Cara Sue Achterberg is a novelist, blogger, dog rescuer, and mom who lives on a hillside farm in south central, PA. Her novels, I’m Not Her and Girls’ Weekend are national bestsellers, and her next novel, Practicing Normal, will be released June 6, 2017. For more information and links to her blogs, visit www.CaraWrites.com.
Writing from the Heart
By Cara Sue Achterberg
My writing has always grown out of the state of my heart. As a child, I labored over the pages of my tiny pink diary pouring out my elementary school life. Later I filled journal after journal with angsty poetry and teenage longing. As an adult writing has always featured into my professional work, so when I decided to quit my paying job and stay home to raise my kids, of course I wrote about it. I blogged and wrote newspaper and magazine articles about raising kids, eating organic food, growing vegetables, keeping chickens, and living on our tiny hillside farm in south-central, Pennsylvania.
Eventually, though, I began writing about other worlds beyond my own. I discovered that brewing a huge cup of tea and sitting down at my laptop could be a portal to a much more interesting world than my own. For several years I wrote in secret, still pounding out the paying stories, but escaping every afternoon into my fiction. Finally, I pulled my husband aside and said, “I need to tell you something….,” confessing to the hours I had spent crafting a story about two women from different walks of life (an obese, high school dropout, single mother and a beautiful, self-absorbed, taking-everything-for-granted young adult) who swap lives. Lucky for me, he didn’t laugh. (He did tell me that when I first told him I needed to talk, he thought I was going to tell him I was having an affair- that’s how distracted I’d become by my fiction writing!)
The road from that moment to published book was long, messy, frustrating, embarrassing, and exhausting. But it happened. It was nothing like I expected, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. (Okay, maybe I would trade it for the life of an overnight NYT best-selling author – although I’m skeptical such a path exists.)
And now? My second kid is graduating (will have graduated when you read this!) and I’ve been filling my empty nest with rescue dogs. But I’m still escaping every afternoon. When I ran into a friend from my PTA and dance-lesson days, I told her that I had a new book coming out. She looked surprised and asked, “Another book? So, you’re really doing this book thing? It wasn’t just something you had to get out of your system?”
I assured her that it was for real. I’ve got plenty more stories to get out of my system. My stories, like my writing (and hopefully me!) are evolving. I’ve thought about that exchange ever since it happened. It’s not surprising she asked the question that she did. She’d seen me move from one obsession to another. My organic days included making my own yogurt and even butchering chickens (only once!). I’d sold Mary Kay, created beaded jewelry, pedaled organic spice mixes, started raising chickens, worked a national presidential campaign, plus several local races, and fostered rescue dogs. I have an all-in kind of personality so whatever my latest interest, I went after it with all my heart.
It’s not surprising this friend assumed I would move on to the next fling after my first book was published. But writing is different—I don’t just give it all my time; I give it all my heart. And more than that, I finally feel a teeny, tiny bit grown up. I think of that quote, often credited to Confucius – “If you choose a job you like, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s writing for me. It’s not work. It’s joy. All the time. Even the hard parts. Even the editing (which is the bulk of the work).
It may have taken me some time to get here, but I’m going nowhere. My first book was published when I was forty-eight and I’m only getting started. I can’t imagine a day when I ever have writing ‘out of my system.’ That said, I know that all the work I’ve done, the obsessions that drove my family mad, the weird passions that came and went, and the odd jobs I’ve done to pay the bills were steps to where I am now. All of it informs my writing. Without it I’m not sure I’d have so many stories to tell.
When you write from your heart, the well is endless. Our hearts are filled with stories. What’s yours?
The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia.
Meet the Turners. 17-year-old Jenna dyes her hair black and breaks into her neighbors’ homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger’s who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family and her mother (who lives down the street) while crafting the happy, normal life she’s always envisioned.
And now everything is changing for them. Jenna finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett’s secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and the father she never knew.
Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That’s what happens when you’re practicing normal.
Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.
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I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.