Dear Diary

run-overGood grief, 2017 is running me over like a Mack truck.

Then again, I’m still standing. I’m still moving forward. I can smile. I can (mostly) think straight. I’m doing really well with my creative goals.¬†I know we’re only three weeks into the new year, but I’ve read a book a week, have blogged every week, am learning something new¬†almost every day (though I need to be more intentional about writing things down), and feel really good about getting back to work on Salt Novel.

I had a great conversation with my editor on Wednesday, and I feel like we are on the same page (or pretty close!), and that is such a relief. Now I’m doing a little brainstorming this weekend and then BACK TO WORK on the story next week. I’m excited. I haven’t worked on it in nearly three months (!!!). It was a much needed break, but I’m ready to go again.

And my 35th birthday was wonderful! I felt very loved, and a handful of people even donated to help with the refugee crisis. I’m so honored and so in love with my crew.

So, you’re probably thinking: just what has been so hard about 2017 then, Jackie?

A¬†lot of panic and anxiety. Realizing I have old wounds that never healed properly. I’ve taken about 10 Ativan pills in the course of two weeks. That’s probably more than I took in the whole six months preceding it. It’s okay. My friends and coworkers have been so exceptionally kind and thoughtful and supportive.

That said, God’s got me. My friends and family do too. And Northwestern. And I am learning so much about myself– honestly, so much. Some are things I really like.

How cool is that: to like myself again.

Maybe 2017 will be good after all.


Dear Diary: Thoughts from the Couch

A photo by Amaan Hai. folks! I’m typing on my laptop keyboard, something I haven’t done in a while, since I use an ergo keyboard at home and at work. Unfortunately, my home office desk chair is broken, and while I thought I could make due with another chair, it’s murder on my back. So instead I’m sitting on my couch with my laptop, how and where I wrote¬†Truest.

I can’t believe my baby has been in the world for over a year now. It’s also crazy to think that I’ve written two other manuscripts since finishing¬†Truest! My broken chair and my work schedule have put a kink in my writing rhythm as of late, but these things happen. Life goes on.

I’m feeling especially share-y tonight, so maybe I’ll just address a few things below. Skip anything you’re not interested in.


Wrist Issues

I’m reading a book called¬†Pain Free at Your PC¬†by Pete Egoscue, and he addresses how hand/wrist pain can’t be blamed only on the hands and wrists. The exercises I’m doing are actually more related to the hips and have made me think I need to ask my chiropractor to measure my legs and see if they are still different lengths like they were in elementary and high school. At first my left leg was just 1/4″ shorter than my right, but they assumed it would correct itself. However, when I was next tested for scoliosis, my left leg was now 1/2″ shorter than my right. To be honest, I’d forgotten about this, since the only time it was ever really noticeable was after a full day of intense walking (like a day at an amusement park, for example). But reading this book has made me wonder if this might be the root of some of my injuries.

Salt Novel

My gosh, I’m so close to finishing this draft, you guys. But I think that is sort of freaking me out and I’m self-sabotaging a little bit, scared to show it to my agent and editor, knowing that it is still very flawed. I need to find the time and drive to just hammer through it and turn it in. The sooner I get feedback on it, the sooner I can correct those issues. I went through a brief time in my life (post-undergrad) where critique didn’t faze me. I realize now that that was because the critique was all from¬†peers at that time, whereas before that it was from professors and after that from publishing industry professionals. There is¬†for sure a power imbalance (perceived or real) that affects that. Also, I’ve realized that I need to take into account the culture differences too. The difference between Minneapolis and New York City is¬†far more than just 1,200 miles.


I sleep with¬†no sleep aid now. I’m so, so, so grateful to not have to rely on anything but good ol’ Circadian rhythm to sleep.


Halfway through Leigh Bardugo’s¬†Crooked Kingdom right now. Next up will likely be David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite, although Jennifer Nivens’s¬†Holding Up the Universe just came in the mail this weekend! I also have a book by Cheryl Klein that I really want to start,¬†The Magic Words. It’s about writing for children and young adults.


I can’t wait for it to be over. Seriously, what a mess. I consider myself an advocate for the marginalized and will vote with that in mind.


I paid to have my home deep-cleaned this weekend. I recognize that is a privileged statement, and I’m grateful to have the means to do so. Honestly, it felt like something that needed to happen in order for me to move forward with so many of my other goals. Next weekend, I have a handy man coming to the house to fix up odds and ends¬†and my desk chair, and then I’ll truly be poised for success.


I honestly feel so grateful to be part of such a beautiful community. Right now I am especially loving the current writing majors and recent writing grads. It’s such an honor to be part of their lives. They are so talented, thoughtful, generous. They care so much about words and story and beauty, and they make me better person.

Your turn: a) What have you read recently? b) What are you looking forward to this week? c) What thing or person has added value to your life lately?

Dear Diary

Dear Diary,

I love the writing rhythm I’m in right now. It feels good to sit down nearly every night and hammer through something. It’s been quite varied: some nights I will sweep through two chapters and others I will spend all evening on just 250 words. It all feels good. I am just now running into the part of my story that I have the¬†least experience with; I am trying to tap into raw emotions over situations I’ve never been in. It’s intimidating, to say the least. But I keep¬†rotating between my desk and my prayer journal.

I just binge-watched¬†Stranger Things on Netflix and quite enjoyed it. (And I don’t even enjoy being scared … but I do love a good psychological thriller.)

Waiting for my copy of Melina Marchetta’s new book¬†Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil to arrive. In the meantime, I re-read¬†Saving Francesca¬†and its companion novel¬†The Piper’s Son. (P.S. Salt Novel, my current work-in-progress, was born out of¬†The Piper’s Son + a “what if.”)

Jacob Wetterling’s remains were found on a farm in Paynesville, MN. His abduction hit way too close to home for those of us who grew up in central Minnesota, and this has been a question that people my age have had for most of our¬†lives. I remember when he was abducted in 1989. I was seven years old, and St. Joseph, where he was taken, is only about 20 miles from where I lived. Paynesville, where he was found nearly 27 years later, is about the same distance. The man who led them to the body was living in Annandale, just 11 miles from my parents’ house.¬†This case has changed both MN and national laws, and while it is¬†a heartbreaking ending to this decades-long mystery, I hope it will somehow bring the family some closure.

I am sleeping much better (and with NO sleep aids)! The insomnia doctor I’ve been meeting with is the kindest, gentlest, sweetest man. I am so grateful for the way he has thoughtfully pursued answers to my long-standing issues with sleep.

Work has been insanely busy– due in part to the last-minute closing of another private school in Minnesota (we ended up with maybe 8 or so of their students transferring to UNW and registering late) and in part to the implementation of new software in my office. But I feel¬†good. I feel like I’m doing some of my best recruiting I’ve done in years. I am overflowing with creative ideas. It’s like a dam burst.

I’m thinking ahead to next month– which includes OCD Awareness Week– and planning to meet with the OCD Twin Cities team to plan a special event for it. (Anyone have ideas?)

My parents’ dog had puppies! Five purebred German shepherds– four chubby dark-colored male pups and one little all-white girl pup. In all our batches of puppies over the years (to different dogs), we’ve never had a purebred white shepherd before!


Well, I’d better get back to the manuscript. It’s¬†being fussy.


P.S.¬†What’s going on in your worlds? I always love to hear from you, friends.



I’m an emotional tornado, but my mascara doesn’t run.

Hi friends! Hope you’ve all been well. Thought I’d offer a little update on my life, for those who are interested!

Salt Novel
I finished my¬†synopsis. It’s a long, detailed, color-coded one.
Plotting is done. Brainstorming is done (for now). Research is (mostly) done.
Now I just need to pull all of this together into one smooth narrative.


My best work buddies just left the university, and I’m spontaneously a mess. I have kinda been overly emotional my whole life. When I used to come home from summer camp, I’d cry and mope for a week. I start to tear up at random moments these days.¬†I’m tempted to say that I’m pathetic, but I don’t think it’s pathetic to care about people.

Going to the sleep psychologist this week.¬†I’d love to be able to fall asleep at a regular time, sleep all night, and wake up well. Shouldn’t be THAT hard, right? Ha. Last “night” I was up till 6 am (I read a book, wide awake), then finally went to bed once it was light out. #sleepdisorder

So, I’ve sort of just believed that makeup is makeup is makeup and that people are foolish for paying an arm and a leg for fancy mascara when Cover Girl does the trick. But I was wrong. I’ve been using this Buxom mascara (Sephora, $20), and it’s UNREAL. I need to take pictures sometime to show you the difference. I also started using this Urban Decay¬†makeup setting spray (Sephora, $30), and frankly, I’m shocked. I’m used to having my makeup sort of melt off my face throughout the work day. With this stuff, my makeup looks the same¬†on my way home from work as it looked on my way to work– in fact, it looks the same even after dinner and writing and a nap. I’m a believer.

(If I can remember, I’ll take a picture of my makeup before and after the wedding/reception I’m going to tomorrow. I don’t know if anyone else cares about this at all, but my mind is blown. Ha!)

Wedding season is most definitely upon us. So happy for Brittane and Ben and for Emily and Joe. ‚̧

Politics & My Voice
My gosh, does my big mouth ever get me into trouble on social media! I try to always approach social media carefully, never posting anything that I might be later ashamed of. That said, I’m not a particularly ashamed person, not about most things. I¬†think I’m smart and my voice is important. So I’ve been contemplating whether or not I should write a blog post about how I’m going to vote in November and why. I’m not sure. Letting the idea percolate. Crazy how much politics stir people up. Wish everyone would get that stirred up about, say, mental illness stigma.

I’ve read so few books in the past couple of months. I hate it. I’ve been far too busy for my own good, and as an introvert, I kinda hate it. I really want to settle into new routines this fall. This will be my fourteenth year of recruiting. How did I get so old?

How are you? I’d love to hear!




When a Week Sets Out to Kill You

And throws goodies your way like:

  • A personal attack that goes for your weakest spots: mental illness and singleness.
  • No alone time for your highly introverted self.
  • A heat index of 115 degrees.
  • One million appointments at work …¬†and you’re only one of two people in the office.
  • Continued issues with sleep.


  • I do not have a fragile personality; God, my friends, and even I myself have been reminding me of this.
  • I can fake extroversion like a pro.
  • My office installed a ceiling fan in my office to supplement the window A/C unit; my home office is so chilly I’m wearing a sweatshirt! Win!
  • Hannah and I rocked this WILD afternoon in admissions alone!
  • I’m about to write now, even just for a little bit.
  • I napped for three hours after work today.

This week was hard. But I can do hard things.

I’ve done harder.

I like life.

This was a really busy– but ultimately really good– week for me.

Last week, I was (pre?) diagnosed with a sleep disorder– Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, which sounds totally fake but isn’t. Basically, my circadian rhythm is off, which is why I stay awake so late (even with Ambien!) and then feel impossibly paralyzed in the mornings. I’m meeting with a specialized sleep psychologist next month, and in the meantime, I had blood work done to see if it’s safe for me to go back onto Risperdal. I took that tiny .5 mg (notice that is POINT-FIVE not FIVE mg) pill for eight years, and when I went off of it (maybe six months ago?), I’ve just gone haywire. I know that for most people, mornings are not fun. But, for me, they’ve been impossible. I don’t know how else to explain it.

My favorite kiddos came over on Saturday, and later I found a sweet note from the six year old. Allow me to translate: “Ava loves Jackie’s house.” Jak E with a backward J leaves you with cake. I like cake.

My editor was in the Twin Cities, so we hung out on Monday, brainstorming and discussing Salt Novel as well as writing and publishing in general and all the things we’ve been learning lately. It was wonderful! I left feeling energized to write and excited about my manuscript. Now to find more time …
The rest of the week consisted of therapy (yay), haircut (yay) and dye job (yay? see pics.), getting paid for the German translation of Truest (YAY), and ice cream with my bestie (major yay).

How about you? I can’t believe July is half over. Where is summer going? I’m ready for cooler temps (it’s been in the nineties in Minnesota and miserably humid, though the end of this week was better) but I’m not ready for the ruckus of fall recruitment quite yet.

Think of me as I sort out my sleep/novel/work/life.

An April Update

Hi friends. I’m here. I’ve been here. Sort of.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Salt Novel
I finished my first draft toward the end of March, and when I say “finished,” I mean “incomplete but as done as I could get it with the energy I had available.” I was just so toast. So I turned it in. And have not really written a lick since then. And … oddly … nor have I missed it. I’m sure the desire will return. But I just worked on TWO different novels for about 20 months straight (and¬†Truest before that), so this month off has been delectable and much-needed. I haven’t even hardly¬†thought about my novel much … except on my long drive to South Dakota yesterday. Then I thought about it lots.

I’m reading a¬†ton¬†actually. But, as you may know, I don’t especially like to review books on my blog unless I really loved them or have lots of thoughts about them I want to share. I went through a slew of books that I don’t think really warranted blog posts. I’m reading¬†When We Collided by Emory Lord right now though, and it’s pretty great so far– though I could spot future darkness in it pretty early on. Vivi– one of the main characters– is a mix of Stargirl and Theodore Finch. So. Maybe you can imagine.

I also read a couple romance novels at the suggestion of a blog I love. They were … okay. A little plotless. (Not that I’m much for plot.) But I think YA is where it’s really happening, folks.

Plus, there are SUCH good books coming out next week.¬†The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater and¬†The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh both come out next Tuesday, and they are my most-anticipated books of the year (plus, of course, Melina Marchetta’s book in the fall– but that’s a given!). I got an email today that my copy of¬†The Raven King actually shipped today, so … IT’S LIKE CHRISTMAS IS COMING EARLY. And in April.

Work is good. It’s a season of a lot of events, plus a lot of hard conversations about financial aid. But exciting things– REALLY exciting things– are happening at the university, so it’s fun to be around for it. I’m in South Dakota as I type this, here in Sioux Falls for a week of college fairs. Today’s went rather well, plus I got to see a friend/alumnus who works at one of the schools.

I’ve been so blessed to be invited to a few events in regard to¬†Truest. I was on an author panel for a literacy conference; I was invited to talk to some juniors at Elk River High School who read my novel for their English class (and have to write essays about it– love).¬†See pics below. I’m also going to be sharing with the Walker Library next month and speaking for a career day at a local school. It’s fun to still see people reading my story eight months after its release.




This might seem silly or small, but it’s been such a treasure to spend so much time with friends in the past weeks sans draft. I have the very best ones, and it’s been so good for my heart to engage in long, meaningful conversations with them and to see their faces and to not have to worry about rushing off to work on a manuscript.

Literally wearing six IcyHot patches right now. Haven’t written in a month and still my wrists hurt.

I want to do more. It’s so hard to scrape together the time. But I know that’s also sort of a cop-out excuse. I blogged every day in 2013, which is also when I was get¬†Truest ready for querying. Maybe I need more things to blog about. What do you visit this blog for? What would you like to see more of? Please leave a comment. You don’t know how important it is for this blogger to know there are people out there in the interwebz reading these words.

jackie lea

If We Were Having Hot Cocoa

Let’s each get a big mug of hot cocoa. With marshmallows.

hot cocoa.jpg

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you that this break has been incredible.¬†I can’t remember the last time I had a real, true vacation. Basically all of my “vacations” are really writing retreats, which actually amount to a TON of hard work. But I had six days off over Thanksgiving, and my manuscript is currently with my editor, which means … a real vacation!! Now, that said, I thought about my novel a lot, and I even wrote and worked on it for a while, but whenever it felt stressful, I shut it all down. I’m so programmed to work on it, but I reminded myself that I will have plenty of time to work (and stress out) in just a few weeks when I get my next round of revisions.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you that I fell into a tiny reading slump.¬†I think it was because during my recruiting travel season, I had so much time on the road to listen to audiobooks, and now that’s over, so I have to readjust. That said, I’ve started¬†Bone Gap by Laura Ruby and am loving it so far!

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you that I have been thinking about what story I want to tell after Yes Novel is done.¬†I have three story ideas in my mind, including the first draft of a manuscript that I put down after 65k words to switch projects to Yes Novel. That is the one I think I want to pick back up. Before, I needed to step away from it because I couldn’t feel confident about the ending I wanted it to have. Now– largely due to Huntley Fitzpatrick, her novel¬†The Boy Most Likely To, and our conversations in Chicago– I think I’m ready to write it now. Not only ready to write it but ready to stand behind my ending. Gosh, even as I write this, I’m starting to doubt myself. Nevertheless, I¬†hope it will be my next story. I’ve dubbed it Hair Novel. For reasons.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you all about the panel I was on called “I Was a Teenage Writer.”¬†There weren’t a lot of people in the audience, but it was still really, really fun. There were five of us debut novelists on the panel– including Mackenzi Lee, a fellow Katherine Tegen Books sister– and we each read something from our books and something we wrote as teens. Mine was really, REALLY dramatic poetry about a boy, and it was really fun to share and actually not at all embarrassing! I loved it.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you how much I love Addendum.¬†Addendum is a local independent bookstore that is the only bookstore I know of that specializes in YA. Katherine and Marcus, the owners, are so terrific, and they’ve been so fun to collaborate with this year– for my launch party, for the panel I mentioned above, and for Indies First. Yup, that’s right– I got to be a bookseller for a couple hours on Small Business Saturday. Okay, so my only customers were my friend Tracy’s children, but they were the perfect customers! Together, along with help from Addendum, we found a chapter book for Emma, a Christmas book for Ava, a “pink” book for Elsie, and a dog book for Owen. I think everyone went home happy.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you I’m done with Christmas shopping.¬†This year was easier than usual, partly because I’m broke. But I’m still excited– I love giving gifts, and there are a couple I really want to enhance by personalizing them. Cryptic at all, Sommers? Gotta be.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you 2015 looked a lot different than what I’d imagined.¬†I know I write a lot about having my book published and all I learned from it. I’m sparing you. I could probably write a lot more. The biggest thing that I’m learning is that I need to love the work and love the process, or I’m going to be miserable. I think it was something I read recently from Anne Lamott (which, by the way, if you’re not following her long, lovely posts on Facebook, you’re missing out on so much!), and it was basically asking if you wanted to be the person who loved the work or the person who loved the reward. Because if you’re the latter, you’re going to spend most of your life kinda miserable. But if you can be the former, you’ll be satisfied. Now, that’s easier said than done. For me, learning to love the work is an exercise in¬†life¬†skills. It involves good friends and Ativan and more faith than I can ever muster on my own. I’m not sure, but I’m¬†hoping that faith accumulates due to a history of successes¬†and a history of failures that don’t destroy us. I want so desperately to throw my arms wide and say, “Come at me, life; I choose to enjoy you.” But I also have an anxiety disorder plus additional problems with panic, the devil on my shoulder. Thankfully, I have more than one angel on the other shoulder– so many of them: my parents, my siblings, my entire TEAM of friends, and a small army (okay, just six) of “kid therapists.” I have hot showers and a fantastic bed and a great job and a brilliant editor and a creative mind (though it sometimes works against me). In 2016, I’m going to do my very best to¬†choose to enjoy life– and to take practical steps that will allow me to do so. Some will be solid (Ativan) and some will be mysterious (prayer). I welcome them all.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d ask you:¬†do you want a shot of flavor in your cocoa (I like hazelnut)? Have you done any Christmas shopping? How are you¬†feeling as we head into December? Do you have any advice for me on¬†choosing to enjoy life?

Dear Diary (November 2013)

ddnovI kicked off November in style by attending a Billy Collins poetry reading at the Pantages Theatre. ¬†My darling friend Elyse and I went to hear our beloved poet share his dry wit and perfect imagery and fascinating thoughts. ¬†I asked the man beside me, “Have you seen Billy Collins before?”

“Oh, no,” he said. ¬†“My wife and I are from Oregon, and we timed our visit to our son and daughter-in-law with Billy Collins’s visit here so we could see him. ¬†Have you?”

“This will be my third time,” I admitted. ¬†I didn’t mention that one of those times I actually¬†met¬†him and had him sign my copy of¬†Questions about Angels. ¬†It reminded me once again just how grateful I am to live in the literary community of Minneapolis!

Some of my favorite friends and I went to an improv comedy show for my lovely friend Ashley’s birthday. ¬†The show was funny, but the best part was spending the entire evening with such amazing women.

I was invited to be part of a panel about sadness, anxiety, and depression at a local church.  It was good to be able to share about OCD, ERP, and the stigma against mental illness that is so prevalent in the church (the church in general, not that church specifically, ha!).

My college writing instructor and author¬†Judith Hougen¬†has partnered with Ann Sorenson, a local filmmaker/instructor, and Luke Aleckson, an artist/instructor to pioneer the Emerging Artists Collective, a group of young Christian artists who will gather¬†for sharing and discussions about issues related to faith and the artistic life. ¬†We had our pilot gathering this month, and it. was. wonderful. ¬†I really loved it, and I’ll be sharing about this in more depth soon on my blog.

And then, of course, the book deal. ¬†I am absolutely thrilled that Harper Collins made me a two-book offer! ¬†It’s still a bit surreal; I need to pinch myself. ¬†My dreams are¬†coming true. ¬†I have been writing since I was in 2nd grade, though I don’t think I put my goal to “publish a book” in writing until high school. ¬†Joy. ¬†Elation. ¬†Disbelief. ¬†Wonder. ¬†All of these have been taking up residency in my chest.

November 2013 has been delicious.