Friday Friends: Yancy Lael & The Reluctant Owlet

Happy Friday, Friends! I love to introduce you to my creative friends and feature their newest creations. I’d already interviewed Yancy before, so I asked her to write about her writing journey. I think you’ll love getting to know Yancy. After reading The Fox at the Door, I was so excited to hear about her newest release ~ a picture book entitled The Reluctant Owlet. Take it away, Yancy!

My path to writing was not a straightforward one, something that still surprises me, to this day. It’s surprising because I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I loved writing and books since I was a very young child. 

By the age of 10, I was 100% certain of my destiny to become a writer. At the time, my parents decided to write a cowboy romance novel (a marriage of each of their favorite genres).They had decided to write under a pen name. They chose my first name and an old family name for their pseudonym: YancyJohns. They printed out business cards using that pen name; underneath the name was the word writer.

They had one of the business cards laminated and attached it to their new typewriter. When I looked at that card and saw my name and the word writer, I knew that was my destiny. 

I spent my teen years writing novels in spiral-bound notebooks. That’s right – handwritten. We only had one computer back then and I had to share it with five other people. So if I wanted to spend most of my time writing, I had to do it by hand. 

When I was 19, my uncle gave me his old laptop. It’s humorous to remember it now, that archaic machine that weighed close to 15 pounds. It was so large, it would never be called a laptop by today’s standards, but in 1996, it was quite sophisticated. I felt so lucky to have my own computer. I had finally become a real writer, clacking away at a keyboard that belonged solely to me. 

By the time I was 26, I had written four or five complete novels. I was quite proud of a few of them, though too afraid to send them in to publishers. (It wasn’t quite so important to get an agent back then.) 

One story really stuck with me. It followed a young man in his twenties who was trying to find a way to deal with a sister who had become an addict and was, by the time the novel started, in a coma after a car accident. When I was done writing the novel, I realized the character I had loved the most was the one in the coma – Mary Raedwolfe. I rewrote that book from scratch three times until it became what my readers now know as The Poison Box. But still, I was too shy to share it with others, so I left it on my hard drive, untouched, for many years. 

By my thirties, though I can’t really say I had tried very hard to get published, I was so discouraged with writing that I decided to pursue my Plan B – teaching. If I couldn’t write, at least I could help the kids in my community get excited about writing! I thought I was done as a writer. I thought I would get married and have kids and keep teaching and that would be that. It was hard to let go of my dream, but it just didn’t seem to be going anywhere. 

In 2010, I found that I wasn’t very satisfied with teaching. I needed to find another outlet for my creativity – preferably one that could supplement my teacher’s income. I’d always been very interested in nature and natural healing, and had struggled for decades with acne that I only ended up healing through homemade natural remedies concocted with herbs and organic oils. I knew I could help people dealing with similar struggles and feed my creativity by opening a bath and beauty shop on Etsy.

My little shop, Five Seed, was the joy of my life for the few years that it was open. I loved writing blog posts, product copy, and social media updates. I loved designing the labels and photographing the products in creative ways. And I absolutely adored mixing up different herbs and oils and waxes and turning them into finished, healing products. 

I truly loved being a shop owner at the time. It was such a rewarding experience, and a true balm for my heart during a tumultuous time in my family life. 

Unfortunately, my shop didn’t last long. In 2013, Etsy, prompted by the FDA’s new regulations, issued an edict that herbal shops could no longer talk about herbalism, healing, or even herbal folklore. Everything was off-limits except listing the ingredients in the products. As you can imagine, sales plummeted. The personality of my shop and educational aspect of it were lost. And really, who would buy a product with no listed benefits?

It took me a couple of months to really come to terms with what was happening, but ultimately, I decided to let the shop go. As the experience came to an end, many of my amazing, devoted customers asked me to share my skincare secrets in a booklet. I laughed, at first, at the thought of returning to writing…but eventually, the idea seemed like the only thing to do after the shop closed. Initially, I envisioned writing a short e-book. But as the months went by and I couldn’t stop writing, I realized that this was going to be a major project.

Once I was finished with the manuscript, I realized I had to figure out how to distribute it. I discovered Amazon’s platform and decided to start there. It took me almost a full month to format that book, but eventually, in October, I was able to release Soulful Skincare. 

Some women imagine what it will feel like when they put on a wedding dress for the first time. I, on the other hand, had always dreamed of holding my first book. And let me tell you, it was everything I had imagined. I was exhilarated. 

Somehow, I had become a writer. 

It wasn’t the way I expected. I had always thought I would get a publishing deal and sell a novel as my debut work. Who knew that the universe would trick me into writing a self-published self-help book about acne, instead? It seems so funny to me now.

Once I’d gotten up my confidence, I pulled out the old manuscript that I’d held on to for so many years – The Poison Box. I think that sat on my hard drive, mostly untouched for twelve or fourteen years! Can you imagine how trippy it was to open it again and decide to finish editing it and put it out into the world? That was a big step for me.

And then, like any writer would, I kept going. There’s no end to our stories, after all. 

My cousin’s untimely death prompted me to publish the journal I’d kept during my trip to France with her and my ex-boyfriend. Then I finished the project that I’d wanted to write as a companion piece to Soulful Skincare – a book about radically accepting the way we look. And then came the debut of my series of adult fairy tales (don’t get all hot and bothered – they are G rated but written for an adult audience). 

Then I achieved a huge milestone, a goal I’ve had for decades: Writing a children’s book! The Reluctant Owlet debuted earlier this year. This story follows an owl family – one I had actually observed in the woods in 2017 – as the youngest owlet faces her fears about leaving the nest. I’m so proud of this book. I loved sharing the story of these real-life owls with others. I’m proud of the artwork, which was based on actual pictures I took of the owls. And my brother even contributed photographs to the book, which makes it extra special. 

So here I am, knocking out an average of two books each year. An unconventional writer, I suppose, and admittedly, a struggling one. I have yet to be able to pay the bills with my work. 

But for now, it’s more important to me to tell the stories. I think the rest will come in time. I’ve just got to keep my head down and write what I’m asked to write. 

There’s no point in giving up, really. I’ve certainly learned that. I do love it, after all. Writing is one of the most important parts of my life. I couldn’t breathe without it, without my stories, without the characters who have become my dear friends. 

I think that’s really what it means to be a writer. That you’re willing to surrender everything to the stories that come to you. That you fight for every minute you sit in front of the blank page. That you put all your energy into completing the stories and getting them out into the world where they belong. 

There’s something of service about it. Or maybe just obsession. Either way, it doesn’t matter. I’ll still be typing away over here, no matter what happens. Just like I imagined when I was 10 years old. I already saw my cosmic business card way back then and it said, simply: Writer. 

 

You can buy The Reluctant Owlet on Amazon

Read Yancy’s interview here.

Follow Yancy on Twitter @YancyLael

Friday Friends: Yancy Lael & The Paris Diaries

Happy Friday, Friends!  I have been so fortunate to connect with the writers community: learning so much and making friends. I decided I wanted to give back to the community by hosting Friday Friends. Today I am super excited to bring you the delightful Yancy Lael. 

 

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1. So, what have you written?
I have 4 books out in the world right now. One is a non-fiction book (Soulful Skincare) about natural skincare that I wrote after I closed the doors to my bath and body business. My customers had been asking me for years to share all my secrets…so I did! I also have a novel, The Poison Box, which was 17+ years in the making. It’s my favorite of everything I’ve written. Those characters have been my friends for most of my life, and they continue to speak to me. (I’m working on two more books about them.) My recent releases are The Paris Diaries and Dear Me.
2. What subjects & causes are near and dear to your heart?
One of my greatest passions is the environment. That’s always been a cause dear to my heart, since I was a little girl. I love nature and feel very strongly about protecting our beautiful land, skies and waterways. I also love helping young people – both little kids and teenagers – and I’ve been working in education for a long time, now, to that end. Another passion is women’s self-esteem/self-worth. I’ve witnessed so many women struggle with low self-esteem and distorted body image, including myself, and I’ve been writing a lot about that since I was a teenager. I’ve been working on lots of projects over the years related to this, and am writing a sequel to Soulful Skincare that really focuses on this issue.

image3. How did you conceive the Paris Diaries? 4. How did you conceive the story Dear Me?
(I have to answer these questions together – you’ll see why. J )
The Paris Diaries and Dear Me were actually never intended for publication. They were both pieces I wrote in my journal back in 2009. I went to Paris – a lifelong dream of mine – in May 2009 with a man who was, at the time, my ex-boyfriend, but best friend. While we were there, the forced intimacy of being in such close quarters made me fall in love with him all over again (I’d never really fallen out of love in the first place) and I was absolutely besotted with both Paris and the ex.
Unfortunately, his commitment-phobia kept thwarting our efforts to reconcile, once we arrived home. At the time, I was madly writing down my memories from the trip so I wouldn’t forget them, all the while struggling with our ill-fated attempts to repair our relationship. My journal pages would skip from the present moment – the arguments we were having, the anger I was feeling – back to the beautiful memories of Paris and how close we had been there, and then back to the present again. There was something about the way I wrote those entries – so raw, and so earnest – that kept me re-reading it over the years, thinking it wasn’t a half-bad story.
In the journal, the Paris entries were followed by a 30-day series of love letters I wrote to myself when my ex and I couldn’t get past his commitment issues. I had been devastated and decided to try to heal my heartache by giving myself the love that I couldn’t get from him.
The funny thing is that the ex and I DID end up together for almost six more years, until he quite suddenly moved out to pursue a relationship with a young woman he had started dating. Soon after he left, my cousin, who had traveled to Paris with us, passed away. The two losses were so staggering to me, I felt compelled to share the story, in particular as a tribute to my beautiful cousin. I decided to make Dear Me a companion booklet, just because it was so deeply connected to the Paris story. I hope it helps others who have gone through a difficult breakup to remember their own beauty and worth.

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5. What was the most curious thing you discovered in your research?
As I have researched natural beauty, self-esteem, and relationships these past few years (which seem to be themes that come up again and again for me), I think the most curious thing that has come out is how much alike we all are. We share so many insecurities and doubts. I find it so fascinating that we can see so much brilliance and beauty in our sisters, but often fail to see the brilliance and beauty looking back at us in the mirror. I hope, in time, that we all learn to recognize our own light.
6. What music inspires you?
All kinds – I love classical, rock, and any song that’s passionate or maudlin. I have a particular soft spot for Tori Amos and Carly Simon.
7. How many books did you read last year?
I set a goal to read 60 books last year – ten more than I usually read – but I was dealing with a lot of emotional processing after the boyfriend left and my dog passed away, so I only got through about 30. I’m back on track for this year, though! I should be able to get in 50-60 by December.
8. Coffee or Tea?
Tea, 100%. I hate coffee!
9. What are you knitting/ creating right now?
I’m working on a mini poncho, a hat, a sweater, and two blankets. (I’m always working away with yarn!) I’m also working on the sequel to Soulful Skincare, 2 sequels to The Poison Box (I guess it’s going to be a trilogy!), a young adult novel, and a children’s book which might turn into another young adult novel. There’s never a shortage of creation over here, that’s for sure!
10. Do you have any writing rituals?
At this point, I just go with it whenever I can fit it in. I used to get tea, and set up at my desk, and play certain music…but now, I’ll write on scraps of paper on my lunch break, if I have to. Whatever it takes! I’ve lost all sense of ritual, out of necessity. But just the feeling of my fingers tapping on a keyboard is ritual enough for me.

11. Do you have a theme song?
If I had to choose, I’d say Libby, by Carly Simon. I’m not even sure what that song is about, so that’s probably silly to say (I read it was about her friend, but that didn’t really enlighten me as to its ultimate meaning), but there’s something about it… The piano is so beautiful (I play a little and it’s my favorite instrument – there’s nothing like piano music). My mother almost named me Liberty, so I feel a connection to the name, as well as all the mention of Paris (I even mentioned the song in The Paris Diaries), and there’s something about the emotion of it that I connect to: longing, passion, triumph, sadness…all of it all lumped together. That’s me.

12. What is one thing you would tell your younger self?
You are worth so much more than you ever dreamed. Stop settling for crumbs and hold out for what you really want. You deserve it and you can have it.
13. Is there anything else you would like to share with us today?
I really wasn’t sure what to say here, until I saw that this was number 13 – a number that’s very important to me. In The Paris Diaries, I talk about an intense experience I had with the number 13 at the Place de la Concorde. It was a number that started appearing to me when I began my relationship with the ex. But after he left, I still encountered it again and again. To this day, I’m trying to uncover the clues that connect me to this number. Those are the kinds of everyday magic that thrill me and make me remember that life is constantly offering us a strange fairy tale.

I have never been to Paris, but I just know that reading Yancy’s book will take me there. Who’s with me?