Dear Diary: March 2015

two stacked Polaroid retro frames on wood textureThe biggest news of my month: I bought a house!

Well, more accurately, I’m buying a house. The offer has been accepted, and I close at the end of April! It’s a 2-bedroom, 3-bathroom townhome with a basement that I’m going to turn into an office/library. I’m so excited– nervous too! I’m a first-time homebuyer, and I know I have a lot to learn.

On the Truest front, I finished my final(ish) edits to the manuscript with minimal panic and got my ARC (advance review copy) in the mail!

Truest ARC

In Mill City Heroes news, I kicked butt and took names this month. I put in countless hours of work on my next manuscript as I work toward my first-draft deadline at the end of April. Eir and I went on an adventure day in Minneapolis (i.e. Mill City) as part of my “research.” It was delightful!

This might seem silly to you all, but I feel really proud that I’m reading a lot so far in 2015. As you know, I love to read– but this year, I’m making it even more of a priority, looking on reading as part of my job as an author. I’ve been trying to set aside one night each week just for reading, in addition to spending about an hour reading each other night. It feels good. Really good.

How was your March? What are you looking forward to in April?

Poetry 2015 Review: 20 Love Poems & a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

I’m reading a book of poetry every month this year! This month’s book was Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Next month, join me in reading Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen. Click here for a list of all the books in my Poetry 2015 Campaign.

poetry2015.3This book was delicious and sexy.

“But my words become stained with your love / You occupy everything, you occupy everything.”

“becalmed in the throat of the fortunate isles / that are white and sweet as cool hips.”

“You are like my soul, a butterfly of dream, / and you are like the word Melancholy.”

Are you convinced? I am.

Be sure to track down Black Aperture for April!

Questions from Blog Readers

questions from blog readersWhy do your enjoy having your “heart pulverized” by books?
I don’t know. It seems masochistic, doesn’t it? I love the power of the written word, love the truths that fiction can expose us to without truly exposing us (Does that make sense to you? That makes sense to me.). I love the way that stories are dynamic, incredible things and the way that art– in any form– can make us feel alive.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I enjoy people and encourage them. I tell stories and jokes. I avoid cleaning. I waste time on social media. I make plans. I explore the Twin Cities. I recruit students to my university. I work on my blog. I read. I daydream about my characters.

How does faith intersect with your writing life, and what are your thoughts on “Christian” vs “non Christian” books when it comes to marketing in the pub industry?
If I think about a venn diagram where “my writing life” is one circle and “my faith” is another circle, it would look like two circles aligned directly on top of one another. Everything in my writing life (and all other areas of my life) is influenced by my Christian faith. My daily life (and the writing of my books) is done via continual conversation with my God.

Christian vs. non-Christian markets: I’m not entirely sure what I think. I knew that I wanted my book to not be labelled a “Christian” book because I felt like that would severely limit the audience that would pick it up. Also, when you see a book that is labelled “Christian,” you expect certain things from it, don’t you? And Truest is decidedly not a family-friendly, rainbows-and-kittens book. That said, it’s flabbergasting to me that “Christianity” could possibly mean “family friendly, rainbows-and-kittens.” The gospel itself is a story of mindblowing love, deep betrayal, and bloody, gruesome death– and also breathtaking victory. How in the world did “Christianity” come to mean anything else, anything so watered-down?

What is your favorite food?
Chocolate. Cheese. Chipotle. Really, anything that starts with ch. 😉

What is your favorite movie?
NewsiesThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Harry Potter III, VII, and VIII.

Recent Reads

all the bright places2All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
This book. You guys. This book. In it, we meet Violet Markey as well as Theodore Finch, who stole my heart and broke it. The characters in this book were phenomenal and layered, and I value that so much. Great characters are my #1 thing, even more than beautiful writing. If you give me great characters, I’ll be a slave to your writing prowess. I was so, so captured by these characters and their beautiful and heartbreaking story. Let’s just say that both Violet and Finch are hurting souls, and the opening scene is them meeting on the ledge of the school bell tower, both on the verge of jumping. Go. Read. This. Book. I need to be able to talk about it with someone.

i'll meet you thereI’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
This book was pretty un-put-downable. I tore through it. The reviews have been nothing but raving, and I’m pleased to say that I loved it as well. It’s a story about Skylar “Sky” Evans, who wants nothing more than to escape her hometown, and about Josh Mitchell, a Marine who returns home without his leg. There are a couple of Ultimate No-No’s that characters can do in books that are sort of “unforgivable” for me … and this one had one. But I still really loved it. A lot. And highly recommend that you read it.

peter panPeter Pan by J.M. Barrie
What a treat this book is! I’ve long known the story of Peter Pan, Wendy Darling, Captain Hook, the lost boys, and all the rest … but knowing the story didn’t prepare me for the gem of this book. It was delightful. The voice is incredible and fascinating and clever. It reminded me a little of Alice in Wonderland in the way it made me think– but it was even more enjoyable! I tore through this novel breathlessly … even though I already knew what would happen. Find a copy of this sweet story for your own.

forgive me leonard peacockForgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
This book is essentially a day in the life of high school student Leonard Peacock– in particular, the day he has planned to kill one of his classmates and then himself. It is dark, heavy stuff– but there are lots of moments of good, lighter times too. I don’t want to say a lot about this one except that I’m really glad I read it (I listened to the audio version), and you should read it too.

All the LightAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I’m still sorting out my thoughts on this book, which has been called “the most important book of 2014”– in another place on the internet, I’ve heard it called “the most important book of the decade.” It’s a World War II story, alternating perspectives of a young, brilliant French girl and a young, brilliant German boy. I felt quite at home with this book for adults, since the characters were young people, just like in the YA stories I typically read. This book was more literary, slower, very beautiful, but very sad. I … liked it. I did not love the way it ended. In fact, I nearly chose to stop reading with only about thirty pages left. But I’m glad I did. This book is lovely, important, beautiful, well-written, and I’m glad I read it. I don’t want to say much more. It was its own experience reading this story. I am ready for more YA now. 🙂

Where I’d Like to Travel

I’m a bit of a homebody, but if I had a travel partner, here’s where I’d like to go.

1. Australia
I want to meet Melina Marchetta and drive around to all the places that look like Jellicoe.


[via MM’s blog]

2. England
Stop in at the “Bird and Baby” to imagine I’m part of the Inklings.

bird and baby


3. Italy
Wherever they filmed the Naboo scenes from Star Wars.

star wars


4. Alaska
Anywhere. Everywhere. Especially during the polar night– all that purple! I’d like to explore Fairbanks, where my characters in Truest lived.

polar night


5. Finland
Specifically, Arctic Resort Kakslauttanen. Glass igloo + Northern Lights? Heck yes.


When Writing = Death

Look, I’m not the first one to comment on this. Not even close.

You have an idea– a bright, beautiful, perfect idea– and then you start to write it down, and it dies on the page. It becomes imperfect. It gets messy.

Ann Patchett said her ideas are like beautiful butterflies that soar around in her mind, and then when she starts to write, she takes them and pins them to a board. Death.

Chuck Wendig blogged about it recently, saying, “Writing and storytelling is this… nasty task of taking the perfect idea that exists in your head and shellacking it all up by dragging it through some grease-slick fontanelle in order to make it real. You’re just shitting it all to hell, this idea. You have it in your mind: golden and unbreakable. And then in reality, ugh. You’ve created a herky-jerky simulacrum, a crude facsimile of your beautiful idea run through the copy machine again and again until what you started with is an incomprehensible spread of dong-doogle hieroglyphics.”

Sometimes it’s like I can see this perfect book; it’s shining like an angel at some perfect finish line. And when I sit down at my computer, I’m trying to run toward that finish line, but instead my running is sideways, disoriented, like the way my siblings and I used to spin until we were dizzy and then race each other. The whole time I could see the silo on the other side of the lawn– whoever reached it first would win– I could see it and was trying to run toward it, but my legs kept yanking me to the side like I was some drunken pre-teen.

It’s no wonder I sometimes avoid my manuscript.

Chuck’s blog post went on to say, essentially, write anyway: “Those who try to master perfection will always fall to those who iterate, and reiterate, and create, and recreate. Art is better than philosophy. Creation, however clumsy, is always better than sitting on your hands and fearing what damage they can do.”

Writing takes courage. Writing means walking in the shadow of death while still trusting in life. It means daring to wade into the mess in order to find that spark of life, of beauty, instead of being content to just daydream of perfection.

My prayer these days is “Help, God. In every way, help.”

Seeking Publisher Permissions, Part II

copyrightBack in early February, I wrote about my experience with seeking out permission from publishers to use various lines of poetry and lyrics in my novel, Truest.

By now, I’ve heard back from all the licensing departments, and I wanted to give you the final results:

One line of an E.E. Cummings poem: free. 

Two lines of a Billy Collins poem: $290 for the first run of 10,000 copies of Truest, after which I’ll need to reapply. I agreed.

One entire E.E. Cummings poem: $560. I eagerly agreed, as several scenes hinge on this poem.

Two lines of lyrics from a Pink Floyd song: $1000 for five years, after which I’d need to reapply. I declined. These lyrics were going to be the novel’s epigraph, and while they’re beautiful and fit the novel perfectly, I thought $1000 was too much to pay for two lines that don’t appear in the actual manuscript.

All told, I paid $850 for permission to use what I wanted in my novel. In a perfect world, I’d have also used a line from C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength and the refrain from Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, but with frazzled nerves and empty pockets, I took them out without changing the story.

In the end, my advice is to use material from the public domain or else make it up yourself. I’m doing both in Mill City Heroes.

P.S. I read a YA book recently that used quotes like they were breadcrumbs. While I read, all I kept thinking was $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. This author’s eyes have been opened. 🙂

Review: Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery by Janet Singer

overcoming OCDMy friend Janet over at the ocdtalk blog recently wrote a book detailing her family’s experience with her son’s OCD and the treatment of it. I was lucky enough to get a copy of it, and I’m happy to share a review of it here with you.

I was really fascinated to finally hear Dan’s entire story when I’d gotten bits and pieces of it over the years via Janet’s blog posts. I don’t know why I’d expected it to be similar to mine– except that I relate to much of what Janet writes on her blog– but his experience was vastly different from my own! I think that a huge part of that was because Dan was being treated at a younger age than I was. The first scene of this book takes place when Dan is just 19 years old and a freshman in college, whereas I wasn’t even diagnosed with OCD until over a year after I’d finished undergrad. Though my parents are incredibly supportive and tremendous cheerleaders, taking the lead in finding help was absolutely my job. For the Singers, Dan’s parents Janet and Gary were very, very involved in every step of the process.

What I loved about this book:

It realistically portrays the hell of OCD. Nothing is watered down in this book. Families are going to be able to recognize immediately that this family truly understands the torture of OCD.

It shows that the journey to recovery can be long and complicated. I am so happy for the families that discover the right treatment immediately, but for many of us, that’s simply not the case. In my own story, it took me fifteen years just to get diagnosed, then another five years of talk therapy (inappropriate for OCD treatment) and trial-and-error prescriptions before I finally started ERP, the correct treatment.

Janet’s heartbreaking narrative is balanced with Dr. Seth Gillihan’s forthright explanations. I like that readers are given both one family’s personal experience, but that the book still dials back and addresses things more clinically and more generally. While Dan’s medications made him less himself, mine make me more myself, so I thought that Dr. Gillihan’s interjections helped keep the book balanced.

The doubt is palpable– and relatable. As Janet and Gary and Dan struggled to make the best decisions for Dan and their family, they often doubted those choices– and that’s exactly what real life is like. Many times, in my own journey, I questioned whether I should continue with a certain medication, or with meeting a particular psychiatrist, or even with therapy. It’s a scary enterprise, and this book shows that so well.

The emphasis is on hope and on the means by which it comes: exposure and response prevention therapy. People familiar with Janet Singer would expect nothing less.

I hope you’ll read this important book. It’s available at the following links:

Rowman & Littlefield
Barnes & Noble