My Bucket List; Or, Celebrating SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of reading an advance copy of Julie Murphy’s fantastic debut novel, SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY. It was terrific, to say the least, and I’m so incredibly proud of, and happy for, Julie. I highly recommend it, and to prove that, i’m joining in on her celebratory blog book launch! But first, here’s a bit about the book:

side effects coverWhat if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

Sounds amazing, right? To celebrate the book’s release, I’m writing my own bucket list. Some things I’ve already accomplished. Some I have yet to embark on. And, I think, all say a little bit about me.

  • Travel to other countries. Ones i’ve already conquered: Italy, France, England, Greece. Once I’d like to conquer next: India (to see the country, of course, but also to meet S’s grandparents), Ireland (castles!), Spain, and Germany. I’d also like to go back and see England’s countryside, as we only went to London (which was awesome), and Sicily (because I only made it to Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Milan, and Capri in Italy).
  • Travel the US. Okay, foreign countries are great, but I’d actually like to see more of the country I live in. Perhaps a cross-country road trip. Or a summer in Maine (yes, i’d rather go somewhere colder than summer here in Florida). Or a trip to a Pacific Northwest, which i’ve never seen. Heck, I’d really just like to see LA.
  • Become fluent in a foreign language. Simple, right? Wrong. I’ve tried Spanish and Italian. I got by in Italy on my very limited Italian, but still. I want to be perfect. (S, on the other hand, can speak four languages. Because he’s a show-off.)
  • Ride an animal. No, I’ve never ridden a horse. Or anything. I’d really like to. I had a chance in Greece to ride a donkey, but they looked so sad, and I read they were treated horribly, so I tried to liberate them instead. (Okay, I didn’t. Instead I just took a picture by them and walked down the cliff.)
  • Participate in a murder mystery game where everyone is a character and everyone is a suspect. I just really want to dress up and pretend i’m Ms. Scarlett.

And now for things I’ve already crossed off my bucket list:

  • Get married/have kids. The married part is done. The have a baby is in the process. I mean, technically she’s a baby, but she’s still inside me, so let’s give this a month and a half before I fully cross it off.
  • Write a book. Boom. Done.
  • Buy a house. Also done. The only thing that would make my house cooler would be having a secret passageway. Perhaps something to work on in the future.

Okay, there are probably a lot more things I’d like to do/see/experience, but these are ones i’ve had on my list for a while. Who knows, perhaps i’ll start crossing them off this year? It’s really not that impossible to imagine.

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SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY by Julie Murphy will be released on March 18th. You can buy it online here, here, or here. Find Julie on Tumblr or Twitter.

I Wanna See You Be Strong

Me, circa 2004.

By my senior year of college, I was able to do 13 consecutive pull-ups. I realize this is a weird thing to brag about, but for someone who could barely do one three years prior, I was really proud of myself. That was the thing about being in a circus – we had to train to be strong. And there was no guy training and girl training. Sure there were act-specific trainings (I had to do more ab work for my aerial act than, say, the jugglers), but overall we were all treated the same. We had to do pull ups. We had to carry the giant aluminum poles around the tent. I mean, even some girls did guy acts (and vice versa). It was hard, yes, but also nice being treated similarly.

I was used to this, though, because my parents – specifically my dad – never treated me inherently “girly.” Yes, I had dolls and Barbies and an awesome Easy Bake Oven (all of which I LOVED), but my dad also taught me to use tools and throw overhand and block my brother’s snapshot into our hockey net.

But being strong isn’t just doing a crazy amount of pull ups, and I learned that as I grew up. It was making decisions, and sticking to them. It was sticking up to others, something I wasn’t very good at for a  long time. (In elementary school I was convinced to trade one of my favorite stickers to another person in order to be friends. We didn’t become friends, and I never saw my sticker again. Sigh.) I was (and still am, to a degree) a people pleaser. It was how I made friends. I went along with things I wasn’t always pleased about, because I didn’t want to let anyone down. And whenever my parents noticed it, they would interfere and try to get me to stand up for myself. But I wasn’t that kind of strong. Not yet.

But after losing and gaining friends, I realized which ones were right, which ones i’d risk my life for, and which ones I knew wouldn’t last. And I realized these tried and true friends would never like me less if I said no. So I learned the word. I learned to embrace what I believed. And I never lost someone I cared about in the process. I didn’t go to parties I felt uncomfortable at. To this day, I’ve never smoked (nor done any illegal substance), even though I could have multiple times. I just didn’t believe in doing it, and found ways to say no. This was my new way of being strong.

In the books I write, you won’t find a girl saving the world. She’s never wielding an ax or the hammer of Thor; she’s never bringing down the government. But you will see her struggle. You will see her question what she believes. But, ultimately, you’ll see her be strong in tough situations, especially when with friends. You’ll see her make hard decisions. You’ll see her be scared and brave and do what she feels is right, even when it might not ultimately be.

Because, to me, that’s the ultimate definition of strength.

(Okay, that at 13 consecutive pull-ups.)

Two-Year-Versary

Two years and one week ago, I had one of the coolest weeks ever. So every year at this time, I like to celebrate it, because the week changed my life significantly.

We’ll start on February 23rd.

On February 23rd, my best friend was scheduled to have her first child. While at work, I had my phone glued to me, waiting for any sort of information from her husband (who is also a very good friend). The day went by. By the time I left work, the baby was still not here. That night, I went to the supermarket with S and another good friend. While waiting at the deli, I checked my phone again. I didn’t have a message from her, but I DID have an email from an agent I had recently queried.

She liked my book. She wanted to chat.

I freaked out in the supermarket and responded to her as soon as I returned home. We scheduled a phone call for the following morning and an hour later, my friend’s baby made it into the world. And here’s the thing – my friends have had babies before. My relatives have, too. I love them all dearly. But seeing the first picture of the little guy filled me with so much love, I couldn’t even control it. 

February 24th. I spoke with said agent in the confines of my office (I was working at a college library at the time, where I had a fancy office within the fancy library’s main floor). She knew my book so well, she knew my characters. It was that call I waited for, that I only dreamed would come. She offered to represent me and TNWSY, and I danced around the room. I had to contact the other agents who had my book of course, but my mind was pretty much set.

March 2nd. I had my third interview with another library. They were hard interviews, including presentations, one-on-one meetings, q&as and more. After meeting with the director of the entire county-wide system that morning, I was taken aside and offered the position of librarian. I took it on the spot, knowing instantly that it was the right decision.

An hour later, I accepted representation from my now-agent Michelle. Like I said, I knew she was it from the beginning.

That night, S and I had a lot to celebrate.

So I find it crazy that, two years later, i’m in the same place, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m still (very happily) at my job. I’m still represented by Michelle. And, well obviously, my friends still have their baby (who is now two!). The only difference is that things are, crazy enough, better. I’ve become more comfortable in my job, and continue to strive for more exciting programs. My agent got me my book deal, and I’m currently sending her my next manuscript. And my friend? Well just yesterday she threw me my own baby shower.

It’s weird what a difference one week could make. And what two years can make. And I can’t wait to see what happens next year at this exact same time.

Waiting Period

Hello!

As you might have noticed, I’ve been M.I.A. for a bit. It’s not because of some amazing news, or I’ve been hiding from the world or anything, I’ve just been…

  1. Experiencing pregnancy brain. I didn’t believe in this at first, figuring it was simply another pregnancy myth, but oh my. The other day, I literally said to a co-worker: “hey, can you get me…the…the um…the thing to put the books on so I can roll them around.” “A book cart?” “YES! THAT!” It was then that I became a believer.
  2. Preparing for said baby. I’ve been reading the books (they’re terrifying) and setting up the nursery with S (it’s adorable). You hear that babies need a lot of stuff, but it’s not until you see your house lined with Graco and Fisher Price boxes that you realize it’s all incredibly true. I also find myself using the word “snugapuppy” a lot. (It’s a baby swing. With a puppy on it. It’s adorable.) (Also, magically I can remember the non-word “snugapuppy” and not “book cart.”)
  3. Writing. Yes, despite the memory issues, I’m still trying to write. In fact, I want to get everything done prior to baby’s arrival. So right now a manuscript is with my beta readers (one my agent has already thankfully approved of, only now with many, many edits), and I’m writing away at another one. It’s weird and fun balancing three projects (TNWSY as well, of course), but they’re vastly different, so it’s easy separating them in my mind. And for the first time, I made a very detailed outline for a story so I can follow it when my mind does, eventually, go blank.
  4. Reading. Not just baby books! I’ve read 10 books so far this year. Some highlights… Drama High by Michael Sokolove was a fantastic non-fiction account of a high school drama department. Touching and lovely (and as someone who was part of a high school drama department, I was deeply invested). The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick was a fun, deep read that I checked out for my library’s book club. Admittedly, I saw the movie first (which I loved), but that didn’t spoil the book at all – they’re both different and lovely enough to stand on their own. September Girls by Bennett Madison. I’m usually not big on mermaid books, but this one blew me away. The writing was lyrical, the voice authentic and unforgiving. I was absorbed.
  5. Sleeping. Or attempting to sleep (it’s become quite hard). I plan my days around sleeping sometimes.

That is to say, not much is going on, but at the same time, so much is going on. My life is on the brink of changing in various ways, and I’m just about to take everything in. I’m just waiting…waiting excitedly. And, yet, also enjoying the wait.

The Photo Not Taken

When I was in high school, I spent many a day and many a night at my friend Michelle’s house. Her parents were my parents. Her brothers my brothers. We talked about school and friends and boys there. We learned to sew. We had pool parties. We celebrated the year 2000   with little sips of champagne through gummy straws because we couldn’t handle the taste.

There was a group of us, really, who all found home at her house, even though we were all fortunate enough to have great homes of our own to go back to. We were, all of us, family.

Last night, ringing in 2014, we were back to that same house. A large group of us really, some friends from high school, some not. Some married in, some just new friends. But once again we were united and together and celebrating.

There was one moment when four of us were sitting on the floor and talking – me, Michelle, and two of our other close high school friends. We were sipping champagne (or, for me, water) and discussing baby names, and plans, and hopes for the new year. Nothing monumental, just something, and I couldn’t help but think about how we got here. How, 14 years later with some of us living in different cities and all of us a bit different than we were back then, I’m celebrating a new year in the same house. I’m hanging out with the same people I loved back then, and still do to this day. And I couldn’t help but feel eternally grateful.

We don’t have a photo of that moment, of the casualness of our conversation, the feeling of comfort just being there, with them. But i’ll remember it. Because sometimes the small moments make the biggest impact. The laughter, the sighs. Sometimes those are the ones i’ll continue to hold on to, and remember in days I need to smile. Because I’ll always have those girls. And I’m so lucky to say that.

Everything Else: 2013 in Review

Top row: S & I in the mountains on vacation, our new dining room, gifts my teens at the library gave me. Bottom row: some of my best friends, my amazing writer friends, and S & I announcing the pregnancy.

I suppose it’s no surprise that, aside from getting a book deal, the biggest highlight of 2013 for me was learning S and I were going to be parents. I mean, you can’t top that, can you? I think not. So even with the mood swings and weight gain, the aches and pains, the cravings and exhaustion, I’m still celebrating the little human that’s growing (and kicking) inside me. A friend said that once you’re pregnant you instantly fall in love, despite not knowing anything about your child. Well, she was right.

Highlights:

S and I took a crazy road trip from Orlando; up to Pine Mountain, GA; over to Nashville, TN; through the Blue Ridge Mountains; around to Asheville, NC; down to Charleston, SC; and then back home. We learned to like country music, swooned over waterfalls and mountains, ate a ton, saw friends, and bought a lot of records. (Ok, S bought a lot of records. I bought a book. Surprise!)

I enjoyed my job at the library more and more with each experience. Sure there are moments when patrons make me want to throw things, but those scenarios are quickly trumped by memories of a girl giggling over her first library card, a boy telling me he likes the books I pick out, my regular kid visitors who made me a bracelet because they like me, the grandmas from my book club shrieking over the baby news. One of our high school volunteers designed her own program, and we successfully put it on (and let me tell you, I couldn’t have been more proud). Summer Reading Program was a HUGE success with some events having more than 120 very happy children. My teen club, the nerdfighters, celebrated its one year anniversary, and they surprised me with a party and scrapbook that brought tears to my eyes. If starting the club, and bringing all of them together, was the best thing I ever did as a librarian, I’d be set.

Also…we bought a house! Yeah, S and I are homeowners which feels so adult (oddly more adult than having a kid.) We fix things and paint things and own a rake. It’s awesome, though, having this little house of our own. It’s ours to do as we please with (like paint the kitchen teal, which I might have done) and ours to love. And now, ours to create a little nursery in.

I turned 30. Scary. But kind of great, too.

Other Favorites

Movies: I think I saw a grand total of four movies in the cinema this year. Maybe more. I don’t know. I love watching movies, but I also get restless. And I hate being disappointed. So I don’t really have favorites of the year. I did really love Catching Fire and Frozen though. (The soundtrack of the latter may be on repeat at our home. S definitely does not want to build a snowman anymore.)

TV: During my first trimester, when all I wanted to do was sleep, I decided to check out Awkward because I love teenage melodrama (surprise surprise). I might have finished the first season in a weekend. And then the second. And then the third (as the last few episodes aired). So, yeah, you could say I’m a fan now. S & I together finally jumped on the Friday Night Lights bandwagon and I’m so glad we did (see: teenage melodrama). We might have just purchased the box set. Riggins! As for old favorites, I’m still highly in love with Mad Men and Parks and Recreation.

Plays: We saw Book of Mormon this year, and it was awesome. I love the songs (as awkward and awful as some are), the story, the whole moral. (Yes, there’s a moral!) It’s just a supremely well-done show, and I’m so happy it finally came to…ORLANDO!

Music: Let’s be honest, I haven’t updated my iPod since college. Aside from radio hits, the only *new* CD I checked out (aside from the aforementioned Frozen soundtrack and other various Broadway musicals) was Rkives by Rilo Kiley. A compilation of previously unreleased b-sides from a band I loved…in college. So I guess my music taste hasn’t changed much. But, man, that CD was great.

And, I suppose, that is it. There were downs, too, but I’d prefer to reflect on the ups, on the ways the year will be remembered. 2013 was great, and I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.

And to you all, thank you so much for reading my blog, and going through these journeys with me. Your comments and likes make me smile. If I could hug you all, I would.

And so, until next year. Thanks for reading!

xo, Lauren