Category Archives: Thoughts About Books


Edit: Giveaway is now closed.

Hi everyone,

Today I’m giving away a copy of my book, The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea. Entering is simple: Just leave a comment below telling me your favorite Christmas/holiday tradition.

Or, just leave a comment. Any comment. Unless your comment specifically says “don’t enter my name into this giveaway,” I will enter your name into the giveaway.

The giveaway will close on Monday, December 14 at 3 pm PST.

If you want to increase your odds of winning, I’m also doing a giveaway on Facebook and on Instagram, so head over there and enter as well!

Good luck, and I hope you win! Heehee

You can order my book here.

You can find me on

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker



Patreon: (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month. My latest two posts were titled My Thoughts on the Election and With Honor)

Sending My Book Into the Wide Wide World

On Tuesday, November 17, I woke up feeling grumpy. All these little things were going wrong in my life. My books still had not arrived, even though I’d told everyone that November 16 was my official release date. I’d been heavily exposed to Covid, and still didn’t have my test results back, so I was wearing a mask whenever I wasn’t in my bedroom. That got old really fast. And finally, Oregon was going into another lockdown. It made sense, with Thanksgiving coming up, but it also made life complicated.

I guess today is technically our Thanksgiving, I thought to myself. We were celebrating early, both because of the impending lockdown and because Steven had to work Thanksgiving day.

Then the verse “give thanks in all circumstances” popped into my head, and I felt a wave of guilt. I’d been grumpy and grouchy for days, not feeling very thankful at all.

Today I’ll choose to be thankful in all circumstances, I thought. And then, it turned out just like a Sunday School story. Once I decided to be thankful, everything started going right for once.

First, I got the news that I was Covid-free. Yay!

Then, I got the news that my books had arrived! I pulled on some clothes, and mom and I drove down to the warehouse in our terrible minivan. They had just been unloaded, all those boxes and boxes of books, sitting on a pallet and shrink-wrapped together.

Seeing my books for the first time was such an amazing feeling. I’d worked so hard for this. And here it was. A book. Tangible evidence that I’d created something, in all those hours I spent at my computer.

Then I went home and started packing up orders. I’d allowed people to pre-order the book, because I thought that would be more efficient. And it would have been if my books had arrived, say, even four or five days before my release date, as I thought they would. But since they arrived after the release date, I had a bit of a scramble, getting them all out.

I finally had to take a break so that I could help make Thanksgiving dinner.

Wednesday was pretty magical. I went to the post office and mailed about 1/3 of the pre-orders, as well as several full boxes to bookstores and distributers. “You have so many packages. You must own a small business,” said a woman in line behind me.

I explained that I’d published a book, and she, as well as the other gentleman in line behind me, were so excited for me. They told me all about the Mennonites they knew. And she ended up, several weeks later, buying two of my books and writing me a really sweet letter.

Now, 2020 has been a really hard year for me. I know this isn’t remotely unique in these times, but between Covid stuff, Dad’s accident, and other tragic events in the community, I just feel so fragile and worn down this fall. I clung to my book as the one good thing that was going to come out of 2020. And it has been really good and really happy. Still, it has also been a bit more than I could handle sometimes. And by Thursday, I’d overworked myself so thoroughly that I got sick.

This added a whole new layer of complication, because it was only 11 days since my Covid exposure. I didn’t think it was Covid, and yet I felt like I should quarantine just in case, so I had to try to trade favors with my family members to get them to take my books to the post office for me. And then Mom went to the warehouse again to fetch more books, and the terrible van died. It really was a dramatic day.

Still, with the help of my family, I managed to get caught up on orders by Saturday. I never got re-tested for Covid. I guess the testing system was overloaded that Friday, because I couldn’t get through to urgent care. But it really didn’t seem like Covid, and getting Covid 11 days after exposure is pretty rare. Besides, I’d just gotten a negative test. I concluded that I’d gotten sick by overworking myself, because that’s fairly typical for how my body works, unfortunately.

In the days since then, I’ve mostly felt grateful and overwhelmed. Somehow with website stuff, sending out orders, trying to figure out international shipping, giving up on international shipping and deciding that I need to figure out how to make a Kindle book instead, etc etc etc, I’ve felt like I just can’t keep up with the marketing things I intended to do. I’ve hardly done blog posts and Instagram posts. I haven’t done any giveaways yet. I haven’t done promotional livestreams or blog tours or anything like that.

However–and I’m so deeply grateful for this–so many people have stepped up and done all these little promotional things for me. Posting about my book on their Instagram stories and Facebook, so all I have to do is click “share” and I’ve done a little promotion right there. Chris Miller made me a book trailer. But mostly, people have been buying the book, and that means a lot. I mean, I know it’s pandemic times and a lot of people can’t afford to buy books right now and that’s totally understandable and fine.

But a lot of people have bought my book, and the idea that people care about my words enough to purchase them…well, wow. It’s just incredible, really.

So, thank you.

P.S. I called my book the One Good Thing of 2020, but that was kind-of a brain fart because, hello. Matt and Phoebe’s wedding. That was also a Good Thing of 2020. So I guess there were two good things, haha.

You can order my book here.

You can find me on

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker



Patreon: (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month. My latest two posts were titled My Thoughts on the Election and With Honor)

The Story Behind The Story

Photo by Janane Nguyen Photography

Yesterday I got the news that my books have been printed. Soon they’ll be shipped to me, and then I’ll start packaging up and sending out the pre-orders. Yay!!!

Today, I thought I’d share the story behind the story. How did I come to write this book?

According to my Google Docs archives, I started it on March 8, 2019. At 1:01 pm EST, I opened a new document and typed:

“I’ll drive if you’ll give me this coffee,” I said.

There were about two inches left in my sister Amy’s paper cup of gas station coffee. It was cold. But I wasn’t drinking it for the coffee, I was drinking it for the caffeine. 

“Okay,” said Amy.

From The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea

But in my memory, I started the book six days before that, on a cold dark evening, as I was driving north on that long road that stretches between Lancaster City and Myerstown. I was thinking about death, and life, and love. I’d spent the last four days with some of my dearest friends as they grieved the loss of their cousin Ian, and I’d seen grief so up close, so raw.

And then, a song came on the radio. “Love Alone is Worth the Fight,” by Switchfoot.

I listened, and in my mind a movie played, of all the pain and heartache I’d witnessed in the past four days. They were hurt so deeply only because they’d loved Ian so much, and yet, it was all worth it to them. They never regretted loving him so much.

Because love alone is worth the fight.

I’d been traveling for six months at this point, and the whole time I’d had a vague idea that I would probably write a book about this experience. But up until now, the trip seemed like a random assortment of haphazard events, the most interesting of which I could never write about. (Yes, I did have some romantic drama. No, I didn’t write about any of it.)

But now, I had something. A vague ghost of a theme. Something that went a little deeper than “I did this crazy thing, and then I did that thing, and then I locked my keys in my car again.”

I’m going to start this book, I decided. And six days later, I did just that. Those exact words are in my book now, only on page 5 instead of page 1. (Also, with a couple of light edits. “My sister” was deleted, and the last “said” was changed to “agreed.”)

Despite the fact that my first words made it into the final draft relatively unscathed, most of that first draft wasn’t so lucky. I began it with only a vague idea that I had something deeper to say about my trip, but I didn’t have a firm grasp on the themes.

Partly just because I wasn’t even finished with the trip yet.

It’s kind-of funny, actually. When I returned to Oregon on June 8, 2019, I thought the trip was over. It hadn’t been a calendar year, but it had been a school year. By August I was starting on my second draft.

But then at the end of August, Grandpa had a stroke, and I flew to Minnesota to help care for him in his last days.

By this point I’d found the real opening line of my book: “When Justin shoveled dirt onto his son’s grave, it rattled like thunder.” (It was actually a line from my diary, originally.)

Because that’s how my story really began: not with asking my sister for her coffee, but with me, at a funeral, on the day I’d planned to leave Oregon. My cousin Justin’s son, little Asher Kai, was stillborn a week before his due date. He passed away on September 11, 2018, and his funeral was on September 15. I left for my trip on September 16.

A year later, on September 11, 2019, my 102-year-old grandpa passed away. His funeral was on September 15, and I left Minnesota and came back to Oregon on September 16.

This, I decided, was the real end of my trip, and I added two chapters accordingly.

Still, figuring out the themes didn’t come naturally to me. For that, I have to deeply thank my friend/editor Janessa Miller. I know that there can be all sorts of issues with hiring your friends, but I so needed my editor to also be my friend. Someone I could honestly and openly talk about my feelings with.

It was she who forced me to really look deeper into my story, not just as a series of disconnected events, but as events that I had feelings about. Events that shaped me, and changed me. (I’m an enneagram 5 and feelings are hard. Not because I don’t have them, but because it feels weird to talk about them. And also, I don’t always know I’m having feelings while I’m having them. I have to think about it for a while first.)

(Example: during my whole trip, I never realized that I was lonely. I didn’t discover it until I started writing about it, and sending drafts to Janessa, and hearing her say, “but how did that make you feel?”)

By the third draft, with the help of Janessa, I’d finally ironed out the themes.

The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea is a story of adventure, exploration, identity, heritage, community, faith, and loss. Follow Emily’s story as she embarks on the road trip of a lifetime, haphazardly finding her way through community after community in an attempt to figure out where she truly belongs.

From The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea

In total, I wrote five drafts of the book, although I’m not sure if the last two “count” as drafts.

The first draft was just a brain dump of events. It was also incomplete, since I “finished” it before my trip had technically “ended.” It took me five months to write, but I took it pretty slow.

The second draft was the hardest. It took me six months, and then I sent it to Janessa for her first round of edits.

The third draft took 2 1/2 months, and then I sent it to Janessa for a second round of edits.

The fourth draft took 22 days. It was just polishing up a lot of little things. Then I sent it to the proofreader, and I also sent bits of the book to all the people I’d written about, just in case they were uncomfortable with anything I’d said about them.

The fifth draft, which was just correcting all the little things the proofreader had found and adjusting a few things people had asked me to change, took 15 days.

And then, on August 8, 2020, it was done!

That is the story behind the story of my book, The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea. Sometime soon I’d like to tell the story behind the cover. And also, I’d like to tell my self-publishing story. So there are two future blog posts you can look forward to.


Pre-order My Book Here

Find Me On

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker



Patreon: (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month. My latest two posts were titled Thank You, and Chapter 1 of The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea. I think I’ll write about the election next, if I’m brave enough!)

The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea

Yes. It’s true.

After months of delays, I finally have a release date for my book: November 16, 2020. You can pre-order it now on our brand new website.

It’s been a journey, but honestly, this book is one of the greatest achievements of my life. I’ve never, ever done a project like this. (It was completely different from writing my first book, which I might elaborate on in a future blog post).

Anyway, here is the back cover summary:

When Emily Smucker decided to spend a year traveling around the United States, living in a different Mennonite community every month, the world seemed exciting and limitless. She was ready to find her place in the world and begin her career as a freelance writer and editor.

Emily’s trip took many surprising twists and turns: visiting an Amish church in Ohio, swapping travel stories with homeless people in Delaware, and attending far more funerals than she expected. But through the adventure and excitement as well as loss and loneliness, Emily clung to her faith, experiencing a deep connection with her Heavenly Father.

The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea is a story of adventure, exploration, identity, heritage, community, faith, and loss. Follow Emily’s story as she embarks on the road trip of a lifetime, haphazardly finding her way through community after community in an attempt to figure out where she truly belongs.


Thank you guys for following along with me on my journey. I appreciate you endlessly.

The Bookish Tag (A Video)


My blog has been sorely neglected during the month of May. Honestly I’ve just wanted to hide in a hole this month. And it just gets worse and worse. When I sit down to write, I can’t even express my feelings. I am just sickened at George Floyd’s death, and everything that caused it: the racial injustice in our country, and the violent police systems.

I don’t even have blog posts inside me right now. I’m sorry.

What I do have is this video that I filmed over a month ago and never uploaded because our internet couldn’t handle it. (Seriously, after 48 hours it wasn’t even halfway uploaded, and I gave up.) But today I managed to fix the problem by using the hotspot in Mom’s writing cabin.

Here’s the story behind the video: After my week of book-related posts last fall, Rachel Troyer of The Striped Pineapple messaged me saying she enjoyed it, and perhaps she’d do a bookweek herself. I told her that if she did so, I’d write up a “tag” of book-related questions for her to answer on her blog.

Rachel did the tag, and then Esther at Shasta’s Fog did the tag, and it looked like so much fun that I decided to do the tag too. Yes, I answered my own questions. Ha. But I did it via video, so that you could actually see the books I was referring to. (Subsequently Eden at The Happy Hedgehog did it too, but I didn’t mention her in the video because when I filmed it she hadn’t done so yet!)

Anyway, enjoy the video! And if you want to answer the questions in your own blog, video, or even in the comments, I’d love it! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the blogs of everyone who has done the tag.


Bookweek 2019 Day 5: The Ultimate Book Tag

woman lying on area rug reading books

Photo by Renato Abati on

Yesterday, when I sat down to write the fifth and final Bookweek 2019 post, I realized that all my remaining Bookweek ideas were rather negative. The worst book I read this year. Boring main characters. A rant about book snobs. Etc. And I just didn’t want to end Bookweek on a negative note. So I scrapped what I had, and went to bed, and decided I’d write the last blog post today (Saturday) instead.

Well, today I hosted a tea party. And now I’m tired. So I have no energy left to come up with a fun creative way to end bookweek.

I know what I’ll do! I’ll use good old Aunt Google, and find a book-related tag to fill out.

Hmm, looks like I’m going to steal “The Ultimate Book Tag” from a blogger named “The Bibliophile Girl.” Let’s answer some random book-related questions!

Do You Get Sick While Reading In The Car?

Only if it’s a sunny day and we’re driving through town or something, with lots of starts and stops.

Which Author’s Writing Style Is Completely Unique To You And Why?

(Okay, my editor brain is not appreciating the way that question is phrased, but whatevs.) J.D. Salinger has a unique writing style, but the only book of his that I loved was Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. Daniel Handler has a unique writing style, and I absolutely adore his A Series of Unfortunate Events books. However I read some stuff he’d written for adults, and it was too weird for me.

That’s the problem with unique writers. Very often their stuff turns weird. Dark. Overly sexual. Etc. Take Wuthering Heights, for instance. Emily Brontë is brilliant, with a completely unique writing style. I was amazed when I read her work. But can one really like her book?

Harry Potter or Twilight? Give 3 Reasons Why.

To be honest, I didn’t like (or finish) either series. Harry Potter was FULL of plot holes that drove me nuts. Also it got progressively darker as the series wore on. Twilight was interesting for the first few chapters, but the love story was so weird/creepy/obsessive I literally threw the book in the trash. Haha.

Do You Carry A Book Bag? If So, What’s In It (Besides Books)?

A book bag is just a backpack, right? Yes I carry one, but rarely are there books inside, lest I get distracted when I’m supposed to be working.

Things I always carry: My laptop, my laptop cord, at least one pen, my planner, my earbuds, my wallet, my phone, keys

Things I often carry: Snacks, a notebook, my phone charger, a mug

Things I sometimes carry: Spare clothes, books

Do You Smell Your Books?

Only when they have a particularly pungent smell. Certain cheap paperbacks have a very specific odor, and every time I smell it I’m transported to Bag End. The Hobbit was the first book of that smell that I ever read, you see.

I remember getting a new Algebra 1/2 textbook when I was a kid, and loving how it smelled. The smell faded after a while, but I’d still flip to unused pages, stick my nose in close to the spine, and breathe in a big whiff.

Books With or Without Illustrations?

With! I was just talking to Amy about this the other day. Why have publishers, for the most part, stopped illustrating books? Illustrations are so charming! I love stumbling across them in books.

What Book Did You Love While Reading, But Discovered Later It Wasn’t Quality Writing?

For me it’s more of an author than a specific book. Gail Carson Levine. She was my absolute favorite author in my teens. Especially her book Ella Enchanted.

I bought pretty much everything she wrote, back then. But in 2014 I re-read one of her books, Fairest, and discovered that it didn’t retain its charm in adulthood. This was very disappointing to me.

I still think Ella Enchanted is a good book, though. Levine did well when she was sticking to such a simple premise–Cinderella with a twist. She tried to get more complicated in some of her later books, and she just couldn’t quite pull it off.

Do You Have Any Funny Stories Involving Books From Your Childhood?

Once I was in the garden, and I saw a bee. The bee and I had a bit of a scuffle in which the bee stung my hand, and I swatted at the bee. And somehow, in all the chaos, the bee ended up stuck in my hair.

Yes. Stuck. Not, like, in my braid or something, but against my scalp. I could feel it buzzing in there, still alive but unable to escape.

So I went into the house. “There’s a bee in my hair!” I said.

Matt grabbed a book. “Sorry,” he said, and he hit me over the head with the book.

The bee stopped buzzing. It was good and dead.

“You might want to go wash your hair now,” said Matt.

(Whenever I tell this story, people always ask if it hurt when Matt hit me with the book. I guess he somehow knew how to hit hard enough to kill bees, but not hard enough to hurt people. Because I don’t remember it hurting. I just remember being relieved that I wasn’t going to get another bee sting, on the top of my head this time.)

What Is The Thinnest Book On Your Shelf?

Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

What Is the Thickest Book On Your Shelf?

An enormous copy of the Bible that belonged to my great-grandfather.

Do You Write As Well As Read? Do You See Yourself Being An Author In the Future?

Yes, and yes!

When Did You Get Into Reading?

Good question. I was definitely a “late bloomer” when it came to reading. Learning to read was a struggle. I probably wouldn’t have described myself as “into reading” until my teens.

What Is Your Favorite Classic Book?

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie. Also just my favorite book in general. As far as grown-up books go, I haven’t thought this through very carefully. But the one that immediately came to mind was Emma, by Jane Austen.

Although to be honest, I’m not 100% sure what counts as “classic.” Will any book do, so long as it’s 50+ years old, and popular enough to be re-printed in modern times? Or must it be something most people are familiar with?

What Was Your Best Subject In School?

Not sure what this has to do with books, but okay. I took a JavaScript class once in college, and got the highest grade it was possible to get in the class. Like, 100% plus extra credit. Super random. I never took another computer science class. But I’m weirdly proud of that grade, esp because I was so confused on the first day of class that I cried. It was really embarrassing because this awkward boy tried to comfort me but he didn’t really know how to deal with crying girls, and personally, I just wanted everyone to ignore me and pretend that I wasn’t crying.

If You Were Given A Book As A Present That You Read Before And Hated, What Would You Do?

I would genuinely thank the person for the gift, because at least they’re buying me books. I think it’s really sweet when people buy me books. It shows they care about getting me a personal gift.

If the book was pretty, I might keep it around. But most likely I’d pass it on to someone who would enjoy it, or give it to a thrift store. Marie Kondo and all that. (Unless the book was Twilight in which case it would go into the trash can, haha.)

What Is Your Favorite Word?

If I’m going to be honest, my favorite word probably is “interesting.” I use it all the time, but that’s because I genuinely find what people say to be so interesting. I show love by being interested in what people say, and I feel loved when people are interested in what I have to say.

Also, I love how people pronounce it all sorts of different ways. Some say “in-tris-ting,” some say “in-ter-rest-ting,” and some say “in-ner-rest-ting.” I used to write in my diary that people had “inner sting” if I thought they were especially interesting. But I love how the word can also sound like “inner resting…” because if I am learning something especially interesting, it does feel like part of me, inside, is at home at at rest.

(I know some people use this word as code for “weird,” but I just feel sorry for those people and their boring lives, haha)

That’s all for now. I’d answer the rest of the questions, but…um….just check them out, will you?

What Is A Lesser Known Series That You Know Of That Is Similar to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?
What Is A Bad Habit You Always Do (Besides Rambling) While Filming?
Are You A Nerd, Dork, or Dweeb?
Vampires of Fairies? Why?
Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?
Spirits or Werewolves? Why?
Zombies or Vampires? Why?
Love Triangles or Forbidden Love?
Full on Romance Books Or Action-Packed With A Few Love Scenes?

Yeah…these questions aren’t really my style. I should just stop.

See you next year, for Bookweek 2020! And don’t forget that book recommendations are always welcome in my comments section. 🙂

Bookweek 2019 Day 4: The Most Charming Book Trope

A few months ago I started compiling a list of books that I thought were absolutely charming. Books that just straight-up made me feel happy and delighted with life whenever I read them. But as I looked over my list, I realized they all had the same basic plot.

They were all about women, older than your typical heroine, who in one way or another had tough, somewhat dismal lives. They never got married, or else they did get married and their husband was not all that they expected him to be. Their relatives took advantage of them. They never reached financial stability.

Then something changed. They were told they were going to die. Or they wrote a book about their neighbors, and it became a bestseller. Or they decided to spend a month in Italy. Or they bought a bookseller’s cart and left their miserable existence behind forever.

And suddenly, their lives were fun and interesting and everything they could have wanted.

The first book of this type that I read was, of course, The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. And this is still my favorite of the whole list.

Image result for The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.

Then, my friend Janessa recommended that I read Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. And my friend Esta, when she heard me compiling this list, handed me Mrs Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson.

Image result for Parnassus on WheelsImage result for Mrs Pettigrew Lives for a Day book

But honestly, I feel like most of the books in this category I found because of recommendations from blog readers. Like Miss Buncle’s Book, by D.E.Stevenson. Or The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim. A reader once recommended the book Mrs ‘Aaris goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico, and I’ve always assumed it would follow this trope, but I can’t say for sure because I’ve never managed to get my hands on it.

Image result for miss buncle's book, by d.e.stevensonImage result for mrs arris goes to paris novelImage result for The Enchanted April

I’ve never found a nonfiction book that really follows this trope. Which is probably just as well, since the reason we devour these books is because they’re just more satisfying than real life.

However I re-read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom this year, and I was struck by how, in an odd way, her life followed a similar plotline. It wasn’t that she had an unhappy life, but it was rather dull and uneventful. Here she lived, with her father and older sister, into her 40s. Working at the same watch repair shop, living in the rooms above and behind it…the same places she’d spent her entire life.

And then suddenly WWII comes along, and she’s caught up in the most exciting adventurous life. Secret rooms! Coded messages! Saving lives! Of course, then came the horror of prison, and the death of so many people she loved. But I find it fascinating that Ten Boom never had a boring life again, after that decision to shelter Jewish people in her home. Because after prison she was a world-famous author and speaker.

In a similar vein is Paris Underground by Etta Shiber. Shiber had done a few more things in her 60 years of life than Ten Boom had done in her 40 years. She’d married, become widowed, and lived in a few different places. But the book sort-of had the same vibe. She and her friend, both widows in their 60s, were settling down for a quiet, uneventful life. But on a whim they make the decision to do the right thing…save someone’s life and help them escape Paris…and suddenly these two older ladies were living this exciting life, smuggling humans to freedom.

Anyway. If you like one book on this list, chances are you’d like the others. And if you know other books that follow this charming trope, please let me know! Some of my very favorite books came from reader suggestions. (Also, Christmas is coming up, and I need to fill out my wish list.)

Bookweek 2019 Day 3: Books that Changed my Life this Year

Usually I judge books by how much they make me think, or how interesting they are, or how well they transport me to another world. I like well-drawn characters and fun plots and magical, mystifying moments that make me gape in awe at the thought of a flesh-and-blood human coming up with such a thing.

In short, I vastly prefer fiction to nonfiction.

But when I start judging by other criteria–that is, by which books have actually changed my life in visible ways–most of them are nonfiction books. (Also, most of them I never actually finished reading, haha.)

Anyway. Here are the books that changed my life this past year.

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, by Meik Wiking


I read this book because I was trying to do a holiday blogging series, and I wanted to write about cozy winter-themed books.

This book recommended wool sweaters as a path to hygge, so I bought a merino wool sweater. A slightly over-sized, gray and darker gray striped, cozy sweater made in Ireland. $4 at a thrift store.

Then, I proceeded to wear this sweater all the time. In Pennsylvania especially, it was the only garment I owned that made me feel warm, so I literally wore it every single day. I felt like a cartoon character.

That was the primary way this book changed my life, but it also inspired me to buy a candle. I toyed with the idea all year, and finally bought one this fall. (Actually, I asked Jenny to pick one up for me and she just bought it as a gift. That’s the kind of sister I have, folks.)

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, by Scott Adams

This book was on my brother Matt’s bookshelf when I stayed at his house over Christmas. I have a particular dislike of self-help books, so I was surprised when I found that I resonated deeply with the things Adams was saying. I concluded that Adams must be an Enneagram 5, and that’s why both Matt and I find his advice useful. Heh heh.

Maybe it sounds cheesy to say–and maybe everyone knows this already–but if you want to succeed, you just gotta get out there and fail a lot. I knew that on a surface level already–you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take and all that jazz–but I was able to really believe it on a deeper level after reading Adams’ book.

Also. Adams gives tons of advice that’s just plain practical and useful.

I would say it changed me, because I’m now learning to tell myself a different story about my failures. One where I’m on a path to success rather than completely incompetent.

No plot? No problem!, by Chris Baty

When I started this book, I didn’t understood the term “process” as it related to writing. When I finished the book (and by “finished” I mean stopped reading 5/6ths of the way through) I still didn’t understand the term. Because Baty doesn’t talk about finding your process.

Instead, he offers a one-size-fits-all process: Tell all your friends that you’re writing a novel in a month, and then sit at your computer and pound out 1,667 words per day.

I tried it, and failed spectacularly. I had no plot, and it was a problem, thank you very much Baty. I didn’t know what should happen next, so I wrote dumb stuff that I hated, and then I tried to make it extra-serious for some reason, which was stupid because it was based on a silly premise. I hated the book so much that I didn’t want to work on it anymore.

But taking the Scott Adams approach, I was able to figure out a lot about my writing process through this failure.

Like, if there’s no humor in my book, I am going to eventually hate it. Also, a writing system works much better for me than a writing goal does (Adams was big on having systems instead of goals). And finally, I have to know where the plot is going before I start writing. At least have some idea.

Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book?, by Ally Carter

When I read Carter’s book, I understood “process.”

“Should I plot out my entire novel as I go, or should I just fly by the seat of my pants?” readers asked Carter. To which she replied that every writer has a different process. The system that works for them, even if they hate it. That’s the thing you, as an author, need to figure out: your process.

“Ah,” I thought. “That’s what happened in February, when I tried to write a novel in a month. I was figuring out my process.”

Carter gave tons of smart practical advice, which I haven’t used yet because I’m not allowing myself to write a novel until I finish my memoir. However, one stray phrase she tossed out has lodged permanently in my brain, altering my outlook on life.

She said, “That’s a problem for future you.”

See, the book was actually aimed at teenagers who want to write books. So these teens were asking her lots of questions like “how do I find an agent?” and “will publishers take me seriously if I’m so young?”

Her point, then, was that there’s no use worrying about agents and publishers if you haven’t written at least a second draft of a complete novel. “That’s a problem for future you.”

And I tell myself this all the time, not just in writing-related manners. Whenever I start worrying about something in the future that has no relevance for today. “That’s a problem for future you.”

Drowned Ammet, by Diana Wynne Jones

This is the only fiction book on the list, and it’s hard to explain exactly how this book changed my life. In essence though, after I read the first few pages of this book I finally understood why I write.

I think a lot of people write because they want their voice to be heard, but that has never resonated with me. Most of what I write is not intended for anyone else to read. So I’ve never really understood why I write so compulsively.

I read Drowned Ammet last spring. In it the main character, Mitt, was a little boy growing up in this windy place full of dikes and ditches. One day, the wind died down for the first time that he could remember. Without the wind, everything felt different. Sounded different. Smelled different. And he was so young he thought this feeling was a place. So he ran away from home to try and find this place.

I was so confused when I read those first few pages. Huh? The wind died down and he thought it was a place? How does that even make sense?

But I read it over a few times, and then it did make sense to me. Because I’ve felt that way too. Where something is different. A song is playing in a deserted airport while I’m very very sleepy. Or I watch a movie alone at midnight, and the storyline haunts me. Or I see a painting and feel as though I know the people therein. In these times, art doesn’t seem like mere art, but rather a place I can reach. With my own art. With writing.

I write, then, to get to a place I feel. A place I can only glimpse. A place that feels better than this place. (And actually, reading the Emily of New Moon books again, I wonder if this is similar to Emily’s “flash.”)

Five books that changed my life this year, from buying a sweater to understanding why I write.

What books have changed your life this year?


Bookweek 2019, Day 2: Finding Yourself in Books


Back in 2014, I attempted to write a few paragraphs about every book I read that year. I found those notes recently, and re-reading my thoughts five years later was fascinating.

See, normally I write about books for my blog, or talk to friends about books. Rarely do I write about books just for myself. But seeing these private thoughts gave me such insight into what I thought and felt back then.

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones (re-read)

I love this book so much. It is the culmination of all the beautiful things I like to fancy in my head before I fall asleep. Also, this time through, I noticed remarkable similarities between *Bill and Howl. Mysterious evocative names. Remarkable abilities done in a slap-dash manner. The talents to do great things, without the drive. Slithering out. Mythical creatures, in their own right. And somehow, just the right characteristics to make them attractive, despite, or maybe because of, their faults.

P.S. I think I have a remarkable belief in the tendency of books to parallel life, almost telling the future, in a way. Like the John Donne poem that already existed, but paralleled Howl’s life and was turned into a curse.

*obviously changed that name, LOL

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

I wasn’t entirely sold on Estella. Of course she was an absolute jerk, but she got her entire deserved punishment in the end, and was completely broken. I was okay with giving her a second chance.

However, it drove me absolutely nuts to see the way Pip loved her so unreasonably. He even admits it is unreasonable, which I find horrifying. Esp. in my Scientific Study of Romance days, the idea of just loving someone without control or reason…absolutely X3 detestable.

So in any case, I really liked this book. I didn’t love it, but I think that was just because it didn’t parallel my life in any way.

Emily’s Quest, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (re-read)

I thought it would be nice to read a story of a girl, in her 20s, contentedly living at home, single, writing, and having an interesting life. I thought I would “get” it better than I did when I was younger. I thought it was secretly about me.

However, the book was depressing. Except for the Dean year, the years flew by so quickly it seemed like she must have a super boring life, if that’s all there was to write about it. Way more years per page than the first two books.

And you know it was just a stupid misunderstanding keeping her from Teddy.

Worth a read, yes, but not worth a re-read.

Ever since I re-read these thoughts, I’ve been thinking about the way I use fiction to understand my life. About the way I read books to find myself and people I know, slapped between the pages.

Like Little Women. Every time I read it I feel not only like I personally am Jo March, but like my older sister Amy is Meg March, and my younger sister Jenny is Amy March. Seriously, I think Jo and Amy March’s relationship is the closest thing I’ve found in literature to Jenny and my relationship. Both characters are very ambitious, but Amy is always trying to get Jo to act in socially acceptable ways, LOL.

And then, of course, there’s Emily Byrd Starr from the Emily of New Moon series. The Emily books were written by L.M. Montgomery, who also wrote the Anne of Green Gables series. I liked the Anne books as a child, and always have. But I actually think Emily of New Moon might have been my first Montgomery.

In any case, I always felt like I was reading about myself when I read the Emily books. I mean first of all, obviously, we have the same first name. We both were writing obsessively from about age 12 onward. We both had dark hair and light eyes, and liked cats. And we both spent most of our time inside our own heads.

We basically were the same person.

I recently picked up Emily of New Moon again and, upon finishing it, started into the second book of the series, Emily Climbs. Now the question remains: Will I again crack open the terrible third book in the series, Emily’s Quest? The one where she spends her 20s living a boring life, separated from her true love because of some dumb misunderstanding, and almost marries terrible child-groomer Dean Priest?

Five years ago, I decided this book was not worth reading again, ever. But now, I’m itching to crack it open again. To find a new meaning in it. Maybe it’s not about true love, at least not right away. 28 is a reasonable time to finally find true love. But the book is actually about her writing career. It’s about, not just wanting to be a writer, but being a writer. And what that takes. I feel like I actually would get it, now that I’ve poured so much into making this my career.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I would still hate it. Maybe in the end it’s not actually about me.

I’m curious, do you find yourself, your acquaintances, and your relationships in books? Do you see them as a parallel to help you understand your own life? What book characters make you think, “this is me?”

Bookweek 2019, Day 1: All About My Book


I’ve been wanting to do a bookweek since August, ya’ll. August. And it’s November.

What the bunnyslipper.

Well, here we go. I think I have time this week to spit out some blog posts. And if I don’t have time, I’ll create some time. Because seriously, soon it will be Christmas, and I want to do 12 Days of Blogmas from December 13-December 24. (Hopefully my computer cord won’t explode this time.) So if I want to do a 2019 Bookweek, I’ll have to do it soon.

Today’s topic?

My book.

Yes, that’s right. As I’ve alluded to several times on this blog, I am writing a book about my travels last year, where I lived in a different community every month. And sometimes people are like, “so, what’s up with this book? When will I be able to read it?”

Let’s talk about that.

I began writing this book in March. My plan was to just write this book in a relatively short amount of time, and self-publish it before Christmas. (Yes, this Christmas! LOL.) I hoped it would give me enough of a financial boost to become an official book writer instead of freelance article writer. And also to move out for good. Maybe go back to one of the places I’d visited on this trip, and stay a little longer.

At the time, I was recovering from a disastrous attempt to write a novel during the month of February, so I decided that slow-and-steady, coupled with nonfiction-instead-of-fiction, was the way to go for now. On and on I went, creating the first draft.

Around the end of July, I pretty much had a first draft in hand. I’d written about the long drive East, my stay in Tennessee, my time in Ohio, Thanksgiving in Lancaster PA, Delaware, Christmas in Washington DC, Florida, Myerstown PA, a week in Philadelphia, Lancaster City PA, and some parts of my month in Hutchinson Kansas. But I was tired of writing the first draft, and thought, “I’ll finish writing about Hutchinson later.” So I started on the second draft.

I revised my first chapter in early August and sent it to Janessa, my editor. And then the rest of August was gobbled up by my trip to Alaska, writing the five short connected plays on the history of the “To the Unknown God” altar in Athens for our vacation Bible school, and directing said plays. Janessa sent me some feedback but I didn’t really get into it because before long I was flying to Minnesota because my grandpa was dying.

Now, that two-and-a-half weeks in Minnesota was…something else. I had never in my life confronted death so closely before. I’d never seen someone hanging out between the two realms. I’d never touched a dead body while it was still warm.

Another strange thing was that I began to feel, not like I was visiting Minnesota, but like I lived here now. Like this was simply another place I went to live for a month.

Let me backtrack a bit. When I first planned this living-in-a-different-place-every-month adventure, I wanted to leave Oregon on September 15, 2018.

Well on September 11, 2018, my cousin Justin and his wife Kayla, dear friends of mine, lost their infant son in a tragic stillbirth only a few days before he was due. Asher Kai. His funeral was on September 15, so I didn’t leave until September 16.

My Grandpa, at 102 years old, passed away on September 11, 2019. His funeral was on September 15, and we flew back to Oregon on September 16.

Before this, when I said I was writing about my “year” of travel, I really meant school year, not 365-day year. I didn’t want to be in some rando place during the summer, because Oregon summers are dear to my soul. So “year” meant September-June.

But now I began to re-think this. If I wrote about a 365-day year instead, it would contain these oddly parallel losses. And I could write about that time in Minnesota, which felt so significant. My Oregon summer could be just another chapter.

Janessa, in her edits of my first chapter, told me that she wished I’d dive into my thoughts and feelings more, instead of just writing down what happened. And I realized that she was right. But I’d written the whole first draft that way. I’d skimmed over my feelings and expounded upon events.

Revising it–adding it in–that would take some work.

But I called her on the phone when I got back from Minnesota, and we discussed my book at length. I told her my idea of doing a 365-day year, and she really liked it.

So that’s when I decided: I’m going to make this a better book than I’d planned to make it. And I’m going to write about my feelings. And I’m going to make it a 365-day year.

And it will not be ready by Christmas.

“When will it be ready?” You ask.

Well…I don’t know! “Before Christmas” is the best time to publish books. But I don’t want to wait all the way until NEXT Christmas to publish. So…between this Christmas and next Christmas? Is that specific enough?

Meanwhile, I’ve been valiantly trying to cut writing and editing projects out of my life so that I can focus on book writing. With moderate success. But I can’t say “no” to writing a play for our local Church school’s Christmas program. And last year I agreed to a giant editing project that I’ve been focusing my energy on for the past month-ish. And then there’s another project that I believe in so deeply I couldn’t let the opportunity slip. Ah!

Although that last opportunity won’t be a thing for a while yet. So I have time to finish my book first.

I think.

So to sum it all up, yes, my book is a thing. A thing that’s coming. Eventually. (And if, as my Grandma likes to say, the Lord tarries.)


Speaking of writing more about personal thoughts and feelings, I decided to make a small switch over on Patreon. So far, my posts have mostly been opinion pieces on semi-controversial topics. But I was digging through some creative nonfiction pieces I’ve written, and I found stuff that I liked, but it was too personal to just show everyone in a public blog. So I decided to start posting some of those pieces on Patreon. 

Last month, I posted an essay about a friend that cut me out of her life. Later this week or next week I’ll post more opinion content, this time about the comedian John Crist. But at the end of the month I plan to post something personal again. I’ll just play it by ear from there.

If you’re interested in reading these bonus blog posts, you can access them by going to my Patreon Page and clicking the red “select” button under the “$1 per month” option. If you’d like to offer extra financial support for my blog you’ll be able to give more than $1, but all it takes is $1 a month to access all my bonus content.