Category Archives: Writing

Fire, Book Problems, and Other Things that Stress Me Out

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted in a month, there are two very specific reasons:

  1. I’ve been stressed out
  2. I’ve been waiting to post until I could give an actual release date and pre-order link for my book.

When I last posted, I thought I’d be able to give this information within a week or so. But self-publishing is a journey, especially when you’re doing it for the first time. And one leg of the journey, which I expected to take less than a week, has now taken over a month.

So. I’m not releasing my book on September 16 after all. Maybe…October sometime?

If nothing else goes wrong, I’ll be able to make an official release date within a week or so. But it’s 2020, so WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT.

August in Oregon is a hot, dry, dead sort of month. Burn bans become even more severe than usual. Some years we have wildfires, and some years, when the wind is right, a haze of smoke drifts in from a distant fire, making the whole world look like an Instagram filter.

For some reason, I expected we’d have an Instagram filter August this year. Maybe because of how hot and dry it was. Maybe because I heard there were fires in California. Or maybe just because it’s 2020. I expected it, but we had clear, non-smoky skies instead.

But then on Monday, September 7, I looked at the sky at suppertime and said, “does it look a bit smoky out there to you?”

“Maybe a little,” said my sisters.

We cleaned the dishes, and Mom and Dad went out onto the porch to talk to some guests. Jenny took a walk. I went into my room and got on my computer.

Perhaps 20 minutes later, I started smelling smoke. That’s odd. Then Jenny came rushing in. “Emily! Look out your window!”

I looked, and the smoke was coming in, whirling in whitish-gray swirls over the fields. I couldn’t believe it. Never had I seen smoke descend upon us in so hasty a manner.

I grabbed my camera and went outside. The east wind blew, weirdly and warmly and furiously. The guests, choked by the sudden smoke, had to come inside despite it still being Covid times. And then, not long after they eventually left, the electricity went off. I spent the evening trying to sort out book problems using Dad’s hotspot and whatever was left of my laptop battery.

I woke up the next morning with an odd uncertainty about what time it was. Confused, I looked out my window.

It was 9:00 am, and the world was orange.

The funny thing is, you might know more about the Oregon fires than I do. I try to keep up, and then I stop, too overwhelmed to try and make sense of them all. Little towns I’ve visited here and there, up in smoke. Beloved hiking spots on fire. Friends and acquaintances evacuating. So many people evacuating.

My house, surrounded by ploughed fields and farmers who own water trucks, isn’t really in danger. We stay inside, for the most part, charging our phones in case the electricity goes off again.

Tuesday was orange. Wednesday was gray. Thursday and Friday were thicker gray. Today I took Dad in for physical therapy, and the air in Eugene was even thicker than the air in Harrisburg, borderline yellow.

And it was frigid. This week was supposed to be sunny and hot, in the 80s, 90s, even 100s, but I suppose if you block the sun long enough, the air cools down.

On a semi-related note, this spring I bought a camera with my Patreon money, because I wanted to make YouTube videos. Sometimes I take pictures with it too, whenever I need something nice for my blog or Instagram. (Turns out it’s much easier to take passable photographs with a nice camera than with a cell phone.)

When the sky turned orange, I grabbed my real camera. My cell phone was not capturing the true color. I went downstairs, intending to go outside and snap away. But then I saw Dad, sitting between the window and the patio doors, working on his computer. It was dark, because the electricity was out, and the blue of the screen light on his face contrasted with the fiery orange out the windows.

I snapped a picture.

When I looked at it, I thought it was quite a nice picture. It seemed to sum up the trauma and drama of 2020, since Dad’s arm was in a sling. “It’s only missing a mask,” I told Mom, showing her the picture.

“Hey, I should put mine on him!” she said. She’d been wearing her mask around the house. Since the electricity was off, the air wasn’t being filtered, and it was getting rather smoky inside as well.

Mom put her mask on Dad. “Your ears!” she said, trying to work the mask loops over them. “I never realized how floppy they are!”

Longsuffering as ever, Dad went on with his computer work, now masked. I snapped one more picture, and put it on Facebook and Instagram. Mom shared it.

And people have said extremely kind things about it. One person even asked if I ever considered a career in photojournalism. Which I found funny, because photography has always been my least favorite part of blogging. I’m a words girl.

But maybe I should have more of a growth mindset about it. It was fun, after all, to see something cool, take a picture of it, and have the picture look cool too. So if you know of any photography-learning-for-beginners resources, sent them my way. I don’t think I’ll ever be a photographer, but I might become a blogger with better pictures.

Anyway. Life is stressful, but I will publish this book. I am determined. It will be a good thing to happen in 2020, after so many bad things, and I am here for it.

Find Me On

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker

Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month. My latest two posts were titled Crisis to Crisis and The Power of “Sorry.”)

Update on Everything

Part 1: Update On My Book

Self-publishing is a process, I’ll tell you that.

Throughout the past couple months, I’ve been finished with the writing part of my book, and just trying to figure out everything else: Hiring a photographer, having a photo shoot, hiring a cover designer, hiring a copy editor/proofreader, sending out portions of my book to 26 people I’d written about (just in case they had any objections/corrections), choosing a printer, and hiring someone to format the interior. Whew!

Finally, over the weekend I made ALL the final corrections. Most of these were from my copy editor/proofreader, so I just had to click “accept, accept, accept” a lot. Although there were a few larger issues I had to think through, like giving a bit of explanation about words like “Beachy” and “Anabaptist.”

Then, I had to make all the corrections from the 26 people I’d written about. Well, maybe only about 10 of them issued corrections, and most of those corrections were pretty small, but sometimes it took a bit of brain power to make the narrative still flow well.

But finally it was done. Done! Hands shaking, I sent it off to the printer.

I still have a few hurdles to jump through, and I don’t know when I’ll have books in hand. But hopefully before too long I’ll be able to announce the cover, official release date, and pre-order link.

Part 2: Update On My Dad

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I feel like a lot of my life is still oriented around caring for Dad, but there aren’t really a lot of updates to give.

His right hand is healing very well, and his legs and feet are great, so he could really do almost everything for himself if it wasn’t for his left arm and his neck. He still can’t lift his left arm. And his neck brace prevents him from fully watching his feet as he walks. So he can walk around the house with his arm in a sling, but on the road, where it’s more uneven, he needs to use his walker still.

Part 3: Update On My Family

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My family is in this very interesting stage of life right now. I never thought we’d be a family that all lived in the same area, and yet, here we are.

Jenny, Amy, and I live in the upstairs rooms of our house, while Mom and Dad inhabit the downstairs. Steven was downstairs too for a while, but he moved to Corvallis to live with Ben so that we could have a guest room again. One or the other of them often comes down and spends a night in the guest room.

And Matt and Phoebe are in an Airstream in the yard. I love having them so close.

Part 4: Update On My Life

At the end of my year of travel, I decided to stay in Oregon at least until I could get my health and finances somewhat sorted out. I had basically no travel scheduled between September and February, but after that I had a lot of random stuff I was going to do, like take a trip to India, and take a trip to Italy, and maybe live in Houston for a while.

Of course Covid canceled all my plans, but on the other hand, the health and money angles of my life are much more optimistic. I have all kinds of ideas about what fun stuff I want to do as soon as I can get myself properly vaccinated.

For now, I find myself deeply content despite my circumstances. I miss adventures, but I know this lifestyle is temporary. Between Covid and Dad’s accident, I’m in a unique stage of life. The adventures can wait.

I enjoy having family so near. I enjoy all the visitors who come sit on our porch and chat. And besides that, publishing a book makes me feel so creatively fulfilled. Which brings a deeper, more lasting contentment than adventures do.

*****

Find Me On

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker

Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker

 

Update on My Book: Title, Release Date, Etc

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Well well well. I filmed and edited a video to post today, but sometimes it takes ages to upload YouTube videos. And today is one of those days. It’s been uploading all afternoon and evening, and it’s only at 23%.

So for my last April Blogging Challenge post, I’ll cover another topic.

On my last post, Norlene asked for an update on my book. Honestly, I love it when people ask me that question. It’s such a huge part of my life, but I never know how much people really want to hear about the topic.

For those who haven’t been following my book-writing/publishing journey, here’s the deal: Last year I went on a trip where I drove around the USA, living in a different Mennonite community every month. This year, I’ve been working on a book about that journey.

The two questions I get asked most often are, “what is the title of your book?” and “when will it be released?” I’ve kinda avoided answering those questions, because I’ve been afraid that I’ll change my mind. But my mind has been pretty consistent for several months now, so I think I can go ahead with them.

Title of my book: The Highway and Me and my Earl Grey Tea

Most likely release date: September 16, 2020

September 16 is a significant date, because I began the trip on September 16, 2018, and ended it on September 16, 2019. Since I have the bulk of the memoir completed, I think I should reasonably be able to have copies in hand ready to ship by that date.

However, I don’t want to PROMISE promise that it will be released on September 16, because I’ve never done this before. Self-publishing, I mean. For my first book I had a “traditional” publisher who took care of all that. Between getting the cover done and getting it printed and getting it formatted and making sure everyone is okay with me saying what I have to say about them, I’m afraid that something random will take way longer than I expect it to.

As far as the writing goes, I have the bulk of it done, but there are still things to do. I worked like crazy during January and February to finish my second draft, and my editor, Janessa Miller, finished her first round of edits on March 7. And then on March 9 she had a baby. The plan was for me to take the next six weeks and finish the third draft.

That shouldn’t have been hard. The third draft wasn’t nearly as intense as the second draft. But somehow I really was thrown for a loop with COVID-19. I took on all kinds of projects, and I had emotional breakdowns, and honestly I really wasn’t doing very well.

Part of the dynamic was that writing my book was much more emotional than I’d thought it would be. Initially, I wrote it much like an extended blog post, listing all the fun and wacky adventures I had. But Janessa pushed me further. “What did you feel about this?” she kept asking.

It was so strange for me, combing through my memories and feeling my feelings. Actually very intense and emotionally exhausting. Turns out I was much lonelier than I’d ever realized.

At the same time, due to a series of events that are still too personal to post about in this public space, I ended up leaving the church I’d grown up in. This made my feelings of loneliness even more intense, especially because I didn’t have time to fully plug into another church before the lockdown hit.

All that to say, even though draft 3 shouldn’t have been nearly as intense to create as draft 2, I ended up taking a break to fully work though all my emotions and feelings.

Once I’m done with draft 3, Janessa will do a line edit, and then after I fix all those mistakes it will be copy-edited/proofread, and then once those problems are fixed it will be ready to print. I think. Only I also have to get cover photos taken, get a cover designed, hire a printer, get someone to format it, figure out my marketing strategy, and probably ten more things I’m currently forgetting.

(Which, btw, if you happen to be good at copy editing or cover design, or know someone who is, feel free to drop me an email at Jemilys@gmail.com. I’m planning to pay a fair wage for these tasks, obviously. But I feel like I have to make that clear because we are Mennonites after all, LOL.)

Let’s see, anything else? I did start on a novel while I was waiting to get my edits back from Janessa. I thought that I could be a Real Book Writer and start in on another book while in the process of publishing the first. Which was a nice idea in theory, but then I decided to do All The Other Projects and the novel was the easiest one to put aside for now. So currently I’m only working on one book, and that is The Highway and Me and my Earl Grey Tea.

And oh, I almost forgot! Mom is also publishing some books this year, and we’d talked about doing a book tour this fall, hitting most of the places I went to on my trip, as well as some other Mennonite communities. And maybe that will still happen, but at this point I highly doubt it. I mean anything is possible I guess. I’m sure things won’t be nearly as locked down this fall as they are today, but I have a hard time imagining that anything like a book tour, with all its travel and gatherings of people, will be safe before we get a vaccine.

But again, who knows anything about the future at this point.

This has been my last post in the April Blogging Challenge 2020. It’s been a fun ride, but now I have to get back to my edits, haha. Be sure to check out Mom’s blog for her latest post, which is an interview with my Aunt Rebecca, who’s a hospice nurse working with COVID-19 patients in Chicago. Mom will post again tomorrow to close out the challenge.

Thanks for reading. Maybe we’ll do this again next year, and maybe we won’t. Maybe by next April the world will be vaccinated enough to provide adequate herd immunity, and we’ll be doing an April Book Tour instead. Who knows what the future holds!

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

In interviews, authors are often asked to give writing advice. And they always say the same thing. “Read a lot and write a lot.” I always feel frustrated by that answer. I mean yes, to be good at something you have to practice doing that thing. But that’s not real advice.

But every once in a while I find some writing advice that’s real, legitimately helpful advice. I collect it in the back of my brain, and today I’m going to share it with you.

1. Tell stories out loud, and pay attention to when people start to get bored.

I am sorry to say that I can’t remember where I picked up this gem. I know that a writer said it, and I know that as soon as I heard it I felt a rush of excitement that I was hearing something besides “read more and write more.”

But even better, I tried it, and it works.

When you tell a story out loud, you can watch when people’s eyes flicker with boredom. Those are the parts you should omit. Or maybe just switch to a different part of the story. If a dog was howling the whole time you had a funny conversation with a stranger, is it better to mention that fact at the beginning of the story, or the end? There’s only one way to find out: tell it to your mom one way and your brother the other way, and see who giggles more.

It’s easiest, of course, to use this strategy with actual stories that truly happened to you. But telling stories out loud and watching your audience carefully will help you hone better comedic timing in your fiction writing as well as your nonfiction. I mean, it gives you a better sense of timing in general. A better sense of what parts of the story to say when.

2. “That’s a Problem for Future You.”

This was the standout quote from Ally Carter’s book Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? I don’t remember the exact context of the quote, unfortunately. But essentially, as writers, we get hung up on a lot of “problems” that aren’t actually problems for “now” us, they’re problems for “future” us.

For instance: “Will a publisher take my book seriously?” If you haven’t even finished writing the book, that’s a problem for future you.

Or, “I have a wonderful idea, but I’m not sure if I should put it in my current mediocre project, or if I should save it for my future amazing project.” If you run out of wonderful ideas, that’s a problem for future you. Right now, use everything you have to make your current project as good as possible.

3. Practice your writing skills by blogging

This is the advice I always gave back when I was a teenage author and kept getting interviewed by random publications I’d never heard of and they always asked me what writing advice I had to offer their readers.

I still stand by it. Although now I’d modify it and say, write long Instagram captions. Or, post long status updates on Facebook. Pick your platform of choice, and get wordy.

The point is, this is the Internet. You will immediately know what resonates with people and what doesn’t. And that feedback will be incredibly helpful in honing your craft.

(Of course you may also pick up some bad writing habits, like making extremely short paragraphs, that will be hard to unlearn and will be exactly wrong for some types of writing, like academic papers. Oops. I definitely got called out for that one in college, multiple times, LOL.)

4. “You can make a career doing something even if you’re not the Brittany Spears of it.” 

This advice came from one of my favorite youtubers, Safiya Nygaard, in an interview with Philip DeFranco, another one of my favorite youtubers. She was talking about creative careers, and how we’re often cautioned against them, or told that it’s an unrealistic dream. But there are actually more opportunities for careers in those fields than you might think. They’re just not always super glamorous careers.

And I mean, writing is the perfect example of this. There are so many ways to work with words. You can do copy editing, or marketing writing, or you can write children’s plays, or be a journalist, or write songs, or do line edits, or write magazine articles. The opportunities are vast, and so, so many people make their living by writing.

Being a writer is not an impossible dream. It’s very attainable, actually, so long as you’re willing to be in the field even if you’re not the next Ted Dekker.

5. “It’s like Mom always says. If you get on the road, and keep driving and driving, eventually you’ll reach your destination.”

This is what my sister Amy said to me when I asked her how she managed to learn another language (Thai). But I think it’s applicable to writing, too, or any task which seems overwhelming and daunting. Actually, of all the advice I’ve given so far, this one is the most applicable to actually writing a whole book.

You just gotta get on the road, man. And every day, you have to commit to keep driving. Montana may feel like it never, ever, ever ends, but it does. Eventually. But only if you choose to keep driving.

Or, in the case of your book, keep writing it.

(I guess I like the analogy in particular because I’ve been on a lot of road trips that seemed like they would never end, and then they did end.)

That’s as much good writing advice as I’ve collected. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?

P.S. Remember, Mom and I are currently doing the April Blogging Challenge, where we each post every other week day. Head over to Mom’s blog to read yesterday’s post about her writing cabin. She’ll post again tomorrow, and I’ll be back on Thursday.

The Man Behind the Desktop

If you take your laptop into a coffee shop to get some work done, you’ll quickly notice that you’re not the only one. Lots of people do this: telecommuters, freelance writers, wannabe novelists, students…it’s not strange.

What is strange is this:

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Yes indeed, in this blurry photo you can behold what I beheld in my favorite ocean view coffee shop at Nye Beach. A man in a hat hunches behind a desktop computer setup. Monitor, computer, keyboard, and mouse, all dragged to a coffee shop and set up at a table. I could see his screen in the large mirror behind him. He was a writer.

Of course I didn’t want to be caught staring, so after snapping that creeper photo I went back to my own business. I ordered peppermint tea and set up my laptop at my own table.

Then I just sat there for a minute.

What should I work on? I felt completely at loose ends. After almost two months of obsessively completing the second draft of my memoir, it was in the hands of my editor. So, now what?

I toyed with the idea of writing a blog post, but nothing interesting had happened to me lately. Here I was, though, at the ocean, where interesting people tend to mill around. Should I find a stranger to talk to?

The barista set my tea on the counter, and I slipped off my chair and walked over to pick it up. I’d already paid for the drink, so I might as well stay in the coffee shop for now and get some writing done. I could find a stranger to talk to later. So setting my tea down beside my computer, I opened a new Google doc and typed out the first words of a brand new book.

A novel, this time.

An upper-middle-aged woman with stickers all over her laptop walked into the shop and sat at the table next to me. The man in the hat emerged from behind his electronic fortress and began talking to her.

Maybe they ran in the same circles. Writers of Newport. I was intrigued by the concept, and plagued by the question of what kind of person would bring a desktop computer into a coffee shop? So I listened to their conversation, in a very obvious way, hoping to find an opportunity to join in. But it was not as interesting as I’d hoped. The man in the hat was waxing poetical about philosophy, and saying very little that made sense to me.

I went back to my novel.

“What are you working on?” The man in the hat was right behind me.

“Um…I’m working on a novel actually,” I said. “I just started today.”

Now, I realize those words did kind-of make me sound like an amateur. But he hadn’t asked me about my writing career in general, he’d asked what I was working on. Which was a novel. That I’d literally just started.

“Well here’s my advice,” he said. “Never rush your key scenes.”

Already he sounded a bit condescending, but I’d wanted to have a conversation with a stranger, hadn’t I? And maybe he’d have some good advice to offer. I pulled out a notebook and started taking notes.

He told me to never write more than 2,000 words a day. He told me that I can always change things later, so I should keep my flow. He said that I should write a full 1’st draft before I begin correcting it.

This advice session was peppered with references to his own, apparently extensive, body of work. “So how many novels have you written?” I asked.

“That depends on if you count the historical stuff or not,” he said with a little smile. “In some ways those books were like novels, but in other ways they were more like philosophy.”

Then he started giving me publishing advice. “Find an Indie publisher instead of going with CreateSpace,” he said. “Everyone knows that CreateSpace books are…well, that anyone can make a CreateSpace book. But even if you do get into bookstores, your book won’t stay there for long. Bookstores keep track of how many books are selling each month, so when they see that no one’s buying your book, they send them all back to you. Basically, you can expect a small run of books, and then no one will care about it anymore.”

Then he talked about writing for the love of writing instead of for the money. I can’t adequately re-create the way he spoke, because I wasn’t jotting down quotes. But there was something almost pompous about it. He reminded me of the kids at college that tried so hard to sound smart by using words like “ontological.”

“Of course,” he said at the end of his speech, “you may be the one rare genius who can actually make it.” There was only a hint of sarcasm in his voice, but it still grated.

“What’s your name?” I asked. “I’d like to look up your books.”

“I only have one series of books on Amazon,” he said. “Amazon is kind-of the enemy, you know?” But he told me the title, and watched over my shoulder as I typed it into the search bar.

Of course I misspelled it, which he pointed out with the same little condescending smile. But I think I must misspell things in a very common way, because Google always understands me, and I found his book with no problem. But he was still there, behind me, and he told me to click the “look inside” button, and click through all the pages until I got to his writing. Okay. We’re doing this thing.

And, not gonna lie, his book didn’t give the best first impression. He’d started by copying in parts of a classic novel that were public domain, and the formatting was atrocious. When I finally got to the parts that he had written, I saw a block of text with big words and no paragraph breaks. My eyes swam over it, trying to skim but struggling. Now what? Am I supposed to read it right here, right now? 

There was an awkward pause. Then, “Just read it sometime and tell me what you think,” said the man. He sat down in the other seat at my table. “So, what are you writing?”

Finally! After basically being told I could never hope to be a successful writer, I had a chance to defend myself. But I didn’t know how to make my novel sound promising. I struggle with plots, so I’d chosen a very simple romantic comedy plot line, and made all the characters Mennonite.

I decided to gain credibility by playing the Mennonite card. “There aren’t really novels written about people like me,” I said. “The closest things we have are Amish novels written by people who have little-to-no Amish background. So my idea is to write a novel that’s purely a lighthearted, fun romance, to give Mennonites something enjoyable to read that’s about us and our culture.”

I guess the Mennonite card worked, because instead of the usual condescending smile, he gave a short philosophical monologue about Mennonites. Then he went back to his desktop computer to write more philosophy, and I returned to my novel, watching the waves lap the shore outside my window.

I spent maybe half an hour in this way, leisurely typing. And then…

“Can I read some of what you’ve written?”

It was the desktop computer guy again.

What do I say? I don’t usually let anyone read my first draft. “I don’t know, it’s pretty rough,” I said. “I mean, I just started typing. Very much a first draft.”

The little smile was back. “It’s okay if you don’t have much of a voice yet,” he said. “It takes a while to develop a strong voice. Maybe I could give you some pointers.”

“Okay, sure,” I said, opening up the Google doc. Because people can only make hurtful comments if you take them seriously. And I was beyond the point of taking him seriously.

He read the first page of my document, softly, out-loud, like I do when people show me memes on their phones. And since there’s little-to-no chance that the first half of the first page will actually end up in the novel, I’m going to copy it here for context:

At some point in life, we all eventually come to the conclusion that what we thought was normal was not, in fact, what everybody else did. At this juncture, you have two options: you can choose to believe that you are weird, or conversely, you can choose to believe that everyone else on the planet is weird, and you, you are still the normal one.

It’s alarming how many people choose the latter.

The odd thing is, I didn’t even know how many people out there operated this way until I came to Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute for fourth term. I didn’t realize how many people think that being Mennonite is normal, and not being Mennonite is weird. That just never crossed my mind.

Maybe it’s inevitable when you grow up in Oregon. You will always be a minority, and if you’re a minority, you just have to deal. It’s really hard to pretend you’re not. It’s really hard to pretend that you’re the normal one.

“But you don’t understand,” Kate told me. “A lot of these kids come from Lancaster County. If you live in Lancaster County and you don’t want to ever talk to people who aren’t Mennonite, you don’t have to. We’ve got Mennonite grocery stores…Mennonite gas stations….”

“Hold up,” I said. “Mennonite gas stations? Really?”

That’s how I happened to began it–with a partially formed idea that didn’t fully make sense. I mean, not everyone in Lancaster thinks it’s “normal” to be Mennonite. Probably not even most people.

But ironically, it was that very thing that made desktop-computer-guy take me seriously. Or at least, semi-seriously. He still had that little smile as he said, “you know, I’ve been exploring that very thought in my philosophy writing today.” But he didn’t make any more snide comments about my voice.

Instead, he philosophized again.

He loved that point I made at the beginning. It’s so true, he thought. People’s religion is all they have sometimes. He told me about Mormons, and how we can’t tell them that Joseph Smith was a sketchy crook, because their religion is all they have. Oh, those poor delicate souls that would be crushed if someone as smart and enlightened as desktop-computer-man came and told them the truth!

Yep. I’m for-sure deleting those paragraphs now.

He spoke on the matter for a very long time. I tried my best to remain engaged, because I had, after all, wished to converse with a stranger. “See, that was the problem with colonialist missionaries in Africa,” he said. “They thought that their ideas were the only truth, and they didn’t think that the natives had any knowledge to contribute.”

He said this unironically, while confidently believing that his own ideas were all that needed to be said on the matter. It didn’t seem to occur to him that I might have some knowledge to contribute.

The philosophical ramblings on religion ended only because it was 5 pm and I had a 2-hour drive to my small group at 7 pm. But I did manage a word in edgewise enough to ask him about his computer. “Do you always take a full desktop computer into coffee shops?” I asked.

“Oh, yes! My friend set that computer up for me, so that’s just what I use.”

“Do you have, like, some sort of dolly to carry it on? Or do you just carry it in your arms?”

“I just carry it in my arms.”

There was nothing left to say on the matter. Was it strange? Sure. But even after the condescending nature of our conversation, I still found the strangeness charming.

Still, I decided something, right there in the coffee shop. When someone tells me that they’re interested in writing, never, ever again will I assume that they’re not good at it.

Until I’m proven wrong, I’m going to assume that they have a beautiful career ahead of them.

Bookweek 2019, Day 1: All About My Book

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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.)

P.S.

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.

Thoughts on Having a “Day Job.”

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Today I finished Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? by Ally Carter. I started reading it back when I was living in Kansas, but I didn’t have time to finish it before I left. So I bought it for Mom’s birthday present. Hehe. Listen, I genuinely thought she would like it too, as she’s currently learning to write fiction books.

Anyway, near the end of the book Carter talks about how most authors also have “day jobs.” Which sounds really discouraging, like having “author” be your real job is almost impossible.

But before I let it get me down, I remembered how much I’d rather be on the combine than in front of a computer right now.

Actually, here’s the truth: Being a full-time writer was never my dream. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply and dearly love writing. But it was never my dream, nor my plan, to do it all the time.

While traveling around working as a writer was a very awesome experience (except for the bad health), all the people who enthusiastically applauded me for living my dream were wrong. I wasn’t living my dream, I was taking a leap of faith.

The dream was to get a cool job like…I don’t know…working at Disneyland, or working for some cool online media company, or working backstage on Broadway shows, or doing PR trips for a mission agency, or becoming a children’s librarian. And then writing on the side, if I felt like it.

Then, I did the “day job” thing for a year. I worked part-time, between 20 and 30 hours a week, as a secretary for our church school. Which should have left me plenty of leftover time to write.

And it did. But I barely wrote at all. Self-motivation is hard, ya’ll. There was nothing forcing me to write, and even if I did get really inspired, my “real job” always came first.

So I stopped having a day job.

Now, I had financial motivation. If I wanted to, you know, buy shampoo and stuff, I’d have to write.

For me, this leap paid off big time. I am now MILES ahead of where I was a year ago in the self-discipline department. If I continue to gain skills in this area, maybe I’ll eventually be able to have a day job as well as be a writer. (Of course, a lot of that depends on my health as well.)

Currently, though, I have a summer job. A harvest job, driving combine. I don’t exactly consider it a “day job,” though. More of a “writing break.” (Although I’m still getting a wee bit of writing done. Hooray for self-discipline!)

But it’s delightful. What I especially love is that this year, I’m working for my Dad’s cousin on the original family farm that was owned by my great-grandfather. So I’m always passing by the businesses of my dad, uncle, cousins, etc…who all built on bits of the original land.

As much as I’m loving this fun little break from writing so much, I’m still uncertain as to the future of day jobs, or lack of them. A big reason writers have day jobs is that it provides a guaranteed income, whereas income from book publishing/sales is very uncertain and fluctuating. I really feel that. I’d love to travel more, and live in more places, but it’s hard to plan when you don’t know how much $$$ you’ll have to work with.

Still, I sorta think that the main reason most book writers have day jobs is that they just want a break from writing books.

Those are my thoughts on the subject. Writers, please tell me your experiences with day jobs! Do you have one? Do you wish you had one? Do you wish you could quit yours?

Your Darkest Secrets May Not Be Safe

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Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

When I was sixteen, I wanted to keep a diary, but I was terrified of other people reading it. Also, I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. So I began typing up my diary entries and emailing them to myself.

That way, they were protected by a password at least.

However, I used to have nightmares that I would accidentally press a wrong button, and WHOOSH! All my deepest darkest secrets would be emailed to real people, not just myself.

It never happened. But the nightmares were terrifying.

That’s what I’m reminded of right now, because I accidentally posted an unfinished draft I wrote last fall.

Thankfully it didn’t contain my deepest darkest secrets. But it’s still embarrassing. And it still gave me that feeling of WHOOSH! Can’t take this one back.

Here’s what happened:

Last fall, I had a really cool dream, and it gave me a fun book idea that merged with a book idea I’ve had for years. I was really excited about this. I wanted to drop all the projects I was working on, and focus exclusively on this new idea.

(I didn’t. But later, I did use the idea for my NaNoWriMo book in February, where I ended up hating it before I even reached 30,000 words because I forgot to put humor in.)

So I pulled out my phone, and started to write a blog post about what it’s like when a shiny new idea jumps in my brain and tries to take over.

Now, let me make it clear that I have endless ideas but limited follow-through. Which means that I have many, many unfinished blog post drafts. Right now, I have 107 drafts on WordPress and 24 drafts in the notes app on my current phone. This one was nothing special, just one of the many.

But this particular draft, about new ideas bounding in and trying to take over, I must have written when I was not connected to the internet. It was saved to my phone as a “local draft,” but was not saved online, and because of this it always floated at the top of my “drafts” tab on my WordPress app.

Okay. So then today happened. And I’m still very baffled, but here’s what went down:

I got a notification on my phone that someone had commented on my last post, “Endings and Beginnings.” I clicked on the notification to read the comment, which brought me into my WordPress app.

After reading the comment, I clicked over into the “Reader” tab to see if Trudy Metzger had posted anything recently. After scrolling down and seeing that I’d already read everything, I exited the app.

Then I went on Twitter. As I was scrolling through the tweets I saw a tweet from myself, posted one minute prior, linking to a blog post.

“This is strange,” I said to myself. “I haven’t posted in like, a week.” But I clicked the link, and it went to my blog, and there was this unfinished blog post from last fall.

Now, I have no idea how I managed to accidentally post it. I’m baffled. It must have posted while I was bipping around in the WordPress app, but it wasn’t like one slip of the finger would post an entire blog post. I would have had to click “My site,” and then “Blog Posts,” and then “Drafts,” and then “Publish.” That is four clicks.

Frustrated, I immediately deleted the post. My blog automatically links to Twitter and Facebook, so I went on Twitter and Facebook and deleted the links. One person had already “liked” the Facebook link.

Sigh.

Then, I realized that everyone who is subscribed gets it emailed to them automatically. And there is no undoing that.

SIGH.

Then I went of Facebook again, later, and there was ANOTHER link automatically posted. Multiple “likes.” One comment saying that it was a broken link, and the suspense was killing her.

DOUBLE SIGH.

Okay FINE. For those of you who desperately want to know what dumb unfinished draft was accidentally posted, here it is in all it’s glory:

It happened again. A new idea, shiny and bright and big, came barrelling into my brain, tossing her glossy hair and dominating all conversation.

I keep zoning out, completely missing my friends’ conversations, as I play around with plots in my head. More than anything, I want to start this book. This new book. Because surely this is the best new idea that ever existed.

But I’ve been ’round about this town before. And I know that while I’ve been gifted with gallons of ideas, I only have about half a teaspoon of follow through. Every new idea ends up the same way: a beginning. That’s all.

I’ve been working on a middle grade novel since this summer, and I’ve been trying so, so hard to keep going even when it feels boring and riddled with plot holes. “I can fix it in the second draft,” I tell myself. “

That’s it. An unfinished thought, ending with a quotation mark that has no quotation behind it.

Hope you’re happy now.

I’ll be over here having nightmares about old diary entries accidentally posting on my blog, or something.

Endings and Beginnings

Well, there you have it. My year-long adventure is over, and I am back in Oregon.

I anticipated having a few weeks to relax, get some writing done, and enjoy the Oregon summer before harvest starts. But life just bellows full steam ahead, doesn’t it? So many friends to catch up with. So many events to attend.

Amy graduated from Linn Benton Community College on Thursday. Exactly six years, to the day, after I graduated from LBCC.

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“It’s a funny thing, having my big sister follow in my footsteps,” I joked.

Jenny is also finished at Linn Benton, but chose not to walk. Both of them are going on to Oregon State University. Amy will have her Bachelor’s in another year, and Jenny will have her Bachelor’s in two years. With Ben finishing up his PHD around the same time, and Steven completing his second Associate’s degree this fall, hopefully my geeky family will be finished with schooling and ready to settle down and start families already, heehee.

Well, not Jenny, I guess. She’s planning to get her Mastor’s yet. But she has plenty of time.

Anyway, I don’t know where Ben was, but the rest of us went to Amy’s graduation. Of course it was rather long and boring, as graduations are in general. Someone’s name would be announced, and a small group of their friends and family would cheer from one corner of the room, and then another name would be announced, and another cheer would erupt from another corner of the room.

I cheered for Amy, and also our friend Rachel Nissen. But Steven cheered for some random person I didn’t know.

“Do you know her?” I asked.

“No, but nobody else was cheering for her,” said Steven.

I thought that was the sweetest thing.

As the line got shorter and shorter, Steven started cheering for more and more people. I wasn’t listening too closely most of the time, but my ears perked up when I heard the announcer lady say “Waldo French.” I’d seen Waldo’s name in the program, and it had stood out to me as being very odd. People, I was sure, must constantly make jokes about it.

So, “Waldo French!” said the announcer.

Steven, only half-listening at this point, cheered. “Woo hoo! Yeah Rhonda.”

“It’s Waldo,” I corrected him.

“Heh heh. Oops.”

“Where’s Waldo?” Dad asked, looking around.

Steven and I lost it. I mean, such a Dad joke, but funny.

I’m sure Waldo wouldn’t find it funny, though. I’m sure he hears this joke approximately twice a day, 730 times a year.

We all went to Dairy Queen for ice cream afterwords.

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This has been a weird week for me, as I’m sure it’s been a weird week for every Mennonite everywhere. I’d sit down to write and get so distracted reading every new article about Jeriah Mast’s sexual abuse of Hatian boys and the CAM cover-up. And then reading all the comments. And then getting angry. I mean, this shouldn’t be news to you…I’m sure that’s how at least 80% of my readers spent this week.

I finally got to the place where I didn’t let myself read any updates, comments, anything for 24 hours. I was just so worked up and not in a good head space.

I did write a draft of a blog post for my Patreon blog, all about how to grapple with your Mennonite identity when you come face-to-face with evil in your culture. But I didn’t post it because I was so worked up and needed to get some distance from the topic for a bit.

I do plan to return and finish it, though. Hopefully this week. At least by the end of the month.

Also, I will add that the first Patreon post I wrote Is actually rather applicable to the Jeriah Mast case. In it I explored the term “toxic masculinity,” a term that is thrown around in greater American culture today. I argued that Mennonites are actually a feminine culture, more likely to suffer from what could be called “toxic femininity.” Which people tend to be skeptical of, because we’re also a patriarchal culture. But I think people see it a little clearer now. People from greater American culture would want to punch the living daylights out of a pedophile. People from Mennonite culture want forgiveness, compassion, remember-that-we’re-all-sinners. It’s a feminine cultural trait that seems so good at first, but was absolutely toxic in the case of Jeriah Mast.

So yes, that’s where my brain was at this week, as I caught up with friends, and tried to get some writing done, and unpacked my belongings.

Of course, now you’re probably wondering what my life plan is now. Have I moved moved back to Oregon? Wasn’t the whole point of this year of travel to try to find a place where I could move permanently?

Well, that was one of my points, though not the whole point necessarily.

The biggest roadblocks I ran into this year were health issues and financial issues. With my health, I’ve decided that moving around every month is not something I should really ever do again, as fun as it was. Moving anywhere seems beyond me at this point. So I’m planning to stay in Oregon now at least through the summer and most likely through the fall as well.

I had fun in every place I went this whole year. Besides Oregon, Lancaster was the best place as far as people go, since I was near my cousin Annette and some of my close friends, including Esta and Janessa.

I really really loved Philadelphia. I was only there for a week in March and another week in May, but I would love to move there if something opened up. It would also have the advantage of being close to Lancaster, and also close to DC, where Matt lives.

I might have recency bias with Kansas, but I could also seem myself moving there. It has the advantage of cheap rent, and I love the way the community is involved in outreach right there in the town of Hutchinson. It’s also somewhat close to my Uncle Fred, and it’s the only place on the whole trip where I felt healthy the entire time I was there.

As far as money goes, I find myself in an odd financial situation. This year I lived off of freelance writing and editing jobs and some of my own savings. But I found that, while freelance writing and editing pays the bills, my heart is in writing books and plays. It’s also financially smarter, especially for someone with dubious health, to write things I can continue selling. That way if I’m, say, too sick for a month to do any freelance jobs, I can still earn money by selling books and plays that I’ve already finished.

Still, it’s tough to make that transition. Freelance writing pays right away, whereas these longer projects require a lot of work with no immediate payout. But since I am trying to slowly make that transition, it means that I have a hard time predicting what my monthly income will be six months or a year from now. Which makes it hard to plan a move.

Right now I’m planning to stay in Oregon until I get my book about this year finished and self-published, hopefully this fall.

Beyond that, I’m not sure. I do dearly love Oregon. Maybe I’ll live here part of the year, and jaunt over to other places for random three-month trips now and then? Just to keep life interesting? I don’t know. I honestly don’t feel very settled anywhere. Someday I really do want to buy a house and settle down. But I’m not financially there yet.

So for now, I guess I’ll live like I’m 19 instead of almost 29, just bipping hither and yon like I’m young and carefree. And then I’ll sleep on a hard mattress somewhere and get back pain and remember my age again, LOL.

Anyway, whatever the future holds for me, I’ll be sure to keep you all updated here on the blog.

 

What I really mean when I say I’m “working on a book.”

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I walked into the Hutchinson Starbucks, and there was Sarah. Oh! I know her! My first random connection in Kansas. We began to chat.

“Are you just about finished with your book by now?” she asked me.

“No, I’m just plodding along with it slowly,” I said. Because right now I’m only about 1/3 of the way through my first draft.

But then, after I got my tea and sat down to write, I realized that the “book” of her question was a completely different book than the “book” of my answer.

When I drove through Kansas in September, which was the last time I saw Sarah, I was working on Book A.

Book A was a middle grade novel. Fantasy, but with no actual magic in it. I was trying really hard to finish something, even if it turned out terrible.

But when I was in Ohio, I gave up on Book A. Something just was not working. I couldn’t place my figure on what. The plot, probably. Plots have never been my strong point.

I was determined to fix my plot issues. In Delaware, I used my Ohio library card to borrow an e-book called “No Plot? No Problem!” The book wasn’t remotely helpful, so I went to the Delaware library and borrowed real books and took notes.

Notes in hand, I spend my week-and-a-half in Washington DC working on Book B.

Book B was a project I’d first worked on in the summer of 2016. Unlike Book A, it had a strong plot idea, and seemed like a good candidate for plot practice. I didn’t even write more chapters, I just sat in coffee shops with a notebook and tried to trace the story arc and resolution for each character.

And it was good practice. But then I got busy and stopped working on it. Book B is a strange story–not really marketable–so probably not a good time investment right now.

In Florida I had no wifi and no library card and one afternoon I was bored. I opened my laptop to see if I had any books downloaded on my Kindle app. Oh! There was my copy of “No Plot? No Problem!” that I’d borrowed in Delaware. The lack of Internet had prevented it from automatically returning.

So I read it.

“No Plot? No Problem!” wasn’t a book about plots, it was a book about how to write a novel in a month. And as I read, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to write a novel in a month.

So I began Book C.

Book C came from a fun idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for years. Writing it was fun at first, but eventually I began to hate the book. I mean, I loathed that thing.

Something was not working, and it was more than just the plot.

I was driving down the 501 when it struck me. The Big Problem with Book C, and also, coincidentally, the Big Problem with Book A, and the Big Problem with most novels I’ve attempted in the last five or so years. It’s not the plot that trips me up. It’s the lack of humor.

I don’t enjoy reading books without humor, or reading poetry without humor, so why would I enjoy writing without humor? No wonder I started writing books and then ended up hating them!

In any case, I gave up on fiction for a bit, and instead started working on Book D. Book D is a memoir, the story of this year. Nonfiction feels easy after struggling along with fiction for so long. You don’t have to worry about plot. You just write down what happened. And humor nestles naturally into my nonfiction.

However, this was not the end of my fiction journey. There was, and by “was” I mean “is,” a Book E.

Book E happened because one day as I was walking along the streets of Lancaster, I came across a little free library, and found a book called Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar.

It was a book I knew I liked, and I knew I didn’t own a copy of it, so I took it home with me. And I began re-reading it carefully. And I began noticing things.

First, Sachar doesn’t really have a plot in the book, but rather writes individual stories based on different characters. The book is held together by repeating characters, incidents, and random elements paced throughout.

Second, the entire book is filled with humor. It’s a humor based on repetition and silliness, and it reminded me of an unfinished children’s book I’d started over ten years ago. I dug up my old manuscript, and started reading.

The first three chapters were written when I was seventeen, and they were fantastic. Very similar to Wayside School, full of silliness and repetition and fun times.

The last half-chapter was written when I was 25. It was awful. I was desperately trying to contrive a plot to tie the whole book together, and all the humor was gone.

I started working on Book E again, determined to channel the humor and silliness and repetition, heedless of plot, that somehow came naturally to me when I was seventeen.

Of course it’s taking a back seat to Book D, but right now, if you asked me, I’d say I’m working on two books.

If you’re wondering why I stopped putting humor into my fiction, well, you tell me and  we’ll both know. Was it a result of the the humorless literary fiction of my writing classes? Was I focusing so much on plots that I forgot all about humor? Was I putting myself under too much pressure to reach a word count, leaving myself no time to contrive good jokes?

As to the haphazard way I keep starting books but not finishing them, I’ve ceased to let this bother me. When I was young I thought my unfinished books were all going to waste. But now, I’m always taking that old manuscript from four years ago and finding the perfect new twist to keep it going. And if it dies, well, perhaps I’ll revive it again in another four years.

But Book D, the memoir about this year, is in very little danger of being abandoned. And that’s what I mean, right now, when I say I’m working on a book.

Note: I now have a Patreon page, where you can get bonus blog posts by subscribing for $1 or more a month. My latest post is titled, “How Mennonites Set Women Up to Reject the Head Covering.