Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It Was a Jesus-Take-the-Wheel Kind of Summer

I didn’t drive for a month.
I never thought it would bother me to give up the wheel. It didn’t even cross my mind until we headed to church the night before my flight to Honduras. My husband drove, and I would ride a bus to the airport and then I would be in Honduras for a month. I’d not drive until I returned.
The first ten days of my trip involved a lot of time on buses. I wasn’t in charge of where we went or what we did. I was along for the ride.
The final three weeks of the trip involved a lot of time in a truck. I rode shotgun, holding onto the handle above the window as we wove in and out of Tegus traffic and flew around mountain curves.


I am a timid driver here in America. I’d be a pancake trying to navigate traffic in Tegucigalpa. I am told there are laws about driving there, but I have yet to see any evidence of such. Painted lines are barely suggestions. Lanes don’t matter in the least. I could count red lights on one hand.
Driving in Tegucigalpa wasn’t on my list of daring activities for the summer. I preferred zip-lining upside down in the jungle and playing with monkeys.


Or not being able to drive, really. Not having a car sitting in the driveway. Not having a ready-made plan of escape in any given situation and not being able to decide I was hungry and run to the store …
I’m struggling to even write complete sentences for these thoughts. The feeling was simply odd.


Except, this summer, I wasn’t. I thought I exercised my daring self-confidence by hopping a plane to a third-world country for a month. In truth, I yielded my will altogether.
Jamie and I went where we were told to go. We were welcome to make suggestions and often did, but ultimately, we were not in control of our schedule. In the mornings, I set my alarm so I’d have time to read and sip coffee before leaving for the day, but I didn’t pick what time we left. I didn’t choose where we worked.
I thought daring was all about doing, going, jumping in with both feet and making things happen.


I didn’t just give up driving for thirty days. I gave up on the picture of my future I have held close for at least the last five years. I had to let it go and consider other options.
Lord help me for using a cliché, but this was a “Jesus take the wheel” kind of summer, and I am still terrified of where this Holy-Spirit-mobile is taking me.


I gave up driving a car way more easily than I gave up driving my life. But I am trying, little by little, day by day. I am examining my actions and their motives, and I am taking steps in a new direction, even when I want to yank the wheel to the left and get the heck out of dodge.
I let someone else lead the way, when I gave up driving.
Now, can I give up planning and let the Holy Spirit lead me also in this?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

For Such a Time as This

I'm struggling with how to best use my voice right now.

Writing is my thing. Words are my medium. I want to say things. I want to say so many things.

My Facebook feed is full of articles I agree with and I could repost them to my own wall. I could hoist my current opinions and fears and beliefs onto people that way, but I haven't.

For me (and this is for me, I cannot decide what works best for you), posting too much of that stuff on Facebook feels like a waste of my time and my power. For the most part, people who follow me there either agree with me already or aren't going to be swayed by me sharing the same articles and slogans that everyone else in their feed is sharing.

There are too many fake news stories. If you don't want to believe something you read, just tell yourself it is one of the untrue things the media is currently pushing on the public. This argument is true often enough to work well in just about any situation.

I don't want to be another written-off Facebook friend, unfollowed or unfriended because my opinions make someone uncomfortable. I don't think that helps me or them.

But I cannot be quiet.

Nazis met in large number this week. They met in our nation's capitol, if I understood the news correctly. I watched bits of the footage, but it made me sick to my stomach. It reminded me of my visit to the Holocaust Museum five years ago. I will not link to stories about this event. You can find them on your own. You can decide what sources to trust, because I am sure whichever I share will be the wrong one for some reader or another. Quite frankly, I just refuse to pull the links up on my computer. I won't have that disgusting propaganda in my browser history.

Here is what I want to use my voice to remind my friends and family:

When the Nazi party formed, they were not known as evil. They were a group of people wanting to make political changes. We hear the word "Nazi" and cringe, but it is because of what those people did under that word.

These people call themselves "alt-right," and that isn't a term that makes us cringe. But it should, because they are trying to be exactly who the Nazis became. These are not the "neo-nazi" or "skinhead" stereotypes we are used to. These are men and women in suits and ties, business executives, our neighbors, employees, bosses, and friends. They look like respectable people, but the words they are speaking...

It always starts with words.

Words are power.

Words are power, and that is why I have been so quiet on Facebook over the last few weeks. I have been thinking and stewing and praying and waiting. Words are what God gave me. They are my gift, and I want to use them well. I don't want to lash out with my words and do more harm than good.

My words show you who I am, and so does my silence. So I cannot be silent.

I will continue to choose my words carefully. I will look for ways to use my words well and not haphazardly.

For such a time as this...

Monday, November 14, 2016

Walking on Water: A Review

How have I made it to 34-years-old without reading Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle? I already counted Circle of Quiet among my favorite books, but somehow I missed this one.

The copy I just read had a preface by Sara Zarr. I am normally a skip-the-intro kind of girl. However, Sara is one of those YA authors I first read back when writing YA was a new possibility for me. I admired how she wove faith themes into her stories without writing books that you can only find at Lifeway. I read her preface and felt instantly connected to her, like we could have a cup of coffee and talk.

When you are, like I am, a pastor's wife and a writer, people will often assume you write "Christian fiction." I don't. I used to wrestle with guilt over that, but I've slowly shed that worry. Christian is not an adjective. You cannot use it to describe a book or a movie or a painting. It's a noun, for me. It's who I am, a follower of Jesus.

L'Engle writes about how the world views Christians and how the church has both helped and hindered what society things of Jesus because of how we treat others and approach art and view science. She penned these words back in the eighties, but they are still true today. The label Christian still makes me nervous, makes me worry people will think I am THAT kind of Christian, the hateful kind, the closed-minded kind, the racist kind... whatever the stereotype of the week is.

I'm getting off topic though.

In Walking on Water, L'Engle shares about the process of creating being like prayer, and that is exactly what I needed to remember. I have been rewriting and revising the same two novels for the last couple of years, and it is time to draft something new. I needed to remember to trust the process.

"In prayer, in the creative process, these two parts of ourselves, the mind and the heart, the intellect and the intuition, the conscious and the subconscious mind, stop fighting each other and collaborate."

Any of you who read my blog posts on a regular basis know I have struggled with what I believe over the last few years. I am part of a church while struggling to make peace with the Church. I am praying while struggling to understand prayer. I am reading my Bible while struggling to believe the same things about scripture that I used to believe so easily.

This new project I am facing deals with some big themes, some topics I am still wrestling with myself. Madeleine reminded me of why I am drawn to write in the first place:

"In trying to share what I believe, I am helped to discover what I do, in fact, believe, which is often more than I realize."

This book couldn't have fallen into my life at a better time. It has helped me to dive into my new work. Madeleine has reminded me to trust the process even when I do not trust myself.

I want to frame this cover; I love it so much.

If you are an artist of any kind, I highly recommend this book. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Currently: I'd Rather Sit on a Pumpkin

Current Books: I'm reading Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light after my Bible in the morning and The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson along with our leadership group. My current fiction pick is The English Major by Jim Harrison.

Current Playlist: "Trust in You" by Lauren Daigle and "Happy Girl" by Martina McBride, along with podcasts (Writing Excuses and Happier)

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: Soda. I'd gotten to where I only drank water unless eating out, but lately I find myself buying soda way too often.

Current Colors: Grey and white and teal

Current Food: Tortilla chips and melted cheese... simple and yummy

Current Drink: Coffee in the morning and then water at work and a soda or Starbucks Refresher on the way home

Current Favorite Favorite: The fragile gorgeous glass bowl I bought for our living room. It holds prayers from myself, my family, and my friends, and it makes me feel peaceful when I look at it.

Current Wishlist: I really want to take the time to "Konmari" my whole house, so time. Time tops my wishlist. Time to work on Christmas gift projects and the like as well.

Current Needs: Patience. Lots of it. With the kids in my classes and with myself as I revise this manuscript and with the various things going on with life goals and dreams.

Current Triumph: I'm really excited about signing with a new agent, and today I hit the halfway mark on revisions.

Current Bane-of-my-Existence: Working an on-the-clock job.  I hate not controlling my schedule and I miss being by myself for the majority of the hours in my day. The job itself is fine. It's fun to watch how the kids grow and change as the year passes. It's just an adjustment, having to be somewhere everyday and having to make arrangements if I want to travel. I know that sounds spoiled. Welcome to the real world, Heather. But I just prefer working for myself. Ya know?

Current Indulgence: Fridays. When I get off work, I pick up pizzas or something I want for dinner. I binge-watch Netflix and eat junk food and read books and work on Project Life. Basically, Fridays are sacred me-time.

Current Mood: Pretty good, actually. I'm intensely engaged in revising a manuscript and that kind of creative focus always enlivens me.

Current Outfit: Jeans, polka-dot tennis shoes, and my "When in doubt, go to the library" tee

Current #1 Blessing: My husband. I've had two friends lose their husbands to death this past month. I don't ever want to lose Corey. I can only image the kind of grief they are living right now.

Current Quote: “Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.” ― Brené Brown, Rising Strong

Current Photo:
My football player

Title from:  “I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Monday, October 24, 2016

Guest Post: Influences from Books, Games, and TV

Guest Post by Hayley Stone

Something you will immediately notice about the following list is that the majority of my influences are not, in fact, books.

It’s not because I don’t find books inspiring, or because there aren’t amazing post-apocalyptic books out there (hello, Alas, Babylon and On the Beach), but mostly due to the fact that I digest books in a way that is different from the way I digest other media. With a focus on technique and structure, my inner editor kicks in, and I sometimes lose the forest for the trees while reading. Movies, shows, and video games are more likely to stick with me due to the visual component, and because I’m less obsessed with the method of delivery.

Speaking of video games, I am a huge proponent of their storytelling capacity; they immerse you in a unique and interactive way that no other fictional medium does. When you feel you are part of the story, how can that not leave a lasting impression?

So here are my top 5 influences, in no particular order:

1. The Hunger Games series

This was the book series that not only brought me back into the YA fold for a time, but also inspired my switch from writing third person to first. I loved the subtlety of the world-building, with the dystopian elements remaining crucial to the plot but never seeming shoehorned in. The characters are the stars more than the premise, as they should be—and this is something I always try to keep in mind with my own writing, too. A lot of series tried to accomplish what Suzanne Collins did with THG, but I don’t think any of them managed to do what she did.

2. BioShock

BioShock nails the chilling ambiance of a ruined civilization—it just happens to take place in a secret underwater city, while the rest of the world above remains fine. The isolated dystopian/post-apocalyptic experience was something that stuck with me. And in hindsight, I wonder now if my instinct to set Machinations and its sequel in an underground base was inspired by the city of Rapture. If so… good call, subconscious! Good call.

3. The Walking Dead

This is perhaps one of the most well-known examples of a post-apocalyptic setting to date, and had a lot of influence on me since the show came out right as I was first experimenting with a post-apocalyptic story (also a zombie apocalypse, by total coincidence). The Walking Dead showcases humanity and inhumanity in equal measure, and while overall I find it a little too cynical, it has undeniably influenced my perception of what the end of the world might look like.

4. The Fallout series

In addition to being two of my all-time favorite games, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas further inspired my love of the post-apocalyptic genre, and gave me a lot to consider when crafting my own post-apocalyptic world. Unlike the others on the list (with the exception of BioShock), the Fallout games can be fairly lonely as you wander the wasteland, scavenging and getting into fights. The emptiness of the landscape combined with all the hints of former civilization serve as both warning and hope; what was could be again.

5. The Handmaid’s Tale

Last, but certainly not least, Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian tale completely altered the way I viewed the genre and literature as a whole. It’s certainly one of the most affecting pieces of fiction I’ve ever read—disturbing and entirely too possible, especially when you hear the views of certain political extremists today. While my work does not parallel hers in any obvious way, I hope that the emotion resonates just as clearly.

At the end of the day, post-apocalyptic fiction appeals to our base instinct to survive while dystopian asks, at what cost? How far are we willing to go down the rabbit hole, how many freedoms are we willing to trade, all for some perceived safety? It’s an idea as relevant today as it was in the 50s, when nuclear fears were part of everyday life, and I look forward to exploring more of the same themes in the future.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Happy Writing News!

I have some really wonderful news.

But first I have to share the bad news I never shared.

Back in mid-August, I split from my literary agent. No drama. That relationship had simply run its course and it was time to move forward.

Okay, so I was a little sad, yes. I spent some time wallowing.

And then I opened my Macbook and got to work. I had a new manuscript and notes from CPs. This being the first manuscript I plotted BEFORE drafting, I had less to do revision-wise than I expected. It was already a second or third draft, so I did some tweaking here and there, wrote a query, and dove back into that wonderful slush pile swimming pool.

Wonderful may be sugarcoating it.

Just a bit.

See, when you have already had a literary agent and suddenly you are looking for a literary agent, it feels a bit like this...

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But this is 2016, y'all. This is my Year of Daring. I wasn't going to sit the bench when I had come so close to scoring a touchdown... or a homerun... or I don't know.

I'm not good at sports. I'm good at writing.

If my dreams don't come true, it won't be because I gave up on them. That much I know.

So I started sending queries for the new project and three weeks later I had an offer of representation.

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Last time, it took me about six months to get an offer, but those three weeks felt every bit as long as the previous six month experience. Time is relative when you are begging someone to love your book as much as you love your book.

The waiting is over and now the real work begins. I will be going back into my revision cave. There is cutting to be done. There is rewriting to be done. There is dreaming and plotting and scribbling and changing to be done.

I love it.

I am excited to announce that I am now represented by the fabulous Amy Tipton of Signature Literary.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

I Don't Want to Be Inspiring

Here's the thing...

I don't want to be inspiring and strong.

I doubt you do either.

My friend's husband died this week. She isn't the first of my friends to lose their spouse or their child or their parent or their friend.

When people are living in difficult situations, we call them inspiring and strong.

Look how she has come through this hard time. Look how she has done everything in her power to survive this, to thrive in this, to help her family, to make this child's life better.

Look at how, when he falls, he gets back up again. Look at how he keeps trying in the face of failure.



But how many of us want to be that kind of an inspiration?

I'd rather keep my husband, my kids, my parents, my friends. I'd rather my kids soar through life as compassionate and beautiful people without ever having to actually suffer.

I don't want to actually suffer.

But we will. We all will suffer somehow and some way. We can't truly live without facing hardships and setbacks, big and little and in between.

As E. E. Cummings said, "Unbeing dead isn’t being alive."

If we are going to live, we are going to suffer.

Some of us will be inspiring.

Some of us will be strong.

But I am sorry we have to be.

I am sorry my friend is suffering this week, that her kids are mourning the loss of their father. I am sorry that she will not wake up next to the man she loves ever again.

She is inspiring.

She is strong.

I wish she didn't have to be.

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