It’s the question I am getting a lot since launching my official author page (Ina Zajac Writes) on Facebook.
What’s up with the squirrel? Is your book about squirrels? No, though there are four kick-ass raccoons. Before explaining, a quick update.
Since signing with Booktrope last month, things have been hectic. It’s good stress, the kind that rides shotgun when change is behind the wheel. My debut novel PLEASE, PRETTY LIGHTS will be released late summer. I’m ecstatic about my stellar editorial team: Samantha March, Loretta Matson, Julie Molinari and Steven Luna. Now it’s on to marketing, cover design, and more editing – always more editing. And, as it turns out, there will be a book two. Happy face.
Now back to the squirrel.
Recently I took a break from writing to meet up with Seattle photographer Molly Starr Nelson (www.mollystarrnelson.com) to do a photo shoot at the School of Rock in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. I’ll save the School of Rock story for a future blog. There is rhyme to my reason, and some rhythm too.
After Molly took some inside shots, we went out in search of interesting backdrops along 85thAvenue and Greenwood. It’s kick-back neighborhood very much like Seattle itself – understated, unpretentious and a tad funky. We stop and get some shots in front of a coffee shop. It’s a bright-white sky, no rain. While nature’s lightening is ideal, the backdrop is “meh” at best.
Molly brings her camera back down to her hip and frowns. “Let’s find somewhere else,” she says. I agree, I mean, a coffee shop? Cliché much? We can do better, and so we start walking. What sort of look were we going for? No idea.
* Hippie warning: I am one. If you are not, that’s cool, just hang tight for a minute.
I look to the clouds overhead. “Bring me a cool backdrop,” I tell the universe. The authority in my voice is met with Molly’s laughter. I assure her my request is no joke. I do this often, “bring me good ideas” or “bring me a parking space.” It sounds crazy, but this is how my world works. The key is in being relaxed about expectations, and in enjoying whatever comes. I wanted something to match the spirit of the book: weird.
Not five seconds after I place my order, there it is. Molly stops short. She’s seen it too. A happy mural of a smiling squirrel beckons us from across the street. Neither of us has ever noticed it before. It peeks out from an alleyway. Excited, we forget Seattlites never-ever jaywalk. Wink, don’t tell.
She sizes up the situation, and wants to shoot from above. When she can’t get a foothold on the alley fence, she scampers up onto the concrete base of a nearby light pole. The best photographers are more than a little bit crazy. Also, she’s slim and stunning, and I realize I should be the one taking pictures of her.
I get into position against the wall not sure what pose to strike. The light changes and traffic comes to a stop. Drivers gawk at our ridiculousness. Super. My cringe reflex creeps through me. I turn my head away just in case I know any of them. What would they think? But then I realized I’m in a world of trouble if I – at this point in the game – still give a fuck what people think of me. In a few short months, when PPL comes out, I’ll have to deal with the opinions of readers, both kind and critical. Not everyone is going to like this book or the next one. Some won’t get my themes, my language, my adoration for Dave Grohl or my malice for Nickelback. Dissing Nickelback, talk about cliché, I know. But, if hating Nickelback is wrong, I wanna be wrong, so wrong.
My jolly squirrel distracts me from my inner dialog. Don’t stress, I tell myself. Enjoy this. And then it hits me, hits my face. Oh my God, where did that come from? A sunbreak! This time of year sunbreaks are especially precious. This one has my name written all over it. Its flirtatious warmth finds my cheeks and casts down promises of spring. I keep my eyes closed, head held high, like a vitamin-D starved idiot. But damn, it just feels perfect. I hear Molly’s camera click as the sun’s love retreats back behind the clouds, just like it always does. Heartbreaker. That’s the thing with sunbreaks.
A few days later, Molly sends over photos. She is a brilliant photographer, and so she sent over scores of amazing pictures. But, I can’t help coming back to my friend the squirrel because in that moment I was so happy. Not book-signing happy or going-to-Hawaii-happy or buying-a-car happy. It was big-ass-squirrel happy.
This is when I could toss out something witty about living in the moment or finding the sunshine within or whatever. Instead, I’ll turn it over to you. First, try doing something that makes you feel stupid. Something that earns you a WTF look from a stranger. Car dance (wild and proud) to My Sharona, for example. How does it feel? Second, ask the universe for something cool. Try to recognize it when it comes. What will your squirrel be? I’d love to hear about it, comment here or @InaZajac