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2016 Year in Review and My Hope for 2017

In some ways, 2016 was amazing. In other ways, it re-awakened old fears I thought long put to rest. So in the spirit of the New Year, let me reflect on the past and find hope for the future.

I started going through my calendar to review where I went and what I did. And it turns out, it was a lot so I’m going to break things down in number and highlight the hits of 2016.

2016 by the Numbers Number of retreats: 3 Number of school visits: 8 (5 of those in 9 days) Number of students talked to at visits: 4860 Number of book signings: 12 Number of conferences: 6 Number of panels/presentations/writing workshops (not including school visits): 37

Whew! No wonder I was so tired this year.

Now here are some of the highlights.

Normally, every year kicks off with the Muncie Family Reunion (aka the Cool Kids Retreat), and 2016 was no exception (though 2017 required pushing it back to March). When I refer to my Muncie family, I’m not talking about a family with the last name of Muncie. Nope. I’m talking about the family that was made when I went to Midwest Writer’s Workshop back in 2009 (in Muncie, IN… you should come this summer. I hear it’s going to be amazing!) I was so lucky to fall into a group of amazing writers. We aren’t a critique group. We are a life support group. There aren’t enough words in all the languages in the world to describe how much Kelly, Joe, Irene, Dan, Terri, Lisa, and Kelsey mean to me, but there is one word to define how my life is because of them: Blessed.

Speaking of MWW, I FINALLY got to be a member of the faculty. It was awesome and I’m not going to lie. I hope they ask me to come back another year.

In April, at the encouragement of my pub sis, Amalie Howard, I attended the Romantic Times Convention (RT for short). I kinda hesitated at the cost but ultimately took the plunge. It was a blast. Not only did I get a chance to spend time with writer friends, I also met so many new ones! I had fun playing trivia contests, helping to host a slumber party and chatting with one of the romance cover models as he explained how tight a cowboy hat can get when you wear it ALL DAY long. I also tried my hand a gambling with fake money and realized I really, really like Texas Hold ‘em and playing slots on a machine is nothing like playing my app. The not winning hurts more. In the end, I left with books I never thought I would ever read (romance) and found out that I kinda like ‘em. This was also when I met my first “fan” who was so excited to meet me she was shaking. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. She was super sweet and topped the event off perfectly. I see another RT in my future… hopefully one a little closer to home.

After coming back from RT, it was time to gear up for summer reading at the public library. But between the Sheriff getting his promotion to management, still homeschooling the kidlets, and my writing career requiring more and more time, it became pretty clear that something had to give. And so I made the decision that this would be my last summer at the public library. Ultimately, I held out until the end of October because I didn’t want to leave. (Oh, and because I was planning a kickbutt YA Author Festival for them and it would have been rude.) I loved my job, but I love my family more and the writing has been a dream of mine since I was 10 years old. It was the thing that had to be done. And of course, as soon as I do, the library changed it’s policy and decided to allow the employees to wear capris. (Yes, I am still vexed about that.)

Another big moment in 2016 came in March when I joined my critique group the YA Cannibals. To say I was nervous joining an already established group is an understatement. But they are so good at what they do and I can’t imagine moving forward with my writing without them. Each of them has lent a part of their writing selves to me and I am stronger because of it. I can’t wait to see what 2017 is going to bring for several of my partners who are so closed to getting to the next stage in their writing journey.

I think the best moment occurred at the Books by the Banks conference in October. Last year, I agreed to take part in the Lip Sync Contest and got my butt handed to me by David Arnold. While I will go to my grave claiming that I was robbed, I had a shot at redemption and I wasn’t going home without that trophy. I faced off with Lauren Gibaldi, Kristina McBride and my fellow Cannibal, Shannon Lee Alexander. It was a hard fought battle, but oh my gosh, I laughed so hard. This year, I might actually agree with you if you said Shannon was robbed. But the trophy is staying with me. She can claim it next year! I’m retired.

To celebrate gainful unemployment, I “treated” myself to a 4 day retreat in the Smoky Mountains. If you are looking for a retreat or workshop this year, check out Madcap Retreats. Run by authors for both published and aspiring authors, they really know what they’re doing. In just a couple of days I met people I might never have interacted with in my real life and walked away with some amazing new friends. I’m not sure if another retreat is in the cards for 2017, but you can bet I will be there in 2018, even if I have to gate crash! (Just kidding. There’s no gate.)

So that was 2016, but what about 2017?

The end of the year threw many of the people I love and care about for a loop. To say this country is divided is an understatement. I fear we are on the path of civil war, but not one fought with guns and cannons, but one fought with words. Where the wounds inflicted may cut so deep into the soul that there is no hope of recovery. I fear that the country I love will be divided by hate and mistrust and judgment and even worse. So I have a simple hope for 2017. I hope that we will all stop shouting. I hope that we will be silent and listen when people we don’t think we like or we don’t understand speak. I hope we will hear each other. I hope those of privilege will see that it’s not always about them and yes, sometimes you have to lose so that others can have a chance to win.

Above all, I hope we will rise above where we are now. That we will pause long enough on our race up the ladder of life to help someone who has stumbled. You don’t have to be a high school athlete at a state track meet to sacrifice your place so that someone else can finish the race. I pray for a nationwide call to compassion instead of arms.

But do not mistake what I am saying. If someone wants to trample on the civil rights of other, even in the name of religious freedom, I hope that I will not stand idle. I hope I will act, whether a quiet gesture of grace and good will or knocking over the proverbial table and demanding that this, whatever this is, shall not be tolerated anymore.

Peace and goodwill to all of you as we try to remember to write “2017” instead of “2016” on our contracts and checks and papers and post-it notes. Blessings to this country and strength to her people.

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