Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A BOOK AND A BABY

Twenty-Sixteen has been the year of two babies.

On September 30th, Emmett Gale McDowell joined our family. I now have three little boys. Sometimes I still can't believe it. (Mostly when I'm doing laundry. Ohmygosh so much laundry.)

We are all obsessed with "new baby Emmett," as the boys call him, and his birth story is forthcoming. Just as soon as I figure out how to whittle it down from novel-length into something readable.

But this post is about my other baby. My book baby.

In the spring of 2015 I wrote a manuscript titled NOT HER STORY. In the summer of 2015 I made a list of literary agents who might be interested in my manuscript and sent out my first batch of query letters. Deep down, I knew it was too early to be querying, but I wasn't sure what else to do. I had revised my book a few times on my own, sent it to a beta reader, and then revised again. At the time, I didn't know what else to do but query. Plus, I was just so damn excited about my book. (Oh, sweet, na├»ve, baby Kara. One day I will have to write a post about exactly how many things I did wrong.)

At the end of July I sent out a handful of query letters, and prepared myself for radio silence, just like all the blogs said I should. Instead, I got my first full request less than 24 hours later. I had officially denied the odds, and I couldn't quite believe it. It wasn't easy, but it was fast. I started to believe that I'd be the exception to the rule. I'd be the person who sold my first book, practically overnight, with no experience, connections, or real knowledge of the publishing industry. (Ha!)

The next several months were spent querying, sending partials and fulls, and waiting to hear from the agents who read them. The rejections started to flow in, but they were so complimentary I almost couldn't get upset. I even had two agents ask that I revise my manuscript and send it back when I was done. I did the revisions, and received more rejections.

The new year came, and my hope started to fade. I didn't want to give up, but I didn't know what else to do. I had received so many contradictory comments that I had no clue what to do with my manuscript. My story had problems, but I didn't know how to fix them.

Then I got pregnant, and, as always, I got really, really sick. My entire life came to a screeching halt while I spent months on the couch drinking Lemon-Lime Gatorade and eating sour gummy worms. Every few weeks the sickness would fade just enough for me to send out a few more query letters, but I didn't touch my manuscript.

Fast forward to August. I was finally feeling well again and I entered a contest called Pitch Wars. You can read about it here. The purpose of Pitch Wars is to pair writers like me with agented and published authors. The mentors each choose a manuscript and spend two months helping their mentee revise that manuscript in preparation for an agent showcase at the end of the contest.

I submitted my manuscript to six mentors and received three requests. For the first time in months, I allowed myself to believe in my story. When the mentees were announced, however, my name wasn't on the list. I wasn't chosen. I was confused and upset for about three minutes... right up until I saw that I'd been chosen as the scavenger hunt winner.

Basically, I'm a wild card. It sounds a little disappointing until I explain that I got not one, but two amazing mentors, one of whom is Brenda Drake. Brenda created Pitch Wars, runs the entire contest, and writes amazing YA books. As far as mentors go, I don't think I could have landed with a better team.

You can read my Mentee Interview here.

Over the last two months I have done two complete revisions on my manuscript, met so many amazing people, and learned so much. The agent round starts in a couple of days, and I'd be lying if I said I'm not sick-to-my-stomach nervous about it. But I'm also feeling so grateful for the last two months and more motivated than ever to find an agent who believes in me and in my story.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

About Me

Welcome.

If you dig through these archives for any length of time three things will become clear:

I am a writer, a mom, and a YA junkie.

For several years I wrote about my little boys on this blog, until one day I asked myself... what if my blog had millions of readers? And what if my babies grew into teenagers and I never stopped writing about them?

I immediately hung up my mommy blogger hat and wrote a YA book instead. (And it was so much more fun!) It's called NOT HER STORY, and it's about Claire Dixon, teenager and mommy-blog subject.

(Spoiler alert: Claire hates it.)

I can't wait until the day all of you can read it!

When I'm not writing, momming, or reading, I'm mostly trying to convince my husband that we should leave this ridiculous Arizona heat and move somewhere with more rain and less sun. You can also find me eating (too much) ice cream and watching (too much) Netflix.

My favorite (recent-ish) YA reads:

ANNA & THE FRENCH KISS
LOLA & THE BOY NEXT DOOR
ISLA & THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER
(i.e. I'll read and love anything by Stephanie Perkins)

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven

TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE by Jenny Han

THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS by E. Lockhart

SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE by Morgan Matson

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

LOOKING FOR ALAKSA by John Green

DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy

THE LUNAR CHRONICALS by Marissa Meyer

THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson

EMMY & OLIVER by Robin Benway

MY LIFE NEXT DOOR by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Forever in my Netflix Queue:

Gilmore Girls
Friday Night Lights
Dawson's Creek
Parks & Rec
Arrested Development
Bob's Burgers
The Office
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A New Look and A New Novel

I did it again.

I disappeared from Blog Land and I wrote (another) novel. While I was gone I also gave this space a makeover. Not A Couple's Blog is officially karajmcdowell.com. Not A Couple's Blog and I had a good run, but now that I am trying to get my novel into the hands of someone who can publish it, I figured I may as well make it as easy as possible for them to find me.

Back when I was blogging every day, you guys were were such supporters of my dream to write a book. Thank you for that. Seriously. It gave me confidence and kept me dreaming and hoping through an English degree, a boring desk job, my freelance writing gig, two pregnancies, two baby boys, and a move. When I have news to share about the book, I promise to post it here. In the meantime, you can keep up with my day-to-day on Instagram.


Please enjoy a nice and moody shot of my manuscript while I try to get some sleep. It's 4 am and all my babies are sleeping. I swear I lose more sleep over this thing than I do with a newborn.

Good Night!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

4 Months // 2 And A Half

4 months old Graham is rolling all over the place. Diaper changes have become a new kind of challenge and I can no longer safely leave him on the couch or the bed while I dash out of the room. He also rolls over almost the second his back touches his crib mattress but he still sleeps better than I have any right to hope for. He usually takes 4 naps a day. (Short ones, but still.) Yesterday I tried cutting it down to 3 naps to see what would happen and he slept from 7 pm until 9 am this morning. He can't be awake for more than 2 hours at a time. He eats like a champ and has the rolls to prove it.

He is constantly sucking and/or chewing on anything he can get into his mouth. My fingers are his favorite, but his fingers are a close second. Despite his affinity for sucking, he won't take a pacifier or a bottle.

Graham smiles and laughs all the time, but most especially when he is looking at Owen.

I get big googly heart eyes when I see the two of them laughing together. It makes me more excited for the future every single day.


 
Two and a half year old Owen is nothing but love and trouble. He tests my patience and blows me away with his sweetness every single day. He is an outpouring of spontaneous "thank yous" and "i love yous" and "i'm sorrys" and "excuse mes." BUT. He is also an outpouring of tantrums and willpower.
 
If there is one thing that can be said about Owen, it's that he comes by his stubbornness honestly. Everyone in Scott's family tells me that Owen is a mini Scott and also living proof of Karma. And all I would like to know is, where's my karma, because I was a dang good kid.
 
But so is Owen. He really is. He's just 2 and a half. And here is a small list of things about 2 and a half year old Owen:
 
- He NEVER stops moving. Literally. Never. It takes him hours to fall asleep at night because he has such trouble calming his body down enough to actually fall asleep, even when he is tired as sin.
- He skips his nap more often than not. This makes me cry more often than I am willing to admit.
- He is such a good brother to Graham. He likes to bring him toys and blankets and entertain him with silly faces. Every day he talks about how he can't wait for Graham to "get big and play with me!"
- He doesn't love anything in life as much as he loves his hot wheels cars.
- He is really into identifying emotions and the reasons behind them. He loves to point out when people are happy or sad or angry or scared. Sometimes when he is crying but trying to act brave he says "I am happy!" through his tears. When he wants me to give him something, he tells me that it makes him happy. ("Watching TV makes me happy, mommy! Pleasssssssse! Please Please Please Mommy!")
- He loves playing with his friends, even if he doesn't remember to play nicely 100% of them time. This morning we had a play date at the park with a friend named Carter and he just woke up from his nap (A NAP!) crying "Where'd Carter go?"
 
 
I'm so proud of them both. They are both good, sweet boys and it is the privilege of my life to spend my days with them.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Holiday Hooplah

Life has been busy. Maybe the busiest it's ever been. On the first of December we sold our home and moved a few miles down the road. Our new place has a playroom and a real backyard with grass and a garden and plenty of place for the boys to play. After a solid year of hemming and hawing and thinking and talking and praying and deciding and waffling and deciding again... I was so excited to get into our new place. I didn't feel sad or nostalgic or anything. I was ready to move on.

And then I packed the last of our stuff and my two baby boys into the car and I went back inside for one last look. Scott was writing a note for the new owner and placing the keys and garage door openers on the kitchen counter and before I knew it, I was crying.


This was our first home. The one we painted together, back before we were even engaged. This is where we had our first married fight and where we made bad dinners together for a solid year. This was where I laid in bed for an entire month when I was newly pregnant with Owen this is where I brought both of my boys home from the hospital. I love that house. I always will.

But, we moved. And we love our new house more than we can even explain. It has an enormous play room for my boys and a proper backyard with green grass, a garden, and plenty of space for the boys to play. We couldn't be happier.

Scott's paternity leave extended through the entire month of December so in addition to moving and unpacking and having never-ending discussions about where to hang pictures, the month was jam packed with holiday activities.

We drove to Payson and cut down our own Christmas tree, we visited the Temple lights in Mesa,  went to Bass Pro Shop and met Santa Claus,

we made sugar cookies with my mom,

 and we attended the annual Flaherty live nativity where Owen made the cutest wise man of my entire life. (I wish I had pictures, but it was difficult to get this wise man to stop wandering around the stable long enough for a picture. He was too busy sneaking glances at baby doll Jesus, inspecting the bales of hay, staring into the spotlight that lit the stable, and pulling his hat down over his eyes).

By far the highlight of our Holiday Hooplah was our visit to the Polar Express Train in Williams, Arizona. My mom bought us tickets for my birthday this year and I am so glad she did.






 

 
Owen was the perfect age for the train this year. When Santa boarded the train he got so excited and yelled "Mama! Santa! WOOK MAMA! SANTA!" Then Santa came right up to him and handed him a bell and Owen was over the moon.
 
And then there was Christmas. There was a garbage truck for Owen (which was a HUGE hit) and a few soft and fuzzy things for Graham (which Owen steals 95% of the time). This whole Christmas with kids thing just keeps getting better and better (and also more expensive, because Scott and I have zero self-control).
 
 

And that's a wrap on December, more or less. On the 29th we left both of the boys with my parents and went out for a delicious steak dinner and celebrated our 4th anniversary.

Like I said, busy busy. This blog post was brought to you by 2 babies who miraculously napped at the same time. Maybe if it happens again sometime I can fill you in on January.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Owen // 28 Months & Graham // 2.5 Months

Dear Owen,

Every time you have an idea, you gasp and say "Make A Big IDEEEEAAAAAA!!!!" 99% of the time, your big idea is to race your hot wheels cars. Dad and I think this is the funniest.

Speaking of your hot wheels, when asked what you want for Christmas you always say "A Car!" You love your hot wheels more than almost anything else. You have more than a dozen of them and you want to carry them all with you every where you go. You are constantly stuffing them in my purse and in the stroller and the cup holder of your car seat.

You aggressively love your baby brother. A few days ago I told you that when Graham gets bigger, the two of you will be able to play together. Now, every time you look at Graham, you say "Graham getting big!" You want to play "digging, bat the ball, cars, and counting" with him.

Daddy and I are constantly amazed by your vocabulary. At this point, if there is something you want to say, you find a way to say it. You tell the best stories and you have an amazing memory (especially if treats are involved). One afternoon last week we bought Lucky Charms and promised you could eat some the next day. As I tucked you in that night, the last thing you said to me was "Eat Lucky Charms tomorrow!" The first thing you said in the morning? "Eat Lucky Charms!"

Other things you love: Reading books, the garbage truck, bedtime stories (especially bedtime stories about garbage trucks), hot chocolate, Daddy (always Daddy), digging in the backyard, and helping Mama cook in the kitchen.



Dear Graham,

Here is a little list of things about you at 2.5 months...

-You are a chunky little boy! 12 lbs 15 oz at your 2 month appointment (exactly the same as Owen at that age)!
- You hate tummy time. You hate it so much that you learned how to roll from your tummy to your back before you were 7 weeks old.
- You love to smile at Mommy and Daddy. Almost as much as you love taking loooooong afternoon naps on Mommy's chest.
- The drool is starting! Drool and spit bubbles all the time.
- Occasionally you sleep all night long, but usually you wake up once around 3 or 4 to eat before going back down until 7 or 8.
- We can't get enough of you, baby boy! We can't get enough of your chubby cheeks and your blue eyes and your happy little personality.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Story About A Tree

Early in November Scott's brother sent a text message to the family asking if anyone was interested in cutting down their own Christmas tree this year.

All of my Christmas tree memories from early childhood involve cutting down a tree from a Christmas tree farm. We would bundle in jackets and scarves and hunt down the perfect tree which my Dad would then saw down with his own hands. We would haul the tree back to the barn where hot apple cider was served and someone would saw off the end of the tree trunk. I don't remember why they did this but I do know that we would always take this spare bit of wood home with us because it smelled so dang good.

Last year Scott and I bought our tree at Costco. Man, I loved that tree. It was tall and full and gorgeous and smelled like heaven. But of all the things I miss about living in Ohio, Christmas tree farms are very near the top of the list. More than that, I want those memories for my boys. So when Scott and I heard that we could cut down our own tree for the low low price of $15 we immediately jumped on board.

On Tuesday afternoon the four of us piled into a car and drove into the mountains with Uncle Matthew, Uncle Jim, Aunt Monica, and four of Owen and Graham's cousins.

We arrived at the designated "Christmas Tree" portion of the forest around 3:30 in the afternoon. Initially, we were unimpressed with the offerings. Everything was too tall or too tiny or too sparse or too terrible looking. The kids rode in the back of Uncle Jim's truck and took turns riding on the back of the "Search Quad" while I stayed inside the truck with Graham and Monica. After about 30 minutes of driving and searching and pointing out clumps of trees only to be told that, upon closer inspection, they were "No Good" I joked that we were going to leave empty handed.

I was assured this would NOT happen. 30 more minutes passed. And then 30 more.  At this point, there was much talk of cutting down a 3 foot tree, putting it in the playroom, and stopping by the Home Depot tree lot on the way home. But we kept trying. Unfortunately Monica and I lacked serious perspective and kept pointing out trees that were about 20 feet tall. Or, we would spot one that looked great only to realize that it was two or more trees clumped together.

By 5:30 Graham was cranky, the sun was setting, the temperature was dropping fast, and we still had no tree. The boys all got out of the truck for one last ditch effort and disappeared into the woods. Several minutes later they came sprinting back towards us waving their arms and shouting "Get the saw! Get the saw!"

We had found a cluster of respectable trees. (Not to mention the fact that our expectations were now properly low and we were desperate.)

As the sun dipped behind the horizon Owen started to freeze in his thin, Arizona-kid hoodie. "Too cold! Too cold Mama!" While Jim and Monica sawed down their tree I ran frantically around the forest and tried to find something, anything, that was acceptable. Finally Scott pointed out a tree that looked like it could reasonably pass for a Christmas tree and, with my approval, he started sawing. (We had to use the handsaw because the chain saw would not start because that is the kind of day we were having.)

This is my husband, sawing down a Christmas tree, in the dark, in the 34 degree weather, with a baby strapped to his chest. My Hero!

After the tree was down we didn't even pause to give it a once over before hustling back to the truck. Everyone piled in the bed and we started driving, only to realize that we had taken a wrong turn as a heavy layer of fog descended all around us, which was the perfect ending to a ridiculous day.

 A few hours later we pulled into the driveway of our brand new home and carried our hilariously sad Charlie Brown tree. It's gappy and sparse and one half of it is made up entirely of dead branches. As Scott and Matt screwed it into the tree stand none of us could stop laughing because it looks dang ridiculous.


I promise you this picture doesn't do it justice.  This is the tree's good side ;) It looks SO much sillier in person.

The next morning Owen woke up and came down the stairs. As soon as he saw the top of the tree he gasped in wonder. "Pretty! Pretty tree, Mama!"

Bam.

That's it. That's all I wanted. A fun memory and a tree that makes my kid happy.

I may just learn to love this silly Charlie Brown tree yet.