Preparing for the Future

Today’s Question:¬†5-years

Always good to think ahead, not something that comes easily for most creative types, myself included. As preparation for this post, I read the Ayres’ Christmas letter I sent in 2011. A LOT can change in 5 years. I wrote about how I’d just finished my novel and planned to send it out in February. By June, I would have my first contract for 18 Things. Then came 18 Truths and 18 Thoughts. This year I didn’t write much or publish anything new. I’m in a new teaching position and the struggle is real . . . learning all the new content is a task that occupies all my nights and weekends.

My goal is to write a fourth novel in my series that catches up with the characters as they’re approaching their 10 year high school reunion. (My 20th is sometime in 2017–GAK! Where does the time go?!). Hopefully, I’ll write that one over the upcoming Christmas break and have it published soon. I want to give my fans some closure, as I’ve received many emails, asking what happens to the characters when they’re older. After that, I don’t have it in the cards to publish any more books. I’m completely fulfilled with my new job of teaching English II to tenth graders. Funny thing is that five years ago I was a second grade teacher! If some Jedi Master predicted my future and told me where I’d be right now, I wouldn’t have believed them!

No matter what comes by way, I pray that I’ll stand with courage and faith, knowing God is always there for me. I hope you know that, too ūüôā

Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you plan to get there?

This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Feel free to join us the first Wednesday of every month! Purpose: To share and encourage.

Co-Hosts:
Jennifer Hawes
Jen Chandler
Nick Wilford
Juneta Key
JH Moncrieff
Diane Burton
MJ Fifield

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Which Way to Go?

Have you ever been at a crossroads in your life and didn’t know which way to go? Both paths have their positives and negatives, and your mind and heart are battling, so they aren’t helping either. When that happens, I pray for a sign of God’s will for me. I pray he’ll guide me to the one path that’s truly for my highest good and the good of those around me. I pray I’ll have the courage to follow his lead.

Two weeks ago, I was at a friend’s house. I’d never hung out at this friend’s house before, but this friend is also a teacher and works at my dream school doing my dream job. Her assistant principal called while I was there, asking if she knew of anyone who’d be interested in teaching tenth grade English for their international baccalaureate (IB) program (she teaches twelfth grade IB). ¬†My friend asked me if I was interested. I was, but I kind of laughed at the offer. After all, I’d only been teaching middle school Language Arts for three years. She convinced me to at least take an interview, so we scheduled one for the next morning.

I was contemplating the new job offer all day, and then my mom showed up at my doorstop around five o’clock. My beautiful cousin, Angie, age forty-one, was dead. She’d traveled 14 hours by car a couple weeks earlier, and unbeknownst to her, a blood clot formed in her leg, eventually traveling to her heart and killing her.

Angie and me

Angie and me. She was a teacher, too. There were 400 people at her funeral. She made quite the impact.           R.I.P.

 

This was the third family member I’d lost in seven weeks. It’s hard to suffer the loss of someone you love, but I also know this is part of God’s plan, too. We’ll all die one day. None of us escapes it. Knowing we’re all part of some bigger destiny takes away some of the pain for me. As I stayed up late that night, too anxious and heartbroken to sleep, I realized the way to move beyond fear is to go through it and trust whatever is meant to be will be. The only reason I didn’t jump at the new job opportunity right away is because of my old anxieties, but God has steadfast belief in the abilities he’s given us, even when we doubt ourselves.

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My new classroom at Cape Coral High School, my alma mater!

I know this blog post isn’t focused on writing, but I think a lot of us, especially in the publishing world, tend to think of success in terms of how talented we are compared to ________ (insert favorite author’s name here) or how much money we make with our books (newsflash: I made $323 last month off 18 Things, so yeah, I’m not quitting my day job any time soon!).

But I think if we’re willing to seek the path the universe lays in front of us and keep moving forward through all the good days and not-so-good days, then that’s the true measure of success.

This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Feel free to join us the first Wednesday of every month! Purpose: To share and encourage.

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#Love Wins

love wins

The month of June I read a novel for book club titled The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. As promised, ‘it illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war.’

I feel like you aren’t human if you can read a novel about the events surrounding the Holocaust and not be moved. This one was no different, but for some reason, it was even more poignant¬†to me. Perhaps because I was reading it after the Orlando massacre. The tragedy happened while I was on vacation to Georgia and North Carolina to see family in the mountains, so I was shielded from most of the news coverage until we returned the week after.

My husband and I lived in Orlando for seven years. We graduated from the University of Central Florida. We got our first real jobs there. I gave birth to our two baby girls in The City Beautiful. We bought our first house there. A house that was just a fifteen minute drive to the Pulse nightclub. The husband of one of my best friends had a cousin who died in the shooting that night, which made it all the more real to me.

Reading The Nightingale set in France 1939-1945 and contemplating all the acts of terror still happening around the globe today, I’m reminded of how there are many events in our lives over which we have zero control. But we do have a choice to either press on or give up. Time and time again, I’m astounded at what humans have endured throughout history.

Many have concluded that the secret to survival is remembering love is greater than evil. That’s why the hashtag #lovewins has trended for over a year now. Maybe it’s why I can’t leave a little bit of romance out of my books. Remembering that #lovewins produces the endurance which sees us through all the tough stuff we face in this life. And in the meantime, we write, because it’s good therapy for our souls, as is reading a good book. I highly recommend The Nightingale, or *shameless plug* 18 Thoughts . . . because what’s summer without a book in your hand and toes in the sand? It’s a good life, after all is said and done.

faithhopelove

 

This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Feel free to join us the first Wednesday of every month! Purpose: To share and encourage.

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In Rememberance

“You saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place.”~Deuteronomy 1:31

One week ago my grandpa passed away peacefully in his ¬†home. He was 80; he was also the last living grandparent I had . . . although I’m thankful he’s not suffering anymore like he had been for the past two years, it’s hard to lose this great generation.

From his obituary: “If you saw Doug out and about, he always had a smile and a story to tell. After retiring, he enjoyed spending time on the water with family and friends. Whether it be at Hardy Dam or Lake Michigan, you never knew where the adventure would take you, but it was always filled with laughter, love, and a memory that would be shared for years to come.”

I hope the same can be said of me when I’m gone. Every time I lose someone here on earth, it reminds me to pray for clarity of my purpose in this lifetime. There are days I feel my life doesn’t have enough meaning or depth, but I try to put my talents and skills to the best use and to show love and grace to others.

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Grandpa in the beginning . . . just starting out on his own.

As writers, we know that every story must have a beginning and an end. A final chapter. God knows our alpha and omega, but he lets us be the authors of our own stories. Each life is a book, not to be read, but a tale to be written. What a dangerous freedom! It’d be much safer for him to dictate our every feeling, word, action . . . but then it wouldn’t be love. Love is chosen. So he hands each child a pen and whispers write carefully. That’s good advice for life and for our fictional stories as well. Write carefully.

Doug

Grandpa in the end. R.I.P.

This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Feel free to join us the first Wednesday of every month! Purpose: To share and encourage.

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Two FREE Gifts!!

Do you get mixed feelings of nostalgia and excitement before the new year like I do? I’ve heard many say they’re glad Christmas is over so life can continue as ‘normal,’ but not me. My house aglow with twinkling lights, spiced eggnog and warm apple cider drinks, surprise carolers from the neighborhood church, heartwarming specials on TV, more time with loved ones, our kids and their cousins dutifully performing their own play for the family on Christmas Eve . . . that, I could do all year. The world is different the week of Christmas, reminding us of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. We temporarily forget our obsession with warring and put away our weapons. We climb down our ladder to success to put up lights instead while remembering the light of the world who came to save us all. He is the reason for the season. Those who go through the year without giving him much thought suddenly hear the carol being performed by a group of children in the mall, “O come, let us adore him,” and tears swell up in their eyes as there’s a repenting silence among the crowd of shoppers who have paused to stop and listen.

Christmas lights

Now lights are coming down, shoppers exchange unwanted gifts, holiday decorations and sweets are discounted to 75% off, and the credit card bills are in the mail. Everything is back to our new ‘normal.’ The war of terror resumes.

I know celebrating Christmas year round wouldn’t really solve our problems.¬†But I can’t help but wonder, if God can do so much with such apprehensive prayers lamely presented at Christmas time, how much more could he do if we truly sought him every day?

Christmas has come and gone, but there are actually a thousand reasons everyday to be happy, but if we don’t have peace in our hearts, we’ll never be happy. John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”¬†Whatever 2016 brings, don’t submit to circumstances. Submit to the Lord who controls circumstances.¬†Unlike worldly peace where we wish for the absence of conflict, this peace is confident assurance in any circumstance. With Christ’s peace, we have no need to fear the present or future.¬†There’s not enough Christmas traditions to bring lasting peace. Only God can.

Emmanuel. He is with us. God came near. That’s gift number one. And he will be with us allll year round; not just in December. I hope we’ll all remember that in 2016.

Gift number two is my book, 18 THINGS, is FREE today and tomorrow! Please help me spread the post-Christmas cheer ūüôā

Sample social media post: 

Love, faith & bucket lists! Looking for an excellent YA book for the ? 18 Things by is FREE:

 

*HaPPy*nEW*yEAr*frIEnds!!!

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Merry Christmas

Silent Night! Holy Night!

All is calm, all is bright.

Round yon virgin mother and child!

Holy Infant so tender and mild.

Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace!

–Joseph Mohr, 1818

Can you believe it’s Christmas Eve 2014 already? I can’t. I know I haven’t been¬†very active on social media lately (I’m trying, I swear), but from what I have seen, I know many of you won’t be sorry to see this year pass. For whatever reason, it seems life has chosen to knock a lot of us down this year. For my family, we’ve¬†had a difficult¬†time getting into the Christmas spirit after the loss of my husband’s grandmother. She was 84 and lived a good life, but it wasn’t something we were expecting. Nonetheless, we attended her memorial on Saturday and although it doesn’t seem right, life goes on.

Between losing our house, family members, and getting sick a lot in the past two months, I’ve found myself whining to God that life isn’t fair. Useless, I know. I tell my two kids all the time I don’t want to hear the “F” word (which in my home is ‘fair’). This year didn’t go the way I planned in too many ways to count. I found myself thinking, “I don’t deserve this crap!”

But then I was reflecting¬†on the true meaning of Christmas as I baked goodies¬†with my 10yo daughter today. I bet, “This wasn’t what I had planned” is exactly what Mary¬†thought as she gave birth to the son of God in a stable. Talk about humbling.

With 2015 right around the corner, I’m excited! I’m especially excited because the final installment of my trilogy, 18 Thoughts, comes out January 27th! A million thoughts went into telling Olga’s story. Of course, when¬† I wrote the beginning, I knew there’d have to be an end. A final chapter. I thought I knew it before I wrote it, but I didn’t. In the end, I let my characters take over.

And isn’t it amazing how God does the same thing for us? Yes, he begins our stories, sets each one of us apart for a specific time and place. He’s a plotter, not a pantser! But he, the God of the whole universe, gives each of us our own pen. He allows us to write the stories of our own lives. How much easier would it be for him to script each scene for us? But he loves us too much for that.

So as I take up my figurative pen for the new year and you take up yours, I hope that¬†we remember, yesss, this isn’t what¬†we ‘deserved’ … it’s so much better! God had the¬†perfect ending in mind when he sent his son to earth for us.

In the darkness of the night, the Wise Men saw light. Maybe just like 2,000+ years ago, God will use the darkness of this year to reveal his light if we look for it.

Because that light that shone in the darkness? Best. Christmas. Present. Ever. His ending was our new beginning.

Merry Christmas to all!! Oh, and one more thing to celebrate tonight . . .

Elf

The Best Suicide Prevention Plan?

“Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord, the Lord lightens my darkness … You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your help has made me great. You have made me stride freely, and my feet do not slip.” 2 Samuel 22:29, 36-37

Unfortunately, sometimes the darkness we face is too much … too much pain, too¬† much trouble, too much opposition, too much sadness, too much debt, too much stress, too much¬†… you fill in the blank. When it feels like the darkness is too big, it threatens to overwhelm us. What can we do?

Sometimes people feel like there is nothing to do. They take their own lives.

As a teen, there were two instances when I felt this same way.

The only thing that stopped me was God’s saving grace. Part of my experience served as inspiration for 18 Things and 18 Truths, both of which touch on the issue of suicide attempts. You can read part of my personal testimony on an old guest post I did on Gwen Gardner’s blog if you’re curious.

So what’s the point of all this?

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Visit the Official World Suicide Prevention Day Facebook Event Page and join people from all over the world who are supporting the cause, survivors of suicide and the many volunteers and practitioners worldwide who work to alleviate suffering through evidence-based research and practices.

It only takes a minute to help someone. And if you’re out there reading this, feeling like the darkness is too much, please let me offer you encouragement from my experience.

I would not still be here without asking for God’s help and wisdom. Just time spent thinking/praying about God’s will for my life and reading his word comforts and heals me. From this practice, I think you’ll find God is, and always has been, waiting to help. He wants what’s best for you, but we don’t see the¬†big picture, we only see ourselves. He’s working on things we don’t understand. My pastor gave the analogy of remodeling¬† your house–it always takes longer and cost more than we think. And we’re not always committed to the process like God is . . . because he thinks eternally. He’s building an everlasting soul. He’s not going to duct tape over your problems for a temporary solution. But if we believe God is smarter than us and has way more experience and his love is FREE, then maybe we just found the best suicide prevention in the universe.

do something

http://www.vevo.com/watch/matthew-west/do-something/USUV71400004

 

 

 

 

Too Much Excitement for One Week!

School starting, my first mother/daughter column, a national magazine book review, a 99 cent sale for 18 Things , and my birthday . . . everything is coming up roses this week ūüôā Let me tell you that there were many times I was severely depressed during my growing up years. My 14yo daughter started high school this week (at my old stomping ground where I met hubs when I was 14!), and as he reminisced about those years with her, I realized I hardly remembered any of my own experiences. I think my subconscious just decided to shelter me by forgetting. But I do remember HOW I felt in my darkest hours, like each day would bring more troubles than I could deal with. So this week I’m¬†incredible happy and thankful because as I’m turning thirty-five (which I¬†view as the midway point in life . . . the Bible only promises us seventy years, eighty with a little trouble, so obey your parents!),¬†it dawned on me¬†that my life is way more than I ever dreamed possible. I have two jobs I LOVE (teaching middle school writing & being an author), a husband who has stayed married to me for 16 years and counting even though I’m sure I got the better end of the deal, and two wonderful daughters. Speaking of which . . .

My teenage¬†daughter has lowered her standards and agreed to do a weekly column with me on my publisher’s website. We’ll review movies, books, music, and fashion. You get both of our perspectives, the Jedi and the Padawan. Check out our first post here, a review for the Ninja Turtles movie.

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Also, 18 Things was reviewed in the Sept/Oct issue of Stone Soup magazine, written by my daughter! If you have a child 13yo or younger who loves to read, they may want to subscribe and/or submit to this magazine. As a book reviewer, they pay the child $40 and send them two free copies of the magazine.

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And in other 18 Things news,¬†the Kindle ecopy¬†will go on sale for only 99 cents tomorrow and Friday (regular price $4.99). I do hope you’ll download it if you haven’t done so already. And if you have, would you mind posting a tweet or Facebook status to help me spread the word? Last time it went on sale in February, it almost broke into the top 100 on all of Amazon (#114–sooo close!!!!). It’s on my bucket list to make it to the top 100, and it’d be about as sweet as it can get if I’m able to cross this one off during my birthday week!

Will I have the Sweetest Birthday Ever?!

Will you help me have the Sweetest Birthday Ever?!

Here’s a sample tweet or FB post:

For a ¬†novel packed with love & adventure grab 18 Things ¬†while it’s only ¬†¬†Aug 21-22

What about you? Has joy greeted you this week? If not, I pray faith would make you whole again and that you could grab hold of each happy moment¬†this life gives. ‚̧

 

 

To Publish or Not To Publish?

That is the question.

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I’m a firm believer that if we don’t have a big dream we’re striving toward, then we’re just kind of¬†drifting through life. That’s why I made a bucket list back in 2008 when my cousin’s son was diagnosed with cancer. That’s why I put publishing a novel at the top of that list. And that’s why I started working toward that goal in the summer of 2009. Five years later, I have two novels published by Curiosity Quills, a small press, with the last installment of my 18 Things trilogy due in January 2015.

I thought waiting for it to happen would be the hardest part. If I could’ve put my dream in a microwave and made it happen in 30 seconds, I would have. But that’s not how most dreams work. Like most writers, I endured lots of discouragement while agents, editors, and even friends and family members told me it wasn’t going to happen. They weren’t mean about it. They all thought they knew best. But it wasn’t their opinion that mattered to me the most. I’m the one who has to live with my decisions when I lay my head on¬†the pillow at night. If I gave up, what kind of example would that be to my kids and the students I teach every day, who I tell every day, DON’T GIVE UP! THAT VICTORY YOU NEED IS JUST RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER! *shakes pom poms* Sure, I had my doubts from time to time,¬† but I learned to tune out the haters. I knew the path to publishing wasn’t paved with rainbows, unicorns, and puppies. I also knew God would make it happen when the time was right. And he did!

But then I discovered¬†I was wrong (happens occasionally–hahaha). The hardest part wasn’t the 3 years I waited to get a publishing contract, the hardest part¬†has been trying to juggle my teaching job, my writing career,¬†being a wife¬†to three needy children (yes, I counted my hubs as a child, lol–LOVE him though),¬†volunteering at church, bible study and book club, cleaning and cooking (oh, who am I kidding?).

Here’s¬†another thing I firmly believe:¬†EVERYTHING you have is a gift from God, including your talents and abilities. And why would God give us these things if he didn’t want us to use them for his glory?

The thing is though, I NEVER EVER EVER want my own¬†family to think my¬†writing is more important than them, and¬†when I’m in my writing cave (AKA dining room) chained to my laptop¬†every¬†summer, spring, and winter break,¬†typing out what the voices in my head tell me to, I know that’s how they feel sometimes. So I told them after I publish my last book under my contract, I’d give up publishing for a while. My hubs and 10yo cheered (my almost 14yo said I should do what I want-she won’t have much time for me when starting high school in the fall anyway, which of course, made me crawl up like¬†a baby and cry in the corner for an hour while shoving donuts in my mouth). My editor laughed. “Just keep telling yourself you’ll be able to do that.”

Anyone a fan of American Ninja Warrior? Last summer and this summer, there’s been one girl to make it past the qualifying rounds. Both were gymnasts, the one from last year was a trapeze artist. That’s what my struggle reminds me of, a trapeze artist. It’s an analogy I came across in my daily devotional one day:

There’s a moment of truth where she swings out to catch the bar that’s swinging toward her. But in order to reach the bar, she has to let go of the one she is swinging on. If she doesn’t let go, she just swings back to where she started. But if she lets go, there’s a split second in time where she’s hanging in mid-air, thirty feet above the ground, and holding onto absolutely nothing.

That’s what faith looks like. Is giving up my dreams of being a professional author a lack of faith, or an act of obedience as I commit more time to my family? What’s more important? Faith or obedience?

This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja Warrior, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Join us the first Wednesday of every month¬†as we¬†release our fears to the world ‚Äď or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic *shoots hand in the air*

 

 

 

In Rememberance and Why Books Matter

This past Saturday a twelve-year-old boy in my Language Arts classes died unexpectedly. I’m heartbroken, I’m ripped apart, I’m still in shock. But I’m also comforted. I’m going to share this story to illustrate how fictional books CAN and DO make a difference, because I know what a lonely profession this can be sometimes.

My student drowned in a canal near his home. His brother and neighbor tried to save him but were unable to revive him. For those that know my novel, 18 Things, it’s about a girl who tries to save her best friend from drowning but can’t and the book is her dealing with the guilt over that experience. My student who died went through books like water,¬†a rare thing for a middle school boy. In fact, the first day of school, after telling me to sit him in the front because he was very hyperactive and wouldn’t pay attention otherwise (HA! LOVED his honesty!) . . . when I introduced myself and told them I’m an author, he immediately asked where he could get my novel. Two days later, he proudly carried¬†18 Things¬†with him to class and told me it was his new favorite book.

When 18 Truths came out a month ago, he quickly grabbed a copy to read. A couple of weeks later, he ran to class. I told him, “Slow down!” He apologized and explained he wanted to be the first one there because he wanted to ask me some questions about my new book. I said, Ask away! I expected¬†an interrogation¬†about the plot twist at the end (he was quite angry with me for not having book #2 out right away after the plot twist in book #1 . . . did I tell you this was a boy after my own heart?!). You can imagine my surprise when he started asking me all these questions about God. Book #2 takes place in the Underworld . . . a recent book reviewer called it the Christian version of Percy Jackson. My student wanted to know if I made all of it up or if it was in the Bible. I told him I made it up, that’s why it’s in the “Fiction” section in the bookstore.

B&N placement

But I told him I definitely focused on the goodness of God because I think of that as a universal truth. Yes, I know we’re not supposed to talk about God in public schools, but he brought up the subject¬†and I can’t explain¬†things any other way except that the conversation felt right. We talked about how a lot of books that take place in the Underworld don’t mention God at all. Or how many characters act like they don’t believe in God or don’t know if He exists, even ones that have angels and demons in the plot¬†(City of Bones comes to mind, as that’s one of the 8 books our students are¬†encouraged to read this year for school).¬†It was a great discussion, and then the bell rang and that was the end of it.

Then two weeks ago I announced to my¬†classes that we¬†were going to study Romeo and Juliet. Of course I was instantly met with groaning and gnashing of teeth. But the discussion that followed about modern-day examples of groups of people not getting along got very heated.¬†¬†My student mentioned the holocaust, and much to my surprise, not only did he know practically EVERYTHING about it, my other students knew virtually nothing. It was then that I realized he (the boy who died) is Jewish. The class was riveted listening to him. Anyway, at the end of class, he told me the lesson was epic, he’d never forget it, and that when he was older, he wanted to be one of those Jewish Christians but he didn’t want to tell his parents¬†because he thought they might be mad. I told him I thought¬†that already thinking about such things at age¬†twelve was very impressive, and he said, “Well, I’m a very curious kid.” I laughed and¬†agreed with him. Then he dropped this on me:¬†“Actually, it was¬†your books that got¬†me thinking more and more about God.” Can¬†you say tears? He thanked me for the lesson, told me to have a good afternoon, and was on his way. That was the type of¬†boy he was. Well-mannered, kind, curious, generous, always a smile for everyone,¬†an ‚Äúunderdog.‚ÄĚ He¬†classified himself as one since he was small for his age, but always said what he lacked in size he made up¬†for with his big¬†personality. I couldn’t agree more.

I’m honored to have been part of his journey, though I’m terribly sad tonight. When brainstorming ideas with his class about ways we can memorialize him, they mentioned naming one of my book characters after him in the last installment of my trilogy since he loved to read and loved my books. I thought the idea was perfect.

Today I attended his funeral. As I looked at the destroyed faces of his parents, I was humbled by how easily our babies can be taken from us at any time. Even though right now I’m still questioning God about why this happened, I’m comforted that in the midst of mourning, He comes to us. In the darkness, His spirit moves. At the point of our deepest despair, He is closest. If you pray, I’d ask that you keep his family, friends, classmates, and teachers in your thoughts this week as we figure out how to move on without him.

I will say I don’t question my purpose in being an author anymore. Yes, it’s tough work, but if the sole purpose of my books was to touch this young man’s life and draw him closer to God before he died, then that’s all the reason I need to know publishing this trilogy was the right decision.