Truth Tripline

I’m one of those writers who doesn’t really know what she wants to say until she says it.  I don’t do a lot of planning before I start fiction projects.  I might have a vague idea of the ending, but I don’t know the steps it will take to get to that point, or even if that ending will be what I eventually land on.

Apparently, Jo Rowling planned Harry Potter for seven years before she started writing it.  It definitely worked for her.

For me, I make friends with a few characters and then I toss them into a situation together to see what they’ll do.

Listen, I know it’s kind of a trendy thing for authors to say that they are surprised by what their characters do, but I’ll be honest with you: it’s the truth.  I am sometimes shocked at what happens when I sit down at the laptop to write.  I won’t let my characters have the final say; I get that, as the author … but they usually know what they’re doing, and I’m usually humble enough to listen.

When I sat down to write my current work-in-progress, all I knew was that it featured three teenagers and one of them wasn’t sure if reality was really reality.  The first thing that happened when I started writing was that this blind, elderly man named Gordon suddenly started speaking.  I had no idea where he came from, had not planned or prepared for him … but there he was.  And he ended up being an important character in the story.

C.S. Lewis had the image of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood in his head.  He wrote, “At first I had very little idea how the story would go. Then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams about lions about that time. Apart from that I don’t know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once he was there he pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him.”

Likewise, Lewis said that the stories weren’t originally intended to be Christian allegory.  “At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”

This happens to me while I write.  I won’t know what a character should do or say … and then I just write it.  My fingers just fly across the keyboard, and I, Jackie, at home on my couch, am marveling at this truth that I tripped over.

Where do these things come from?

I think I know.

Alice in Wonderland 2 by *Ashenebal on deviantART

Alice in Wonderland 2 by *Ashenebal on deviantART

In the Moment

It’s one thing for me to declare over my blog to a primarily anonymous audience, “Dear obsessive-compulsives, this is what you should do.”

But then comes the moment when your friend says, “Hey, can you talk to my friend on Facebook?  Here’s her name.”

It’s not that I’ve never been there before, the frenetic chaos of an obsession.  I know what it’s like to feel that furious terror, to need to know that things will be okay.  I get it.  I really do.

But I know the other side now.  I know that reassurances aren’t going to get this girl anywhere.  Know that discussing her obsession is like clipping off the leaves of a weed, when what we really need to go for is the root.

In that moment– those wild minutes of obsessive pandemonium– it’s hard to talk calmly, to keep redirecting someone back to the idea of treatment, to feel like you’re doing them any good.  In fact, you imagine they’re thinking, No, you’re not getting this.  You don’t know what I need.

But I do.  Because I do get it.  Because I was there.  Because I tried for years to put a quick bandaid over the cancer that needed to be cut out.

Breathe, I tell her.  Breathe tonight, and then educate yourself tomorrow.  It’s time to go for the root.


Favorite Book Lines

This was originally going to be a top ten list, but I should have known that that would about KILL me.  So, in the end, I simply present to you a list of some of my favorite lines of literature:

Jude stopped in front of her and, with both hands cupping her face, tried to make a smile. Narnie flinched.
‘Leave her alone,’ Tate said.
‘I need a revelation,’ Jude said. ‘And you’re the only one that can give me one, Narns.”
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

“The words were on their way, and when they arrived, she would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.”
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

“And Dimble, who had been sitting with his face drawn, and rather white, between the white faces of the two women, and his eyes on the table, raised his head, and great syllables of words that sounded like castles came out of his mouth.”
That Hiddeous Strength by C.S. Lewis

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

“He thought, or said, or sang, I did not know that I was so empty, to be so full.”
The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

“I remember it as October days are always remembered, cloudless, maple-flavored, the air gold and so clean it quivers.”
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

“Do you remember all of your audiences?” Marco asks. 
“Not all of them,” Celia says. “But I remember the people who look at me the way you do.”
“What way might that be?”
“As though they cannot decide if they are afraid of me or they want to kiss me.”
“I am not afraid of you,” Marco says.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


“Remember how it was when we kissed? Armfuls and armfuls of light thrown right at us. A rope dropping down from the sky. How can the word love and the word life even fit in the mouth?”
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

“It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.”
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

“It was a jumble, it was a mishmash, and somehow she pulled it together, somehow she threaded every different thing through the voice of a solitary mockingbird singing in the desert.”
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

“There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.”
East of Eden by John Steinbeck

“I saw a beached red dory.  I could take the dory, row out to the guy, and say: Sir.  You have found a place where the sky dips close.”
For the Time Being by Annie Dillard

What are your favorites?

Great Decisions of My Life

baptism1. January 1996, I gave my life to Jesus Christ.  I was fourteen years old, and my heart was singing as I leaned back into the waters of baptism.

2. August 2000, I began my education at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota.  This school molded me as a student of words and the Word and introduced me to some amazing, lifelong friends.  I had no idea that after graduation, I would end up working on the campus, and now I have spent almost 13 years at this amazing institution!

3. August 2001, I chose to be a volunteer camp counselor at Pine Haven Christian Assembly, the camp I grew up attending as a camper.  I was one person going into this week and another coming out of it; it sparked a desire in me to work with youth.  I met some of my very best friends at this camp, most of them this first week.

4. Summer 2003, I decided to apply for a position in the Northwestern admissions office.  A decade later, I still revel in that great decision every morning when I wake up excited to go to work.

5. August 2005, I started sponsoring a child through Compassion International, igniting a strong advocacy in me for helping release children from poverty.  Antonio June, Jona, and Bea bless my life.

6. March 2009, I began Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy to treat my OCD.

Hoping to make more great decisions … or be led to them … or to stumble into them!  What are the best decisions of your life?

a confession

Although cognitive-behavioral therapy threw off my OCD chains four years ago, I have to be honest: sometimes I worry that all the protective walls I’ve built around me will come crashing down.

I know that OCD is waiting just outside.  I see it in the parking lot sometimes.  Every once in a while it sneaks into my bedroom at night and sits menacingly on my dresser, whispering ugliness.

I have the tools to make it leave now.  It has to obey me when I tell it to go.

But what if one night I’m not strong enough?  What if my voice wavers, and it realizes I’m not as powerful as I try to sound?  What will I do if it pitches a tent in my apartment, moves back in with its suitcases of grief and terror?

I speak boldly of CBT and ERP as if they are stories of the past.  I say “freedom” like it’s a permanent thing.  But I can’t see even one second into the future.

Just wanted to share these thoughts with my OCD community.  I have great joy, and I delight in my remission, but I’m a real person with real fears.  As I’ve said before, I won’t tiptoe around my OCD– but I’m not going to provoke it either.


What I’m Listening To

If you’re at all interested in the music that has captured me recently, I made a playlist on Spotify.  Just search “Lights All Around Blog.”  Or don’t.  But there’s some lovely music on there.


P.S. If you’re not using Spotify yet, why not?  It’s free, and you get access to so much music, and you can create and share your own playlists, and you support the rights-holders with every song you listen to.

In Defense of “The Last Unicorn”

The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle is one of my all-time favorite books, and I re-read it like it’s air.  I recommend it quite often.  And yet, people very rarely take me up on my suggestion.  I think it’s because of the title.  I mean, let’s be honest, it sounds like the final book of a trilogy where the other books are Giggle Glitter and Rainbow Smiles.  I get it.

But no.

This book routinely polls as one of the top 10 fantasy novels of all time.  It is stunning.

These are the reasons I love it so much:

1. The lyrical writing.  It’s like this completely gorgeous narrative poem!  On every page, you encounter a gem so beautiful you want to put it in your mouth like rock candy.

“Your name is a golden bell hung in my heart. I would break my body to pieces to call you once by your name.”

“Her voice left a flavor of honey and gunpowder on the air.”

“When you walk, you make an echo where they used to be.”

2. The humor.  Beagle’s timing for tossing out a laugh-aloud moment is impeccable and doesn’t distract from the story, only adds.

“The magician stood erect, menacing the attackers with demons, metamorphoses, paralyzing ailments, and secret judo holds. Molly picked up a rock.”

“You pile of stones, you waste, you desolation, I’ll stuff you with misery till it comes out of your eyes. I’ll change your heart into green grass, and all you love into a sheep. I’ll turn you into a bad poet with dreams.”

3. The meta-writing.  Story about story.  The characters have this self-awareness that they are a part of a story, and it’s a fascinating device I’ve rarely seen used.  Beagle does so with flawless charm.

“Haven’t you ever been in a fairy tale before?. . . . The hero has to make a prophecy come true, and the villain is the one who has to stop him — though in another kind of story, it’s more often the other way around. And a hero has to be in trouble from the moment of his birth, or he’s not a real hero. It’s a great relief to find out about Prince Lir. I’ve been waiting for this tale to turn up a leading man. . . .”

“The true secret in being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. The swineherd cannot already be wed to the princess when he embarks on his adventures, nor can the boy knock on the witch’s door when she is already away on vacation. The wicked uncle cannot be found out and foiled before he does something wicked. Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a very long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.”

If you like the fantasy genre, or even just world-class writing despite genre, then you need to read this book.

last unicorn