Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Caring for Myself on Middle Places


Boundaries.
That’s a popular word in counseling and therapy. Boundaries are important. I hear about them all the time, and I utilize them in many ways without even thinking about it. Boundaries come pretty naturally to me.
Until recently when a new challenge reminded me that boundaries are not always easy to set and often take conscious action.
When the High God gave the nations their stake, gave them their place on Earth, He put each of the peoples within boundaries under the care of divine guardians.” Deuteronomy 32:8-9
I started substitute teaching in January of 2016. On one particular week, we spent Wednesday buying a house and Thursday moving into it. I spent all day Friday with teenagers at a local high school and then headed home to do family night with my husband and kids. That Saturday was full of social interaction, and Sunday is always a bit crazy in our life. I spend it with people. Monday, I was back in a high school classroom, and when I got home, we had a leadership meeting at our house. Tuesday, I didn’t have to work, but my husband was home sick, so there was also no alone time to be had, and I took my oldest to an appointment where I sat in a waiting room with lots of people around me. Wednesday, I was back in a classroom at a school I’d never been to before. By Thursday, I was wrecked.
To sum up, I had no alone time for a week.
A week.
I’m an introvert. When you take away all of my down time, all of my time to just sit in an empty room and read and wear my pajamas and ignore the rest of creation, well, it ain’t pretty.

Monday, May 9, 2016

When the Church Hurts on Middle Places


How did you guys end up in Mississippi?
This week, as my husband and I chatted with new friends, a hard experience drifted into the conversation.
It’s a fair question. My husband was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama. I was born in Kentucky and raised in South Carolina. We met at a church in South Carolina and eventually moved closer to his family in Alabama.
The leap from there to Mississippi was not one we ever planned to make. My husband took a job as a youth pastor at a church in a very small town on the bank of a river in Alabama, just thirty minutes from his parents and his daughter. It was there my oldest son turned two, and it was there I found out I was expecting my youngest son.
It was there the church broke my heart.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Book Betrayal


What does the phrase "book betrayal" mean to you?

It is the theme for today as part of #IReadYA week, and I have stared at this screen, debating what to write.

Do I write about betrayal that happens in books? Or how I sometimes betray a book by folding corners and cracking spines and staining pages?

Do I write about a time I felt betrayed by a book?

That would be Danielle Paige's Oz series. I wanted to love it so much. She and I are at the same agency, and she is a very good writer, and I love Oz.

Loving Oz is the problem. Because Oz is my happy place from childhood, reading about it as such a scary place with my good characters turned inside out was hard. I didn't expect that, because I love Wicked (the musical, not the book, oddly enough). But in that retelling, you learn good things about the bad guy. In Paige's retelling, you learn bad things about the good guys.

It was well written. I did want to know what happened next. As soon as Danielle writes something not about Oz, I am joining her fan club.

I just can't handle my safe place, the world that feels like protection and happiness and joy, becoming scary. I probably shouldn't have tried reading it when I was experiencing a highly stressful situation in the first place. But it was about Oz, right? I thought the familiarity would draw me in and help me escape the stress. Instead, I felt betrayed by my once safe world.

As soon as I finished it, I picked up my antique white edition of The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum. I needed to restore my memories of Oz.

So, if you don't have the strange emotional attachment to the land of Oz that I have, I highly recommend Danielle Paige's Dorothy Must Die. It was well-plotted and creative, and she definitely did her Oz research.

And now you know about my strange attachment to a fantasy fairy world.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

10 YA Novels on Mount To Be Read



Mount To Be Read includes the physical shelves full of unread books in my bedroom and my always-growing To Read category on Goodreads. So, here are 10 YA novels I am hoping to read (in no particular order)...



1. Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert - I love books that take us behind the scenes in families with a public persona. This is probably because I am married to a preacher and know how it feels to live in a "glass house." Not putting religious leaders on a pedestal is one of my soapbox issues. Also, I know Kelly, the author, and she is pretty awesome.



2. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo - One of the reasons I read is to develop empathy. I am one of those Jesus-followers who actually believes we are supposed to love our neighbor, hands-down, all in, agape love for everyone. Picture Oprah saying it, "Agape love for you, and agape love for you..." You get the picture. I find that attempting to understand someone else, trying to see from behind their eyes, is helpful in loving unconditionally. It makes my heart wider. I live in the south, where transgender bathroom issues have been the hot debate. I am a person who can see both sides of an issue, even when I have a definite opinion about which side is closest to right. It's a blessing and a curse. In this instance, the debate has prodded me to do more than claim to love. I pride myself on building diverse relationships but, to the best of my knowledge, I only have one transgender friend. So yes, I will be looking for novels that help me grow in understanding. Not that anyone can ever 100% understand someone else, but that doesn't let us off the hook for trying.



3. A Really Awesome Mess by Brenda Halpin and Trish Cook - This book included Juno in it's comp titles and Juno is pretty much one of my favorite films ever.  Also, I love books set in mental hospitals and the like (in this case, a rehab school). There is something about being up front with everyone's brokenness that works for me. Also, having hit my own kind of rock bottom, I am in love with people rebuilding from theirs.



4. The Living by Matt de la Peña - I have read one of Matt's other YA books. I also had the pleasure of meeting Matt and hearing him read his children's book (Newberry winner for 2016). As I have been learning Spanish and plotting the bones of a novel dealing with a Honduran-American teen, I have become increasingly interested in fiction that relates to any kind of Hispanic and/or Latino culture.  This helps my language learning and my empathy building. Plus, Matt just writes good stories. And he was really nice and snapped a selfie with me when I hung out after the reading to fangirl all over him.



5. Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley - I read John's book, Where Things Come Back, and just loved the complete outside-the-boxness of that story. This new book deals with agoraphobia, and I love learning more about all kinds of fears and mental illnesses. Most of you know I am diagnosed with Depression and ADHD. I appreciate when people take the time to try to understand the inside of my head, and I love doing the same for other people. Especially through an author I can trust to do their research and not rely on stereotypes.



6. Shade Me by Jennifer Brown - And here is where I go truly all out fangirl on you. Jennifer Brown is one of my all-time favorite YA authors. Recently, she followed me on Twitter, and it was all I could do to calmly follow her back and not scream at her, "OMG YOU FOLLOWED ME ON TWITTER!" I did text the all caps excitement to my husband and dance around my house practically singing. She writes the kind of books I dream of selling, books that deal with issues without being issue books, if that makes sense. I was actually working with my previous agent on a book about a girl surviving a tornado when I heard Jennifer's book Torn Away was soon to be published. It took me a couple of years to read it, because she is so good and what if her book blows mine out of the water? As it turns out, the stories have only one thing in common - there is a tornado in them. My favorite from her is Thousand Words. I spent that whole book wishing I had written it. So. Blasted. Good. Go buy all of her books.



7. Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke - This book won me with title and then with cover. I have a thing about poppies. I want to read this book, but I also need to own it. In hardback. I want to display it, because this cover will be perfect art for my living room, which I want to use that poppy color to accent. So, already in love, the actual description of the book served only to make me more excited about it. 



8. The Reader by Traci Chee - Traci is a friend. And I should have already gotten to read this, but the US Postal Service failed to forward it, instead delivering this precious package to my old address, which is a vacant parsonage. By the time I realized the mistake, someone had stolen it. *cries* I have been heartbroken over the loss of this momento, as it was an unpublished advanced copy with notes from our writing group. I keep praying that whoever took it will grow a conscience and find a way to return it. 



9. Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn - I adored the first book I read by Kate, back when she was mentor to a writer friend during a Pitch Wars competition. It was the perfect blend of creepy and heartfelt. I don't like horror, but this was just creepy enough. Know what I mean? This new book deals with wishes gone wrong, something that has always fascinated me, and moonshine. Y'all know I am an Eastern Kentucky girl. Moonshine is practically the blood in my family's veins. I'm looking forward to this one.



10. The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett - This is another I cannot just read. I must own it, and I must own it in hardback. I have all of the other Tiffany Aching books in hardback, thanks to my Daddy, so I will need this one to complete that set. When I realized, right after Sir Terry's death, that one more Tiffany book was on its way, I had a party in my living room. No one but me attended said party, but I had it nonetheless. I keep putting off buying and reading this, because it is the last. He cannot write me anymore Tiffany books.

I could go on and on with this list. There are just so many books and, as the old saying goes, so little time.


Monday, May 2, 2016

#IReadYA


I'm pretty excited about this week. It is "I Read YA" week (#IReadYA).

I both read and write YA (Young Adult) fiction. Sometimes, I get asked about it. You know, because I am definitely not a teen.

But here's the thing...

When I was the target audience for YA books, I didn't read them. It wasn't a solid category for fiction when I was a teen. As a child, I did read books that would fit the category. I zipped through every Sweet Valley High book available in elementary school and gorged on Sweet Valley University and V.C. Andrews in middle school. I read a couple of Judy Blume novels and I wish I could go back in time and UNread the Fear Street books by R. L. Stine. I blame them for my inability to relax when alone in a house at night. I started writing my own myth retellings after reading a Christopher Pike novel. But I got bored with the "teen" section of the library quickly. Although, come to think of it, it wasn't a teen section. It was just the kids' section, and I didn't want to be a kid anymore.

By the time I was the target audience for YA fiction, I chose my library books from the grown-up shelves. I read the Hitchhiker's Guide books and the Mayfair Witches from Anne Rice. I loved Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and read everything Amy Tan wrote faster than she could write it. I sobbed through The Green Mile and was glued to every page of Carrie. I snagged Dad's Pratchett novels. I swallowed whole volumes of Nikki Giovanni's poems. Cheap grocery store romance novels and even Nicolas Sparks made it into my backpack.

In other words, I read good books and not-so-good books and award winning writers and dime a dozen writers. If it was made available to me, I sucked it down and begged for more.

As an adult, I picked up Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and that's what first hooked me. I wanted to know where those kinds of books were when I was fifteen and in a terribly unhealthy relationship. Because almost every book I read dealt with adults in adult situations, I had no teen lens to look at my own situation through. I was viewing my struggle as stupid because it wasn't a struggle I saw mirrored in anything I read. I thought I was probably just being a baby about dating and sex and drinking and all of these other issues that were taking up space in my brain.

I recently read I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios and saw my own infatuation with a 19-year-old bad boy Marine. That story had a happier ending than mine, but I wondered how I might have been helped by a book like that when I was living a similar situation.

Once I read Speak, YA books became a staple in my "Mount To Be Read." There is just something about that time in a person's life. When you are sixteen, as far as you know, your whole life is stretching out before you. There are endless possibilities. You have not closed too many doors yet. On top of that, as a teen, I often felt adults didn't take me seriously, but now I see that I faced some really serious situations. I was often in over my head, but I still came up swinging.

Adolescence is a time in our lives that we are most like clay, in many ways. Everything that happens is molding the person we will become.  Everything matters. Nothing is unimportant. As a writer, that is addicting. Symbols and meaning abound, hiding out in every corner, leaping off of every page.

I love YA. I will always read YA. If you have never tried a Young Adult novel, shoot me an email or leave a comment. I bet I can find a book you will love.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Currently: earth by april



Current Books: I'm halfway through The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker and about to start Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin. For my morning read, I just finished The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning and started Spiritual Sobriety by Elizabeth Esther. For small group, I am reading Blueprint for Discipleship by Kevin Watson.

Current Playlist: I have been hitting shuffle on iTunes.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: Apple sodas

Current Color: Red

Current Food: Tonight, I did a taco bar for our leadership meeting at my house.

Current Drink: Mostly water with an apple soda from time to time and coffee to start my day

Current Favorite Favorite: The community that is forming around The Well

Current Wishlist: Books. A lot of books. So many books.

Current Needs: A few things for my trip to Honduras, the last $55 to make my financial goal for Honduras, to update my Tetanus shot

Current Triumph: I had a poem accepted for publication at "Mothers Always Write."

Current Bane-of-my-Existence: The postal service. They failed to forward a package containing something I cannot replace that did not even belong to me. *cries* It appears to have been stolen from the porch of our old address.

Current Indulgence: Writing this despite the five billion items on my to-do list

Current Mood: Pretty good, especially considering the amount of extraverting I have had to do over the last week

Current Outfit: Last year's VBS t-shirt, jeans, sparkly Toms

Current #1 Blessing: My husband... he just is.

Current Quote: “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.” ― Brennan Manning

Current Photo:

All sorts of animals in our backyard


Title taken from:

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

e. e. cummings

Friday, April 15, 2016

Encouragement on Middle Places


I caught a pretty nasty cold in February. It made the rounds of our whole family, landing on me last. I’d hoped it would lose steam before it got to me, but no such luck.
I had to pause my revisions for the manuscript I was working on. I turned down substitute teacher jobs for three days. My brain was fuzzy from cold medicines, and my eyes watered when I looked at the computer screen too long. Mostly, I curled up on the sofa, let the fireplace burn, and watched “Jane the Virgin” on Netflix.
By the time Sunday rolled around, I wasn’t feeling any better. I skipped morning services and stayed in bed. My husband preaches evening worship, and I run the media, so I had to get myself up and dressed. No one else is trained to do my job. Also, it was Super Bowl Sunday, not a good day to find a last minute fill-in.
Just before I left for church, I got an email. It was from a literary journal I’d submitted a short story. I started submitting short stories at the end of 2015, and mostly received rejections, so I opened the email half-heartedly, already resigned to another, “We’re sorry to inform you.”
Instead, the journal wanted to publish my story.
I squealed with delight. Suddenly, I felt better.

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