Dad’s Chair on the Cover

When I worked full-time in public relations, I grew pretty handy at pre-fabbing quotes and assigning them to other people. I’m not sure my husband agrees that this is an enviable life skill–this conversational jockeying, this proclivity for sometimes talking over and through people–but it is a totally normal and even advantageous talent in PR-land.

Often, these were celebratory quotes, thoroughly happy announcements: Our leaders reveling in a fortuitous donation, a hard-won grant, being ranked on some swanky list, the best-of-the-best.

“We are so thrilled,” I’d say (or, have them say).

But when the approved copy boomeranged back to me, it was always tempered, its collar buttoned all the way up: “We are very pleased.”

I begin this way to point out that I have been thoroughly schooled and taught the full weight of this word, thrilled.

And I want to deploy it here.

I am thrilled to share this news with you: The book is absolutely real, absolutely happening. It is now at major online outlets and available for pre-order.

More thrilling:

The cover was shot by a local photographer (who happens to be my baby sister). It’s not stock. It contains the real lake and the real dock and a very real chair that appears in the beginning of the book.

When the editorial team asked for some family photographs, preferably any old ones we had from our time growing up at the cottage, I mentioned that we were headed down there for July 4 weekend, and that my sister was a professional photographer. I said she could probably snap some stuff for their reference. The designer sent along a few quick sketches, and one was of this: Dad’s old red aluminum chair, angled out over the water.

I was struck. For one, because it’s the scene my agent mentioned when she first offered representation–the one she said sang out to her, and the one that still has its claws in me. When I think of this book, this is the image that has always been seared in, soul-deep, because the lake is summer, and the lake is Dad, and so the lake has become something else entirely: it is metaphor for me. It reminds me of a hurt I hug onto, loving and hating all at once.

It reminds me that earth is a banquet, so much beauty, all you can eat, and yet: earth doesn’t last.

It reminds me that splendor is spilled all around, and yet, all is seasonal. Summer melts into fall every year, almost on time.


I could talk your ear off. I could tell you SO many things about this book, about my heart, but the cover seems like a good enough place to start.

This is Dad’s chair, the one that came with the cottage, one that he painted red.

One that’s now marching back to its original blue.

One that reminds me we leave a mark, but time rubs against us, too; one that reminds me that, despite all the work of these sore hands, all eventually fades. The only lasting art is the kind we color in other people.

More to come (the book is bound for copy-edit land, which means most of my meaningful meddling is done. This is a good thing, but it feels wonderful and frightening all at once, and I hear that’s about par. It’s like a kind of toothpick-test: If you feel wonderful and frightened all at once, the book’s probably done cooking in the middle.)

Enjoy your weekends, people. The weather folks here say we might even spot snow.

The Long-cut: How Not to Get Somewhere Quick

I like results as much as the next girl.

Quick results.

I order a package online and refresh my Fedex delivery status a few times a day.

I pan Pinterest for meals that promise few ingredients and fantastically flavorful outcomes.

I want God to meet me right here, right now, in these free five minutes.

I sit down to work and expect to unzip magic. Shake it right out, pour myself a bowl of it. But lately, when I sit down to write, I feel so impossibly empty, like I’m scraping the inside of a pumpkin I’ve already hollowed out, and there’s no seedy flesh left, nothing wet, just the pale firm stone of the pulp.

I want everything yesterday. I want instant-overnight results because I get overwhelmed by the amount of energy and risk and ugly fumbling that bridge between here and there.


Whenever I think about shortcuts, I think of the Galipo River.

It was the summer before eleventh grade. I’d signed up for my youth group’s annual August canoe trip in Canada’s remote Algonquin Park, almost 3,000 square miles of pine and rock so rife with lakes and lakelets: about 2,400 of them, if you’re counting. All open air and sky and not a cell phone tower, a blinking pager, a Wi-Fi hotspot: just our group: six teens, two leaders, four canoes, and our backpacks. And by backpack, I mean human-sized pea-green canvas behemoths that I could crawl into and take a nap. The real monster–the food pack–rang in at at least 70 pounds at the park’s Rock Lake access point, and next to nothing by the time we clocked out. The first night we pitched tents and ate king-food: still-cool and beautifully marbled steaks for pan-frying over the fire. Corn. Soft, pillowy rolls and some sort of raspberry streusel crumble bars, creme de la creme, top of the sack. As the week wore on and we amassed bug bites and oily scalps, we dug deeper into our rations, finding the pauper-food at the dregs: noodles and the freeze-dried vegetables and a dark rye brick the outfitters passed off as a bread product but was dense as nucleic matter. It could double as a bulletproof vest, if you needed it to.

We paddled for miles (my first ever instance of trigger finger occurred in the belly of Pen Lake) and when we got to the end of one patch of water, the canoes went upside down, wicker seats flat atop our heads. The boys showed off, one-manning the crossbar over a meaty curve of their shoulders. Once the canoes had crossed, we jogged back to fetch the packs, clipped and cinched their buckle-straps in two spots, around the chest and around the waist, and pushed our legs up under us. Portaging sounds official and romantic and French, and maybe like a good life skill–-“to carry between navigable waters”–-but it is basically nasty hiking, hauling your house and your refrigerator and your car on your back.

This, I now know, is why snails move so slow: They are always portaging, always carrying everything everywhere.

We look for moose and beaver and black bears. We inflate camp and collapse camp, up and down and up, and if it is in the seventies we force ourselves to swim and towel clean. Mostly it is cold and we stay dirty. We get bored and lazy with boiling water for washing our dinner dishes, and take to cold-water cleaning them, squatting at the edge of a massive rock that slinks low into the lake. I set a sticky colander down to soak while I take sponge to our big boiling pot, and by the time the pot is smooth and clean and it’s the colander’s turn, a fat black leech has strung itself through one of the pin holes. Lots of screaming and waving and laughing as we debate ways to free it.

We spend five days on the trail, four nights, and the tents keep going up-down-up-down. We lose a stake. Two. We stop being so prissy about the inhumane fact that we are going to bathroom, imagine, on an open-air toilet that looks just as rugged and campy as it sounds: THE BOX. The box is a pine crate with a hinged lid that reveals a putrid and buggy black hole, and so we come up with this privacy code: If the toilet paper roll is off its spot on a rock or a branch, the throne is occupied. Don’t head down the trail.

I bring my journal and jot down the obvious and expected teen-in-nature thoughts: about how much hush there is out here, in the middle of nowhere, under a blanket of jarringly white star and comets, their streaky tails. How God is louder here. Bigger, too. This is before Twitter and #hashtaggingchaos and the chime! of fresh texts. And even so, the quiet is so stark it feels starched and almost uncomfortable: Too perfect that it cuts into you, like a new pair of shoes. One night a group of us decide to shirk the tents and make a little row as we camp out on a rock peninsula, and it is by far the hardest mattress I’ve known, below me, but ok, only for this: above me, the purple blue bruise of late summer sky ranks by far as the best ceiling.

At some point along the trail, we pull our canoes out of the south end of Pen Lake (the writer in me gets all goosebumpy typing that) and begin buckling up for the portage to our next paddle. The trail breaks in two parts, and our legs are fresh and young and the sun is still low and we make quick work of the first stretch, maybe a fifth of a mile, and then come to the second and re-check our map.

P 2170 meters. About 1.3 miles, another portage; maybe it’ll take an hour? Or longer, for those of us who can’t muscle a boat on our own?

But someone takes a closer look at the map. Some squinting. Is that…is that a little blue line that runs below, a barely there vein? And, does it thread almost perfectly from one lake all the way to the other? Let me see that, and we pass the map back and forth, and sure enough, agree that it does, and that it’s big enough to own a name. The Galipo River. It runs just south of the trail we’re standing on, and we can see the sun glinting off it from here, and that it’s a nice breadth, good darkish depth, slow current cutting wide like a scythe through the reeds.

Why make a portage when we can just glide alongside? someone asks. A little more paddling? And we wander over, trace our eyes along the snake of the river again, and nod.

Ok, our leaders say. The map looks good. Let’s give her a go.

A shortcut. We grin.

For the first couple of hundred yards, we are so egoed up, so settled on the fact that we are geniuses. We sing stupid campy songs and laugh as other portagers weave through trees somewhere off to our right. Silly people who don’t innovate, who take the map so literally, who choose their hill-infested hike right alongside this people-mover river.

We keep singing, and then, slowly, the river grows narrower. The reeds lean in a little. As we sing more softly, with each stroke, the river thins, and the bottom crests higher, so shallow that our paddles begin to scrape the mud bottom, until we’re standing, using one of them angled back like the lone oar of a gondola; and then the reeds are rubbing against us too close, furring us like a friendly cat, and then the canoes, so heavy laden, are suddenly beached right here in our river that now looks more like a field.

We disembark and leave our packs in the boat, and the canoe’s now light enough that, with some muscle, we can drag it along the little trickle that’s only inches wide, and then the reeds recede and the river widens up just enough that we can climb back in, only it now points us straight into a knotty tangle of scrub: low limbs that work like a spider’s web, funneled in front to catch us. We pass the hacksaw to the canoe up front, and the boys saw through small limbs, carving a path.

The portage is starting to look a little better. But we’re in the thick–the thicket–and committed, and now the shorter way is through.

As we slice through our low-limbed jungle cruise, slowly, the trees peel back and the brush lets go and the Galipo relaxes, spreads open, and we smile. Finally. Through the worst, we think, and better: there’s a little clip to the current, and it’s a friendly pull, tugging us out into the next lake, helping us paddle, and we let it carry us forward.

But the current keeps quickening. Acceleration, I think. When speed speeds up. And the river keeps bleeding out wide, and we see little ripples and rapids where stones are nosing out, cutting waters. The water grows from green to grey to black, tipped with bubble and foam, and then someone gets whapped right out of their boat, but holds on, and is helped back up in, and someone else yells for the rest of us to paddle over to the river’s hem, where we are going to pull out and trace the rest of the route along its north shore.

The pitch along this part of the glen is severe, and the footing is slippery as we wrestle our boat through more brush. The hacksaw comes back out. We take on more elevation, still tracking the river, and laugh and sigh relief as we see it rush over itself in a small circus of falls. That might have been us. We sigh. And we keep pulling, twigs scraping our shins, until finally our feet meet up with the portage trail, which is so hard and packed and perfect we could bow down and kiss it. And then we see it, this ending playing out slow like the tail of a movie: our holy arrival at a blue-grey ocean of lake. And we look at the map, confirm its name, and we couldn’t have chosen better ourselves:

Welcome Lake.


The shortcut we took to avoid the hour-long portage took seven hours. Once we were out of the woods for good, and bunked back at a family church camp and shampooed and wound in clean, warm sweatshirts, eating a small mountain of spaghetti, we laughed as we regaled the other canoe groups with our bravest adventure: What we affectionately dubbed The Long-Cut.

In case you’re tempted to forgo the portage and Tom-and-Huck down the Galipo, we said, You should know that it is not so much a river as it is a marsh, and then a field, and then a thicket, and then a wild whip of white-water.


I suppose I’m thinking about this lately because it’s September, because I am wired to want direction and new ruled pages and clear finish lines. Deadlines. Because my first book publishes in April and I am having serious doubts about a second project that’s still so nascent, so much still in its fetal stages. It’s something, I hope, but it can’t much breath on its own. It’s not ready for the world. And my biggest fear is that it will ultimately only amount to a big gargle, some throat-clearing.

I guess: I am between navigable waters.

So this is when I need remind myself that I have been here before. And that I can choose better.

That I can brave the big carry.

That, when I am tempted to want a quicker way around, when I don’t want to step out and strap on the pack; when I would much rather keep paddling along this blue slip of water than put my feet on the root-strewn trail and drag the whole mess of me up somewhere different; when it seems easier to work-around than work-through, well.

I think of the Galipo River.

Dad: You’re Getting That Book

It’s Father’s Day. And seeing as heaven has no zip code…since I can’t just lick and stamp a card…

I guess…I guess this year, Dad, you’re getting that book.

Yesterday, I mailed the signed contract that marks the true start of the book, the story–my Dad story of grief, and loss, and growing up, but really, of finding, and growing in, and learning to see all my aches for what they actually are: Fingerprints. Clues. A kind of weather vane, pointing to the truer country.

This book is my heart for others who find themselves in that same stretch of valley. Because, oh, I know. The pitch and lonely dark. The way it loops, the way it never quite ends, not really. It’s a narrow crevice, grief…we walk too much of it alone.  

I pray this story offers the littlest pinch of light.

I am grateful to my lovely agent, Wendy Lawton, for helping me find a good home for this book. For understanding the hollow and rumbling hungers that won’t find real rest this side of time.

And I’m thankful, already, for the team at Faith Words/Hachette and all the work we’ll get to do together in the months ahead.

More to come!

An Apology (and Some Summer/Book Updates)

First: An overdue I’m Sorry for being such a rotten hostess on this blog space. I know I’ve let things slip a little too long between visits, and I’m making plans to do better. The hard part is that a blog is always another place, separate from all the other writing. And I’m trying to give those my first and best attentions.

But of course, attentions are also flowing to my kid (did I mention he turned 3?!). And to my thirsty flowerboxes (licorice and purple calibrachoa, which are these fantastic clouds of teensy petunias). And it is summer, in Rochester, which is pretty much sacred and holy and one big excuse to stay up and out late and spoil yourself, picnic upon picnic…

I think part of my becoming better (or becoming more consistent, here) is going to involve me loosening up a little. Stretching my understanding of what happens in this space moving forward. So there might be some more general updates folded into all the “epiphanies.”

On the book front, it’s exciting that we are diving right into pinning down titles and subtitles, and cooking up cover concepts, all of which are heading in a direction that I am so impossibly thrilled about, because they are starting to capture the huge heart of this book. It’s a grief book, sure–but I always say that it’s really a life book. Because I believe, hard, that grief is just about the biggest way you can grow up. I think it’s the teacher you never wanted, but the one you are so glad you had: it’s a real-life practicum more powerful than getting married, or dethroning yourself for the sake of your babies, or holding down a job that bleeds you out. Grief wakes you up, grief makes you think. It puts your faith in the deep end and forces it to tread water, exhaust itself, really kick hard and swim.

Ok, moving off the soapbox.

Funny/remarkable things that happened this summer, in no particular order:

I got married. Again. As in: Church needed a pretend bride and groom for part of our pastor’s sermon series about what it means to “take the Lord’s name” as your own, and wear it well, daring to enter the kind of covenant relationship where he husbands us, makes us beautiful, clean. I had to walk down the aisle, slow, and meet my husband, who was waiting (in a tux!) beneath a pretty little chuppah.

I busted my beloved Moka Pot (because, apparently, it is important to add water when you are brewing coffee). I took this as a sign that it was time to segue into a bonafide espresso machine (the Saeco Via Venezia. xo.) Only, one problem: um, the new machine didn’t actually work. Thankfully, the company (Seattle Coffee Gear) is full of great, actual humans, who love coffee and the coffee-drinking public. And one of those humans called me right back on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and sent me a video that walked me through some very minor surgery I could perform myself, on the pressurized portafilter. With a Phillip’s head and nippers, I was able to cut some tension from an embedded spring. This took all of four minutes, but sounds so fabulously geeky that I am almost glad it happened. I feel I’ve been knighted:

Lo, I am coffee mechanic.

I am reading. Lots. At the gym, after the kid’s in bed. A lot of YA fiction (because I am starting to think that maybe some of the best and most progressive writing is happening there…some of it, anyway. The voices.) Plus, a lot of craft books. I just ordered Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel (because I’m working on my first of one…I’m roughly 60 percent through), and I’m now about a third of the way through Robert McKee’s Story (which is the screenwriting Bible, sure, about structure, about engineering a sea-worthy story, but for any writer, it’s akin to taking your first anatomy course. You see how all the systems work together, and it’s stunning and makes so much sense that you’re almost embarrassed that you’re just now getting that lightbulb moment, grasping it.)

Our pool is finally (momentarily) swimmable. We are seriously inept at the fine, finicky art of swimming pool chemistry (*we claim this is because the pool sits beneath a maple, so we have leaf pollution and shade to contest with). But it’s probably because we haven’t been able to breathe: We have had out of town company (which is delicious, but make chores like mowing and weeding nearly impossible) and niece-nephew babysitting marathons (which I affectionately call my “bids for sainthood…” three kids, 3 and younger!). And people keep doing those cliché summer things, like getting married and graduating. And we keep going to the drive-in, and playing mini-golf, and swinging at the playground…

That’s enough of an update for now. Hope you’re enjoying your summer, so far…dipping deep into good books, and clear(ish) pools, and gloriously blue-green lakes!


Find Your Niche, They Say

If writing’s your art, you’ll need laser focus.

So the savants say.

“Tape a picture of your ideal reader, right up on the wall next to your workstation. That way, she’s always watching. You’ll be killing the keyboard, making music or making a mess, but one thing’s for sure: You’ll never forget who the whole thing’s for.”

Do you want to be trusted, known as the go-to person? Good, you can be. But, boy, have you got to divest. Simplify.

“Jack of all, master of…”

Tighten. Yes, suck it in, even a bit more. Slice your subject thin, thinner. Onion-skin thin. That’s how you find your true audience. Pick a topic, then lop it in two; be deliberate about your angle, how you saunter back into things. Be calculated, be deliciously predictable, but please, don’t be boring.

That’s what they keep saying. Put yourself in a sweet, small box.

Sit down. Right here.

Find a niche, and wiggle on in.

Like you are a squirrel choosing a hollow tree; like you’re just picking a nice spot to nap.


I am no newborn when it comes to PR, to tribes, to knowing your publics. I believe in the verve of a varied voice. I know that if you try too hard to talk to everyone, you’ll go vanilla, sound scripted, and catch no one. The magic just melts, dribbles faster than a soft-serve cone on the windy beach boardwalk. I know. I have drafted enough speeches, slung the slogans, penned the marketing material that gets postmarked to homes.

But as I turn to this blog, all the books in me, the articles I’m knitting, I wonder: Can I so quickly slap a sticker on the whole of what I hope to do?

Can you?

Whatever you’re doing, or hope to become, can you name your niche right now?

Right where you’re standing, can you say the what, the how, the who?

Here is a piece of chalk. Can you go draw the circle? I dare you.

Just days ago, two blogs I follow faithfully were slowly wagging fingers—sweetly so, singing the song of the small, the taut, the tight. But as I read them, I feel myself folding, shutting down, wondering how I can possibly fit it all in.

How I can pack so small a carry-on for all the places I itch to go?


Thankfully, the April 29 lesson in my red leather devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, brings me answers.

Or hints.

Or at least, the lens of new questions:

“It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” (1 John 4:3)

“Naturally, we are inclined to be so mathematical and calculating that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing. We imagine that we have to reach some end…but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.”

That Oswald continues to slay me on a weekly basis is uncanny. But there again, it’s gone and happened. And so I wonder: Can I embrace the tension between the need for niche and this gnawing not-yet-knowing?

Here is what I want: I want to write about faith. I want to wake the world with fresh metaphors, new frames for helping them see.

My mother in law said it in an e-mail recently: “You make the intangible tangible.”

I wonder: Is this kind of niche enough?


They say that people do not care what you write; they cozy up with your voice.

You become friends, the kind they can summon at any moment—part writer, part genie. You come, your purse stocked with the predictable verbal tics, your baggage, your trusted jokes. But you also bring the new idea you read about last week, and have been mulling over ever since. It’s good and steeped now. It’s hot. You pour it out. You bring questions to them that you’ve half-figured, but you need their help untying the rest.

I want to know…whatever you do…are you ever allowed to just bring yourself, all your wonderful uncertainties—to be more than your niche, your shtick?

I admit there is wisdom in finding some focus, in pulling the horses around for the night, circling your wagons. You need the warm fire of community, something to tuck yourself into. But hasn’t niche become a bit of a buzzword? No matter what your industry, aren’t we all pressured, perhaps too soon, to go narrow? Somehow, the way they say it, niche sounds downright slick and smart: both terrifically tiny and trendy. Never mind its synonyms, that niche is but a softer word for dent, cubby, cavity.

I’ll open the floor here, because I really want to know: How soon can you make the call? How do you stuff yourself in the box, hang the shingle, wear the label?

How can you name something that’s still so small, so new?

Tell me: Is niche something you find…or something that finds you?