Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Real Deal

So I am sitting in the middle of my living room floor surrounded by the real deal. Real books, the ones that people will hopefully buy and read (and love!). For some reason, they are very different from the Advanced Reader Copies... Glossier, brighter, real-er. Okay, so realer is not a word, work with me here. They're REAL! What else is there to say?

I should be so excited, and I am, but I also can't believe how nervous I am. These things are going to start hitting stores in the next few weeks and then what? Oh yeah, did I mention they will be sold at Christian bookstores everywhere as well as Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Waldenbooks? You can already pre-order on Amazon, Target's website, and all the websites for the above listed stores. Crazy.

So now the books are in hand, judgement day is fast approaching, and I'm scared to death. I googled (funny how that became an accepted verb) my own name the other day and was shocked to see what came up. I even found a website where someone I've never heard of gave my book a C+. That's the first negative feedback I've heard. Ouch. I wasn't ready for it. I guess someone didn't tell her that I've always been an A student. He-he-he!

Oh well, whether I'm ready for this or not, here we go! It's going to be a fun ride. If you're my friends and family and you're reading this, pray for me. I feel like I could use it. And (prepare yourself for my one and only pathetic stab at self-promotion) go buy my book!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Countdown Begins (sort-of)

As we are getting closer and closer to the release of After the Leaves Fall, things are really starting to pick up. It seems like something happens every day, whether it's a review, an opportunity for promotion, or simply a friendly email from someone who has read the ARC and enjoyed it. Anyway, in an effort to try and keep my head above water, I've enlisted the wonderful guys who manage my website to update a bunch of things. Keep checking my website in the coming weeks for more contests and news. September is going to be a fun month!

  • Click here for the NEWS feed. Do you belong to a book club? Be sure to check out the neat book club opportunity!
  • Click here to read the early buzz about After the Leaves Fall. Select: "Read the Feedback!"
  • Click here to watch a promotional video about After the Leaves Fall.
  • Click here to send me an email. I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

House Guest Wisdom

Ever since Aaron and I moved into our very first home, it has seemed to have a revolving door. People come and go, stay for a day or stay for a week (or two), hang out over a coffee, and learn to treat our refrigerator like their own. (Anything you find in it is yours, but beware old Tupperware with unidentifiable contents!)

Anyway, we love having people over. And though it often seems like our guests are on the receiving end of the bargain, we don't feel this is the case at all. We get as much from them as they do from us. Particularly in the way of great conversation. We LOVE to talk, and we have so much fun staying up late with people from all over the US and Canada (and soon from Liberia!) chatting the night away.

One such conversation has really stuck with me...

This morning we said goodbye to a wonderful couple who had crashed in our basement for a few days. As we were having breakfast together we were talking about art and creativity, especially about the absolute need creative people have to be creative. Our friend told us something he had heard from a person he respected: "Creative people must have an outlet for their creativity or it will become destructivity."

Destructivity. The concept really struck a chord with me. And since I've often found that truth resonates deep in my soul long before my mind accepts it, I've been mulling over the idea of destructivity all day. I've decided that it is definitely true for me. If I'm not creating, if I'm not channeling all this energy that I have into something that is purposeful and lovely, I very quickly become someone that I would rather not be.

I haven't been writing much lately and it's killing me. I've been snarly and short, tripped up by little things that should be easily dismissed, and feeling unfulfilled in different areas of my life. I need to start carving out time in my busy schedule so I can put that creativity in me to good use. Summer has been too... summery. Lazy, fun-filled, littered with vacations... I'm ready for fall. And I've decided that no matter what the season, as much as I need to spend time with God, I also need to spend time doing what he created me to do.

I guess now that my house guests are gone, it's time to put their wisdom to use.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Good stuff

I'm learning about myself as a blogger and so far I've discovered two things about my blogging style: 1) I tend to write looonnnggg blogs. Poor you. 2) I seem to write a lot about serious things. I guess that means I'm deep! Ha-ha! Or maybe I'm boring... :)

Anyway, life has lightened up a bit in just over 24 hours and I thought I'd share.
  1. Our bathroom is done! Well, almost. It's functional anyway and far more gorgeous than I imagined it would be. Who knew Venetian plaster could change a room so much???
  2. My kids are awesome.
  3. Our car is fixed! After 7 weeks of sitting in the body shop, the mechanic finally called us to say, "It's a goner." Aaron and I almost cried yesterday afternoon because we couldn't think of a way out of this jam. No $$$ makes it a little hard to buy a new car. Anyway, a few hours later the mechanic called us back to say, "Your car is working!" What a miracle! Apparently he decided to take one last look at it and suddenly discovered that something had been wired together wrong. Imagine that.
  4. I'm not sick anymore! In fact, I feel great. Gotta love modern medicine.
  5. I'm excited to dive into my redline manuscript.
  6. My kids are gorgeous. Have I mentioned that already?

Anyway, have a happy Thursday! I am...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Feeling Pressured

I know it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but frankly, I have been so busy! I keep thinking my life is going to slow down someday soon, but the elusive soon only seems to be receding on the horizon as fast as I approach it. It’s incredibly frustrating. And either I’m getting worse at dealing with the pressure, or the pressure is intensifying…

A quick run-down:

  1. I'm sick and have been for days.

  2. We are remodeling our main bathroom and must therefore use the only other bathroom in the house: the basement bathroom.

  3. We have houseguests (and will for the next few weeks) and must share said bathroom with six people.

  4. Our family has been without a family car for six weeks now. I’m not sure Aaron’s ’77 Chevette counts as a car… Well, at least not a family car--we can’t fit the car seats in it.

  5. My redline manuscript is coming today.

  6. I’m bogged down in emails, phone calls, and a seemingly never-ending list of To-dos.

  7. Mothering two toddlers is getting the best of me! Who knew parenting was this hard???
The list goes on… I need a vacation!

Well, that was cathartic. And kind of whiny. And, as always, God’s not letting me get away with it. Let me explain…

Just when I’m starting to feel really sorry for myself, really pressured by all the responsibilities that fall on my shoulders, I’m reminded that I am blessed beyond belief. Aaron spoke with Robert (our friend from Liberia) on the phone the other day. Remember my last post and our fears that a child in the orphanage had died? Well, this call confirmed our fears, though it wasn’t a child who had passed away. Lucia (Robert’s wife) lost her aunt last week. She died unexpectedly and it was very hard on their family. Aaron, completely devastated and trying to comfort his friend in some small way, asked: “How did she die, Robert?”

The answer: PRESSURE.

Excuse me? How does one die of “pressure”?

Apparently, Liberians are very familiar with this term and it’s meaning. It’s relatively common to die of pressure. But it’s not what you think. Pressure is not the result of an over-busy life. It’s not some crazy physiological consequence of West African heat and humidity. It doesn’t even have to do with pressure as North Americans understand it.

Lucia’s aunt died of the crushing weight of horror. The memories, the sorrow, and the sheer terror of Liberia’s civil war are still fresh in the minds of many Liberians. Many of these people saw their families killed, their wives and daughters raped, their children stolen and forced to fight in rebel armies, and their country destroyed. Some of the survivors have never recovered. They die of the “pressure.” Who knows, maybe it’s post-traumatic stress syndrome. Maybe their deaths are completely unrelated to the mental and emotional anguish they are experiencing. Or maybe our hearts and minds are far more powerful than our earthly bodies. Maybe dying of pressure makes more sense than heart disease, cancer, and AIDS combined.

At any rate, I don’t need a vacation, I need an attitude adjustment. Let’s try this again:

  1. Last night I was able to go to a walk-in clinic and receive medicine for my illness. I feel better already.

  2. We have the wonderful opportunity to turn our dinky little bathroom into something gorgeous and functional. Venetian plaster, bamboo flooring, and new mirrors and fixtures are just a few of the improvements.

  3. Our home, though small, is well suited for houseguests and we love having our friends and family stay with us. Besides, we’ll only have to share a bathroom for a few more days.

  4. Though we don’t have a usable car, my family lives nearby and they are more than generous in allowing us to borrow theirs when we truly need it. The rest of the time, I put the kids in the bike trailer and use pedal power! What’s wrong with that?

  5. My redline manuscript is coming today! I love the editorial process and I’m excited to see what my editor thought of my second book. Never mind the fact that this just serves as a reminder that my lifelong dream is coming true…

  6. I have a telephone, a computer, and all the accoutrements of a lavish life. I am rich beyond measure.

  7. I get to mother two toddlers! They are the sweetest, cutest little boys I’ve ever seen. And I’m doubly blessed that I don’t have to go to work and leave them in day care.

The list goes on… I have NOTHING to complain about.

And I’m starting to wonder if all the “pressure” in my life is nothing more than the consequences, the byproducts, of all the blessings that have been heaped on me. How backwards is that?

Anyway, to keep myself grounded, I’ve been sneaking peeks at this photo. It’s of a soldier walking through the streets of Monrovia, Liberia at the end of their last civil war. Look closely. He’s not walking on gravel.

I don’t know the meaning of the word pressure

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Guess what I got in the mail yesterday? A big box of books! My books! How crazy is that? I've been dreaming about this day for twenty-four years, and it was so cool to finally rip that cardboard box open on my living room floor and see the cover of my book peering back at me. It's like a dream, except for that all fifteen of the blue-bound copies were stacked on my dresser when I woke up this morning. I'm not dreaming!

What a fun thing to experience... When the UPS guy drove up, Aaron gave me this look that said, "This is it." It seemed almost providential that Aaron was home at the time and the boys were sleeping. We sat on the floor together and took them all out, reading the back cover and flipping through the pages. Wow. I can't even begin to describe how incredible it was. And I can't tell you how happy I am with the way everything turned out. Tyndale did an excellent job on the cover, the layout, the chapter breaks... Everything looks so great.

And God gave us about ten minutes to revel in it all. Then the phone rang.

I think I've alluded to our relationship with a pastor named Robert in Liberia, but I'll fill you in on a few more details... When Aaron and I went to Ethiopia to pick up our son, Judah, we stayed in a missionary guest house. At the time, there was a Life Water conference going on and there were a number of pastors from all over Africa in attendance. One of those pastors, a man named Robert Bimba, quickly found his way into our hearts. Aaron and Robert struck up a great friendship and we left Ethiopia promising to do all that we could to help support Robert in his ministry. Robert is the pastor of a church called Abide in the Vine Fellowship in the capital city, Monrovia. Abide in the Vine also supports two orphanages both named Christ Is Our Hope.

Anyway, now that we are settled back in our comfortable, North American lives, God is doing a very good job of reminding us of what he expects from us... We have indeed kept our promise to Robert and we have struck up a church partnership between the church that Aaron pastors (Bridge of Hope) and Abide in the Vine. We are also in the process of setting up a child sponsorship program for the kids in the orphanages. But just when we think we can take a break and pat ourselves on the back, God gently reminds us that we are nowhere near done.

Yesterday, as I sat in my glory surrounded by all these beautiful books, Robert called. We are blessed to be able to speak with Robert once or twice a week, and we always look forward to hearing his voice. But yesterday, Robert called with bad news.

It's the rainy season in Liberia and the people are, quite literally, struggling to survive. Last week Robert gathered his entire congregation and brought them to the church where they stayed for five days together, praying and fasting. The orphanages have run out of food, many of the children are sick, and Satan seems to be mustering armies against these already besieged people. And then, the morning after these beautiful children of God break their time of fasting and prayer, thieves enter the church and steal everything they can lay their hands on.

I was grinning over the books when Robert called, and all I could hear was Aaron's side of the conversation: "No. Oh no. No, you've got to be kidding me. Oh Robert, I am so sorry..." I thought we had lost one of the kids in the orphanage. And though I'm thankful that the only thing lost is a bunch of furniture, I still can't get my mind around how devastating this must be for the people of Abide in the Vine. And I absolutely can't understand how half a world away, my brothers and sisters in Christ have to plead with God for every meal they eat while I throw my extra away. While I get the joy of holding my books in my hands.

It's so wrong. And we will be held accountable for what we have done, and for what we haven't done. Every gift I receive is not my own--it is freely given from my God for his people, I am nothing more than the distributor. I better never, ever forget that.

Praise you, God, for continuing to remind me.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


So my sweet friend, Laurel, posted a link to my website in her blog and suddenly I have cyber-friends! Thanks so much for stopping by! I had so much fun reading your comments, seeing your photos, and checking out your blogs and websites. What beautiful women of God you are. I look forward to getting to know you better...

May you be blessed,

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


I finished Harry and bawled like a baby. How lame is that? I attribute it to the fact that I'm not much of a crier so when I do let go, it's gonna be monumental. Or at least tidal. My poor husband thought I was insane...

Anyway, back to life as normal. Time to really get my head in the so-called game and decide what I want to do now. I have six potential books cluttering up precious space in my brain, and it's time to let one out... Question is, which one? Since I'm such a rookie in the whole publishing world, I have no idea what my next best move would be. Here's the scoop:

-Out of the six potential books, I have a good portion of three of them already written. The three I have begun include:

  • A crime/drama. Sort of. The POV switches between a small town doctor (present day) and a teenage girl (1968). Their stories weave together as Lucas (the doctor) gets thrown into a situation way over his head and finds himself inexplicably drawn to a young woman he never knew.
  • An adventure/drama about a woman on the brink of 30 who is chasing down an obsession that threatens to ruin her. This book is a real mind game--I'm still trying to get my head around it.
  • A young adult fantasy. Really? Did I really start writing a fantasy? Yup, I think so. It revolves around a childhood dream of mine...

-The three books that are still dormant (but very much alive) in my mind include:

  • A historical drama. I have wanted to write this book since I was a little girl and someday, no matter what, I will. It is my Grandmother's story, and it's proof that truth is just as magical as fiction. It will be a book about love, family, and World War II.
  • An adventure/drama about a town that experiences a catastrophe of devastating proportions. Although the POV would follow the life of one young woman, the story would lie in the tapestry of lives that are woven together through such deep suffering.
  • A third book about Julia (the main character in my first two novels). This book would not so much be a part of a series as the continuation of characters that I love deeply and am having a hard time letting go of! I'd hop 10 years in the future and pick things up there...

There you have it, my dilemma. Writing is obsessive for me, complusive, but I write so much better when I have a definite place to channel my energies. All this back and forth, a chapter here, a scene there, is killing me! Any words of wisdom? Bits of advice? What sounds interesting to you?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

What is it about Harry?

Confession: I'm a Harry Potter maniac. And this little love affair I have with a book series that nearly takes up an entire row on my book shelf is getting a bit out of hand with the final installment. Okay, I've always been out of hand when it comes to Harry. Aaron came to bed last night, saw me curled up around the orange volume and sighed: "I can't believe I found you in bed with Harry again." His disappointment might have something to do with the fact that I reread the entire series in preparation for the final book. Did I just admit to that? I can't believe I'm telling you this stuff!

Anyway, as much as I'd love to ramble on about Harry, I do have a reason to bring this up. What is it about Harry that has me (and most of the rest of the literate world) so enthralled? J.K. Rowling's writing is simple, straightforward, and easy to read. I guess I'm not drawn to her books because she is a lyrical mastermind. The plot is cumbersome and winding, filled with so many angles, twists, and turns that I can't be sure she's still weaving them together artfully. So my interest is not about a razor-sharp edge of truth and clarity. Could it be the characters? They are definitely well-drawn and fascinating--they are as real to me as distant friends. Or maybe the page-turning excitement? It almost takes a catastrophic natural disaster to tear me from the pages. And yet, I don't think that's it...

Could Harry's allure have something to do with the fact that he embodies our deepest desire? I don't mean the fact that he's a wizard (though it would be ridiculously cool to wash my dishes with a flick of a wand). I mean the fact that he is one-in-a-million, singular, extraordinary, unique. He is necessary, desperately needed and irreplacable. Even though he is a reluctant hero, he is (or at least, seems to be) the salvation of his people. God-complex? Christ figure? I'm sure much has been written on this and I have no desire to philosophize Harry Potter. He's my escape and it is not my intention to exegete Rowling's creation. But all the same, I can't help noticing that I respond to Harry's character on a very elemental level.

Remember when you were a kid and you played imaginary games? My brother and I role-played with the kids in our neighborhood all the time. We were royalty, knights, cops, explorers in far-flung lands... We were heros. And the very world depended on us. We never once played a game or imagined a scenario where we were anything less than the very crown of creation.

I think we still long for that, whatever our age. We want affirmation at work--we want to be an irreplacable asset to our coworkers, our company. We want our spouse (or significant other, or conquest) to be thrilled by our very presence, in awe of who we are. We want to be recognized, respected, adored maybe. We want our books to sell and our reviews to be glowing. We want the world to think: This life is no life without Nicole in it. Or whoever you are. Fill in the blank.

Maybe it sounds trite (it does a bit to me, but then, I think I'm still working on grasping it completely), but there is someone who thinks all those things about us. We ARE the crown jewel of creation. We are unique, matchless, one-of-a-kind. We are each the hero of our own story. We get to be Harry. Every day.

Like I said, I don't quite get it. But I'm trying. And as I read about Harry the Hero, the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, I try very hard to understand that as far as my God is concerned, I am his extraordinary creation. I think it takes a lot of grace to grasp such a concept. I'll work on it. In the meantime, back to The Deathly Hallows. I'm almost done--don't you dare ruin it for me!

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Fifteen days after leaving for Vancouver, we are finally home again! BC was gorgeous, as always, and we had so much fun playing the part of eager tourists. Between the aquarium, the zoo, the beach, the pool in Auntie Danielle's backyard, the pier at Steveston, and all the other exciting things we did, our boys certainly had their fill of thrills. Vancouver still feels like home, and we fell into a wonderfully comfortable routine that I'm still missing days after we've left. And yet, it's GREAT to be back in Iowa. It feels so good to fall asleep in my own bed as I listen to the familiar groans and creaks of our sweet old house. It's nice to see family and friends again. I even like the heat and humidity. There is truly no place like home.

And I'm appreciating home now more than ever before because we almost didn't have a place to come home to.

The afternoon we were on our way home, a tanker of ethanol exploded on the train tracks near our house. We were en route, but apparently every home and business within a 1/2 mile radius was evacuated as the tanker melted into a twisted mass of molten metal. The fear: more explosions. One truck on fire is enough, but the inferno in question raged between two trains pulling 13 tanker cars full of ethanol and another 9 cars of gasoline. And, standing just behind the train tracks, there was a field of holding bins filled with anhydrous ammonia. In retrospect, a 1/2 mile blast radius was not enough. Had the tankers ignited, it would have gouged a hole in the earth where our lovely little town used to be.

I don't think I can really even grasp how dangerous the whole situation was. It's unfathomable, almost Armaggedon-like somehow. I keep imagining what it would have been like to roll into town at 3 am and find the mall, the city offices, Fareway... all gone. Terrifying.

I am so grateful for our local fire department and the 6 others that continually pumped water on the remaining tankers to keep them from igniting. (Apparently the fuel in the closest tankers was actually boiling.) I feel indebted to our rescue teams for their quick response and determination. I'm overwhelmed by the compassion of the men and women who fought to save the life of the truck driver. And I am so thankful that the Lord saw fit to spare our town a tragedy of epic proportions.

It all makes a great story, but praise the Lord that a different outcome exists only in my imagination and not in reality. Hmmm... do I see a book in all this?