Know My Novel!

The main reason I created this blog at the beginning of 2017 was to have a place to document my journey to become a novelist as I moved towards publication of my novel, Panic Cat. As frequent readers of the blog may have noticed, there have not been very many posts specifically on my novel. That is because I didn’t really know what direction I wanted to go in, publication-wise. 

 So now that I am for sure pursuing the self-publishing direction, this blog will be a place where I will be putting content related to my novel and the release process. I’m going to start out today by telling you about it. You can see my first post about it, a tiny back cover blurb, by clicking here
    Panic Cat is obviously hugely a work of fiction, as you may be able to deduce from that blurb. The main fantastical element is that while Cayla Catherine “Cat” Leeds, the main protagonist in the book, has suffered from panic attacks and anxiety for years, when she is 24 and experiences a significant loss in her life, for the first time she has a vision that accompanies her panic attack. 

  However, while it is a fantasy novel, Panic Cat is also an incredibly realistic emerging adult coming-of-age story, and one of the most personal works I have ever written, with a strong focus on mental health. One of my largest attempts with writing and publishing Panic Cat is to help erase the stigma around mental health issues. 

  Cat’s first panic attack, detailed in my book’s first chapter, triggered by a major trauma in her life when she was eighteen years old. The book then skips ahead and finds her at 23. Now, Cat is a mother, student, and works as an assistant director at a preschool. She is not defined by her anxiety, though she sees it as both a reality and a major weakness and a major weakness in her life. However, throughout the book and especially the series, her anxiety and panic attacks are reframed as a learning experience and something she can channel into a strength. 

   Most of the book is set in Israel and Palestine. A little over two years ago, I traveled to this region as part of my cross-cultural requirement for my Masters of Divinity degree. Like myself, Cat is a Divinity student traveling to Israel. Unlike myself, Cat has a vision of a powerful politician being murdered in Israel, reveals that vision to a police officer friend, and becomes embroiled in an international investigation: and her greater true calling as someone with greater power, and a greater job in the grander scheme of the universe, than she could ever possibly imagine. 

 Other than Cat, there are several other very significant characters to this narrative, all whom you’ll get to meet in future posts. These include David, a classmate of Cat, who traveled to Israel with her and her class; Elias, Cat’s husband; Marlowe, Cat’s daughter; Emily, Noag, and Cole, police officers working the case alongside Cat, and Nadia, Noah’s fiance. 

 The novel is first in a four-book series. While I have not written the other three books, I do have an idea of where the general arc is going to take me, though a character or two always ends up surprising me during the writing process.

 Panic Cat was a joy for me to write, and I hope it is equally wonderful an experience for its readers once I release it out into the world (though obviously no book will be everyone’s cup of tea). 

 Much more will come about my novel in future posts. I look forward to continuing pursuing the self-publishing process, and I look forward to you all journeying along with me! 

How I Use Daily Scripture Reading as Healthy Coping as a Christian with Chronic IllnessĀ 

The self-care I’m writing about today comes directly out of my perspective as a Christian with chronic illness. Many of the things I write are applicable to people of many diverse faiths and worldviews, and I so appreciate the many friends I have from so many different faiths. The posts I write about my own religious practices are not to alienate anyone who feels or worships differently, but to show how I, personally, integrate my Christian belief system into part of a holistic self-care method to be my best, wellest self with chronic illness. 

As I’ve written about a lot on this blog, my resolution for 2017–which was one word rather than a laundry list of goals–was wellness. Unlike physical health, which I often cannot control, I could make a commitment to be holistically well. I could make good choices in mind, body, and soul that would lead to overall wellness. 

 I knew that in order to do this, I would need positive coping mechanisms, of which I did not have very many. I am not a huge hobby person, and I knew picking up a hobby would not be a good coping mechanism for me, as I would not have the mental or physical energy to devote to it. I already devoted nearly all the energy I have working as an educator and to my family, as the married mother of a three year old girl. I also try writing wherever I can. My healthy coping mechanisms were taking long baths and drinking hot coffee and tea, and watching a couple tv shows, but I really needed something to occupy my mind during those pursuits: something that didn’t take a ton of brain power, but was constructive, not destructive. Usually, I turned to mindlessly scrolling social media, which tended to be pretty destructive and fuel my anxiety through its mindlessness and politics. 

 So there I was, until I latched onto my most effective coping mechanism: scripture reading. 

 For someone who has identified as a Christian since she was two years old, reading scripture almost seems obvious. Why wasn’t I doing it all along? 

 And I did, here and there. But I had never  really made Bible reading a regular, daily part of my life. I would go to a camp or conference or retreat, or start a new year, and I would become inspired and energized to read the Bible every day, or read through the Bible in a year, but that momentum rarely lasted. I would get a new Bible, and I would love flipping through it and highlighting it at first, but after a month, I would fall back into the busyness of life, and there it would sit, its newness not fitting into my old patterns of meds and work and family and rest and catastrophe and pain and doctors appointments and diets and allergies and everything else I deal with as a chronically ill working mom. 

 Two things really changed my commitment to scripture for me. The first was my 2017 word of wellness–so, in a way, getting sick, because I never would have thrown myself into scripture if I wouldn’t have been so desperate for wellness after getting so much sicker after the birth of my daughter. However, it was really a delayed quest: my pregnancy, that brought out all my health issues, started back in mid-2013. 

 The second thing that helped jump-start my use of scripture as coping mechanism was my smartphone, of all things. Like I said earlier, one of the not-so-healthy coping mechanisms I often found myself resorting to was mindlessly scrolling through social media, often a lot longer than I intended. It’s a lot easier, with my often-sore joints, brain fog, neck pain, eye pain, and other symptoms due to my EDS and Chiari for me to hold and focus on  a smartphone than a book. 

 I started using the free YouVersion Bible App way back when a pastor at a previous  church in a community I worked at while in grad school recommended it for a whole-church plan the church was doing–an overview of 100 important scriptures in 100 days or something like that. It was back when I didn’t finish what I started, scripture wise, so I didn’t finish it, and I think I even uninstalled it from my phone, but I had knowledge of it when I started my year of wellness. 

 I started slow, just reading Psalms and Proverbs. In February, I added the New Testament, too. In March, I hit a rough patch in my life when I was transitioning jobs and really, really needed a coping mechanism. I could have thrown myself into all matter of unhealthy things, and briefly considered it. I was absolutely terrified I was going to have a crisis of faith and start losing my beliefs, especially since I wasn’t working in a church. 

 Because of that fear of losing my faith, I started reading more scripture than ever before. I threw myself into using scripture as a way to cope with my illness, which was a major factor in the transition; with my anxiety; with all my fears–and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I couldn’t get enough of the scripture. I started reading all the themed devotional plans I could: plans on pain, plans on suffering and hope and anxiety and grief and transition. All things I could apply to my particular situation with my chronic illnesses. 

 I have now finished the New testament and am reading through the whole bible; the Psalms for a second time; and many more themed studies, all for the sake of wellness and coping with chronic illness and thriving through it. I share this not at all to brag, but because it has seriously helped me in ways I could never ever imagine, and I hope it may be able to help orhers too. I do it all in small chunks from my smartphone, usually in bed or in the bath or wherever is most comfortable. 

 Now, quick moment of vulnerability here: I have had this post scheduled for today in my planner for weeks, and have been drafting it for almost as long. But it isn’t done yet this evening, and I need to be real with you: today has been an absolutely terrible day, the kind of day where I was yelling at God at the way home from work, reminding God how much i have done for my call and how much I have given up for it and why does life have to continue to be so hard with all I’ve sacrificed? Who wants to write a blog post about how much they love reading scripture and how much God’s word helps them on a day they were literally yelling at God for life being so hard? 

 Well, I do, because I have to tell you: scripture is /full/ of people yelling at God, and questioning God, and laughing at God, and wrestling with God. And yes, sometimes God rebukes them. But God is always big enough for our emotions. And that’s what I love about the scriptures. 

 That’s why I’ve found them such a haven in my chronic pain. Because they’re not all feel good little sound bites. They’re real emotion. They’re people, throughout time, on a journey struggling with pain and suffering: and a God who is always salvific, a savior who ultimately redeems the story. Something I can hold onto, not in this life but for the next. 

Hello There!

Hello, loyal readers, and new friends! It’s certainly been a while: too long, indeed. Summer has been crazy. Mostly good, although it has posed some challenges. 

One of the biggest reasons I haven’t been blogging has obviously  been my workload. 

While writing is one of my greatest passions in life, an even greater vocational passion is ministry. I see my writing in some ways as an extension of my ministry call, but I also have a strong and necessary call to work with children. I have a Masters of Divinity with a Specialization in Youth and Young Adult Ministry and have studied development of all ages. Even if I did have the opportunity to make more of an income through my writing, I would never want to give up some sort of career working with children, preferably the work I’m doing right now. I’ve never felt more professionally fulfilled. 

In March 2017, I transitioned from a job in traditional children’s ministry in a church to a job in an educational setting. This is not unfamiliar to me, as I have previously been a Preschool teacher. From March to June, I worked a split shift (both morning and afternoon with a break in between) I worked as a Before and After School Program Administrator/Supervisor. 

But in the summer, this role transitioned to summer camp, which has been full-time, 9 hour days (1 hour of that a break). It has been rigorous, hard on my body at times, but overall absolutely wonderful. However, even though I can’t wait for next summer to do it all again, camp leaves little time for writing, which is the main reason the blog went by the wayside. 

Hopefully by next summer I’ll have a blogging routine down and will be writing regularly enough that it will continue! 
The other significant challenges have been health related. In early July, I broke my elbow. It healed up nicely, luckily, and I only had to be in a brace and sling for a few weeks. 

Just a few weeks ago, I heard from a brain surgeon who is an expert on one of my major chronic health conditions, Chiari Malformation. I was diagnosed in eighth grade, but forgot about my diagnosis, and just rediscovered it last December. We’ve come to pretty much the end of our rope treating the symptoms, so it seems like I’m headed down the road to surgery. But a lot more tests will come first, so hopefully those get ordered and done soon. Until then, it’s a waiting game, but coming terms with a very high probability of brain surgery has been a big deal of my summer! 

So all those things add up to the perfect storm of why I’ve been away from my blog, and really haven’t written much at all, this summer. But I’m back, and the school year means a  split shift schedule for me and much more time for writing. It also means I have officially decided to self-publish my first novel, Panic Cat! 
There’s going to be a lot for me to learn as I enter the world and journey of self-publishing, and so far my toe is just barely in the water. But as I have updates, this space will be the first place I will put them. I’m really excited about some of the things that are in the works with it, and I can’t wait to share them with you as they come to fruition! Fridays will be the big days that I talk about writing-related scoop, but as we get closer to book launch (date to be determined!) I’ll probably be posting near-daily about it. The goal is to publish by the end of 2017 or very early 2018, but stuff like the previously-mentioned brain surgery may obviously push that back. 
This Wednesday, I’ll be posting a special post, “Know My Novel!,” in which I talk a little bit about my novel and the writing process. I have completed a few draft novel projects before, but none have been as personal or as dear to my heart as this one, and I can’t wait to share it with all y’all. 
I will also continue to write about the subjects that inform my writing in this space. Those are largely faith, family, and chronic illness. I am also working on building my readership, so if you are new, welcome! My blog is nothing fancy. There’s no bells and whistles. It’s just a place I write: I write about writing, I write about life. And I welcome you to journey along with me.