Thursday, November 3, 2011

Life isn't what it is supposed to be.

Life is the way it is.

I found that quote somewhere the other day, wrote it down on a sticky note, and posted it on my desk. My life certainly hasn't been what it was supposed to be these past couple of months. My husband Bate died on August 3rd after battling lung cancer for several months. The end happened much faster than his doctors had thought and much sooner than I wanted it to. I wasn't ready to lose him. But then, when would I ever be ready for that?

While I was planning Bate's funeral, the assisted living facilty where my father lived called. Dad had pneumonia, dangerously low blood pressure and oxygen levels. they were taking him to the hospital. The day after Bate's military funeral, my dear friend Diane drove me up to Massachusetts. Dad was not good and a final evaluation determined that he would have to be moved to skilled care. Arrangements were made, I visited a lot with Dad, and, with Diane's help, I cleaned out his apartment. I said goodbye to Dad and Diane and I drove home. The next morning the nursing home called. Dad had passed away.

And that is why I have been away from Kensington Contemplations for so long. Bate was in and out of the hospital throughout the spring and summer, and August passed in a blur. It was the worst month of my life and for the first time in my life, I found no comfort in putting pen to paper.

But I am finally writing again, scribbling story ideas on scraps of paper, venting in my journal, and even making a little progress on my next book. My broken heart still has not pieced itself back together and there are still many days when I am, as I say, very wobbly. Grief sucks, but how we handle it is what makes the difference. I couldn't have made it without the love and support of my family, friends, and coworkers, who rallied around me, hugged me when I needed hugs, let me cry when I needed to cry, and said "It's OK," in so many little ways.

I do want to end this blog post on a lighter note. Even when days are just as dark as they can get, life comes around and hits you in the face with its equivalent of a cream pie. I was on the phone planning Dad's funeral. I was quite proud of myself for being as calm as I was. And then my house start to shake. I calmly said that something was happening, my house was shaking. The windows started to rattle and I not so calmly shrieked into the phone, "My house is falling down!" and dashed out the door. I'm not even sure I hung up. I realized when I saw all my neighbors out on the street that my house wasn't falling down and neigher were theirs. After a confab in the street we all agreed it had to be an earthquake. But an earthquake in Virginia? Sure enough, a 5.8 quake rattled its way through the state and up the East Coast. The epicenter was only about 50 miles from my house. Fortunatley, there was no damage to my house, just some shaken nerves and three angry cats -- I ran out of the house without a thought for them. And by the time I called the funeral home back to apologize, they'd already survived their own rock and roll.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Life is life

My co-worker’s memorial service was yesterday. It was wonderful and horrible, happy and sorrowful.

I didn’t know Meghan that well. She had only worked with us for about a year when she left for maternity leave. Three months after her son’s birth, she was diagnosed with stage four ademocarcinoma. For all intent and purpose, that’s a death sentence. Sure, for some people, radiation and chemotherapy melt the cancer away and for that person, their cancer is held at bay and they live for two, three, four, or even more years. But the average life expectancy is 6 to 12 months with treatment.

I don’t know all of this because of Meghan’s diagnosis but because of the research and doctor’s visits after my husband’s diagnosis three days after Christmas. As I followed Meghan’s journey on The Caring Bridge, a site where family and friends, or even the patient, can post blog-like entries and keep other family and friends, near and far up-to-date, I was living in my mind the journey my husband and I would be taking. He has accepted it and is fighting the good fight with treatments, with the eye on a few good months to spend with me, his daughter and her family, and friends. I am praying for a miracle.

All of this of course has put a damper on the publication of Snow Day. It is hard to give too much attention to an inanimate object when all I can think of is the limited time available to give my attention to the very animate object who needs it so much. It is difficult to be happy about seeing my book in print when my heart is breaking. I hold Snow Day in my hand and my heart swells with pride and seconds later it collapses in on itself as I think of future books and who won’t be there to share that success with me.

But life is life, it is what it is. We can’t change that, we can only move ahead, one step at a time, one day at a time and handle it all with as much grace as we can muster.That’s what Meghan’s memorial reminded me of. She handled her cancer with hope, determination, and grace. Several people spoke at her memorial, recalling encounters with Meghan and how she had affected their lives. For me, I will remember how she handled it all, with no outward signs of bitterness or anger.

Her friend Amy read a poem by Mother Theresa called “Life is.” It struck a chord with me, so much so that I did a Google search for it as soon as I got back to the office. I printed it out and put it on our refrigerator, so Bate and I can see it every day. I want to embrace every day, I want Bate to embrace every day, just as Meghan did. Hopefully this will serve as a reminder to do just that. I want to share it with all of you now, to remind anyone who reads my blog today that “life is life, fight for it.”

Life is…

"Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it."
— Mother Teresa

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Spring!

Spring has come to the Shenandoah Valley. That's what the calendar tells me and that's what my garden tells me too -- my crocuses are fading and my daffodils are blooming. Even my Charlie Brown forsythia bush is in bloom.

Let me rephrase that. It has some blooms. Of course, I should be glad that it has blooms at all, suffering from plant identity confusion as it is. I bought it at a garden group's plant sale, and this little, barely there "stick" with leaves was labeled as a redbud. Imagine my surprise last spring when, instead of the bright pink flowers I was expecting, I saw those bright yellow harbingers of spring, forsythia blossoms. If I was confused, consider what that little stick with leaves was feeling? If someone with gardening expertise doesn't know what it is, how can the stick with leaves have any way of self-identifying?

It's been a brave little stick with leaves, though. During its first winter, we had over 50 inches of snow. It bloomed anyway. This year, winter couldn't make up its mind -- was it winter or summer posing as winter? Our temperatures flipped flopped from one extreme to another. And it's blooming anyway.

My little forsythia bush has given me inspiration. It has fought against the odds and so can I. The arrival of spring means a hiatus in marketing Snow Day. Who wants to think about ski jackets and snow boots in July, after all? Come September, it will be time to re-establish my marketing plan, schedule book signings,and once again focus on getting the word out about my first book.

In the meantime though, I'm gearing up for spring and summer in my garden and in my writing. I walkd around the yard this morning and made a list of spring gardening clean-up chores. My mind is racing with ideas for new gardens in the backyard -- and with ideas for new books. Following on the theme of Snow Day -- enjoying the great outdoors instead computers I am fleshing out a book that gets kids out into their own backyard to do a series of entertaining and educational science projects. And to satisfy the mystery lover in my soul, I'm developing the plot for what I hope will be the first in a series of middle grade books about a group of kids who decide to spend their summer vacation doing good deeds and instead find a summer's worth of adventure.

I definitely have a busy spring and summer ahead of me! How about you?


To celebrate spring, I'm introducing a new blog feature -- The KC Quiz. No prizes, just what I hope will be a fun exchange. So, tell all the KC followers and readers: what's your favorite sign of spring?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sophomore Slump?

Could I be suffering from that college affliction known as "sophomore slump?" Do writers even suffer from sophomore slump? Since this is my first time as a sophomore writer, I have no idea.

But I sure recognize the feelings.

My freshman year at Connecticut College was a mixed bag, as I suspect it is for many students. I spent the first semester adjusting to college and then fell into my groove in the second semester. By the time August rolled around, I couldn't wait to get back to college and start my second year.

Then I got back to campus and started my sophomore year. I wasn't excited any more. My classes didn't inspire me. I couldn't get used to my dorm. I was always tired. I moved through my days unmotivated and in a fog.

My Spanish professor, Dr. Argyle Pryor Rice, told me not to worry. I was suffering what was known as sophomore slump. I was no longer a pampered freshman -- no more early registration or special events planned just for me and my fellow classmates of the class of 1977. And no prestige of being an upperclassman, either. Dr. Rice asusred me that this too would pass.

I am feeling some of that same fog now as I try to move on to my next book.I know what I want to write. I have it plotted out in my head, and the words flow and it sounds fantastic. But when I put the words on paper (or, more accurately, on the computer screen), they don't sound nearly as good or flow as smoothly. It is at this point, my little editor -- that nagging, whiny, mean-spirited little beast in my mind who's favorite word is stupid -- wakes up from naptime. MLE points out all that is wrong with my plot, my characters, and my dialogue.

The delete key has seen a lot of action lately.

This is the total opposite of Snow Day which practically wrote itself one snowy December morning. I should be flying high. I have finally realized my dream of writing a children's book and having it published, and I should be charging ahead into my next book. Instead I'm idling, feeling uninspired, lost in a fog. I have tried various techniques to get break through this, but I am still in the same spot: staring a bunch of words on a page that don't give me a shove to write the next words. If I can't get past the first paragraph, how could a reader ever get past it?

So, I have decided to try a whole new tactic. Not write, at least not that story. I'll focus on marketing efforts for Snow Day. This afternoon, I will get together with my friend Bonnie for scrapbooking, an entirely different kind of creative endeavor. I'll file away all of those scraps of paper with writing ideas on them. Who knows, maybe a photo or another idea will be the impetus I need to get through this sophomore slump.

I just have to remember what Dr. Rice told me all those years ago: this too shall pass.

Friday, January 21, 2011

No snow day for me

I think I may have read Snow Day a few too many times.

For the past few days, the weather forecasters talked up the next snowstorm. It was going to hit overnight, and while the total accumulation being predicted was only a couple of inches, I started doing my snow dance – in my head at least – as soon as I heard the words “the next storm.” I wanted a snow day. I needed a snow day. What difference did it make that it already was only a four-day work week.

When I woke up this morning, I was crushed, overwhelmingly crushed. The ground was bare. Stark naked. Not only was there not a dusting of snow, but there also wasn’t even a snowflake in sight. I cursed the weather forecasters for being wrong, again, and I cursed myself for allowing myself to believe them, again.

I lumbered around the kitchen making breakfast, dragged myself into the shower, all the while lamenting to the cats about all the things I wouldn’t be able to do since we weren’t getting a snow day. I’d planned it all out – I’d clean the kitchen, straighten up the family room, read a little, write a little, even play with the cats. (When Bailey heard that, he meowed which I interpreted to mean “those awful weathermen. How could they get our hopes up like this.” Bailey is a very sympathetic cat.)

Of course, all of the things I planned for my snow day that didn’t happen aren’t nearly as much fun as Tessa, Jake, and Molly did on their snow day. But then again, they’re kids and I’m an adult. Sort of.

Find out more about Tessa, Jake, and Molly’s wintery adventures on their Snow Day at

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The books are here

My author's copies of Snow Day arrived in the mail today. I was expecting them, since Heather, my PR Publicist from Outskirts, had told me they were on their way and should arrive today.

I didn't open the box right away. To tell the truth, I was afraid. Sure, I'd loved the cover when I'd first seen it -- I knew right away it was just what I had imagined. The interior illustrations were bright and fun and captured the essence of my words. I'd approved all, knowing the book would look just like I wanted it to.

Then the books arrived, and along with them, the trepidation. If you're a writer, you know just what I mean. That little internal editor puts in his two cents: "You're going to find a big fat mistake." "The illustrations are going to look different."

So, I put the box on the table, and tried to pretend that it wasn't there. I fed the cats, changed clothes, sorted the rest of the mai, wandered around the house and turned on lights in the living room. All the while, I could almost hear it saying "Open me, open me."

My resolve to ignore that box evaporated in 30 minutes, lasting about as long as it does for my annual New Year's diet. I ripped the box open and took out the top book.

My internal editor was right. Snow Day in the flesh -- in the paper? -- looked very different from the PDF files I had worked with during the production process. The cover is shiny and bright. The colors glisten. I can hear the kids laughing as they slide down the hill in the cover illustration, feel the cold air on my nose. It feels slick and smooth in my hands, just like books by other authors tht I've picked up in the bookstores.

And then I see my name at the bottom. Pamela Greenhalgh Hamilton. My book, not another person's book, but my book. I can't stop thumbing through the pages, seeing the illustrations as if it was the first time I've seen them.

I'm thrilled beyond words, probably not a good thing for a writer to confess to. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's a book!

Thursday, January 13, 2011, was a red letter day for me. Snow Day was published. I have yet to actually hold my book in my hand, but my author's copies should be here in about a week.

I've been on pins and needles ever since I began this journey. Knowing that my book was going to be on bookstore shelves was exciting and daunting at the same time. But once I was immersed in the production process, I really didn't have time to be too excited or too daunted.

The experience was not what I expecte, although I am not sure what I expected either. I guess part of it is that I thought I'd get these huge envelopes in the mail with my book proofs. I guess it's time for me to move into the 21st century! Everything between me, the illustrator, book designer, and cover designer was done by email.I'm still old-fashioned enough to want to put my hands in it, like the good old days of cutting and pasting at The Chronicle. It took me awhile to get used to Outskirts Press's way of doing things. But, since I had no choice, I did.

The biggest challenge for me was the illustrations. I had to describe, in detail, what I wanted each illustration. The illustrator, Bobbi Spitzer, took my words, added her own spin, and turned them into a bright colorful picture. God bless was like she not only read my words but my mind also.

That's not to say there weren't some anxious moments along the way. As soon as I hit "send" to get my descriptions on their way, the panic set in. Was I detailed enough? Is that the way I want that page to be illustrated? Did I put page breaks in the right place?

When I'd open my email and see an email from Outskirts, letting me know my illustrations were ready, my heart would start pounding. Some elicited an immediate "Yes!" from me. It was just as I had envisioned it. Others took three or four review, while others required three or four tweaks. In the end though, when I looked at that final proof, my only thought was, "Just like I imagined."

It has been a fascinating journey so far, and it is far from over. Now comes the rocky terrain -- marketing Snow Day.

To find out more about Snow Day, go to