Saturday, October 10, 2015

Miracles, Family and Work

What a year 2015 has been!  I think it rivals in ickiness what 2012 held in awesomeness.  It has challenged me in pretty much every area of my life.  Part of me wants to share all about it, but another part is hesitant.  I tend to be a pretty private person anyway, but I never know what kind of reaction to expect when I open up a vein a bleed a little bit publicly, whether it be via a book or a confession. It's important that you know the whys behind my decisions, though, so I'm going to tell you about my year.

It began with my mother's diagnosis of breast cancer at the beginning of January.  It progressed to a scare of my own at the end of the month (turns out it was a lymph node- phew!) and then ended with her having surgery. In March, she started chemo.  In June, they had to discontinue one of her drugs because of the severity of the side effects she was having.  She's still taking the other, though, and won't be completely finished with chemo until March of 2016.  That brings us up to now.



My father has just been diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer.  I feel like this awful C-word has come into my life, into the life of my loved ones, like a wolf into the hen house, eating up everything good.  I think I've prayed more this year than maybe at any other time in my life.  But the fact that i can pray at all reminds me that not ALL good things are gone.  I've always got God.  I have a close relationship with Him anyway, but this year He has taken on a whole new role in my life. My faith has been tested at every turn, it seems.  I've prayed for miracles.  More times than I can count, I've prayed for miracles.   And it's not that God didn't answer my prayers; it's just that the answer was "no".  And sometimes that happens.  Sometimes the answer is "no".  Things could've been much worse for Mom, though, so maybe that was a miracle in and of itself.  And maybe there's still a miracle for Dad somewhere in the future. I haven't stopped praying for one, nor will I.  Why?  Because what I KNOW is that, just because my family doesn't get a miracle in this instance doesn't mean that God's not doing them anymore.  I've seen them before.  I know they can happen.  But one of the hardest parts of life is learning that sometimes the best thing for us is the very hardest thing in the world. If that happens, and usually it will at least once in a lifetime, all we can do is pray for the strength to go through it with grace. So that's what I'm doing.  I'm trying to handle this with grace.  And I'm still praying.  Praying for all I'm worth.

What I'm also doing is spending as much time with my family as I can.  I want to be there with them for the hard parts as well as the fun stuff, which I'm hoping the holidays can still be. I really want to have a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas for them.  I'm praying for that, too.  That's what brings me to write this post.

I have to address work.

I'll be late in delivering Handful of Tears, the book to follow Pocketful of Sand.  At this point, I'm not even going to hint at a date because I just don't know what to expect.  Also, I've decided to shelve Madly.  A very wise and successful writing friend told me at a retreat in September that sometimes we have to do what's best rather than what our readers want.  This is what's best for me.  This is what's best for Madly. I know this won't be a popular decision, but trust me, you do NOT want me to force myself to write it.  I'd rather leave Madly and Jackson alone right now than to risk writing something subpar for them.  I hope you understand.  And to one particular reader, you know who you are, who recently told me to "man up, Leighton" when I bared my soul a little bit on here, I can only hope that you never, ever, ever, ever have to watch both of your parents struggle with cancer at the same time.  Or AT ALL.  But if you do, I guarantee you that hearing "man up" will be at the top of the list of things you really don't appreciate.

As for travel, I want you signing organizers to know that I'm so, so grateful for being invited to your events! However, I won't be doing any travel for the foreseeable future.  Now you know why.  I hope that things will be brighter next year and I can get back in the saddle in 2017:)

With all this being said, I want to thank y'all for your unwavering support and understanding.  I never want to come across as negative or as a whiner or complainer.  These are simply facts.  Irrefutable, irreversible facts.  No matter how much I wish that weren't the case, it is.  I'm dealing with this the best that I can, but it's time for me to put family first and that's what I'm going to do.  If I don't respond to a message in a timely manner, I apologize in advance. I know it's going to happen.  Just know that it's not intentional.  Y'all have changed my life and I'm grateful for every one of you who reads my work and who takes the time to message me or tag me on social media.  I appreciate you every single day!

Also, I want to thank everyone who has kept my family in their prayers.  I can only hope that your friends rally around you in this very same way when you need them the most. It makes a world of difference!

And lastly, y'all, BE HEALTHY!  Take care of your body.  Eat good food.  Get some exercise.  Laugh. Love. Live every single day like the world might end tomorrow.  It may or may not end, but it sure might feel like it.  So enjoy the perfect days.  Give thanks.  Be kind.  Keep on keepin' on.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Awareness and helping others

Just a warning that this post isn't flowers and rainbows, so brace yourself.

It's about cancer.

Everybody hates that word.  I am no different.

This topic---and ANY variety of cancer---has taken on a very personal note for me.  My family is suffering from it in every direction.  My mother with breast cancer, my cousin and two of my aunts with the same, my uncle and my niece's boyfriend (at 20 years old) with lymphoma.  My best friend, my former boss, my childhood friend, SO MANY of my relatives with skin cancer, and now a scare with my dad (which is all I hope it will be--just a scare), it seems that this awful disease is attacking lives and families from multiple angles these days.  That's why when I was approached by a lovely lady who'd been diagnosed with and BEAT mesothelioma, someone who wanted my help in spreading awareness about it, I felt it my duty to jump in.  We can never know when a life will be saved because a person is caused to look at their symptoms differently and maybe seek help because of them.  We can never know when our story or that of a loved one can bring comfort or hope or just a feeling of not being alone to someone else.  So here I am, broaching a painful subject for most, and sharing with you a little of what Heather Von St. James shared with me.

For a little background on Mesothelioma Awareness Day, I celebrate every year by raising awareness for mesothelioma.  It's often considered a "silent" disease because it can take decades for symptoms to begin to show and exposure to asbestos very easily occurred because the dangers weren't known.  I was exposed by wearing my dad's jacket that had been covered in "dust." :(  -- Heather Von St. James

You can learn more about Heather, her illness and her story by visiting her on social media or tuning in to her tweet chat on Friday (flyer at the bottom).

I'll end with this: For all those who are worried about their symptoms, for those who are awaiting a terrifying doctor's appointment, for those who are preparing for a test, for those who have just gotten the scariest diagnosis of their life and for those whose loved ones are at one of the stages above, please know that you are not alone.  Seek out support, be it in a group or a perfect stranger or a close friend or family member who has been through it before, find someone to talk to.  It can make the weight much more bearable.  You aren't suffering alone.  Only together, through sharing and awareness and fundraisers for research, can we make strides toward beating this horrific disease with all its many ugly faces.

Live every day like it's your last.  I know that's cliche, but it's so, so true!  We can never, ever know when this day, this hour will be the last one of its kind--where our loved ones are healthy and alive, where our bodies aren't ravaged by something we can't understand, where sadness and heartache aren't constant companions.  Enjoy every good day, every good minute. Take pictures.  Write about it in a journal.  Share it with your kids or your parents or your siblings or your best friend.  Whatever you do, grab every second with both hands and make wonderful memories.  I promise you won't regret it:)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Initium by Courtney Cole

The fantastic Courtney Cole has dropped an amazing little surprise on us today. It's called Initium and it's an utterly brilliant part of the Nocte series, something to tide us over until Lux comes out. Did I mention that it's brilliant? You should pick up a copy today before the price goes up. And if you aren't familiar with this series, you should start with Nocte. Prepare to be blown away! But for Initium, here's a quick little tease. You'll see what I mean by brilliant:)

I never knew what the consequences would be.
I say that like it’s a defense, an excuse.
It’s not. It’s simply the truth.
I never knew what he would become to me.
Through everything, he’s become everything.
My rock, my air, my love.
My everything.
And then….
Things changed.
Because it was wrong.
Because sometimes, our sons must pay for the sins of their fathers.
Or their mothers.
I’m afraid that I’m lost,
that I’m damned.
After you read this, you’ll probably agree.
Really, it doesn’t matter.
All that matters is that I save him.
Because he shouldn’t pay for my sin.
Judge me if you like.
But keep reading.
This is our beginning.
This is where the darkness truly starts.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Music of My Life

Do you ever feel like your life ever goes through periods of time where you have epiphany after epiphany?  Like all of a sudden you're learning so much about...stuff?  Well, I think I'm in one of those periods.  I feel like every day I learn some huge WOW type thing about life and health and happiness.  You know, the important stuff.  The one I'm going to tell you about today is related to music, hence the title.  Music is a huge part of my life and it brings me so much joy, and occasionally, it brings me some awesome moment of pure ecstasy, too!  Okay, maybe ecstasy is a strong word, but it sure does bring me a lot of pleasure:)  LOL

So, I was on my way back from town, driving along in my car, music blaring, minding my own business, when this song comes on. It's not a new song and I'd heard it several times before, but for some reason it just hit me like a ton of bricks that something about it--not necessarily all the words, but the feel of the song--reminded me of me and my hubby.  I downloaded it (I know you're not supposed to do things like that when you're driving, but in my defense, I was stopped at a red light when I did it) and I proceeded to listen to it on repeat for the rest of the way home.

I was already in good spirits when I walked in to find my husband making dinner.  He looked as handsome as ever, doing something kind and thoughtful for me. Nothing new there.  I told him I'd heard this great song that reminded me of us and then played it for him.  When the chorus came on, no lie, I broke out in cold chills all up and down my arms.  Hubby was looking at me over the stove and it occurred to me (not for the first time) that I love that man so much more than I ever thought I could love another human being. I mean, he is my other half.  My better half. He is what makes me happy. He is what keeps me sane. He is what keeps me grounded.  He is the person I want to walk through every day of my life with. I want to laugh with him, cry with him, experience new things with him, chase dreams with him.  That's no small thing, finding someone that you love that way. And I found it.  Found him.

As I listened to that song and we watched each other over the stove, I thought about how we really were born with fire and gold in our eyes.  Fire for life, fire for each other.  Together, we shine. He makes me shine.  I write for y'all, for myself, but I write about him.  We are lightning in a bottle. Or at least that's how he makes me feel.  He's the kind of happiness that I want to cherish every single day and I hope that every time I play that song, I'm reminded of that. I don't ever want to take him for granted, or take what we have for granted.  He's my happy place and, together, we can do anything.  He is the music of my life, his love the song I always want to sing.  Letting stress or worry or anything get in the way of the happiness he brings me is a tragedy.  Nothing is more important than he is (except God, of course. He always comes first), and I realized that if I keep my focus where it needs to be, on the positive rather than the negative, life is pretty dang sweet.  Every. Single. Day.

So carpe diem, y'all!  Hug your kids, kiss your man, tell your sister you love her.  Whoever is important to you, let them know.  Wallow in their love.  Revel in how blessed you are.  Concentrate on the things that matter most.  Everything else will take care of itself:)

Peace and love and book boyfriends.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Strong Enough--an itty bitty excerpt

It is SO FREAKIN' HARD for me to choose excerpts! OMG! I want y'all to read ALL OF IT and I get so excited about it as I start skimming through that I have a really difficult time choosing something to share. I ended up going with this one because I can identify with Muse's pain so much, that sense of spiraling down, down, down and being unable to stop it.  If you could paint, would you ever paint a picture like this?


I travel the familiar road that leads to the river. Even though I’m hissing hostility like a busted radiator hisses steam, something in me yearns for the “homeyness” of the river. It’s the closest I can get to Jasper right now, and even though he’s the source of my current disgruntled state, I follow my instinct and go toward him anyway.
When I get to the river, I’m glad to see that the bank I like is empty except for a few birds. They fly when I wheel my bike to a stop in the grass.
I engage the kickstand and pull out my supplies from the basket, hauling it all to a sunny spot near the water’s edge. With the ease of someone who has done it dozens of times, I set up my easel and place my canvas before taking out brushes and digging out my tray of watercolors. When it’s all ready and a brush is gripped firmly between my fingers, I take one look at the bright, happy scene before me and I begin to paint.
Thoughts about my new life, about my old one as well, circle my mind like a predator, waiting to attack. I think about how I used to think I was happy. I think about the way I felt like I was flying when I was with Jasper. I think about how nothing else mattered when I was in his arms, drowning in his kiss. Not the world outside, not the people within it, not the past or the future, not right or wrong—nothing mattered except Jasper and me and the electricity that was between us. And I think about now, today, and how I’m one step closer to giving up. How I’m sinking deeper and deeper into hopelessness and misery. It’s with all this swirling through me that I paint.
Emotion pours from me like blood, black blood spurting from a mortal wound in some unfathomable place. The trees that take shape are dark and pointed, their branches more like thorns than foliage, and the sun never appears. It’s hidden by thick, rolling clouds that speak only of warning, warning of unpleasantness to come. And the water . . . the water looks nothing like what’s in front of me. The water on my canvas is turbulent, churning, its surface anything but placid and sweet.
I lash at the canvas with my brush, unaware of the tears streaming down my face until another chill seems to freeze them on my cheeks.
I gasp this time, dropping my brush and whirling around like someone tapped me on the shoulder. I look about, three hundred and sixty degrees, but don’t see even one sign of another person.
Eyes still watering and chest now heaving, I reach for my brush, carefully examining this odd sensation that has come over me for the second time. What am I feeling? Anger? Pain? Loneliness? Desperation?
Yes. To all of them. But why? Why would I get such a sudden burst of sensation out of nowhere? I have experienced most of these feelings practically every day since I left America, but never like this. Never all at once and so poignantly that it’s physically startling.

When I turn back toward my painting, I see the unrest of my soul. It’s coloring everything around me, stealing beauty from the beautiful. I know I shouldn’t let this happen, shouldn’t let this go on. But I just don’t know how to stop it.  In fact, I’m not sure I even can.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Strong Enough- See Jasper through Muse's eyes

I seriously cannot believe that, in less than one week, Strong Enough will be live.  If I thought about it very much, it might give me case of the "vaypahs."  LOL  That's why I won't.  No one wants to see me get all breathless and pass out and then have to haul me to the hospital:)  hehe  But I digress.

Okay, so today I want to introduce you to Jasper. I want you to see him the way Muse sees him at their first meeting.  OMG even now--it's been almost a year since I wrote this--I can close my eyes and picture him standing there behind her as clearly as if I'd met him in real life.  Man! I have the best job ever!


And Jasper from Strong Enough, coming August 4, 2015.

When my eyes settle on the interloper, all thoughts of Matt and the past and every trouble in the world melt away for the time it takes me to regain my breath.
A man is standing behind me. I didn’t hear him approach, didn’t smell cologne or soap, didn’t sense the stir of the air. He was just coming through the door one second and looming right behind me the next.
He’s tall, very tall, and dressed in black from head to toe. Other than his lean, dramatically V-shaped physique, that’s all I notice about his body. It’s his face that captivates me. From an artist’s standpoint, he reminds me of a bronze sculpture, something strong and ancient that was carved by the talented hands of Michelangelo or Donatello, Bernini or Rodin. From a woman’s standpoint, he’s simply breathtaking.
His face is full of angles and hollows—the ridge of his brow, the slice of his nose, the edge of his cheekbones, the square of his chin. Even his lips are so clearly defined that I find myself wanting to stare at them, to reach up and touch them. Find out if they’re real. If he’s real. But it’s his eyes that I finally get stuck on. Or maybe stuck in. They’re pale, sparkling gold, like a jar of honey when you hold it up to the sun. And they’re just as warm and sticky, trapping me in their delicious depths.
Despite all my worries, worries that have consumed me for several days now, I am only aware of the raw, primal power that radiates from him like heat from a fire. He doesn’t have to say a word, doesn’t have to move a muscle to exude confidence and capability. And danger. Lots and lots of danger.
I don’t know how long I’ve been staring at him when I become aware of his lips twisting into the barest of smiles. It’s minimally polite, but somehow anything more would seem a betrayal of the intensity that oozes from his every pore. The tiny movement is potent, though, and I feel it resonate within every one of my female organs like the echo of a drumbeat in the depths of a hollow cave. God, he’s gorgeous.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sophie Marks, the woman we love to hate

As I write installment number five in the Always with You serial, I keep getting a mental image of Sophie, the woman that I love to hate.  Her blonde haired/blue eyed exterior perfectly disguises her undeniably devious interior.  She plays the sweet innocent with Cash, skillfully wielding her daughter as a weapon, but Olivia sees through her.  When she looks into those traitorous eyes, she sees the shark that lies just beneath the surface. She sees the woman who seeks only to take what isn't hers--Cash Davenport.

If you're like me and you want a face to go with this devil-in-disguise, here's one for you.  Laura Vandervoort.

The sweet girl she portrays...

...the schemer Olivia sees...

...and the snake she really is.