Remember me? I lived in you a lifetime ago. I went college at BYU and taught elementary school in Jordan School District. The school was so amazing that, when I left, I felt like nothing in my career would ever match that experience. And in my teaching life, nothing did.
I moved to the east coast, then the south, then back to Vegas. I still visited you during that time. I can’t say I always appreciated you, and naturally I had my reasons. But a few years ago, I did a writing retreat in one of your little mountain communities. My friend, Rachel Hawkins, dubbed your land “The Utah”, We spoke about what life would be like if we lived within you. The fantasies involved chunky sweaters, raspberry shakes, and words that just flowed from our fingertips. I didn’t think I could ever move to The Utah, because my former husband’s job was in The Vegas, and I figured my life would always be built atop the dirt and sagebrush.
Then, my life got flipped upside down, so upside down that it turned right side up. I wasn’t stuck in Vegas because I was no longer stuck to that husband or his affinity for Vegas partying/womanizing. For the first time in my adult life, I was free to make choices for myself and my three daughters. After breathing in that freedom for a few months, it became very, very clear to me that we needed to transition from a southwestern suburb to a quaint, country neighborhood with a stream running right outside. Which is what brought me back to you.
I have a lot of allergies here because things seem to, you know, GROW. A deer I’ve named Anferney eats the flowers I didn’t plant. My town has a main street, and my girls and I swim in assorted bodies of water and eat s’mores. The elementary school has a stuffed, two-headed calf. I have a well-lit office to catch up on some festering deadlines, and friends to visit as soon as said deadlines stop festering (Festering. Gah, that’s an awful word. Sorry). I keep saying it feels like an episode of Gilmore Girls, minus that weird season when Lorelei and Rory didn’t talk.
Utah, I’m a writer now. And just like when I taught school here, I once again feel like I’m with my tribe. Last weekend, I was able to meet with dozens of Utah writers, many of whom I’ve been friends with since I first started writing. Throw a rock in Utah, and you’ll hit an author (especially if you are aiming for one). I love being one of the many. I love your local bookstore, The King’s English. There’s a robust community here, one that motivates me to get my butt in the chair. The fact that the nearest Target is 30 minutes away probably helps when it comes to distractions.
(BTW, Utah, if you felt inclined to add a Target in Park City, I promise I will discipline myself. Please?)
My wonderful, supportive, and loyal Vegas friends check in periodically, asking if change is hard. And I keep having to tell them that although there are things about Vegas I miss, I’m just no longer a Vegas girl. I don’t know if I ever really was. I’ve moved 9 times in the last 15 years. NINE TIMES (Ferris Bueller peeps, you get that?) I’m up for the adventure, for rebuilding and recasting. Maybe at some point I’ll stop taking detours to show my kids the glories of your nature, but I hope not.
For now, you’ve opened your green arms to us, shown us a simpler and fulfilling life. I hope you’ll stay kind this winter, when that snow thing happens. Maybe… make it not happen? Like, ever? Is that possible?
Either way, I still heart you. Thank you for the community and calm. I’l make sure to recycle and not litter. Also, I buy local. You probably care about that.
Here I am with my statuesque friend Cynthia Jaynes-Omololu and our slightly shorter literary agent, Sarah Davies (pay no attention to the sequins. It’s a long story). I met Cynthia through a SCBWI critique group almost 10 years ago, and I’ve done book events or conferences with her in five different cities, most recently Orlando.
The night before we took this photo, we stayed up until 3 am talking about our lives, our kids, our careers. I remember we talked about first kisses, back when I thought I would never have another one of those again (score!) I got scared just hearing the synopsis of her upcoming book, THE THIRD TWIN, which has the promise to be a huge breakout novel. It was fun to look back at ourselves as hopeful newbies and imagine where we would be in another year or even five. We planned. Writers like to do that planning thing. But Plans and Life don’t always agree with each other. In July, 5 months after this picture was taken, Cynthia was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. She’s been battling that stupid illness with humor and badassery ever since. Sorry I swore. It’s cancer. I’m sure you understand.
I want you to read Cynthia’s book. I want you to read it because Cynthia’s voice gripped me 10 years ago in my dank, little apartment in PA and has not let me go since then. I haven’t read this book yet, but when I do I know I will read it in a day, because that’s what I’ve done with all of her other books. Even the still yet unpublished ones she sent me for critique. She understands pace and suspense better than any other author I’ve met or read.
I also want you to BUY her book. This book. All of her books. Because the reality is authors do most of their PR alone. That’s a full time job. Writing is a full time job. Being a mother to her two awesome sons and wife to her supportive husband? Yep, full time.
Add cancer to the mix and it is a lot. Too much.
So other writers are stepping in to help. Spread the word, preorder the book, come to her launch party, whatever you can do. Pitching in is kind of like making a casserole, but better, as anyone who has sampled my casseroles can attest. Creating a book is always cause to celebrate, so don your sequins and let’s blow the roof off this thing.
Which, hey, is not something I thought would be included in any how-I-spent-my-summer-vacation essay. Of course, the divorce started many years ago, before I even fathomed it happening. It started before my youngest was even born, a toxin of bad choices, cowardice and inconsiderations that ebbed and flowed into the relationship until divorce was the only option. A complete absolute. A welcome relief.
Last summer was much better than that spring, or that winter, or that fall. This summer, I saw Yosemite for the first time. I vacationed with friends and family. I let myself Not Write. I climbed mountains with my kids. I had exhilarating sparks ignite in my career. I stood up for myself and refused to be mistreated. We swam swam swam. My eight-year-old told me it was the best summer of her life, and as sad as it was to drive my kids to a far away park and share the news they already knew was coming, this summer is also something I’ll look at with fondness.
I got myself through, I got them through, and at the end of summer was something wonderful: FALL.
This fall, I watched oodles of Gilmore Girls. I got back to work. I said yes to a project that was exactly the kind of thing I’ve wanted to work on for years. I traveled. I connected with old friends. I dated boys who liked things about me I had forgotten were there. I worked out. I quit working out. I leaned on my family. I worked with my girls on their jumbled emotions. Most importantly, I laughed again. I didn’t realize I’d lost my laugh, but there it was, all high-pitched and joyous. Fall was glorious. The only thing better would be: WINTER.
This winter, I did every flipping holiday thing with my kids I could think of. I started new traditions and stayed true to the old. I had, quite surprisingly, the best Christmas I’d had in years. I met my editor(s!) in NYC. I went to therapy. I had some parenting wake up calls. I had some parenting victories. Mostly, I parented.
Within my Vegas bubble, I had to listen to a steady stream of gossip and ex-updates and did-you-knows, but it was fine because I started to get to that liberating place of I. Do. Not. Care. The not caring happened largely because I opened my heart to the possibility of love again. Which is remarkable and amazing and as I feel myself slipping and sliding, I keep thinking, “Wow. I’ve written how many stories, and yet I had no idea that this whole like/love/live thing could be this raw/right/real.”
Now it’s a new year, with more mysterious seasons ahead. Mylanta, I’m excited. There were some horrible detours, but now I feel in control and free and so so alive. 2015 is the first year in five that I haven’t had a book release, so instead I want to spend some more time blogging again, starting with a post I put up on Facebook to announce the big D.
Yep. I have a flair for drama. It was cathartic as all get up to articulate these feelings precisely as I was feeling them. Divorce is still a part of my day to day life. I have to interact with a person I would rather never communicate with again. It’s the nature of co-parenting, no matter what custody arrangements were made.
On the other hand, so many of these emotions and struggles seem very far away, a lifetime ago.
A chapter I’m glad to end in a book I never even wanted to write.
So anyway. Here. Read. If you are in the same boat, I hope this helps. If you are not in the same boat, more power to you, nurture the crap out of those you love. Nurture regardless. Forgive. Grow. Learn. Love.
DROPPING THE D-BOMB
When I first started writing ten years ago, I never thought I’d write something like this. “I never thought” is something I’ve said a lot lately—too often—but that’s where I am, and as every inspirational quote I’ve hung on my wall or on my heart would say…
It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to cry in the Taco Bell drive-through. It’s okay to be honest, even if everything and everyone in the world feels false. It’s okay to expose your scars. It’s okay to admit when you’ve been judgmental, or naive, or just plain wrong. It’s okay to laugh at the most agonizing of absurdities. It’s okay to rage. It’s okay to try and try and still try.
It’s okay to blossom in the poorest of soil.
Did I mention that it’s okay?
There’s a fine line between honesty and professionalism, and I probably cross it more times than I should. I text my editor pictures of churros at Costco, because she’s my friend, and those churros are things that should be documented. The first conversation I had with my publicist was about a major life crisis and possibly feeding me green M & M’s at my signing. In relationships of any kind, I value authenticity and integrity. Yes, I write fiction for a living, but I write to reveal emotional truth. All truth. I hunger for truth.
So I know this is a bold forum, but my options are limited. I’m not Gwyneth Paltrow and I don’t have access to her website, Goop.
That’s right. It’s a conscious uncoupling. Or as us non-Goopy folk call it, a straight-up divorce. Imagine typing that. Imagine SAYING that. Out loud. Even in an attorney’s office, discussing cold words like assets and fault, I would whisper “the D word”. I thought the D word was for other people—people who didn’t try hard enough or love big enough or just… weren’t enough. Trust me. It takes oodles of therapy to fall from and gloriously reclaim enough. We are all galaxies beyond ENOUGH.
(Side note: I’m embroidering that enough line on the new body pillow a friend sent me. But first, I’m going to learn how to embroider. That seems like something a modern, divorced gal should know how to do, right? Maybe after I take up macramé…)
When I committed to this marriage, I signed up for forever. I was 19 when I made that choice, and if I could go back, 19% of the time I would still say yes to that proposal. No, 100%–I got three remarkable children out of the deal. When this marriage began, my ex-husband was in love with me, and I was in love with him. We went to prom together. Lived through 11 years of advanced schooling, 8 moves, 3 babies. We formed joint friendships and bank accounts, became a part of each other’s families, started a business. And we were a “we”.
But toxic choices were made and destructive things happened that tore that “we” apart—tore me apart. “We” chose blatantly different paths, different lifestyles. In the end, my decision was easy.
I resolved to stay true to who I am.
As a result, my ex lost my family—my supportive, loyal family. I lost a relation to caring and sweet in-laws. I’ve grieved for him, for me. I’ve grieved for everyone involved. The D word is awful, sad, and something no one should ever have to utter, especially to their children. Especially.
That said, Divorce (capitalized!) is my new favorite word. We are here on earth to be tried, but we are also here to be blessed. And I can’t even begin to count the tender mercies and clear-cut miracles that I’ve witnessed. I’ve never been more assured of God’s existence than in the dark, deep crevices of divorce. He is there—always—in every trial, prayer, tear, breath or signature. I’ve had friends show up at my house just to listen, clean, or force-feed me chicken wings. My family and church have helped me discover strength that I never imagined possible. My children have been children… innocent, imaginative and the reason I get out of bed every morning. The pieces of me are syncing right back together. A few more chicken wings and I’ll be whole. Better than whole.
Fierce. Grateful. Fortified.
I am ready to soar.
What I’ve learned: People are kind. We take risks for others. We want each other to succeed, and when that doesn’t happen, we cushion the falls. The people in my life—and in my ex’s life—will never, ever know how much their efforts have radiated the bleakest of days. As David Bednar said, “If you are in a totally pitch dark room and there is the smallest element of light, then that light chases the darkness. The darkness can not overrule the light.” So you. Yes, you. Thank you for your light. You took a blowtorch to that darkness. Put that blowtorch down and pat yourself on the back. Now let’s hug it out.
Next up? The future. I want my ex to find a happy, new normal. I always have and always will wish him health, peace and truth. The bad doesn’t completely erase the good. Together we have these tender girls. I want him to keep living, keep working, keep parenting, keep loving, keep praying, keep hoping, keep trying. He is a child of God, and God wants us all to know joy. True joy.
As for my new normal, I’m relieved and excited that I have more stories to write, relationships to build, children to love, people to serve and experiences to gain (and weight. Dude, I know. Divorce diet is no joke). I still want to notice the sunsets and forgive the mistakes. Instead of being a Mrs, I am now the mysterious Ms. Lindsey Taylor Leavitt. Y’all know I shall rock that Ms. title with irreverence and glee. If my new relationship status is the elephant in the room for any of you, then I’m hanging tinsel on that elephant and starting a Congo line. Friends, this is life, and life dances on.
So to end this super long, rambling post which was probably not what you thought you’d find on your facebook feed this fine Tuesday (sorry, I’ll post a pic of dancing cats on Wednesday. Or maybe a dancing giraffe? Who doesn’t love a twerking giraffe?), I just want to say thank you for your support, respect, and not probing that ever elusive “why?” Trust me, I’ve asked this plenty. It’s a thorny rabbit hole and it doesn’t do anyone much good—especially my kids. The Leavitt girls are warriors, but I’d like us to step out of this arena with minimal bruising on our futures and roaring applause in our souls.
PS—And yes, I love the irony that I wrote GOING VINTAGE and I’m using a social network to announce this. Oh… life.
“Leavitt creates some hilarious scenes that could only be set in Las Vegas (kissing Elvises, anyone?) while maintaining a serious emotional tone. Like a Sarah Dessen heroine, Holly discovers that her heart has answers that are neither easy nor perfect. Recommend to readers who enjoy novels that blend light-hearted moments and gravitas.” ~Booklist
“Holly’s story could almost be a sitcom. But the hilarity is tempered by moments of genuine feeling, whether it’s grief… or romance.” ~Horn Book
And this is the one I really want to talk about
“Leavitt’s sense of place and ability to balance grief with hope make for an entertaining read.” ~Publisher’s Weekly
This was a difficult book for me to write. Nearly an impossible book for me to write. Like, I can’t believe I wrote this book and tomorrow you can buy it (or preorder it today. Before you forget.)
Impossible? Why so glum? Lindsey Leavitt writes breezy! Fun! Fluff! What’s so hard about that? What challenges could you possibly know? Surely you take a few hours away from your charmed life to jot down some fun ideas that magically swirl into something resembling a novel.
My friends. No.
Let’s shoot for full disclosure. My personal life has been NF (Not Fun) for the past year or so. Please don’t ask why—that’s why I used the word personal. It’s enough to say that I’ve battled crippling depression, grief, and anxiety. I’ve had physical issues and mental issues and family issues and faith issues and professional issues and can’t-get-out-of-bed issues and *insert any other issue*. They’re lonely emotions, emotions not expected from an author who formerly complained about too-small tiaras at book signings. Writing light and funny romance when it feels like your world is falling a part is difficult on the best of days, paralyzing on the worst. It’s why THE CHAPEL WARS has a bittersweet edge. I didn’t mean to add it. Just art imitating life.
As a result, I spent a lot of time hating this book. I hated the (missed) deadlines attached to this book. Hated talking about writing with authors who had brushed their teeth that morning and had Big Plans! for their thriving careers. Hated driving to wedding chapels and bridal expos and seeing all these giddy brides and thinking, “LIFE ISN’T ALL ROSES, LADIES!” Hated myself—honestly, there were times I really hated myself.
I would sit down in my cheetah-print recliner and stare at my cracked laptop screen and think, “This will never be a book. I am ruined. I will never publish again, never write again, and then I will have no excuse for all this not-showering business.” My amazing editor, Caroline Abbey, pulled me through the half-finished drafts and flimsy plot lines with positivity and grace. She believed in me and this story when I didn’t, and for that I dedicated this book to her. The original title for this novel, btw, was ARE YOU THERE, CAROLINE? IT’S ME, YOUR (LATE) AUTHOR.
You’re probably thinking, Why should I read this book? It sounds depressing and the author is a hot mess and that doesn’t really match a book with a heart on the cover. I just want a cute boy and a quick read, okay?
Because what I discovered writing this book is even on the darkest days, there is always light. That people still laugh (and even fall in love) at funerals. Babies are born and books are published and morning follows the night. Charles Dickens knew what he was talking about with all that best of times, worst of times crap.
Mostly, especially, there is always hope.
And that’s what I conjured up when I came to the blank page. It took coaching and lots of bribery, but I found humor and perspective and even joy as I filled the pages. I’m more proud of this book than any other book I’ve written. I’m proud because I learned so much about myself, so much about life, just from writing some witty dialogue and a super fun kissing scene. This isn’t The Next Great American novel, but it’s a fun story about my hometown and childhood and personal struggles and, yes, a cute southern boy who dresses up like cupid.
This last weekend at the Vegas Valley Book Festival, I had a conversation with some authors about blogs as a platform, on their relevancy, on how often we blog (cough, cough), etc. etc. And valid points were made all around, but I still like having my blog HERE, even if I only post a couple times a year, even if google reader no longer exists and I know this isn’t read very often. As a writer, sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name… CUE THEME SONG FROM CHEERS
and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.
Yes, I know that has no relevancy to my topic, but that song’s been stuck in my head and I wanted to share. You’re welcome, those alive in the eighties.
Anyway, quick catch up…
Vegas Valley book festival was awesome! We had 60+ YA authors, dozens of panels, and an adorably awkward YA Prom through the ages. Here are a couple of pics…
PROM THROUGH THE AGES!!!! Yes. It was as amazing as it looks. No, I can’t name everyone. Well, I can, but it takes SOO long to type.
I’m in there somewhere. Doing something.
And I’ve done other things lately, like began writing a book for National Novel Writing Month, which might be the worse thing I’ve ever done. Or the best. We’ll see.
But that’s not why you’re here, right? You’re really here because you want to see my new book cover. Maybe even hear about this mysterious book. Chapel? Is this book religious? Wars? Is it violent?
No and no. You’re getting another Lindsey Leavitt book with my trademark Lindsey Leavittness-which according to my publisher is humor and heart. Although I must say, this one starts with someone dead, so The Funny is a little more respectful of such circumstances. And The Angst is perhaps more amped up. But The Awesome? It’s all in there. Or as in there as I am able.
This was a brutal writing and personal year for me, which is why I haven’t been online as much as usual. I’m glad to come out of it with a book of which I am very proud. I imagine this book is the closest I will ever come to understanding natural childbirth. But, you know, in a good way.
This is what the book is about....
Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?
And then there’s Grandpa’s letter. Not only is Holly running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money—fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family’s mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and… Dax. No wait, not Dax.
Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there’s a wedding chapel to save.
And this is one of my favorite publishing peeps said about it….
“You’ll want to place your bets on Lindsey Leavitt’s hilarious and heartfelt novel filled with family rivalry, forbidden love, life-changing secrets, and a hot boy dressed up like Cupid. Just like Vegas, The Chapel Wars kept me up all night.” —Elizabeth Eulberg, author of Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality
(isn’t she the very best? Thank you Elizabeth Eulberg! *throws confetti*)
AND THIS IS WHAT THE BOOK WILL (PROBABLY) LOOK LIKE!*
*unless they change the cover. This is the cover for the ARC. Things could change. Things always change. But I hope not because OHMIGOSH I am hearting this cover so hard. Get it? HEART