Happy Anniversary!

It’s time for a toast. Or, given the amount of calories I’ve already eaten today, maybe a piece of toast would be wise. Regardless of how we celebrate, it’s been a year since the creation of this site!

There is nothing like a birthday or anniversary to make us reflective. Here are some things I’ve learned this last year. You can click on links to read related posts.

  1. Nothing matters as much as good writing.
  2. Being a writer means being open to disagreement and criticism.
  3. Posting writing updates on social media makes good business sense. ONLY posting writing updates, and nothing else, on social media is self-serving.
  4. If I am doing what God has called me to do, he will pay my bills.
  5. Publishing something where someone might recognize themselves without getting their approval first is dumb, dumb, dumb.
  6. I will always miss teaching. I will miss my students more.
  7. There is more than one way to make money as a writer. Some are more interesting than others.
  8. Writing is a real job, and should be treated like one.
  9. Having a writing group RULES.
  10. Play nice with editors. In fact, play nicer than everyone else.
  11. Keep good records and follow up on open invoices, submitted manuscripts, etc.
  12. Sometimes I will hate my own writing.
  13. It’s forced and synthetic to create a list with a nice round number like 15, and less satisfying than ending on a prime number instead.

Looking forward to another year, with more learning and victory ahead! And don’t forget the toast!


Photo credit of the VERY calorie-intense toast: penguincakes – http://www.flickr.com/photos/penguincakes/2788691971/, CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25547996

In Which I Graciously Share Space with…DAVE BARRY!

You are going to have to pardon all the italics in this post, but I have life-changing news. Yesterday I got a copy of my first print publication, in Funny Times. So far, all my other credits have been online.

This is great, this is wonderful, but it’s not really italics worthy. (Except for the title of the newspaper. No way around that one.)

But then the italics happened! Because: my name was next to Dave Barry‘s! I was so excited that I may have screamed, out loud, “My name is right next to Dave Barry’s!” Perhaps I was reading on the lawn in front of the library. Perhaps it was crowded yesterday, because it was Farmer’s Market day. Perhaps I was sitting next to my daughter, who is entering her teenage years with that certain mortification kids get whenever their parents do anything interesting, like breathe or talk or make jokes about sex. Or dance next to them at a summer outdoor concert. (Not that I would know.)

But who cares about that? Because, I mean, Dave Barry! I learned everything I know about parenting and relationships from that guy!

I confess that part of me was like, Dave Barry is going to know who I am now! He’s going to call me up, and mention what a great essay I wrote, and how he’s really honored, as a Pulitzer winner, to be in the same paper with me.

And then I noticed that, not only are we in the same newspaper together, not only are our names literally right next to each other, but–

Sorry about that. I needed to breathe into a paper bag for a second. Because: we are on the same page!!! Well, back-to-back. Seriously, it’s like being in the same room with him! And standing back-to-back with him! To see who’s taller, or who’s the better writer, or who has the better haircut, or whatever.

Anyway, you can come to your own conclusions. My name’s not on his website yet (I checked), but…I shared my first print publication with Dave Barry!

I’m just saying.

Rules of Engagement: Keeping Facebook “Friend”ly

Today I’m asking for restraint.

This is unusual for me. I often have candy-colored hair. I’m 42 and planning out my next tattoo. The sides of my head are shaved–before that, I had dreadlocks. I’ve worn a tutu and striped tights…to church. My laugh is loud and once, when talking about a sensitive subject, I told the group I was with that I was going to be subtle. When I finished talking, the friend sitting next to me said, “At what point, exactly, was that subtle?”

I don’t normally do restraint.

But today, I sat down at my computer and said, “Lord, I need to post something today and I have no idea what to write. Will you please show me?” And five minutes later, I came across this post from my friend Aaron Bekkerus on Facebook:

I think it’s interesting that so many complain about our polarized government and country, yet even amongst my Facebook friends nobody wants to give an inch on any particular issue. Comments are either an echo chamber or senseless bickering. I think it would be wise to acknowledge that our friends and colleagues often have some reasonable rationale for a viewpoint on either side. With that understanding we could set about fine tuning our great country.

He has a great point. Facebook proliferates with memes (a word I didn’t know until two months ago when my daughter used it), video clips, and diatribes. It’s not even a debate; no one is trying to win. We’re just trying to be the loudest, the most obnoxious, the cleverest and most shaming.

Dialogue is always better than debate. The winners of debates aren’t chosen by who’s right; they are decided based on who was more skilled at arguing. Let’s just all agree: some people are really good at arguing.

This is not a skill we should be admiring. This is “might makes right” mentality and it’s wrong. It’s wrong when governments do it and it’s wrong when individuals do it.

On the other hand, dialogue searches for truth and understanding. It doesn’t have a time-limit, and it never seeks to “win”. It’s curious and open and based on facts. Disagreements aren’t always resolved, and people still get heated and emotional, but (unless we allow our dialogues to mutate into debates) no one leaves feeling defeated.

Now, back to restraint. When it comes to sensitive issues, Facebook is not the place for dialogue–or debate, for that matter.

Respectful dialogue is possible in person ONLY, where we can read and respond to the nonverbal signals of the people we’re talking with, and where looking at their faces reminds us that we love these people and want to understand them and treat them well. It’s only in person that our sense of relationship can outweigh our selfish desires to be right. It’s only when we have the physical presence of people that we normally like and respect that we can remember: oh yeah! I like talking with these people! She gave me a ride that one time, when my car ran out of gas. And he babysits my kids for free whenever I ask. And, for pete’s sake, I’m the godmother of their daughter!

It’s only in person that we can take others more seriously than we take ourselves.

So, please: use restraint on social media. If you must talk politics, then, you know: talk politics.

No one’s mind was ever changed by something they read on Facebook.

Except, maybe, how they think about the person who posted it.

On the far side of disappointment: a happy (deportation) ending

We need some good news.

Black men executed in public. Innocent people bombed in shopping malls. Children subjected to bullying because of their school’s inflexible bathroom policy. The worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen since the Holocaust. A political system so corrupt we are left with two candidates few people trust.

I don’t know how much more we can take. And I’m not even personally suffering.

When I asked my husband what the heck is going on in the world, his response was to take my face in his hands and say, “Jesus is coming soon.” This is, of course, good news, very, very good news. But, in this as in all things, I don’t like having to wait.

So today I have a good story to tell. This is a true story. It is story of a family reunited. It starts sad, as sad as they come. But stay with me till the end because you will love it.

It starts with the bombing of the World Trade Center, and the backlash against Arabs and Muslims in the US. It starts with Masab’s parents getting deported. They had four American children, but Masab, their second son, was born in Kuwait, which does not grant citizenship based on birth. His parents are Palestinian, and Palestine does not grant citizenship based on parentage.

Masab was a citizen of nowhere.

When his parents were deported, he could not go with them. No country would allow him to get off the airplane. The US government knew this and deported his parents anyway.

He was fourteen.

His parents left their older son, all of sixteen years old, behind as well, so that the boys could look out for each other.

When Masab’s father explained this to me, back in 2003, it took awhile for me to understand. “Wait,” I said, appalled. “You mean, the US won’t grant him citizenship, but won’t let him leave, either?” It was the most confusing and heartless illogic ever. “They are forcing you to go but you can’t take your son?”

And so, Masab and Waleed were left, alone in the United States, as their parents and younger (American) siblings were exported to another continent like machinery or dry goods. The other news: his parents, as people who had violated immigration laws in this most unforgiving of times, would never be allowed to return.

I kept careful guard over my daughter in those days, her grubby little hands and clear eyes, and tried to imagine giving her away, leaving her behind, saying goodbye: forever. I watched my high school students and wondered what it would be like to live alone, with no parents to pay the bills or do the shopping or cooking or cheer from the sidelines at even one basketball game.

I could not.

We prayed, and fasted, and prayed some more, that Masab would receive his legal residency. He finally did a full ten years later, at the age of 24, and after a separation that can never be measured by its ten-year duration, finally traveled overseas to visit his family.

Like a moth drawn to flame, I sometimes think about not seeing my daughter, my son, for ten whole years – and it is a lifetime longer than I can bear. After ten years, they would be whole new people, unknown to me, strangers.

Against all odds, this story has a happy ending, a happy ending you and I have been waiting for days or weeks or months or years to hear. The boys took care of each other. They finished high school. They both have college degrees and careers. Masab, through the kind of hard work and relentless responsibility that most White Americans can never fathom, earned his citizenship. When he received it, he immediately applied to sponsor his parents.

It’s been about thirteen years since the whole family has been together. This week, his parents arrived in the US. Legally. For good.

This mother, this father, their five adult children, sitting in a living room together, celebrating the end of Ramadan with each other for the first time in over a decade: this is good news. We love this family; we consider these boys our brothers, nephews, sons. This is what my family and my church and I have been praying for. This is a victory over evil.

Good things are still out there, in this world, waiting to be found, waiting to happen, waiting for someone to make them happen.

Peace be with you.

It’s almost Time to Publish! Here’s How I Know

September 2016.

That’s the magical month. My goal is to send the manuscript of my novel out to agents right around when my kids go back to school.

People ask me how this works all the time. The best explanation I have ever seen is in the graphic here, from Shaula Evans (who offers support for writers on her website).

Back in the old days, before I became a full-time writer, I thought you could just dream up an idea, write the first 100 pages, send it off, and wait for the offers to pour in. Then, and this feels really insane for people like me who are used to regular jobs where the paycheck comes after you’ve done all the work, you’d get a fat check to cover your bills so you could do nothing but write.

No wonder I wanted to become an author!

It still works this way for some people, non-fiction writers and John Green, for instance. For the rest of us unknowns, we’ve got to write the entire book, and get it as polished as possible by taking it through multiple drafts, before anyone will even take a look at it. This means finding other means of staying alive, of course, like moving in with your 80-year-old mom, or sleeping out of your car, or writing in the evenings when you’re not at your regular job, or selling all your old Legos*, or organs if necessary, on eBay.

I’m really excited because I’m in the middle of my FIFTH revision right now, and the book is getting as close to finished as my critique group and I can make it. So, my deadline is September. No one will notice but you and me if I miss it.

But I won’t. I’m ready. And it’s a good thing, too–I already have an idea for my next novel.


*For all you nerd-types, I am happy to include this small piece of trivia: LEGO is a company. Ergo, there is no such thing as Legos. Which is why spell check doesn’t like it. Outside of the US, everyone else says “LEGO bricks” or “LEGO pieces”. To that I say, “Go US! Way to take something grammatically incorrect and run with it!” Just my way of saying Happy Birthday America this Fourth of July.


Photo credit: Tom Murphy VII – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=295698