I’m currently deep in the middle of writing my third book. Like, thirty thousand(ish) words to go and a looming deadline deep. Yoga pants and messy hair and not enough showers deep. Deeeeeep.
All that goes to say, when I sat down to write today’s blog post, I couldn’t even contemplate coming up with another 500 words. Sorry, y’all, but I got nuthin’.
But Women Unplugged is a blog about books, and raving about other people’s books is so much easier than talking about mine, so here are a few I love from brilliant fellow authors.
Jonathan Tropper is an automatic buy for me. I don’t even bother reading the back cover, just point my mouse at the one-click shopping button. He makes me laugh, he makes me cry, he makes me wish he would write faster. I love all his books, but How to Talk to a Widower is my absolute favorite.
Allison Winn Scotch has such a great voice, and she writes characters I want to be BFFs with. Time of My Life is not her latest, but she smashed it out of the park — and onto the NYT list — with this one.
A hunky chef, a snarky writer, and a story that sticks with you long after you turn the last page. The First Husband is a charming tale about finding your soul mate, and my favorite of all of Laura Dave’s novels.
Bridget Asher has a new one coming out this fall and I can hardly wait. Her last one, Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, is heartbreaking and hilarious, a love story within a love story, and bonus! It’s set in beautiful France.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this one. Julie Buxbaum writes so beautifully about love and loss and the secrets we hide from our families and ourselves. After You will haunt you long after The End.
If you read any of these, I hope you’ll let me know what you think!
My second novel, The Ones We Trust, comes out in less than three weeks. Three weeks! I have a million things to do before the launch, and less than three weeks to do them in. You’d think I’d be better prepared, seeing as I wrote the first draft of this book all the way back in 2009.
Yes, you read that right. This little baby hasn’t officially been born yet, and already she’s six years old. If she were human, she’d be walking, going to school, and reading at a third-grade level already. She’d have adult teeth! She was also the first novel I ever actually completed.
Here’s a harsh truth about getting published: hardly any writer ever sells their first book. The first one is generally considered a practice novel, the one where you learn as you go and make lots of mistakes along the way, the biggest thinking anyone would ever want to read it besides your mother. You’re supposed to write it, shove it in a box under your bed, and move on to the next one, one where you actually (kinda sorta) know what you’re doing. I was fully prepared to do that, too, except this story wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept whispering to me from under the bed. Fix me, it said. I have a story to tell.
So I rewrote it, and then I rewrote it again and again (and again). I fixed the tone and the voice, matured my main character, Abigail, deepened her backstory to intensify the conflict. I added a subplot and a whole slew of new characters. I killed my darlings and switched genres, multiple times. I lost a lot of sleep and I shed a lot of tears.
In the end, one plotline never changed—the slain soldier’s story. Though we never actually meet him on the page, The Ones We Trust is built around what, exactly, happened to him on the battlefield. His family needs to know in order to move on, and Abigail is determined to help them by uncovering the truth. This plotline was the crux of every single rewrite, a red thread leading the way.
We writers talk a lot about how some stories need to be told. This was one of them. The little story that could. It took me six years and a million wasted words, but when it hits the shelves in three short weeks, all the work will be worth it.
When I moved to the Netherlands all those years ago, we lived in a beach town on the North Sea. Back when we lived there, it was one of the few villages where the stores were allowed to open on Sundays, so folks flocked there in the weekends, especially those when the sun made a rare appearance. And anytime the mercury nudged up into the seventies, the beaches were packed, with Dutch and foreigners alike.
The street where we lived was a couple of miles from the beach, and a world away from the tourists. Every single person who lived on our street was Dutch, and their families had lived and worked in the village for generations. A hotel owner, a butcher, a handful of farmers. I was the only foreigner, and believe me: everybody knew it.
I lived there for about five minutes before I decided that becoming Dutch was my number-one goal. Not just learning the language, but sucking up the slang and the accent and the culture until I was felt and sounded like one of them. I understood my neighbors within a couple of months. I felt competent in about six. By the end of the first year, Dutch people stopped answering me in English and assumed I was one of them.
Things in Amsterdam are different. Walk down any street here, and you’ll hear more foreign than Dutch, not just from the tourists but from expats, and I’ve yet to meet one who speaks decent Dutch. Why bother? Everyone here, from the old lady selling flowers to the guy driving the tram to the kids playing on the streets, speaks English and German and French and if you’re lucky a passible Spanish and Italian. My point? If I had only lived here, in Amsterdam instead of in that tiny village on the North Sea, I wouldn’t be half as Dutch. I’d be just any other American expat.
Saying you’ve seen Holland when you’ve only visited Amsterdam is kind of like saying you’ve seen America after a few days in New York City. As awesome as Amsterdam is, it’s not the real Holland. The real Holland is a tiny village surrounded by farms or fields of tulips for as far as the eye can see, where English is something you hear on TV, and not from the people living in the house next door. I am who I am because I’ve experienced them both.
Okay, so it’s not over, exactly. We still love it here in Amsterdam, are still enjoying every minute. But now that the newness has settled, I find myself thinking more and more often of things about America that I miss. Here are my top five:
5. Garbage disposals. Remember back in the day, when all the food and gunk in the sink would turn to chunky sludge in the drain, and you’d have to actually reach in there and pull everything out with your fingers? Yeah. That’s what I’m dealing with. There are no garbage disposals in the Netherlands; apparently, they jack up the sewage system.
4. Whole Foods. I miss everything about that place. The sushi bar. The salad bar. The burrito and soup and prepared foods bar. Of course I can find the ingredients for all those things here, and there are more restaurants in Amsterdam than there are people, but nothing beats one-stop shopping that’s a) delicious, b) good for you, and c) keeps me out of the kitchen. And before you start wondering, I can actually cook. I just really don’t like to.
3. Grocery baggers. It seems a given, that somebody is actually waiting at the end of that belt, their sole purpose to pack up your groceries for you, but not so here. Here, your groceries fly across the scanner and down the belt to the end, where your bags of gourmet lettuces get squished by milk cartons, your fluffy breads get steamrolled by water bottles, your fresh berries jammed into the wall by cereal boxes. And then, once everything is one giant mess at the end of the belt, you get to pack it all up and lug it home.
2. Walk-in mani and pedi salons. There are a few, but they’re expensive, and they do a crappy job. And by now, I’m Dutch (thus frugal) enough to turn my nose up at their prices. Why pay, when I can do the crappy job myself?
1. The people. My son, all the way over in Denver. My parents and friends. My BFFs and girlfriends and yoga sisters. I miss all of them, most of all.
So. We’ve been living in Amsterdam for almost three weeks now, and (dare I say it out loud?) the transition has been pretty seamless. My daughter has a new school, new friends, a completely new life. I keep waiting for the dip to hit, for the bottom to fall out and the homesickness to begin, but so far… Nothing.
Part of what helps is that Holland doesn’t feel foreign to any of us. My husband is Dutch, I lived here for twelve years, both kids were born here. We speak the language and know the culture. We have friends and family down the street, around the corner, and a short bike or train ride away. We feel as at home here as we do in the States.
Yet my daughter has always been more American than Dutch. She prefers English. She watches American shows. The American culture fits her to a T. There are other American students at her new school—an international one boasting fifty-four nationalities and dozens of languages—but in an ironic twist, she’s proud to be considered one of the Dutch kids. She goes to school smiling, and she comes home smiling. It’s been a nice…well, not a surprise, exactly, but I never expected it to be this easy.
Is there pixie dust in the water? Is it the calm before the storm? I don’t know. Maybe things will be different by my next post, we’ll see.
But in the meantime, I’m enjoying the peace.