Recent Reads

rrThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
When I heard David Sedaris speak last fall, he strongly endorsed this collection of Ann Patchett’s essays, and basically, if David Sedaris tells me it’s good, I’m gonna go buy it. I’m so glad I did. The essay topics range from divorce and marriage to death, dogs, and writing. I cried multiple times while listening to the audio version (read by Patchett herself). Writers, even if you don’t read the entire book, I highly recommend that you at least read her essay entitled “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life.” It’s about 40 pages long and so, so good.

rr2Open Road Summer by Emery Lord
This debut novel was showing up on everyone’s end-of-the-year best-of-2014 lists, and I had it on my TBR shelf, so I happily plucked it from its resting place and gave it a read. It’s the story of bad-girl-on-the-mend Reagan, who goes on tour with her country music star best friend Dee and falls for Matt, the boy who is opening for Dee. I found a couple things hard (personally) as I read: since they’re on a giant cross-country music tour, the setting changes faster than I can keep up! Also, I was a little unclear on what drew Matt and Reagan to one another. That said, this is a lot of people’s favorite book of 2014, so if a country music tour and summer love with a hottie guitarist is up your alley, you’re gonna love this one!


Adverbs by Daniel Handler
One of those books where you go, “WHAT did I just READ?” But I loved it. Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket) is hilarious in this book. He takes tropes and ridiculous analogies and bizarre events and makes them work to his advantage. I had thought this was a YA book, but it’s for adults. It’s strange and wonderful and funny and makes me believe that I could never, ever match Handler’s wit. I saw that another reviewer of this book had said, “It’s a collection of short stories that feels like a novel.” It does and it doesn’t. It was like David Sedaris writing fiction. It breaks every single rule with aplomb.

 rr4Everything that Makes You by Moriah McStay
I’ve saved the best for last. Moriah McStay and I share an agent and an editor; she’s like my publishing “big sister” and lets me whine to her anytime I want. When our editor was in Minnesota this past summer, she gave me an ARC of Everything that Makes You, and as Moriah’s publication date approaches (March 17th!), I realized I’d better hop on it and read the ARC. My. Gosh. I mean this in the best way possible when I say that this book made me bawl and bawl and bawl. It’s a fascinating premise told in alternating chapters: in one part, we learn the story of Fiona, a girl with facial scars; in the other, we hear from Fi, who never had the accident. You encounter the same cast of characters in each story, but Fiona’s interactions with them are vastly different based on which reality she’s in. It was brilliant and incredible and put my heart into a vice and squeezed. I cannot wait for the rest of the world to meet Fiona and her friends. I sent Moriah a barrage of emails and tweets while I read this. It’s fair to say it clobbered me.

What Does Compassion Look Like?

Heart in the stone fenceMany, many OCD sufferers have been contacting me lately: they want to share their story, seek advice, and– in many cases– seek reassurance. Do you really think this is OCD?

My answer is pretty standard for those I believe are truly dealing with OCD. I tell them I’m not a mental health professional but that, in my experience, what they are describing sounds a lot like other cases of OCD. I encourage them to seek out ERP therapy.

They write back: So you really do think this is OCD?

But I know this routine.

It’s usually a compulsion, their asking repeatedly.

I explain this to them, remind them that I’ve already told them what I think.

I just want to make sure, they say. You really, really think this is OCD?

I explain again that their asking me over and over is not healthy for them and that they need to do ERP.

A week later, they’ll message me and ask again. I become a broken record, refusing to give in to their compulsions and doling out tougher and tougher love:

* I’ve told you what I believe and what is the solution. I have nothing more to add.
* Can you see that you’ve asked me X times now? That is a compulsion– seeking reassurance– and I’m not going to give in to it. It’ s unhealthy for you.

Or, in some cases, I won’t respond. What more is there to say?

This troubles me.

On the one hand, I know what it’s like to be gripped with the incredible fear and doubt of OCD. I know how it dials up to a fever pitch, and how desperately you just want. some. relief.

But I also know that compulsions are a short-term non-solution that only exacerbates things. I know that ERP therapy is the long-term solution.

It puts me in a really rough spot. I fear that I come across as cold, hard-hearted, tough, even rude. The years since I underwent ERP therapy have brought such intense clarity to my thinking that sometimes it’s hard for me to empathize in the same way I once could. Don’t get me wrong. I remember the 20 years of OCD hell. I haven’t forgotten. But the almost seven years since my own successful treatment have made me more confident in just about every way– including in what the appropriate treatment for OCD is. I won’t budge on it. I won’t recommend a band-aid. I can’t.

And I can’t cater to compulsions. I did that for myself for too many heartbreaking years, and I won’t give in to something that perpetuates prison for other sufferers.

In my desperate desire for their freedom, I think I come across too tough.

I don’t know the answer to this. I’m frustrated: with myself, with others.

But I know that compulsions kept me locked up and ERP set me free. That’s the line I draw in the sand. Maybe I’m being too tough on hurting souls. But I would be a liar if I gave out band-aids to cancer patients. That’s why I refuse to parry to compulsions.

For those of you involved in advocacy, is this a problem that you’ve had to face? How have you managed it with grace and compassion? I want to fight the good fight, but I feel so frustrated and tired.

This week, I counted up all the emails that the OCD community and I have batted around for the last two years, and it was near 2500. I’ve decided that– for the time being– I can no longer respond to these emails. It’s pushing me into an unhealthy place. I closed the messaging option on my Facebook page and posted this message on my Contact page:

Due to an overwhelming number of emails about OCD, HOCD, ERP, and the like, I am no longer able to respond to personal messages about these matters; I’m not a therapist, and though it honors me that you’d share your story with me, I’ve found that I am not in a place where I can handle such stories in a healthy way. I invite you to read my message to you It is everything that I would say to you in an email. I wish you all the best as you pursue freedom from OCD. Godspeed.

These actions have given me a sense of both freedom and failure, but I hope people will understand.

A Week in My Life

Art tree design with 7petal days of weekHere’s a typical week for me:

Monday-Friday, 8-4:30: recruit like a boss for the University of Northwestern.

Monday evening is my day off from writing. I come home, take a nap, try to fit in a lot of reading, and might meet up with a friend for coffee.

Tuesday evening I’m back at work on the novel. The first Tuesday of the month, though, I meet with a group of writer friends to discuss our various projects.

Wednesday evening I have therapy, then more writing.

Thursday evening I’m writing again (see a theme?) or I might get together with a friend. Maybe both.

Friday evening, I go home from work and CRASH. I nap for hours, then get up and write, blog, work through my to-do list, maybe get a massage. Sometimes I’ll go to an event like a play or musical or art show, but generally, I want to be A-L-O-N-E on Friday nights. (I’m such a wild one, eh?)

Saturday I sleep in, hang out with friends, take a nap, and stay up late writing.

Sunday I try to get more writing in, try to nap, and then lament the end of the weekend.

I try to pack all “events” into either Saturday or Sunday so that at least one day of the weekend is entirely reserved for writing.

As you can see, I’m writing almost every day. I typically only do one or two things with friends each week, though it varies. I’m so, so, so blessed to have friends who don’t take my writing time as a slight to them but who support me immeasurably. When I’m with my friends, I try to truly be with my friends, not in my imagination, working on my novel in my head. Having such an understanding circle of best friends is one of the greatest blessings of my life. (Thank you, peeps. I could never express just how much I appreciate you.)

Related post: How to Write & Still Have a Life

The Wild Novel: How to Start

Portrait of a beautiful tiger over concrete wall“You talk a lot about writing and editing your novels,” blog readers tell me, “but what I want to know is how you start.”

I’ve attempted to address this in past posts, such as:

Fiction: How I Start
The Beginnings of a Book
Idea Factory
First Draft Manifesto

But perhaps I’m not being explicit enough.

Allow me to tell you how I started writing Mill City Heroes

I love using It’s a site where I can send an email to myself in the future, forget about it, and then a month or a year or five years later, it shows up in my inbox. For me, it’s enjoyable on the front and back end. I often send emails to the future when the present is particularly stressful; it’s a way to reach out and touch a time when life will perhaps be more manageable. On the flip side, the emails are fun to receive: to compare the past and the present, to relish in the twists and turns that life presents me, to marvel in how much I was able to accomplish since the email was written, they’re a joy.

On their website, you can read other people’s anonymous letters to the future. I wondered what it would be like if someone were to read one of those emails and, say, fall in love with the anonymous writer and try to track him or her down. Would it be possible?

I’m a YA author, so I try to translate the idea for teens: what if high school sophomores sent themselves such emails and then they were delivered before high school graduation? What if a senior fell in love with the author of one of those emails and tried to locate the person in her school?

Boom. An idea.

But novels need characters. So I start looking for mine: names and faces. I use Pinterest, Tumblr, We Heart It, etc. and peruse faces till one stands out to me. Same thing with names.

I’d been saving this picture for maybe a year or so, and I knew it was time to finally write about her.


I chose a name for her. Rowen. I like names that are unique without being ridiculous.

I started to craft an identity for her: What was her personality like? What were her hobbies? Who was in her family? I did the same for her best friend.

Then I started to write.

Some authors plot everything out, figure out what is going to happen to whom when and where, but I am not that author. I step into the battle with an idea in my left hand and characters in my right. They are my only weapons, but they are well-chosen.

When I’m in first draft mode, I’m completely submersed in the world I’m creating. Everything I do, hear, say prompts me to think of my characters. I get upset while I drive and think, “Does Rowen have road rage?” My co-worker tells a joke, and I think, “How could I modify that for my story?” I check out a ton of books from the library about the subjects my characters are interested in, and everything I read makes me think of potential scenes and conflicts. And when I read fiction that touches me or makes me pause, I think, “How did the author make that happen? How can I do the same thing with my own spin on it?”

It’s a pretty crazy place to be. I love it and hate it. Sometimes both in the same day.

Everything is tentative at first. In fact, I thought I was going to tell Rowen’s story and wanted to tell it third-person omniscient (only to push myself since Truest is written in first person), but as I began to write, I realized that it was really more of her best friend Asa’s story and (for now, at least) I am writing from his point of view.

At this point, it’s all about showing up. I try to write six days a week, adding at least a thousand words a day to my manuscript. It’s slow-going, and it’s rough, rough, rough, but it’s also simple addition: a thousand words a day for two months will get you a working manuscript.

I’m in the middle of it right now, and it’s messy work. It’s hard and scary and takes so, so, so much faith, so many prayers. I merely feel charged with telling Asa and Rowen’s story to the best of my ability, to tell as much truth as I can. I trust (some days better than others) that themes will emerge and that I’ll learn lessons right alongside Rowen and Asa. I tell myself that I don’t have to know the ending or “the point” going into the novel, but that writing it will be a work of faith toward learning those things. As I said, it’s terrifying … and thrilling too. It’s trusting that if I sit down at my laptop over and over and over and over and over again, meaning and purpose and beauty and magic will emerge. A lot of faith. A lot at stake. A lot of reward too, if I can keep my head down and my heart open.

So, that’s maybe the best I can do at telling you how to start a novel. I should also mention that there’s a lot of research, a lot of pushing the random button on Wikipedia, and a lot of conversations with willing friends (or not-so-willing victims) as I push toward creating something wild and beautiful.

And that’s the thing: to me, a novel is so, so wild. It’s untamed and demands everything. Which is why it’s probably silly that I even attempt to write blog posts about how to approach it. How do you approach a tiger?

However the tiger demands.

OCD: A Simple Definition

When I talk about OCD, I typically start with defining it. “It’s all in the name,” I say. “Obsessive. Compulsive. Disorder.”



OCD causes unwanted, intrusive, repeated thoughts that induce intense anxiety.


To alleviate the anxiety, an OCD sufferer performs some action or ritual.


The obsessions and compulsions cause harm and anxiety and disrupt daily life.


When someone asks me, “Do I have OCD?” I ask for their story and listen for all three parts.

Note: sometimes compulsions are a little harder to recognize because they might be internal and hard to see, but they’re there– I’m what’s called a “Pure-O,” but I still have(/had, thanks to ERP!) compulsions such as seeking reassurance, confession, and repetitive prayer.


My Bucket List

bucket list jls

1. Fall in love with someone who loves me back.

2. Write books that matter.

3. Get a book deal with a major publisher. (Check!)

4. Be a homeowner. (Check!)

5. Visit Australia and England.

6. Be blurbed by John Green and Melina Marchetta.

7. Meet John Green and Melina Marchetta.

8. Have fan fiction written about my characters.

9. Be a commencement speaker.

10. Meet my Compassion kids.

11. Endow a scholarship.

(Plus one more writing-related one that is too personal and embarrassing to share because it’s even more absurd than being blurbed by John Green.)

What’s on your bucket list?

Truest available for pre-order!

Seventeen-year-old Westlin Beck is dreading this last summer before her senior year. Her best friend is away at camp, her boyfriend is working from dawn until dusk, and her dad is more distant than ever.

But everything changes when the Hart twins move into town. Silas, so good-looking and a budding poet, is friendly with everyone but West, while Laurel, his mysterious sister, appears to be sick with an illness no one—and especially not Silas—will discuss.

Forced to team up with Silas in her summer car-cleaning business, West and Silas begin to forge a friendship—and maybe something more. But when West comes face-to-face with Laurel’s devastating secret, the summer changes into a rescue mission—one with unexpected results.

Truest will be published September 1, 2015, by HarperCollins.

Add it to your Goodreads to-read shelf!

Available for pre-order at
Barnes & Noble
Books a Million

Cover reveal next month!! (It’s gorgeous!)

Questions from Blog Readers

questions from blog readersWould you ever get a pet?
I’m usually allergic to animals, so probably not unless I had a farm and could keep the pet outdoors. My parents have a sweet little German shepherd puppy named Casey right now, and she’s adorable. But if I were going to get a pet for myself, I’d get a kitten. I’m weirdly crazy about kittens and watch waaaayyyy too many cat videos on YouTube. (Here’s a favorite.)

What are your love languages?
Definitely words of affirmation. If someone sends me a kind email, I’ll print it out and tape it up at work. If someone praises my writing, I go back and look at it repeatedly. A particularly lovely email from my editor is my desktop background.

Who is your favorite YouTuber?
I think the videos I look forward to the most are from SORTED Food, which is so ironic because I don’t cook. I just ADORE Mike, Ben, Barry, and Jamie and their dynamics! I also really, really love and appreciate all that John and Hank Green have done for the YouTube community. Miranda Sings, Kory De Soto, Wheezy Waiter, What the Buck are all favorites.

If you could design a dream job, what would it be like (it doesn’t have to actually exist)?
Sleep till 11 am. Eat lunch with my favorite kids. Read all afternoon. Take a nap. Have dinner with my best friends. Write till 2 or 3 am. Repeat. (OMGOSH, can this be real someday?)

Will your novel be your first published work, or did you “work up” to it with short stories, novellas, etc.?
Growing up, I wrote novellas. I thought they were books, but they were pretty darn short. In college, I wrote short stories. My short story “Covered Up Our Names” won the Katherine Paterson Prize in 2013. But in my opinion, short stories and novels are so totally different that, at least for me, they are (mostly) unrelated experiences and exercise different writing muscles. Do both teach me a lot about great writing? Yes, of course. But the experience of writing a novel– especially settling in for the long haul and learning how in the world to pace a story– is so different from that of writing a short story. A short story has so much less real estate, and you have to say a lot in so few words. Short stories are really intimidating to me, though every once in a while, I’ll have a burst of inspiration and write one in a frenetic fury. I’m in awe of those who have mastered the short story. I don’t think I have enough great ideas to spend them on many short stories, if that makes any sense.

Where did your faith start? How did you get to the place you are now?
I grew up in a Christian home, but it was my summer camp where I first felt God calling me to him. From 4th grade through graduation, camp was one of the biggest sources of discipleship and spiritual growth for me, along with the example of my parents and the teachings of my beloved youth pastor. College at Northwestern took things to a whole new level, being surrounded by other believers, taking in-depth courses on scripture, and attending daily chapel where I heard from speakers all around the world. But, finally, in 2008, I underwent ERP and finally experienced true freedom, and that is when I really began to grow!

What is your ultimate goal in writing?
To honor God, to make people think, to infuse fiction with truth, and to make the product beautiful.

A New OCD Page

help word in metal typeFrom time to time, life becomes so overwhelming that I have to temporarily remove my email address from my website. It’s that case right now. Between busting my butt on my next novel (especially after I changed story ideas late in the game!), trying to be healthier, working full-time as a recruiter, and trying to be a good friend, daughter, and sister, my life is pretty crazy right now.

I recognize that I’m not the only resource available for OCD sufferers, but even so, I count it as an honor that people would be willing to share their stories with me. It always hurts me to take my email address down. In its stead, I’ve added a new page on my website: OCD Help. It’s exactly what I would tell someone who approached me for advice, and I hope it will be helpful for you– or for someone else that you’d like to pass it along to.

Also, please note that I have a compendium of OCD posts here, with topics that range from ERP, HOCD, OCD & Christianity to medication, OCD & children, and remission. I hope you’ll check it out.

Blessings on you all during this season.