For The Writer Who Is Tongue-Tied

Shockingly, not every writer is introverted.

Really. There are magical extroverted people who can talk about their books and answer questions about their writing career without panicking or breathing into a paper bag or stumbling over their words twelve times.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard. I’m an introvert myself, so I wouldn’t really know.

However, joking aside, whether we’re introverted or extroverted, talking about our books is hard. The dreaded ‘elevator pitch’ is an essential part of spreading awareness for our books. We need it for agents at writing conferences, the pitch line in queries, and well-meaning friends and family who want to know what our book is about.

Why do people ask that? I get it, it’s harmless and inquisitive. They’re not really trying to make me sit on the floor and cry, right? They’re doing their best to show an interest in that weird thing I do where I lock myself up in a room for hours on end and stare at a computer with a lot of squiggly lines on it.

Or sometimes a blank screen, because those days happen to all of us.

Still, condensing fifty to a hundred thousand words (or more) into a single sentence can feel impossible. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, and all too often, it falls flat. There is nothing more irritating than having a book you know is brilliant and compelling, and then stumbling over a vague and cheesy sounding explanation that features ummm more than any other word in the English language.

Believe me. It’s torture.

Unfortunately, it is also a necessary torture. So, introvert or extrovert, if we want our books to see the light of day, we have to learn. Here are five tips that I’ve found helpful in learning to explain my crazy books to people.

1) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

You’re going to mess up. It’s going to sound weird. It’s never going to be completely perfect.

And that’s fine.

As with everything else, practice makes perfect. So resign yourself to making mistakes, to looking a little foolish, and even to one or two embarrassing failures. As long as you continue to try, to learn, and to perfect what you’ve got, you’re conquering it.

And, honestly? It’s the mistakes that are teaching you, not the successes.

2) Know the heart of your story.

Not everything needs to be a part of your pitch. You’ve got tens of thousands of words in this wonderful book of yours, and myriad of ideas.

And one sentence (maybe two) to catch someone’s attention.

So take some time, be realistic, and decide what is the heart and soul of your story. Sure, maybe dragons attack a city at some point and the hero has the ability to control them with his mind but decides not to because the bakery in that city wouldn’t sell him a donut, but is that really the heart of the story?

If not, then skip it.

It’s still in the story. You haven’t lost it. It’s just not the core of what you’ve written, and the core is exactly what you want to give them.

3) Practice.

This is definitely not a skill that you are automatically going to have. It needs practice, it needs polishing, and it needs feedback. Use your friends and family as guinea pigs (respectfully), jump at the chance to practice your pitch whenever anyone asks about it, and practice by yourself in your bedroom mirror.

Yes, I’m telling you to talk to yourself.

When I drove down to the writer’s conference in Missouri last July, I spent most of that trip going over my pitch alone in my car. It sounds weird, maybe it will feel weird for a while, but it works.

And if it looks dumb, but it works, it’s not dumb.

The point is, the more practice you have, the better your pitch will be. You want it smooth, you don’t want it to sound rehearsed, and you want it to look effortless.

And, as everyone should know, if something looks effortless, it means there is a whole lot of effort behind it.

4) Don’t give up.

This is one of the most discouraging and scary parts of being an author. It’s so intimidating, it’s so easy to get it wrong, and for some of us, it goes against the grain of our personalities.

It would be much easier to simply duck under this one, and not try it.

But don’t. Really, really don’t. Your story is worth this attention, it’s worth this push to learn and stretch yourself as a person, and in the long run, you’ll be so glad that you took the time and the effort to make it happen.

And someday, who knows, maybe it won’t be that difficult after all.

I’m not counting on that, but you never know.

5) Be passionate.

This is your story. You’ve slaved over it, cried over it, and maybe worked harder on it than you ever have on a project before.

It’s your baby. Your magnum opus. Your symphony.

So love it. Don’t rattle off an emotionless plot outline when someone asks what you’ve written. Tell them why you love it. Passion is attractive, and, as a writer, you’ve got more than enough to share. (Believe me, you wouldn’t have gotten as far as you have with this story if you didn’t.)

Embrace it. Be willing to be wrong, be willing to need work, be willing to make mistakes, but never, never forget your passion when you talk about what you do. Writing can be a job, but writing is magic too, and magic is worth being passionate about.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Go To Sleep

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I come when the library closes.

The lights are out, except for the lamp Mrs. Wilfe leaves on just for me. The doors are locked, and the windows have been shuttered. Even most of the reading desks are cleared. No one is left.

Only me. Because I have to put the stories to sleep.

I start in the children’s section. I like it back there best, because I can still hear the murmur of little voices reading aloud, and the rustle of turning pages. It’s not so silent, not so lonely.

I switch on a desk lamp as I step inside, and pick up a book lying on the floor. The Biggest Bear. An old, old favorite. The pages are stained with fingerprints, and the cover is a little torn, but it’s happy. Its story has been told today, many times, actually. It’s a little out of breath, a little tired, and I set it back on the shelf where it belongs.

The books in this section are the rowdiest, but they go to sleep fairly easily. Their stories were told, and they’re worn out from being dragged from shelf to table, table to floor, and back again. I stroke their spines, set them back in order on the shelves, and they fall asleep when I turn the lights out and leave them. They don’t have trouble sleeping, not like some do. I’m never sorry to see them awake when I come.

The adult books are harder. I can hear them murmuring when I flick on the light, their voices rustling like burning paper. They sound angry tonight, and I wonder who has been woken this time. It’s hard to tell. The stories are being whispered from shelf to shelf, passed on, overlapping each other, desperate to be heard. Old forgotten voices, caught in the dust between the pages. I can’t tell one from the other, not when they’re all talking at once. Grief and love, war and hate, treachery, betrayal, reunions, mystery, and horror. They all have a story to tell, but for some of them, it’s been a long time since anyone bothered to listen.

I walk through the shelves, running my fingers along the weighty spines. Quite a few are awake today. Awake, stifled, and frustrated. Who woke them up, I wonder? Who yanked them off their shelves, pulling them so unceremoniously from whatever dreams they were having, to page through their chapters and silence them again?

I pick up a heavy volume from a reading desk. Nearly a thousand pages, and whoever woke it up read less than three of them. I pass my hand over the cover, blow some of the dust from the pages, and set it back on the shelf. Another day, I tell it, although I’m not sure if I’m lying. Some of them have only been woken like this, for a page or two and nothing else, for a long time.

Some of them have been silent for so long that I’ve forgotten what they sound like.

I switch the reading lamps off as I go, stroking spine after spine. Go to sleep, I tell them. Forget the stories you tried to tell, the people who woke you up. Rest.

For some of them, it isn’t so easy. They’re angry, and angry books are hard to settle. I spend a long time among these shelves, soothing them, quieting the arguments. I can’t listen to them all at once, and I certainly can’t be the one to read every book, although I try to give the loneliest a chance. They know when I’m humoring them, of course, but most are grateful anyway.

But I can’t read all night. They have to sleep, and so do I. They listen to me at last, and their whispers fade into silence. I flick off the last light and listen to them breathing. Someone will come to read them eventually. Every book has a story that someone needs to hear. Every book has a heart it needs to heal, a mind it needs to open. Someone will come.

Until then, I’ll do my best to coax them back to sleep.

For The Writer Who Has Quit One Too Many Times

As a writer, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as a new idea.

A new character waltzes in, capturing our attention, and whispering about a story flooded with new possibilities, new dangers, and a love so deep it borders on intoxication. Suddenly, we’re taking the long way home from work, getting lost in the grocery store, and filling notebooks with jotted conversations that just have to be written down, because what if we lose them??

Unfortunately, as odd as it may seem, new ideas can be one of the biggest obstacles to a finished book.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? New ideas should be every writer’s dream! They should propel your career forward, not pull it back.

Shouldn’t they?

Well, actually—they do. If they’re managed right. But new ideas, when they’re given free rein and allowed to trample everything in their path, can effectively kill any half-finished draft, partially edited manuscript, or fully outlined book. Especially when said half-finished draft or partially edited manuscript has a plot hole that you just—can’t—fix.

Sometimes it really is time to cut the cord and let an old idea die in favor of a new one. But, if we fill our drawers with half-finished ideas, scribbled notes, and books that we’ll finish someday, that goal of eventually writing—and publishing—a book . . . may not happen.

But how do we resist the pull of a new idea when it’s just so enticing?

I have a few suggestions.

1) Jot it down.

This is the obvious one. Have a notebook of future books that you’d like to write. Or a file on your computer. If necessary, write it as a short story and save it for another day. Believe me, it will keep. And it will be all the richer for the time it had to simmer.

2) Admit that you probably cannot write both at once.

Don’t take them both on.

Just don’t.

Especially if your half-finished draft is having trouble. Whether you intend it or not, one of them will be set aside, and I can guarantee that it won’t be the shiny new idea.

As a writer, you can decide to write any way you like. There is no set formula for how to write, and no ‘ten steps for success’. But in the end, a book that isn’t finished is a book that isn’t published.

So take it one step at a time. Finish one before you start the next, especially if they are the same genre and type of story. The next ten years of my life are planned out in books that I’m going to write, and I haven’t misplaced a single one of them because I decided to wait.

In the end, it will be worth it.

3) Keep it in the back of your mind.

Sometimes, it really is nice to have another idea to plan and daydream about. An idea doesn’t have to be written for you to enjoy. Spend some time with it. Let it stew in the back of your mind. Explore the possibilities, but keep it in your head for now. Keep your writing time—and a little brain space too—for the book that really needs your attention.

Remember, you will get to write this new idea. And it will be all the better for having finished another book before you started this one.

4) Fall in love with the idea you had.

Remember that the book you’re writing now was once an idea that captured you. That set fire to your thoughts. If you hadn’t loved it, you wouldn’t have started it.

Daydream. Journal with your characters. Explore the settings that once enraptured you. There is no plot hole that can’t be conquered, and no story that can’t be written. Allow room for growth, for change, for a story that you love and are passionate about. 

5) Be excited for the work you’ve already done.

New ideas are lovely. They’re exciting and engaging and they bring a spark of creativity back into writing, especially when we’ve been toiling through plot holes and frustration.

And yet, new ideas come and go. They have no roots, no weight to them.

Remind yourself that the work you’ve done already is worth continuing. Your story has a depth and richness to it that only comes with a fight. All that trouble you’ve had fixing plot holes, all the frustration of edits, all the deleted pages that you’ve tossed into the trash combine together to give you a solid foundation to work with. All that work is worth far too much to be abandoned or cast aside.

Respect the story you have.

Respect the time you’ve already put in.

Rekindle the love you have for the story you’re working on, and push through the difficulty. You’re a writer, and you have a thousand stories ahead of you. You have time to write them all, and there is no hurry. Take them one at a time, and one day you’ll have a shelf of books that you can be proud of.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Heartsmith

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They say the best shops are the easiest to find.

I don’t agree with that. I’ve known many good shops in my time, shops that were hidden away, that took me all day to find. Sometimes the hunt is half the fun. But these days, people prefer main streets and wide roads, and convenience is more important than quality.

To some people. Not to everyone.

My workshop is an example. It’s not so easy to find me. I work where I’ve always worked: a little corner shop in a back alley, with a sign on the door that says, quite simply, Heartsmith. Inquire within.

Really, unless you know just where to look, I’m very difficult to find. I like it better that way. Heartsmithing is a complicated kind of work, and it’s harder to have done than most people think. If someone is determined enough to find me, they’re usually patient enough to last through the process.

Most of the time, anyway.

The shop is empty when I come down in the morning, and the workbench is cluttered with the tools I was using last night. I don’t close my shop after six o’clock. I’m always open, even in the middle of the night. Actually, I get a good portion of my work after midnight. People get a little desperate when the world is at its quietest. Sometimes they’re braver then too, brave enough to bring their troubles to me.

I let them in, of course. I live upstairs, over my shop, and I always hear the bell. Sometimes I’m up late anyway, working on a tough project. Either way, it doesn’t matter. I never turn anyone away.

No one is here now. I sweep the floor, tossing wood shavings and coal dust into the stove, then open the shutters and let the morning in. The village is waking up now, and I can hear the sounds of shops opening, roosters crowing in back gardens, and the milkman making his rounds. It’s a lazy, peaceful kind of morning, and I leave the door open and set out a plate of scraps for the cats that like to wander through.

I’m upstairs when the bell rings. A woman is waiting in the workshop, crouched down and petting one of the cats. She stands up when I come in, trying to smile at me, and I know what the trouble is before she says a word. But I don’t tell her so. People need to talk about these things themselves.

So I sit her down on one of my stools and ask her what the trouble is. She’s nervous and fidgety, and I can tell she’d like to leave, but she doesn’t. She takes a small, battered heart from her bag and puts it on my workbench.

Can you fix it?

It’s the question they always ask. Every time, as if they really expect me to say no. They’ve tried to fix it themselves, that’s the trouble, and when they can’t—well. Too many people give up hope.

I look the heart over while she talks. Most of the hearts come to me with a single crack, a sharp blow that nearly broke them in half. A few have a half a dozen cracks, blows that have happened over a series of months or years. Those are harder to fix, but not impossible.

This one is different. It isn’t cracked, not the way hearts that have been broken usually are. It’s been worn down, dented several times in several places. The exterior is brittle, as if she’d tried to harden it herself to keep it from cracking under the strain, and it’s light in my hands. As if it were nearly hollow.

I listen while she tells me about herself, about everything the heart’s been through. About the husband who doesn’t meet her eyes, and the son who hasn’t called. About the empty life and the dreams she set aside and the hope she’s forgotten how to feel. She can’t remember a single blow or a moment that started the damage, but I can see that already. For a heart to dent and wear like this, it needs a subtle kind of pain, one that rubs and chafes but doesn’t crack. That kind of damage is harder to repair.

Unfortunately, it’s also easier to miss. I see it often enough when I go out walking or meet someone new on the beach, but it isn’t one I see in my shop very much. People ignore it. It’s not cracked, they say, not broken. So why fix it?

They don’t realize just how much damage has been done.

She’s waiting for me to tell her that it can’t be fixed. I can see that. Instead, I set the heart down on the table and ask her if she’s brought a case with her. Any clothes? She tells me she has a few things. I nod and tell her about a house that I own a few streets away. Next to the sea. It’s got a garden, and flowers growing in the windowsills, and a kitchen. The job will take a while, I tell her, and she’ll have to stay nearby. Is she willing?

Her yes is all the answer I need, and I set to work immediately.

She’ll like my house. I bought it for people like her, who need a bit of time to let me work. Heartsmithing is a complicated kind of business, and hearts aren’t fixed in a day.

For The Writer Who Isn’t Ready For Another Year

The beginning of a new year is an exciting thing. 365 days filled with promise, unsullied by mistakes, unspoiled by bad attitudes or hurtful remarks. A year is a powerful thing, and it’s exciting to have a new one ahead to conquer.

Except when it’s not.

Sometimes the thought of a new year, combined with the disappointments of the year (or years) past, can be intimidating instead of exciting. As much as we would like to leave the burdens, disillusionment, and frustrations of the previous year behind us, that’s a difficult thing to do. Sometimes, it really is impossible. Maybe resolutions failed, writing goals weren’t met, or projects that we were so enchanted with at the beginning of the previous year have fallen flat and lost their magic. Writing is a tough business, and more than that, it’s a slow one. Contracts aren’t signed overnight, books take years to be written and revised, and ideas that were hatched two, even three years previously still haven’t been given the attention and love they deserve.

In short, it can be very easy to reach the beginning of a new year and, instead of resolving to put all the effort and love you can manage into your stories, decide instead to let that dream die.

After all, dreams die all the time, don’t they? Writers quit, they find new pursuits, and books molder in drawers instead of being published and passed to the world.

But it doesn’t have to end like that. Writing can be discouraging, but it doesn’t have to be. The beginning of a new year SHOULD be exciting, no matter what is behind you.

Here are five tips for entering the new year as a conqueror, instead of feeling defeated before you even start.

1) Look back at the year past—and choose to see the good in it.

As a writer, nothing you do is wasted. Pages that have been trashed, agents that have turned you down, blogs that have failed, all of them have taught you valuable lessons. Every word you write, whether it’s been deleted or not, has brought you closer to where you want to be.

2) Be comfortable with baby steps.

Writing is slow. Publishing is slow. Getting a book into the world is slow. An impatient writer is a frustrated writer and a discouraged one. Enjoy the moments, allow them to pass as slowly as they need to, and be content with the knowledge that however slow you are going, you’re still so, so far ahead of those who have never dared try.

3) Don’t base your success on someone else’s decisions.

I see so many resolutions from writers that talk about getting an agent or landing a contract. I am all for reaching for the stars, and especially for setting big goals. But landing an agent or a publishing contract is not a goal that you can reach on your own. Ultimately, it comes down to their decisions. Whether your book is right for them and their business at the moment, and whether they have room for another client.

And if you are discouraged and struggling to continue, the last thing you need is a resolution that you have no power over.

Still, we don’t want to throw those resolutions out the window, right? So, instead, consider changing the wording.

Instead of resolving to land an agent, resolve to perfect and polish your query letter and proposal. Have a certain number of agents that you want to send it to by the end of the year. Focus on your effort, your enthusiasm, and your dedication, instead of their decision.

Then, when the end of the year rolls around, whether you have a contract or not, you can be proud of yourself for doing everything possible to make your dream happen.

4) Realize that there is really only one way to fail as a writer.

A bad review is not a failure. A dead blog is not a failure. An idea that surged and died is not a failure.

The only way to fail is to quit.

Everything else is learning, everything else is a step forward, or redirection, or a bit of experience. If you continue, you will find your niche and you will find your story. So don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep writing, even when it looks hopeless from the outside.

5) Do what you love.

Before you resolve to hit this milestone or that one, pause. Resolve to rekindle your love for the writing. The stories. The characters that once caught your attention and persuaded you to take on their journeys and their passions.

The only way to write well is to write with passion. Readers know when you’re only going through the motions of being an author. You loved this craft once, and maybe you still love it now.

So pause.

Take a moment.

Remember what it is about writing that you love. Journal with your characters. Renew your friendships with them. Explore the cities, the forests, the places that you write about, and linger in them. Smell the deep mould beneath the trees, the fresh brewed coffee at the coffee bar, or the wet pavement in the rainy streets.

Forget the logistics of followers, agents, queries, platforms, and contracts. Forget how many likes that last post received. Pause all of that.

Enjoy the journey. Love the writing. When your passion returns, then return to the rest.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

For The Writer Who is Afraid

I am going to start this particular post with a horror story.

Young or squeamish writers, please hide your eyes.

Unsuspecting writer, chatting comfortably with an older relative, friend from high school, or new acquaintance.

“Well, between work and writing, I don’t have a lot of time—”

Excited gasp. (Or possibly judgmental sniff.)

“Oh, that’s right! You’re writing a book. Can I read it?”

Cue instant terror.

Sound familiar?

Writers, sharing your work is hard. Our stories are little bits of our heart and soul, and offering them up for the world to read, judge, and possibly reject, is incredibly hard. It takes practice, a thick skin, and a lot of courage. Writing in itself is hard enough, and once you add imposter syndrome, harsh critiques, and well-meaning questions like, when are you going to get a real job, it gets a thousand times harder. Sometimes, it really would be easier to hide beneath your desk with a blanket, a jar of chocolate chips, and a fancy pen while you do all your writing in secret. Who really needs to know, after all?

I admit, that would be the easiest way out. In my seven years as a writer, I have run the gauntlet of reactions to my writing. Thankfully, most of the people that have read my writing have loved it. But—things happen.

And, honestly, the ones that sting are the ones that you remember.

So, yes, sharing your writing, even with the most select people, is hard. It’s scary. Because what if they hate it? What if they skim through, laugh, point out a typo, and change the subject? (This has actually happened to me.) What if, after begging for a copy for weeks, they just . . . never read it? (Also something that has happened to me.)

What if they actually have constructive criticism that helps make your book a thousand times better and yet still stings like needles when you hear it?

It happens.

It’s natural to be afraid of sharing your work, but living according to your fears is always—always—a mistake. So when you are afraid, please remember this:

1) You CAN be selective.

It is okay to say no.

I’m giving you permission. Right now. You can tell your great aunt, or that one friend, or anyone at all, that you can’t send them your book. They can buy a copy when it comes out. Until it’s sitting on the shelf in Barnes and Noble, you do not have to let anyone and everyone read it. Never, never feel guilty about telling someone no. Do it kindly, but do it firmly. No explanation is necessary. You do not have to have a legitimate excuse. Feel completely free to tell them that it isn’t finished yet, and they are welcome to buy it when it is. Or, if it’s easier, laugh and tell them you’ll send them a signed copy when it gets released.

You don’t owe anyone advanced copies of your work.

2) It’s okay to start small.

After seven years of writing (and sharing my writing), I have completely and totally conquered my fear. I’m not scared of people reading what I write anymore.

Okay, that’s a lie. I lied. I’m sorry.

The point is, practice helps. Let someone who you trust read what you’ve written. Maybe someone who already likes the kinds of stories you write. Or write a short story, and share it on your social media. Have a blog. Offering something that’s not quite so near and dear to your heart is a good way to try out a bit of author vulnerability without the jarring reality of your entire book being at someone’s mercy. Do it a bit at a time, and you’ll learn not to be so terrified of it.

3) It’s not a bad thing to be afraid.

Panic. Breathe into a paper bag. Cry a little, if you really need to. It’s okay to freak out, and it’s okay to be afraid.

It is not okay to hide forever.

You’re a writer. A communicator. You have a story to tell, and somewhere out there is a reader who needs your story. Make it the best that it can be, write with your heart and your soul and every single bit of passion you can possibly muster, and then release it. Let it go. Let it be read and critiqued and loved and hated. Let it be free.

If you need chocolate or wine, I know where you can get both.

The point is, you can be as afraid as you like, but take the plunge anyway. You will never grow as a writer or a person if you don’t walk through fear at least occasionally.

4) Your story is not set in stone.

No, you definitely should not be changing your book based on the whim of every reader who has an opinion about it. Never, never do that. Please. That is a terrible, awful idea that will scramble your book and erase everything that is uniquely you about it.

However.

Feedback is immensely important as a writer. Without it, we grow stagnant. Our stories become stale. We stop learning. So listen. Consider the comments, however much they sting. Set some of them aside. Apply others. Use your own judgment, because this is your book and you are the author. They are not writing it. You are.

And you know what? It’s okay to change things. It’s also okay to thank them for their thoughts and leave things the way they were.

It’s also also okay to change it, but not quite the way they told you to.

You are the author. You know your story. Allow it room to grow, but don’t hand it off to every single person with an opinion.

There is a balance here, I promise. Find it.

5) You have not failed if someone doesn’t like what you’ve written.

Time for some perspective, dearest writer.

One comment is one comment. It’s not the end of your career, or of the world. It stings for now, but it will be okay.

You’re learning. You’re growing. You had the courage and the audacity to share a tiny piece of your soul, and that alone is a feat worth bragging about. All of the hard work that you have poured into your art is not wasted, and you are stronger because of your vulnerability.

You cannot fail as a writer until you have given up on yourself. Every stumbling block, every bit of reckless, wild courage, every deleted word and rejected chapter has something to teach you. You are learning.

And a writer who is willing to learn is a writer who is in very little danger of ever failing.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

I Knew

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The house had a basketball hoop in the driveway.

I remember that most of all. That day, the day we had a house, is too fragmented to remember perfectly. But I remember a few things. The real estate agent’s dusty car. The cracked pavement. The weeds. The peeling paint on the front door. And the basketball hoop.

I’ll get you a ball, you promised us, and I knew you would. You’d promised us a house too, and we had that now, although grandpa said we’d never keep it. You’ll be back begging at our doorstep in a week, he told you before we left, and I didn’t tell him goodbye.

I don’t think you did either.

The real estate agent had you sign some papers before he left. I remember how your hands were shaking. I was too small to read what they said, but whatever it was, it made you cry when he left. We all cried together, on the floor in that empty house. I think it was a happy kind of crying.

You made me a nest that night. I had a whole room to myself in that big, empty house, and I felt like a princess in my palace. You tucked my blanket and my sheet together on the floor and told me stories about the mice who made nests just like mine. I’ll get you a bed soon, you told me, and I knew you would. You tucked me in tight, and I used my teddy as a pillow.

We had a picnics in the kitchen. I remember that too. You spread out a sheet on the floor, and we had breakfast and lunch and dinner there. We used to pretend that we were eating breakfast at the beach, and lunch in the mountains. Cade used to complain that there were ants in his food, so we’d think the picnic was real. You always laughed when he said it.

The first thing you bought us was a basketball. I remember when you brought it home. We didn’t have a table, or beds in our rooms, or pictures for the walls, or even a couch to sit on, but we had a basketball. I remember you sitting on the front steps after dinner, watching Cade teach me how to play. I couldn’t reach the hoop, even when he lowered it all the way down, and he’d lift me up so I could score. You clapped for us. I don’t remember who won, but we played until the fireflies came out and the moon was peeping in to watch through that old oak in the front yard.

Don’t worry, you told me when we inside that night. You’ll grow into it.

I knew I would.

We didn’t go back to grandpa’s that week. Or the next one. You said we never would, and I knew you were right. We had a house now, and a picnic blanket, and a basketball.

We didn’t need anything else.

When school started, you made Cade and I go. You’d walk us to the bus stop every morning, and when we left, you’d walk to work. You said you didn’t need a car, that walking made you happy. I knew it did.

You were never home when school was over, but we played basketball every night until you came. You were right. I did grow into that hoop, and so did Cade. He grew into it so much that he could raise it right to the top and still score, and I had to learn to jump high enough to block him. I still don’t remember who won those games, just that we played them.

We all used to do our homework together. Cade and I used to laugh about Mama having homework too, and you’d just laugh with us and keep right on working. I think you got better grades than we did. I know you stayed up later than we did. I remember you shooing us to bed, but the light never switched off before I went to sleep in my nest.

You graduated the same day Cade did. You bought us a table, and Cade came home wearing a uniform that made him look ten feet tall. You cried, but it was a happy kind of cry, and you sat on the steps to watch us play basketball before he left.

I played basketball by myself after that, and rode the school bus alone. You brought work home with you, and we sat at our table while I did my homework and you graded papers. I didn’t tell you I was proud of you, but I thought it every night. I was proud of you for your new job, and for the homework you did after I fell asleep, and for the house you didn’t lose. I was proud you didn’t have to go begging to grandpa anymore, and that you had a car, even if you still liked walking.

You never told me how scared you were, but I remember that too. You never told me you were brave, but I knew you were.

Knitting Prayers

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My grandmother kept prayers in her knitting basket.

To me, it seemed an odd place to keep them. Prayers are meant to be kept in a Bible on the parlor shelf, or stuffed away in a church, gathering dust with the rest of the relics. At the very least, they’re supposed to be kept somewhere that’s just a little reverent. Somewhere solemn and quiet, like a graveyard or a room you don’t visit every day.

But my grandmother keeps them with her knitting, and sometimes they get tangled up in her yarn.

She knits in her sitting room, in her rocking chair beside the fire. It’s bright and sunny, with a rag rug on the wood floor and flowers on the windowsill. I come to sit with her sometimes when my mother is working and the house is empty. She’ll send me after fresh daisies from the field outside and a pitcher of well water for the two of us, and I’ll lie on the floor and color while she talks to me and to God.

I don’t think the preacher would like the way she prays much. He uses fancy words when he prays, thees and thous, and he always spreads his hands out wide as if he’s trying to push the prayers right into heaven.

When she prays, I have to glance up to make sure God isn’t sitting right there next to her. Some days, I don’t think she’s praying at all. At least, not the sort of praying that I know. She talks to Him the way she talks to just about anybody. She tells Him about my new haircut, or the families who’ve been coming to live with us from the cities, or about mama’s new job in the factory. If I don’t look up every now and then, I’ll forget that He isn’t sitting in the rocking chair across from her and maybe whittling or something.

She’s knitting socks today. The sky is gray, and it’s snowing hard enough that I should have started for home an hour ago. But she used up a whole tea ration for just the two of us, and I’d rather not wait in a cold house until six o’clock. So I watch the fire crackling and the cardinal pecking at the snow outside the window and listen to her talking to God about the snow in Russia and the man who’s going to be wearing the socks she’s making. Her prayers get caught up in her needles, and by the time she’s finished the gray wool is just a little silver too.

I’ve lost count of how many socks she’s sent out. She keeps them in a basket, and when she’s got ten or twelve pairs she sends them off. We never find out what happens to them, or to the prayers she’s knitted in with the wool, but she always tells me that God keeps track of those things.

I hope he does. I haven’t heard that knitted prayers keep a man’s feet warm, but I’d bet they’re good for something.

The Reality Of Being an Author

This morning, I woke up to find that my bank account was maxed out.

Overdrawn, actually.

Not the best news to find out on a Monday morning, especially when every penny I’ve made in the last several months has gone toward absolute essentials. Bills. Groceries. That’s about it.

This is humiliating for me to admit, honestly. I’m the kind of person who likes to be on top of things. I like my bills to be paid a week in advance. When I go out to dinner or coffee with someone, I like to pay. When I get support letters from friends on the mission field about this need or that one, I like to be able to respond immediately with a check.

But, the reality is that I’m an author.

And right now, I don’t get paid.

For almost anything.

I’ve been a full-time author for about seven years. I’ve written eight books in that time, amounting to more than a million words in drafts, blog posts, and other various projects. Two of my books are published and available on Amazon. One—a biography I was commissioned for—is in the final stages of revision. Four others are in varying stages of revision and editing.

One is, at this very moment, in the hands of an actual real-life publisher, being reviewed for possible publication.

None of these books, as of yet, are ready to translate into anything resembling income.

Seven years is a long time. It’s a long time to work on a project without a great amount of hope or encouragement. It’s a long time to make no money and to support hundreds of hours work with several other jobs.

If I look at the last seven years from the perspective of retirement, bank accounts, and income, I have utterly failed.

Seven years down the drain. Time to pull the plug, because this idea was obviously a dud from the beginning.

Except it hasn’t been.

It hasn’t been, because of the girl who messaged me to say that something I wrote made her feel that a part of herself was beautiful, rather than strange or weird.

Or the seven-year-old who—when reading one of my books through for the second time—declared that it absolutely deserved five stars.

Or the man who commissioned the biography I wrote telling me that it was like reading through his life and that he couldn’t help tearing up when he read it.

There is magic in what I do. In the lives I touch. In the moments when people have paused to read something I’ve written, and immediately felt the need to message me and say that I made them cry. Fortunately for my career, I have never—and will never—look at what I do in terms of cash earned, money saved, or bills paid. Because being an author is more than that.

In fact, in my very humble opinion, being a person is more than that.

As many times as I have faltered in the last seven years, I have never once questioned whether writing was really what I was supposed to be doing. It’s too much a part of me, too much a part of the way I love and think and live, to abandon. I may not be making a livable wage on it right now—in fact, I may never make one—but I’ve come too far and seen too clearly how deeply impacting my words can be to quit.

To me, that’s worth a lot more than getting a check on time every month.

Although the check would be nice.

Ranger’s Apprentice

Do you want to know the strangest thing?

I have the hardest time reviewing my most absolute favorite books.

Is that weird? They should be the ones I rave about right? The ones I yell about in the mall and the library and shove in people’s mailboxes so that they’ll read them.

Right?

But, with my favorite books, I have a hard time talking about them.

Strange, right? In some ways, I’m afraid that I won’t do them justice. They’ve meant so much to me over the years that it seems impossible to tell people just how important they are. They’re a part of my childhood, my teen years, and even now I continue to treasure them, and it’s hard to come up with a way to explain to you or anyone else how much these stories have meant to me.

Ranger’s Apprentice, The Ruins Of Gorlan, is one of those books for me.

I started reading this series when I was thirteen or fourteen, and I wasn’t the only one. At least five of my siblings became obsessed with the books at the same time I did. If you’ve never lived in the same home with multiple readers, you will never understand the struggle of taking turns with a book that just arrived in the mail.

It was rough.

But, at the same time, it was also wonderful. Having people to share the magic of an ongoing book series with is a very special thing, and helps to conquer some of the impatience of waiting for the next book to be released.

And, with The Ranger’s Apprentice, that couldn’t happen fast enough for us.

The Ruins Of Gorlan, Flanagan’s first book in his dynamic series, introduces us to Will, an orphan under the guardianship of Baron Arald. But, at fifteen, he’s now too old to be a ward any longer, and he is set to be apprenticed to one of the fief’s Craftmasters.

That is, if any of them are willing to take him.

When Will is placed with Halt, a member of the elusive Ranger Corps, he isn’t sure what to expect. Rangers are renowned as black magicians and sorcerers, men who guard the kingdom and keep law and order within the fiefs, but not people to cross or mingle with.

As Halt’s apprentice, Will finds a very different reality than he expected. Soon he is embroiled in a world that fascinates and entrances him, a world where he finds himself far more accepted than he ever was as a ward in the Baron’s castle. But war is brewing in the kingdom, and as an apprentice Ranger, Will has a far greater role in the impending conflict than he ever would have expected.

“People will think what they want to,” he said quietly. “Never take too much notice of it.”