All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Valerie’s Vow Debut: Book Launched

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For those of you who were unaware or unable to attend the book launch for my debut novel, Valerie’s Vow, yesterday I have decided to post my short speech and the page numbers of the readings I did. We sold over half of the books we had ordered and had around 60 guests at the event. For a debut novel, I call that a success.

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Here is the transcript of my speech:


Speech for Book Signing


 

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As most of you know, school is getting ready to start for me, so like all teachers I am getting ready for school this week. In preparation for class, I pulled up a PowerPoint that I use to teach my seniors. In this presentation, I have my students participate in a reflective exercise in which they state what their number one goal is. As any good teacher knows, you need to give your students a good example of a goal—for the past 4 or 5 years since I’ve been teaching seniors I’ve used the same goal: publish a book. And that’s when it hit me. OMG! I have to change my PowerPoint and find a new number one goal, because though it may have taken a while, I have realized that goal at last. And I want to thank all of you for your support and for being here. It means more to me than you know, whether you read the book or not, that you’re here today celebrating this achievement with me.

The novel itself does have story behind it, so I’ll give you a quick rundown for those who don’t know it.

This is the product of NaNo—which is National Novel Writing month. Now that being said, yes I did write a lot of it during the month of November, but that’s kind of an understatement because the idea had been bouncing in my brain for a couple of months before and in October I outlined the novel—but in order to have it ‘count’ as my NaNo book 50,000 words of the novel were written during the month of November alone, which, as it turns out, was exactly when I needed to be writing this novel. As many of you are aware, a good friend of mine, of many of us, passed away in November. It is to her that I dedicated this novel and in a lot of ways the novel is an homage to her amazing legacy as seen through the friendship of Valerie, the main character, and Beth, her friend who has passed away.

That being said, I want to stress that I am not Valerie and Sarah is not Beth. Both Valerie and Beth are fictional characters but as with all fiction there are echoes of reality as an honor to her memory and my friendship with her and others in my life.

The first passage I want to read is a flashback. Valerie is thinking about the first time she ever met Beth and what/why that friendship is so valuable to her [read page 2-4].

The second passage is very emotional for me and the main character, Valerie. She’s had a pretty rough holiday—the first without her friend, and it didn’t go well, so she’s a bet unstable when one of the love interests pops in for an unexpected visit and the result is a bit explosive. [read page 105-108]

The final passage is the vow and what drives Valerie psychologically through the story. It’s told as a flashback and I’ll only read part of it for you [read page 154-155]

So now you’ve had a little taste. Do you have any questions?


 

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A brief Q & A period followed with many great questions and many thanks to those who have supported me throughout this process. As I continue to move forward with writing, and hopefully publishing and selling more books, I would just like to say just how blessed I feel to be a part of a community of people who are so excited to see a co-worker, friend, sister, daughter, nice, grandaughter, and ultimately, a writer succeed.

If you haven’t purchased a copy of Valerie’s Vow, you can do so at…

www.secondwindpublishing.com or http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/valeries-vows-ashley-m-carmichael/1120162687?ean=9781630660406

Or you can purchase the ebook at…

http://www.amazon.com/Valeries-Vow-Ashley-M-Carmichael-ebook/dp/B00MV36X32/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408915939&sr=8-1&keywords=Valerie%27s+vow or http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/468297?ref=BudgetMadridGuide

 

Counting Blessings

Sometimes I worry that I’m a little too realistic.

Things don’t really work out that well in the end, I tell myself. Expect disappointment in the long run, because, after all, we are living in a sick and fallen world. If I don’t hold expectations that are too high, then I don’t run as high a risk of getting hurt, or let down. It’s okay when I’m disappointed, I tell myself, because I expected it.

I don’t call it pessimism because I’m not seeing the world as half empty, but for what it is—sick.

Unfortunately because I tend to think this way, I miss out on a lot of things as well: giddiness, excitement, passion, intensity, mystery and maybe even joy and thankfulness because I am constantly holding everyone and everything at arm’s length. Don’t let anything too close—you’ll see the imperfections and it will disappoint you in the end.

I don’t know when I started thinking like this. I haven’t always. I used to be the most open and inviting child in the world. I can’t pinpoint a trauma, or a life event that occurred making me close up and change. I imagine it has something to do with my depression and anxiety struggle, but that’s not really the point. It doesn’t matter why I started thinking this way—the point is, somewhere along the line…I did!

BUT…

The funny thing about it is, usually when I open up to people and I let people in, I’m NOT disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been disappointed by a lot of people in life, but especially in the past couple of months, I realized just how blessed I am and just when I start to get jaded again about the world—God will send me a little reminder of my blessings.

Today I was shopping for school supplies like I do every August. I was in Walmart and Was putting all these things on the counter and I’m at the age where everyone just assumes I’m married with children so all these crayons and notebooks are, of course, for my 2.5 kids in the burbs I have. The man behind me smiled and said, “Boy am I glad to have aged out of that stage!”  Instead of just smiling and nodding, I decided to go a different route this morning and offer a bit of myself—I smiled and said, “Well, I teach so I guess I’ll never age out of buying these things since they’re for my classroom.”

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The man looked sufficiently impressed. I wasn’t buying out the store or anything, but I had a decent amount of supplies—hand sanitizer, folders, glue sticks, colored pencils and the like. “That’s what the dollar tree is good for,” he nodded and rocked back and forth on his heels. I laughed, “Actually I shop around for the best deals; that pack of crayons is only twenty-five cents here. I just want to make sure all my students have what I need for them to be successful.” I pulled out my debit card to pay and the man slipped a five dollar bill into my wallet. “I know it’s not much,” he said softly, “but I just want to contribute a little something for the fine job you’re doing for kids who don’t have the supplies. They don’t pay ya’ll enough for that.” I protested, but he held up his hand. “It’s my good deed for the day,” he said with a wink.

I may not get paid a lot, but that man paid me a compliment that was worth more than most of the money in my wallet and he reminded me today that there are people in the world who not only listen but do actually want to care.

I have a lot to be thankful for. A lot to be excited about. A lot to be passionate about, and a lot to look forward to. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be less realistic—I can’t be a whole new person—but I’m working on the attitude thing. One day at a time.

 

 

Every story has a story


Every story comes with a trace of other stories it could have been.


This is a truism, a statement from our discussions this summer that really struck me hard. Not only did this statement sum up what we discussed in our class sessions, but it also came in a moment where I was preparing to publish a novel and I was struggling, as I read through it, with some self-esteem issues about how it would be received in the public. Let’s be honest, I’m still struggling with that, but riding on the tail skirt of this statement has helped me come to terms with where I can and will go next with writing, and to some degree what I love about the process of writing itself.

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Window in the rock formation at Big Sur (Pacific Coast Highway RT 2014)

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love a good story. I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb begging to be a part of a great story (ask my parents and the doctors—I made quite an entrance with the cord wrapped around my neck and trying to be a Smurf instead of a human. I don’t recommend this to any babies out there). By the time I was able to talk, I was begging to be told stories—I have the fondest memories of my mother reading me bedtimes stories from longer novels even when I was a toddler—Hop on Pop just wasn’t enough for me. But I didn’t stop there. I began to live in a world with these stories, sometimes pretending that the characters were real and sometimes making up new endings, or sequels. For a large part of middle school, Jo March was among my very best friends and I would sometimes ask myself what would Jo do in this situation? It wasn’t enough for me to just read the story; I had to be a part of it.

Which I guess is a tell-tale sign that you are born to tell your own stories, because you can see the traces of stories within the stories that you love so well. I remember asking questions about the stories like “What do you think happened to Susan in America after her whole family was whisked off to the Narnia/Heaven at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia?” It broke my heart to think that Susan was the only one left on Earth—having lost her whole family in one fell swoop. Not that Susan was my favorite character, but no one deserves to be alone. And at the end, she was utterly alone. There is a story in there, one I wish had been told, but one I’m also terrified of. Now I know Susan is just a character and she’s not real, but she represents millions of people who are real, and not every story has a happy ending when it is told to its ending—if there is ever really an ending at all.

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The Village and The Farm on UCSC campus

For that matter, traces of other stories are never limited to just endings. One event can change the course of an entire story and if an author had chosen to write it another way, then the story would reveal other truths about characters than what we are currently privy to. For example, what if Pip had succeeded in getting Magwitch out of England?  That is an entirely different story with great potential for…something?

The point is, stories are like life. Full of moments. Moments where decisions are made and people are molded from the events that happen in their lives. Each day we get up and we have the potential to change our story solely by making new decisions, meeting new people, or accepting new challenges. Or not doing any of that. Because just like stories we are full of potential stories that may or may not get told.

So as I’m preparing my novel, I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of stories bursting forth from the one story I’ve told and that’s not a bad thing. When I’m satisfied with what I’ve written, then I might as well stop writing altogether, because there will never be an end to the whispered stories that come in and out of what is and isn’t told. And that is actually quite lovely. 

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Full Moon over the Pacific Coast Highway

Adventures: Surf’s Up

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Every once in a while you are afforded an opportunity to do something pretty amazing completely by, well, not accident exactly, but unexpectedly. When I started this trip, I knew that California had endless possibilities, but did I really think I would take surf lessons? Let’s be honest, I lived in Wilmington for four years and there were plenty of opportunities for me to learn how to surf (albeit East coast surfing, but still I could have learned easily! Lots of people surf in Wilmington!) and I never did it. So, why on earth did I think I would actually do this when I came to California?

Because it is California.

I find that when you travel to new places, you want to have a wide variety of new experiences that capture the essence of the culture you are living in. Surfing in California, therefore, just makes sense.

So I went.

And it was amazing.

I’m not a surfer. I did okay, much better than one would expect (considering that on this trip alone I have fallen flat on my face 2 times just walking and fallen upstairs once…I’d say I did quite well surfing). However, the experience was thrilling. We went out at 8am. If you didn’t already know this, the Pacific Ocean is FREEZING so I was a little worried about this timing for this lesson; however, wetsuits did their job quite nicely. I was surprised at how warm they were. I wasn’t cold at all in the water, which is really saying something to everyone who knows me. After a 10 minute lesson on the beach, we headed for the water.

In the stillness of the morning, the waves were crashing on the shore. I could feel my anxiety building up inside of me as I followed the instructor, Jodi and Whitney (both of whom have no fear) out into the water. Megan, Jodi’s sister, was close behind me, and we were ready to face this beast. We made it to the crashing point of the wave and climbed aboard the boards. Arching our backs, the boards sliced through the water over top of the waves just as they were peaking and we smoothly paddled into the calmer waters of Beercan Beach (no, I’m not making that name up). And then we saw them. Little tiny brown and speckled heads began popping up only a few feet from where we were floating on our boards.

“Oh my gosh,” Whitney exclaimed, pointing to where a head had popped up and then disappeared again. “Did you see that seal?”

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I wasn’t quite as excited as our resident Disney Princess (and I mean that in a good way—I have never seen someone charm animals as much as Whitney—she has fed baby squirrels from her hand, poured water over baby calves heads and they try to escape the afternoon heat, the fawns and does practically flock to her. It’s is incredible). I mean, it was cool that they were swimming near us, but my thoughts were in a slightly different direction.

“That’s really neat and all,” I said scanning the murkey water. “But where the hell did he go? I mean are they going to come and nibble on our toes or something thinking they’re fish. I’m really not down with that.”

Jodi and Whitney laughed but I saw Megan nodding her agreement with me too as another little head popped up even closer to us.

“Look at Kristin!” I pointed over at the other group where Kristin was already up and riding a wave, standing like she had done this her whole life. 

“Hashtag natural,” Whitney smiled as she shook her head in amazement.

“Alright, who is first?” Johan asked as he situated his board close to us, but nearer to the breaking point. Whitney was nearest, so she flopped down on her belly and paddled forward showing no fear.

“You got this Whitney,” I cheered her on, not at all jealous of her. My butterflies were moving their way from my stomach to my throat now.

“Oh my gosh! Look at that!” I turned my head back to where Jodi was now pointing out at the ocean and about twenty feet from us two dolphins leapt in the air and then back in the water again. My jaw dropped.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered, staring in awe as they jumped again and then another seal popped his head up and back down. “It’s surreal.”

“Worth every penny I paid.”

I nodded not able to take my eyes off the ocean.

“Do you guys mind if I go next?” Megan asked. I could tell she was eager to get this show on the road and I didn’t blame her. I knew how she felt. I shrugged. I was content just floating for now as long as no seals nibbled on my toes. We watched Whitney’s attempt and then Megan was up. Johan did an excellent job explaining what we were supposed to do to be the most successful with our surfing, but as he was speaking to Megan I saw him pointing to the distance and then raise his voice. I looked out at sea.

“See that whale?” he asked nonchalantly. My eyes widened and I really had no words. Not only did we see it, we could hear the whale as it expelled air and water from it’s blowhole.

Then it was Jodi’s turn. I heard Johan yell ‘up’ for Jodi, who made her attempt and then it was my turn.

I paddled over to our instructor and tried to listen to his advice, but the perfect wave came before he was able to impart much.

“Okay, paddle now!”

So I did and then I heard, “UP!” and I just didn’t think about it. I mechanically tried getting to my knees and suddenly I was squatting on the surfboard, but I didn’t feel the wave behind me. I wondered where it was, so I looked back… and then I was underwater. But for a few glorious seconds I was nearly standing on a surfboard, on my first try. And it was exhilarating.

Popping up out of the ocean, I was no longer nervous. I knew I would feel the consequences of that fall in the morning (and BOY did I!), but for now I was ready to try that again. And paddling out into the ocean I went out to join the rest of the sea creatures that surrounded us for the most amazing two hours $90 could buy from the Richard Schmidt Surf School (http://richardschmidt.com/).

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Finding an Original

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Wrapped up in a Redwood

The Big Basin state park in California was established in 1902. It is the oldest state park in California and holds over 80 miles of hiking and walking trails—not nearly as famous as Yosemite, but the magnificent beauty of the California Redwoods is still evident in this state park. This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the park and do a little bit of hiking—not strenuous, but still a beautiful trek into the natural world of California. Of course, we were a bit disillusioned by the paved trail running parallel to our hiking trail. Despite this, we still were able to experience a 2 mile walk among the magnificent Redwoods. And I had a thought. As I stared into the Hobbit holes of these trees, I began to think about how God is a lot like one of these nearly incomprehensible Redwoods. As you step inside the cavernous hole of one of the massive trees, you feel the tree wrap around you and until you experience this, you can never truly comprehend the reality of a Redwood tree. God is the same way—until you climb inside of God and let him wrap you in his glory you will never be able to see how small you are in comparison. It is a humbling experiencing, one we could all use from time to time.

And in a lot of ways, it connects to the ideas of adaptation we have been discussing in class the past few days (Really, I have been going to class. I promise!). Today we were honored with the presence of Thomas Leitch, a professor from the University of Delaware and a leading expert on adaptation studies. The first thing he had us do is to draw a picture of Dickens. Well, as many of you know, I am not an artist (as much as I wanted to be, I just couldn’t harness that talent). We all did our best, though and produced our images of Dickens. Then we had to explain how we knew this was Dickens. None of us had ever met Dickens, so where do we get our images—from portraits, pictures, caricatures, books. So what we really think of as Dickens is really just a copy of a copy—Dicken, not Dickens if you will. If you want to see the real Dickens you would have to look at an original photograph of Dickens—but even that’s a copy. So you would have to meet Dickens, but even that presents a problem because in different context we present different versions of ourselves. So do you ever really meet the ‘real’ Dickens? All of this led us to the concept of the inevitability of adaptation. It’s all around us—there is no original. Even people who look down their noses at copies will still conceptualize based on copies. Each and every one of us do this with ourselves and others. We construct truths about who we are and project these in different contexts and to different audiences. So we are often just a copy of ourselves.

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My drawing of Dickens

The only original that exists is God. And even God tried to adapt Himself. Genesis 1:27 reads “so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” In essence we spend our lives searching for meaning, for originality and in many ways it is deeply ingrained in our search for the ‘original’. I’m no philosopher or theologian, but it seems to me that these things interconnect in ways and we keep wanting to deny or explain them away. If we started to accept the interconnectedness of the original to the copies, well we might just live happier lives.

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Peering up through the Redwoods

Each of us has in our own mind a “right” vision of the ‘original’—be it the original Dickens or God or what have you. When someone presents us with a different adaptation of that original we get our panties in a wad. Perhaps it is time to stop getting upset about the differences, and start asking ourselves why these differences exist instead. We can keep our own visions, but have more intellectual discussions about how the differences developed and why the exist. And, who knows, we might just be surprised by what we find.

Which brings me back to the Redwoods. They are beautiful in the pictures that I see (and post), but the experience trumps the copies, and though the copies may try they will never BE the original. Adaptation is inevitable and valuable—it enriches our experiences and helps us to make meaning. But it doesn’t mean that we stop looking for the how, why, or where the original exists. And when we find a whisper of the original it can be a magnificent experience—especially when we start to understand that the original can’t be put in a box. Humility. It’s a beautiful thing.

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What do I know anyway?