books books books

Just finished …

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead | Brilliant!  This is a children’s book, meant for younger ages than the books I usually read, but it was absolutely incredible.  This is the story about Miranda, a young girl in New York City, who starts receiving mysterious notes from an unknown sender, asking her to “write out the whole story, from beginning to end.”  She is, of course, confused, but after a cast of wonderful characters are introduced, everything begins to fall into place.  I actually shouted aloud the moment that everything finally clicked into place for me– I was that excited.  Absolutely loved it.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley | Another Printz winner, so I had high expectations.  The writing was good, and it had two storylines that merge into one (a device I am rather fond of).  It also was very interesting, especially all the writing about the Book of Enoch, but in the end, the book didn’t wholly touch me.  Whaley didn’t make me love the characters quite enough to care enough.  I wanted to love this one; I really did.  One story is about Cullen Witter, his small town that is going crazy over an extinct woodpecker who has supposedly been seen again in their community, and the disappearance of his younger brother Gabriel.  The other story begins with a young missionary on his first mission.  Seems right up my alley, doesn’t it?  I didn’t hate this book, but it just didn’t go far enough to truly capture me.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness | Oh man.  So good.  I wept.  This is a fascinating story about Conor, whose mother is dying of cancer, and about the yew tree in the churchyard out of their window.  In the evenings, the tree walks and talks to Conor, telling him stories and demanding one from him, all as he deals with the emotions of his mother’s slow fade.  So real, so raw, so dark, so clever.  A must-read.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine | I found myself easily sucked into this re-telling of Cinderella, even though I think that Levine needed a couple more drafts of the manuscript (how pretentious am *I*?  wow.).  Still, a sweet story for children.  Ella was blessed/cursed at birth with the need to obey all orders … as she grows up and falls in love, she seeks a way to end the spell that binds her, and this is the story of what happens.  I honestly did find myself rather heartbroken as I read this story … I applaud Levine for that!

Going Bovine by Libba Bray | This book started out INCREDIBLE and hilarious and interesting– Cameron, a teenaged slacker, is diagnosed with the human equivalent of mad cow disease, which essentially eats holes in your brain, making it like a sponge.  The descriptions were fantastic and dead-on and intense.  And then Cameron starts drifting out of reality and in his unconscious state, he goes on this completely bizarre roadtrip with a dwarf and a yard gnome, guided by a punk angel in torn fishnets.  In a lot of ways, I suppose I have to give Libba Bray credit, since it did seem very dream-like.  The problem was that I was just not incredibly interested– and it went on far too long.  Outside of Narnia, I’m not a huge fan of big quests in books.  This just got too wacky and too long for me.  I finished it though because I was so won over in the first part of the book by Bray’s phenomenal writing.

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare | Okay, so this is book #5 of the Mortal Instruments series, and it’s (obviously) safe to say I’m hooked.  I am writing this mini-review at 1:25am, having just finished it.  I don’t know how Cassie Clare keeps doing it, but she just introduces such heartbreaking plot elements in every novel.  I feel like I can’t truly review this book without any spoilers, since there are four other books before it, all filled with twists and turns and secrets revealed.  I will say that I am PUMPED for the sixth and final book of this series … which I just looked up and discovered is not coming out until March 2014.  Two-thousand-freakin’-fourteenYou have got to be kidding me.  Speechless.  (I don’t know how Potter fans did it … I didn’t start the series till Hallows was released.)  Well, I guess it’s time for bed.

Currently reading …
The Narnian by Alan Jacobs, all about the life and creativity of C.S. Lewis, my favorite

En route to my mailbox …
The Casual Vacancy by Jo Rowling
Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta

So. Freakin’. Pumped.

end of an era

Last week, I ventured to the Fairview Medical Center at the University of Minnesota to see my beloved psychiatrist Dr. Suck Won Kim for the last time before his retirement.  Dr. Kim is a skinny Korean man with salt-and-pepper eyebrows and sharply combed hair.  I met him first in 2008 when, after years of failed prescriptions, my old psychiatrist essentially threw in the towel and referred me to Dr. Kim, a national expert on OCD who has seen over 3,000 OCD patients.

The first time I met with Dr. Kim, he asked me about what meds I had tried.  And when I had told him, he resolutely said, “No more of that.  You are done with that.”  And he started me on Effexor XR, which I am on to this very day.  Dr. Kim spoke with such confidence that I had felt confident.  I remember thinking, I think this might actually work this time.

But Dr. Kim wasn’t done after he wrote out the prescription.  He turned to me and said, “Cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Tell me, have you heard of it?”

I had.  Horror stories.

“It’s the best treatment there is for OCD.  I’d like you to call Chris Donahue and get an appointment.”


“It will be hell,” said Dr. Kim, telling me what to expect.

And it was– but it set me free from the reign of OCD.  And that is why I was feeling sentimental as I sat in the office of this OCD genius for the last time, feeling cheesy but needing to tell him that he was one of my heroes.

Damned if I do; damned if I don’t.

What happens if you write a book that is too Christian for a secular publisher and too secular for a Christian publisher?

God, I want to write a book that honors You, boldly declares Your Name, is NOT preachy, but is CLEAR on the gospel.  And also is realistic and full of grotesque life.  I feel burdened tonight, but I KNOW that YOU will find a place for it if YOU want to.  I just want to write the book that You want me to write.  Point me to YOUR edits above all others’.  I just want to please everyone, and I need to QUIT THAT.  I need to return to my list.  #1 You, #2 me, #3 JG.  Remind me of this list.  This is the list I should have in the back of my mind as I make edits, as I rewrite.
God, I feel emotionally drained by West and Silas and Laurel.  But it feels GOOD, in a way.  Good, if I can point to You in dark times.  Why would I want to write a story that didn’t point to You?  Please help me, Jesus.  Will You please make the road rise up before me?
I love You.  I need Your help in EVERYTHING.  Amen.
And so I am just trying to write the very best book I can and to trust God to divinely intervene all he wants. 

manic writer

I had lunch with my friend Brittane this week.  Brittane is tall and gorgeous and insightful and full of God’s strength.  She has her degree in psychology, and she has this perfect way of asking questions so that you almost feel like you’re getting free therapy while you hang out with her.  She’s a delight.

I was telling Brittane about the rollercoaster I can’t seem to get off … the high highs, the low lows, the sudden switches.  “I don’t mean to be blaise about this, since I hate when people are like, ‘I’m so OCD,’ but sometimes I wonder if I am manic depressive.”

Brittane, in her perfect way, nodded, listened, asked questions, offered insight until we stumbled upon one important fact: these days, my rollercoaster is only about my writing life.  Since my writing life is SO important to me, I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees.  It felt important, like a hand-hold.  “Maybe it’s just what the writing life is like,” I said.  “It’s just a continual up-and-down.”

If it is, I’m on the rollercoaster for good.

Back in the office that afternoon, I read a quote on Donald Miller’s blog that fit so perfectly with our conversation.  It read:

To write is to struggle with your sanity, at times. And there will be bad days and you will feel defeated. This work is more difficult than climbing a mountain because you are doing it in the dark. I want to urge you to keep going. You matter and your words matter. By writing, you are saying to God I agree with you, you gave me a voice and the gift was not in vain. By writing, you are showing up on the stage of life rather than sitting in the comfortable theater seats (there is a time for both) and are casting your voice out toward an audience who is looking for a character to identify with, somebody to guide them through their own loneliness, no matter how transparent or hidden that loneliness is.

It was just what I needed to hear in that moment.  I will continue to write, to ride this rollercoaster, because I agree with God, that he gave me a voice and the gift was not in vain.


feels like another life

Date: Wed, 27 September 2007
From: Jackie
To: Eir

please pray for me, honey.

i’m nervous again that i’m not saved. or that i did something in the wrong order.

it feels silly to me, but also serious, if that makes sense.

i need to relax.  any Truth you want to speak to me would be great and welcomed.

love you muchly,
jackie lea


From: Eir
Sent: Wed 3/28/2007 12:13 AM
To: Sommers, Jackie L

honey,   “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   LORD GOD! I thank You that You are a God who is DETERMINED and that salvation is YOUR doing, not ours. Please help Jackie to rest in Your character, God! We can NOT do anything to make you not look at us and still want us to belong to You.   I love you, jls! I see SO MUCH spiritual fruit in your life! I believe FOR you that you are saved and belong to a God who has chosen you as HIS and transformed you.   GOODNIGHT!

Medical or Spiritual?

Discovered a website this weekend that is very disturbing to me as a Christian obsessive-compulsive.

At, you can read quotes like the following:

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, is not a mental disorder or disease… it is a spiritually rooted bondage in the person’s mind that needs to be uprooted.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is basically demonic torment brought on by a person’s bondages to fear and shame.

These ‘voices’ or compulsive thoughts are NOT caused because of a chemical imbalance (which the secular world cannot explain anyways); they are there because of a spiritual bondage in the person’s life.

Now, don’t get me wrong!  I believe that obsessive-compulsive disorder has entered into this world due to SIN, yes, but to negate that OCD is caused by a chemical imbalance seems ridiculous to me.  As a Christian, I view ALL of life through a spiritual lens, but these quotes seem like the equivalent of saying, “Diabetes is not a problem with the pancreas– it’s a spiritual issue!!!”  To say that diabetes is not connected to the pancreas’s inability to produce insuliin would be silly, just as saying that OCD is not connected to a chemical inbalance (our bodies absorb serotonin too quickly … that’s why we take SSRIs [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors … they SLOW DOWN the reuptake/reabsorbtion of serotonin]).

All issues are spiritual issues, but that does not mean that they are NOT also medical issues.  God is also the Author of Science and the Creator of our bodies.  To not combine the spiritual with the scientific is short-sighted, I believe.

What are your thoughts on these quotes?  I’d especially love to hear from obsessive-compulsive believers!

This is a repost of an earlier entry.

writer’s envy

I have it pretty bad.  It’s the dichotomy of being a writer who reads great literature– it is feeding your work but also fueling your envy and self-loathing.

At least, this is true for me.

So, my question is how do you turn envy into motivation?

Bonus points: how many of these (my favorite writers) can you identify?

obsessive-compulsive since age seven

My OCD struck at age seven.  Strep-throat-gone-to-hell and all of the sudden curse words were running through my head as if I were some foul-mouthed sailor, when the truth of the matter was that I was a shy (Yes, really!  Hard to believe now!) girl from a conservative home, who would have never DARED to utter those phrases outloud.

I began to worry that I would lie if I gave my opinion, so for a while, my answer to everything was “I don’t know.”  Favorite color?

I don’t know.

Did I like my teacher?

I don’t know.

Should we do this or that?

I don’t know.


I have this image in my head of running to find my mom under the clothesline, smacking my fist against my forehead, and confessing.  My poor mom.

I wish we’d known then.  It would be another fifteen years before my OCD would even be named, but I’ve wondered what life would have been like had we caught it back in the summer of 1989.  Drat you, internet, for coming along too late!

Every once in a while I google things like “my daughter is attacked by bad thoughts” or “my daughter has bad thoughts” or “my daughter keeps confessing” to see how quickly the trail leads to OCD.

My heart breaks for the obsessive-compulsive children out there, wild minds racing, hearts terrified, robbed of childhood.

Parents can look for the following possible signs of OCD:

  • repetitive confession
  • constantly seeking reassurance
  • raw, chapped hands from constant washing
  • unusually high rate of soap or paper towel usage
  • high, unexplained utility bills
  • a sudden drop in test grades
  • unproductive hours spent doing homework
  • holes erased through test papers and homework
  • requests for family members to repeat strange phrases or keep answering the same question
  • a persistent fear of illness
  • a dramatic increase in laundry
  • an exceptionally long amount of time spent getting ready for bed
  • a continual fear that something terrible will happen to someone
  • constant checks of the health of family members
  • reluctance to leave the house at the same time as other family members

I waited fifteen years to be diagnosed.  Just take your kiddo to the psychiatrist.*

*I’m not mad at you, Momma. 🙂  How could we have known?  You’re my favorite.

whom I write for

Who is your audience? is a question every writer faces in the midst of creative work.  For me, the question has kind of morphed into For whom am I writing this?  In other words (for me), Whom do I most want to please with this work?

It’s different answers for different things.  For example, with Lights All Around, my first novel, the answer was

1) God.
2) Other obsessive-compulsives.
3) My writing community.
4) Myself.

With my second novel, Truest, I have found the answer to be

1) God.
2) Myself.
3) John Green.

I hadn’t really thought through this much until the other day at work when I was talking to some coworkers about how desperately I wanted John Green to like the story I was writing.  Am I crazy?  Maybe.

How about you, writing friends?  What does your list look like?  Does it change from project to project?