The UK with Karin: Day 5

Our fifth day in England was the most special. Not only was it the day that our driver showed up to take us to Wales, but it was also the day that Karin and I were going to meet Philippa Gregory.

On Friday, Sept. 6, I saw an Instastory post from Sudeley Castle that gave my heart a jump. I screenshotted it and sent it to Karin immediately, texting, “RED ALERT.”

We learned that Philippa Gregory would be speaking at a small, intimate event at the castle on the very night we’d be driving westward. Our route needed to shift slightly, and we’d need to rearrange our AirBNB reservation, but this was doable. We could go. We could absolutely positively meet Philippa Gregory on our inaugural trip to England.

It’s important to know that Karin’s and my friendship is partly rooted in Philippa Gregory’s works of historical fiction. She and I swapped these books back and forth for years, both enjoying Gregory’s depictions of the Plantagenet and Tudor eras. To meet this specific writer together AND in England was a gift I couldn’t have planned if I’d tried.

But first, we needed to connect with our driver. He showed up at the hotel on Wednesday morning in need of a shower and spot of breakfast.

Before leaving Kingston, we stopped by a local artist’s house (who I follow on Instagram) because I wanted to buy a print that I’ve been eyeballing since May. Lisa Tolley is based in Thames Ditton, which is across the river and on the opposite side of Hampton Court from Kingston. It was a delight to meet her, to tell her how much I love her illustrations, and to purchase the piece I’ve been wanting for months.

Off we went to the Cotswolds, specifically to Winchcombe, to explore the area and make our way to Sudeley Castle. Our tickets for the event included a tour of the grounds and remains, though photos were limited because Sudeley is still a private home.

Sudeley Castle was Kateryn Parr’s final home and resting place, where she retreated after Henry VIII died and she was free from her duties as his sixth queen. She married her long-time love but only lived a few more years after they finally got together.

What I love so dearly about Kateryn Parr is that she was the first woman in England to publish her own writing in her own name.

Like so many others, the castle fell to ruin as England’s landscape changed. Though some structures date back to the 12th century and much of it was built in the 15th century, the property wasn’t restored until the 19th century.

I’m sure Chuck never thought he’d have to walk so many castle grounds in his lifetime. He’s a trooper!
London has nothing on the English countryside.
Kateryn Parr is buried in the chapel at Sudeley, the only royal to be buried on the property of a private home.

Of course, the gardens were stunning.

We finished our tour of the castle and gardens and headed to town to find a place to eat. It was a weird time, something like 4 p.m., so we had a bit of trouble finding a pub that served food before 6 p.m. This is typical, particularly in small towns.

We had not eaten since our full breakfast that morning in Kingston, and we weren’t sure what food options we’d have after the Philippa Gregory event since we’d have to head to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Thankfully, The White Hart Inn served midday soup and sandwiches, and that was better than nothing, so we popped in for “a bite and a pint.”

THEN – in the midst of perusing the menu, IN WALKS PHILIPPA GREGORY.

No lie. She and her assistant walked in casually, no doubt in search of a 4 p.m. meal. I smacked Chuck’s arm (because he was sitting next to me) and said under my breath, “Karin, she’s here. Philippa Gregory just walked in. She’s here. She’s here.”

THEN – she and her assistant joined us at the row of tables next to the windows, with only one empty table between us. How were we not supposed to stare at her? How were we supposed to just SIT THERE like Philippa Gregory wasn’t sitting in our same breathing space?

I froze, so it was Karin who began, “Hi, Ms. Gregory.” We exchanged very short pleasantries, something about how excited we were to hear her speak that evening. I can’t even remember. I was so uncool. It’s no wonder that minutes later THEY MOVED TABLES.

These quotes hang above the bar at The White Hart Inn and Restaurant.

Now, logically, we know they moved tables so they could have a private conversation about whatever was going on in their private and professional worlds. They didn’t need a table of American fans hanging on their every word. Truthfully, I was relieved that they moved tables because I needed my body to RELAX and stop seizing.

Chuck was the sly one who snapped a photo of them while paying for our food at the bar.

Little did we know that wouldn’t be our last personal encounter with Philippa Gregory.

Starstruck, we went back to the castle and left Chuck in the car. (He was less interested in attending the event and more interested in taking a catnap to manage his jetlag.) We arrived in time to get a good place in line and score seats in the third row of the small room. I don’t know how many people attended, but it was somewhere in the 50-75 range.

Philippa Gregory spoke on “the women hidden from history” and how this has been a guiding force in her research and writing. She was just as inspirational as I hoped she’d be. I even felt brave enough to raise my hand and ask a question. After getting our books signed, that could’ve been the end of the evening and I would’ve been fine.

But it wasn’t the end.

As we sipped our wine and stalked Philippa Gregory from across the room, I kept trying to manage the urge to approach her again. I simply couldn’t do it. What would I say? What would she even want to say to me? Why am I so awkward in the moments when I really need not be?

Karin, my seize-the-moment friend, wasted no time waltzing across the room to ask the assistant if we could grab a photo with Ms. Gregory. With a smile on her face, she said we could.

You cannot tell by this photo but I am imploding. The wine must have helped.

Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, with Philippa Gregory at Sudeley Castle

It didn’t end there. We talked. We really talked. She started it by saying, “We meet again!” clearly remembering us from the pub a few hours prior. I told her I was a writer – a journalist with a dream of writing fiction – and she said, “I used to be a journalist too.” I swooned.

Bravely, I asked for her advice – what are the steps I should be taking? What should I be doing with my time? How exactly do I make a dream come true?

She said: Hone your craft. Don’t read bad books and don’t write bad books that you know will get published because they’ll still be bad books. Read good books that elevate your writing. Keep working hard. Write consistently. There’s no magic or secret. Don’t quit. KEEP GOING.

Then she said, “What’s your name? So I can keep an eye out for you?”

Shaking utterly and screaming on the inside, I said, “Jennie. It’s Jennie,” followed by silence.

To which Karin added, “…Treadway-Miller.”

I started to cry. Embarrassed, I worked hard to choke back the tears. My inner dialogue screamed GOOD GRIEF, WOMAN, GET AHOLD OF THYSELF. I barely had the presence of mind to speak.

The assistant told me to create a social media presence solely dedicated to the work, which I promptly did that night. As I felt the conversation coming to a close, I thanked them for their time. They could have denied us a photo and certainly not opened up a conversation, but they were generous and kind and that made the whole experience completely perfect.

I mean, seriously. Perfect.

We floated to the car, giggling and asking ourselves if the day really happened. On the way to Stratford-Upon-Avon, I typed everything she said to me in the Notes app on my phone, not that I even needed to. I remember it all. I couldn’t possibly forget a night like that.

My Least Favorite Question: “How is the writing going?”

Five years ago I was accosted by a girl in my head. She showed up uninvited, as if she’d been waiting for the opportunity to pounce. She told me her name, her story, and then sat down to wait as I considered it.

In secret, I started to type.

Within days I came out to my husband as a wannabe novelist – a surprise to both of us – and confessed that I had no clue what I was doing. Could he still love me if I followed a crazy dream? Did he think I had potential? Can a nobody journalist just morph into a somebody novelist? Furthermore, why do people show up in your brain if you’re not meant to do anything with them? 

He nudged me forward. Yes, do it. OF COURSE DO IT. So I did, and that’s how Leona came to be. Then Mallory showed up two years later, and now a third cast of people have arrived. The new ones are still in progress, but frankly, so are Leona and Mallory because I’m still learning about them. Just today, while on a long run, I discovered something else that belongs in Novel No. 2. Like a sweet gift, she whispered something in my ear and I ran harder to mull it over properly.

This dream is not gone, not even a little. In between the freelance writing, the homeschooling, the teaching, the photography… I am still thinking of my characters. I carry them with me. I know which chapters need trimming. I know which plot points need attention. I know these matters will be tended to at the correct time.

But oh, some of you still ask, and you are dear to me. You are. Please know that I covet your support in that rooted, quiet way. When my time comes, I know some of you will race to buy a copy my book. You’ll jump at the chance. THANK GOD FOR YOU. Yet, I cannot bear to answer this question – “How is the writing going?” – because it nearly kills me every time. There is no suitable answer.

How do I summarize the hours I’ve spent crafting these stories, or the hours I’ve spent just thinking about them? How do I explain the many query letters I’ve sent out only to receive rejections in return? How do I describe the requests for full manuscripts – real jolts of hope – only to be told that something is not quite right? How do I harness the encouraging feedback from industry professionals and churn that into a better story? 

And how, please tell me, do I balance the things I must do with the things I long to do? That is something I’m sure you all understand.

Perhaps I should return to the monastery. Something about that feels right.

So yes. I’m still writing. OF COURSE I AM. There is no need to ask. Until further notice, assume EVERYTHING FORWARD.

Medal No. 17, Stranger Things 2, Halloween, NaNoWriMo

In the interest of time and space, here’s a recap of how I ran 13.1 miles in the pouring rain and ruined my phone, how we celebrated Halloween and Salem’s Supposed 10th Birthday, and why I’m taking another stab at National Novel Writing Month with my third novel.

My goal to run 20 half marathons by the time I turn 40 is moving along nicely. On Saturday, the day it monsooned in East Tennessee, I ran my 17th long-distance race. Before readying my cell phone for a wet run in ziplock baggies, I snapped this photo of the windshield.

Oh, the irony.

Fast forward two and a half hours and I crossed the finish line fully drenched but pleased with my run. It wasn’t until I was safely back in the car that I realized water had seeped into the baggie and, therefore, into the phone.

{insert expletives here}

I tried to make a call and couldn’t. The camera wouldn’t work. The speakers wouldn’t work. I was so mad at myself for deciding to run with the phone. I thought listening to an audiobook would distract me from the rain (it did!), but I also thought I’d taken enough precautions to keep my phone dry (I didn’t!). I drove home and immediately put the phone in a bag of dry rice for 24 hours.

The screen is streaked and the phone works fine, from what I can tell, but the forward-facing camera still does not work, which is the CRUELEST IRONY OF ALL for a photographer.

Still, I earned Medal No. 17, and I plan on getting Medal No. 18 in two weeks.

In between the race and Halloween, Chuck, Jackson, and I binged the second season of Stranger Things. (Jeremy opted out.) I loved it as much as I hoped to, but I was disappointed in the amount of profanity in the second season, particularly since Jackson was watching. Every episode I reminded him, “We don’t talk this way, remember?” It was just too much, and frankly, unnecessary. That complaint aside, I thought the plot of Season 2 was an excellent continuation from Season 1, particularly with the inclusion of Max. (I could’ve done without Max’s brother and about 85% of Episode 7.)

This, by far, was my favorite scene. I melted:

Halloween rolled around and we took Jeremy (as Ron Weasley) and Jackson (as Big Nate – his imaginary best friend and book character) to our friends’ house to trick-or-treat. I don’t have a photo of them because I didn’t bring a camera.

Actually, that’s not true. Here is a photo from trick-or-treating:

Only the front camera works (i.e., the selfie camera), and it’s actually terrible.

Oh well.

Before Halloween got away from us, we took a few minutes to celebrate Salem, our wonderfully fat black Halloween cat. As I’ve mentioned before, we have no idea when his actual birthday is, unlike Major, whose birthday is December 9. So, we selected October 31 for our favorite feline and celebrated what might be his 10th year on Earth (we aren’t sure about that either) by giving him a can of tuna.

Finally, since today is November 1, I am making a second attempt at finishing my third novel during National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated three times before and was successful in both 2013 and 2015. Last year was a wash, but here’s to trying again! (Maybe I only write novels on odd years?) I fully admit to starting the month ahead of schedule because I still have 3,000 (or so) words from last year that I’m recycling. There’s only one story to tell right now, so I’m not starting a new one.

Follow me on the Knoxville Moms Blog

I recently started contributing to the Knoxville Moms Blog, the local sister site of the nationwide network called City Moms Blog. While we each live out our own story, motherhood is a great connector since many of our experiences overlap. My contribution speaks to parenting older kids, homeschooling, and adoption, though my posts aren’t necessarily limited to those topics.

Below are my first three posts, one each from August, September, and October. Please, do a girl a favor and share the posts you enjoy on Facebook and via email, or however you like to share online content. I appreciate your support and encouragement.

Please click on the image to go directly to the original post.

Nonfiction Piece Published

When my first byline was published, it was in the Chattanooga Times prior to its merging with the Chattanooga Free Press, and I was sixteen years old. I knew I wanted to be a writer early on, but it wasn’t until I saw my byline that I realized how strong and serious that desire was.

Fast forward 23 years and I still marvel at my name in print. It is not vanity. Rather, it is incontrovertible evidence that hard work can result in accomplished goals.

Today my goals have shifted slightly. While I continue to write features for print and online magazines, I press on with writing fiction and hope to be recognized for those efforts before I die.

Seriously. That’s my only goal. Sometime before I die.

Anyway, part of branching out towards that effort is building a cadre of literary recognition, and to do that, I need to be writing unassigned stories and essays and submitting them wherever possible. This opens me up to more rejection, but WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

At the end of the summer, on a whim, I submitted a nonfiction piece about our infertility experience and subsequent first adoption to a new online literary journal written by women for women. It was accepted and the piece posted this week.

“The Theft and Recovery of Hope” begins with one of the most heart-wrenching moments of our infertility journey. It was Mother’s Day, and the pastor asked all the mothers, grandmothers, and mothers-to-be to stand and be applauded. Unable to stand, I sat and stewed. 

No worries, though. Our story has a happy ending.

Please enjoy “The Theft and Recovery of Hope,” and do take time to explore other essays and bits of poetry featured in The Same.

An escape to the mountains and a new blog series

Part of my freelance work involves contributing to an online outdoor magazine. I get do to what I already love, snap a few photos, and get paid for it.

I welcomed this month’s assignment with open arms because I haven’t craved solitude this badly in months. The last time my soul was truly at rest was that weekend I spent at the monastery, and since I can’t skip off to Trappist, Kentucky, retreating to the Great Smoky Mountains is the next best thing.

The timing of the assignment was ideal because I’ve made a grave mistake of internalizing stress from the political discord among friends, family, and even my church. How quickly we devolve into groups and sides, easily forgetting or ignoring all that common ground between us. Most of the time I find social media to be this magnificent connector of time and space, a way for Army brats like me to see many people and places at one time.

But lately, Facebook, in particular, has been a cesspool of despair and outright cruelty. Desperate for relief, I unplugged on Saturday and ran off to the mountains alone.

From the desperation grew a desire to draw closer to God, to dig my feet into something stable. Strangely, I unearthed some vintage Steven Curtis Chapman and drove teary-eyed listening to the playlist from my most formative spiritual years.

Once I was parked and fully unplugged, I started to climb the steep hill in front me – Chestnut Top Trail. Leaving the music in the car, I meditated on the sound of rustling leaves and the crunching of twigs beneath my feet. I climbed and lamented. I hiked and cried.

Thankful for the perfect weather and the mostly empty trails, I hiked for five hours straight, until my legs were dead sore and two nasty blisters were fully formed. Around each bend was something beautiful, so even as my body said, “Time to turn back,” my heart was saying, “I wonder what’s on the other side of that knoll.”

I drove to a second trail – because why not? – and walked painstakingly two more miles into the Great Smoky Mountains.

I wanted to keep going, and I would’ve kept going, but I knew that no amount of time would’ve been long enough. I could go another hour and still crave ten more. Something else had to change.

It was only when I came upon these tiny mushrooms growing out of a fallen tree, it hit me: I can’t rely on these tiny escapes. Monks and mountains can do only so much. No, I need a revival in my day-to-day. Instead of one big AH-HA, I need lots of little awes.

In the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, I need to see more signs of life to prove that despair and division are not in charge.

But how to accomplish this, I asked myself. Is it realistic to expect little wonders on the mundane hamster wheel of everyday life?

Maybe. If I look hard enough, then maybe.

Thus became my goal for February: to post a daily Sign of Life, whatever that is in my world. Maybe I capture Jeremy and Jackson in laughing fits. Maybe I see something blooming where it shouldn’t. Maybe I meet someone whom I can help, or someone who can help me, or maybe there’s a sunset so large and vibrant that I absolutely must show you.

I’ve not mapped this out yet, but I know there’s something tangible here.

Maybe you’ll join me?

Our New Neighbors

When we bought our house in 2012, the plot of land across the street from our neighborhood was empty. It’s been empty for the last four years. Several months ago we saw a For Sale sign pop up on the land and immediately started speculating who might buy it and what might they do with the 6+ acres.

Two days ago we got our answer.

New neighbors

You guys. YOU GUYS. If you don’t know how significant this is for me, then you need to read these blog posts: First and Second.

I’m trying not to be the person who reads everything as a sign. I’m really trying.

But seriously.

SERIOUSLY.

Today we met the people who will eventually be building a house on the property, but in the meantime they’re letting their three beauties get used the plot and graze on the freshly razed land.  We swapped phone numbers and I told the owner that I’d be happy to keep an eye on the horses while they are away. I don’t know beans about the care and keeping of horses, but I’m happy to learn.

So yeah. We have the most beautiful new neighbors, and I can’t hardly believe it.

The Last Week of Summer (plus new headshots)

Corey and Alex joined us for my birthday week, which meant I had the best company for a hair appointment, a little shopping, and seeing Suicide Squad on opening night.

Jeremy and Alex August 2016

Shoulda used a flash in the theater…

Suicide Squad with Corey

I also had someone to help me take new head shots (thanks, Corey!).

JEM_3210 bw

Headshot5Aug2016

You can see a bit of purple on the ends of my hair. I originally went in for a touch-up on the ombre but was convinced to go a little lavender instead.

Headshot1Aug2016

Life is short, and it washes out after a while. You can really see it here:

Headshot2Aug2016

One more photo – big thanks to my sister for the Federalist t-shirt! Woo-hoo!

New Federalist shirt

It was a wonderful birthday week overall, made even more special by all the warm wishes and love sent my way. THANK YOU ALL! Year 38 is off to a lovely start.

Today starts the last week of our summer break, and that means it’s time to rearrange the library for doing school work, sort through curriculum one last time, and mentally prepare for the semester. I’m teaching at the co-op this year and the nerves are starting to set in. Fingers crossed it goes smoothly.

And if it doesn’t go smoothly, fingers crossed I can fake it ’til I make it.

The last thing on my checklist is to edit the second book per Corey’s corrections, send it off to a third person to read it, and begin the hard labor of writing query letters. I’m crossing all the fingers for that one.

One foot at home, one foot in the Abbey

It has been terrifically challenging to fold back into day-to-day life after three days at the Abbey. I know – the math of that statement doesn’t make sense. Three whole days versus my entire life? Nonsensical.

And yet, that’s how I feel. Each day has been a careful step into what I hope will be my new normal. Less noise, more quiet. Less indulgent, more intention. Fewer complaints, more careful with my words. All of these disciplines are challenging because I’m not a single person who lives alone and has control over most of my environment. I’m an active member of a busy family so I have to make sure whatever habits I start will mesh with the vibe of the house.

For example, my “no noise until 10 a.m.” rule is working beautifully. When we start school in a couple of weeks, we’ll move it to 9 a.m. The boys have learned to move about the house a bit more quietly in the mornings, which I appreciate.

Though I’ve gotten back on Facebook a few times, I still do not have the app on my phone, nor do I plan to put it back on my phone. I am doing my best to limit Twitter, but with election season and all… It’s hard. The negativity is so strong, but the information is so good.

Television is… noisy. Still not fully integrated there.

Instead of busying my mind with what’s going on outside these walls, I’m readying the boys and myself for the school year. I’m editing the book and preparing for the literature and creative writing class I’m teaching at our co-op. We’re signing up for fall sports and volunteer work, and I’m thinking about what race to run this fall.

There’s plenty to focus on, like these two cuties who sit at my feet while I type.

Major and Sam July 2016

I did not expect the Abbey to leave this deep of an impression on me, but I’m not mad about it. Tomorrow is my birthday. Year 38. I’m curious to know if any new habits or disciplines will positively affect the course or outcome of the next 12 months. This time last year I was very down about all the rejection letters I’d received from literary agents. Though they were plump full of compliments and constructive criticism, they were rejections still. (My sweet husband planned the most fantastic birthday surprise ever and it was just the boost I needed.)

birthday surprise 2015

This week, I’m taking it slow. I’m listening and watching. I’ll be writing query letters again soon, and it’s quite possible that I’ll endure another painful round of rejections in 2017.

Or, maybe not.

Whatever happens in Year 38, I’m going into it with my eyes and ears open. A lot can happen when you pay attention.

Diary of a Retreatant: The Last Hours

*This is the sixth and final post about my experience at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on July 22-24. Links to the previous five posts are below.

Diary of a Retreatant: Showing Up
Diary of a Retreatant: Hike to the Statues
Diary of a Retreatant: Saturday Morning Sunrise
Diary of a Retreatant: Father Carlos
Diary of a Retreatant: The Horses

The experience in the woods on Sunday morning was by far the most meaningful to me. It aligns with dozens of circumstances and conversations that have unfolded since I decided to chase the dream of writing fiction. Things happened when writing the first book and they’ve happened while writing the second. Each event – big and small – have made tiny deposits in my heart that confirm that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

After the two-hour walk and those precious few seconds with the horses, I returned to the Abbey just in time to quickly shower and eat lunch. It was my favorite meal thus far: asparagus, roasted red pepper soup with gouda cheese (yummers!), and seafood salad. Annette and I sat in silence over a meal for the last time. Afterward in the elevator, I whispered to her that I’d like to edit the last few chapters one more time and then I’d be ready to go. She was accommodating either way, which I appreciated.

It’s important to note here that neither Annette nor I knew what to expect out of this weekend, at least not fully, but we both went into the experience open to whatever God wanted to do with us. Both her camera and cell phone were unexpectedly out of commission, thereby forcing her to fully disconnect in a way she didn’t intend. I won’t divulge the details of her silent retreat experience (they aren’t my details to share), but she too came away feeling as though God spoke directly to her heart on specific matters.

There is nothing, nothing, nothing greater
than knowing that God is actually interested in you
and cares about the stuff you care about.

I re-read and edited the last five chapters of the book and worked on some dialogue until I couldn’t see straight anymore. It was time to close up shop and go home. We agreed to leave at 4 p.m., but by 3:30, we had turned in our keys and taken to the road.

Room 311

My experience at the Abbey – in the library, in the chapel, in the silent dining room, in the woods, in room 311 – cannot be summed up by overused words like special, spiritual, moving. Annette and I spoke about this yesterday on the phone. We talked about how difficult it’s been to plug back in to normal life, how the noise seems noisier, how the chaos feels more chaotic.

But it’s more than that. I’ve said several times now that we went in with no expectations, but now I think that had to have been an impossibility. Surely I expected something to happen, even if I couldn’t name it. I know I expected to sleep well (I didn’t sleep well), I expected to observe but not fully connect with the Catholic tradition (I definitely connected), and I hoped to finish the book (I did). I thought I’d come away with some inner peace of some kind, but actually I feel unsettled (and still sleep deprived). I spent most of yesterday deep-cleaning my house and getting rid of things because I missed the simplicity of the Abbey.

Chapel balcony

And TV? I tried watching about half an hour the other night, but the noise of commercials and the negativity of the news (bad choice, I know) left me feeling… icky.

Coming home has required more effort and energy than what was required to adjust to the silence and schedule at the retreat center. That is something I definitely didn’t expect. 

On the drive home Annette and I talked about ways to incorporate the discipline of silence and stillness in our homes. With children, it’s a challenge. With adults, it’s a challenge. With blue tick hounds, it’s a big challenge.

But there is always hope.

Path to the sunlight

Two silent retreats a year might be wishful thinking, but one per year is doable. I have to believe this is good for the soul.

One last thing and then I’ll let you go. If you were to approach me in person and ask about my experience at the Abbey, I honestly wouldn’t know what to say. Even though I’ve written six blog posts about it, I still wouldn’t know what to say to you verbally. (This is when mind-reading would come in handy.) My hope is that you can somewhat grasp what it’s like by reading these words, but my greater hope is that you would experience it firsthand and come away with your own conclusions.

Come to think of it, if you ask me in person what the experience was like, there is nothing left to say, except, “You have to go and find out for yourself.”

Learn more about the Abbey of Gethsemani here.

Diary of a Retreatant: The Horses

*This is the fifth post about my experience at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on July 22-24. Links to the first four posts are below.

Diary of a Retreatant: Showing Up
Diary of a Retreatant: Hike to the Statues
Diary of a Retreatant: Saturday Morning Sunrise
Diary of a Retreatant: Father Carlos

This one is long.

After lunch on Saturday, Annette and I walked over to the visitor’s center and gift shop to poke around and get some sunshine our faces. We talked a bit, which felt nice, and afterward parted ways again. I went back to the library and wrote until 4:30 p.m., until my rear end was sore and I was tired of being indoors.

At first I thought I’d go for a run, but then the thought of wearing my running shorts (emphasis on short) made me feel insecure, like there would be just too much leg showing around so much modesty. Instead I went for a quick walk in what I was wearing.

I have no pictures from this walk because I took nothing with me. The woods across from the Abbey are vast with lots of overgrown foliage, and the paths are minimally maintained. About 15 minutes into the walk, I felt vulnerable to all the things I could not see, and thought, “No, this isn’t wise,” so I turned around and went back. I showered, went to Vespers at 5:30, then supper at 6 p.m. – Kielbasa, sauerkraut, broccoli and cheese soup, salad, fruit.

That night, Annette and I sat in the talking dining room. We swapped stories about what we’d done that day and I told her all about Father Carlos. We laughed and joked, which felt so good after being quiet for two days.

A funny thing though – after we were done, I was ready to go back to the silence. I missed it. I wanted to return to my purpose of being there, which was to finish my book. So I grabbed my laptop again and went back to the library until the WIFI turned off at 9:30.

Again, back in bed for the night, I couldn’t rest. What a cruel reality it was to learn that peace of mind is not something that can be absorbed simply be breathing in the same air as people who possess it. I felt calm, yes, but not at peace. As soon as the lights were off, I sorted through all the conflicting emotions of my writing career – 22 years in journalism, 0 years as a published author. It matters, it doesn’t matter. Write for myself, write for the literary agent. I know what’s true: I should write for myself. But what am I to do with the dream of being published? Why have these stories come to me if I’m to do nothing with them? 

Somewhere in between these thoughts, I fell asleep.

Lauds was at 6:45 a.m., then breakfast at 7:15. Oatmeal again. Back in my room, I considered going back to sleep. You could do it, I challenged myself. You can go right back to sleep. You have all day to write.

So I laid down. Immediately I poured over the last chapter in my mind, knowing I had just a little way to go until I could be completely done with the first draft. I thought of a specific character, and suddenly realized, She has more to say.

I jumped out of bed, grabbed my laptop, and went back to the library.

At 10 a.m., Sunday, July 24, I sat at a table in the library, Annette just a few chairs away, and I typed the last sentence. I finished. It was done. Editing was next, but still.

The second novel was done.

My body vibrated as I sat there, eyes darting around the room. Here I am in a silent library, in a silent retreat center, in a silent monastery, and all I want to do is scream.

I quickly ran back to my room and pulled out my cell phone, breaking a rule I’d made for myself. I texted Chuck that I’d finished the book but could not scream – obviously! – so, here you go “AAHHHHHHHHH!”

He replied that it was exciting, but it wasn’t the same as hearing his voice, as hearing my voice tell his voice that I’d reached my goal.

I laid down on the bed, nerve endings on fire, fidgeting. Mass was at 10:20. I could go, but I could also meet God in the woods. I could take my camera (and my phone for safety) and I could burn my energy there. So that’s what I did.

Butterfly

Butterfly2

Frederics Lake

Spider haven

I walked and smiled and took photos. I glanced at the map here and there so I knew whereabouts I was. I felt glorious, free, like I could run a marathon. Silently, I thanked God, I thanked Him over and over again for the weekend. I thought about my characters and how flawed and lovely they all were. I thanked God again.

And then, around the bend, out of nowhere, I saw the horses.

Horses by surprise

Friends, can we just take a moment here? There are no advertised horseback riding stables in Trappist, or New Haven, the closest city to the monastery. There is no horseback riding at the Abbey. There was no information at the retreat center about this being an option.

I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY CAME FROM.

But then again, I did.

Did you know that I’ve been researching horses and competitive riding since the start of last year? Did you that I went to Franklin, Tennessee, in March 2015 to interview a farrier and spend time at a stable? Did you know that horses are a foundational part to the background of my book?

When I saw these horses and the strangers that were riding them, I knew they were there for me. I felt that they were there for me. 

My gift from God

As soon as they passed, I broke down and cried. There, in the middle of the woods, not 30 minutes after finishing the book, God saw fit to reach down into my tiny world and say, “I see you, and I love you.”

As silently as possible, I wept.

Sunshine through the trees

I kept walking but I no longer watched my direction. I took turns and curves and kept crying. HOW AM I THIS LOVED? I could not process it.

Mossy

An hour later, I was still walking through the woods. I was still in a state of euphoric gratitude that I could not manufacture on my own.

St. Enochs stone house

The Hermitage

I checked my phone – it was nearing noon. I’d been walking for nearly two hours. Lunch would be served at 12:30, and I was a pool of sweat. If I didn’t get back in time to eat, so be it. I still had protein bars.

The walk home

By 12:10, the Abbey came into view. We would be leaving in several hours, but in that moment, I could have stayed forever.

The Abbey from the road

 

 

Diary of a Retreatant: Father Carlos

*This is the fourth post about my experience at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on July 22-24. Links to the first three posts are below.

Diary of a Retreatant: Showing Up
Diary of a Retreatant: Hike to the Statues
Diary of a Retreatant: Saturday Morning Sunrise

At 8:30 on Saturday morning a “Main Retreat Conference” was on the schedule. There had already been a “Main Retreat Conference” the night before, but I skipped it because I was writing. For whatever reason, I decided to pop in to the one on Saturday morning. Curiosity, I suppose.

The conference room was full and I was by far the youngest person there. I could tell that some people knew each other, either because they were wearing matching t-shirts or because I’d seen them traveling around the center in pairs and trios. We all sat quietly waiting for whomever was coming to speak to us.

It was Father Carlos, a cheerful storyteller, who confessed, “I’ve been Catholic all my life, but I only became a Christian at 17 years old.” Then he picked up where he left off the night before with a sermon (or homily?). He referenced the white board behind him that read, “I am: 1) human, 2) faith, 3) profession.”

Knit in mothers womb
Scattered throughout the silent dining hall are framed scriptures, quotes, and catechisms. They offer something to think about while eating in silence.

Human: We are all human, physically and emotionally. The nature of our humanity exists in various forms. We were made to be complex creatures with lots of things in our lives that don’t make sense. This is okay.

Faith: We were made by God and therefore have an innate spirituality. This, too, doesn’t always make sense. This is also okay.

Profession: This is what we put into the world, what we give back. It’s no WHO you are but what you DO.

Father Carlos said these three things do not function properly without one another. They are intertwined, our human nature and our spirituality, which funnel into how we give back to the world. But how do we cope? How do we manage when burdens become to big to carry?

“There is one place you can go to answer almost all of life’s questions,” he said, pausing for impact. “Google.”

The room giggled.

“But there is one question Google cannot answer, and that’s, ‘Why me?’

For which Christ did not suffer

He offered three bits of insight to help us wrestle with this question. First, he said we must have a “hermitage in our heart,” a quiet, private space to ponder life’s hard questions. Just as Mary pondered things in her heart, a place where only God was privy to dwell, we too must set up a space where we lay down the questions we cannot answer.

“And this is okay,” he said. “We will never know answers to the hard questions. Never believe someone who says they have all the answers.”

Secondly, he spoke of tenderness and the need we all have to give and receive it. He described one of his favorite works of art that shows a World War II soldier, clad in his battle uniform, grenades and all, ready to fight. He had his left arm steadying the gun draped over his shoulder. With his right arm he embraced a fellow soldier who’d been wounded. “This,” he said, “is tenderness.”

Finally, he spoke about patience, and said, “We must have the patience to serve and also the patience to be served. Nothing is gained by saying, ‘I can do it myself!'” Then he spoke of a young monk he mentored who once asked if he was afraid to get old.

“‘I’m already old,’ I told him, and he said, ‘No, I mean afraid to be in the infirmary and be fussed over all the time,’ like it was a burden,” said Fr. Carlos. “I told him, ‘No! When I am in the infirmary I will be happy to say, ‘Roll me to the visitor’s center and take me around the parking lot! I want to meet people! And I don’t want fried eggs anymore. I don’t want another fried egg as long as I live!’ I will be happy to be served because I have been happy to serve others.”

It was a point of view on patience I’d never heard before, but as soon as I thought of all the ways I get impatient with waitresses or check-out cashiers or any sort of service person at all, I thought, yes, I could be more patient with them.

When Father Carlos finished, I returned to the library to write. At 11:20 I went back to my room and laid down again to rest. Prayer was at 12:15 (Sext), followed by lunch at 12:30: corn on the cob, mystery meat sandwich, and salad. I skipped the mystery meat but got to watch (and try not to laugh at) Annette while she picked at the meat with her fork.

Following this particular meal, I was glad to have protein bars in my suitcase.

Diary of a Retreatant: Saturday Morning Sunrise

*This is the third post about my experience at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on July 22-24. Links to the first two posts are below.

Diary of a Retreatant: Showing Up
Diary of a Retreatant: Hike to the Statues

The night was fitful. I expected to sleep beautifully at the Abbey, especially after figuring out how to turn on the air conditioning because it 1) cooled down the room, and 2) provided a lovely white noise.

But no. After going to bed at 9:45 the night before, I woke at 2:15, then 4:30, neither of which aligned with the prayer schedule. (Vigils was at 3:15 a.m.) At 6:15 I woke again and decided to stay up since I could see the beginnings of a beautiful sunrise through my window shades. Lauds was already in progress (5:45 a.m.), so I got up, did a bit of yoga on the hard floor (ouch), and then walked the Stations of the Cross in the retreatant’s garden.

The morning was already foggy, but the high humidity caused the camera lens to fog even more.

Saturday morning fog
The white crosses in the background are adjacent to the chapel. Father Louis is buried just a few feet in front of the tree on the right.

Retreatant garden

Stations of the Cross

Sunrise on Saturday

If you know me, then you know my love for animals. It brought me such joy to see how passive and friendly the animals were on the property, as if they knew they were safe from any sort of human harm.

This little bird hopped alongside me for at least 20 paces. He could’ve been waiting for bread crumbs, but I swear he wanted his photo taken. After I snapped it, he flew away.

Morning friend

Abbey on Saturday morning

Sunrise over the Abbey
Past the stone wall is the monastic area, where retreatants and guests cannot go.

As the fog lifted more birds took to the garden to feast.

Yellow Finch

Bird feeders in the silent garden

Bird in flight

Chipmunk in the garden

No talking in these gardens

Flowerbed

At 6:45, I slipped into the final minutes of Mass and stood next to Annette, who also seemed to have just walked in. The monks and congregants were beginning the Eucharist. While I had a sneaking suspicion they would not have turned me away, I did not participate for two reasons: 1) I did not want to draw attention to myself for not knowing what to do, and 2) I did not want to offend someone by not knowing what to do.

Some congregants bowed, some didn’t. Some took only the bread but not the wine. Some went back to their seats, some kneeled and prayed. It wasn’t as uniform as I expected, which made me think that there was plenty of room in Catholicism to worship and revere as you pleased.

Breakfast was at 7: oatmeal, fruit, toast, coffee, juice. I ate only a small bowl of oatmeal because after over-serving myself for lunch the day prior, and then feeling guilty for throwing food away, I was sure to only choose smaller, more moderate servings as to not be wasteful.

Back in my room about 7:20, I laid down on the bed to rest my mind and ready it for writing. The WIFI would turn on at 7:30, so I had a few minutes to just lay there.

Gray afghan

Diary of a Retreatant: Hike to the Statues

*This is the second post about my experience at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on July 22-24. A link to the first post is below. 

Diary of a Retreatant: Showing Up

Front of the Abbey
The three-story retreat center is on the left, the chapel is in the center, and the monastic area, inaccessible to retreatants and guests, is on the right.

I woke at 3:15 to a humid room. I vowed early on not to complain because that’s not helpful. Instead, I grabbed my water, grabbed my laptop, and took to the library to start working on the book. Since I work in Google Drive, I need WIFI, and the library is the only place on all 4,000 acres that has it (in limited capacity, too. It’s only on from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.).

Silent dining room
This is the primary silent dining room just before supper time.

Two hours later, I returned to my room to drop off the computer and then went to the chapel for Vespers at 5:30 p.m. Supper was 30 minutes later: baked beans, grilled cheese, salad. Again, Annette and I sat together but didn’t speak. I worked hard to not let this feel rude. We caught each other’s eyes a couple of times, but that’s it. Afterward, in the elevator, we whispered to one another and decided to walk the grounds with our cameras.

Note to self: Next time you visit the Abbey,
perhaps schedule a time other than
the middle of a very hot and humid summer.

Silent garden
This is the silent garden space directly outside the dining area.

We poured sweat in minutes, and it was then that I asked if she had air conditioning in her room. Yes, she did, and it got quite cold. Then she said that she had to turn on the unit by hand, and that’s when I did an imaginary facepalm.  (Yes, I had air conditioning. I just had to turn it on! #winning)

Annette went back inside while I decided to attempt a short hike to The Statues – short because a thunderstorm was coming. We could hear it in the distance. Through the retreatant’s garden I went, stopping first at Thomas Merton’s grave marker. (Upon taking his vows, he became known as Father Louis.)

Father Merton's grave

Abbey cemetery

Rabbit in the garden

The Statues are significant for a pivotal historical reason. The sculpture group was created by Walker Hancock in the mid-60s to honor the life and sacrifice of Jonathan Daniels, who was shot and killed in Haynesville, Alabama, on August 20, 1965.

Jonathan was an Episcopalian seminary student when Martin Luther King, Jr., made a televised appeal for people to join him Selma to support and secure citizens the right to vote. Jonathan felt the calling on his heart and asked for permission to leave seminary for this specific mission. He was given the go-ahead and was sponsored by the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity for his travels.

To the statues
The pathway begins outside the Abbey walls, so it is not exclusively for retreatants.

Path to the statuesSunlight on the pathGuesthouse Pond

On August 14, Jonathan was jailed for joining a picket line, but six days later he and his companions were released unexpectedly. Knowing they might still be in danger, the group walked together to a small convenience store to buy drinks for fellow picketers, and just as Ruby Sales, a 16-year-old African American girl, approached the steps of the same store, a gunman appeared and threatened her.

The Statues

Single statue

Jonathan pulled Ruby to the side to shield her, thereby taking the full blast of the man’s 12-gauge gun.

Statues plaque

Why God

Face to the sky

Today, Ruby Sales is the founder and director of the The SpiritHouse Project, among many other accolades. You can read more about her here.

Our Lady

The thunder got louder shortly after I made it to The Statues, a sign that I needed to get back to the Abbey as quickly as possible – a difficult task since I, foolishly, was wearing flip-flops. (Father Seamus was right about the woods being “buggy.”)

I got back to the Abbey before the rain hit and still had plenty of time until the WIFI turned off at 9:30 p.m. Further drenched in sweat, I showered, tied back my wet hair, and returned to the library to write.

The thunderstorm indeed rolled in but we could barely hear it. That place was a fortress.

By 9:30 p.m. I was back in my room and did not know what to do. If I were at home, I thought, I’d be telling the boys goodnight and wrapping up dishes or laundry. Then I’d settle in the den with Chuck to flip channels, watch a movie, or just talk.

But at the Abbey, I had no chores. I had no companion. So after reading a short chapter in a book, I turned off the light and went to sleep.

Diary of a Retreatant: Showing Up

*This is the first in a series of posts about my experience at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on July 22-24. 

The idea to go to a monastery to write was not my own. Until a year and a half ago, I didn’t even know the place existed.

But like many scenarios in the last three years, while on my fiction-writing journey, random things fell into place. A random word was said that I needed to hear, a random hot air balloon floated over me, and in this case, two people who do not know each other, and who hardly know me, suggested I go to the Abbey of Gethsemani to write.

Of course, none of it is random. I know that to be true.

Annette and I left on Friday morning shortly after 7, but that’s not even where the story of the trip begins. Packing was its own thing. What does one wear around monks? How much leg is too much? What if the food is awful? Should I bring snacks? The place is silent. Should I leave the hair dryer at home? Will the air conditioning be freezing cold? Is there air conditioning?

Yes, packing was a thing. Annette and I exchanged several texts about it. This was one reason why I didn’t want to go alone the first time. This introvert needed a buddy.

The drive to Trappist, Kentucky, took about four hours, which gave Annette and I plenty of time to get our words out. Not knowing how silent “silent” was going to be, we talked the whole drive. (Though we both lean towards introversion, talking is not a problem for us.)

The closer we got to the monastery, the more nervous I got. I tried very hard to unpack those emotions – why be nervous? THEY ARE MONKS, for crying out loud. They are peaceful people! Plus, this trip came together so nicely, as if it were ordained by God himself (but more on that later).

I was nervous because it was all an unknown. It didn’t matter what I’d been told or what I’d read. The experience I was about to have was entirely unfamiliar. I felt ill-prepared and, as a result, nervous.

Abbey sign

Historical marker

Abbey of Gethsemani

We pulled up to the Abbey just before noon. We left our things in the car, gave each other a slight look of panic, and walked into the retreat center to find Father Seamus at the front desk. He welcomed us, speaking in a normal voice and cheerful disposition, and explained immediately that who we were, what we did, and why we chose to retreat at the Abbey was none of their business. All are welcome, he explained. Attend prayer, or don’t attend prayer, eat in the silent dining room or eat in the talking dining room, walk the property or stay in your room. We were invited to rest and retreat as we saw fit. No one would bother us.

Some advice, though – “If you go into the woods, beware of the ticks, because they will jump on you and crawl up into the warmest places,” he said, and then he gestured to the complementary bug spray.

Warmest places. Okay, Father Seamus.

Retreat Center

Sitting area

Statue on the hill

He gave us our room assignments and a small piece of paper with the daily printed schedule on it. There were seven or eight prayer services each day, plus Mass, plus Reconciliation (Confession) for retreatants on Saturdays and Tuesdays. There was plenty to do, if we so chose.

Before unloading our things and separating from one another, we took a brief walk around the retreat center, the chapel, and a bit around the grounds. At this point it was time for 12:15 prayer (Sext), so we sat in the balcony and waited. Slowly, one by one, monks filed in from various doorways and halls. They were coming from wherever they’d been working – the kitchen, the library, the grounds, the gardens, wherever.

Chapel

I studied their faces. These were not all old, white men. The youngest were at least in their early 20s, the oldest few in their 80s or 90s. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, everyone. Some who were limber and could bow fully, some who walked in a perpetual bow on account of a hunched back.

The entire space was quiet, minus the shuffling of feet and occasional cough. When the bell sounded, everyone stood. Annette and I followed the lead of other congregants and retreatants. They bowed towards the altar and made the sign of the cross over their chests, and then the monks began to sing a Psalm.

Stained glass

Immediately a calm washed over me and my shoulders, which were locked in tension, started to release. I don’t know if it was the sound of their voices, the echoing off the thick brick walls, the stained glass or the simplicity of it all, but suddenly I felt very calm, like all the unknowns were okay. Instead of being worried that I’d unknowingly offend someone (because I’m not Catholic) or make a noise or do something wrong, I felt that all would be well.

It was okay not to know. It was okay to just be. 

And then I started crying.

WHY WAS I CRYING? I berated myself. These were humans. We were all just a bunch of humans coming together. GET A GRIP! THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU!

I wiped my eyes and focused on the singing, and in a matter a minutes it was over. That meant it was time for lunch.

A word about the food: It was not spectacular. I had to check my snobbery at the door.
Food was nourishment. This was my mantra all weekend.

Lunch was plain rice, fried egg rolls, broccoli and cheese soup, salad, and a selection of cheeses made by the monks. Bread slices, too, if you wanted one. Annette and I went through the line in silence, ate in silence, and nodded to one another when we were finished.

Meditation room

Room 311

Rules and prayer schedule

After bringing our suitcases in and locating the library (where there was WIFI, a necessity for me since I work in Google Drive), we whispered, “See you at dinner.” Then I went to my room, laid down on the twin bed, and fell asleep.

Update on Novel No. 2

At least once a week, sometimes more, someone asks me, “So how’s your novel going?”

Here are all the things I don’t say: 

“It’s going really well! I’m so pleased with my work.”

or “Oh, everything is just falling into place perfectly. I couldn’t be happier.”

or “Every night is another chapter!”

or “My character development is spot on and the plot has no holes.  Yippee!”

or “I got an agent and I’ve signed a book deal! Keep your eyes peeled!”

Instead, I smile and don’t cry and say, “Fine, thank you.”

Which is the truth. It’s going fine. It’s not horrible, but it’s not fantastic. I have days when I get a lot of writing done and I feel good about the direction I’m heading. I have days when I talk to another writer and feel encouraged because I’m not alone. I have days when God provides me little bits of providence that confirm that I’m taking all the right next steps. Those are the best days.

But I also have days when I feel like the crappiest writer in the world, that I’m a dreamer with zero talent, and I have no business trying to write fiction at all. AT ALL. I feel like a fraud. Those are the worst days. 

I don’t intend to share plot details publicly, but I will say that this second novel is different from the first for several reasons. I’ve changed the point of view from third to first. The main character is not endearing, and the story is a single plot, not a dual one. The writing is tighter and cleaner, a task that is much harder than I initially thought it would be. I don’t love this story more or less than the first one. Simply, it is different. The two novels are unrelated to one another.

Here’s what keeps me going: 

  1. There is an agent waiting for this novel, so I will not let her down.
  2. There is a story to tell and it must be told by me.
  3. I would not forgive myself if I quit now.
  4. When I hit a low moment and want to quit, providence steps in to convince me otherwise. (One day I will make these events public, but for now I’m savoring them and keeping them close.)

Here’s what will help me: 

  1. Some time away. My children are lovely but they are hugely distracting. This is why writers retreat and hibernate. I never needed hibernation in journalism, but for fiction writing, I do. There is a monastery in Kentucky that allows guests for week-long and weekend retreats. Two people have suggested this place to me, so it’s on my radar. I’m thinking springtime.
  2. A break. This one I need to give myself. If I could find the secret serum to CHILLING OUT and resting my own brain, I would benefit tremendously. Currently, my coping mechanisms include running, reading, and wine. What’s missing is a good night’s sleep.
  3. Your continued encouragement. I remain in a constant state of bewilderment that so many people have faith in me. Really, it leaves me speechless and uncomfortable in the most magnificent way. Thank you, and please don’t stop.

NaNoWriMo 2015 update

Despite all the distractions, like Jackson swallowing the wire from his braces, National Novel Writing Month is going very well. I’m close to 20,000 words and have reached the point in the story where the scene shifts from one place to another, we jump in time a bit, and horses come finally into play. It’s time to draw upon my visit to Franklin in March and pick the brains of riders I know around here.

Jenny leading a horse

It would be misleading to say I like this story more than the first one, but I wager the writing is better. There are rules I’m following, bits of advice I’m following, and I’m careful to make each sentence as important as it needs to be. Though it will need editing for sure, I’m trying to write a story that has little fat to trim.

I’m also on my 50th book for the 50 Book Reading Challenge of 2015, and it’s no coincidence that the 50th book I’m reading is Big Magic by Liz Gilbert. Of course it is, and no, I didn’t plan it this way. Providence continues to weave its quirky web around my writing efforts and I’m thankful for it. Each night I read and each morning I write.

Fingers crossed. Everything forward.

Big Magic for NaNoWriMo

On October 21, in the middle of a crazy busy week, Lesli, Susan, and I met in Nashville to attend an event on Liz Gilbert’s book tour for Big Magic. (Book review coming soon.)

Girls at Flip Burger 2015

The night was an informal discussion between Liz and fellow novelist Ann Patchett. Their conversation centered around creativity – how it manifests and what to do with it.

I was on the verge of tears the entire evening. As I tried to explain to Chuck later, listening to Ann and Liz talk about writing brought me to a place of emotional convergence: fear and doubt smacked right into courage and confidence. Dread faced excitement and anxiety was challenged by calm. It was all too much and not enough at the same time.

Patchett and Gilbert 2015

Our evening in Nashville was providential as it unfolded just prior to National Novel Writing Month and my big push forward on the second novel. The same thing happened in 2013 when Liz was on her Signature of All Things book tour and I had just started NaNoWriMo for the first time. Though some might say the intersection of Liz Gilbert’s book tours and my own novel writing has been a coincidence, I say hogwash. It’s providence. It’s big magic.

It’s only November 2 and we’ve got the whole of the month to go, but when I look at our family calendar, I see that it’s fraught with busy-ness. It will take effort on my part to carve out substantial writing time. NaNoWriMo isn’t about perfecting a manuscript and getting it all right the first time. It’s about transferring the ideas from my brain to my hard drive and harnessing the energy of writers everywhere who are doing the same thing.

The blog won’t be well-attended to this month, but I know you understand. In fact, I’ll just end the post with my favorite quotes from the evening:

writing quotes from Big Magic

 

Blog Challenge Day 16: Dream Job

What’s my dream job?

I’ll give you ten guesses.

A handful of you have approached me cautiously, carefully, to quietly ask, “How’s your novel going?” When asked, I answer, but I don’t go around talking about the novel because it’s so dear to me, and the whole process of writing a novel and submitting it to agents is like stripping naked and going door-to-door in a neighborhood full of really attractive people, arms out and asking, “So what do you think?”

Thank you for handling me with kid gloves because it’s been a challenging year. I’ve been rejected 38 times. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been rejected 22 times and ignored the other 16.

But let’s be Silver Lining People for a moment and look at the bright side. I’ve had three agents ask for the full manuscript after reading the first three chapters – which is a big deal – and all three of them were from well-known national and international agencies. One agent in particular wrote a lengthy rejection letter that included some inspiring words, like:

“You’re one to watch,” and –

“Many writers have to write that first novel and get it out of the way so they can write the one that will sell,” and –

“Don’t let this discourage you,” and –

“I hope you’ll consider submitting to me again.”

I jumped on the last part and told her I was already at work on a second novel, and when it’s finished, could I send it directly to her? She said absolutely. After a good cry, I resolved that her rejection letter was the best out of the bunch and I was lucky to have captured her attention.

It’s true that I’m working on a second novel and I’m loving it just as much as the first one. The difference between now and then is that I’m not finding (or making?) as much time to work on it. I could sound off a list of excuses, but instead I’ll tell you that I’m participating in NaNoWriMo for the second time and hope to use the month of November as a catalyst for finishing the story in a timely manner.

Print

So what’s my dream job? Doing exactly what I’m doing now but with a solid shelf of published books in every bookstore and a faithful group of followers who enjoy reading my stories.

Everything forward.

The things I wonder about at midnight

If I self-publish, does it mean I’m not good enough for traditional publishing?

If I self-publish, does it mean I’m impatient?

If I self-publish, does it mean I’m selling myself short?

If I self-publish, does it mean I’m taking charge of my own work?

If I self-publish, does it mean traditional publishing will never happen for me?

If I self-publish, does it mean I don’t have faith in my story?

If I self-publish, does it mean the desire to share my work with others outweighs the vanity of wanting to see it in bookstores?

If I self-publish, am I settling? 

This is what keeps me awake at midnight. This, and the overwhelming fear that if I keep doing nothing, nothing will ever happen.

creativity and courage