Just Keep Writing

My first book (LOVE AND OTHER ALIEN EXPERIENCES, in case you somehow missed me talking about it constantly?) is coming out in less than two months. Or I guess you could call it my first published book…or, even more accurately, the first book I’ve completely finished.

Like most writers, I have other books. In my case, they’re unfinished books, but they still exist in their partial, imperfect, unpretty forms. Books that once represented “maybe someday,” books that are ideas I once believed in, books that I once spent my nights and weekends on.

Back in 2011, when I was writing a weekly column for HelloGiggles about YA, I was also trying to write a book. In retrospect, it’s kind of shocking that someone at HelloGiggles allowed me to write such long, rambly pieces every week that were mostly about YA but sometimes just about my own personal feelings. 2011 Kerry had things to say and she finally had an outlet and the world was gonna hear about it!

The world remained mostly uninterested, but at one point an agent emailed me to ask if I was working on any YA of my own. An agent. Like, a real live human agent emailed ME, this girl who worked a ridiculous office job that occasionally involved putting on safety goggles/heatproof jackets and touring steel mills, to ask if I was working on a book.

WELL. I just so happened to be working on something, so I polished it up and sent it off and waited, all the while thinking, “Is this it? Will I have an agent? Is this book going to be published?”

It was not it, and I did not get an agent, and that book did not get published. Make no mistake, the agent was extremely nice to me, but she told me she couldn’t represent that book. I was disappointed, of course, and I stopped working on that book…but I didn’t stop writing. I wrote lots of beginnings to books that never got finished, scenes of things I never fleshed out, and eventually I wrote an entire first draft of a book about band camp (I still think there need to be more books about band camp, btw; it’s a transformative experience).

Anyway, back to my point. A couple of nights ago I decided to take a look at those pages I sent that agent, because I hadn’t read them since. I expected to cringe, and I did. But what I really found out was that those pages weren’t bad. Like, I could string together sentences. I made jokes.

BUT THERE WAS NO PLOT. Like, I’m not sure where I actually intended to go with that book, since it was only the beginning, but there was no big conflict. No drama. Just a bunch of angst and people making jokes. And also, surprisingly, my humor was kind of mean. I think of my books (okay, so I’ve only FINISHED one book but I’m working on my second now!) as primarily funny, but I don’t like to be mean. I like my jokes about people to be rooted in warmth, like we’re celebrating their endearing qualities even as we’re poking fun at them. But the stuff in this book was just kind of mean-spirited. Like, thank God that didn’t get published! I wouldn’t want it out there.

And then there’s the band camp book, which REALLY had no plot, despite the fact that I wrote an entire draft. There’s a cute boy, SURE, but you can’t just read 250 pages of cute boys being cute, no matter how much I wish that was true.

So here’s my point, I guess: at the time I wrote both of those books, I thought they were The Ones. You know, the ones that would get published eventually. At the time, I felt like I’d been trying to write a book for so long, but now it’s 2017 and my first book is coming out in July (well, for the second time…it’s kind of confusing). If you’d told me then I would wait six years, I would’ve been like, “UH, EXCUSE ME?” It would’ve seemed like forever.

But here’s the thing: I wasn’t just waiting during those six years. I was living. I was reading. I was writing, A TON. I was doing all the stuff I needed to do to become a better writer, to write something I would actually be proud of publishing.

As I wrote my weekly column about my favorite YA books, I dreamed that someday I’d have my own YA book that someone would read and love and write about. And now my first book is coming out, and I hope someone does love it.

So I guess what I’m saying is if it feels like you’ve been working on something forever and it’s not going anywhere…just keep going. Keep living, keep reading, keep writing. You’ll get there.

Just, like, write something that has a plot. Trust me on that one.

A Preorder Giveaway! (and thank you notes from me)

LAOAE giveaway
So as you may know if you follow me on Twitter or Tumblr or Instagram or have talked to me at any point recently, LOVE AND OTHER ALIEN EXPERIENCES comes out on July 11th, 2017. That means it is currently available for preorder! Several really wonderful people have let me know that they’ve already ordered it, and I’m just so overcome with gratitude that I wanted to take some time to say thanks. So! Here’s the deal. If you’ve preordered LOVE AND OTHER ALIEN EXPERIENCES (or if you order it at any time before July 11th), shoot me an email at welcometoladyville@gmail.com with your address and I’ll mail you a thank you note. And you will also be entered to win a little prize pack I put together, WHICH INCLUDES:

-A notebook that says “A little step may be the beginning of a great journey.” When I saw this, I was like, “THAT’S IT; THAT’S THE BOOK!” because one little step outside of her house is the start of some really big things for Mallory.
-The book Film Listography: Your Life in Movie Lists, because obviously Mallory’s brother Lincoln is keeping track of all the movies (sorry, films) he sees.
-A little stuffed Mulder and Scully set, because I also have these and they are very cute.
-Some alien/space themed socks
-Various X-Files stickers/patches
-A package of Twizzlers for PLOT REASONS that you have to read to find out, but honestly I trust that you can always use Twizzlers even if you haven’t read the book
-Some nail polish that I will choose for you at a later date, because Mallory’s BFF Jenni is a beauty vlogger but she would definitely want to know more about you before picking out a polish shade for you.

I’m not exactly going full Oprah and giving away new cars here, but I just wanted to send out thank you notes because I am really, really grateful. I know that I am just one little debut author, and I know that we all have limited money to spend on books. The fact that anyone is preordering my book is bananas, and the fact that I know some people have preordered AFTER ALREADY BUYING IT IN EBOOK WHEN IT WAS OUT IN 2015 is Gwen Stefani B-A-N-A-N-A-S. I am OVERWHELMED with gratitude and I appreciate everyone who has preordered this book so, so much. Please, let me send you a personal and probably weird (let’s be honest) thank you note.

TL;DR: Preorder LOVE AND OTHER ALIEN EXPERIENCES from your preferred retailer & email me your address at welcometoladyville@gmail.com and I’ll send you a thank you note and enter you to win a prize pack FULL OF GREAT STUFF! Proof of purchase is only necessary if you win, because I can’t imagine a person who would lie about buying my book to receive a thank you note from me. That would be the weirdest lie ever.

My (Imaginary) Episode of Crybabies

Have you guys ever listened to the podcast Crybabies? It’s hosted by Susan Orlean and Sarah Thyre, and it is amazing. It’s just…famous people talking about what makes them cry! And if you’re an emotion junkie like me, you’ll love it. I haven’t listened to it in a looong time, because now that I have a baby I’ve become an EVEN MORE EMOTIONAL person and I don’t need any help crying. Typically people talk about songs, movies, music, or other media that makes them cry…but also once Moby talked about how he saw someone eating an egg sandwich on the train. It’s a nice mix of stuff, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, I’ve given a good amount of thought to what I would talk about on my own imaginary episode of Crybabies. A lot of things make me cry, so it was hard to narrow it down, but here goes:

-The episode of Playing House where Maggie gives birth (“Let’s Have a Baby”)
I always love a birth episode, just like I always love a wedding episode. But wedding episodes don’t usually make me cry, while baby episodes have me sobbing like…well, a baby. I already love the dynamic of Playing House, and the birth episode does such a great job of bringing everyone together. Emma is there being confused for Maggie’s wife, Maggie’s ex is there being extremely unhelpful, her sweetly strange brother is there to assist as her doula, and that alone is already making me emotional. But then Maggie starts to feel like she can’t do it, and Emma gives her a VERY touching pep talk about Maggie’s wedding and Maggie’s deceased mother and that’s all I’m gonna say about it. You need to watch it. I’m tearing up typing this.

-The movie The Spectacular Now
Not the book, which is extremely well-written but extremely depressing and kinda hopeless. There’s this scene between Sutter and his mom near the end that just made me LOSE IT. After we left the theatre, Hollis and I went to Target and I wandered up and down the aisles crying to the point that he was worried about me. Sorry, it was an emotional movie!

-“The Best Day” by Taylor Swift
I actually can’t listen to this song without crying, and I’ve listened to it A LOT. It’s all about her mom and her childhood and the part that really gets to me is when she sings “I grew up in a pretty house/and I had space to run” and oh noooo help I’m getting emotional right now! It’s just…I don’t know, it’s nice to see her acknowledge that she had such a great life and parents and brother and ugh I can’t even talk about it.

-The last story in Tenth of December by George Saunders
I mean, hello, have you read it?

-The entirety of You’ve Got Mail
Last time I watched it, I burst into tears as soon as The Cardigans started playing. KATHLEEN WAS JUST WALKING WITH SUCH PURPOSE. Other parts that make me cry: when she’s decorating her shop at Christmas and talking about her mom, and when Tom Hanks says “Don’t cry, shopgirl,” and he should probably just say “Don’t cry, Kerry,” because I AM SOBBING. EVERY. TIME.

There are for sure more that I’m not thinking of right now, but those are my most visceral crybaby moments. What are yours? I’d love to hear them! Also, yes, I haven’t blogged in awhile but I’m deep in Book 2 revisions right now and for some reason whenever I have a ton to do, I always want to update my blog. Shrug emoticon, you know?

5.5 Months

The newborn days already seem like a hazy dream. I’m reminded of that same Anne Lamott quote I share over and over again: It turns out that you’ve already gone ahead and done it before you realize that you couldn’t possibly do it, not in a million years.

He’s five and a half months old now, and this seems like the best age, but then again I say that every day. When we were in those frenzied first few weeks of parenthood, I frantically Googled “when does having a newborn get easier???” and came across a blog post that posited that it did not, in fact, ever get easier. Because, you know, kids grow and change and each phase comes with some new challenge. This person maintained that the newborn phase was actually the easiest, because tiny babies just need to be fed and held and they can’t, like, walk anyway.

I would very much like to respectfully tell that writer to go eff themselves (Hollis and I are trying, unsuccessfully, to use less profanity). I’m sure that parenting will always be hard, but the endless-seeming sleep deprivation and cluelessness of those first few weeks was its own special feeling. And now that I know it’s temporary…well, it makes everything else seem a little bit easier to handle.

Now that he can smile and laugh and react to us, things are easier. He has ways of communicating that don’t just involve screaming (but, oh, there’s plenty of screaming). It’s hard but good.

I’d read so many times that the adjustment to motherhood can be difficult, especially for women who’ve been working for years. And while I get that (I mean, the baby isn’t giving me feedback on my performance OR a raise for doing a great job), it didn’t feel like an adjustment to me so much as a culmination of a lot of work. Maybe it’s because so many, many things changed for us before we had the baby that it really felt like we were starting over with a scorched earth type of situation. I went from working full time while writing at night to caring for a baby full-time while writing whenever I can. Friends and family members moved away. Some of our relationships were strengthened while others, for all intents and purposes, ended. And, of course, I’ve mentioned the losses that we dealt with many, many times. I was idly thinking about 2016 the other day and wondered what the best and worst parts of the year were before I was like, oh yeah, fucking duh (whoops). It was an intense year.

Also I somehow wrote a book from the time the baby was 2 months-5 months old, which I still don’t totally understand. It’s a funny (I hope), anxious romance like my first book, but it’s also EXTREMELY personal. I’m so excited about it because it’s about something I went through that I’ve never seen in YA before. While LAOAE was about anxiety and loss and the X-Files and brothers/sisters, this one is about beauty standards and feminism and podcasts and sisters and babies (all of that subject to change based on my editor’s revision, obvs). It still has a ways to go but I like it.

This is all just to say that life is good and hard but extremely satisfying. I feel like I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, even as I’m so, so unsure and scared about the future. I’m currently rocking a rock n play with my foot while hooked up to a breast pump and running on 1.5 hours of sleep and I’m on the verge of tears multiple times a week, but it’s all so, so good.

Our Birth Story

I went back and forth on whether I wanted to share our birth story. On one hand, it’s very personal. On the other hand, I’m a writer and sharing things is what I do. On the other hand (I have three hands in this scenario), I LOVE reading birth stories. What made up my mind for me was that several of my friends have wanted to know the details of our experience, so I figured why not share it here? If you want the true nitty-gritty and the embarrassing details, you’re going to have to talk to me in person, but here’s most of the story! Warning: there’s A LOT of cervix talk, so if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the blog post (you know, that old saying).

I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled on my due date, and part of me thought, “Maybe she’ll check me and I’ll be so dilated that I’ll have to go straight to the hospital!” But I didn’t feel different, and I definitely wasn’t feeling contractions. Then on the way to my appointment, I turned on the radio and the Usher/Alicia Keys song “My Boo” was playing, and I thought perhaps that was a sign. You so rarely hear that jam on the radio in the year 2016. It had to mean good things.

I typed and erased a bunch of boring medical details here, but the short version is that my doctor said we should probably induce labor. That night. Although I thought I was mentally prepared for this, I definitely wasn’t. I mean, H. and I had dinner plans with a friend that night! I left the doctor’s office and cried on the phone to H. because I was so scared; I’d heard so many horror stories about induction (spoiler alert: this isn’t a horror story!! So keep reading!) and although my doctor assured me that she would do everything in her power to avoid a c-section, she was honest that the chances of a c-section are higher when you induce.

I went home and grabbed my bag and sat around for a few hours, panicking. I gave Merlin a lot of attention because I knew it wouldn’t be the same after the baby was here. I ate a chicken sandwich and a lot of watermelon (it was in the fridge and I didn’t want to waste it, but in retrospect this was not the most filling pre-labor food). And that evening, we checked into the hospital.

One of the suckiest parts was getting my IV put in. I know that sounds weird, because isn’t labor much more painful? Sure, but you don’t get an epidural for an IV, and it took THREE NURSES and SIX TRIES to get the needle in. After a lifetime of nurses telling me how good my veins were, all of a sudden I was feeling very vein-insecure. At one point, one of the nurses said, “That’s gonna leave a bad bruise, sorry,” and she was right. I ended up with multiple nearly-black bruises on my arm (which is still not that bad, all things considered).

The labor induction was a two-part process. First, they put in a “cervix ripening” device (I warned you) that was just supposed to….well, ripen my cervix (ew). But what it REALLY did was jumpstart labor and freak out the baby, so they had to take it back out. Which was…not fun! The on-call doctor was a man and when he initially put the thing in, he said, “Has anyone ever told you that you have a hard to find cervix?”

“Um…what?” I asked.

“Your cervix is very difficult to locate,” he said.

No. No one’s ever told me that before, because my doctor isn’t a psychotic weirdo who wants to give me a complex about my cervix. And also, HOW MANY PLACES COULD IT BE? Sorry my cervix is making it difficult for you, bro!

Anyway, a nurse took that thing back out of me, and she was much nicer but still talked about my (apparently) elusive cervix.

At this point I was feeling my contractions, which meant that the night of sleep I was supposed to get…didn’t happen. The contractions weren’t terrible by any means, but they were noticeable. We were able to watch some terrible television, including a Hallmark Christmas movie (it was Christmas in July, y’all!) about a woman who came back to her small town and ended up directing an elementary school musical. The nurse was definitely skeptical about our viewing choices, but I didn’t care.

Eventually, my contractions got worse. Much worse. They went from “manageable cramps” to “not-that-manageable cramps” to “me telling H. I couldn’t do this anymore.” Here’s where I should point out that I always knew I wanted an epidural. Obviously it’s a personal choice and every woman should do whatever she feels is right for her baby and her body, but I’ve always known that a medicated hospital birth was what I wanted. Many people say that they want to be fully present for the birth and that’s why they don’t use medication, but for me the epidural allowed me to be fully present by greatly reducing my anxiety about pain. I know A LOT of people who had medication-free births (I don’t like to use the word “natural,” because my birth wasn’t “unnatural”), and they all loved their birth experiences so I knew I didn’t NEED an epidural. Then again, I don’t need a second donut and I’m still eating it. The point is, I wanted an epidural but I wasn’t dilated enough yet for it.

Then yet ANOTHER doctor came in to break my water and hopefully get this show on the road. But, big surprise, something about my body was weird there too. This was, by far, the most uncomfortable part of the entire process. I don’t know if it was the doctor’s fault or if it would’ve been painful no matter what, but I could hardly stand it and when he said, “Well, I wasn’t really able to break it but I did snag it, so hopefully the water will trickle out,” I wanted to puke. Like, please dude, get the job done while you’re in there.

But it was fine. Then, blessing of all blessings, I was dilated enough for the epidural. Hallelujah. The anesthesiologist was an extremely nice, soft spoken tall man who reminded me of Zach Woods, who I find to be a very comforting on-screen presence. I did not feel the epidural at all, and the anesthesiologist was so understanding and kind and I liked him much more than any other man I met that day. Maybe part of that was because he didn’t touch or comment on my cervix, but I guess we’ll never know. 20 minutes later I was feeling the sweet, sweet relief of modern medicine and I even got to sleep a little bit.

Then the contractions came back with a vengeance. Well, they were always there, but I started feeling them again. I made my nice anesthesiologist come back. I kept pressing the “more drugs” button. Nothing worked. I felt like I had intense heartburn that made it impossible to think about anything else. H. tried to get me to watch Sherlock but I couldn’t make myself care about Benedict Cumberbatch at a time like this.

At one point my dad wandered in (my wonderful parents showed up at the hospital at like 9 am and hung around ALL DAY) and H was trying to explain to him the monitor that showed my contractions. They marveled over it and my dad said things like, “Huh, looks like there’s a big one happening right now!” I was like, “YES. I’M AWARE.” Then I was gripped by a wave of nausea and I yelled “GET OUT OF HERE I’M GOING TO PUKE.” (I did not puke).

FINALLY the nurse said it was time to push. Thank God. I was nervous about it because I didn’t know HOW to push. Maybe that sounds silly, but I’d never had a baby before so I didn’t really know what to do. But it turns out that it was pretty instinctual.

The nurse asked me if I wanted a mirror to see what was happening and I was like, “Oh, I’m good, no thank you.” But when I glanced up at the turned-off television, I realized that I could see a perfectly clear reflection of everything that was happening, in all its bloody glory. “Whatever you do, don’t look at the TV,” I whispered to H. Of course he immediately turned and looked at it.

The nurse closed the TV cabinet.

I kept hearing the strains of “My Boo” in my head as I chewed on ice chips and kept pushing. I was seriously afraid I was going to burst a blood vessel in my eye or grind my teeth into powder, but Baby H. was staying in there, refusing to get past my pubic bone.

This was what I was worried about, because I’d heard a lot of stories of babies that got “stuck,” went into distress, and then a c-section was necessary. I really didn’t want to have to recover from major surgery in addition to taking care of a baby, so I asked the nurse what I could do to get him out of there.

“Do you want to try tug of war?” she asked.

“…okay?”

Tug of war was exactly what it sounds like. The nurse had a sheet, and she pulled on one side of it while I pulled on the other and tried to push the baby out. It felt ridiculous and I was afraid I would let go and send the tiny nurse flying across the room, but after only two contractions’ worth of pushing, Baby H. got past my pubic bone.

This was when things really got crazy. There were three nurses, my doctor, the doctor who only had unkind things to say about my cervix, and a medical student in there, all of them staring directly at me. I’m an extremely modest person normally, but I DID NOT CARE. I wouldn’t have noticed if Barack Obama walked into the room, made a rude remark about my cervix, and walked out again. Literally all I cared about was getting this baby out. The epidural was blessedly effective, but I could still DEFINITELY feel my contractions and they DEFINITELY felt terrible (more like being sick than actual pain).

This part of labor was maybe the most exciting time of my entire life. Imagine a room full of people literally cheering you on as you attempt to bring a brand-new member of your family into the world. It was amazing. With every push, Baby H got a little bit closer to being out. Then his head was out, then his shoulders, then they were ripping off the top of my hospital gown, then he was on my chest, pink and purple and gooey and beautiful.

I thought I would cry when he was born, but I didn’t. I was just overwhelmed; that he was here, that he’d been in there the whole time, that I’d done it. If you’re considering a medicated birth and wondering if you won’t feel that sense of “empowerment” that people talk about with unmedicated birth, let me tell you: I felt INCREDIBLY empowered with my epidural-assisted, full-of-interventions, regular old hospital birth. I’ve done a lot of things I’m proud of in my life, but I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like this before. It seemed unreal (and still seems unreal) that I DID IT.

The nurse told us that he was tall and that he looked like his dad, both of which were true. We told everyone his name and he held onto my finger, his grip already so strong. I just couldn’t believe he was here…sometimes I still can’t believe it. The little person I’d dreamed and wondered about for nine months as I worked and walked and sewed and wrote. My pregnancy was very easy physically, but very difficult emotionally, and there were so many times that I worried he’d be absorbing my sadness or anxiety. But here he was, the little guy who’d been with me the whole time. Absolutely perfect.

baby-h