I Have a Good Feeling about 2014

new year cropped

Note: I understand that just a few hours ago I posted about how depression has stolen into my life this very day.  Below is a post I wrote weeks ago, and I’m still going to let it go live because I know that what I’m feeling with depression is a lie and what the post says below is true.  I’d still appreciate your prayers.

I am so excited for 2014!

One year ago I wrote an honest post about how different my life was than what I thought it would be.  I jabbered on a lot about wanting to be in a relationship, but I also mentioned that I wished I had an advanced degree and that people wanted to read what I wrote.

So, 2013 unrolled itself in interesting ways.  I’m still drastically single (I don’t even see the tiny silhouette of a man on the distant horizon, waving my way), but 2013 saw my writing career finally take off with winning the Katherine Paterson Prize and then securing a two-book deal with Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins.  I applied to Vermont College of Fine Arts and was admitted, but my editor said I already knew how to write a book, so I am going to cancel my admission there.

(A part of me is a little sad about this.  I think I’ll always wish I was a VCFA alumnus.)

(Most of me, however, is thrilled that I can focus on writing a book instead of doing homework.)

All that said, it’s an interesting precipice to stand on– here, this edge of 2013, staring off into the uncharted lands of 2014.  2014 is an unwritten story, and those always make me nervous– and excited.

Surprise Visit from Depression

I woke up this morning with clouds in my head.

Nothing had happened.  Nothing was/is wrong.  But I feel like I’m in a fog.

My friend Cindy reminded me that it’s a lie.  It feels good to know that.

I went back to sleep until 1 PM.  When I got up, I got ready right away, knowing that staying in my pajamas would only make things worse.

I took the longest shower known to man, asking God to bring life back into me.

Now it’s 2:30 PM, and I haven’t eaten yet.  Feeling too numb to exert effort, I poured myself a bowl of cereal.  Then realized I had no milk.  Then started to cry.

I can’t nail this down.  It helps to know my body is just lying to me.  I really am excited about life (as a pre-scheduled post later today will share), eager for the new year and all it holds.  I just feel horrible right now.  I don’t want to complain to all my friends because I feel like that’s all I ever do.  So I decided to share with my blog readers.

Sometimes I forget what depression is like.  It’s been so long.  Now that I’m reminded, I want to go back into my acquired ignorance.

My best friend Erica is coming over in a little bit.  That will be good.  Even though all I want to do right now is crawl back into bed and sleep until 2014 is underway, I know that it is better that I ignore the lies and do my best to celebrate with Eir.

I don’t know what could have possibly happened overnight.  Sorry to everyone else who is feeling this way.  It’s a lie.  Life is good.  There is much to look forward to.  God bless.

Dear Diary (December 2013)

december ddAfter a wild and exciting November, my December has been relatively quiet: coffee dates with friends, a meeting with my writing group, recruiting hard as we head into the spring semester.

And every so often I think to myself, I have a book deal, and get excited all over again.  The thrill has not worn off.  I still marvel that my collection of years of hard work has resulted in a writing contract.  When your dreams start coming true, you don’t get over it in a day!

Speaking of, I’ve been working hard on a draft of my next novel (working title is Answers); would you be interested in reading an excerpt?  (A really bad first draft excerpt?)

My friend Elyse and I just rolled out our new project a few days ago: the Even a Traitor May Mend blog, which Narnia-lovers can check out here.

I saw The Book Thief movie!  I hereby declare it a lovely adaptation.  (The Book Thief is one of my very favorite books period, and I went into the movie assuming there would be changes.  There were, but they felt very consistent with the feel of the book, and I loved spending time with Liesel, Rudy, Max, Hans, and Rosa again.  I did miss Tommy though.)

barristerI spent Christmas with my family (just a couple days– this hermitty writer likes her alone time!).  My family is just so amazing and lovely and laidback; we had a ball together, opening presents, watching Home Alone and Home Alone 2, caroling at our friends’ house, picking on one another and just enjoying each others’ company.  And talk about a major haul: I came away with two antiques!  My amazing parents picked up an antique card catalog for me when they were in Missouri at Thanksgiving (wow!), and Mom also had my great aunt’s barrister bookcase restored for me.  I’m so spoiled.

Also, at the suggestion of Anne Lamott (and also at my own suggestion), I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately and loving it.  I’m going to review several books all at once coming up soon.

So, that’s my quiet December!  Things will definitely pick up in the new year as I dive headfirst into Truest revisions!

Guest Post: OCD & Nutrition by David Novak

I screen all guest post proposals, selecting only those that I think will be of high value for my readers.  When Healthline contacted me with this article by David Novak, I was totally won over.  I think you guys– especially those of you with hesitations about medications– will be very intrigued by what he has to say below.  Always make sure to run ideas by your doctor before implementing them!

OCD and Nutrition by David Novak 

ocd and nutrition picOCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder, which affects 2.3% of the American population between the ages of 18 and 54. This condition is characterized by irrational or unwanted thoughts, obsessions, urge for repetitive rituals and compulsions. Symptoms usually start during early childhood or adolescence and the exact cause is still unknown. Theories to this condition suggest that OCD manifests due to personality defects and bad parenting, but this is not widely accepted.

OCD impacts the communication systems in the brain and according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, it produces a chemical imbalance in the brain where low levels of serotonin have been recorded. Serotonin plays a crucial role in mood regulation, learning, calmness and sleep. Several medications can help in behavioral therapy for OCD, since it is known to be incurable. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, help in raising serotonin levels in the brain leading to reduced OCD symptoms.

Nutritional Therapy

Nutritious diet may not prevent an onset of OCD, but it can assist in managing the symptoms with the help of medications, supplements and mental health therapy.  Here are some nutrition sources documented as effective for reducing the symptoms:

  •  Tryptophan – This amino acid promotes the formation of serotonin, which is essential in mood regulation. It has been shown to be successful in treating OCD, and it’s also effective for other anxiety disorders. Tryptophan is formed from precursor coenzymes found in B-vitamins.  Example of foods with high tryptophan level include elk meat, goat, seaweed, soy, spinach, crabs, halibut and shrimps.
  • Inositol – Inositol is a nutrient related to vitamin B complex, which is needed for the cell membranes’ proper formation. It has an ability to affect nerve transmission as well as transporting fats within the body. Inositol also plays an important role in reproduction and prevention of neural tube defects. It can be found in certain foods such as oranges, cantaloupe, beans and whole wheat grain.
  • L-theanine – L-theanine is known to have a calming effect, which is found to be effective in subduing OCD behavior. It also helps in stimulating alpha brainwave production that promotes deep relaxation. IL-theanine also has properties that can protect against environmental neurotoxins. This amino acid can be found in green tea, black tea and boy bolete mushroom.
  • St John’s wort – This herb has been widely used in treating depression and other psychological disorders. It also has hypericum, which is a chemical that has been found effective in modulating serotonin levels.


Natural supplements have a distinct advantage over drugs and medications. They provide larger amounts of raw materials to the brain for the development of serotonin. However, they may become ineffective if the person has deficiency in one or more critical nutrients needed in producing serotonin. It is best to consult your doctor on how you can address and relieve OCD symptoms, and whether these supplements are right for you.  Here are some well-known supplements that have helped many OCD patients:

  •  N-acetylcysteine – N-acetylcysteine is a nutritional supplement used in treating compulsive disorders such as OCD. It has been found to be very effective in hard-to-treat disorders like hair-pulling (trichotillomania).
  • Flax seed oil – Several studies show that taking flaxseed oil can help manage OCD behavior. It is rich in essential fatty acids, which enrich the brain cells’ communication and development.
  • Vitamin B complex – These B vitamins have been found helpful for those suffering panic disorders, depression and OCD. Vitamin B1 plays an important role in controlling blood sugar, which has a major impact on anxiety. Vitamin B3 is involved in several enzymatic processes, especially in serotonin synthesis. Vitamin B5 is also important for the adrenals when it comes to modulating stress. Vitamin B12 and folic acid support against heart stress, especially if you’re suffering from anxiety and depression.
  • Spirulina – This dietary supplement is known to have RNA. which has been found advantageous for the nervous system. It helps in nourishing myelin sheaths and nerves, which are helpful in reducing OCD symptoms.
  • Magnesium – Magnesium is a calming mineral that helps in minimizing the release of stress hormones in the body. There is still limited scientific evidence of magnesium’s effectiveness, but several research shows that herbal supplements containing magnesium may be effective in relieving stress and depression.
  • Lactium – Lactium is a supplement derived from the casein protein in milk. It assists in reducing stress-related symptoms, including anxiety and panic attacks.

David Novak picDavid Novak is a syndicated columnist, appearing in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.  His byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Readers Digest and GQ. David is a specialist at health, wellness, exercise and diet, and he is a regular contributing editor for Healthline. For more information, visit http://www.healthline.com/.

Some changes coming to Lights All Around

Would you believe that I will have posted 424 blog posts in 2013?

I made a serious effort this past year to build my blog audience by posting daily, and I am so glad to say I did it!  I’ve connected with so many amazing people this year– obsessive-compulsives and the people who love them; people who love literature and writing and words; amazing people of faith; amazing people without faith; friends and family who care about what I’m up to.

I’m so blessed.

That said, 424 blog posts in a year is wild.  While I have love-love-loved 2013, it’s been a lot on my plate with writing a novel, querying agents, selling my manuscript, starting a literary journal, keeping up with friends, working a full-time job (in which I travel each fall and spring), doing advocacy work related to OCD, keeping in touch with blog readers via email and comments, staying on top of my reading list (#fail), staying healthy, and getting enough sleep.

This year, staying healthy and getting enough sleep were continually pushed to the bottom of the list.

I want to change that.

I’ll still work my full-time job, and I’ll be editing Truest and writing my next book, so those things can’t change, but the amount of blogging I do can.

Here’s what I’m thinking (at least for now):

Mondays: blog about something related to mental illness
Tuesdays & Thursdays: blog about writing, faith, my life, books I’m reading, the journey toward publication, etc.

And, of course, if random things come up that I want to share with you, I won’t hesitate to post those as well.  But I’ll aim for three posts a week and see if I go through blogging withdrawals. 🙂  (I’m not kidding– I might!  Being able to vent through my blog is very therapeutic for me!)

Thank you so much to everyone who took my survey.  I should have guessed that it would be all over the map: the OCs want more posts about OCD, the readers want more book reviews, the writers want more about the writing life.  Interestingly– and so humbling– people wanted more of me:

  • “Other things you’re working on”
  • “More of you … I’m most interested when you’re talking about your life.”
  • “Honesty about your life”
  • “Your personal experiences are always enlightening.”
  • “I feel like since this is your site about you and what you value, just keep at it. In other words ‘Jackie’ is an interesting person and I like learning about Jackie.”
  • “Really thrilled to be let into your journey”
  • “Really love hearing about your personal journey with OCD”
  • “Just you and your selfless honesty”

Wow, guys.  Thanks!

So, here’s to 2014!  May it be a year full of healing and creativity for all of us.

3 Novels That Changed My Life

last battleThe Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

The truth is that I’ve lived a lot of my life in fear.  Twenty years in bondage to obsessive-compulsive disorder will do that to a person.  I’ve been afraid of so many things, most often related to my faith journey and the way that God sees me.  The concept of eternity collapsed me.

The Last Battle helped me to not be so scared.

the-book-thiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I was a mediocre writer in college and in the years following.  Okay, maybe above average.  But excellence happened by accident, and I was hesitant to embrace imagery and metaphor because it felt very physically descriptive to me.

But in The Book Thief, I encountered imagery that was emotionally descriptive, images that rousted my soul and completely changed the way I write.

faultThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Even though young adult literature was my favorite to read, I still spent four years writing a novel for adults and then started in earnestly on a second one.

Then I encountered John Green’s masterpiece, angels started singing and fireworks exploded in my brain, and I adopted my new identity as a YA author.

Related posts:
Thoughts on The Last Battle
My History as a Writer
The Importance of The Fault in Our Stars

Thoughts on Rejection

no thanksEvery aspiring writer is told she is going to have to learn to deal with rejection, that rejection is simply a normal part of the road to publication.  I’d read how Stephen King hammered a big ol’ railroad spike into his wall and then hung rejection after rejection on the spike till they pulled it out of the wall.  Jo Rowling was told to get a day job because of the unlikelihood she could make money in children’s books.  Twenty-six publishers rejected the future Newberry Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time.  Gone with the Wind?  Rejected by 38 publishers.

knew I’d experience rejection as I pursued publication; I braced myself for it.

It still hurt.

I’ll admit that with Truest, what will be my debut YA novel, I made it through the gauntlet rather easily.  But please remember thatprior to Truest, I’d poured four years of my life into a novel that never even got an agent.  I sent out maybe forty queries, and one agent asked to read the manuscript.  Then kindly said no and suggested edits.

Four years is a lot of your life, time, energy, emotions.  Your heart.

I actually started writing Truest while waiting to hear back from literary agents regarding Lights All Around.  When the onslaught of rejections came, I was protected– cushioned– from the sting by the excitement I had for my new project.  That taught me to fill my waiting time with work.

I’ve heard of authors receiving very cruel rejections, but those I received were quite cordial.  In fact, a couple of them sounded more like a yes than a no.

From an agent:

Thank you so, so much for your giving me the chance to consider TRUEST, even so late in the game! I appreciate it more than you know. I came away from Big Sur so impressed by you, certain that you have the authorial (and editorial) eye, the professionalism, and the charming/witty personality to be incredibly successful in this industry. And now that I’ve had a chance to read your work, I’m even more impressed and even more certain. You are a truly talented writer, with a masterful command of language and of your characters. You make it look effortless, like the best of the best do. All of your characters are fully round and compelling, and your depiction of small town teen life is vivid and fully engaging. I even spent a good half hour trying to find the August Arms radio program because it sounded so marvelous and right up my alley!
However, after much soul-searching and late night agonizing, and with so much regret, I’m afraid I don’t feel I’m the right agent for TRUEST. I get lost in your writing in the best way, and I believe TRUEST is about something (which I mean as high praise).  […] I will be first in line to buy my copy of TRUEST. 
From an editor:
It’s always such a pleasure reading the submissions you send my way and TRUEST was certainly no exception. This is a powerful contemporary story with a cast of layered yet relatable characters. I’m going to pass because I struggled to connect the complicated chronology of the framework but I recognize that there is definitely something special here. West and Silas (what fantastic names!) form a magnetic relationship and their stark differences play off each other with vigor. The dark tension lurking beneath the surface of the storyline is captivating and makes for a compelling read.

These kind, gentle rejections are interesting to process.  They are encouraging, on the one hand, but on the other: they’re still a no.

I feel terrifically blessed in regard to Truest.  I queried my first round of YA agents on July 11, 2013, and Steven Chudney offered me representation on August 7, less than one month later.  (By the way, as I look at the dates now, I’m shocked that it took less than one month– it felt like about four.)  Steven suggested some edits, and I returned the manuscript to him on September 9.  Steven sent the manuscript out into the world on September 16.  November 12, Steven told me that Jill Davis at HarperCollins loved my story and would be sharing it with her boss.  November 20, HarperCollins made me a two-book offer.

Those four months and nine days felt so much longer than that.  Remember that while things were cooking with Steven– and later, with Jill– I was still getting rejections.

All told:
30 rejections from literary agents
4 rejections from editors

Anyway, I realize that this is a meandering post about rejection.  I can be done now.  Except that I want to say that rejection is hard.  It hurts so bad to have someone turn down your “baby” (novel, short story, memoir, etc.).  Those four months and nine days felt like I’d willingly hopped aboard the Rollercoaster of Agony and Anticipation.  But they were worth it because now my dreams are coming true!

P.S. Check out literaryrejections.com for some amazing facts about books that endured rejection to eventually become bestsellers.

P.P.S. Click here to learn more about my novel Truest.

Best of the Web

bestofthewebAt the Huffington Post, 14 literary art posters.

Barnes & Noble shared 9 signs you might be living in a YA novel.

On Cracked4 things no one tells you about OCD, one of the best articles I’ve read about OCD in a long time!

The Independent had a great article about Douglas Gresham’s relationship with his step-father C.S. Lewis.

Six minutes of amazing bike tricks.

Simon Beck’s snow art here and here.  (Incredible!)