Day 184 – January 31, 2015

I don’t make a habit of disagreeing with my boyfriend, Aaron Rodgers. I don’t usually agree with him either. Truthfully, I don’t spend too much time actually listening to anything he has to say. (That’s not true. I’m just kidding! He does a lot of good through charity and for children in particular, and he is much more than just a pretty face and a super-impressive throwing arm – though he is certainly both of those things as well…)

But he said something a little while ago which I just have to disagree with. He said, after the Packers lost to the Seahawks and said goodbye to their Super Bowl hopes, “I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”

There’s nothing incredibly offensive there, as far as I’m concerned. He acknowledged God while also putting football in its proper perspective. But I think God does care about the outcome of a football game. Our mistake, I believe, is putting human-strength glasses on the Creator of the universe. I don’t know if God likes football or not, and I think Aaron was right at the heart of what he was saying. No, I don’t think God has tailgate parties or wears a big foam #1 finger on Sunday afternoons. Again, that’s human stuff. And I think Aaron was circling around the right idea when he said, “He cares about the people involved,” and I really do feel like I know what he was trying to say. (We’re tight like that…) But because God cares about the people involved, don’t you think he also cares about the outcome?

The challenge is to try and think like God, and none of us are capable of that. We can think only in human terms, and that leads us to think that if God cares about the outcome of a football game, it’s because he has an affinity for a particular team, or quarterback, or city, or stadium. But that’s why we care. We think no further than the Super Bowl. That’s the end game. Oh, I suppose if we are really invested, we may be thinking about next season – Will Peyton retire? Will the Rams build on the potential they showed this year? Will Tampa Bay even bother, or just take the year off? – but that’s about it. And even then, we think about how it all affects us. If Peyton retires, I will be sad. If the Rams don’t build on the potential, my husband will be sad. If Tampa Bay…well, sorry…I’ve got nothing there. Anyway, the point is, we think short-term and we think selfishly.

But imagine not only knowing but caring about how every touchdown, every injury, every final score, every Super Bowl affects every player, every fan, every coach, every person who couldn’t care less. And not only for this season, or next, but for all of eternity. The guy who meets his future wife at a Raiders game, the father and son who bond over their love for the Colts, the woman who agrees to go to the game with her husband if he goes to church with her. The guy who gets drunk because he’s upset his team lost, and then drives home, killing a family in a minivan on the way. The woman who is so happy her team won that she decides to call and share the moment with her dad, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years.

God cares about the outcome. Our mistake is believing that the outcome of a game is the outcome that matters.

Day 183 – January 30, 2015

183 + 183 = 366

In other words, I am officially more than halfway through The Year of Blogging Faithfully!

Isn’t that enough for today? Haven’t I earned the right to say nothing today, and not even have to go on and on about my right to say nothing? I’ve tried to be creative when coming up with ways to avoid any substantial blog posts on certain days when I just haven’t been feeling it. I wrote a poem, I constructed some legalish-sort of jargon explaining why I had the right to submit a worthless post, I jabbered on about the Pina Colada Song… I’ve made attempts to be creative. Today, I just don’t think I have it in me.

And yet…I feel as if I must make some effort. So that is what I shall do. I will not make much effort, but I must make some. Basically, I’m going to list a bunch of opening lines from famous novels, but here’s the trick: I’m going to replace one word in each line with the word “blog”. Prepare to be entertained. Or bored. Or both, but certainly not impressed.

“On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was blogging in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.” — The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the blog her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a blog,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?'” — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own blog, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” — David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

“Blogging was dead, to begin with.” — A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

“Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was blogging all night, was seated at the breakfast table.” — The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

“It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be blogged before the adverse hosts could meet.” — The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good blog must be in want of a wife.” — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, blogging.” — The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Day 182 – January 29, 2015

Last night I had a dream that an extremely well-known pastor (think Rick Warren, though it wasn’t actually anyone specific in the dream) contacted me because his church wanted to publish Middle Ground. He said that they believed in what I was doing, and they were very interested in helping me. I got incredibly excited, of course, but then he said that the plan wasn’t yet finalized. They could only publish one book, and it was down to me and some guy and his comic book. I remember looking at the comic book in the dream, and it was very Calvin and Hobbes. That’s all I remember. Ultimately they did choose me, but they could only give me a $325 advance. $325. Very specific. And very low, actually. I mean, don’t get me wrong… That’s more than I actually made in all of 2014 selling books, but for an advance? After I had been sought out? That was pretty low. Nevertheless, I took the offer.

That’s the last thing I remember before waking up, and the silly thing is I woke up very excited. It was so vivid and felt so real, and I thought maybe God was telling me something through my dream. I really have no history of God telling me things through dreams, but I know he could if He wanted. Maybe I’m supposed to reach out to well-known pastors? Maybe I’m supposed to settle for $325? (Right now it wouldn’t even feel like settling!) Maybe an offer is going to come my way and I need to be ready to jump on it? Maybe an offer is going to come my way and I need to be ready to not settle? Maybe I need to read more Calvin and Hobbes?

Ultimately I really think it was just a dream. All of the publishing thoughts and awesome things happening at church and money concerns in my life combined in my subconscious to create a silly dream of nothingness. But I’m actually really encouraged by that. I’ve been focusing less and less on “What if…” and “Someday…” and “If only…” I’m really happy with where my life actually is, and my concerns and fears and great big hopes are playing less of a role in my everyday life. But, obviously…they’re still there.

I don’t know how to explain why that is so meaningful to me. I just know that I’m truly enjoying where I am.

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Day 181 – January 28, 2015

Music influences everything in my life. It influences my mood, my attitude, my energy, my memories, and certainly my writing. Writing the Abigail books, it was all Billy Joel all the time. Of course, that experience took the influence of music to a whole new level. The titles of the books are Billy Joel song titles, or a mash-up (Thank you, Glee, for giving us that term!) of two songs in the case of Scenes From Highland Falls, and Billy is actually a character in there. Oh yeah, and every single chapter title is the title of a Billy Joel song. Super fun. For Middle Ground it was Fleetwood Mac and Francesca Battistelli, though neither infiltrated quite like Billy did. One work in progress is written while listening to rock ballads, while another is 70’s schmaltz. Always the music. It plays a huge role.

I am currently on a shameful completely respectable Simon & Garfunkel kick. As I posted on Facebook a few days ago, “‘Man! Paul Simon’s music makes me feel stuff!’ she muttered as she wiped away a single tear and once again acknowledged the 65-year-old woman who clearly lives inside her body.” And apparently S&G have helped shape me into a promotional and self-marketing monster for this period of time.

The thing is, I don’t know if the mood controls the music or the music controls the mood. A combination of the two, most likely. All I know is that every day I sit and listen to “Homeward Bound,” “The Boxer.” “America,” and all the rest, and I know I can conquer the world! (And I will do it very peacefully and quietly, in a very understated yet powerful way. Possibly with very intricate harmonies.)

Day 180 – January 27, 2015

There is a fine line between assuming that everyone has read every single blog entry for the past 180 days, and offering a recap every time because I assume no one has read any of it. My natural response is to assume no one has ever read any of it — why would they? — and so I am always shocked when friends or — even more shockingly — acquaintances and strangers — reference something in my blog. That’s not a fake modesty or an attempt to appear humble. I am genuinely surprised that anyone takes the time to read this blog, much less read it faithfully. I am surprised and I am honestly very humbled by it.

But the point for today is this: I never know whether to write with the assumption that everyone knows what I’m talking about or not.

An important (to me) thought came to me yesterday evening as I talked to a friend about the upcoming/ongoing promotional blitz for my first books. I’ve been writing about all of that a lot lately on here, and though I have said it often, I think I need to say one more time…this blog is not about selling books. It never has been and I will make sure it never is. The Year of Blogging Faithfully is about documenting a journey. I knew, 180 days ago, that major change was coming in my life. Major change had already taken place, but I felt like God was laying it on my heart that there was much more to come — and that I was supposed to talk about it every day. Believe me, there are days when nothing is really happening, and there are weeks when I feel as if all the major change has already occurred. On those days, I wish I had named it The Six Months of Blogging Faithfully. Be that as it may, I just as often feel as if the biggest changes are yet to come. I don’t know what that means. Changes in my heart? My circumstances? My attitude? Maybe. I really have no idea. But every day, I try to follow God’s path. I try to seek His will and then wait to see what magnificent things He has in store.

The new publicity and promotion of my first books has come about because I very much feel as if that is what God is leading me to do. As I’ve stated over and over…those books are very secular. And, as much as I love them, they aren’t really where my passion lies any longer. But maybe they could open a door. Maybe, if I had a decent amount of success with them, I would have a better chance of getting Middle Ground to the masses. Then again, maybe absolutely nothing will come from this upcoming blitz except that I’ll make enough money to buy some groceries. That would be nice too. Or maybe no one will download the books. I may not make a dime. Maybe an agent is following this blog and waiting to see how the blitz goes before they decide if they want to reach out to me, and maybe it will go so horribly that I will lose my big opportunity. I don’t know! But I do know this: regardless of the outcome, God is at work. I may become a bestselling author or I may become a failed author with a really good story to tell.

I’m past the “Success at any cost!” phase. Instead, I’m striving to follow God’s will at any cost. I’m striving to. Doesn’t mean I always succeed. But this second life which I am trying to give those first books is, I believe, the right thing to do. Our Heavenly Father can work for good through all things. Though I would love for Middle Ground to be published, sell a gazillion copies, and reach people in a new way — to entertain but also draw people to Christ — I do realize that that’s unlikely. Not impossible. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV). I’ve asked. I imagine. All the time I imagine. If He chooses, there is no doubt He is capable. But the awesome thing is that my plan and my dreams — even the wildest and seemingly most outlandish — always pale in comparison to His. Maybe I will get to reach a large audience with my writing, and maybe I will make enough money to help my family and do a lot of good in the world. Or maybe my character will be strengthened by my defeat. And maybe, if my dreams don’t come true, someone will be inspired by the story I tell. And maybe they are the person who God intends to use.

I’m so excited to see what he has in store. But I also realize that there is a possibility I will never get to see. Moses never made it into the Promised Land, but no one would say he failed in his mission. So that’s what it comes down to, I suppose. It’s about the mission. It’s about staying on the course which God lays before me. Maybe I’ll walk into the Promised Land, but maybe I won’t. And maybe I’ll discover that what I thought was the Promised Land was just a poor substitute for what He really wants to do.

Day 179 – January 26, 2015

I try not to spend too much time looking at statistics when it comes to my writing and marketing. In the past six months, in fact, I have done absolutely all I can to avoid said statistics. I don’t want to know how many books I haven’t sold, and how low I am in the Amazon rankings. And I really don’t want to know how many people aren’t visiting my websites. In the past six months I’ve done nothing in regards to trying to sell books, so my monthly royalties deposit in the amount of $1.64, or whatever, has hardly been a surprise. But looking at that pitiful little royalty amount, it isn’t difficult to make the leap to “NO ONE HAS BEEN TO YOUR WEBSITE AT ALL!! DO NOT LOOK AT THOSE STATISTICS!!”

But now, of course, I am tackling it all again. And I decided I needed to know. I needed to have at least a basic idea of what I was looking at. I needed to understand just how deep was the hole from which I would have to dig out my pathetic web presence, or lack thereof.

So imagine my surprise to discover that my author website has had 21,467 page views, and 10,014 unique visitors. And the website devoted to my book series? 30,842 page views and 17,177 unique visitors. Well, that’s not too bad. I’ve only had those pages up for a couple of years, so… But wait! Those numbers are for the last six months.

WHAT?!?

Well, then I just start to get mad. More than 17,000 unique visitors in six months to a website devoted to a series of books which has sold about seven copies in that time frame? Mostly I just get mad at myself. Talk about your wasted opportunities… Back when I cared, I set things in place to direct traffic to those sites. I guess I never really expected any of it to work, but it actually is. To some extent. But then I dropped the ball.

But then I really quickly stop being mad, and instead I get pretty motivated. Laying that groundwork? That was difficult. I was so frustrated because I clearly had no idea what I was doing. But guess what? I guess I had more of a clue than I thought.

That is a lesson I desperately needed to learn.

Day 178 – January 25, 2015

Field of Dreams solo

I received the most wonderful, personal rejection today. Honestly, it was wonderful. And frustrating and depressing, of course, but that’s not the agent’s fault…

I was told that I am ahead of my time. My novel, she said, echoes the sentiment of many Christian women, and Christian fiction authors. “Unfortunately,” she wrote, “the Christian market hasn’t gotten there yet.” In the next paragraph (Yes…paragraph!) she wrote, “And I’m afraid it is too Christian for the general market publishers too.” She went on to say that she is sure there is a publisher out there willing to take a chance, but that she doesn’t believe she is the right agent to find them.Field of Dreams2

Fair, honest, thoughtful, encouraging, and discouraging all at the same time.

I told you. I told you that this is what I was going to run into. Why can’t I just write something which fits in the mold? Just once?

I’m okay with this rejection. In fact, I loved this rejection – despite the fact that the agent and her agency were high on my list of dream agents. This is the rejection that I will look back on someday and say, “Well, yeah…that was the point.”

The point is that Christian readers are ready for this book. And you know what? I think that non-Christian readers are ready for it too. It’s the publishing houses who aren’t ready for it. It’s the publishing houses who think they know what their readers want, but they don’t realize that in some cases their readers are buying what they buy because they don’t have any other options. “If you build it, they will come.”field-of-dreams-end-shot

So I’ll keep building. Right now I’m standing along in my corn field, with everyone looking at me like I’m crazy. But I’ve just got to keep on building.

Day 177 – January 24, 2015

Yesterday I was certain. Today I doubt.

That seems to be the pattern with me. The trick is not letting the doubts get me down. I feel certain that I’m making the right decisions in my life – the path is clear and straight, and I’m excited to move forward – and then, suddenly, I’m not certain about anything. I have experienced that so many times, and so many times I’ve gotten discouraged. So many times I’ve changed course rather than go down the path I know I’m supposed to go down.

Today the doubt came as I paid bills. Rather, the doubt came as I looked at bills and realized I couldn’t pay them yet. We’ll be okay – God is faithful. This post isn’t really about money, it’s about my doubts and insecurities. (“Couldn’t we just talk about money instead?” you ask.)

Yesterday I launched a strategic marketing campaign of sorts for the Abby books. Many factors went into that decision. For one, I felt it was time. I’m in a better place about it all now. Also, there is – as I mentioned yesterday – this strange, unexpected momentum building. It seems foolish to not jump on that. Also, for the very first month since I published, I didn’t make a single penny off of book royalties. I’m not usually rolling in the dough, of course, and most months I consider it a pretty decent month if I make 100 pennies (not exaggerating there…), but there is always something. As I realized that, it wasn’t so much a money issue as it was, “Really? Have I let it come to that?”

But I chose to be positive, and it ended up feeling like a great thing. Like detox, almost. I had to get all Abby marketing/momentum/strategy/concern out of my system completely so that I could start over. Seeing that flat line in the sales graph seemed to represent a complete cleaning of the system. And suddenly, I was fired up again. It felt miraculous, actually. I had the most positive, fun, encouraging day yesterday – making plans and setting goals.

Today as I “paid bills,” all I could think was, “I shouldn’t be wasting my time on this book stuff. I could be working two days a week at something I actually get paid for instead of sitting around making plans, setting goals, and looking at lines which are always going to be flat.”

Today I’m feeling very down and defeated. I hate that. It’s so stupid and pointless. It’s so wasteful and counterproductive. it’s just so…me. I always do this.

I could so easily give in to the feeling of defeat. That’s what I usually do. But I’m not going to do that this time. I’m going to push through. I have the Abby promotion stuff coming up, I sent out more Middle Ground queries, and there is lots of work to do. So I’ll do it.

But as readers of The Year of Blogging Faithfully, just be warned: I may be a little bit weepy here and there. Thank you in advance for sticking with me.

Day 176 – January 23, 2015

I love my first books. They represent a huge segment of my life, in regards to time, effort, emotional sacrifice, etc. I can’t hear a Billy Joel song without crying, I can’t see George Clooney on television without whispering, “Hi, George,” as if I know him, I can’t watch figure skating without thinking of how much better it could have been, and I can’t wear my Brown University shirt without remembering my walk on the campus of Abby’s alma mater. I don’t know George Clooney (Your loss, George. You would love me.), figure skaters do just fine without me, and ABIGAIL PHELPS IS NOT REAL! Despite all of these insignificant little facts, those books and those characters became a part of my heart.

I have spent a fair amount of time coming to terms with things regarding those books. For one thing, I struggle with the idea that based on this blog or knowing that I am a Christ-follower or, eventually, based on Middle Ground or other books I write, some reader will pick up those books expecting a Christian, inspirational story. They won’t find that in those books. They’re not horrible, and probably wouldn’t even be given a PG-13 rating based on today’s standards, but they’re very secular. Which is fine. Totally fine. Unless you were counting on something else. Also, people for the most part seem to like the first book, but not many people seem to be in a big hurry to go on to the second and third books. Again…fine. Totally fine. But that frustrates me a bit because I feel like that trilogy is a big puzzle – or maybe a scavenger hunt is a better way to describe it – and it doesn’t all come together until the end. But not many people seem to make it to the end. That makes me question a million things – Is the first one really any good? Should I have divided it somewhere else to make it more compelling? Did I go too deep? Should I just have let it be the quirky little story which exists in the first book?

So, there’s all of that. And when you have difficult soul searching to do, everyone knows that the best way to handle it is to avoid it. Right? So that’s what I’ve done. Those books are out there. No, they aren’t selling, but maybe that’s best. I was done with them and moving on to other things. I haven’t so much as said, “Hey! Remember me? I wrote a book!” Well, at least not outside of The Year of Blogging Faithfully. You all get to see the raw stuff…

So imagine my surprise when, within the past several days, I received two awesome book reviews for book one (from people I don’t even live with!), was contacted by a local library about getting the books on their shelves and maybe having me do a talk, was informed that a book club wanted to read book one, and was contacted by an awesome author contact about having book one featured on her website for a week in February. Ooh! I was also asked to go talk to 1st graders about being an author! I’m excited about that, but needless to say, I won’t be reading them Abigail excerpts…

This has all been shocking to me. Wonderful, but so surprising. But it’s been enough for me to think maybe it’s time to dust off my Abby books. Literally. I haven’t touched them in so long, they are literally covered in dust.

Great. Now housework is involved, too? This just keeps getting more problematic all the time.

Day 175 – January 22, 2015

Yesterday’s hand-written (and then typed) blog post was an attempt to make myself slow down and take away the pressure. Rest assured, I will not be blogging by hand every day – or, hopefully, ever again – but it was a nice exercise. Later yesterday evening, I very intentionally put aside publishing and writing and watched a movie. No big deal, right? Well, to me it was a pretty big deal.

I’ve begun querying literary agents again, after all. And with my personality it honestly requires physical, deliberate effort to pull myself away from agency websites. I would gladly send out 100 queries in one jam-packed weekend and be done with it if I could, rather than the handful at a time which is more in line with the standard protocol. Send out a few, wait for them to reject you, and then send out more… AGONY! Having already received three rejections, I am to the point where it will be okay to send out some more. So to wait? To, instead, watch (500) Days of Summer? That was a big achievement for me. (Incidentally, I had somehow not seen that movie until yesterday. Why had I waited so long? The concept of that movie and the way it was executed is my brain in a nutshell.)

Today, I participated in another fantastic exercise in restraint and patience.

Jury duty.

Those of you who don’t know, I’m actually a bit of an American history nerd. I’ve mentioned before that there was a period in my life when I wanted to be a presidential historian, so it goes back a bit. And while I am always proud to be an American, and feel so blessed to live in this country, even when we’re not at our best, there are certain things which just bring my patriotism to epic levels. Voting is one of them. I almost always tear up when I vote – and not always because of the options or lack thereof set before me. Another? “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events. Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park. Every moment of the best musical ever written (if you were a theatre major and history minor in college, as I was), 1776. Photos of Neil Armstrong on the moon. Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day. (“We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!” And then I cry like a baby, stand up and cheer, and am ready to go perform for the troops overseas. I don’t know what I’ll perform, but I just need to give back!)

This is pretty much how I feel about jury duty. I honestly look at it as an honor and a privilege. I’m fascinated by the way it all works and, although there is much else to do in a day, there is a big part of me that is anxious to actually be chosen to serve on a jury for the first time. I’ve been summoned four or five times before this instance, and all but one of those were cancelled and I didn’t even have to appear. The one time I did have to appear, I sat through six hours of jury questioning, but they selected the jurors before they even got to me.

Today I did have to appear. We sat for two hours and then were told that the trial was being postponed and we were all free to go. Hmm. No ID4-like tingles associated with that one…

But the two hours were fascinating. No one is allowed to have their cell phones on, or other electronic devices, so people read books. I mean, actual books. Printed on paper. And guess what else? After a while of silence and attempts to keep to ourselves – since we couldn’t bury our noses in our phones – people began talking to each other. Complete strangers were going out of their way to converse with others. People were forced to take time away from their busy lives, and they were legally required to be disconnected from the world. But no one required anyone to spend a solid hour talking and laughing with the three or four people who surrounded them in that packed courtroom. It was almost like for just a little while we all remembered how to be social and friendly. All ages, all walks of life, various ethnicities, no telling how many different religious and political affiliations…

But you couldn’t help but feel like we were all drawn together – for just a little while – by the one thing we all have in common. We’re all Americans, After all, that was the reason we were all there.