The Shame That Drowns, an Honest Post

It’s so much easier for me to write about a hard experience after I’ve “conquered” it. I can come to this space and talk all I want about OCD because I’ve had ten years of freedom from and victory over it. It’s exponentially harder to talk about current struggles because there’s no distance from them. It’s not looking back on that time you were in quicksand and boasting how your quick thinking and hard work got you out of the mess. It’s being in the actual quicksand. It’s being up to your chin in the quagmire, having no assurance that you will survive.

Last week, my therapist asked me how I felt around my writing career, and something like a dam broke in me, and the words and tears and shame wouldn’t stop.


I usually use the word fear, but there was no confusing my rush of emotions: fear and sadness and stress may have been in the parade, but shame was the grand marshal.

It felt amazing to talk about it and awful too, and even as it was all spilling out of me, I knew that I needed to write about it on my blog. Not because I’ve found any victory, but because healing for me has almost always come about via vulnerability.

I was a high achieving kid, top of my class, Most Likely to Succeed, summa cum laude, hard worker, strong leader, a go-after-it-hard kind of girl. I approached publishing that way too. I spent four years on a novel that never got an agent, and I barely blinked before I started a new story, which ultimately became Truest. I wrote every day for years, threw my time, money, and heart toward writing. I was relentless and driven. I finished the story, then got an agent and a book deal in the course of just four months.

And that’s when the panic came. I was very familiar with anxiety after a lifetime of dealing with OCD, but this was so different. The stress was high, there were deadlines, I wasn’t always on the same page with the revisions expected of me. I battled through it though, and I published a book that I’m still so damn proud of. September 1st, 2015, was like this incredible dream: a hardcover with my name on it, all my friends celebrating with me.

It was only three weeks later that I had one of the hardest and worst conversations of my life– one of the major distributors had not placed a large order for the book, and it was unlikely that sales would be able to make up for it. My book was only three weeks old, and I was being told it was essentially dead in the water. Get ’em with the next book.

Don’t get me wrong: there were so many amazing things that have come from publishing Truest. I’ve heard from the most incredible readers, people whose encouragement will live with me for the rest of my life (shout-out to Kristen!); I’ve met authors, some of my favorites (talking about you, Huntley!); I’ve been able to talk about creativity and mental illness and freedom and stories all over. I have loved connecting with readers, with young writers, with the English majors at my university. I have contributed to discussions and given advice, and I’ve taught classes and workshops and so, so, so many amazing things.

And yet.

I have so much shame around it all.

Like I’m some sort of fraud because the book was never a bestseller. When my friends tell others “she’s an author!” I feel like such a fake. My awareness of my (beautiful, beloved) book’s short reach stings. I let the panic and anxiety and stress get to me. I let myself get ill from it all. I couldn’t get on the same page as the editor I was working with and suggested that we go our separate ways. I can’t seem to follow my own advice and get my butt in the seat and hands on the keyboard. My body went into revolt and it’s been hard and scary to even open my manuscript.

Theoretically I understand that this is not failure. I published a book. Not that many people read it. I will write another and see what happens. Health problems have slowed it all down, but nothing has yet made me STOP. That’s not failure.

But it sure feels like it sometimes. A lot of the times.

Even though I’m no longer under a deadline or signed to a contract, my body seems to not have gotten the memo. It still reacts like I’m under all this pressure. I’ve been told the body keeps the score, and that’s proving very true in my life.

My therapist asked what more positive way I could frame this. I said, “I am at the beginning of a long writing career that got off to a rough start, but someday I will tell stories about these days and encourage other writers.”

I hope that’s true. I want it to be true.

Lately, the desire to write has become more insistent. I want to tell stories. I want to create worlds. I open my manuscript and tiptoe into it for a few pages. I know my characters have important things to say.

I’m still in the quicksand, trying to get on top of the shame and fear and stress. They are like ghosts from a different season, but ghosts can still drown you.

One day at a time. Today I’m tackling the shame head-on by sharing about it. Thank you for listening.


Truest Characters Beyond the Book

Someone asked me, “Do you ever dream about where your characters are now? Who they’ve become and how they continue to grow?”


Mostly because I think that one day I’d like to return to Green Lake to catch up with the gang, so I always have a little part of me that is thinking about what that story would entail and would happen to them in the interim. I have a vague idea of what happens to West, Silas, Elliot, and Whit in the years after Truest ends.

Am I going to tell you those ideas?

Sorry. No. Not yet.

I leave you with this poem.

But bottom line: assume the Green Lake kids are happy unless I write another book about them someday (which would necessitate conflict, of course).

Truest: the Perfect Christmas Gift For …

Christmas ideas Truest

Discussion questions available here.

Signed and/or personalized copies of Truest are available through Addendum Bookstore. Simply email with your request, and I will buzz over to their store to fulfill it!

Truest is available at many bookstores and online. Click here for links.

Truest vs. Yes Novel (untitled book #2)

unsplash36Someone asked how writing book #2 (as yet untitled but henceforth referred to as Yes Novel) is different from writing Truest. It’s a great question. I also want to pause and just say that several people (including friend and mentor Judy Hougen as well as author Ally Carter) have said to let the writing of each novel be its own thing and to not compare them. Ally said at the YA conference I was at, “Learn how to write the novel you’re writing NOW.”

Easier said than done, in some ways. In others, it’s already sort of hard for me to remember writing the initial drafts of Truest. It was nearly four years ago now!

That said, I can offer a few insights.

My first book (or anyone’s first book, for that matter) is typically not written under contract, so there’s generally no pressure, no deadline. It’s fine if it takes you two years or four or ten. You just have to get it as perfect as you can before you query. Then, when it sells, your editor sees the manuscript at a fairly well-done stage. By the time Jill saw my manuscript for Truest, I had worked on it for over a year and a half, including self-edits, multiple rounds of edits with Ben Barnhart, revision suggestions from the Big Sur Writing Workshop, and a round of revisions from my agent.

On the other hand, Jill saw a first draft of Yes Novel. That was scary but liberating to show her the messiest work of mine she’d ever seen at that point. Yes Novel is also under contract. I am working toward a deadline. There is added pressure due to both of those things.

With both Truest and Yes Novel, I didn’t know the ending when I started. I didn’t land on Truest’s ending until many, many drafts into it. I am veering toward an ending for Yes Novel now in draft two, but it still feels sort of unsatisfactory. I try to remind myself that Truest, at this stage, still lacked an ending. So, in that sense, I’m ahead of the game. Maybe.

Truest is written in first person (that is, “I thought”) from West’s point of view. Yes Novel is (currently) written in dual third (that is, some chapters are “Asa thought” and some are “Rowen thought”). I keep battling with myself if I should write it in dual first, but I just don’t think that the two voices are distinct enough to weather it. Yes Novel seems to be narrated by ME, not by Asa or Rowen. Can’t decide what I think of that yet … except that maybe I’m finally finding MY authorial voice, and there’s something exciting about that.

I can tell that I understand more about novel writing and the narrative arc as I write Yes Novel. I can tell that I’ve grown as a writer. So that’s a good thing.

Another thing is that, while Truest has some subtle religious themes, the characters in Yes Novel are not religious, so the content is different. (I mean, of course the content is different, but … you know what I mean, right?). Sometimes I worry about this a little bit … wondering if people who liked Truest will not like Yes Novel because they are so different, but then I remind myself:

  1. I’m writing a new story, not re-writing Truest.
  2. I’ve started with characters once again. People who liked Silas and West and Laurel will probably like Asa and Rowen too.
  3. I’m still writing about themes that are tremendously important to me (mental illness, uncertainty, freedom, family, friendship, art, mythology, thought experiments, love and romance).

In some ways, I seem to remember Truest just unrolling before me like a carpet. But that’s probably a tainted memory. I’ve been working on Yes Novel now for nearly one year, and it’s further along than where Truest was at that time. It felt like there was better flow to Truest and I *think* I wrote it in chronological order, though, to be honest, I really can’t recall. Yes Novel was written all out of order and thus still has a very episodic feel to the chapters, which I’m trying to erase through revisions and better transitions and more foreshadowing.

Yes Novel still is essentially a series of conversations that could be taking place almost anywhere. But I do remember that Truest was much the same until later drafts when I made special effort to correct it. I’m still not naturally good at description … but I am getting better. That feels obvious to me.

So. There you have it. Not sure if this is helpful or interesting or not. It was a great question (thank you!), and I’m so excited to share Yes Novel with you a year and a half from now (gosh, that feels so far away … until I look at my draft and realize that I need that time). Asa and Rowen have completely captured my heart, and I hope they’ll capture yours too.

Dear Diary: September 2015 (Five Truths About My Novel’s Debut Month)

dear diary sept 2015

  1. It was a watershed month. I crossed that invisible line from “writer” to “published author.” It was a turning point in my life, and I’ll always remember September 1st, 2015, when my dreams became reality.
  2. It was amazing. Everyone was so happy for me. I got to celebrate with nearly 200 people, most of whom have walked this incredible journey with me and love me dearly. I cannot explain to you the way it felt to go into three bookstores that day and to see my book on shelves at every one. Especially that very first time. Cindy and I were searching for it and couldn’t find it; then from a row over, I heard Cindy say, “It’s here.” And there it was. A published book that I wrote. Characters that I had breathed into life. Even the booksellers at all the bookstores were so excited for me, had me sign copies, displayed them proudly.
  3. It was scary and hard. It was a supernova of action … and then the silence of space. It’s hard to go from having EVERYONE talking about your book to basically radio silence. It’s this tremendous build up and an explosion of interest and then, relatively, nothing. It’s terrifying. You start to wonder, “Did I spend four years of my life on something that people cared about for fewer than three weeks?” You start to compare yourself to the other novels that debuted the same day (one of which rocketed up to #1 on the NYT Bestseller List almost immediately). You start to cry.
  4. It was a month where kind words at the right moment made all the difference. In the midst of fear and negative reviews and dead air, people spoke up at the exact right moments and each one was like a miniature rescue. A sweet comment, an enthusiastic review, an excited tweet … these mattered this month when I was teetering on the edge of hopelessness. Please never underestimate how much your kind words mean to the authors who write the books you enjoy. It’s like an instant battery-recharge. It’s the strength to continue. It’s, as I said, a miniature rescue mission. Tell artists when you love their art.
  5. It was step one. Sometimes I, in my ultra-dramatic ways, felt like, with the debut day come and gone, that it was all over. But I’m wrong: everything has just begun.

Truest Around the Web!

Sixteen to Read (plus giveaway!)

truest and summer

Sweet Sixteens Debut Club

One Well-Read Chick

Fellow Passengers

truest and cherries

Book Review: Truest

I *love* this review of Truest! I hope you’ll click the link to read it all!

It begins:
I initially picked this book up because of the cover. That gorgeous, beautiful cover that only gets more beautiful and more meaningful with every page I read. This is an outstanding debut, charming, funny, unbelievably moving and a deep sort of soul searching.

Book Review: Truest.

Summer’s Last Hurrah


Growing up, how did you mourn the end of summer? In Truest, the small town of Green Lake has a street dance the last Friday before Labor Day. In my hometown, we used to have a Labor Day pig roast– I hated having to go home early because we had school the next morning!

Pin it:

Click to tweet: “Outside, it had started to rain—soft and almost musical, and still somehow warm.” #Truest