The Scientific Method of Getting Luckie

Dear Neglected Blog,

I am neck-deep in two jobs and full-time school. I miss you. I miss writing my thoughts on a leisurely morning, coffee steaming beside me.

Those days will come again.

In the meantime, please take a trip over to Swoon Reads and read my book (for free) for a limited time.

The Scientific Method of Getting Luckie is the story of a boy learning about love and kissing and friendship and himself.

My oldest son has Tourette’s, and he (along with a few friends) were immensely helpful when it came to translating that experience onto the page. Of course, it will not match the experiences of EVERY person who has Tourette’s Syndrome, but it does dispel a few myths and introduce readers to a pretty awesome guy who is trying to figure it all out, just like we all are.

I hope you enjoy the read!

Yours,

Heather

Advertisements

Alternative Theologies

Square social media post

If you know me well or have read much of this blog, you already know I have a lot of struggles with faith and religion. I believe in something bigger than me, than this world, than creation. I love Jesus and want to be more like him. I am certain that loving one another and being kind to ourselves and others can change the world.

And I love to write.

I’m excited about this new anthology from B Cubed Press for all of these reasons. Alternative Theologies: Parables for a Modern World includes stories and poems from a variety of amazing authors. You will find my story, “Counting Sunrises,” among the pages, and I hope you will order a Kindle or hard copy (or both).

It has been a bit of a rollercoaster year, writing-wise and in other areas of life. School is going well. I have published a few poems and done a few readings. I received an official diagnosis of autism. My agent decided to leave agenting, and I decided to take a break from querying agents and focus instead on short fiction, poetry, and small presses. I started a second job that involves writing web copy and cropping photos for a decor business. I applied for a bajillion scholarships (and received two of the bajillion). My oldest son got his driver’s license. My youngest son started high school.

I could go on with ups and downs. Mostly ups. Instead, I just want you to go order Alternative Theologies and join me in one of the happiest experiences of my year.

 

Viva Escriba

Every year, I ask God for a word or a theme, some sort of lens through which to view the year ahead. In 2017, I had 2 words: Peace and Justice. It was definitely a year of thinking on those things, pursuing a better education on social justice issues, listening to the people around me when they spoke about their lives and struggles. I finished 2017 with the sense that I can be at peace with myself only when I am living a life that pursues justice for others.

What about 2018?

I don’t know.

I have a couple of words, and when I write them in Spanish, they feel like my words for the year. However, they don’t have quite the same oh-so-certain feeling I usually have when my yearly theme lands in my lap. Why?

Perhaps it has to do with where I am in my faith journey. I wrote, last year, about coming to the end of deconstruction and being ready to rebuild. However, rebuilding seems like a distant dream. The foundation is steady. It holds. But I don’t know what it is.

I’m living in a surreal paradox.

I find solace in my faith and also disparage it. For a video I was a part of, my husband asked me to explain the connection between a struggle I experienced and Jesus/salvation/faith. I stumbled through something about Mary and parenting and how God loves us, but my brain was in a panic.

I believe in Jesus, but I don’t know exactly what I believe ABOUT Jesus. I find the Bible both comforting and polarizing. I see wisdom in the pages, but I also can’t elevate it to the level of authority to which those around me have raised it. I believe in God, but I don’t think I believe in the same God those around me believe in… or perhaps I believe in the same God, but approach God’s existence in a different way. We sing worship songs on Sundays and I both love them and find them empty. I feel moved and also wonder how much brain chemistry and music are playing into my experience of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t feel like I am still deconstructing, but perhaps I am being deconstructed. I have spent years tearing apart my religious beliefs and questioning them, rearranging them, shedding them. Now, it seems what is left of my faith is rearranging me.

It is uncomfortable.

It is not permanent, but I don’t know where it leads.

So, with that said, my words for 2018 are:

“Viva Escriba”

Viva can mean, “Live,” a verb, or it can mean, “Life,” a noun. I don’t know if this word is a command, that I am being told to “LIVE!” or if it is an indication that what feels like the death of faith will actually bring new life, resurrection. I can hope. The second word means “Write.” This one I know to take as a command. I have a lot of writing to do this year, in a zillion forms. All of it will stretch me, and I will learn. Writing always teaches me something new.

So, here’s to 2018, a year for living and writing and maybe figuring out who I am again.

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…

 photo Buffering_zpsf8af01bb.gif

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.

 photo Dance_zpsa0e3d024.gif

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.

 

 photo Dance_zps02aeec23.gif

Preparing for a Challenge

When people find out I am a writer, they almost always ask about my book. What is it called? Where can they buy it?

One day, I will be very glad for this, because I will be able to give them the title and tell them where to buy it.

I’m not there yet. I’m still here.

The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and workers from Byblos cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple.” 1 Kings 5:18 (NIV)

It took a long time to build the temple, and before they ever laid a brick, they had to prepare the wood and stone and gold and silver.

The journey to publishing is long, and few outside of the industry have any clue how it works. I can’t blame them for that. My brother-in-law is a chemical engineer and I sure don’t know how to ask him about the ins and outs of his job. The best I could do is ask what project he’s working on. Probably, it’s something I won’t understand. Or else it’s something I could understand if I listened to him explain it in detail. I’m sure there are aspects of his job I would never imagine in a million years.

Right now, I am preparing to go on sub again. To “go on sub” is to have my agent actively submitting my manuscript to editors. How I prepare for this is by revising said manuscript. I need it shipshape for him to send out. This is one of many steps in the very long process of getting a book published. This particular manuscript is one I drafted two years ago. I have drafted other manuscripts since, but I have also returned to this one.

Again.

And again.

And again.

And, look at that, here I am again.

People who read my earliest draft will not recognize the story currently printed in a giant red binder, covered in yellow note tabs, scribbled all over, and ready to be rearranged once again.

I revise and edit to prepare my manuscript for submission.

But, before that, I have to prepare for revision.

This is the part I bet every single one of you can relate to on some level. You don’t have to have written a book to understand the panic and despair preceding a challenge.

I spent the last months of 2015 thinking over the kinds of changes I could make to get this manuscript ready to go on sub. I thought about it so often, I knew I would be ready and raring to go as soon as I got the green light from my agent. In January, he called, and we talked about the notes we’d each made while rereading the story. We discussed feedback we’d received and made a loose plan for my revision.

I was prepared for this, correct?

Yeah … no.

As soon as I hung up the phone, I deflated.

After two years of work on this manuscript, I am pretty attached to my characters, their small Mississippi town, and the things happening to them. Diving into the pages and rearranging their lives suddenly felt like too much to ask of me. What if I make the wrong changes and mess it all up? What if I exorcise the life right out of my story?

How do you feel when a big challenge presents itself?

That deflation? That deep-seated panic? That is my normal reaction to change.

Do you know what helps me move past the feeling of despair?

Preparing.

If I can’t bring myself to dive into the challenge itself, I can at least take baby steps of preparation.

In the case of another revision, I did things like rereading the manuscript, labeling the pages by character point-of-view, listing the important events from each chapter so I can see the structure more clearly, adding tabs to the start of chapters for easy page turning, etc.

As I worked on these tasks, the dread and despair slowly leaked away. I remembered how much I enjoy revising, how it is like a puzzle. I take my book apart and put it back together.

How do you prepare to face a big challenge?

If you find out you will have to move to a new town, maybe you spend time looking at real estate in the area. Maybe you research doctors and schools and libraries.

If you find out your oldest child will need surgery, I bet you question his doctor, read articles on the Internet and talk to friends who have experienced similar medical situations.

Even God prepared the way for Jesus by sending John the Baptist.

Today, look at whatever challenge you are facing and then search for a baby step of preparation. Before you know it, you will be ready for the next step.

 

*originally published on Middle Places

Igniting an Old Flame

It’s easy to forget you love something.

If you’d told 12-year-old me I could forget I loved something, I’d have laughed at you. Back then, love was this mystical idea of perfection. Love was all strong men sweeping women off their feet and so on and so forth.

That isn’t the kind of love I mean though. There’s a lot to be said about forgetting you love someone, but I am talking about something.

We all have objects or activities we love. An object might go missing and we forget it and then, months or years later, it turns up and we feel nostalgic and excited. We forgot how much we loved that book or sweater or pair of earrings.

The thing I most often forget I love? Writing.

When I was a kid, I wrote stories all the time. I filled notebooks with tales of alien princesses and teen girls using magic pens to write their future. I got swept up in stories, and reading them wasn’t enough. I had to write them. I had to tell them, mold them, shape them and share them.

In seventh grade, I wrote a novel. 247 pages handwritten. Every day, my friends would gather, and we’d discuss the story. They each had a character based on them. They told me what they wanted their character to do, and I made it happen. I made them fall in love and break up and have babies and even die. It was like our own RPG (real playing game).

By high school, I’d moved onto angsty poetry. I wrote it in the margins of my notebooks. I wrote it on receipt paper while sitting at my desk at work. I even got two poems published.

I loved it.

I carried writing with me, in some form or another, through marriage and motherhood. I tried writing articles for magazines. I sold a few pieces, but I didn’t enjoy that style of writing. Eventually, I returned to my first love. I wrote a story as a gift for my stepdaughter on her 12thbirthday. And writing it was so much fun.

I’d forgotten that I loved it.

With that story, I remembered. Then you couldn’t stop me. I pumped out novel after novel.

And it got hard.

I sent my precious manuscripts to agents, and agents rejected me. Then, I signed with an agent, and we moved onto editors rejecting me. And then I split from my agent and tried to find a new one and was back to being rejected. And then I signed with a new agent and dove back into those heartbreaking complimentary rejections from editors.

Sometimes, I forget I love to write.

I have to be reminded.

I bet you could say the same. I bet there are days you can’t remember why you went to school and got a job teaching fifth graders. You can’t remember why you attended seminary and became an ordained minister. You can’t remember why you flew around the world to be a missionary, or went back to school to get your doctorate, or opened that catering company, or invested so much money in art supplies.

We forget we fell in love.

We forget how that felt: how alive, how passionate, how invincible we were.

When he told me this story – especially the part about the jungle swallowing up the machines – chills ran up my arms. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up for an instant, and I felt a little sick, a little dizzy. I felt like I was falling in love, or had just heard alarming news, or was looking over a precipice at something beautiful and mesmerizing, but dangerous. I’d experienced these symptoms before, so I knew immediately what was going on. Such an intense emotional and physiological reaction doesn’t strike me often, but it happens enough (and is consistent enough with symptoms reported by people all over the world, all throughout history) that I believe I can confidently call it by its name: inspiration.”  — Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

That’s what I was missing. I remembered inspiration. I remembered falling in love. There was a dream of living underwater, one I woke from certain I needed to use it. The images of the fish swimming past windows and the air tanks for leaving home stayed with me. I got an email about a contest. Could I write a short story that focused on climate change and the future of earth?

The passage in Big Magic came back to me. I had the chills and the hairs standing up on my neck and I felt a little dizzy, a little sick, a little like the boy I had the biggest crush on just asked for my phone number and the homecoming dance is two weeks away, and could he? Would he?

I fell in love again.

I don’t even need the story to win that contest because I already won. I remembered.

I remembered I love writing.

I love stories.

I love this thing I have chosen to do with my life.

What is it you have forgotten that you love? How can you recapture that feeling? Tell us your suggestions for igniting an old flame. Read a book by someone who loves the same thing you do. Find yourself surprised by how the sharing of their feelings will revive your own.

 

*originally published on Middle Places

Stained Glass Prayers

God, I miss her. It’s only been a few days. I haven’t decided where to spread her ashes or if maybe I should just keep them. I haven’t thought about a memorial service, because no one but me gave Mom the time of day. She lived in her tiny old house, sleeping one door away from my son and two doors away from me. I moved in with her when my husband left. She’s the only person who never did leave me. Even Sam, at five-years-old, packs his little suitcase every other weekend and drives away with his father.

“Susan?”

Speak of the devil and he shall appear.

“Susan, I know you’re in there.”

The downside of husbands knowing everything about you is now my ex-husband knows everything about me, including where I go when I need to think.

“I’m not coming out, Rick. Move on.” I watch the doorknob at the foot of the stairs. It won’t matter if he touches it. It’s locked.

“Come on, babe. Let me in. I know you’re hurting.”

I close my eyes and curl my fingers into the red shag carpet. Colors dance across my eyelids. Stained glass images of Jesus are burned there from the windows lining the wall above my head.

“I dropped Sam off at my mother’s,” Rick says. “She can keep him all weekend if you need some time to regroup.”

“I don’t need to regroup,” I practically shout. “I haven’t effing grouped in the first place.”

He tries the knob. I open my eyes and watch the metal glitter in light from the stained glass. The white door is covered in red triangles and blue curves to match the waves Jesus walked on. The gold of the knob reflects a halo.

I’ve come here since I was a kid, since back when it was still our church and my youth pastor had an office underneath this staircase. He gave me a key. I never gave it back.

“How do you stand it in there?” Rick asks.

I’m normally claustrophobic, and this stairwell is little more than a closet, but the dark walls feel more like a womb than a tomb, and the red carpet is soft as the quilt at home on Mom’s bed. It smells musty with a hundred years of prayers, like they’ve soaked into the wood and glass and metal all around me.

I run one finger down a crack in the wall. It’s been there for ages now, but it’s gotten longer. The church should have their foundation checked. I should’ve had my foundation checked. Maybe, if I’d noticed the cracks like this one when they first started forming, my ex-husband wouldn’t be on the other side of the door, because he’d be at home with me, in my bed, still my husband, holding me through this hard time.

And maybe I would’ve seen how the cancer was spreading. I could have taken Mom in sooner. I could have insisted she see a new doctor, tried a new drug, prayed a hundred years of stained glass prayers right here with me.

“I’m not going anywhere, Susan.” Rick’s voice is so soft it barely carries through the wood. It nestles in the carpet beside me, and my throat swells.

“Go away,” I whisper, but my own voice is hoarse. It tumbles from my lips to my chest and lodges there. Rick can’t hear me. Mom can’t hear me. Nobody can hear me anymore.

The colors shimmer on the door and disappear. My head snaps back and I get to my feet. High above me, the stained glass has gone dark. The shining face of Jesus doesn’t glitter anymore. Now his eyes are angry slashes across brown skin. Behind him, storm clouds gather on this Alabama afternoon. Lightning flashes. For a moment, I can’t remember if this is real or not. Am I in a church or on the Sea of Galilee?

The doorknob turns again. This time it opens.

“Rick?” I look down, but it’s not my ex standing on the stairs. It’s a man with a ponytail. He wears a tan jumpsuit and carries a large cross. “Jesus?”

“No, name’s Bill,” the man says.

“Susan,” Rick appears behind Bill.

I feel weak and put a hand on the wall. The crack bites into my flesh, and I wince.

“If I could just squeeze past you, ma’am.” Bill takes a step toward me. “I have to get this crucifix up to the attic.” He’s a janitor. Or a maintenance man. What do they call them now? I can’t remember.

“I’ve got her,” Rick reaches around Bill and puts a hand on my shoulder. He moves me to one side and Bill walks past, the foot of the cross dragging on the carpet, Jesus’s tattered body floating by me. I take my hand off the wall and put it on his wooden skin. Then Bill is gone, the cross is gone, Jesus is gone, and the thunder outside shakes the building.

“There’s a storm coming, babe. Let’s get you home before it hits.”

I sink to my knees and lean my head against Rick’s thighs. “I don’t have a home anymore.”

“What? Of course you do.” Rick kneels beside me, pulling me to his chest. “I saw the will. Your mother left you the house and her car and, well, everything.”

I shake my head. There’s a broken communion wafer on the ground, and it cuts into my knee, but I don’t shift my weight. I don’t move at all.

“The house doesn’t matter,” I sob. “Mom… Mom was my home.”