Why I’ve Never Been so Happy About a Messy Bedroom

One thing I’m learning about life is that it can be very easy to spend an inordinate amount of time on minor things and brush over major things as if they don’t even exist. I find this especially prevalent in the way people in the US practice Christianity, the way we run businesses, and the way parents interact with children. Also, marriage. For some reason, it can be easier to spend all of our time obsessing over minor issues when there are major things that are crying out for our attention. Maybe that’s the reason. Maybe occupying ourselves with minor things is a good way of avoiding the major things.

Anyway. As you may have read a few months ago in one of my most popular blog posts ever, we have made time for Maile to write again, but only after several difficult conversations and a wake-up call on my part that I wasn’t extremely proud of. Such is life. I allowed myself over time to get caught up in minor things and completely missed something my wife desperately needed: time to write.

I was reminded of this again yesterday when I arrived in our bedroom aka dumpster aka heap of stuff.

In my experience as a married person, as time has passed, we have naturally divided up the household responsibilities. We are nearly 20 years in, so by now we have certain things we take care of. I try to do the dishes in the morning and fold a few loads of laundry before I go to work, and Maile takes care of the kids and the house during the day – a huge undertaking – and then we divide and conquer at night. On Saturdays, everyone pitches in.

But some duties get cast into a kind of neutral zone where whoever gets sick of something first will take care of it. The kitchen floor is generally one of these things, and as it gets gradually worse and worse I am usually the first person to cave and wash it. As I’m washing it, I usually look up at Maile and she gives me a grin and says, “I knew you couldn’t take it much longer.” Our room is generally the area where Maile gets sick of the mess first and takes care of it. Actually, she usually keeps it very clean.

At least, until she hung out with Christie Purifoy and Amy Knorr at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Maile asked Christie how she did it – how did she write and raise children and take care of the house? Christie smiled and told Maile that when she was in the depths of a project, sometimes things didn’t get done. She got behind on the laundry. Or picking up around the house. Or cleaning the bedroom. She fed the kids easy food and let them entertain themselves and did what it took to make time to write.

Yesterday, I walked into our bedroom aka dumpster aka heap of stuff, sat on the bed, and finished up some writing I needed to do. I could have tidied up. I’m not saying it’s solely Maile’s responsibility. But we’re both busy, we’re both creating, we’re both living, and it’s just not at the top of the list right now. It’s in the neutral zone, waiting for someone to grow tired of it. And that’s okay.

As I was working, Maile came in with the biggest smile on her face.

“Only a few thousand words to go,” she said. “I’m at 56,000 words, and I think it’s almost finished.”

I congratulated her. She will finish by the end of the week. What an accomplishment.

She looked around the room.

“I know the house is a wreck,” she said, still smiling, “but I just keep thinking about what Christie said. I’m going to get this book written, and then we can get back to some kind of normal.”

I’ve never been so happy about having a messy bedroom. I think about the time that Maile has been able to put into arranging these words, the look on her face when she comes out and says she’s written 1200 words that day, or 1500 or 2000. I hear it in her voice when she wrestles with a character or a plot point or something she hadn’t expected. She goes deeper into her writing than I do. She comes out dazed, like someone just baptized.

There is so much we are learning, so much about being married and doing what you love while serving each other and not letting the minor things write our story.

We’re getting there. And we’re learning a lot along the way.

* * * * *

If you’d like to help us afford some kind of cleaning service, you could buy one of my books. Just kidding. Any extra money will pay for Cade’s braces.

A Solution to Mid-Summer Boredom

Photo by Rawpixel via Unsplash

It’s that time of year. The days are long and hot. The children are getting restless. Everyone is looking for something to do.

Look no further.

I’m creating a four-part video series on how to write your own story, an introductory look into fiction writing. The first video will give you or a child you love a few hints and insights into how to create a character. That video is free! You can find it at the bottom of this page.

If you want the remaining three videos delivered to your inbox (videos on setting, conflict, and plot), all you have to do is preorder my book, The Edge of Over There, before it releases on Tuesday and then fill in your order information HERE.


Why Do We Keep Building Our Castles in the Sand?

June 11th, 2018

We are in Florida. I work on a few writing projects during the day, including my current manuscript, and Maile tries to find something to do with the kids when the sun is at its burning hot zenith, something that doesn’t involve going outside. The days pass quietly this way, and the afternoon thunderstorms drift along the Florida horizon, giants lumbering from here to there. I watch them through the glass, through waves of heat that rise up off the streets.

Evenings are best because we drift out to the gulf when the sun is dropping and the beach is empty. We swim out to the sandbar at Lido and stand in the shin-deep water 500 feet from shore, and it looks like we are nearly walking on water, not quite Peter, not quite able to stay on the surface, but having at least a shin-deep faith.

As the sun reaches down to the horizon, we build sand castles a dozen feet out of the waves’ reach, dig a deep moat and mound high walls and form keeps and towers, and we imagine we live there, in the sand, in that pretend place, far from the troubles of this world. Lucy and Cade and Abra and Sam join me on my knees, gritty in the sand, digging and building and dreaming. Leo and Poppy run in and out of the water, simultaneously brave and afraid. Maile is on her knees, bent over and staring at the sand, watching the tiny shellfish burrow their way to safety.

The waves keep coming, though. Higher. Closer. Their progress is subtle but they soon fill the moat around our castle, erode the base of the walls. The sun sets and we pack our things and rinse off in the dark, tasting salt on our lips, the grit never quite leaving us. The few people we do pass in the evening smile at almost-2-year-old Poppy and say hello, and she replies with her tiny voice. We drive back to my grandmother’s house with the windows open, the night air somehow both cool and warm, the lights of downtown Sarasota shining like stars.

And late at night, when the fans are whirring and the children are sleeping and we slip into the darkness, I wonder, Why do we keep building our castles in the sand?

* * * * *

Writing books feels a lot like building castles in the sand. After all, our sand castles never survive the night. The same could be said of most books. So much work, so much diligence, so much intention and discipline…for what? To be forgotten by most people soon after they come out. How many books are remembered and appreciated widely five years later? Ten years later? This work, this writing, can feel fleeting indeed, when the pouring out of your soul results in a tiny blip of interest, a small lump of words that stand until later books, later interests, later fads, push it out of memory.

But this is why I keep writing:

It is never about the sand castle. It never has been. I just didn’t realize it.

It is about doing the work diligently, enjoying it, creating something. It is about digging my hands into the earth and piling up what I find, forming it into something whimsical or beautiful, something that people walking by can enjoy. It is about getting lost in the creation of a thing so far beyond me, so far inside of me, that I never know what the end will look like.

It isn’t about the book. It is about the writing of the book. It is always about the writing. And this is why I keep going.

* * * * *

Will you help me build the sand castle I’m currently working on? The odds it survives for long are not great. We might come back tomorrow and find it’s been washed away. But it has been a joy to build, and you can help me finish it well, if you’re willing to get down in the sand, to get your knees a little gritty, to get wet.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

Preorder my upcoming book, The Edge of Over There or request it from your local library.

There is still time to join my Facebook launch team. You’ll get a free digital ARC of the book in exchange for an online review and help spreading the word during release week, which begins July 3rd.

If you haven’t yet read it, buy the first book in the series, The Day the Angels Fell. Or request it from your local library.

* * * * *

I watched my children while we built our castles. I watched them as the waves came close. And I noticed something: they never thought the castle would last forever. They weren’t in the business of building something that would never fade, and this didn’t bother them! They watched the incoming waves test our moat and walls. They watched the water spill inside. As we left, the castle’s destruction was well underway, but they were never disheartened. Why?

Because it was fun to build. And they knew we would come back the next day to create something new.

Thanks for helping me build these little sand castles. It’s been fun, hasn’t it?

Finding My Courage

The hotel room is dark. Maile is asleep in the bed beside me. A short line of white light shines under the door on the other side of the room. The yellow street lights glow between the blinds. The air conditioner hums, and the room smells the way hotel rooms normally do: muffled, reused, artificially clean.

Maile and I spent the evening of Father’s Day at a restaurant, catching up on the things we rarely find time to talk about when our six children are around. We laughed. We gave each other parenting pep talks. We visited a bookstore and meandered through the aisles, picking up books, considering them, putting them down. Look at this one, we said. Read the back of this. Books have always been our love language. I bought two because buying books is my loveliest addiction.

We came back to the hotel, watched a movie, watched another. We held hands. She fell asleep. Now it’s just me awake, the day nearly done.

* * * * *

It’s been almost a month since I’ve been around these blogging parts. I’ve had to put the blog on the back burner, now that I’m finishing a manuscript, promoting The Edge of Over There, getting ready to spread the word about Once We Were Strangers. (You can preorder both of those by the way, and if you do I’ll love you forever.) But I miss blogging. I miss the casual nature of this place, the day-to-day sharing. I miss hearing from you.

Writing novels is what I have always wanted to do, and now I’m doing it, and it’s nothing like what I thought it would be. Maybe I’ll talk about that sometime, but not tonight. I’m too tired. Tonight, I want to tell you about a phone call we got while we were coming back to the hotel.

Maile talked to her mom and she told us Leo was learning to swim. Our brown-eyed, curly-haired boy had taken off his floaties and learned to stay above water on his own. It wasn’t that long ago he was scared of it all, sitting at the edge of the pool and kicking his feet. But now he’s jumping in, doggy-paddling his little heart out, lifting his chin and grinning and spitting out water. Clinging to the side, yes, but ready and willing to head back out.

A few weeks ago, we were at the Gulf of Mexico, and for the first few hours, he ran from the waves. He scampered along the shore, running in long arcs as the waves stretched up towards dry sand. He’d follow them back down, then turn and dart for safety when the next wave came.

But over the next few days, he found his courage, standing in the water as the undertow pulled the sand over his feet. He started wading in a little further, jumping up over the foam. By the end, he was sitting in the gulf, letting the waves crash into him.

Leo the lion had found his way, and the thing that once terrified him became the source of his enjoyment.

* * * * *

I confess: I am sometimes terrified of the vulnerability of publishing books. I am afraid the waves of writing will wash me away, carry me under. I am scared of what people will think, what I might think years from now when I read back on my first, early efforts. I wonder if I can keep doing this for years and years, even if I never have a bestseller, even if I go on being me and only me. As if being me-and-only-me is something to avoid, or overcome.

But I watch Leo, and he helps me find my courage. If a 3-year-old boy can face down the entire Gulf of Mexico and smile as the waves crash over him, I can write my best book and laugh at the waves that come, whatever they might bring.

So can you.

In Which We are Beginning to Find Our Way

“I thought Mom went to college to be a Mom,” Sammy said, and he was completely serious, and we all paused for a moment before laughing hysterically, and therein surfaced one of this family’s major problems, from beginning to end, stated in ten simple words.

* * * * *

Once upon a time two English majors, both writers, fell in love and got married and lived a quiet life in Florida where they spent entire Saturdays reading on the couch and finding their way as a newly-married couple and traveling up and down the East Coast. These were simple times, though they did not realize it. For two years they had their little routines which included milkshakes every night over Scrabble, and lots of sex, and counting their pennies, and, when a few extra dollars came in, going out to eat at the Outback Steakhouse around the corner. And afterwards feeling guilty because who had $30 extra to spend on steak and cheese fries? Not them.

For two years. Such a simple life.

Then the crazy took over, and a kind of eternal crisis mode set in, and at first it was crisis mode set into the mold of an exciting move to England and young children and a business that devoured days and then Virginia with four children and good friends and a business that devoured days and then it was the kind of crisis mode that arises out of huge debt and disappointment and struggling to keep heads above water, the kind of crisis mode where everyone does what they have to do to keep the house together and moving and bills paid, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

What started as an exciting overseas move led to fifteen years of discombobulation and searching for direction and falling into a life that worked. For me, anyway. It was a life that worked because I was lucky enough to stumble into a way of making a living that I loved: writing.

Let’s be honest.

It’s a life that has worked for me.

And somewhere along the way, Maile lost herself.

* * * * *

I came back from a work trip and I can’t remember if it was when I came back from Istanbul or Iraq or Nashville or maybe all of them but there we stood beside the bed and Maile told me she was flat-out gone, flat-out not someone she recognized anymore. She was nearing forty and didn’t know who the person in the mirror had become or where the last fifteen years of her life had gone or if she’d ever be able to find herself again, the self she loved. The self who wrote beautiful words and stories, the self she had been at eight years old writing in lined journals.

And what if this is it. What if this is life.

That is a hard thing to hear, especially when you feel like you have found yourself, especially when the last fifteen years have been you finding your way, only to realize the person you were with, the person who came along on the journey with you, the person who supported and pushed and cheered you on, wasn’t on a trail that worked for them.

Those are hard conversations to have. Those are long nights. Can two humans ever not fail each other? Is this what it means to be unequally yoked, one going one way, the other going the other?

Can two people find their way after so many years of wandering? Both of them?

* * * * *

Last week we were at the Festival of Faith and Writing, and Maile met some kindred spirits. You know who you are. And she asked, “How do you make time to write?” and “How do you stay married and have children and take care of a house and still make time to write?” and “When do you write?” and a hundred other questions.

This, I think, is what makes a writers’ conference worth it. Not the speakers, though they might be very good. And not the information, though it might be very helpful. No, a writers’ conference is a good one when it puts you in contact with people who will help you find your way.

They said, “You have to set aside the time, and maybe dinner doesn’t get made or children eat cereal or toast and maybe the house doesn’t get cleaned or maybe you have to go out somewhere. But you have to make time. You have to. You will die if you don’t.”

We are trying to make time.

No. Scratch that. We are making time.

* * * * *

Tuesday night from 4 to 6 was the first time, and the children chose to make Caribbean Pineapple Quinoa and they did an amazing job and I played video games with them for an hour before that because that’s what happens when I’m in charge. And a little before 6, Maile came down and we ate dinner together that the children had made and behold, it was good!

We had a long conversation with them about how in a family it’s important that everyone gets to follow their dreams and it’s important that we care for each other in this way, that we tend gently and faithfully to the fire that each of us carries, because this is the kind of caring that families have to do for one another. Often, no one else will do it.

We looked our little girls in the face and said that they in particular have to be careful about losing themselves. This is how it can be, if we’re not careful. This is how it can go.

This is when I told them that their mother loved to write stories, always had since she was their age, and that we hadn’t done a good job helping her find time to do this but that was about to change. Abra volunteered to make dinner every night. I said that was generous. “Well,” she said, “maybe not every night,” and we laughed and said we will see. This is when I told them their mother and I both studied English in college, and this is when Sammy said, “I thought Mom went to college to be a Mom.”

In that one sentence, I realized by how much I had missed the mark. A crisis mode that set in a decade ago, the mode in which we tried to survive by doing what we had to do, the mode in which I wrote for a living and Maile held everything else together, had slipped into our daily lives, and our months, and our years, and it had become our way of life, and it is my fault that we never came up out of that.

We are emerging, and we are all catching our breath, and we are all looking around, trying to see how it might be in this new world.