because you haven’t said goodbye,” Barney said. David didn’t move, his head buried in his hands.

“How am I going to say goodbye?” David asked. “I’m dead.”

“Think back to a time someone you love died,” Barney said. “Like her.” Her face swam in front of his eyes. His Elisabeth. Her big green eyes, hair the color of honey. The first time she laughed, David had been delighted by the huge sound that came out of such a petite woman. He always thought that first, fantastic belly laugh was the moment he decided to marry her. Grace looked like her mother. It stopped David in his tracks sometimes when she walked into the room.

She had barely been two when Elisabeth died—she’d be 35 this year, the same age her mother was when the cancer took her.

“Of course you never get over the death of your wife,” said Barney. “”But it got easier, right?”

“I suppose.”

“Do you know why?”

“Time heals all wounds?” David quipped.

“There’s a little more to it than that,” Barney said. “Leaving the only world you’ve ever known isn’t easy. There is a journey everyone has to take, to say goodbye and make peace with the people they leave behind.”

David thought of Grace and looked up. “Will they know I’ve said goodbye to them?”

“I asked you earlier and you said it got easier, right? That’s because Elisabeth left you a Golden.”

“A Golden?”

“You can help the people you left behind find their peace with your passing. I can show you how. How you’ll get to give those final goodbyes, conversations, things you needed to say. So that when you do enter your ‘pearly gates’, you’ll have no regrets.”

“But will they know?” David pressed.

“Eventually, yes. In their own way. Some people will know right off, depending on the connection they had with you. Most won’t. These moments will get filed away for one day when your loved ones are ready. Maybe it will be something they find, a song they hear on the radio, a prayer, or a dream. But they’ll know.”

“When can I start?”

“Now, if you like.”

“What do I do?”

“Just go through that door.”

“Door?” David looked up and saw a door where a solid wall had stood a moment before. He felt like she should be surprised, but he wasn’t. He glanced back at Barney, who gave him a reassuring nod of the head and settled down on the foot of the bed. David took a deep breath, turned to face the door, and thought of his daughter. —

My 2015 Wish List

2015

I’m a little weird in that this time of year, I’m not making a list of resolutions for the upcoming year. I’m more prone to do that in April on my birthday–I like the idea of re-assessing when your personal year turns over. And even then, I don’t like the idea of creating a laundry list of ways to improve yourself. I’m certainly not perfect…but I’ve spent a lot of years cultivating my own little brand of not perfect.

Instead, I like to look at January as a time to start fresh and make a wish list. Where do I want to go? What do I want to do and see and create? What do I want to learn–not because I should, but because I want to?

I want to go…To Washington, DC. I’ve never been!

I want to…Move more. After taking a year off of running because of illness and injury, I’m ready to be active again. I’m not sure if it’s going to be running or yoga or barre class but I’m excited to get back into it!

I want to see…More of my local world. I live right outside of Atlanta, and I can tell you A LOT of things to do with kids. I’d like to find some new local restaurants and maybe even venture out to the Georgia coast and get to know it a little better.

I want to create…Well, words, of course! But I’d really like to create a more simplified and streamlined space to live in. Maybe it’s just the post-Christmas piles that are making me feel closed in, but I’m ready to do some purging.

I want to learn…Italian. I’ve always wanted to. I took in college but didn’t retain much, and I’d really like to get a better grasp on it. And I’d love for JC to pick up a second language at a young age.

What’s on your wish list for 2015?

Where I’m From

It’s Thursday, so that means I’m linking up with Mama Kat for her Writing Workshop. This week I’m doing the “Where I’m From” poem. You can find the template for it here.

I am from… the books left open on the coffee table, from libraries and little bookstores.

I am from…the little house on the hill, the small one without fancy things, but the place we all gathered because it was filled with love.

I am from…the gardens where the seeds are planted in neat squares but grow wherever they want.

I am from…the bedtime stories, dinner conversations and Mom’s homemade mac & cheese, and Dad’s contagious laugh and gesticulations.

I am from… the kind and the quiet.

From…strength of character and taking the path less traveled.

I am from…the belief to find the good in everyone.

I’m from…transplants, one from across the sea and one from across the country. Two anything-but-southern parents who raised a decidedly southern daughter.

From…laughing until I cried with my mother, crying until I laughed with my father, the grandmother I thought resembled the Pillsbury doughboy and the grandmother who married one too many times.

I am…honestly myself, mixed together with one part pack rat and two parts archivist, another part practical and a dash of hopeless romantic, all tied together with the need to make everyone get alone and realizing it can’t be done.

That’s where I’m from.

What Books Defined Your Childhood?

When I was young, I always had my nose in a book. And if it wasn’t in a book, I was holed up in a corner with my notebook and a pen, scribbling my latest missive. I was a serious Word Nerd–so much so that my birthday presents from my friends were generally piles of blank paper and pens. And I loved it.

And I was lucky that I had parents that supported my bookworm tendencies. I would leave the library each week with a bulging bag. The deal in my house was that when I finished a book, I got to get another one.

I read through what most young girls do–the Ramona series from Beverly Cleary, Anne of Green Gables and all the subsequent books in that series, Judy Blume, Madeleine l’Engle–all the good stuff. But the books that took up the most space on my bookshelf were Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-sitters Club series.

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I had an epic collection of them. I read them over and over. I knew most of them by heart. I felt like the characters in them were my friends, and I had my first book-to-movie heartbreak when a Baby-sitters Club movie came out and what appeared on the screen just wasn’t up to snuff with the written word.

I know this sounds super cheesy, but I learned from them: when my Dad was diagnosed with diabetes, I knew all about the disease because one of the main characters had it. The same goes for when I contracted mono–one of the characters had gone through it. I learned legitimate childcare techniques from the books–I built a kid-kit to use with the little ones I watched at Girl Scout gatherings. It was a huge hit. I got all my ideas about romance from them–and back then, they were very innocent ideas. There was no vampire almost-sex or 50 shades of anything–just slow dances at boy/girl parties and holding hands at the mall. And it was enough to make little 10-year-old me swoon.

But little girls grow up, and I stopped reading them and moved on to other books. A couple of years ago, I gave my entire collection to another budding tween-aged girl I knew. It was very much unlike me to get rid of books, but I’d just had a baby and space was at a premium.

I’ve regretted it ever since.

Recently I’ve had an itch to go back and re-read the books that had such an impact on my younger self. Maybe because I feel the world going to pieces and I want to escape to a less complicated time. Or maybe because I’ve been trying to write more and am looking for inspiration. Whatever the reason, I went online with trepidation to see if I could even find any of the paperbacks that stopped being printed in the early 90’s.

I was in luck. Not only did I discover people selling them by the dozens on eBay, half.com and Amazon for a steal, but I discovered that the author wrote a handful more after I stopped reading. So not only can I go back and visit my old friends, I can read new stories.

My husband thought I was a little crazy when my first package arrived and I squealed and immediately buried myself in a book written for a 12-year-old. But when I explained to him what they did for my world, and that I was going to start to collect them again for my future library (you know, the one that I’m sure will look just like the one in Beauty and the Beast) he just chuckled and left me to my reading. I think he’s relieved my new collection is going to be cheap.

What book defined your childhood? Do you still have it? I’d love to hear about them. If you need me, I’ll be baby-sitting with Kristy, Claudia and Mary Anne.

How am I Supposed to Answer that?!?

JC is a pretty serious thinker. He hears everything, processes it, and then brings it up a week later in a completely different context. He rarely takes anything at face value. I’ve had to become a very quick thinker, because I never know what is going to come out of his mouth.

“Mom,” he asked me after an episode of Dinosaur Train. “Why do kids get adopted?”

Well, kids get adopted because…because…their real parents can’t take are of them? Nope, can’t say that. They lost their parents in a tragedy? Nope, not going there either.

“Well,” I answered. “Every family is different. Sometimes they come together in different ways.”

“Oh,” he replied. “Well, maybe we should get my little brother that way. Then it won’t take a long time for you to grow him in your belly. Where do you order one from?”

I should point out that I am not pregnant, nor am I planning to be any time soon. But JC is obsessed with babies, and he’s worse than a Jewish Bubbie when it comes to asking when he gets to be a big brother.

“Mom, can Santa Claus bring me a baby?” he asked nonchalantly last week, while he was zooming a hot wheels car along the counter.

“No,” I said firmly. “No, he cannot.”

“But I thought if I was good then my Christmas wish would come true!” The lower lip came out.

Sigh. I explained the “mommy has to grow a baby process” yet again. I’m pretty sure we talk about it daily right now.

Christmas has really offered a whole new host of things to think about.

“Mom, on Christmas, I’m going to wait up and talk to Santa,” he informed me.

“That’s now how it works. He won’t come unless you’re asleep.”

He gave me a look so reminiscent of his father in a bad mood I had to try not to laugh. “I have research that suggests otherwise, mom.”

Yes, yes he does. And I would like to thank the creators of the Peppa Pig holiday episode for giving my child hope that he’ll manage to wake up and chat with St. Nick.

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I really think there should some sort of agreement amongst parents everywhere that Santa Claus only comes when you’re sleeping, and he can’t bring you anything that’s alive: babies, puppies, lizards, hamsters, etc.

Seriously. I think you should have to sign a contract before you’re allowed to have anything to do with kids.

Apparently obsessed with families, the next questions I heard had to do with Santa and his elves.

“Where are Santa’s parents, mom? Do you think they’re proud of him? Where do you think he met Mrs. Claus? Are the elves their children? Did she have them all at once? Her belly must have been GIANT.”

Aaaand…faceplant.

Later that night, when JC was all tucked in and almost asleep, he revisited the topic again.

“I bet Santa’s mom misses him when he has to work all night,” he said drowsily. “Do you think she misses tucking him in when he’s riding around in his sleigh?”

And then he falls asleep, and it’s finally quiet. The quiet is what I’ve wanted all day, but now that I have it, I kind of miss his chatter. I kiss him, and answer his question.

“Yes, I think she misses tucking him in.”

You Can Quote Me On That

I’m linking up with Mama Kat today for her Writing Workshop, and the prompt I chose is: “share a quote you love”. 

I’m a big fan of quotes. When I was younger, I had a book I would carry around where I recorded all the good quotes I read and heard. Now I have a Pinterest Board that does it for me…and if I’m completely honest, I still carry around the book. There’s just something that comes with writing the words down as opposed to hitting the little red “Pin It” button.

The quote I want to share today is one I came across during a re-reading of the Anne of Green Gables series. I read the series so many times as a young girl and teenager, but I recently picked it up again as an adult and found a whole new depth to it. If you ask me, that’s the sign of a truly amazing book: all of my old favorite parts were still there, but sections that I hadn’t taken notice of before resonated with me deeply: Anne visiting the little yellow house where she was born, Marilla’s struggle with doing what she thought was best for Anne while making the little girl happy, and Anne having–and losing–her own children. Reading the series as a mother was like meeting up with a childhood friend and finding her going through the same things I was–a literary hug, if you will.

I came across this quote in Anne of Green Gables, and as a young reader, I probably skipped over it without a thought. But this time it caught my eye and I jotted it down, and my mind has returned to it several times since.

Rachel Quote

Excuse my southern here…but ain’t that the truth?

The world seems overwhelmed with ways we SHOULD be raising our children. Let your baby cry it out–they have to learn! If you let your baby cry, they’ll never feel secure! Stay close, give them comfort! Let them go, they need to be independent! Socialize them or they’ll be forever alone! Don’t put them in big groups–they’ll get germs! Vaccinate! Don’t vaccinate! There are Tiger Moms and Helicopter Moms and I even read an article about a brand of women calling themselves “elephant moms”. Why can’t we just be…parents?

We each have our own beliefs and passions about parenting and what works for us and specifically, our kids. Every kid is different. I’ll use myself as an example. JC doesn’t handle big crowds and loud kids. It’s something we work on all the time. When I see him getting overwhelmed at the playground or at the zoo, I step in and help him navigate the situation. While I can see that he’s come so far, another mother may just see me butting in. I’m sure I get judged, but that other mom doesn’t know the whole story and I know I’m doing what’s best for my kid.

We all judge. Don’t deny it, you’ve done it. But the next time you see a situation arise where a parenting style is a little different from yours, remember that you might not be seeing the whole picture. Remember that even Rachel Lynde, the grandest judge of Avonlea, admits there’s more than one way to bring up children.

And you can quote me on that.

Little Literary Minds: The Polar Express

It’s no secret that I love to read. I’m also really passionate about reading at an early age. The benefits kids get from reading–and being read to–are so extensive and reach into every part of their lives. So I’d like to introduce this monthly column where I pick a children’s book and offer “extracurricular” activities to go along with it to help encourage reading and make it an exciting part of life. I’m starting with JC’s favorite holiday book–The Polar Express.

To say my kid loves trains would be the understatement of the year. He’s obsessed, and has been since he was hardly walking. So you can imagine that The Polar Express is a staple in our house year round. In fact, he’s running around the house in a conductor’s shouting, “tickets, please!” as I type.

The Polar Express is a great book full of rich language and illustrations, and there are so many real life activities that you can do after reading it. There is, of course, the movie. It has a great soundtrack, too!

This year, I made JC a “Conductor’s Kit” with a supplement book, tickets, a sleigh bell and, of course, a conductor hat.

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The supplement book, The Polar Express Keepsake Memory Book, is a scrapbook of sorts based on the movie. It has sections on the history of steam trains, different types of ice and snow, and the history of holiday traditions, all in relation to The Polar Express. Based on your child’s interest level and willingness to sit still, I’d say it’s appropriate for ages 5+.

Polar Express Keepsake book

I found a website where you can purchase “authentic” Polar Express tickets, but I thought they were a little pricey so I printed out a set I found here on Pinterest. JC uses a small, empty stapler to pretend to punch the tickets.

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The sleigh bell I had in our box of Christmas decorations and even though he’d seen it before, it was still exciting because it was in a new setting.

I ordered the conductor’s hat from Amazon.

Hot chocolate would also be a great addition to the kit, because there’s a fun scene in the book and the movie where the kids on the train drink hot chocolate “as thick and as rich as melted chocolate”. I didn’t include it on my kit because JC isn’t a fan of sweet stuff.

The kit is a great starting off point for pretend play or as part of a “Polar Express Party”. JC likes to make a train with couch cushions and chairs and act out scenes from the book.

This time of year there are also a lot of opportunities for Polar Express themed train rides and story times. Big chains like Barnes & Noble do a Polar Express story time, but be sure and check your local independent bookstore, too–we went to one last year where all the kids got to wear their pajamas, and after the story they wrote letters to Santa.

Down here in the south, almost every train excursion company and museum offers some type of Polar Express themed event. These can be really thrilling, but be sure your family knows what to expect–riding on an actual steam train can be overwhelming for a kid who has only ridden a little mall train. The whistles are REALLY loud. Also, if your child is like mine and has the story memorized, be sure to confirm with them how a ride on the Polar Express in your town may be different from the one in the book–Santa might get on the train, for example, or you might drive through the “north pole” but not be able to get off.

What I love most about these activities is that they stem from a book, and help ignite a love for stories without being anything like “school work”.

What are your favorite holiday stories?