Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I don't even know where to begin...

The past few days have made me an emotional wreck for three reasons.

1) I released Love You, Always last week which is a book that has more of me in it than any other story I've written or story idea I have. The book deals with loss, grief, family dynamics but also has a lot of love between friends, family and new love.

When I started writing this story, I was grieving. Not for the same reason Anna (the main character in LYA), but for several others. I was grieving my marriage that was on life support and I was grieving for the girl I used to be before I lost myself in my marriage and being a mother of four kids.

I didn't get very far with the manuscript before I set it aside.  I had forgotten about it until nearly six years later when I stumbled upon it while cleaning out my old files on my computer.  I read the prologue and balled my eyes out. I couldn't believe I wrote it but it lit something in me and suddenly it was all I thought about.  Once again, I was grieving but for completely different reasons. My sadness, my grief, my regret, my forgiveness, my hope,  and my love is in this book which makes me feel extremely vulnerable.

2) I put Until Now for free on Amazon. My expectations were quite low. I thought maybe a couple hundred people would pick it up. I was wrong. As of right this minute, it's been downloaded nearly 11k times.  My hands are shaking as I type this.  I know that only a small percentage will actually read it. I still have several free books on my nook that I have yet to read and I know I'm not the only one who has a stock pile of free books, but still...  I'm gearing up for the negative reviews and criticism. I'm imperfect, my books are imperfect and I'm okay with it, I expect it, but I'm still bracing myself for it.  I want people to be honest with me. I really do, but it still hurts. It's like someone calling one of my gorgeous kids "ugly".

3) I've been struggling with the story I'm working on, Love Me. I recently deleted 20k words from it which is over a weeks worth of writing. It was for the best and I'm glad I did it but it put me in a funk. I finally set it aside and started working on the next book in my cue which is the second book in the Until series. Until Us which is Katie's story.  It's going easier and I'm happy about that but it does get frustrating to get into a story then hit a block.

Put them all together and I'm a vulnerable mess.  But I'm glad I'm a vulnerable mess. In the past I would do anything to avoid feeling vulnerable or exposed. I'm a natural wallflower but every time I step out, I feel a little stronger and I need to be stronger to keep going when I get bad reviews or people hate my stories. It reminds me that it's not about them but about me and the stories I want to tell.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's Here!

Love You, Always is finally out in the world.  Eight years in the making. This is a very surreal moment for me.

This is the first book I wrote and when I finished the first draft two years ago, I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it.  I thought about publishing but at the time I wasn't ready.  The book wasn't ready either. We both needed a little more time.  And now it's finished. Eeeek!

Caring for her three children had been Anna’s only priority in the aftermath of losing the man she’d loved since they were seventeen. Forced to move forward with her life, Anna was reeling as she enrolled in college. There she made a friend who had been there and done that, hired a sexy younger man to tutor her in math, who also taught her how to have fun again, and she met a man to love her, whether she wanted it or not. The lessons in life Anna received over her first year of college gave her the strength to live again.


It should be available for the Nook, Kobo and ibook soon.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Introduction to Love You Always

It's coming. Until Love You Always is released, I'll be releasing a few chapters each week until it's out. More motivation for me to get my butt in gear to get my todo list finished.

As a warning, this story deals with loss.

Love You Always
By Cristin Cooper

   “Please! I know it’s my turn, but I’ll give you an I.O.U. if you pick up dinner.” I used the universal sign of pretty please—hands in the begging position, puppy dog eyes, and my lower lip sticking out.
Ryan’s amused grin lit up his whole face. His smile always went straight to my heart. He showed his love for me, told me I was beautiful, and shared his joy, all with that smile. Not once, in the almost twenty years we’d been together, had I ever not melted when he looked at me. It was the reason why he had been it for me since we were seventeen years old. If I were completely honest, I would tell you he had been it before there was ever an it to be.

  Ryan interrupted my reminiscing. “Fine, but you’re going to owe me—big.” He made a pathetic attempt to hold a serious expression.

  “Mhmm okay. Whatever you say.” I attempted to hide my grin by turning away, but he wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me closer, planting a sweet kiss on my lips. You would think kissing the same guy for as long as I had that it would get old, but it never did.

  The kids heard me begging Ryan and surrounded us making dinner requests. Our oldest, Nate, nearly sixteen, sailed past me in height years ago and had yet to stop. To his grandmother’s dismay, he wore his brown hair shaggy, and as much as I would like to see more of his green eyes, it suited him. His features were a balanced blend of Ryan and me, but his fun laid-back personality was definitely inherited from his father.

  Claire, who was almost twelve, was the spitting image of me with her blonde hair and green eyes. We even had the same dimple on our right cheeks. She was a spitfire, and most days, I didn’t like admitting how similar we were. She elbowed Nate, forcing him to take his hand off of her mouth.
Currently, Nate had Claire in a headlock, trying to cover her mouth without getting bit. We should have stopped him, but it might be the only way he would get a word in edgewise.

  Jakey, who was Ryan’s dark-eyed carbon copy, jumped up and down, screaming. “Chichen nuggets! Chichen nuggets!” He was my two and a half‑year‑old ball of cuteness.
Ryan gave me one more squeeze and whispered in my ear. “I already know how you can repay me.” He planted a quick kiss on my mouth, patted my behind, and put his fist out for us to do our wedding ring fist bump. He said, “Love you always,” and stepped out the door. By the look on his face, he was already thinking about the I. O. U.

So was I.

  “I love you always,” I yelled after him.

  I ran up the stairs toward our bedroom and congratulated myself for my brilliance. Not only did I get out of picking up Friday Night Dinner, but I.O.U.'s were the best. It had been at least a week since we’d played naked. Twenty minutes later, I had freshly shaved legs and wore a sexy new bra and panty set underneath my flannel pajamas that Ryan pretended to hate. It was our secret code for “We’re totally having sex tonight!”

  The kids and I had been arguing over what movie to watch when my cell phone rang with Ryan’s ringtone.

  “Honey, I hit a pothole on the way home and have a flat tire. I need you to bring me a flashlight, I can’t see a thing out here.” The back road into town was mainly surrounded by farmland with very few lights on the three-mile stretch.

  “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” As he gave me directions, I debated on whether or not to change out of my jammies. I decided to throw on a sweatshirt and slipped on a pair of flip-flops. It wasn’t likely anybody would see me but Ryan.

  Jakey noticed and handed me his shoes and coat. I interrupted Nate and Claire, who sat on the couch arguing over the remote. “I’ll be back in a bit. I’m taking Jakey with me. Don’t kill each other.” They stopped long enough to ask me where I was going but returned to arguing the moment I turned to leave.

  Jakey and I sang along to his music until I heard sirens and noticed flashing lights in my rearview mirror. I pulled over and turned the volume down, suddenly feeling a heavy weight in my chest.
Jakey squealed with excitement as emergency vehicles passed us. “Mama, powice caw, and ambuwance, and fiwe twuck!”

  “Yup, baby.” Oh my God! Please don’t let it be for Ryan. I reached into my purse for my phone and speed dialed him, repeating, “Please pick up, please pick up, please pick up!!! Oh my God PICK UP!”

  Jakey mimicked me, including increasing the volume of his voice. “Pease pick up.”

  When I got Ryan’s voicemail, I threw my phone on the passenger seat. My hands shook uncontrollably. I told myself to take a deep breath and to calm down, but I knew something was wrong. I pulled back onto the road and stuck to the speed limit, only slowing when I saw the emergency vehicle lights. A young police officer, standing in the middle of the road holding a flashlight, held up his hand, bringing me to a stop. He made a sign to roll down my window and ducked down to look me in the face. “Ma’am, you need to turn around, there has been an accident up here, and it’ll be a while before it’s cleared.”

  My voice cracked when I tried to explain to him I needed to get through. “Officer, my husband is pulled over up here with a flat tire.” When his face blanched, chills ran through my body.

  The officer looked around and then pointed toward a driveway on his left. “Ma’am, why don’t you park over there? I’ll meet you in a few minutes.” This time when he spoke, he wouldn’t meet my eyes. The weight in my chest became almost unbearable.

  I followed his directions and pulled onto a gravel driveway leading up to a farmhouse. The front porch light was on, along with two outside lights hanging from beside a closed barn door. I parked near the house next to a beat up pickup truck.

  It took all my strength to keep the panic from taking over and the tears I felt behind my eyes from flooding my face. I didn’t want to cry, especially not in front of Jakey. I took two ragged breaths then turned around in my seat, and with everything I had, I calmly told Jakey, “I’ll be right back.”
“I go too, Mama?” he begged as he struggled to unbuckle his car seat.

  “Hey, little man, I need you to stay in your seat. I’ll be right back.” My voice shook, and I could see that Jakey was afraid.

  One more deep breath.

  “Jakey, I’m going to see if the police need any help, okay?”

  “Okay, Mama.” I turned on the overhead light and handed him some books we kept in the van for him.

  I stepped out and leaned against the van, making a concentrated effort to hold the panic back.
An older gentleman, wearing dirt covered overalls and an old baseball cap, wandered over as I tried to pull myself together. I assumed he was the owner of the property. I cleared the lump in my throat. “Hi, the officer told me to park in your driveway. I hope that’s all right.”

  “No problem, ma’am. Are you all right?”

  “Oh…uh my husband pulled over up there with a flat tire.”

  He stepped a little closer than was comfortable. The smell of cigarettes on his breath made my stomach churn. He cleared his throat and with a raspy voice asked, “Is he the guy who was hit?”
Oh God! I didn’t know if I said it out loud or over and over in my head.

   Jakey cried out for me as I ran towards the road, tripping on my flip-flops. I kicked them off, allowing the gravel to cut into the tender flesh of my feet. My heart raced and tears blurred my vision, but it didn’t stop me. I needed to get to Ryan. I needed to know he was all right.

  The closer I got to the road, the more Jakey’s cries were drowned out by the sirens of another ambulance arriving to the scene.

  Why don’t they turn it off?

  Where’s Ryan?

  My chest burned from breathing the cold air and my legs shook the closer I got to the flashing lights.
The faster I tried to run, the slower I felt.

  The officer who’d told me to pull me over stepped in front of my path, gripping the top of my arms to keep me from getting closer. I tried to get past him, but he tightened his hold. “Ma’am, you need to go back to your van.” The young man’s voice wavered and sounded almost panicked.

  I looked past him and watched as another office helped a handcuffed man into the back of an ambulance that blocked my view of the accident. The man appeared confused and unsteady on his feet. Just as an EMT closed the backdoor to ambulance, the man lifted his head and looked directly at me. He wasn’t a man—just a boy. He couldn’t have been much older than Nate. I was still too far away to see much detail, except for his ponytailed blond hair and a trail of blood that ran from his eyebrow down his face, leaving a bright red stain on his t-shirt.

  I stopped struggling and glared at the officer holding me back. The exact moment I said, “My husband called me,” the ambulance with the young man, pulled away. The words stuck in my throat when I saw what was left of our car, and then I saw him.

  He lay on the ground completely still as paramedic covered him with a sheet.

  My legs refused to hold me; I fell to the ground, the gravel biting into my hands and knees. “Ryan! Oh God, Ryan!”

Eighteen months later.
  With a kick to my lower back and a miniature fist whacking me in the face, I startled awake. I reached behind me and felt Jakey’s warm little body fast asleep. Turning over to slide him closer to Ryan’s side of the bed, I felt it. “What the... Ugh! Not again! Jakey! You have to keep your pull-up on all night. You cannot sleep in Mommy’s bed if you are going to keep peeing in it!” I made the same threat three or four times a week but had yet to kick him out.

  “I’m sorry, Mama.” His lower lip trembled as tears streaked down his face. In my frustration, I wanted to throttle him; my mattress was starting to smell like a urinal. But I also wanted to hug him and never let him go. He still struggled with missing Ryan. We all did. “I know, little man, but you need to go potty before you get into my bed.”

  I would never admit this to anyone, but Jakey peeing my bed was the only reason I got out of it some days. It had been eighteen months since Ryan’s death, and it still hadn’t gotten easier. Every day I woke up and thought of a reason to get out of bed because the sun coming up was no longer a good enough argument for me. In an attempt to provide some kind of motivation, I made goals each day. For example:
  1. I would not go back to bed until it was actually my bedtime;
  2. I would exercise, whether I liked it or not;
  3. I would not argue with Claire. I made this goal daily and had yet to achieve it.

  I felt pretty good when I achieved one. Two meant I was having a good day. Three would be a miracle. I no longer believed in miracles.

 “Hey, little man, let’s get in the tub, then you can go running with Mommy.”

  It had become our morning ritual. I was never into working out before Ryan’s death, but friends encouraged me to get out and exercise as a way to help me cope. Now, I was one of those crazy people who loved to run, at least once I got out of bed.

  After a quick clean up, I filled our water bottles and headed out. I usually ran anywhere from three to five miles. I felt anxious about my first day of college and Jakey’s first day of preschool, so it was a five-mile day.

  Ryan and I had talked about me going back to school once Jakey was in first grade. Unfortunately, waiting was no longer an option. If I was careful, I would have enough money from Ryan’s life insurance to make it through getting my degree in Elementary education and then some. In addition to his life insurance, I sold our larger home and downsized to a cute little house that was nearly paid for with the equity accrued from our old one, keeping our expenses fairly reasonable.

  We passed a few of the regulars we saw every morning, but it wasn’t until mile two that we passed a tall twenty‑something guy, who had a body and face that looked like it had been chiseled out of granite. His short military haircut and sunbaked tan did nothing to detract from his blue eyes so bright I could see them from a distance.

  Shirtless hot guy—oh help me. Unable to help it, I stared, watching his muscles flex under his sweaty skin, and my belly tightened with the first twinge of desire I had felt in eighteen months. I was too busy drooling over his body to notice his eyes were following me as well. When I finally noticed, he smiled, causing me to stumble and him to release a rumbling chuckle. If my face hadn’t been red from exertion, it would have been from embarrassment. I turned away and picked up my pace to put some distance between us. I was surprised by my reaction to him and frustrated that a young guy could get me so flustered.

  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t think about anything but shirtless guy. I wasn’t the least bit interested in a relationship, but obviously my body missed sex—a lot.

  Some days, I missed wanting someone and having him want me. I missed back scratches. I missed having a hard body wrapped around mine; missed hands in my hair; missed making love. Most of all, I missed those things with Ryan.

  I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life alone and knew that Ryan wouldn’t want that for me either. I just wished my physical needs would match my emotional state of mind. I wasn’t ready for a new man and feared that I never would be.

  After our run, I sat Jakey in front of the TV to watch cartoons and hollered for Claire to make him oatmeal so I could get into the shower.

  She yelled back from the bathroom, where she was getting ready for school. “You’re the Mom! You take care of him!” Oh Lord, it was going to be one of those days.

  She stood in the doorframe of the bathroom with her arms crossed. “You’re right, but it’s also my job to delegate and raise caring, unselfish human beings. Please get him breakfast.”

  She bumped my shoulder as she walked past me, mumbling something under her breath. When I asked what she said, she yelled, “I have to do everything around here!” She huffed as she stomped around the kitchen, opening and slamming cupboard doors.

  “You didn’t hear?” She squinted her eyes and stared at me. Holding a straight face, I said, “It’s been all over the news. All thirteen-year-olds are officially responsible for everything!”

  Claire glared at me, her eyes slits in her face. “You. Are. Not. Funny!” she said, emphasizing each word.

  I was starting to get concerned that her face would get stuck in the scowl that had taken up residence on her face.

  “I’m laughing,” Nate said with exaggerated cheerfulness. He attempted to pinch Claire, but she slapped his hand away. They’d always fought, but they also used to joke and tease each other. I couldn’t remember the last time Claire laughed or joked about anything. Before Ryan’s death, she used to be fun and playful, but that girl was gone. Old Claire had been replaced with an angry, bitter version of Claire, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

  “Of course you would. You never have to do anything!” Claire stood with her hands fisted and arms straight against her sides, like the effort of keeping them there was the only thing keeping her from taking a swing at us.

  “Yeah, like I never have to take you to school, or pick you up, or take you to your stupid friends’ houses, or make dinner, or help you with homework. You’re right, I never have to do anything.” The sarcasm dripped from his mouth. I didn’t have to see Nate to know he was smirking.

  “Whatever. Those aren’t even hard.” Claire turned her back to us and opened the fridge to get out juice.

  “Like heating up water to make instant oatmeal?” I should have put a stop to Nate. I’m the mom. I shouldn’t take sides, but he had a point.

  “Shut up! You two are always picking on me.” Claire wiped away tears as she tried to walk past me to go to her room.

Now I’ve done it.

  I didn’t know why I reacted to her the way I did. I was tired and frustrated that every day was a challenge, and I was angry that Ryan wasn’t here to deal with her. They were always close; he’d understood her in a way I never had. Conversations with Claire usually ended with her crying and me angry.

  I held my arms out to her. “I’m sorry, Claire Bear.” She attempted to push past me, but I was faster and quickly wrapped my arms around her in a hug before she could make her escape. She fought me at first but finally relaxed against me and cried.

 This was our life now, whether we liked it or not.

  “I’m sorry that you feel like you’re doing too much. I know taking care of Jakey isn’t fair to you or Nate, but I need your help. How about this weekend we have a girls’ lunch and get pedicures?”

  “Yeah, I’d like that. Do you think Aunt Kimmie could come?” She stepped away from my hold and wiped away her tears.

  “I’ll call and ask.” Having my sister as a buffer would be good for both of us.

  Claire and I had spent so much time arguing that the kids would be late if they didn’t get moving. “Go ahead and finish getting ready for school. I’ll take care of Jakey. I love you always.” I kissed the top of her head and playfully swatted her butt as she walked out of the kitchen. I stood in the middle of the kitchen, drawing on all of my reserved energy to finish getting ready when Nate came up behind me and gave me a hug. He was a giant compared to my 5'4 frame. “Love you, Mom. You’re going to do great today.” He leaned in and kissed the side of my head.