Dear Diary: April 2015

two stacked Polaroid retro frames on wood textureApril. was. stressful.

I was on edge, completely frayed, so stressed that I made myself sick.

On my plate this month: closing on my new house (today! I’m a homeowner!), planning renovations, preparing to pack/move, preparing to teach a class on querying, completing the first draft of my next novel for my editor, and focusing on marketing for Truest.

Any one of those things alone is overwhelming. All of them together about collapsed me.

But I made it. Barely.

I decided to turn in my draft a little earlier and a lot messier than I wanted to. I did a practice run of my querying class so that I would have time to revise everything before the real thing. Over Easter weekend, my parents helped me figure out home insurance and pick out floors for my new place (they’re gorgeous). I set up an appointment with a contractor to come see the place. I created a street team for Truest. I created graphics and promo materials, purchased a few items, and packaged up incentives for the street team, and mailed them out. I also had four events for my recruiting job at the university.

I spent some time bawling to my therapist.

Today I closed on my house, bought paint, and then had the closest thing to an OCD attack that I’ve had in so very, very long. I’m sure I’ll be telling you more about it soon. I caved to a few compulsions, but I also asked my friend what she would do and decided to go with that, since I can’t really trust my own choices when I get this way. I’m starting to calm down and I’m catastrophizing less, but still– I think I’d almost forgotten what a huge OCD flare-up felt like. I am not grateful for the reminder.

Regardless, I own a home. MY OWN HOME! I can’t wait for it to all start coming together.

As you can see, it was a very productive month. Heaven knows I love productivity. But the stress was just through the roof, and I am so happy to watch April end.

May will be dedicated to renovating, packing, and moving, so things will be quieter here on the blog than they’ve been since early 2012! I still plan to post the winner of the Ultimate YA Book Boyfriend tourney, some Truest-related materials, a review of the books I read in May, my Poetry 2015 Campaign review, and photos of my new house (once everything is finished!). So maybe it won’t be as quiet on the blog as I think, haha!

Poetry 2015 Review: Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen

black apertureMy gosh. This collection bowled me over.

In the first of three sections, Matt Rasmussen starts with treasures such as “No island is an island, / he said. There is no new land, / just the same body broken open.”

And “The lamp asks, / is it the shadow writing this, / the pen, or their converging? / The paper asks nothing.”

And “Then, as had always happened, / the clay pigeon flew away / and shattered in mid-air, / and I wrote this, / and this.”

Then the second section happened, and I was too engrossed and enamored to take notes anymore. I devoured the rest of the book.

This book is the winner of the Walt Whitman Award and very deserving. There is a central theme to the poems as Rasmussen explores his brother’s suicide, and so the collection is dark, significant, but somehow not heavy.

I loved it. What did you think? madness vase

Are you reading along with my 2015 Poetry Campaign? Next up is The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson, a poet I’m mostly unfamiliar with. I hope you’ll track down her book and read it in May too!

Ignorance’s Finest Moment

Today, a friend sent me a link to this quiz; she knew it would fire me up, and it did.

Quizfreak — How OCD Are You?


The creators of the quiz are pretty upfront about their ignorance– but they’re also ignorant of their ignorance!

(Sidenote: where are the “How cancer are you?” quizzes? Because that’s the equivalent.)

I took the quiz, which was all about being clean, being orderly, and quirkiness.

My results?

Cool As A Cucumber – Less than 10% OCD
You’re just going with the flow, huh? Must be a nice life. Grass a little too long? Hair a little out of place? No big deal. Alphabetical order? Who cares? Life’s too short to worry about that stuff, right? Kudos to you for worrying about the “big picture”, but you probably should make your bed.


ignorance 2

I know my comment is just a drop in the bucket, essentially shouting into the void … but it’s the best I can do in the fight for OCD awareness.

We have so far to go, friends.

But I take heart. I’ve seen many, many of the people in my network over the last 5-6 years becoming more educated about OCD and speaking up to educate people who glibly toss around phrases like “I’m so OCD.” We have so far to go– but we’re going.

A Third Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer

First, a note from Jackie: I hear from more OCD sufferers about HOCD than about any other kind of OCD, and nearly every story– when boiled down to its bones– looks the same. In the past, I’ve interviewed “Hannah” (she’s asked me not to use her real name on my blog, though she’s very forthcoming about everything else!) about her experience of having HOCD and being set free from it through ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy.

Hannah’s first interview
Hannah’s second interview

And now … a few more questions for Hannah.

Outdoor portrait of pretty young girl riding bike in a forest.

Hannah, do you see any common themes amongst HOCD sufferers?
Hannah: YES!! I really, really do. One, a lot of HOCD sufferers seem to have a trigger at some point in their young adult or early adult years, and then they go back to their childhood and start collecting “clues.” In other words, something that happened at the time that they haven’t thought about since (she kissed a girl friend on the cheek, for example), but then when they think about it now, it plagues them (“Oh my goodness, that kiss on the cheek was the first indication that I was gay!”). This is obviously unhelpful and unproductive. Two, a lot of HOCD sufferers tend to lose their attraction to the gender they are normally attracted to. This is scary for them, of course, and seems to enforce what HOCD is telling them.

Did this happen to you?
Hannah: No, but it seems to happen for most HOCD sufferers

Do you know anyone who is homosexual who has HOCD?
Hannah: I do. He is a gay man who loves men, but he has HOCD and gets terrified that he is straight. Even though HOCD stands for “homosexual OCD,” it actually doesn’t only attack straight people. OCD can affect anyone.

I agree with you there. I am online friends with an atheist who has scrupulosity, and most people would think that is an incongruous combination. So, Hannah, I’ve been hearing from some HOCD sufferers who are quite young (under 18), living with parents, and unsure how to approach treatment. What do you suggest?
Hannah: I can completely understand not wanting to tell your parents about your struggles– in fact, when I was going through HOCD, I never told my parents. I didn’t tell anyone until many years later. So I get that. But hopefully those young people can tell their parents that they are struggling with OCD, leave out the HOCD details, and still get help. I think it’s best to meet with a therapist who specializes in ERP therapy, but– as you say on your blog– you can do ERP therapy on your own if you’re very driven. [Jackie interjects: see this post for more info!] The important thing is that, one way or another, you do the exposures of ERP therapy.

Recently, I saw an interview with Elizabeth McIngvale, spokesperson for the International OCD Foundation, in which she said, “With the appropriate treatment (ERP or ERP and medication) you can gain control of your OCD and learn to manage your illness.” I loved that, no matter what, she was insisting on ERP therapy. I know you did ERP therapy. Did you/do you take medication too?
Hannah: I do. Every day. But just like you’ve said before, Jackie, I would choose ERP over meds, if I could only pick one.

Blog readers are looking for hope. Can you give them some hope?
Hannah: A lot of hope! I’m an adult woman who once struggled with HOCD, but today I am 100% sure of my sexual identity. I can even be turned on by women and still know– without a doubt– that I am straight. This is achievable. But it takes the hard work of exposure therapy. But even though ERP is hard, it’s worth it.

What is your best advice?
Hannah: Research, not reassurance. In other words, learn as much as you can about OCD, HOCD, and ERP therapy, but don’t resort to the compulsion of asking anyone (including the world wide web) for reassurances. Study HOCD like a medical subject, not from an angle of “Somebody tell me what I want to hear.” Reassurance feels good for about ten minutes; then you go off in search for more reassurance. It’s a compulsion, and it’s unproductive and ultimately unhelpful. Instead, learn about HOCD and how to treat it (ERP), then DO IT. You can research broken bones– or you get get it set, get a cast, have it heal. Push yourself to get the help you need. There is no other solution besides ERP therapy, so what are you waiting for?

Thanks, Hannah! As always, it’s a pleasure to have you on my blog!

Friends, if you have questions for Hannah, please post them below. And please read my letter to OCD sufferers at

Ultimate YA Book Boyfriend: Final Round!

My friends, we’ve come to the championship round as we discover the Ultimate YA Book Boyfriend! This week, I honestly don’t know whom to vote for. Jonah Griggs, that perfect tank who sneaks in your window and orders toast with marmalade for you on the hardest morning of your life? Or Sean Kendrick, who will tuck your ponytail into your collar, that young king of Skarmouth who brings bread for dinner? I can’t decide.

ultimate ya book boyfriend championship

Jonah Griggs vs. Sean Kendrick

“When I turn around, he cups my face in his hands and he kisses me so deeply that I don’t know who is breathing for who, but his mouth and tongue taste like warm honey. I don’t know how long it lasts, but when I let go of him, I miss it already.”
Jonah Griggs from Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

“Sean takes my ponytail in his hand, his fingers touching my neck, and then he tucks my hair into my collar out of the reach of the wind. He avoids my gaze. Then he links his arm back around me and pushes his calf into Corr’s side.”
Sean Kendrick of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Recent Reads

MosquitolandMosquitoland by David Arnold
I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a fictional narrator quite like Mim (Mary Iris Malone). She is sarcastic, blunt, hilarious, and acidic. YA needed her voice, and I’m so delighted that David Arnold stepped up to the plate. This book is the story of Mim’s roadtrip to find her mom, and I’ll have you know that David Arnold has, in just this one book, become an auto-buy author for me. I will read anything and everything he publishes. Also, it’s fair to say I have a new book boyfriend. Beck Van Buren’s sarcasm, gentleness, black eye, and restraint have won my heart.

One other quick note: I listened to the audio version of this book, and the performance by Phoebe Stole is perfect.

Phoebe twitter.jpg

grisha trilogyThe Grisha Trilogy
by Leigh Bardugo
I read this whole series in the course of one week. It’s a fantasy story about a girl named Alina who discovers her powers to summon light/sun, which is very rare– almost unheard of– amongst the grisha, a community of powerful men and women who study “the small sciences” (as opposed to magic). A sun-summoner has been long awaited to help drive back “the Fold”– a devastating darkness in her land of Ravka. The first book was the best and was just riveting— I knew I was falling in love with the villain. In the second and third books, he is more villainous and my love for him dwindled, but that first book? Oh, the confusion of it was delicious!

beginning of everythingThe Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
This is the story of Ezra Faulkner, the most popular guy at school, whose life takes a dramatic turn after he’s involved in a car accident. Instead of hanging out with the tennis team, his new friends are on the debate team and fascinating … especially Cassidy Thorpe. I tore through this novel, half-guessed the twist at the end, and appreciated the tough, real-life ending, even though I think it wrapped up a little too fast. The characters were awesome, lots of literary references, Ezra is a sweetheart even if he’s a little clueless, and an ending that is #VeryRealisticYA.

last willLast Will and Testament by Dahlia Adler
When college sophomore Lizzie Brandt’s parents die in an accident, she has to grow up– fast. From a partying, C-minus-grades girl to the guardian of her two younger brothers and a student who needs to keep her scholarship. Enter her cute, nerdy history TA Conner. I admit this book was steamier than my usual read– but the characters were amazing, and I read the book in one setting!


compulsionCompulsion by Martina Boone
Welcome to the South. After Barrie Watson’s mother dies, she discovers a family– and its history– she never knew before. She moves to Watson’s Island to live with her aunt– Watson’s Island, where three plantation families have a history of love, jealousy, gifts, and curses. I really, really enjoyed this book, and I especially loved Eight Beaufort, Barrie’s love interest and my new sweet-talking, southern-drawling, baseball-playing book boyfriend. I can’t wait for the next book in the series– Persuasion— to come out in October!

Writing Feedback, Critiques, & Criticism

???????????????Writing feedback. I have a love/ hate/ love/ love/ hate/ appreciate/ dread relationship with it. I imagine most writers do.

Of course we dread it. Which artist wants to pour their heart and soul and energy into their creative work and then have someone tear it to pieces? Even though I know– a thousand times over– that my editor is on my team, I still have major moments of panic when I read her feedback.

Yet the love/appreciate part is very, very important. Without critique, my writing hits an early apex. I can’t push through to a higher, better, superior level of writing without the much-needed push from feedback.

This is what feedback looks like in my own life:

Writing group. Every month, I meet with three other novelists. Each of us are working on our own projects, and they’re all very different from one another. The week before we meet, we send each other what we’re working on– maybe a few pages, maybe a couple chapters, maybe a whole manuscript– and share what kind of feedback we need.

Last month, along with my submission, I asked:

What I’d like from you:
* to know what you like
* what you want more of
* what doesn’t work
* any prompts you might have

The four of us get together, eat some soup, chat about life for a little bit, then dive into each other’s work. We start with one person’s work, and each other person shares their thoughts on it. We agree, disagree, discuss, brainstorm, and support. Before we move on to the next person, the person whose work we’re discussing gets to ask any questions she might have. And so on.

This monthly meeting is so critical to me. It keeps me on track, keeps me accountable, keeps me motivated. It helps steer me down the right rabbit holes. When I leave, I can’t wait to get back to work.

I’m lucky, I know, to have three talented writers in my life whom I can meet with in person, and I know it doesn’t work out that way for everyone. But I think that committed writers need to fight for this opportunity, whether that means seeking out local writers (even if you don’t know them!) or finding critique partners online. I thought this article from The Write Life was great: 40 Places to Find a Critique Partner.

Beta readers. Yes, that’s right– in addition to my writing group, I also share my work in progress with a handful of other readers– some who are also writers, some who are not. I let them read my manuscript and tell me what tripped them up as they read. Obviously, it’s not fun to hear what trips your readers up– but it allows me to fix it.

I think it’s helpful to have beta readers from a variety of different backgrounds, people who are excited about your writing, willing to read it, and able to share their thoughts (when possible, I recommend buying their lunch in exchange for their feedback).

My editor. Ahhh, yes. Here I know I am privileged, of course, to have a genius editor at HarperCollins able to pour her brilliance into my work. But even before I was working with Jill, I still paid an editor in Minneapolis (Ben Barnhart, he’s great!) to read my work– for developmental, big-picture edits, and also for line edits.

Not to mention writing workshops (I highly recommend the Big Sur Writing Workshop!) and copy editors (they amaze me).

My point is simply this: if you want to be a good writer, write; if you want to be a great writer, seek out criticism, embrace it, and let it push you past your own limits.

Criticism is not the knife; your writing is the knife. Criticism is the whetting stone against which you sharpen your stories.

Ultimate YA Book Boyfriend: Round Three

ultimate ya book boyfriend round III

Jonah Griggs vs. Tom Mackee

“He stops and looks at me. ‘I’m here because of you. You’re my priority. Your happiness, in some fucked way, is tuned in to mine. Get that through your thick skull. Would I like it any other way? Hell, yes, but I don’t think that will be happening in my lifetime.”
Jonah Griggs from Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

“She’s tired and leans her head on his shoulder, which is the resting place for all their heads, but when Justine and Siobhan and Francesca use his body so shamelessly he doesn’t feel the need to turn his head and press his mouth against their hair.”
Tom Mackee from The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta

Gilbert Blythe vs. Sean Kendrick

“You do love me, Gilbert? You haven’t said you loved me in so long.”
“My dear, I didn’t think you needed words to know that. I can’t live without you.”
Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Ingleside by Lucy Montgomery

“Sean reaches between us and slides a thin bracelet of red ribbons over my free hand. Lifting my arm, he presses his lips against the inside of my wrist. I’m utterly still; I feel my pulse tap several times against his lips, and then he releases my hand.
‘For luck,’ he says. He takes Dove’s lead from me.
‘Sean,’ I say, and he turns. I take his chin and kiss his lips, hard. I’m reminded, all of a sudden, of that first day on the beach, when I pulled his head from the water.
‘For luck,’ I say to his startled face.”
Sean Kenrick in The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater