Priceless

After checking out of a truly horrific hotel (but that’s another story . . .) my family headed for Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, IL. The whole family piled into the van, including my husband and myself, our two kids, and my parents. For my parents and our son, it was their first Great America experience.

As we wandered around the park, seeking out the best rides for young kids, I noticed several enormous Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman stuffed dolls. They were hard to miss, as they were bigger than some of the kids carrying them. It wasn’t long before my daughter grabbed my arm and said, with a grin on her face, “Look at those big Wonder Womans! I know someone who would like that.”

“Auntie Kris?” I asked.

“Yes! We have to buy one for her.”

I explained that they were prizes to win and that we probably couldn’t buy them in any of the stores. She looked bummed out for a while, then got distracted by trying to get Grandma and Grandpa to go on some rides. Not an easy task with a grandma who doesn’t care for heights and a grandpa who kept asking, “Where are the games?”

My dad’s favorite part of theme parks has always been the carnival-type games, so whenever we’d pass a a courtyard of games, he’d start searching his pockets for money even before we knew which games they were. The whole family played several games throughout the day, but he played (and won) the most. What he really wanted to play was Skee-Ball, his favorite. I have several memories of my dad and grandma bonding for hours in the arcade building of the amusement park in New York that we used to go to when my brother and I were kids. The two of them had a grand old time slinging scratched brown balls up the ramp, trying to best each others’ scores by firing the most Skee-Balls into the 50-point slot, while the rest of us stood in line for rides.

We had already accumulated several stuffed prizes when we finally walked by the Skee-Ball tent. My dad’s eyes lit up. So did my daughter’s; one of the prizes for winning Skee-Ball was–you guessed it–a gigantic Wonder Woman.

“You have to win, Grandpa!” she exclaimed. “We need to win a Wonder Woman.”

My dad shelled out the two dollars per person so we could each play a round. None of us was exactly fabulous, and none of us won any prizes. Everyone declined to give it another go except my dad. I knew he’d play several more rounds or until he won something.

“That was my warm-up game,” he declared of his not-too-impressive first attempt.

“Try really hard, Grandpa,” my daughter urged. “We just need that Wonder Woman.”

And I got a sinking feeling that the outcome of Skee-Ball would make or break this trip to Great America. Twenty years from now, the tone in which our kids reminisced over that day would be linked to winning or not winning a giant Wonder Woman.

I’d been been part of a group that won a giant stuffed prize from a carnival game exactly twice in my life. The first time, my little brother had somehow managed to fling a beat-up red ring over the neck of a bottle. He won a humongous Barney the dinosaur figure for his efforts. It was pure luck. He was ten or so at the time, so he was beyond mortified at the prospect of having to haul a big Barney around the carnival. We ended up giving it to our cousin Autumn. Being toddler-aged, she appreciated the annoying purple dinosaur.

The second time we won was at a county fair, and the prize had been a giant stuffed turtle. My grandmother (who was with us at that fair) loved turtles. She had an extensive collection of turtle knickknacks and had pointed Giant Stuffed Turtle out earlier as we made our first sweep around the fairgrounds. My husband (technically, he was my fiance at the time) and I kept forking over five dollar bill after five dollar bill to get more buckets of rings. Five or six buckets later, when we finally agreed this would be our last one, the woman running the game asked us which prize we were so set on winning. “The turtle,” I said. “It’s for my grandma. She collects turtles.” I turned to motion behind me at the rest of my family. There was my little old lady, 77-year-old grandma cheering us on from her wheelchair.

The woman handed us the bucket of rings and when we were about half way done failing to get any rings from that last bucket even close to winning, the woman reached into her apron, slipped a ring on a bottleneck, and shouted, “Winner! Grandma gets a turtle!” Unlike my brother and his mortification at winning Barney, Grandma was perfectly happy to carry her ginormous prize around for the rest of the fair.

So being that my only experiences with winning large prizes thus far had been a kid’s dumb luck and a gift by a kind fair worker, I wasn’t holding out hope that things would end well for either my dad or my daughter.

What I hadn’t counted on was my dad’s old Skee-Ball skills coming back. He started flinging balls up the ramp, and several dropped right into the 100 or 50 point slots. When he was down to his last ball, he only needed to score ten points to get to the magic number that would win a prize. Thus, the flashing light went off at the end of his second game.

“You win a prize!” the worker announced.

“What are the prizes we get to choose from?” my dad asked, as we waited for her to bring out some rinky-dink prize that he could turn in for a slightly-less rinky-dink prize over and over again until 25 games and $50 later he could get those upgraded to a “medium prize.”

But she pointed at the giant Supermen, Batmen, and Wonder Women hanging down from the top of the tent. “Anything you see.”

We (the adults in our group) stood there in shock, while my daughter immediately yelled out, “Wonder Woman! We want the Wonder Woman!” as she jumped up and down and clapped, as if the Skee-Ball worker was going to give her a million dollars, not an obnoxiously large stuffed super hero.

The woman smiled and handed my dad a ginormous Wonder Woman. My daughter looked as if she were going to burst with excitement, and my dad looked pretty thrilled to be the Skee-Ball hero.

“I didn’t know she liked Wonder Woman,” Dad said to me as we started walking to the next game (with Giant Wonder Woman) in tow.

“It’s not for her,” I told him.

“Yeah, it’s for Auntie Kris,” my daughter spoke up. “She loves Wonder Woman! This is the best trip to Great America ever!”

As we made our way toward the two-story carousel for one last ride, my dad, seeming touched, said to me, “I thought she wanted it for herself. That was really nice of her to think of someone else.”

It was one of those moments as a parent when you sit back and feel like amidst all your (daily) mistakes and lack of patience and Pinterest baking fails, you’re doing something right. Watching my daughter’s excitement at achieving something for the sole purpose of making someone else’s day ranks pretty high on my list of favorite parental moments and probably won’t get bumped off it very soon.

My kids aren’t perfect. The screaming, whining, and fighting involved on the ride home that began within an hour of this heartwarming event is testament to that.

But life is about cultivating relationships and doing what you can for the people you love. It’s about thinking about our friends first and being just as excited when good things happen to them as we are when we’re the recipients of good fortune ourselves. As a Christmas special would say, it’s about giving rather than receiving.

My daughter knows that at eight, so I feel encouraged that she will grow up to be the sort of person who takes great joy in giving to others. Giving her the opportunity to do just that was definitely worth the expense of a day at a theme park.

Admission to theme park: $284

Parking: $25

Lunch for the whole family: $89

Winning a gigantic Wonder Woman for your friend: Priceless

 The fam with our huge prize

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jenifer Brady is a mom, photographer, and the author of the Abby’s Camp Days series, set at the fictional Camp Spirit. Her current work-in-progress is a fantasy trilogy. Find out more about her books at http://www.jeniferbrady.com or her Amazon Central page: http://amazon.com/author/jeniferbrady.

Wise Ink is pure gold

The amount of writing advice plastered all over the internet can be overwhelming. There are how-to books by experts, downloadable PDFs about formatting, and websites dedicated to perfecting craft. In my experience, most writers don’t have the time to check out every post or recommendation. Therefore, I rarely repost writing advice or suggest resources to anybody. There’s just so much out there. I don’t want to add to the madness.

But every now and then, a writer stumbles upon a resource that is pure gold. This past month, I did just that with Wise Ink Creative Publishing. I’m so excited about this resource that I have to share!

I didn’t think much of social media as an author before last month. After all, I’d followed the social media rule that all the experts drill into your head over and over–I had a blog, web site, Facebook, and Twitter dedicated to my books. I even posted on them and everything. But not much had come of these efforts. I’d made a couple of connections but very few sales resulted and gaining “likes” and followers seemed random and slow-going.

I figured social media was a waste of time. It sure hadn’t worked for me. Maybe if I were a famous author, I’d have an easy time getting people to notice me on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe more than a handful of fellow writer friends would read and comment on my blog. But if I were famous already, I wouldn’t be struggling so much to build up my fan base.

Then I met Amy and Dara, the ladies behind Wise Ink, at a writers conference in May. By the time they finished with their two short presentations on blogging and social media, I knew I’d found a source I needed to check out further. They had brought along copies of their book, “Social Media Secrets for Authors,” so I purchased one. It was inexpensive, and I figured I might as well see what they had to say.

Life got in the way and I just the other day found the time to read the book cover to cover. Wow. That’s all I can say. I’d read several books on social media before, but this was the first one that offered suggestions as to what a writer might be doing wrong with his or her social media accounts. No wonder my efforts weren’t being rewarded; I was doing many of the things they said would hurt an author’s cause rather than help it. The light bulb went off, and suddenly social media made sense.

Taking in all the golden information they provided in this book has made me rethink the way I look at and understand social media. Now I’m making efforts to change the way I use it as well. 

I also checked out their website, http://www.wiseinkpub.com and got lost for nearly an hour devouring all the articles I found on writing, publishing, and marketing. Every time I’d think, just one more article, then I have to get off the computer, I’d find something else that looked interesting.

If you’re a writer looking for inspiration, advice, and fun, I highly recommend Wise Ink and “Social Media Secrets for Authors.” I can’t wait to see what other light bulbs will go off in my writer’s brain based on things I read on their site.

Waiting for that big catch . . .

The past few months I’ve been focusing on a new project that deviates greatly from my last decade’s work on the Abby’s Camp Days series. It’s fairly taken over my life and consumed my thoughts (and grown so large that my “one quick fantasy book just for a little break from summer camp books” is morphing into a probably trilogy) but today I took some time out to work on editing the sixth volume of Abby’s Camp Days, which I hope (fingers crossed!) to have out near the beginning of April.

There are a lot of great parts that I think Camp Spirit fans will love—Abby’s insights, the counselors’ interactions, a powerful Bible study by Dean Rick, camp wedding talk, and, of course, Carin’s boy-crazy comic relief.

But I think I’ve stumbled upon my favorite line of the book, and possibly my favorite line of the series. I think I love it because it speaks not only to junior high campers but to me as well. Throughout the book, the campers are praying for something that doesn’t look like it will go their way. Then, just as they accept that God’s closed that particular door, they receive news that makes them look at things in a whole new way.

That’s when Abby comments:

Sometimes, God doesn’t say, “No,” when you think He does. He says, “Just wait for My timing and trust Me.”

Being an independent author can be frustrating. It’s hard to find readers, hard to get into bookstores, hard to make your books catch on when you’re going it alone. The years of pouring your heart and soul into writing only to achieve a fraction of the success you’ve dreamed about take their toll.

I’ve been seeing God’s timing in my writing and in my life, and the way my new project is going, I’ve had revived love for this art called writing and renewed hope that some of my writing dreams that I’d given up on can be achieved someday.

I’m reminded of the story of Jesus and the fishermen. They’d been out all night, casting their nets over the side of their boat, and they’d gotten squat. But Jesus told them to cast out their nets one more time. It had been a completely unsuccessful night of fishing, and I’m sure they were tired and just wanted to give up and go home. They even told him, “Hey, Jesus, we’ve been trying all night. It’s just not happening” (my modernized paraphrase, of course). But they trusted their Lord and kept at it, just because Jesus had asked them to do so.

And what do you know . . . they ended up catching so many fish that their nets broke.

When God’s called us to use our talents to do things for Him, we can’t give up, no matter how discouraged we become. If we’re faithful to Him in our endeavors, He’ll reward us with new life and new vigor for those things we love, which I’ve been experiencing daily with my new writing challenge.

We might not know where He’s leading us, but we must keep persevering, despite what kind of disappointing “catch” our previous efforts have provided because you never know when He’s going to give you so much success that your nets will start breaking. He hadn’t said no to those fishermen, even though it might have felt like it to them. He’d said, “Just wait for My timing and trust Me.”

It’s good advice, even if it does come from a fictional fourteen-year-old camper, and sometimes it’s all we can do.

~~~~~~~~~

Jenifer Brady (http://www.jeniferbrady.com) is the author of the Abby’s Camp Days series (amzn.to/11CR0Pu) and Buddy Check (amzn.to/1le3Teq), all set at the fictional church camp, Camp Spirt.

A New Year of Writing

A New Year of Writing

I’m about to embark on a new year of writing.

I know, I know, everybody is because it’s the first week of January. But during the past few weeks I’ve made some changes in my writing and decisions about writing that will result in more changes, so it seems like a new year more than usual.

I’m still working on the sixth volume of my Abby’s Camp Days series. It was a very fun book to write, and the feedback from my Beta-readers was incredibly positive, so I’m getting excited to share it. I’m hoping for a March/April release, but that depends on several things. I had a few setbacks, the most recent being my e-reader breaking, but hopefully Volume 6 will be back on track soon. The characters are getting older, so their relationships are changing and evolving, and some new developments might surprise readers in this book.

After that, Abby will be taking a little break.

Fear not, fans of Abby; I will be coming back to finish the last four books in her story soon, as well as the bonus book set 20 years into the future of Camp Spirit (I have quite a bit of each book written in rough draft form already), but a break is necessary for many reasons:

1. I’ve been writing Abby and her friends and counselors for a looooooooooooong time. I started writing Buddy Check, my first book set at Camp Spirit back in 1997, and before that, while in high school, I had written at least three (very bad, unpublishable, embarrassing) novels set at a similar camp. Some of the characters, plots, and dialogues for Super Counselors were directly lifted directly from those books and then reworked, so actually I’ve been working on these stories for 20+ years. And while I love Abby and the gang and have a lot more of their story to tell, it’s time for me to grow as a writer. A new idea for a completely different type of book came to me recently, and I’ve recaptured that excitement in sitting down at the computer to write, and getting those “Aha!” moments in the grocery store in which a brilliant scene comes to mind and then rushing home (sometimes forgetting some of the things I went for) because jotting down storyline notes is far more important than remembering the milk. I love Abby. I really do. And I won’t leave her hanging forever, but her story wasn’t progressing because it had gotten stale in my head. There’s no point forcing something that won’t come; all you get is bad writing, and Abby deserves better.

2. The new book is screaming to be written! More about that later.

3. A fresh start is needed. Authors write for readers. Without readers, there’s no point in writing. I have a core group of faithful and encouraging Abby fans, and I am eternally grateful to each and every one of them for sharing Abby’s story and loving Camp Spirit with me. I started writing these books because this was the series I longed for when I was in junior high and high school but couldn’t find. I knew when I started that my audience would be a small niche, and I was okay with that, but I didn’t realize just how small. Marketing has been quite a challenge. It’s hard to go years and years without finding that audience and still sustain the enthusiasm necessary to keep at it. For the past decade, the YA market has been dominated by fantasy and dystopia, so I thought it might be time to join the ranks. Who knows whether I will find a broader audience or not, but if so, I’m hoping new readers will find my Camp Spirit books and come to love Abby as well.

4. This point is going to be hard to write without giving too much away, so if you absolutely hate spoilers, you should probably skip this one . . . but . . . A big part of my 2013 was watching as friends of mine went down a long, hard road. This road was a rollercoaster ride full of bumps and hopes and heartaches, and it is similar to what one of the main families in my Abby series faces starting with the next book. It’s all a bit hard to think about right now without letting my mind go to my friends, and I need a little time to let the events of 2013 fade. I figured that right now, with my creativity straining to go in a completely different direction, would be a good time to branch out and try the new genre while allowing some healing time, so that when I come back to Abby and these storylines, I can hopefully write a beautiful but difficult story with some objectivity.

I debated whether or not to let my readers know what my next book is about. Every book I’ve published so far has been a children’s or young adult novel set at a Christian camp in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during contemporary times, and this book will be quite a departure. I don’t know if I will even be successful, as it is a new genre as well as a new perspective. I will be writing in third person for the first time since I started publishing. Some of those old (very bad, embarrassing) books I wrote in high school were third person, but all the Camp Spirit books have been first person, and I’ve become very comfortable with that perspective.

There were way too many interesting characters (over the span of three generations) in this story to attempt first person, though, so I’m going with third person. I’ve been enjoying the challenge and freedom. Yes, freedom. I thought third person would be incredibly limiting, but I’ve discovered just the opposite—being able to follow many characters’ journeys instead of just one adds so many layers to a story.

For this and many other reasons, I have a huge fear of failure with this story. Fear that I won’t be able to create intriguing characters and convey their thoughts well enough in third person. Fear that the story will fall apart half way through my writing it. Fear that my research won’t be extensive enough to make it ring true. Fear that my inexperience writing something like this will make it sound like just a predictable clone of what’s already out there. Fear that it’s not the subject of summer camp that draws a small audience; it’s me, and that I won’t be able to find an audience for this either.

But it wasn’t until I flat-out told someone (Dave, one of my own camp deans and friends) back in the year 2001 that I was writing a book that I got serious about publishing in the first place. I had finally taken that terrifying step of telling someone outside of my family that I was going through with it, and from that moment on, I was accountable. I didn’t want to be one of those thousands of people who say, “I’d like to write a book . . .” and then does nothing about it. I wanted to be an author. So I made it happen despite the fears I faced.

I’m again in the same predicament. You’d think that with seven (almost eight) novels under my belt, that the fear of failure would go away, but it doesn’t. Especially when you try something new.

So . . . here’s the admission: I plan to spend the next year working on (and hopefully completing and starting the agent submission process for) a Medieval fantasy-type novel. I’ve always been fascinated with kings and queens, princesses and knights, fairies and castles and magic, as far back as I can remember. One of my earliest memories of going to the library was choosing the Disney version of Robin Hood from the video section every time. Every single time.

I’m 173 pages (and 51,000 words) into my new kingdom and having a blast, so if nothing else, it will be one gigantic writing lesson. I’ve been enjoying reading everything in the genre I can get my hands on, learning the ins and outs, and figuring out what I will do differently (there will most definitely not be pages and pages and pages of description of dew on leaves as my characters walk through the forest . . . sorry, just not happening, as I have better things to get to like dialogue and character development), and figuring out where the void is to fill.

Of course, at the core, there has to be a little summer camp in there, too, right? How can you make gimp/lanyard bracelets magical? (Hint: I’ve figured it out and it involves Pegasus hair and fairy-like creatures.)

Don’t worry, Abby, I will be back shortly—perhaps with a new appreciation for you and many fresh ideas to finish your story. I’ve already written much of the final four books, so with a little perspective and some time off to grow as a writer, I think we’ll charge into high school camp together just fine. Let me slay a few dragons before we tackle yours.

~~~~~~~~~~~

If you want to catch up on the first five volumes of Abby’s Camp Days before the sixth comes out this spring, they are available in both paperback and Kindle. Find out more information at www.jeniferbrady.com.

Off To the Races Again

Last week I poured out my thoughts and feelings about being a marathon spectator and family member of distance runners in light of the Boston Marathon bombing. I did it mainly as therapy to help me process my own feelings about what happened, and I expected a couple of my friends to read it and possibly make a comment or two if they were feeling extra supportive that day or looking to waste some more time on the Internet while at work. I was absolutely blown away by the number of hits, likes, shares, and reblogs I got both from friends and total strangers and the amount of touching comments I received, encouraging me to keep spectating races.

I had my first opportunity to do just that this past Saturday morning.

It was a 5K run/walk, not a marathon. It took place in a tiny town of 800 people, not a historic city of hundreds of thousands. You didn’t have to have a certain time to qualify; in fact, you could even show up in your jeans two minutes before the start time and join in, as a couple of my neighbors did. It wasn’t a famous and celebrated event; instead, it was a new, fun run to raise awareness about organ donation, started and organized by one of my husband’s co-workers who suffers from a liver disease.

But it was a race.

It had runners. It had trophies for the winners. It had music blasting from loudspeakers at the start/finish area and an announcer cheering finishers on. It had a mascot (Dottie, the Organ Orange Dot . . . AKA a guy in a goofy orange circular costume). It had a water/fruit stand at the end.

And it had spectators.

Not millions. Not thousands. Not even hundreds. Mainly, the spectators were the people who organized it, a couple of participants’ moms, and runners/walkers who had already finished.

But we spectators stood there, at the finish, unafraid, cheering our friends and family members on. People laughed, kids ran (and placed!), parents pushed babies in strollers, and music played. Some people just walked it for fun without any training whatsoever. Others could be seen pre-race warming up, earbuds in, shutting out the rest of the chaos with their regular running playlists, seriously in the zone. Flags roped off streets and indicated the route. It was pretty much a mini-version of all those marathons and half-marathons I’d loved spectating in the past . . . and it was great!

I wasn’t only a spectator this time. I was also the race photographer. I just opened my photography business this fall, and I’ve mainly focused on portraits. This was my first attempt at event photography, so I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes. I already have several strategies in mind to be able to do a better job next year. But I was there, snapping pictures of all the participants as they crossed the finish line.

There was picture that I knew I was going to take before the race even started. When I scoped out the venue the day before, I noticed that the American flag was still flying at half-mast to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon. I also knew that the start/finish was going to be set up a little ways in front of the flag.

I wanted a picture of that finish line with the half-mast flag in the background.

Image

It’s not a fabulous picture, not going to win any awards. The image looked way better and more moving in my mind than the actual jpeg did when I uploaded the pictures to my computer. The grass looked nicer and there weren’t any random cars cluttering the frame in my mind. The whole process kind of reminded me of those fabulous book scenes I write in a half-asleep state in the middle of the night that turn out just so-so when I try to recreate them the next morning, plucking away at my keyboard.

But this picture means something to me and (I hope) to other marathon runners and spectators. It means we will go on. We will keep enjoying this sport that means so much to us. We will race to that finish line over and over, whether it’s on the course hoping for a personal best or off the course hoping to make it in time to see our loved ones cross the line.

We will not forget. That flag will always be at half-mast in the back of our minds when we participate in these events. But the finish line will be in the foreground, and that’s what we’ll focus on.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jenifer Brady is the author of the Abby’s Camp Days series. Her new artistic love is photography (http://jeniferbrady.zenfolio.com). 

Who Are Marathon Spectators?

I am a marathon spectator.

I, myself, don’t run. Trust me, I’ve tried. Treadmill, road, track. I want to be one of those amazing athletes who push themselves to keep going, just one more mile . . . and then just one more after that. I want to feel the heaviness of a finisher’s medal around my neck and the crinkle of a shiny wrap around my shoulders. I long to round a corner, dead tired and foot sore, to see a sign with my name on it urging me to go the distance.

I’m just not a runner. I don’t have the drive, the patience, the endurance.

But I am a marathon spectator.

There are few other events that I enjoy more. The pumped up, friendly atmosphere, the inspiring stories, the peppy music, the colorful race outfits, the challenge of navigating by car to the place you want to be to see a runner friend or family member pass while all the main streets of town are blocked off. The expo the day before that has all those state-of the art shoes, weird-looking energy bars, and t-shirts and magnets with inside jokes printed on them that only runners and their family members would understand or laugh over. I love it all.

My first date with my husband was to a marathon he was participating in. Fifteen years ago, my good friend called me to say he had a big weekend coming up: a wedding he was attending Saturday night in one state followed by a marathon he was running Sunday morning in another. He asked me to come along with him and a couple of friends on the trip. Sometime during that weekend, between dancing at the wedding, holding hands and talking during the long car drive, and cheering him on in amazement as he ran farther, longer, and harder than I ever could, we fell in love. The Fox Cities Marathon in Appleton will always have a place in my heart for its role in our early romance.

My husband’s brother and sister-in-law (and now their two daughters) were also avid marathon, triathlon, and Iron Man enthusiasts, so between my family’s marathon and half-marathons, I’ve become and expert spectator.

I’ve walked around Chicago with a friend, map in hand, calculating distances and my husband’s pace to be able to pop up several times throughout the route to cheer him on. It was that experience spectating the marathon in downtown Chicago that inspired me to write regional fiction. Seeing the same sites that were backdrops for the characters on my favorite television show, Early Edition, made me want to give readers the excitement of walking the same streets as the fictional characters they loved.

I’ve been dropped off at the start of a marathon only to find that my ride home decided not to come. And so I’ve also had the experience of riding the fan bus to the end of the route and sitting there on metal bleachers for hours and hours in the cold fall morning, wrapped up in one of those crinkly, shiny wraps, given to me by a kind race worker who heard my story and took pity on me, watching as first the elite, and then more and more runners finished, all to the repeated tune of the 1988 Summer Olympics coming out of the loudspeaker.

I’ve taken the nine hour trip to Detroit and sat in in a stadium seat at Ford Field, reading the race magazine for two hours and waiting for my husband to finish just so he could live out his dream of running through the tunnel and onto the field of his favorite football team. I’ve also missed him finish and then spent two hours afterwards, a short person in a crowded arena, trying to connect back with him so we could start the nine-hour drive home.

I’ve sat in a hotel in my pajamas and looked down several stories at the start of a race, taking in all the colors of race shirts below us, leisurely having breakfast with a friend, and then headed out to find our loved ones on the course, towing my one-year-old daughter with us.

I’ve stood on the sidewalk and watched in awe as thirteen-year-old girls, eighty-year-old men, amputees in wheelchairs, and people dribbling basketballs do this thing that I will never be able to do.

I’ve pulled my jacket around me tighter against cold and rain and watched runners battle the elements in their running gear, and I’ve sought out the shade on those blistering hot days and watched runners, red faced and limping along, douse themselves with water at the next water station and refuse to give in to exhaustion.

I’ve stood at the end, my eyes going back and forth between the timer clock above the finish line and the crowd, hoping to see my husband appear before his goal time passes. Often, that goal time was just under four hours. Yes, I’ve stood there near the finish line many times at that popular four-hour mark.

I’ve run the marathon with the distance that’s perfect for me: the mile-long kids run with my daughter, the day before my husband ran a half marathon.

I’ve sweated it out, watching the clock in the school gym, a few minutes before preschool graduation, hoping that my husband can finish his race and the forty-five minute drive home in time to see my daughter’s presentation. And I’ve seen the smile on her face as he arrived, just in time, thanks to a personal best record, medal around his neck.

I’ve stood on the sidewalk and chatted with strangers about where they’re from and who they’re there to support, and I’ve cheered with them as their runner passed.

I’ve attended award ceremonies in the atrium of Lambeau Field when my sister-in-law placed in her division and said to my husband proudly and loudly enough for other spectators to hear, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool that she won her division, huh?”

I’ve parked at closed businesses and sprinted to the finish line, being ushered across the route by officials, to get there in time to snap a picture of a runner friend finishing.

I’ve felt the thrill of the adventure as I’ve weaved my way through the back roads of cities, piled out of the car with my husband, our three-year-old daughter, baby boy, and eleven-year-old niece so we could catch up with my sister-in-law in half a dozen spots along the route. Then we’d jump back in the car and weave our way to another location, rushing and laughing, hoping to connect with her at just the right moment.

I’ve sat at home, searching through triathlon web sites to find the page where you can track your athlete. I’ve done so every twenty minutes all day long in cases of Iron Man triathlons, tracking family members who have already started swimming by the time I got up and are somehow still running when I am getting ready for bed.

I’ve done a lot of things while spectating marathons, but there’s one thing I’ve never done:

I’ve never been afraid.

I’ve never felt concerned for my life or limb or eardrum.

I’ve never looked at the person standing next to me and wondered if he or she has just set in motion events that could hurt myself or someone I love.

I’ve never once had a contingency plan in place as to how to best throw myself on top of my children and onto the ground in case disaster strikes.

Who are marathon spectators?

They are the wives who bandage blistered toes and massage aching backs. They are the husbands who give pep talks the night before. They are the kids who hold up hand-made poster board signs that say, “Go Mom!” or “You can do it, Aunt Jenny!” They are the spouses who happily let a good portion of their household income go towards expensive shoes, running gear, race entry fees, and travel expenses, and they are the people who have to explain to curious fellow shoppers in parking lots why their car has a bumper sticker on it that says “13.1 Because I’m Only Half Crazy.” They are the friends who stand on the sidewalks at the start, most often in the early morning, pre-dawn chill, to cheer their loved ones on at the gun and whose presence at the finish line provides that final burst of willpower for their runner to make it.

They are people like my beautiful, funny, sweet fourteen-year-old niece who was at the Boston Marathon Monday supporting her mom. She was a block away inside a restaurant when the bombs went off. Her mom had not finished yet and was diverted by officials. I have thanked God probably a hundred times in the past three days for protecting my family.

My first thought on Monday was, “Well, we won’t be doing that again.” And I was sad because I’d lost something. Something fun I loved, something that had been the backdrop for a lot of great memories, something that couldn’t be part of my life anymore because of the “what if”s that started to creep in.

But I have this feeling that my runner friends and family are too strong to let cowardly acts of terror keep them from running marathons, and somebody needs to stand on the sidewalk, holding the sign and cheering.

So I am still a marathon spectator.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jenifer Brady, a regional fiction writer from Wisconsin, is the author of the Abby’s Camp Days series. http://www.jeniferbrady.com

Rough draft done. Not the right one, but it’s done :)

A spark of an idea came to me in mid-October right smack dab in the middle of trying to get the rough draft of Abby’s Camp Days: Volume 6 written. I guess I must have fallen into a bit of a rut having written these characters for over a decade now because new characters were screaming to be developed. They haunted my dreams, popped into my thoughts, and made it impossible to work on my Abby book. I jotted down some notes and tried to set them aside so I could keep on schedule with Abby 6. My goal has always been one Abby book per year for 10 books/years, and I’ve kept on schedule throughout the birth of two kids, full-time baby-sitting for another girl, and the start-up of my photography business.

But these new characters had something to say about my writing schedule. The screamed to have their story told, especially the narrator. So I gave in and worked pretty steadily the past few months on their story. Last week, I had all the scenes written I wanted for the book, and today I finished the first read-through and can say that the 400-page rough draft is complete.

I still have time, but I don’t know if the Abby book is going to happen by summer thanks to these new characters who made me tell their story first. And ironically, these characters are . . . the next generation of Camp Spirit addicts. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this book started taking shape in the weeks after my husband and I went camping with several of our camp friends and their kids. When I spent the weekend watching the way our kids all interacted and I realized that while camp friends have special bonds that only camp people can understand, so do their kids–with each other, with the parents who share camp with them as their deans or counselors, and with their parents’ friends.  I thought this would be a fun realm to explore.

But I meant to explore it well after Abby was done having her camp days, 5 years from now at the earliest.

Those teenage kids of my camp addicts really put a crimp in their parents’ series. Kind of like . . . well, kind of like real kids can muck up your real writing schedule sometimes.

I’ve never written a book this fast before. Four months. Four-hundred pages. Should I admit here that my own kids have played a lot of Angry Birds and watched a lot of Nick Jr. the past few weeks?

One special thing about this book for me is that I got to incorporate my new love of photography into it. The narrator loves photography and shares that interest with another character. Photography and pictures and what they mean and what a picture can reveal to you about life ended up a big theme in this book without my even trying. Interesting how our lives show up in our writing.

I love this book! It was so much fun to write. True, it needs a lot of work. They don’t call it a “rough” draft for nothing. But I loved developing new characters as well as seeing my original characters much older than I’ve ever imagined them before. I love seeing how they turn out as adults, as professionals, as parents, and in different camp roles. I love seeing them through younger eyes. I love knowing how life turns out for them.

The only bad part about having written ahead is that I can’t share it with anybody. Not a scene. Not a plot. Not a name of a character.

Because I still have 5 Abby books to write and publish, and reading this one would give away everything that happens to Abby and her friends and counselors.

So I have to sit on it, which is very, very, very hard for me because my favorite part about writing is sharing it with others, getting feedback, finding out what parts made them laugh or who their favorite characters are. There are a few bombshells in the future, turns you might not expect their some of their lives to take. And unless I start writing much, much faster, I can’t share it for at least 5 more years. Did I pray for patience at some point recently???

I already have ideas for a sequel (think split-viewpoint Super Counselors: The Next Generation), which will be my final Camp Spirit book. But these impatient campers, counselors, and camp staff members are just going to have to wait for Abby to finish. Then I’m moving on to another world.

So it’s back to Abby Book 6, I guess to try to catch up to my schedule. I looked over my notes for my remaining Book 6 scenes today, and I felt a bit disoriented because they were SO young again. If only it was that easy to get 25 years back in the real world . . .

Hopefully, no characters will have any more kids to distract me. 🙂